February is upon us. As we enter the final home-stretch of awards season and look forward to what the rest of the year may offer, the time around Groundhog Day brings some risky releases and some unfortunate ones. Here’s how the members of our Criticwire Network are reacting to this week’s offerings.
The Pick: As Don Simpson points out at the beginning of his review of “Lore” for Smells Like Screen Spirit, “I know, I know… We need another World War II film like we need another world war.” And although telling the story from an Axis power point of view isn’t exactly uncharted territory, Cate Shortland’s second feature is garnering acclaim for bringing a fresh perspective on the conflict. The film currently stands at a “B+” Criticwire average, good enough for the highest spot among this week’s theatrical releases.
The film centers around the titular Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), a child of Nazi Germany whose family is faced with the difficult truths that came with the end of WWII. Sympathizing with a central character who is emotionally crippled upon learning of Hitler’s death may be an uphill battle for some, but Shortland’s ability to craft a compelling narrative around Lore’s struggles is the basis of much of the film’s praise. Scott Foundas, writing at the Village Voice, explains that “Shortland draws fine work from her actors, particularly the haunting Rosendahl, who manages to seem by turns a perfectly unbending Nazi youth, a frightened little girl forced to grow up too quickly, and a sensuous young woman bursting into bloom.” Simpson further highlights the contributions of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, particularly for “meshing gritty in-your-face realism with transcendent, visual poeticism. The unbridled naturalism totally immerses the viewer into this morally confounding narrative; the camera places us so close to Lore, that we are practically walking in her shoes.”
As David Fear at Time Out New York also points out, the overall tone of the film might prove wary for some viewers. As a cautionary tale, he ends his review by explaining, “After a while, however, Lore’s horror show starts to feel less like a means to an end than the end itself: What starts as a flipped survival tale turns into historical tragisploitation that wallows in its slog of endless suffering.” Whether the final product proves to be as successful for audiences, one thing is apparent: this is a film that requires some emotional preparation.
Doc Roundup: One of the most buzzed-about documentaries at Sundance was Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl’s “Sound City.” We included the film in our look at some of the best-received films at the festival’s halfway point, but its release on VOD and in select theaters has provided a new wave of reviews. NPR’s Ian Buckwalter salutes Grohl for being able to imbue the traditional rock documentary structure with some personality-driven variation. “Grohl’s jovial presence is the hook; playing interviewer and emcee as well as director, he’s the catchy bit you welcome every time it returns. The star-studded interview list provides much of the personality and attitude, as does a fantastically tense behind-the-scenes video of Petty and his band laboring long hours to craft their breakthrough record,” Buckwalter writes. Ethan Anderton from Firstshowing.net highlights the film’s commentary on the ubiquitous debate between film and digital. Although he argues the film’s scope is inherently limited, it’s an interesting tale “about not letting technology do all the work and act as a crutch for shortcoming in talent.”
VOD Up-and-Comer: “Brooklyn Castle” was one of the notable documentaries of the latter months of 2012, landing a spot on our Criticwire Cheat Sheet. Now, the tale of New York middle school chess competitors extends its limited theatrical engagement by making the jump to on-demand viewing. IONCinema’s Jordan Smith explains that, despite the wide net cast by director Katie Dellamaggiore, “the filmmakers are sure to let the personalities shine, which allows for an incredible amount of building tension centered around scored competition, and a series of extraneous events that pull at the heart strings.” Matt Prigge at Philadelphia Weekly is less enamored, arguing that the film’s issue approach to the subject results in a mixed amount of success. “Brooklyn Castle goes 50-50 with touching on various ideas and keeping things entertaining/moving, all while taking chess away from its elite image and showing how it can be used to better economic/social status and even mental disorders. It’s actually more interesting when focusing on the latter than the former,” Prigge writes.
The Underachiever of the Week (And Why It Might Be Faring Thusly):
“Identity Thief“: “To make matters worse, this cockamamie venture isn’t just unfunny (In addition to “Milkshake” there are more gross-out sex jokes than you can shake a plate of baby back ribs at) it gets even stupider, with the Latin mafia and Robert Patrick as a redneck bounty hunter on their tail.” –Jordan Hoffman
Re-Evaluating, Over 40 Years Later: Finally, in an attempt to chart Criticwire grades as a mark of how certain classics have fared, we’ve singled out a few films in past editions of this feature. Some of the obvious “A+” favorites? “Annie Hall,” “Breathless,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Alien,” to name a few. But there’s one entry from the past that hasn’t favored as well with Criticwire members so far: “Easy Rider.” Dennis Hopper’s 1969 road classic is one curious example of a film that has become more effective as a peek into a specific time and attitude in American culture than a revered film. Disagree with the initial assessment of our critics? Head on over to the film page and share your thoughts.
Film pages Criticwire averages for this week’s theatrical openings can be found on the next page.