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

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

“Project Nim” or “Zookeeper” this weekend? The choice is yours. In case you want to get a critic’s opinion on what to see and what not to see of this week’s new releases, check out what indieWIRE and The Blog Network has to say…

“Project Nim”

indieWIRE — B+
The movie works best when probing the nature of human interactions with Nim: He appears to form a close friendship with the stoner psych major Bob Ingersoll, not only foraging for food with him but also sharing joints. Ingersoll, eventually the central activist involved in saving Nim from becoming a pure experiment, rejects the notion of whether or not Nim can communicate like a person and accepts the emotional qualities involved in how he communicates like an ape. Their scenes together form the strongest sections of “Project Nim,” since only here does it appear that Nim becomes regarded on his own terms rather than those projected onto him. Overall, however, Marsh avoids any serious attempt to unearth the nature of Nim’s actions, backing down from the greater psychological analysis implied by the case. Dealing with the interplay between scientific reasoning and pure wonder, Marsh ultimately allows wonder to win out.

The Playlist — B
The film is engrossing at first but becomes a little repetitive as each of Nim’s caregivers follows a similar pattern. Also interesting is that for a science experiment, everyone involved seems incredibly naive. Dr. Herbert Terrace, in particular, seems so clueless you never really have any faith in the experiment to begin with. The interviews with Dr. Terrace unfortunately seem to almost give away early on that this will not end well for Nim. If Dr. Herbert could have seduced the audience into believing in him it would have made the narrative even more thrilling (and tragic) as the film went along. But because we never believe for a second that he’s intellectually capable of holding the experiment together (he seemed to choose Nim’s teachers based on which grad students he was interested in dating at the time) it becomes an exercise in the inevitable.

“Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”

indieWIRE — B+
Initially called “Beats, Rhymes & Fights,” actor Michael Rapaport’s documentary about the history of groundbreaking hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest now has the title it originally riffed on. Borrowing the name of the group’s 1996 album, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of Tribe Called Quest” deserves Rapaport’s original choice, but not because of the negative connotations the groupmembers allegedly thought it carried. Placing their talent ahead of the conflicts that marred their later years, “Beats Rhymes & Life” focuses on the battle to make art in spite of many setbacks.

“The Ledge”

The Playlist — B-
Overall, “The Ledge” never overcomes its self-imposed genre confines, but also does some of its best work in the context. It’s a film about ideas that wants to be a film about people – and partially succeeds. As a treaty on atheism, it scratches the surface and maybe that’s enough to open the door for some audience members. As a condemnation of religion run wild, it tiptoes on the edge of stereotyping but never totters over and ultimately, “The Ledge” is worth a cautious visit.

“The Sleeping Beauty”

Breillat has now reached a point in her career when instead of breaking boundaries, as she did with “Anatomy of Hell,” she is simply creating worlds in which those rules and limitations do not exist. “Blue Beard,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and perhaps soon “Beauty and the Beast” take the Renaissance fantasies of Perrault and bend the already mystical world of the fairytale into something completely new and entirely unencumbered. This provocateur has moved away from the “New French Extreme” to become the master of her own magical kingdom.

The Playlist — A
A little girl who dreams of being a boy. A boy who wishes to be seduced by an Ice Queen. High fantasy and tangled sexuality dovetail in “The Sleeping Beauty,” a fantastical retelling of the popular folklore involving the little girl brought to an eternal slumber. Like the original Brothers Grimm fairytale, this version differs sharply from the public’s greater awareness of the Disney-fied version. But where it takes the familiar-seeming tale differs greatly from the source, as it emerges from the fertile mind of French provacateur Catherine Breillat.

“The Ward”

indieWIRE — D+
“The Ward” has all the hallmarks of the genre that its director, John Carpenter, once executed to a fault: Strong female characters facing off against abnormal threats, ghastly circumstances stemming from murky backstories and action set within a single, claustrophobic environment. While familiar in terms of content, however, “The Ward” succeeds mainly as a checklist that keeps it consistent with Carpenter’s nearly forty years of work. It has none of the smart genre appeal that put him on the map, instead resembling a desperate knock-off by someone with far less talent. Carpenter either lost his groove or the will to use it.

The Playlist — C-
The 63-year-old Carpenter, who hasn’t made a movie in a decade, directs “The Ward” the way he probably dances today: creaky, without rhythm, and desperate to get back off the floor. With no concept of time or place, scenes melt into each other, perhaps in an attempt to create a dream state, but more likely with the hopes you won’t begin to question the complete lack of context. “The Ward” doesn’t seem like a John Carpenter movie, and at points, it doesn’t even feel like a theatrical release: more like something from Lucky McKee’s editor, or a lesser Larry Fessenden acolyte, quietly released on DVD from Ghost House.

“Horrible Bosses”

Leonard Maltin
Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein wrote the screenplay, based on Markowitz’s story, and Seth Gordon, who made his name with the sleeper documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, maintains a good balance between believability (when it matters) and farce. Horrible Bosses may not be exceptional but it is diverting, which is all one could ask of a mainstream Hollywood comedy.

Caryn James
Horrible Bosses is the funniest comedy since The Hangover – the real Hangover, not this year’s lame sequel. In fact, it is everything you might have wanted a Hangover sequel to be. The outlandish premise is carried by an ideal cast, with Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day as friends plotting to murder one another’s irredeemably awful bosses – not what career-advice books usually counsel, but these poor guys’ powers of invention are a little bit skewed.

The Playlist — C-
Even at a compact 95 minutes “Horrible Bosses” drags horribly. Directed by Seth Gordon, who as a documentarian made “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” one of the greatest sports movies in recent memory, before transitioning into narrative features with the truly miserable Reese Witherspoon/Vince Vaughn holiday rom-com “Four Christmases,” the things that made his first effort so spectacularly special – propulsive narrative drive, a keen eye towards character development – are totally missing from his fiction films. In “Horrible Bosses,” the plot, while incredibly simplistic, careens out of control without any discernible path (an interlude where our heroes hire a shadowy figure for “wet work” is a particularly painful deviation) and especially towards the end, it throws common sense out the window, replacing it with a big, tenuous action sequence, hinging squarely on convenient coincidence and shoddy police work. Neither as dark nor as edgy as it thinks it is or wants to be “Horrible Bosses” is a middling disappointment. [C-]


Leonard Maltin
With all of this window dressing, the movie still rests on the shoulders of James and his ability to make us root for him. In spite of various story contrivances we do, on the most elemental level, and that’s why Zookeeper clicks.

The Playlist — D-
Don’t worry, though, your child won’t ever develop the hunger to respond to this cynical claptrap with rebellion. Because it’s about being coddled—a development not specific to children’s films. “Zookeeper” is another in a long line of kid flicks that promises one must “be themselves” as if that was such a difficult motto to express, particularly because of its coded message, that being the idea of self-improvement is a myth. A thinking audience is not an audience that spends $10 on a ticket to a Happy Madison production.

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