Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Film Round up for January 2011

In this edition of the Film Round-Up: That other Ryan Gosling movie, the movie Jeff Bridges should have won the Oscar for, the performance that will revive Nicole Kidman's career, and a reminder of why Kevin Spacey is great.

These reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Casino Jack (Dir: George Hickenlooper). Starring: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle LeFevre, Maury Chaykin. Spacey, summoning the self-entitled rage that made him a star in the mid-1990s, plays Jack Abramoff, the former B-movie producer who became one of the nation's most influential lobbyists in the early 2000s. But power did not breed humility. To feed his bank account and ever-growing ego—a school for Jewish children and high-end Washington, D.C. restaurants were on his agenda; his family not so much—Abramoff bilked his Native American clients (growing rich from casinos) out of millions while providing the puppet ownership for a profitable fleet of floating casinos. Needless to say, it didn't end well for Abramoff or his power-hungry associates, which included disgraced former GOP House majority leader Tom DeLay. Hickenlooper (who died in October) and screenwriter Norman Snider have fashioned a rousing and funny real-life tale on the demise of the corporate dynamo, highlighted by Spacey's spirited, balls-to-the-wall performance. Pepper, as Abramoff's slick, cocky partner, and Lovitz, as the handpicked casino "owner," give Spacey a run for his money. [R] ***

Rabbit Hole (Dir: John Cameron Mitchell). Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller, Tammy Blanchard, Sandra Oh. Eight months after the accidental death of their four-year-old son, the parents (Kidman, Eckhart) still can't move on. Slowly, but surely, she is erasing every sign of the child's existence while maintaining a composed, almost cold demeanor. His desire to move forward while acknowledging the boy's memory is met with almost professional indifference, which baffles and enrages him. The presence of family, friends, and acquaintances brings out their humanity but threatens to pull them apart. Mitchell and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (adapting from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play) offer us an uncompromising, sobering look at what results when the initial raw pain of a tragedy subsides and those affected have to return to whatever normal is. Eckhart and Kidman are terrific, but so is the entire cast, including Wiest, as Kidman's wiser-than-she-appears mom, and Teller, who shines as the high school senior partially responsible for the couple's current misery. [PG-13] ****

True Grit (Dir: Ethan and Joel Coen). Starring: Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper. One of the few times you should embrace a remake. A whip-smart, fiercely independent farm girl (Steinfeld) hires an alcoholic, shoot-first U.S. marshal (Bridges) to help her find the man (Brolin) who killed her father, while a big-talking Texas Ranger (Damon) intermittently joins them. The 1969 original, which earned John Wayne an Oscar, featured a bulky plot, a screenplay that announced every intention, and a sunny tone that was at odds with the material. Plus, you had to endure Glen Campbell, who had the greasy aw-shucks demeanor of a Lawrence Welk performer. The Coen brothers trim the fat, ditch the obviousness, and erase any trace of sentimentality. And it's awesome. Like Fargo and No Country for Old Men, they've fashioned an entertaining story that dazzles you with technical craftsmanship (namely Roger Deakins's cinematography), sterling performances, and the filmmakers' uncanny ability to make powerful points with the littlest gestures. Steinfeld nearly steals the movie as the vengeance-minded, practical Mattie Ross, while Bridges—not locked into a persona like Wayne—creates his own indelible version of Rooster Cogburn. [PG-13] ****

All Good Things (Dir: Andrew Jarecki). Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella, Philip Baker Hall, Diane Verona, Lily Rabe. David Marks (Gosling) was the classic black sheep: a moody, sensitive soul who wanted nothing to do with the family business of New York real estate. Unable to resist his father's pull, David and gorgeous wife Katie (Dunst) settled into the city's lush life, where everything—their marriage, David's fragile mental health—tragically unraveled. Jarecki directed the astounding documentary Capturing the Friedmans, so helming a movie inspired by true events seems like a perfect fit. It's not. Jarecki shuffles through the story's meaty dramatic possibilities before focusing on David's increasingly squirrelly behavior. That would have been OK if Jarecki had explored what went awry instead of having Gosling (pretty much wasted here) mutter to himself and mope around. All Good Things plays like a mystery without any clues. Jarecki hints and theorizes about the atrocities David may have committed and gotten away with, resulting in a story about a troubled man who's kind of, sort of villainous. That's a shaky foundation to build a movie on. Also available on demand. [R] **

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