Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
Comic confronts showbiz highs and lows in candid 'Joan Rivers' doc
It's like watching them build the Pyramids, or Stonehenge. The construction of Joan Rivers' face is a little flash-documentary unto itself, a fascinating vignette that leads off the candid backstage documentary feature, Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work. An army of staffpersons wielding an army of tools—brushes, tubes, paint, pencils, eyelash applicators—daub, pat, draw and shape the familiar mask that is Rivers' surgically tautened face into being. It's all done in extreme close-up—an eyebrow, a lip, an eyelash—until the whole is complete. And of course, there is no “before” image. Not surprising for a woman whose very first stop out of bed every morning is the make-up chair, before she can catch an unwary glimpse of what lies beneath the mask.
Grown son meddles in Mom's romance in engaging 'Cyrus'
It's a familiar enough premise in the movies: boy meets girl, boy and girl click, then boy has to cope with girl's parents/children/ family (pick one). But filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass throw in a few fresh insights in their thoughtful comedy, Cyrus. The intrepid couple trying out a new romance are a seasoned man and woman in their 40s, and the "child" who threatens to come between them is a 22-year-old slacker determined to remain the single focus of his mom's attention.
If this were a movie with Will Ferrell, say, or Ben Stiller, crazy comedy would ensue. The males would draw their lines in the sand and engage in ever more frenetic games of one-upsmanship, while soft-soaping the woman both want. The Duplasses flirt with this idea for a while, it surfaces now and then in the plot. But by keeping their characters and the narrative absolutely life-sized and credible, the filmmakers humanize the story in a way Hollywood comedies never even try to do. The result is a heartfelt, engaging comedy that draws us in like a thriller; the characters are so believable, we can't wait to find out how (or if) they’ll resolve their problem.
What other movie franchise can take an 11-year hiatus and come back with the same cast, as fresh, funny, and irresistible as ever? Who else but the gang from Andy's room, the lovable toy heroes of the mighty Toy Story series that catapulted a hip little animation studio called Pixar onto the Hollywood A-list. Toy Story 3 reunites the whole gang, and not just to exploit the new 3-D technology. In TS3, the passage of time is a subtext in a typically whimsical, hilarious, and poignant adventure that celebrates the magical world of a child's imagination, and ponders the inevitability of growing up. The brilliant opening sequence re-introduces all the familiar toys in a thrilling chase scenario (a runaway train full of orphans; a giant pig-shaped alien spaceship) that turns out to be playing inside the head of little Andy, crawling around with his toys in an old home movie. But now Andy is packing up to go to college, and his toys—cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), spaceman Buzz (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the rest—spend most of their time in the toy box.
Girl vs. chaotic world in taut Southern Gothic noir 'Winter's Bone'
It's always something, as Gilda Radner used to say. It certainly is in the relentless narrative of Winter's Bone, a nerve-rattling exercise in dread and redemption that knocked the bejeebers out of critics and audiences alike at this year's Sundance festival. (It won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture, as well as the Best Screenplay award.) Directed with grit and assurance by Debra Granik, this Southern Gothic noir thriller is taut, scary, more than a little creepy, and strangely poignant. It's a bracing alternative to the bloated franchises, inane comedies, and action extravaganzas of the summer movie season.
The old Neil Diamond song about a good guy who can't find a faithful woman is an odd choice for the title of this film (it's sung by Johnny Cash over the opening credits). This movie's male protagonist is the exact opposite, a prowling horndog who's inability to keep it in his pants destroys every relationship in his life. Maybe co-directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien didn't listen to the lyrics, or maybe it's just another colossal miscalculation in this highly preposterous and unpleasant film. Michael Douglas stars as Ben Kalmen, once a powerhouse New York City car dealer. But philandering has cost him his ex-wife and business partner (Susan Sarandon), a fraud conviction makes it impossible to get financing for a new dealership, and now that he's pushing 60, he's a slave to his wandering libido, deluding himself that his compulsive sexual conquests will stave off the ravages of time.
Fairy tale, reality mesh in edgy, enchanting 'Ondine'
Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan has a masterful way with a fairy tale. His elegant The Company of Wolves, based on the fractured fairy tales of Angela Carter, was his most overt take on the genre, with its storybook costumes and deep forest setting. But there's a whiff of candlelight and moonbeams, mythos and romance, in his best contemporary dramas as well, particularly those with an Irish setting like The Crying Game or Breakfast On Pluto.