REVIEWS THIS WEEK:
The year is 1921. Spooky mysteries haunt a creaky British boarding school in which a child died under mysterious circumstances. Into the dusty hallways enters ghost hunter Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) to debunk reports that the late kid’s ghost has been seen roaming the floors at night. As the set up should make clear, Nick Murphy’s stylish period piece is heavy on atmosphere, and exploits it to the fullest extent with occasionally startling results. Nevertheless, the whispery sounds and sudden jolts grow tiresome after a while, and by its third act “The Awakening” has devolved into a weary riff on “The Orphanage,” as unimaginatively morbid aspects of Florence’s childhood invade on the narrative and falls into a dry affair with empathetic school instructor Robert (Dominic West). A competent exercise in mood that overstays its welcome and indulges in far more clichés than the ones found in this capsule review. As ghost stories go, this one’s done just well enough to provide reminders of how it has been done better. Criticwire grade: C+ [Eric Kohn]
Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Released by Cohen Media Group. Watch the trailer below:
With “Beloved” (“Les bien-aimés”), the closing night selection of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, prolific French director Christophe Honoré returns to the postmodern musical turf he first explored in 2007’s acclaimed “Love Songs.” Here, he covers 45 years over 150 minutes and gives the impression of major intentions: Honoré goes epic. Instead, he has made a conventionally bittersweet and perfectly serviceable follow-up that affirms his skill without breaking any new ground.
“Beloved” follows two generations of women: Madeleine, a classy hooker in the 1960s, and her daughter Vera, whose major scenes take place during her adulthood. Despite Honoré’s existing reputation, this is first and foremost an actor’s movie, given that the director has assembled an extraordinary all-star cast, including Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Paul Schneider and Louis Garrel. However, “Beloved” never really earns its sprawling timeline, eventually getting bogged down with too many developments and overstaying its welcome. For a movie where people intermittently burst into song, the plot is oddly one-note. Criticwire grade: B [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed on May 21, 2011. Sundance Selects releases “Beloved” in New York on Friday; it is also available on VOD. Watch the trailer below:
Cartoonist Marjane Satrapi re-teams with Vincent Paronnaud for her second adaptation from her graphic novel output following the acclaimed animated memoir “Persepolis.” While Satrapi’s feature-length debut benefited tremendously from a scrappy, handmade aesthetic that neatly fit its intimate perspective, “Chicken With Plums” heads in the opposite direction with an overstylized parable that calls to mind the oeuvre of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. While its ostentatious look and attitude can distract from a sincere romanticism, “Chicken With Plums” is a generally agreeable story about lonely Iranian violinist Nasser-Ali Khan (the prolific Mathieu Amalric) who decides to die. As he wastes away in his apartment, the movie shifts through different periods in the violinist’s life, emphasizing the romance he forms with Irane (Golshifteh Farahani), despite his strict family’s disapproval. While visually scrumptious, the movie struggles to reach a greater profundity that it never quite obtains, but its childlike emulation of a grand tragedy is indelibly precious. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Opens in New York on Friday followed by Los Angeles next week. More cities will follow. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Watch the trailer below:
“Great World of Sound” director Craig Zobel tackles the odd instance of a prank caller (Pat Healy) who impersonated a police officer and convinced the manager of a fast food restaurant (Ann Dowd) to mistreat one of her employees in increasingly horrible ways that culminate with a sexual assault. The movie constantly forces you to wonder how people could be so gullible, and then dares you to go into defense mode when it inevitably forces you to wonder if you might do the same thing.
That defines both the appeal of “Compliance” and its main flaw. The screenplay draws attention to the incredulity of the situation instead of providing the clean explanation most audiences demand. However, in compelling viewers to consider the boundaries of gullibility, “Compliance” transforms into a phenomenal provocation. It’s a movie that must be seen, processed and discussed, perhaps the first of its kind to transform the audience into a focus group. Criticwire grade: B [Eric Kohn]
Opens in New York this Friday followed by several other U.S. cities later this month. Released by Magnolia Pictures. Watch the trailer below:
“My prostate is asymmetrical,” says Robert Pattinson in one scene of David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis.” As the affluent executive Eric Packer riding a limo around New York City in nearly every scene, Pattinson boldly submerges his stardom in the director’s twisted anti-establishment tendencies. That the movie lacks the same depth in its message than the director’s best works comes secondary to its satisfyingly Cronenbergian attributes. Since 2005’s “A History of Violence,” Cronenberg has ventured beyond the grotesque allegorical interests of his earlier movies, a shift that has led some longtime fans to assume he has softened up. As an enjoyably peculiar anti-capitalist indictment, “Cosmopolis” proves otherwise. Criticwire grade: B [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed May 25, 2012. Opens in several cities this Friday. Released by EOne Releasing. Watch the trailer below:
A delicate, contained dramedy with an understated turn by Frank Langella at its center, “Robot and Frank” pits the actor against a mechanical counterpoint who has no name. As Frank, Langella plays a crabby ex-thief wasting away his senior years in a near future that looks much like the present. Living alone in Cold Springs, New York, the man meets his match when his grown son (James Marsden) buys his dad a robot butler (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) to care for his every need. While initially reticent to accept the pushy machine into his life, Frank eventually realizes that the robot’s amoral outlook makes it the ultimate accomplice in his intention of pulling off one final heist. Through a twisted burst of inspiration, Frank rediscovers his vitality.
In “Ted,” this summer’s other human/non-human buddy movie, the notion of a talking bear was a one-line joke told a few dozen ways over the course of an otherwise familiar plot. By contrast, “Robot and Frank” elevates the offbeat nature of its scenario by using it to explore the tension between aging consumers and technological progress in heartfelt terms. The premise is silly, but the chemistry runs deep. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Originally reviewed August 14, 2012. Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Samuel Goldwyn and Stage 6 Films. Watch the trailer below:
Produced by Keanu Reeves, this talking heads survey of the transition from shooting on film to digital video is against all odds an imminently watchable overview, and not only because Reeves has decent interview skills. Director Chris Kennally and Reeves draw together a high profile selection of mainstream filmmakers — Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, George Lucas, Robert Rodriguez — for a free-ranging discussion on the differences between the medium and the various impacts film and digital can have on the creative process. In some ways, “Side By Side” buries the lead, as it essentially chronicles the death of film by spotlighting a sole voice (Christopher Nolan, notch) championing the older medium over the newer one. But the documentary is too loosely inquisitive to sound a melancholic note, and being shot on video essentially serves as an endorsement for the format in ever scene. On the whole, however, “Side By Side” works as well as it does by celebrating the filmmaking practice as a distinctive art form no matter what process it uses to make images into motion. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Opens Friday in Los Angeles followed by a New York release on August 31. Available on VOD August 22. Released by Tribeca Film. Watch the trailer below: