NYC Film Critic


Thor
Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins
**

As a feature-length preview for The Avengers—the all-star superhero team-up picture that Marvel Studios is unleashing next summer—Thor offers a number of moments that will make comic-book fans extremely happy.

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The Tribeca Film Festival turned 10 this year and before this week is out I hope to post a batch of reviews of the movies I’ve seen since the festival began last Wednesday.  In the meantime, here’s a short interview I did with the director of one of the most striking movies I’ve come across in this year’s line-up.  The debut feature of Canada-based filmmaker Panos Cosmatos , Beyond the Black Rainbow is a fascinatingly odd mash-up of vintage ’80s sci-fi tropes and mise-en-scene that achieves its own distinct style.  There is a plot–one that involves a young girl with psychic powers attempting to escape the institution where she’s being held prisoner–but it decidedly takes a backseat to mood and atmosphere.  When Black Rainbow ends, you’re not entirely certain whether you actually saw a movie or just dreamed the whole thing and I mean that as a compliment.

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POM Wonderful Presents
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
**1/2

Perhaps befitting Morgan Spurlock’s self-stated desire to make “the blockbuster of documentaries,” POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is the Super Size Me director’s most high-concept film to date.  As he regularly reminds us during the course of the movie, Spurlock has made a film about advertising that’s been paid for entirely by advertisers.

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The Princess of Montpensier
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
Screenplay by Jean Cosmos, Francois-Olivier Rousseau, Bertrand Tavernier
Starring Melanie Thierry, Lambert Wilson, Gregorie Leprince-Ringuet, Gaspard Ulliel
***1/2

With its agreeable mixture of petty scheming, bedroom intrigue, and self-absorbed alpha males and the naive temptresses that love them, the French costume drama The Princess of Montpensier is perhaps best described as medieval pulp fiction.  Co-written and directed by veteran Gallic filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, the film is based on an almost 350-year-old story by Madame de la Fayette, the penname of a 17th century countess that published much of her work anonymously during her lifetime.

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Blank City
Directed by C
éline Danhier
***

New York City had it rough all over during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s but the hardest hit neighborhood—apart from virtually the entire Bronx, of course—had to be Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Visitors to that part of town would have been treated to such unwelcoming sights as derelict buildings, rampant crime and drug abuse.  On the other hand, the sheer ugliness of the surroundings meant that rents were either dirt cheap or non-existent.  That made the area a prime location for the waves of young artists that were still moving into New York even as the rest of the city’s population seemed to be looking for a way out.

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After a fairly lethargic March, April kicks off with a weekend full of fresh releases.  Read capsule reviews of six of the new movies that can be found in theaters tomorrow (including the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code, pictured above) after the jump.

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Now entering its 40th year, the annual New Directors/New Films festival teams the Film Society of Lincoln Center with the Museum of Modern Art’s cinema division to curate a line-up of new movies from up-and-coming directors.  Some of ND/NF’s past discoveries include George Miller’s The Road Warrior, Christopher Nolan’s Following and Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy.  This year’s festival kicked off yesterday with the premiere of the buzzed-about Sundance title Margin Call and continues until April 3 at both Lincoln Center and MoMA.  The line-up features 28 feature-length titles from around the world along with a handful of shorts.  You can read quick reviews of four of the movies being shown at ND/NF below.  Visit the official site to read more about the rest of the films being shown and to buy tickets.

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Jane Eyre

Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Moria Buffini
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench
**1/2

One of my unfortunate cultural blind spots is 19th century British literature penned by female authors.  To date, I’ve only read one Jane Austen novel (Pride & Prejudice, which I quite liked by the way), nothing by Mary Shelly (not even Frankenstein, although I did repeatedly devour the Illustrated Classics version back in elementary school) and nothing by any of the three Brontë sisters, Anne, Charlotte and Emily.  I’m also embarrassed to admit that I haven’t even seen any of the numerous film versions of the Brontë’s books up to and including the classic 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights starring Laurence Olivier and 1943’s Jane Eyre, starring the dynamic duo of Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.  Of course, I am familiar with the broad outlines of both tales—the thwarted love affair between Heathcliff and Cathy and Jane Eyre’s poorly advised infatuation with the brooding Rochester, who keeps his wife locked away in the attic of his gloomy mansion—but couldn’t  offer a blow-by-blow account of specific plot details.

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Rango

Directed by Gore Verbinski
Screenplay by John Logan
Starring Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy
***1/2

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: I’m not sure that I’d call the new animated Western Rango a great kids movie, at least not for the under-5 set.  I saw the film with my three-and-a-half year old son and I found myself occasionally cringing at its copious gunplay and casual attitude towards death.  Rango also lacks the broad slapstick comedy that plays best with younger kids and the character designs noticeably avoid the unthreatening, plush-doll ready cuddliness that most contemporary cartoons employ.  Indeed, several of the characters featured here are downright fearsome, most notably Rattlesnake Jake, an enormous serpent with glowing eyes, ultra-sharp fangs and a six-shooter for a rattle.  When Jake slithered onscreen, I was certain my son would run screaming from the theater, but he took it in stride and, funnily enough, calls him one of his favorite characters.  In fact, I should note that he seemed to really enjoy the movie overall, only growing a little antsy and uncomfortable during a few scenes.  He’s also been talking about Rango non-stop since the screening, so it’s entirely possible that I was just being too oversensitive in the moment.  Nevertheless, I’d hesitate to recommend the film to other parents of very young children lest those kids come home traumatized and unable to sleep for weeks afterwards due to Rattlesnake Jake-induced nightmares.

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Korean director Kim Jee-woon brings his unique brand of genre filmmaking to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinematek program with the six-film retrospective Severely Damaged, which kicks off this Friday the 25th with the New York premiere of his latest film, I Saw the Devil.  The series runs until March 2 and includes Kim’s debut feature The Quiet Family, his recent western The Good, The Bad and The Weird and, my personal favorite, the 2003 horror film A Tale of Two Sisters.  (You can read my reviews of both the original film and its 2009 Hollywood remake here and here.)  I interviewed the director–who will be present for a Q&A following the Devil screening–via email for a story that’s appearing in this week’s issue of the The Brooklyn Paper.  Because I had to leave some of his comments on the cutting room floor due to space, I’m running the full text of the interview below.  I’ll have my thoughts about I Saw the Devil posted sometime next week, before its theatrical release on March 4th.

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