Friday, December 2, 2011

Film Round-Up, December 2011

Do you know how perilously close y'all came to reading another review of "Happy Feet Two"? It took a last-minute screener of "Lads & Jockeys"--which arrived in the mailbox on deadline day--to maintain "ICON"'s reputation as a fine arts publication.

There is some good stuff in the Round Up, including a cool costume drama about a legendary literary figure and a terrific documentary on a Hollywood icon. And you have Michelle Williams playing Marilyn Monroe in a movie that wastes her splendid performance.

That's it for now. These reviews appeared in the December issue of "ICON," and are reprinted with permission.


Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Dir: Alex Stapleton). Despite having the refined, gentle bearing of your favorite English professor, Corman insists that inside he's an "inferno," which explains his nearly 70-year career producing and directing hundreds of cheap, campy flicks like The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and The Raven. He's perhaps more famous for his films serving as a training ground for actors and directors such as Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, and even Jack Nicholson, who says the filmmaker was his "lifeblood" during the lean years before Easy Rider. In this heartfelt, enlightening gem, Stapleton traces Corman's unconventional success and his enduring influence. The movie benefits immensely from the warm, funny anecdotes of his numerous collaborators—Pam Grier says her willingness to perform stunts kept her employed; Martin Scorsese credits directing Corman's Boxcar Bertha in helping him film Mean Streets—which also trace Corman's rise and fall in the movie industry. Even better, Corman, now 85, is exceedingly likable, a man more concerned about producing the TV movie Dinoshark than his impact on the American movie landscape. Not just a wonderful tribute, but one of 2011's best documentaries. **** [R]

Young Goethe in Love (Philipp Stölzl). Starring: Alexander Fehling, Miriam Stein, Moritz Bleibtreu, Volker Bruch, Burghart Klaußner. It's widely acknowledged that Charlotte Buff inspired the lovelorn Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to write his landmark 1774 novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Stölzl's charming, original work provides the background behind the literary misery. In 1772, 23-year-old Goethe (Fehling) is a fledgling poet and writer whose buffoonish behavior and lack of direction enrages his father (Klaußner), who sends him to Frankfurt for a more appropriate (and thankless) legal job. There, Goethe meets and falls in love with the witty, wild-haired Buff (Stein), whose family's struggles make marrying for love nearly impossible. That condition sets the stage for a most uncomfortable and dangerous love triangle. Spirited performances and a lively pace aid an entertaining affair that earns points for showing the rough side of romance. Many costume dramas coast on prestige or submerge their conflicts in courtly passion. Young Goethe in Love doesn't steer away from meatier, relevant subjects. ***1/2 [NR]

Lads & Jockeys (Dir: Benjamin Marquet). Documentary profiles three teenage boys who attend a boarding school for jockeys in Chantilly, France, a village near Paris. When not attending classes or ogling female classmates, the students are immersed in horse racing, which includes learning everything from cleaning stalls to controlling the horse's speed and temperament. Marquet employs a hands-off approach here, capturing the kids during their daily lives and showing the hard work and drudgery required in getting these graceful animals ready. There's no narration and no formal interviews, unless you count black and white news footage. For a while the absence of canned answers is a blessing, until you realize that Lads & Jockeys is shapelessly edited. The footage presented doesn't tell a story or provide much insight into the students, their instructors, or anything else. Aside from the last 20 minutes, the movie sort of sits there, when it could portray the intoxicating fear that is being young and away from home. ** [NR]

My Week with Marilyn (Dir: Simon Curtis). Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott, Toby Jones, Dominic Cooper, Derek Jacobi. In 1956 Marilyn Monroe (Williams) flew to England to film The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier (Branagh), a union of future legends that was fraught with difficulty. Intimidated and in constant need of reassurance, Monroe maintained a sycophantic entourage and exhausted the patience of new husband Arthur Miller (Scott). Olivier, though a fan of Monroe's attributes, was exasperated by her fragility and leisurely pace. Third assistant director Colin Clark (Redmayne), a wide-eyed 23-year-old working on his first film, got thrown into the middle of this hoopla when Monroe took a shine to him…and destroyed his professional veneer. Adaptation of Clark's memoir works because of Williams, who aside from her physical resemblance, nails Monroe's neurotic vulnerability: the adulation both revives and destroys her. Unfortunately, the movie lacks the star's poise. It's too dark to be a frothy coming-of-age story. And it's too glossy—the film has the Weinstein brothers' prestige-y fingerprints all over—to pass muster as a character study, which would have made Williams' excellent performance all the more absorbing. Pleasant and polished, My Week with Marilyn's lack of bite turns it into another piece of baby boomer-friendly nostalgia. ** [R]

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