Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
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.
French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet stole hearts with Amelie, and made them soar with A Very Long Engagement. His lovably goofy new comedy, Micmacs, has an unexpected comic hero—a man with a bullet in his brain—and a very serious subtext: devastating weapons of war and the arms dealers who profit from them. (In French slang, "micmacs" refers to shifty dealmaking.) At the emotional and narrative heart of the movie is Bazil, played by Danny Boon, a graceful and winsome screen clown who doesn't need dialogue or subtitles to communicate with an audience. When Bazil was a child, his soldier father was blown up trying to diffuse an anti-personnel land mine in North Africa. The grown-up Bazil, a Paris video store clerk, is watching Bogie and Bacall in The Big Sleep in the shop one night (reciting all the dialogue in French); a cops-and-robbers chase goes by outside, and a stray bullet lodges in Bazil's head. He survives (after a coin-toss in the ER to determine if the operation is worth it), but loses his job and apartment. Winding up on the streets, he's taken in by a "family" of resourceful folk who live in a junkyard, building everything they need out of scrap parts.
Hawaiian history looks great, less filling, in 'Princess Ka'iulani'
She is a cultural heroine in Hawaii. The last princess of the royal line, she fought with poise and determination to preserve Hawaiian independence even as American military and political forces were robbing the islands of their self-governing sovereignty. She exists in a historical moment blighted by unsavory skullduggery on the part of the United States that most Americans deserve to know more about. Hers is an epic story of gender, race, class, heartbreak, perseverance, and unswerving courage.
Remember Play It Again, Sam, when the spirit of Bogie coaches Woody Allen to be tough and cool in the face of life's challenges? It's a similar deal in Ken Loach's sly urban comedy Looking For Eric, where Loach's sad-sack, midlife protagonist turns for inspiration to legendary soccer great Eric Cantona. Loach, the prolific British director best known for gritty, slice-of-life realism dramas (Ladybird, Ladybird; My Name Is Joe; The Wind That Shakes The Barley) lightens up here with unexpected elements of comedy, fantasy, and romance. There's a dark side to the story, of course, and plenty of raucous profanity, but mostly, this is a funny, upbeat film about conquering one's inner loser and going for the goal. Steve Evets is solid and crackling with nervy energy as Eric Bishop, a postal worker in industrial Manchester at the end of his short fuse.