Riverfront Times April 9, 2015 : Page 29
in review As of Tuesday, April 7, the following releases were scheduled. “NR” indicates that the ﬁ lm is not reviewed. Our complete ﬁ lm reviews are available online. He's the one we most frequently laugh at, but also the one we feel the most for. Youth may be wasted on the young, but midlife ennui is unbecoming, and While We're Young refuses to give in to middle-aged self-pity. (Zacharek) Woman in Gold. (PG-13) The story of Gustav Klimt's painting The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (conﬁ scated by Nazis, displayed as Austria's Mona Lisa in a Vienna museum, test case in the law granting reparations to Jewish descendants) has already been detailed in articles, a book, and several documentaries. What Woman in Gold has over nonﬁ ction portrayals is emotion, and director Simon Curtis ( My Week With Marilyn ) milks every scene for its heart-tugging potential. Alexi Kaye Campbell's script makes it easy for Curtis: The relationship between Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), whose aunt is depicted in Klimt's famous golden portrait, and attorney Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) is constructed as a platonic romance. From their awkward ﬁ rst meeting through trials that test their union to a life-altering conclusion, the legal case is always recounted through the ﬁ lter of their relationship. Mirren and Reynolds have great chemistry, and their odd couple --she's regal and sharp-witted, he's rumpled and steely-eyed --banter with easy humor and deep affection. Curtis also ﬂ ashes back to a lost Vienna where the wealthy Bloch-Bauers were major art patrons (and friends of Randol's grandfather, composer Arnold Schoenberg), scenes enlivened by Tatiana Maslany. Mirren's Maria is a careful construction, but Maslany's Maria is intense and quick-witted, saying goodbye to her parents with profound tenderness and ﬂ eeing Nazis with heart-pounding determination. Woman in Gold suf-fers from biopic oversights (Maria's children aren't mentioned, nor is her husband's brief internment at Dachau), but Curtis's greatest oversimpliﬁ cation is viewing this fraught process as primarily a form of family reuniﬁ cation. (Serena Donadoni) OPENING The Longest Ride. (PG-13) It's easy to tease a Nicholas Sparks movie. It's harder to admit that he's good at his niche --and has a string of ten ﬁ lms, nearly all proﬁ table, to prove it, even if every one has been savaged by critics. Still, a good romance can make us endure an implausible plot as long as the leads have heat. This time, instead of one couple, there's two --and Sparks has even stretched out of his blonde/ Southern/Christian comfort zone to make the older pair Jewish. His young heartthrob is a blonde, Southern bull rider named Luke Collins and played by Clint Eastwood's son, Scott Eastwood, who pairs his daddy's crinkle-cut eyes with abs you could use as a cattle guard. Luke is a hero on the Professional Bull Riding circuit, a three-time champion forced to take a year-long break after a monster named Rango gored him in Las Vegas. He and art student Sophia (Britt Robertson) have nothing in common except golden good looks and a fondness for looking at each other and grinning. Still, Robertson and Eastwood do that well enough that we buy their chemistry. Robertson has a great giggle, and Tillman cranks up the sexual tension as Luke plonks her on a practice barrel strung up in his barn to teach this city girl how to straddle a wild ride. And, of course, Luke could learn a love lesson from widower Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), who literally crashes into his life with a box of love letters he wrote to his wife Ruth. By the time The Longest Ride runs right off a cliff, we're already strapped in with these two. Give in and enjoy the plunge. (Amy Nicholson) Merchants of Doubt. (PG-13) Reviewed this issue. (Alan Scherstuhl) Seymour: An Introduction. (Not Rated) A magniﬁ cently accomplished concert pianist who at one time seemed poised for fame, Seymour Bernstein, now in his eighties, quit performing at age 50. Since then, he has concentrated on composing, teaching, and simply playing. Director Ethan Hawke --who appears only brieﬂ y in Seymour: An Introduc-tion , as an intensely quizzical, vaguely rumpled presence --explains that he met Bernstein at a dinner party, and was drawn to the elder gentleman's ideas about performing and creativity: Hawke had been struggling with his own questions about what it means to be a performer, and has at times suffered from debilitating stage fright. The ﬁ lm Hawke has made --which borrows its title, though little else, from J.D. Salinger --works both as a celebration of Bernstein, whose spirit is at once gentle and boldly generous, and as a way of exploring creativity and the meaning it can have in our lives. Listening to Bernstein speak and play, and watching him connect with his students, you can see why Hawke would gravitate toward him. He's an impishly cheerful-looking man with a roundish face, his thinning hair brushed into a little tuft at the top. His aura of calm is like an enveloping mist when he talks about the nature of merging "the musical self and the personal self," or when he likens a student’s playing to "a dream." He's a reassuring but challenging presence, maybe because he's still asking questions himself. What does it mean to play music, to teach, or to simply create? The answers are in Schubert, in Beethoven, and ﬂ oating out there in the universe. They're in a chord you can feel in your heart. (Stephanie Zacharek) While We're Young. (R) When you're young, to be old --even just the 44 kind of old --is unimaginable. There's no single moment of passing to the other side; the only thing that's real is the bewilderment of realizing that you've somehow squeezed through to it. That bewilderment is the guiding force of Noah Baumbach's fearless half-a-comedy While We're Young , an unsparing consideration of what makes the young different from the not-so-young. Ben Stiller plays a onetime documentary ﬁ lmmaker who's hit his forties and stalled out on the masterpiece he's been painstakingly craft-ing for years. He gets a jolt when he meets young aspiring ﬁ lmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his artisanal-ice-cream-maker wife, Darby (Amanda Seyfried), both about twenty years his junior. Josh is inspired by their energy, their casual generosity, their drive to "make stuff," and while his wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts), isn't sold at ﬁ rst, eventually she, too, falls prey to the couple’s charms. But it turns out that Jamie is a climber of the worst sort and, tragically for Josh, perhaps one with actual talent. Baumbach's eighth feature isn't just sharp, it's serrated — its jokes, and there are lots of them, come at you with rows and rows of tiny teeth. Even if Baumbach betrays annoyance with the sense of entitlement and soufﬂ é-high overconﬁ dence of millennials, in the end he comes down hardest on beleaguered Josh, his semi-hero. ONGOING Cinderella. (PG) There's no empowerment message embedded in Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, no "Girls can do anything!" cheerleader vibe. That's why it's wonderful. This is a straight, no-chaser fairy story, a picture to be downed with pleasure. It worries little about sending the wrong message and instead trusts us to decode its politics, sexual and otherwise, on our own. And face it — kids have been left on their own to decode the politics of fairy tales for centuries. Like all of Branagh's ﬁ lms, even some of the bad ones, his bold, rococo Cinderella is practically Wagnerian in its ambitions — it's so swaggering in its conﬁ dence that at times it almost commands us to like it. But it's also unexpectedly delicate in all the right ways, and uncompromisingly beautiful to look at. But what you'll miss if you do! As the primrose-radiant Lily James (of Downton Abbey) plays her, this Cinderella never comes off as a simp, maybe thanks, in part, to James's sturdy, storm-cloud eye-brows: She's a princess with presence. No wonder the mice of the household adore her — they chatter their thanks as she upends a teacup to make a dinner table for them. This is the ﬁ rst Cinderella I can think of where the prince is a thoughtful young man confounded by sorrows and challenges of his own. And say what you will about Branagh's notorious ego: When he makes a movie, he makes a movie, a grand marvel of visual details and gestures that laughs haughtily at the idea of being watched at home on a TV screen. (Zacharek) Danny Collins. (R) Superstars aren't allowed to change. Even the fans who love them insist they be dipped in wax: no new songs, no new attitude, and certainly no new look. Such is the "kind of based on a true story a little bit" premise of Danny Collins, a charmer with Al Pacino as a megawatt singer who sells out stadiums but has calciﬁ ed into a caricature. Pacino plays him as delusionally vain. Danny's accepted selling out — who wouldn't? — until his manager (Christopher Plummer) presents him with a letter John Lennon wrote decades ago urging Danny to "stay true to yourself." Talk about a from-the-grave guilt trip. Danny Collins is a redemp-tion movie in the skeptical key of Jerry Maguire. Our decadent hero decides to ﬁ x himself in the ﬁ rst act. The rest of the ﬁ lm is him realizing how hard it'll be to keep living right --and that maybe he doesn't have the moral clout to manage it. Danny jets off to Jersey in his private plane, checks into a modest hotel, and stuffs a grand piano into a room so cramped he has no choice but to sit down at the stool and compose. In a way, Danny Collins is allowing Al Pacino to do the same thing. The great Seventies talent has "hoo-ah!"–ed through recent decades, cranking out variations on his greatest hits. This movie is a narrow character piece that shows Pacino wrestling to reveal layers in a man who's worried he might actually be hollow. He and Fogelman string together dozens of small, perfect moments. Meanwhile, Bobby Cannavale, playing Danny's estranged son, comes close to out-acting Pacino, who proves willing to share the mic. (Nicholson) Get Hard. (R) Get Hard, Etan Cohen's comedy about a white stockbroker who hires a black man to prepare him for a ten-year stretch in San Quentin, is like a spoon that's almost-but-not-yet sharpened into a shiv. With just a little more effort, it could kill. The comedy isn't hunting Will Ferrell's ultra-rich James King, but another target: the privilege he represents. Like the tight-ﬁ sted conservatives in Congress, Ferrell's Harvard-educated silver-spooner is so blind to his own privilege that when his boss and father-in-law (Craig T. Nelson) brags about founding their agency with only "me, my computer, and an $8 million loan from my father," he applauds. Ferrell's idiocy doesn't work. But his decency does. Instead of playing King like a callous corporate villain, he's a well-meaning sap who sincerely believes he's a good person --or, at least, certainly not a bigot. Mistaking car-washer Darnell (Kevin Hart) for a carjacker, he can't admit that it was because he's black, swearing that he'd have reacted the same if he were "rich or poor or white or... miscellaneous." Still, King is willing to pay Darnell $30,000 to teach him to act tough. The extra twist is that King can't tell that Darnell is a straight-arrow nerd. Darnell's wife (Edwina Findley Dick-erson) is sure King will see through his thug act. But Darnell simply puts on a black skullcap and lets cultural assumptions take care of the rest. As beﬁ ts their characters, Hart acts like a normal human, and Ferrell a cartoon. (Nicholson) It Follows. (R) Forget Dracula and Freddie Kruger. In writer/ director David Robert Mitchell's It Follows , the killer is as generic as death, the universal murderer. The monster can look like anyone: an old woman, a child, your mom. And instead of cackling quips or toying with blades, it simply paces toward you, as silent and slow as a lion, until it's close enough to pounce. Flee to Kansas and it will pad behind in pursuit. A child fears the boogeyman under the bed. Grown-ups wake up terriﬁ ed of nightmares like this—they know that in some form, an assassin will slay us all and there's no escape. Mitchell has made a teen slasher for adults. The sacriﬁ cial ﬂ esh is young, but the horrors are for the barely legal and above, as the stalker is transmitted by sex. Sleep with the wrong partner, as 19-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe, the square-shouldered blonde of last summer's excellent The Guest ) discovers, and death passes from her date to her. Jay's choices are dire: die, or kill her own conscience by seducing the next victim. It Follows crams big ideas into a thin, but stylish thriller that shares the visual tics of this new breed of low budget, high ambition horror. There's a way-cool synth soundtrack, curiously dated set design (our heroine still watches a TV with rabbit ears), several gorgeous tracking shots, and pounds of atmospheric pressure. At times, the ﬁ lm moves so slow it feels drugged. But just when boredom sets in, a ﬁ gure moves in the distance and alarm bells sound all over again. The most fun will be in dissecting it afterwards. Film school professors, look forward to a decade of term papers. (Nicholson) The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. (PG) At the bottom of the ocean, inside a giant pineapple, lives a yellow, oblong sponge who likes to blow bubbles, eat more ice cream than is good for him, and work as a fry cook. The "Krabby Patty" sandwiches he makes are so popular that a one-eyed plank-ton, who runs a failed restaurant across the way, regularly comes up with evil schemes to steal the recipe and thereby, he imagines, rule the world. And they say there's no creativity left in Hollywood. In his big-screen debut, SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) must recover the stolen crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor), even as evil Plankton (Doug Lawrence) steals the secret recipe and perfects a mind-control plan. The central theme of the movie is the pure joy the cartoon takes in childishness, a message that will resonate with kids in the audience, but possibly less so with the girlfriends of older males. Also, wait till you see how David Hasselhoff ﬁ gures into the climax --it's his best role ever. (Luke Y. Thompson) Still Alice. (PG-13) Most of us can't imagine having a disease that tugs and tears at the very threads of who we are. When we wake up in the middle of the night with outlandish fears, we strike reassuring bargains with ourselves: If I lose my sight, I'll still have music. If I lose my hearing, I'll still have color and light. But what if the person you've spent years becoming were to be locked away permanently in a body --your body --that's still thriving? In Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer's Still Alice , that's exactly what happens to 50-year-old Alice, an Ivy League linguistics professor --played by Julianne Moore --who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. She makes those reassuring bargains. By the time the inevitable happens, she won't even remember what they were. Who is Alice, once she's no longer able to speak or recognize family members, let alone teach or read or, essentially, do any of the things that used to deﬁ ne her? The answer is embedded in the title of the ﬁ lm, and it's an indication of the movie's melancholy hopefulness: While Still Alice isn't exactly the sort of cheerful pick-me-up you'd seek out on a dreary January day, it's so ﬁ ne-grained, so attuned to everyday life even under extraordinary circumstances, that it doesn't register as depressing. Glatzer and Westmoreland shape Alice's story with such delicate matter-of-factness that it never tips into Lifetime-movie territory, but the key, maybe, is Moore's performance. She maps Alice's gradual debilita-tion --or, rather, her awareness of it --like a pioneer in a strange new land, watching the ship that carried her there slip away into the distance, a dot of meaning that will soon mean nothing. (Zacharek) What We Do in the Shadows. (Not Rated) Vampires, vampires everywhere, and not a drop to drink. One of the tragedies of the modern world is there's nowhere left to ﬁ nd regular old vampires with solid, old-fashioned values --except, maybe, New Zealand. That's the setting for Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's buoyant little bloodsucker comedy What We Do in the Shadows . Four vampire dudes ranging in age from 183 to 8,000 share a house, dividing chores in a way that seems fair, though there are always going to be bloody dishes in the sink. You might call this Real World: Transylvania , except in Wellington. The affably neurotic Viago (Waititi) is the hopeless romantic of the group, having fol-lowed a young woman to New Zealand in the early part of the 20th century only to be jilted. (In fairness to the lady, Viago's servant delayed his master's arrival by putting the wrong postage on the cofﬁ n, and she got sick of waiting.) Vladislav (played by Clement, of Flight of the Conchords fame) is the rake, fond of orgies and boasting a long history of skewer-ing people with sharp implements. "They used to call me Vladislav the Poker," he says with cheerful modesty. When the four guys get ready to go out on the prowl --a typical evening consists of some desultory dancing in a rundown old bar --they turn to one another for fashion advice. No mirrors for them, so they rely on each other to discern what pants go with which jacket. What We Do in the Shadows is never as self-conscious as you fear it might be, and it has some of the loose, wiggy energy of early Jim Jarmusch, only with more bite. It makes getting poked a pleasure. (Zacharek) A REVENGE FANTASY THAT’S LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE SEEN ON SCREEN BEFORE. A series of soaring, astonishingly choreographed scenes.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times “ “I cannot say enough about this extraordinary ﬁlm. WILDLY EXHILARATING. ” -Dennis Dermody, Paper “PROVOCATIVE AND IMPROBABLY ENTERTAINING. ” -Joe Morgenstern, WALL STREET JOURNAL FOOD, INC. 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