This weekly column is intended to provide reviews of nearly every new release, including films on VOD (and in certain cases some studio releases). Specifics release dates and locations follow each review.
"The Central Park Five"
"The Central Park Five," which opens in several cities this Friday, provides a welcome exception to the usual Ken Burns routine. Burns co-directed the movie with his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon; the subject matter is partly derived from Sarah Burns' book "The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding," released last year. Nevertheless, its polemical content stands out in the elder Burns' oeuvre and deserves recognition as his most important feature-length achievement.
The movie casts a judgmental eye at the New York City Police Department and the city's prosecutorial system that led five Harlem teenagers to spend their young adulthood behind bars for a crime they didn't commit. The convictions were the result of the infamous 1989 case of "The Central Park Jogger," when a white woman in her twenties (later revealed to be Trisha Meili) was attacked during a late night jog, raped and left in a debilitating coma. The teens, who ranged in age from 14 to 16, faced the NYPD's Machiavellian interrogation techniques that goaded them to confess to the attack in the hopes that they might face a lenient judgement. Instead, they wound up spending years in jail, only to become exonerated in 2002 when Matias Reyes confessed to acting solo in the crime. At under two hours, "Central Park 5" might be Burns' shortest directorial credit in years, but with its subjects currently suing the city for misconduct, its real ending hasn't been written yet. Criticwire grade: A- [Eric Kohn]
Read the full review here. Opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Released by IFC Films. Watch the trailer below:
"Gottfried Heinwein and the Dreaming Child"
Lisa Kirk Colburn's visually appealing, yet often one-note documentary chronicles the trials and tribulations of the eponymous artist at the helm of Hanoch Levin's opera "The Child Dreams." Helnwein's work is largely inspired by children who fell victim to the Holocaust -- he paints children who are near-death and have faced atrocities -- and he was chosen to design the opera because its images and themes are analogous to his artistic oeuvre. While Helnwein is a very intriguing artist -- his artistic vision in this opera is astounding -- the overall subject matter will likely only draw in a niche audience of opera aficionado or those very entrenched in the art world. Also, since the subject of the documentary is a dedicated provocateur, the film's inability to mirror his attitude is a disappointment. Nevertheless, "Gottfried Heinwein" successfully portrays Helnwein for those already open to his talents. Criticwire grade: B- [Caitlin Hughes]
Opens Friday at New York's Quad Cinema. Released by First Run Features. Watch the trailer below:
"Hitchcock" takes place during the legendary production of "Psycho" in 1959, but it never shows a single frame of the movie itself. The absence of "Psycho" in a story so committed to its production underscores the narrative thrust of "Hitchcock." As the title implies, it focuses more on the master of suspense than his mastery. The foregrounding of Hitch's character benefits greatly from a brilliantly kooky turn by Anthony Hopkins, whose diction and stiff pose wonderfully inhabit Hitchcock's peculiar physicality. At the same time, the emphasis on Hitch the man versus Hitch the filmmaker only carries the movie so far. Based on Stephen Rebello's 1990 book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," John McLaughlin's screenplay has been vividly realized by director Sacha Gervasi (who directed the heavy metal documentary "Anvil!" and has written several screenplays, but makes his fiction debut behind the camera here).
"Hitchcock" largely succeeds at pulling back the veil on the filmmaker's off-camera personality. To a larger degree, it reveals the level of influence of his devoted wife and screenwriter Alma (Helen Mirren) on both his personal life and career, a track that eventually leads "Hitchcock" away from "Psycho" and into scenes from a marriage instead. Treating "Psycho" as its MacGuffin, the movie uses the backstory as an excuse to unearth a comparatively run-of-the-mill relationship drama. With so much screen time committed to Alma and Alfred, the title of "Hitchcock" should have been plural. Criticwire grade: B [Eric Kohn]
Read the full review here. Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Fox Searchlight. Watch the trailer below:
"Life of Pi"
Yann Martel's bestselling 2001 novel "Life of Pi" followed the young Indian survivor of a shipwreck stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger -- the kind of high concept scenario both easy to comprehend and difficult to envision in movie terms. Much of the story, narrated by its spiritually minded protagonist, contains prolonged philosophical discussions and remains tethered to an extremely minimalist setting. That Ang Lee has managed to turn the limitations of his source material into his adaptation's greatest strength makes "Life of Pi" a significant achievement for the filmmaker in spite of blatant problems with structure, dialogue and other surface issues. "Life of Pi" succeeds in its most audacious moments and struggles whenever it returns to familiar ground. [Eric Kohn] Criticwire grade: B+
Read the full review here. Opened on Wednesday nationwide. Released by 20th Century Fox. Watch the trailer below:
The remake of "Red Dawn" replaces the Cold War jingoism of John Milius' isolationist fantasy with the smug survivalism of teens weaned on "Call of Duty." When North Korean soldiers invade their hometown, Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) and his friends fall in line behind Marine big brother Jed (Chris Hemsworth), who transforms them into formidable guerilla fighters. Director Dan Bradley makes this "Red Dawn" more violent and simplistic, opting for heart-pounding action over disquietude and introspection. When Jed employs insurgent tactics, he describes it in role-playing terms (good guys versus bad guys) and expresses no ambivalence about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where he's stationed. (In case you were wondering, "Red Dawn" was shot in 2009.) Even without comparing it to the 1984 original, this combat film is rife with missed opportunities. The opening emphasizes the political and economic instabilities of 2012, but when the invaders were changed from Chinese to North Korean in postproduction, "Red Dawn" lost its bite. An internment camp made from the same shipping containers that bring goods from China shows what this film might have been. Instead of expressing our contemporary fears, "Red Dawn" feels like a video game where nothing's at stake and rewards are few and far between. Criticwire grade: D+ [Serena Donadoni]
Now playing nationwide. Released by FilmDistrict and Open Road Films. Watch the trailer below:
"Rust and Bone"
French director Jacques Audiard tends to explore the conflicts of grave, conflicted men stuck between an instinctual need to overcome basic obstacles and assume greater responsibilities for the world around them. The filmmaker achieved the apotheosis of this focus with 2009's "A Prophet," in which a lower-class criminal finds his catharsis in religion. "Rust and Bone," Audiard's latest effort, never reaches those same heights, although it concerns the same fundamental trajectory. Satisfying for what it is, the movie merely confirms Audiard's skill with engaging performances and the potent theme of retribution.
Although it takes time getting to the point, "Rust and Bone" is essentially a romance between two troubled souls. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a muscular bouncer who moonlights as a street fighter, shows up in the north of France at his sister's place, having abandoned a former flame with a five-year-old son he only knows in passing. Over the course of his work at a local nightclub, he meets the buoyant Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an agile party woman stuck in a deteriorating relationship. After giving her a ride home, the two part ways, and then naturally find a way back to each other in the wake of a tragedy. Their ensuing relationship sustains "Rust and Bone" even as its plot ambles along without many significant developments until its closing scenes. A final, climactic event kicks the drama into a higher, near-horrific gear, successfully landing on the epiphany needed to complete the arc of its contained plot. While its main characters are tough-minded, "Rust and Bone" is itself pure heart. Criticwire grade: B+ [Eric Kohn]
Read the full review. Opens Friday in several cities. Released by Sony Pictures Classics. Watch the trailer below: