Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
Ginsberg ushers in cultural revolution in uneven 'Howl'
In a San Francisco coffeehouse in 1955, a "29-year-old unpublished poet" and former advertising copywriter stood up and read a poem that ushered in the beat era and revolutionized the culture. His name was Allen Ginsberg, the poem was "Howl," and that historic reading—combined with the obscenity trial that followed, and the complex emotional journey Ginsberg took to write it—are all celebrated in the ambitious, but wildly uneven Howl.
Co-written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (the documentary filmmakers who made The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk), the film is blessed with a fascinating performance by James Franco as the young Ginsberg. Franco has done his homework, especially in capturing the familiar, somewhat nasally and flat, yet exultant voice in which the poet reads his poem; the film's best moments come from the pleasure of watching Franco's Ginsberg in the ecstatic grip of his muse.
Lennon's early life explored in evocative, irresistible 'Nowhere Boy'
rap your brain around this: had John Lennon lived, he would have been 70 years old last week. The world may have been cheated out of Lennon's third act, whatever it might have been, but we can celebrate the early life of this complex, driven, caustic and vital man with the ambitious biographical drama Nowhere Boy. Although it zeroes in on the brief span of time between teenage John's discovery of rock 'n' roll and the rise of his fledgling band on the local scene, this is in no way a Beatles musical. (Only a single charged, raucous chord of Beatles music is heard in the entire film—you'll know it when you hear it.) The focus here is not on the birth of an icon, but on the struggle of a conflicted teenage boy to become himself; emotionally as well as musically, the film hits all the right notes.
Davis Guggenheim's last documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, put the critical issue of climate change on the table for worldwide discussion (if not, sadly, much action). In his new film, Waiting For Superman, Guggenheim tackles a subject far less abstract and every bit as urgent: the education of America's children. Failure to arrest the ongoing decline in the quality of our school system in the last 30+ years could produce results as devastating as global warming, and far more tangible to the average American: dropouts, hopelessness, joblessness, increasing drug and crime rates, and overburdened judiciary and prison systems devouring tax dollars that would be much better spent on preventive education.
Angsty teen gets mental in imaginative comedy, 'Funny Story'
Craig doesn't have any more than the usual teenage angst, for the usual reasons—stress over parents, school, the future, and, of course, a girl. But, like most 16-year-olds, Craig lacks a certain perspective; he believes his feelings are more extreme than everybody else's. When they start leading to suicide dreams, he opts for desperate measures in It's Kind Of A Funny Story, a droll, surprisingly winsome coming-of-age comedy-drama from the writing-directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (their first two films were Half-Nelson, and the impressive Sugar).
Futuristic 'Never Let Me Go' is a haunting, exquisite mortality play
There are no owls or talking paintings at Hailsham, a coed boarding school deep in the English countryside, but the eager, fresh-faced children in their neat school uniforms, chanting their morning greeting to the headmistress, are as happy in their idyllic setting as any Hogwarts student. But the children of Hailsham exist in an altered reality as strange as the Harry Potter universe, and the rendering of their world and their destiny is a matter of exquisite craftsmanship in Never Let Me Go, a soulful, deeply moving, utterly pitch-perfect romantic drama from director Mark Romanek.
It can be noodles of fun, but this Coen reboot doesn’t always stay at a boil
One thing A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop has going for it is that it comes from Zhang Yimou. He’s the spirited director who gave the world House of Flying Daggers and was also the lead director for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. That’s the good news for this clever remake of the Coen Brothers’ noir hit Blood Simple, which came out in 1984 and put the filmmaking siblings on the map. The bad news—if you can call it that—is that audiences may walk away from Yimou’s picture disheartened when they really shouldn’t be. Chances are, they’ll compare the two films—too much.
Food, love, identity blend in tasty, but uneven 'Soul Kitchen'
It takes a healthy appetite for slapstick to digest Soul Kitchen. This multicultural comic confection about a foundering restaurant in a shabby neighborhood in Hamburg, Germany, draws much of its humor from such material as pratfalls at a funeral, a popped vest button that lands in the wrong place, and a character who keeps throwing out his back, forcing him to scuttle about like Quasimodo. Still, beneath the fizzy froth of physical gags simmers a more tender-hearted tale of food, love, and identity, with a protagonist teetering at the axis between them all.