Pick Of The Week: New
The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Summit)
Alterna-kids of yesterday and today will find a lot to like about The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, writer-director Stephen Chobsky’s adaptation of his own bestselling 1999 YA novel. Driven by a soundtrack that includes The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500, Cocteau Twins, and David Bowie—these youngsters may be tormented, but they have exquisite taste in music—the film stars Logan Lerman as a shy, bookish high-school freshman who falls into a clique with a pair of upperclassmen (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller) who take him under their wing. A revelation about the source of Lerman’s problems rings false, but the film is an unusually perceptive and winning coming-of-age story, with an electric supporting turn by Miller as a gay senior who carries on a secret affair with a closeted quarterback. The DVD/BD features Chobsky on two separate audio commentaries (one with the cast) as well as dailies, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.
Second Pick Of The Week: New
The Kid With A Bike (Criterion)
[Note: Lots of recommendable new films this week, but very few old, so I’m offering a second “new” pick in lieu of a “retro” pick.] There are few certainties in life: Death, taxes, and the Dardenne brothers cranking out another great movie. Peerless chroniclers of the underclass, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Son, L’Enfant, Rosetta) have made their most sentimental drama in The Kid With A Bike, but only relatively speaking—it’s still a rigorous portrait of lives lived on the precipice. Thomas Doret is extraordinary as an 11-year-old whose father has abandoned him to an orphanage; Cécile de France is equally stellar as the single woman who helps (and finally adopts) Doret despite the inevitable problems that threaten their arrangement. The film is touching but honest about the limits of reaching a boy who may be damaged beyond repair. Extras include a conversation between the Dardennes and the great film critic Kent Jones; interviews with Doret and de France, and a half-hour documentary about the setting called Return To Seraing.
Don’t Break The Seal
Neck-and-neck with ATM as the silliest horror movie of 2012—and considering ATM is about three people stuck in a kiosk for 90 minutes, that’s quite an achievement—Smiley tries to incorporate the Internet into a Scream-like scenario, to hilariously misbegotten effect. Caitlin Gerard stars as a dim-witted college freshman who takes part in a Chatroulette-type service that comes with a catch: Whenever the person on one end utters the line, “I did it for the lulz” three times straight, the person on the other gets killed by a masked slasher named “Smiley.” Considering the Chatroulette craze passed long before the film was released, Smiley stands to be a particularly funny marker of dated Internet paranoia. Gory outtakes, a gag reel, and a commentary track should be enough to satisfy the legions of Smiley fans out there.
The director of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road wouldn’t seem like the most obvious choice to makes a James Bond movie, but Sam Mendes’ Skyfall is easily a Top Five Bond, with a great villain in Javier Bardem (just don’t think too hard about his plans) and breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins, who does his part to elevate a moribund spy franchise to something approaching art.
The Man With The Iron Fists (Universal)
Noted kung fu movie enthusiast RZA, working with producer/co-screenwriter Eli Roth, offers his bloody homage to the genre in The Man With The Iron Fists, a free-for-all about Chinese villagers fending off the foreigners who have come to plunder their gold. The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin is particularly fond of Russell Crowe’s performance: “Crowe’s defiantly theatrical turn as an opium-smoking, sexually insatiable British killing machine with a wry sense of humor feels like a lusty, inspired homage to famously pickled British hams like Oliver Reed and Richard Burton.”
The Sessions (Fox)
Based on a true story about a severely disabled man who hires a sex therapist to take his virginity, The Sessions won plenty of acclaim—and the Audience Award at Sundance 2012—but the quality of the writing and directing isn’t equal to that of the lead performances. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt both do fine work as, respectively, a journalist who can’t live for more than a few hours outside of an iron lung and the patient sex therapist who’s charmed by her client. But writer-director Ben Lewin has a TV-movie style and a subplot involving Hawkes’ priest (William H. Macy) seems there primarily for lame comic relief.
Bully (Anchor Bay)
Let us savor this gob-smacking irony: Harvey Weinstein distributed an anti-bullying movie. That’s like… Harvey Weinstein distributing an anti-bullying movie. With Bully, director Lee Hirsch follows five kids and their families over the course of a school year, including parents who have lost children to suicide and others who are dealing with the terrible abuses their kids face every day. In his review, The A.V. Club’s Sam Adams admires the effort, but finds limits to the film’s anecdotal approach.
Silent Hill: Revelation (Universal)
Despite the presence of great character actors like Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, and Deborah Kara Unger on the sidelines, this sequel to an adaptation of a video game proves inessential. The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin gripes about the film’s “dull grey-white palette and a dour, relentlessly morose tone that ensures [it’s] neither scary nor fun.”
Robot & Frank (Sony)
The bond between human and robot forms the basis for Robot & Frank, a curious indie dramedy about a retired jewel thief (Frank Langella) whose neglectful son (Peter Sarsgaard) entrusts his care to android servant. In the spirit of all buddy pictures, Langella overcomes his initial resistance. The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray calls it “an old-school indie, more concerned with telling a story and moving an audience than challenging anyone.”
Anna Karenina (Universal)
At this point, Joe Wright has become the go-to director for lavishly appointed abridgments of literary classics, having previously wrangled Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. Making Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina into a feature film seems like a folly, but Wright’s theatrical approach to the material captures its essence while (necessarily) leaving a lot of it behind.
28 Hotel Rooms (Oscilloscope)
Updating the premise of Bernard Slade’s classic play Same Time, Next Year, Matt Ross’ innovative 28 Hotel Rooms follows two travelers (Chris Messina and Marin Ireland) who meet in a hotel bar and embark on a one-night stand that repeats itself in other locations over time. According to The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray, “it’s no stagebound filmed play; Ross makes the material highly cinematic, exploring the limited varieties of American hotels with an emphasis on their warm glows and gleaming surfaces.”
Girl Model (First Run)
David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary covers the unsavory world of teenage models, where 13-year-olds are recruited into a business that uses them and discards them without any assurances, security, or assistance. Girl Model focuses on Nadya, a Russian teenager who’s flown to Tokyo and bound to a contract that grants her few freedoms while offering no safety net if her measurements happen to change a little.
A Liar’s Autobiography (Virgil Films)
An animated movie about Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, based on an autobiography Chapman himself narrates, sounds like a great idea. But in practice, A Liar’s Autobiography is a disaster, according to The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray: “Adding cartoons to tapes of Chapman reading his book isn’t inherently cinematic, no matter how striking the art occasionally is.”
Planet Of Snail (Cinema Guild)
One of the most acclaimed documentaries of 2012, Korea’s Planet Of Snail finds a low-key, minimalist style to complement its unusual subjects: A married couple in which the man is blind and deaf and the woman suffers a spinal disability that inhibited her growth. Simple tasks like changing a light bulb become a logistical challenge. The A.V. Club’s Alison Willmore calls their relationship “a sincere and touching love.”
Photographic Memory (First Run)
The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray put Photographic Memory, the latest from documentary essayist Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March), at #7 on his Top 15 list from last year. The ostensible subject of the film is McElwee’s strained relationship with his grown son Adrian, but he uses the occasion to reflect profoundly on his own impulses as a young man of Adrian’s age.
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