Non-Twihards, don’t fret. There’s a wide variety of films opening this week to counter the hype surrounding Edward and Bella’s wedding.
Among the anticipated offerings: Three Sundance darlings (“Another Happy Day,” “Tyrannosaur” and “The Lie”), an Oscar front-runner (“The Descendants”) and a sequel to an Oscar-winning animated yarn (“Happy Feet Two”). For an idea of what’s worth catching, check out the reviews published this week on Indiewire and the blog network below.
A masterful tale of estrangement, abuse and victimization that draws extreme empathy from its central performances. Chief among them is star Ellen Barkin, who gives the female performance of the year. First-time director Sam Levinson also gets great ensemble turns from Thomas Haden Church, Demi Moore and the incomparable Ellen Burstyn.
I’m not about to make any sweeping claims about the aesthetic mastery of the fourth entry in the “The Twilight Saga,” clumsily subtitled “Breaking Dawn Part 1,” and unquestionably conceived with the same glossy and thematically conservative mindset that made the books into a teeny bopper hit. However, those familiar with the series know that the shit really hits the fan in this one, and to see it happen temporarily clears away some of the series’ more obnoxious qualities.
“Breaking Dawn: Part 1” is slow-moving and listless. The first half plays like something from an extended fan version of the film and it never manages to recover, even when we get something resembling a point midway through.
Whereas the first movie used these beloved penguins to get at something deeper about religion and politics, the sequel suffers under the weight of its own empty seriousness. A subplot featuring some upwardly mobile shrimp (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) is a welcome and intriguing addition to the proceedings, but its conclusion is never fully justified within the overall framework of their tuxedo-ed counterparts.
Actor Joshua Leonard has shown his ability to navigate adeptly in front of the camera. But his first foray into directing shows an uneasy grasp on the material, as the film oscillates unconvincingly between domestic drama and dark comedy. The central couple is strong and believable, but the rest falls prey to the film’s inability to define its guiding tone.
From the first scene of brutal torture up until its conclusion, “Tyrannosaur” drips with grief. Through all the physical, sexual and psychological torment, Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan display a commitment to character that grounds the film in raw, recognizable strokes.
Paddy Considine’s directorial debut takes what could easily become a run-of-the-mill domestic drama and draws out a hyper-realistic, terrifying dynamic anchored by the trio of main characters. Olivia Colman, as Hannah, cuts through the ugliness and imbues the film with some heart, albeit among a torrent of bleakness.
Despite the gloomy premise, Clooney keeps the film from getting too dour. But the film never steps over into the darkly comedic realm, either. Instead, Payne navigates the space between the two moods, creating a tale of warmth that doesn’t get too sentimental.
It’s a film that is impossible to fit into a genre, as it finds both the humor and crippling unpredictability in everyday life. Alexander Payne coaxes a career-defining performance from star George Clooney, whose character lacks the suave and confident nature of the actor’s real-life persona. It also wisely incorporates the Hawaiian countryside as an integral element of the story.
As with his previous directorial efforts, Payne creates a recognizable, accessible dynamic within the central relationships. It’s done in the style of a sitcom, but the emotional heft of “The Descendants” begs a deeper connection with the family’s story.
There’s nothing significantly flashy or demanding about “The Descendants.” Yet, its rich layers of emotion and sincerity make it masterfully compelling. George Clooney, from scene to scene, is ready for anything as his character is flung across a spectrum of uncertainty.
The film is so easy and empty that any attempt to elicit a sympathetic reaction borders on infuriating. Clooney’s character has no legitimate reason to be blamed for anything that goes on, giving him an untouchable aura that leaves no room for character development.
Payne is not breaking any new ground with “The Descendants,” but the core cast gets more out of the material than many others could. Clooney never quite reaches the transcendent level, but the film “lives and dies with him.”