More chaste yet almost as erotically minded as previous films like The Piano, writer-director Jane Campion's gorgeous new work presents the three-year relationship between ill-fated poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) as a love of consuming intensity and mutual concessions.
The common period theme of romance thwarted by finance is handled here with welcome restraint. As the picture of a girl in the throes of first love, Cornish, conversely, provides a necessary source of warmth. Unfortunately, it's not a sensation you'll get from Whishaw's internalized Keats, or from Campion, whose work always feels vaguely clinical. Grade: B
"Capitalism: A Love Story"
The latest from Michael Moore argues that something has gotten seriously skewed with the American way of doing business through a collection of truly infuriating facts relating to wage disparities and corporate amorality, examples of individuals abused by the system as it is, a blow-by-blow history of financial deregulation over the past two decades and a look at the way things used to be through his own family history.
For avid readers of progressive news sites, a lot of this won't be new, and Moore's latest isn't always helped by the kind of grandstanding stunts he's perpetrated for years. But the film's tonal progression strengthens his message, as does the personal information Moore shares. The last part also works as an effective retort to some of the worst attacks of his critics. Grade: B
Co-stars and co-writers Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau complete their devolution from money hipsters to sitcom-level caricatures with this lazy comedy about four couples who take advantage of a group rate at a tropical island retreat for marrieds on the rocks.
The script keeps all relationships shallow and generic, and in his directorial debut, Peter Billingsley doesn't add anything visual to raise the bar. Only Vaughn actually inspires laughter, but with the same basic character he's been making a nice living from for years. Grade: C-
"The Invention of Lying"
With co-writer-director Matthew Robinson, British import Ricky Gervais has created an alternate reality in which only truth exists, until his character Mark Bellison - a short, pudgy, generally unsuccessful screenwriter - discovers how to make things up. They consider some fascinating things within the setup, from the advertising that would result to the effects of a world without flattery, and give Jennifer Garner a delightful showcase as Mark's love interest.
The filmmakers also go deeper and darker with their idea than expected, into the varying nature of lies and liars. But the fascination with the central conceit starts to wane before the story's humor picks back up, and the dead spot that results can be hard to plow through. Grade: B-
"It Might Get Loud"
Setting up a meeting between Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, Davis Guggenheim's documentary is a gift to guitar geeks, but its appeal extends to anyone with enough musical interest to be intrigued. While it hits a few off notes in the stylistic clashes between the U2 guitarist and the others, also in some contrivance in setting and situation, it's a tight, entertaining and sometimes exciting package overall. Grade: B
"More Than a Game"
Through never-before-seen archival footage and present-day interviews, Kris Belman's doc chronicles how LeBron James and a core of teammates were brought together in the fifth grade by a father-figure coach and led through junior high championships and a high school run in the national spotlight.
The beauty of the film is that it really isn't about James. It's about team, and deep friendships that last for years. Though its lack of a singular focus can be frustrating, if you're any kind of sports fan, you shouldn't miss it. Grade: B
"No Impact Man" NEW!
In the inform-by-example mode of Morgan Spurlock, and with documentary filmmakers Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein in tow, Manhattan-based writer Colin Beavan comes up with a yearlong plan to totally neutralize the environmental impact of his family of three. For Beavan and his wife Michelle, as well as for the viewer, it's a frustrating but ultimately rewarding experience.
Beavan considers every aspect of consumption in their everyday lives, from magazine subscriptions and toilet paper to electricity and any form of automated travel. The couple and their toddler-aged daughter Isabella eat only seasonal, locally grown food, reduce trash with a compost box in their apartment, try out a natural refrigeration system from Nigeria and give up all non-necessary purchases. As it plays out, caffeine-addicted, designer-loving Michelle speaks for skeptics and creature comfort lovers.
Their efforts inevitably stir viewers into a personal assessment of carbon footprint size. While illustrating and encouraging positive action by the individual, however, the film creates a troubling sense of how far humanity's mindset about the environment still has to go. Beavan may be diligent in his project's daily grind, but at times, even he seems to lose sight of its ultimate point. Grade: B -Melissa Starker
Riding a smart, Blair Witch-style marketing campaign, this ultra-low budget, handheld camera shocker from newcomer Oren Peli expanded last weekend from sold-out midnight screenings in a few college towns like Columbus to full screens and full houses in cities across the country. Fortunately the film, which recounts three weeks in the life of a young couple troubled by strange occurrences in their apartment, recorded on their home video camera, has enough scares to warrant the attention.
Working against it are some pacing issues, as well as a male protagonist (Micah Sloat) who can be really annoying, but co-star Katie Featherston is totally believable and sympathetic. And the scenes that make up the heart of the movie - long night-vision shots of the couple sleeping while something else is awake in their presence - maximize the punch of some very basic effects. Grade: B-
In the realm of bad movies, there occasionally comes a film so unusual and impassioned in its awfulness, giggling surrender is the only appropriate response. Such is true of Tommy Wiseau's 2003 cult sensation.
The Room chronicles a love triangle between Johnny (Wiseau), his scheming live-in love Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and Johnny's best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). But a simple synopsis can't do justice to the movie's bizarre progression of schizophrenic character developments, dropped-like-a-hot-potato subplots and unrealistic yet remarkably gross sex scenes, all of it attached to a base of misogyny too hilariously childish to be offensive. This one, you really have to see for yourself. Grade: B+
Visiting Filmmakers: Janie Geiser NEW!
Tonight, Los Angeles artists Janie Geiser makes a trip to the Midwest to present a selection of her critically acclaimed experimental shorts at the Wexner Film/Video Theater.
Like Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, Geiser finds pre-loaded narrative weight in vintage children's toys, using them with collages of landscape and pattern to craft odes to emotions and the evolution of moving images. Lost Motion evokes mystery through a toy businessman following a woman on a journey to a salacious place where the ladies have seen so much action, their painted finishes are wearing off. In Terrace 49, TV superhero cartoons and bold wallpaper designs make up the front lines in a showdown between film's grain and video's lines of definition.
The Wex will also screen the nine-episode 2008 series Magnetic Sleep, in which Geiser's mix of media expands to incorporate live actors and seems to grow more feverish and hallucinatory in tone - an appropriate choice for a work about a female hypnotist. Her latest also suggests a hint of Guy Maddin's penchant for powerful damsels with the kohl-rimmed eyes and cupid's-bow lips of silent film stars. -Melissa Starker
"Where the Wild Things Are"
Spike Jonze's live-action film adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved 1963 picture book evokes the childhood state of being that still fascinates the source author, a time of creative and destructive feelings undiluted and sometimes unchecked.
Like the original, Jonze's version will be considered by some too dark, strange and scary for kids, with its raging title creatures (James Gandolfini and Catherine O'Hara lead a fine voice cast) and melancholic sense that happy moments don't ensure a happy ending. The transition between the two versions isn't without bumps, but the film eventually develops its own complex, moving form of enchantment. Grade: B+
Drew Barrymore's directorial debut about a shy small-town teen (Ellen Page) who discovers her true calling in women's roller derby is pretty much the movie you'd expect from the Barrymore we've come to know on screen. Like her, it's smart, goofy and likable, chick-centric but friendly to guys as well.
Barrymore's coming-of-age tale/sports movie, adapted by Shauna Cross from her novel, benefits from a cool dynamic among the derby teams generated by a fine ensemble cast (Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Zoe Bell, to name a few). And when the action moves to the rink, it's clear the filmmaker has done her homework in the sports genre.
Occasionally things get a little too goofy or manipulative, but nonetheless, this one's big fun. Grade: B+
Zombieland's just too good to resist, a source of new pleasures in a genre so undead that even the parodies were starting to seem stale. After a no-frills setup, the movie introduces characters named for hometowns, including Jesse Eisenberg's narrator Columbus (represent!), Woody Harrelson's zombie slayer Tallahassee and a pair of con artist sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), and together they road-trip their way through the apocalypse.
From the dry wit of the narration to the video game violence and some awesome surprises, this is most likely the most fun you'll have in a movie theater this year. Grade: A-