Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Kid with a Bike

The films of writer-director brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne usually pivot on a tough moral choice forced on the main character, whose life probably was no bed of roses to begin with. A Chinese box of those moral choices is nested within their latest, The Kid With a Bike, but the dilemma at the core belongs to the title character. Cyril (Thomas Doret) has to make the most essential moral choice of all: whether to live a good life or a bad one.

But this is no psychological drama. Instead, it’s a clear-eyed, almost forensic, yet immensely moving study of cause and effect in which everything hinges on what people do, not what they say.

Damsels in Distress

So what have we here? Is Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress a more broadly satiric variation on Clueless, with Greta Gerwig in the Alicia Silverstone part? Or is it what we might get if Woody Allen and John Waters (Hairspray-era John Waters, that is, not Flamingos John Waters) had a movie baby together?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear is playing on March 29 and 31 as part of the New Directors/New Films series.

From its title to its closing caress, Teddy Bear skates perilously close to the cliff’s edge of mawkish sentiment but never falls in. Dennis (Kim Kold), a sweet but emotionally stunted 38-year-old Danish bodybuilder, lives in a state of arrested development with his deceptively birdlike little mother, Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), who’s sunk her talons deep into him and has no intention of letting go. Just one Hollywood-style speech, with Dennis ranting about being a boy in a man’s body or railing about the need to overcompensate that drove him to create that hulking carapace, would have blown this lightweight contraption right over that cliff, but cowriter/director Mads Matthiesen sidesteps that trap, letting Kold’s cartoonish body and sweet face tell the story.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

21 Jump Street

Karl Marx said history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. TV shows seem to be doing the same. Judging by the trailer, Tim Burton’s upcoming fang-in-cheek remake of Dark Shadows looks to be spoofing subtexts that the campily self-serious original didn’t even know it had. And 21 Jump Street, a cheerful goof of a movie, treats a mediocre ‘80s series best known for launching Johnny Depp’s career like an empty tote bag, stuffing it full of little riffs on pop culture clichés, many of which have nothing to do with the original show.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Huan Huan

Huan Huan is playing on March 27 and 28 as part of the New Directors/New Films series.

Casual corruption, bossy neighbors who know everybody’s business, and omnipresent loudspeakers squawking about official policies and propaganda all day long make the 2007-era Chinese town in Huan Huan feel pretty bleak. Unfortunately, the film is almost as drab and demoralizing as the place it portrays.

Las Acacias

Las Acacias is playing on March 22 and 24 as part of the New Directors/New Films series.

The cab of a truck is the setting for this beautifully told love story, in which three strangers—a lonely truck driver, a young mother, and her baby—slowly and organically coalesce into something close to a family unit.

The Raid: Redemption

Half Assault on Precinct 13 and half Shaw Brothers-style old school martial arts, The Raid: Redemption is an instant classic. Writer/director Gareth Evans makes a virtue of his low budget, using one location and a relatively small cast to create an atmosphere of doom-soaked claustrophobia, galvanized by a phalanx of fiercely talented and committed fighters. There are no personal assistants listed in these credits, but there’s a long list of doctors, paramedics, and massage therapists.

Supposedly set in Jakarta (who knew they had martial arts like this in Indonesia?), The Raid really takes place in that artfully underlit, merciless post-apocalyptic world we all know from movies like The Road.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is playing on March 24 and 26 as part of the New Directors/New Films series.

A playfully self-reflective rumination on what writer-director Terence Nance has described as "self-awareness through experience with love," An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a serious but never somber offering from a member of the Brooklyn boheme 2.0 generation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Minister

The Minister is playing on Friday March 23 and Sunday March 25 as part of the New Directors/New Films series.

You know it's hard out here for a politician. Bertrand Saint-Jean (Olivier Gourmet), who serves as France's minister of transportation in this resolutely realistic fiction (written and directed by Pierre Schöller), is smart, hardworking, and generally loyal to those who are loyal to him. But he's also a dick, often seeming more interested in protecting his image than the public interest, trampling the feelings of the people around him, and neglecting his wife and children even though he appears to love them.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friends With Kids

Every few years, Jennifer Westfeldt writes herself a plum part in a romantic comedy that’s just topical enough to seem a little edgy, if you don’t look too closely.

In 2001, around the time the word “bi-curious” was entering the lexicon, Westfeldt co-wrote Kissing Jessica Stein and played the title character, a straight woman who tries sex with a woman as the solution to her romantic dry spell. Five years later, as the screenwriter and costar of Ira and Abby, she toyed with therapist-induced neurosis and a type of commitment phobia (the unshakeable conviction that there may be someone better in the rear-view mirror or right around the corner) that’s endemic to New York. And now, in Friends With Kids, she plays a woman convinced that she can beat the reproductive system and bypass all the problems that having babies has introduced into the lives of her formerly fun friends.

The Wise Kids

The Wise Kids is a lovely ensemble piece about three teenagers—Tim (Tyler Ross), Brea (Molly Kunz), and Laura (Allison Torem)—in Charleston, South Carolina, whose social lives revolve around each other and the Baptist church they all belong to. Loosely structured as a year in their lives, starting a semester before they graduate from high school and ending when they’re all home from college for Christmas break, it starts and ends as Austin (Stephen Cone), an adult member of their congregation, directs them in the church’s annual Christmas play.

Friday, March 9, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

High school shootings are such a part of life and death in America that they’ve birthed a whole genre of movies. That genre even has its own spinoff: stories, like April Showers, The Life Before Her Eyes, and now We Need to Talk About Kevin, that are about people coping with the emotional wreckage caused by a school massacre.

Friday, March 2, 2012


The story of a Maori family dealing with the aftermath of the mother’s death and the father’s long imprisonment, Boy pulls off an elegant balancing act, diving into its characters’ emotions while maintaining a joyful lightness of spirit.

There’s no pathologizing of poverty in this lovely film, which is told from the point of view of its title character (James Rolleston). The oldest of the family’s two sons, Boy is a bright, imaginative 11-year-old who loves his life and idealizes his absent father, spinning tales of comic-book glory about him for his brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu). So when Dad (played by writer-director Taika Waititi) comes home from prison while the grandma who’s raising the boys is away for a few days, Boy is as thrilled as we (and Rocky) are wary, treating his dad like a star fallen to earth in his own backyard.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Act of Valor

All movies play either into or against our beliefs about how the world works to some degree. That’s why things can heat up so fast when we talk about them: When we insist that Tree of Life is a pretentious bore or Bridesmaids was robbed of a Best Picture Oscar nod, chances are what’s really riling us is a conviction that Hollywood is dominated by an out-of-touch elite, or that it has no room for women who don’t fit the hot-girlfriend mold.

Certain genres, like romantic comedies and fish-out-of-water buddy movies, don’t hit any hot buttons in most of us, which is probably why they work so well as escapism. But war movies hit us where we live and die, dredging up clannish feelings about our politics, identities, and national security. That’s why they can work so well as propaganda—but only for people whose values are aligned with whatever point of view they’re selling.