Thursday, April 26, 2012


A cocky Norwegian headhunter with a Napoleon complex (“It doesn’t take a PhD to see I’m overcompensating for my height,” he informs us early on) gets caught up in a web of industrial espionage, mistaken identities and murder in this well-paced thriller.

Aksel Hennie, looking like a cross between Steve Buscemi and a young David McCallum, is quirkily charismatic as our flawed hero, Roger Brown, who likes to lecture his clients on how to succeed in business by pretending you’re not really trying. Even his illegal sideline—stealing and selling famous works of art and replacing them with copies so good the owners never know they’ve been ripped off—is all about playing off people’s tendency to focus more on appearance than reality.


Elles played in this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

A loose collection of half-baked ideas that even the great Juliette Binoche’s magnetism can’t pull into a coherent whole, Elles reworks the oft-drawn parallel between housewife and hooker without saying much of interest about either one.


Headshot played in this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

This “Buddhist film noir,” as writer-director Pen-El Ranaruang calls it, is surprisingly slow-moving and soulful for a film full of double-crosses and cold-blooded killing. Zigzagging back and forth in time, it follows cool-guy Tul (Nopachai Chaiyanam) from a fairly mindless life of instinct and action to that Zen state Cesar Millan calls “calm submissive.”

Talking Texas with Richard Linklater

In Bernie, Richard Linklater tells the true story (based on a Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth) of a man in a small East Texas town who is so beloved that he almost gets away with murder—literally. I talked to Linklater, who grew up in East Texas himself, while he was in town this week promoting the film he calls “the most purely Texas thing I’ve ever done.”

I lived in Texas for 7 or 8 years, including three different times in Austin, because whenever I had no reason to be anywhere else when I was young, I kept going back there --
Well, of course! Where else to be young and lost but Austin?

Exactly. So anyhow, I love Texas, which is a lot of why I loved this movie.
Yeah. It’s the most purely Texas thing I’ve ever done.

There’s this language Texans use that’s descriptive and inventive and creative and funny, and you really captured that.
This is my mom and her friends. I just sit around and die laughing. I’m like, what a great turn of phrase! No writer could capture this; it’s so perfect! So it was fun, as a filmmaker, to use that in a movie.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chicken With Plums

Chicken With Plums played in this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

A fable about the damage done when a young couple is forced to part, Chicken with Plums is deeply melancholic, yet so full of humor and humanity that it pulses with life even while tracing the trajectory of a slow suicide.

Close to the beginning of the film and repeated again near the end is a chance encounter between aging violinist Nasser-Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) and a beautiful woman about his own age. The encounter leaves Nasser-Ali deeply shaken—but then, this is a man who appears to become easily verklempt. (Amalric makes a thoroughly convincing Iranian artiste, with his sadly expressive black eyes and poetic air.)

The Girl

The Girl is playing on April 24 and 28 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

A better but still flawed version of the story told four years ago in Frozen River, The Girl uses the perils of immigrating to this country without papers as a backdrop for a poor white American woman’s bumpy path to enlightenment.

Abbie Cornish projects the same ferocious girl power and impressive range as she did in Bright Star, this time as a ragefully resentful young mother in Texas who blames everyone but herself for having lost custody of her son to the state (he’s living with a foster family.) Over the course of the film, Ashley comes to understand the forces that have made her into a self-pitying, unreliable drunk. Cornish makes that awakening clear without emotional grandstanding, conveying her character’s intense and mostly repressed emotions through small but seismic shifts in expression and posture.

Friday, April 20, 2012

2 Days in New York

2 Days in New York is playing on April 26, 27 and 28 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

A comedy of manners paced like a classic French farce, Julie Delpy's 2 Days in New York keeps the entrances, exits, and misunderstandings rolling while rooting the action in emotions and character traits that are only slightly exaggerated for comic effect. Framed as an origin story about their family told by Marion (Delpy) to the daughter born to her and Mingus (Chris Rock) as the story ends, 2 Days in New York picks up a few years after 2 Days in Paris left off, pulling us back in as easily as an old friend after a years-long absence.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

All In

All In is playing on April 20, 21, 23, 26, and 27 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

Daniel Burman's oddly weightless All In revolves around a recently divorced family man who gets another shot at winning the lost love of his youth as they both uneasily enter early middle age. The film's plot goes down more blind alleys than Uriel (Drexler) and Gloria's (Bertuccelli) on-again, off-again relationship: As it ping-pongs with attention deficit from one episode to the next, one can sometimes feel the filmmakers straining to inject a sense of intrigue or emotion or just plain life into the manic busy-ness, like when too much is made of the fact that Gloria's usually impeccably dressed mother goes out in a tracksuit every Monday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


It took prodigious talent, drive, and creative vision for Bob Marley to turn what amounted to ghetto music from a marginalized nation into a global phenomenon, so it would be lovely to see a documentary about him that approached that level of genius. Martin Scorsese, who was originally scheduled to make this one, is as good a bet as anyone to have pulled that off. But director Kevin MacDonald, who wound up with the project, seemed like a smart fallback. MacDonald’s brilliant 2003 documentary, Touching the Void, wove in painfully realistic reenactments with talking heads and archival images to play like a first-class thriller. So the ploddingly linear parade of talking heads that is his Marley lands with a particularly sodden thud, reducing a life on the frontier of a pulsatingly vital art form to a deadening recital of biographical facts.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, another film whose main character has what appears to be Asperger syndrome, Footnote runs the risk of alienating viewers with a stony-faced hero who has few social graces and a severely limited capacity for empathy. Extremely Loud (over)compensated for that potential handicap by banging on huge chords, like the events of September 11 and a child’s loss of the father who was his emotional lifeline, but Footnote keeps its content as prickly as its protagonist, focusing on the kinds of nit-picky academic differences that seem huge to the people involved and slightly ridiculous to the rest of us.

Yet writer-director Joseph Cedar (Beaufort), an American-born Israeli who seems most at home as a filmmaker when he’s straddling a fault line, does such a good job of surfacing the suppressed emotions driving the resentful, withdrawn Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) and his well-loved, outgoing son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) that anyone who has ever gotten drawn into a family feud or felt the death-by-a-thousand-cuts sting of rejection by an in-group should be able to relate.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

Set in francophone Montreal, which looks to be as much a city of immigrants as my own New York, Monsieur Lazhar is a delicately powerful reminder that you never know what kind of hard, hard story the person next to you in the street or on the train may be quietly coping with—especially if he or she is a refugee from a troubled country.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), an Algerian with kind eyes and an anachronistically courtly manner, appears like Mary Poppins at a troubled grade school, brushing aside customary procedures and promising an instantaneous, irresistible solution to a critical problem: A bunch of children need the firm but sensitive guidance of an adult authority figure, whether they know it or not.

But the children in the class Monsieur Lazhar takes over have a much bigger problem than the Banks clan, who had nothing more serious than parental neglect to cope with.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a good example of what you can do with a strong plot and cast—and what you can’t.

The film faithfully follows the plot of Suzanne Collins’ mega-bestselling young adult novel of the same name, a grimly detailed fable for our times. Jennifer Lawrence gives 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen every ounce of the gravitas, cool competence, and smarts the role demands. But director and co-screenwriter Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) keeps sanding down the book’s grit and psychological nuance, once again creating unnecessary distance between his audience and an intriguing story by overstylizing the art direction and leaning a little too hard on the message.