New Releases 3/24/15

Top Hits
Unbroken (war drama, Jack O’Connell. Rotten Tomatoes: 51%. Metacritic: 59. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “It took four marquee writers — Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson — to wrestle Ms. Hillenbrand’s many pages into a movie, which clocks in at 2 hours 17 minutes. That’s scarcely enough time for any life, but it’s impossible when each chapter in that life could itself be a book [including an underplayed epiphany], and the strain shows, especially in the camp sequences. Ms. Jolie does fine work throughout, including on the raft where, after the crash, Louie and two others, Phil [Domhnall Gleeson] and Mac [Finn Wittrock], battle dehydration, starvation and sharks, including one that the men, in a jolting scene, wrestle onboard and devour. Like a lot of actors turned directors, she’s good with the performers, even when platitudes gush from their mouths along with the blood.” Read more…)

Hobbit 3: Battle of the Five Armies (fantasy/action, Martin Freeman. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 59. From Nicolas Rapold’s New York Times review: “‘You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world, after all,’ Gandalf reminds his companion at the end of ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.’ The avuncular line has a cozy feel that evokes the bedtime-storytelling of J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1937 children’s classic — now better known as the trilogized prequel to a 21st-century fantasy phenomenon. |Gandalf’s sentiment is also all too apt for Peter Jackson’s vexing conclusion to his oddly apportioned adaptation: Bilbo Baggins is indeed quite a little fellow in Mr. Jackson’s wide world here — less a central hero on a quest than a supporting player in a film bookended by destruction and war in gray, grim lands.” Read more…)

Into the Woods (musical/fantasy, Meryl Streep. Rotten Tomatoes: 71%. Metacritic: 69. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘Into the Woods,’ the splendid Disney screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, infuses new vitality into the tired marketing concept of entertainment for ‘children of all ages.’ That usually translates to mean only children and their doting parents. But with ‘Into the Woods,’ you grow up with the characters, young and old, in a lifelong process of self-discovery.” Read more…)

Song One (romance, Anne Hathaway. Rotten Tomatoes: 35%. Metacritic: 48. From Jeannette Catsoulis’ New York Times review: “Heartfelt but enervated, ‘Song One’ noodles around the Brooklyn music scene without stirring up magic. The original songs [by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice] are pleasant if unmemorable, and [actor Johnny] Flynn’s performance is too tentative to counter the story’s lack of drama. That leaves John Guleserian’s lovely hand-held photography and [actress Anne] Hathaway’s quiet radiance to pick up the slack, which they might have done had they been allowed more time with Mary Steenburgen. Her zesty turn as Franny’s freewheeling mother is as invigorating as a shot of Red Bull to a sleep-deprived student.” Read more…)

Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete (coming-of-age drama, Skylan Brooks. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 61. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “There are times in ‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete’ |when the emotions it stirs up are so naked and unembarrassed that it feels as if you’ve entered a cinematic time machine back to the silent era, to when child actors like Jackie Coogan gutted you with sentiment. Coogan played the title character in Charles Chaplin’s glorious 1921 weepie ‘The Kid,’ the urchin with the tight grip around the Tramp’s neck and lock on the audience’s affections. The heartbreakers in ‘Mister & Pete,’ a melodrama about two children slipping through the cracks, shed fewer tears than the Kid did — poverty can toughen even the most tender bodies — but their hold on you is as fierce.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
Hobbit 3: Battle of the Five Armies

New Foreign
Without Pity (Italy, 1948, neorealist drama, Carla del Poggio. From Bosley Crowther’s dated 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Although it attempts to give a naturalistic view of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, ‘Without Pity,’ the Italian importation, which came to the Rialto yesterday, lacks cohesion and, to some extent, effective drama. For this yarn, dealing with the tragic hounding by black marketeers and the United States Army of an American Negro GI and the Italian girl with whom he is in love vacillates between crude melodramatics and some improbable situations. It makes a graphic point as a commentary on the venality of both Italians and the non-Italians with whom they trafficked. But its main theme, clouded by the specter of miscegenation, is a trite one and not especially convincing.” Read more…)

3 Films by Roberto Rosselini:
Stromboli (Italy, 1950, drama, Ingrid Bergman. Rotten Tomatoes: 81%. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther panned this world cinema classic when it was released in the United States in 1950 [log-in required]: “After all the unprecedented interest that the picture “Stromboli” has aroused — it being, of course, the fateful drama which Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini have made—it comes as a startling anticlimax to discover that this widely heralded film is incredibly feeble, inarticulate, uninspiring and painfully banal.” Read more…
Time has treated the movie much more kindly. New York Times DVD critic Dave Kehr wrote, when this set was released: “The scandal [the affair between Bergman and Roberto Rosselini] has long been forgotten, but ‘Stromboli’ — which is being reissued this week in a superb Criterion Collection edition, along with two other Bergman-Rossellini films, ‘Europe ’51’ (1952) and ‘Journey to Italy’ (1954) — now stands as one of the pioneering works of modern European filmmaking. The ‘strange listlessness and incoherence’ that Crowther went on to object to represents a studied reaction to the ‘well made’ movie of the day: the rhythms of ‘Stromboli’ are no longer those of tension and release, of peaks and valleys; its characters no longer the psychologically coherent and clearly motivated figures of popular fiction; its narrative no longer the closed, symmetrical structure of the three-act play.
” Instead, ‘Stromboli’ opens the door to the ambivalent, the aleatory and the unknowable — an opening that would be expanded by ‘Europa ’51’ and finally flung wide by ‘Journey to Italy.’ Through that door came Bresson, Bergman and Antonioni, later to be joined by Godard, Oshima and Cassavetes. Though no single artist, and certainly no single work, can ever be counted the sole source of an aesthetic revolution, it is hard to imagine the contemporary art cinema without Rossellini — he may not have been the first to point the way, but he was certainly the first to take the heat.” Read more…)
Europe ’51 (Italy, 1952, drama, Ingrid Bergman)
Journey to Italy (Italy, 1954, drama, Ingrid Bergman. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%.)

New British
Lisztomania (1975, biopic by Ken Russell, Roger Daltry. Rotten Tomatoes: 43%. From Richard Eder’s New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Ken Russell blows up his colored balloons with ether: They bob prettily, and when they burst we pass out. ‘Lisztomania,’ which opened yesterday at the Ziegfeld, is the latest of his spangled flights of fancy. Fancy it is, but hardly a flight.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Six by Sondheim (bio, musical theater. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Metacritic: 85.)

Rob Harmon’s Picks 3/24/15

Rob_photo_031715_WebTHE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2010)

Teen-oriented ensemble films, perhaps because of their emphasis on the entry and awakening into adulthood, have a tendency to focus on a short and very specific length of time, usually a day followed by a night (followed by a morning). Movies have a long history of this, stretching back at least as far as the granddaddy of the genre, Nicholas Ray’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, but also including such distinguished fare as George Lucas’ AMERICAN GRAFFITI, John Hughes’ THE BREAKFAST CLUB and FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, and Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED. Once the sun goes down, so these films would imply, teens – whether jocks, nerds, stoners, dorks, or cool kids – tend to collectively drop their social disguises, rendering them suddenly somnambulant and reflective, like wandering philosophers in the night (a bit like adults, incidentally!).

Like the cinematic fountain of youth, these types of films seem to ask adult viewers: how cool would it be to be young again, and yet mature enough to appreciate it? Or, in a more general sense, remember what it was like to have your whole life ahead of you?

From the overly wordy title alone – THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER – it is clear that first-time writer/director David Robert Mitchell is well-versed in this body of work, yet he proves wise enough not to resort to a mere tribute or rehash.

Myth_American_SleepoverThe film follows four main characters: Rob (Marlon Morton), a sensitive middle schooler about to make the jump to high school, whose hormones are raging and can’t get that girl he saw at the grocery store out of his head; high schooler Claudia (Amanda Bauer) – new in town – who stumbles upon evidence that her boyfriend may not have been quite honest with her; high schooler Maggie (Claire Sloma), who yearns for at least one sexual adventure before summer’s end; and Scott (Brett Jacobsen), home from college, but whose life has seemingly stalled out and who suddenly cannot seem to shake the memory of a girl – or girls, as it may be – from his younger, more exciting, high school days. Aside from these main characters the film features a dozen or so other supporting ones, giving the film a fully-fleshed out feel. Like Linklater, Mitchell does not seem to believe in throw-away characters.

THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER is a true indie, filmed mainly in the suburbs of Detroit, and Mitchell works wonders with a cast of near-unknowns, wringing all of the expected dreams, hopes, and angst from a group of characters perched incipiently on adulthood. The film features a number of unexpected and well-thought-out plot-turns, but is also wise enough to dwell upon the ephemeral details: the tap-tap-tapping of a girl’s toe ring against the side of a bathtub, the emotional and physical rush of a first kiss, the reek of a cigarette or the sting of a beer in the nostrils on a warm summer’s night. The film’s soundtrack, though minimal, is effective and features a few lovely songs.

Much like those long summer’s nights we remember as kids and teenagers, The Myth of the American Sleepover may draw out the moment for maximum impact, but it also eventually – and necessarily – draws to a close and the sun comes up, its characters wistful, but wiser. Youth here is treated like a whisper – eminently worth savoring, but over almost before we know it.

Incidentally, Mitchell has recently released his second movie – continuing his interest in the worlds of youth and teen-oriented genres – with the nerve-jangling IT FOLLOWS, an indie horror film which will necessarily garner favorable comparisons to THE SHINING and Asian shockers such as RINGU, THE EYE and PULSE.