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What to See, What to Skip: New Reviews This Week

What to See, What to Skip: New Reviews This Week

The new Pixar release “Cars 2” will no doubt leave the box office competition eating its dust, but with a new slate of releases, it’s unlikely you’ll skip the cinema this weekend. Here’s what our indieWIRE and our blog network critics had to say about this week’s new releases…

“Cars 2”

The Playlist Review – C-
“Why was “Cars 2” made? Well, for the money, of course. While the first film is one of Pixar’s underperformers when it comes to box office, it has made billions (with a capital bee) annually on merchandise and licensing and has become the centerpiece of a billion dollar (again, with a capital bee) expansion of Disney’s California Adventure theme park. In the years since the original film’s release, it’s become one of Disney’s most recognizable brands, with the sequel serving as an incredibly expensive commercial for bed sheets, Crocs, and matchbox toys. At one point, Mater actually sings the State Farm insurance jingle (yes, they’re one of the movie’s multitude of promotional partners) and that’s when the ungainly muddle of a movie really, truly became clear.”

Leonard Maltin Review
“Naturally, the animation is first-rate and the various settings are pleasing to the eye—although it’s a bit odd to see the cars outside of their own universe in man-made world capitals. There are punny moments of dialogue and sight-gags to match, but they exist in a vacuum without a story that’s clear and characters who matter. The fact that the film takes nearly two hours to unfold doesn’t help.”

“Bad Teacher”

The Playlist Review – B-
“It’s also sadly missing that added dimension that made “Bridesmaids” so special and essential – a willingness to investigate the real life, occasionally quite sticky aspects of female friendship. “Bad Teacher” is more straightforwardly cartoonish, but it’s often times almost as funny. We’re not sure how it will be interpreted in the context of the current discussion of women in comedy, but if you’re looking for some decent laughs to unwind your brain, “Bad Teacher” will deliver in that respect. However, if you’re looking for something with more meat around its bones, the picture tends to feel like a half-hearted and hurriedly written term-paper that you can only marginally endorse.”

Leonard Maltin Review
“I was wary going in, as I tend to be whenever a Hollywood movie announces through its advertising how “outrageous” it’s going to be. The only outrageous thing about Bad Teacher is that director Jake Kasdan and two writers who earned an Emmy nomination for television’s The Office (Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg) could turn out such an obvious, heavy-handed, unfunny comedy.”

Spout Review
“Elizabeth isn’t so much a one-dimensional stereotype of the manipulative bitch as she is a one-and-a-half-dimensional product of bad writing. This may not be a feminist masterpiece, or even a “Bridesmaids,” but it’s hardly the worst of Hollywood’s problems; see the poster for the upcoming “Horrible Bosses” that mince no words by labeling Jennifer Aniston “maneater” right off the bat.”

“A Better Life”

indieWIRE Review – B-
“There are moments in Chris Weitz’s immigration drama that transcend the familiarity of the material, and others that play directly into it. In the swift, wordless opening sequence, the director reveals the life of sullen middle-aged gardener Carlos (Demián Bichir) living out his days as an impoverished illegal immigrant in Los Angeles. The credit sequence encapsulates an entire 12-hour period in Carlos’ life, from waking up on his living room couch to toiling away in the heat and then back to his claustrophobic abode as dusk sets in.”

Leonard Maltin Review
“A Better Life has more to offer than good intentions: it’s sincere and credible, which is more than I can say about an awful lot of movies. Yet something about it kept me at arm’s length: I felt the filmmakers’ presence instead of losing myself in the story. Is that because, like director Chris Weitz, I am not part of the world he’s depicting but an outsider looking in? Or is it because the trajectory of this melancholy film is so predictable?”

“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”

indieWIRE Review – B+
“Compiled out of 149 minutes of footage, the 88-minute feature nicely displays the rush of the tour experience and its purpose for O’Brien as extreme catharsis. “It’s an elation coming out of utter despair,” he says. Although occasionally pissy about his inability to slow down and collect himself (a memorable bit finds him abruptly drafted to introduce acts at Bonnaroo, right when he wants to relax), O’Brien demonstrates a superhuman ability to keep his funny bone in check, even after the crowds go home.”

The Playlist Review – A-
“It’s in these early sequences that the movie establishes itself as both a winning, charming, you’ll-miss-stuff-because-you’re-still-laughing-too-hard concert documentary and a peek behind Conan’s psychological curtain. The movie wouldn’t have been much if it had only been one half of this equation, but the two sides of the movie enrich it in profound and unexpected ways. It could have been really funny or really serious and still been good, but combined, it’s downright amazing.”

Spout Review
“If I had to complain about anything, and it’s somewhat appropriate with this film to be bitchy, it is actually too funny for a crowd that big. From the opening, in which the talk show host gives a surprising celebrity sighting to a star-homes tour bus, the audience could not quiet down. It’s just one hilarious bit after another, and I missed many of those bits. So, I can’t wait to see the doc again to fill in gaps. Also, it’s just plain worthy of multiple viewings.”

Caryn James Review
“This doc about his post-Tonight live tour charts that painful process – performing as anger-management therapy—convinces us that his anger was rooted in a deep sense of fairness, and also manages to be a high-energy, thoroughly entertaining film.”

“If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front”

The Playlist Review – A-
“What Marshall Curry‘s uneven but ultimately rewarding “If A Tree Falls” tries to do, admirably, is attack the issue from all sides while chronicling the very personal ordeal of Daniel McGowan, by all accounts a cherubically mild-mannered citizen who was seized by the F.B.I. and charged with eco-terrorism acts committed a half-decade before.”

Spout Review
“[I] think it’s another strong contender, though again not as great as Marshall Curry’s prior nominee, ‘Streetwise.’ It lacks a similar strength in characters but it did leave me thinking a lot about the questions it raises regarding domestic terrorism.”


indieWIRE Review – B
“Turturro’s involvement with a project of this nature, for which he was recruited by producers Carlo Macchitella and Robert Cicutto, makes sense in light of his undervalued directorial debut, “Romance and Cigarettes,” a far stranger and more flamboyant musical endeavor. However, Turturro frequently overplays the music’s inherent appeal. On a cinematic level, the staged sequences leave much to be desired, as they run through straightforward concert footage (the best scenes), MTV-ready flashiness and soap opera cheese. In short, Turturro’s curatorial instincts are better than his music video skills.”

Spout Review
“Finally, the film evokes the extraordinary physical beauty of the city and its inhabitants. Picturesque architecture is everywhere, and used to the hilt. There are the arcades of the old quarters of the city presented in the hyper-sexual dance number “Come Facette Mammetta,” and the perfectly arranged courtyards of “Era de Maggio” and “Indifferentemente,” simple and yet quite potent songs led by Portuguese Fado queen Misia. If nothing else, this film will have you deeply and violently entranced in its music, and you’ll leave the theater looking for more from the many talented musicians it brings to the screen.”

[Compiled by Austin Dale.]

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