Monday, April 1, 2013

The Film Round-Up, April 2013: The Company You Keep, The Place Beyond the Pines, Reality, Upside Down

"So, you mean to tell me I'm not 45?"
In this edition of the Film Round-Up, two really good films and two that you will be playing on your local CW affiliate in about three years. Which are which? Well, you gotta read, child!

Sorry, I don't know why I lapsed into speaking like Pearl Bailey. I blame the fatigue. 

As always, these reviews appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission.

The Company You Keep (Dir: Robert Redford). Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Brit Marling, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott, Stanley Tucci.
After a domesticated radical (Sarandon) turns herself in for her role in a 1970s murder, a feisty newspaper reporter (LaBeouf) makes a stunning discovery: one of her accomplices, Jim Grant (Redford), lives with his daughter in town. Grant then embarks on a cross-country trek, reuniting with his former freedom fighter buddies (including Nolte and Jenkins) in a last-ditch attempt to clear his name. Redford’s latest politically charged pseudo-thinkpiece isn’t particularly insightful—newspaper reporters can only see the main story, ideologies change when people are involved—and it’s further hindered by the lack of a compelling central character. LaBeouf’s changing view doesn’t register because he’s lectured into enlightenment instead of seeing it himself, while it’s preposterous to have Redford scaling fences and raising 11-year-olds. (Sorry. I don’t care how many jogging scenes you show; I don’t care if you cast Sarandon and Christie to obscure that he’s too old to have participated with the Weather Underground. Redford’s presence screams narc.) The biggest asset here is the acting, which lends an air of credibility that the movie’s content never achieves. [R] **1/2

The Place Beyond the Pines (Dir: Derek Cianfrance). Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Rose Byrne, Bruce Greenwood, Harris Yulin, Mahershala Ali. Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine again features Gosling in a gloriously lowbrow role. He plays a stunt motorcyclist who tries to connect with his infant son and his mother (Mendes). There’s no money in staying straight, so he starts robbing banks. That ends at the hands of a rookie cop (Cooper, whose stiffness is actually an attribute), who is establishing his own legacy until he’s faced with corruption in his department. Years later, the cop and robber’s teenage sons (DeHaan and Cohen) encounter each other, not realizing that they’re weighed down by the past. Simultaneously grand and mundane, Cianfrance’s epic account of escaping our own personal mediocrity never offers you solid footing.  You don’t know how these lives will unfold. And that’s the point: Regardless of how we approach life, there’s no guarantee we’ll get away clean. It’s refreshing when a movie can offer a lofty message with good, old-fashioned tension instead of pretension. [R] ****

Reality (Dir: Matteo Garrone). Starring: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Nando Paone. Luciano (Arena) is the family ham, the guy everyone says should be on TV, a dream the fishmonger hopes to attain by appearing on Italy’s Big Brother. When he nails an open audition and makes the final round, Luciano knows he has it. He tells everyone in the village it’s a sure thing. But as he waits for a phone call that never comes, Luciano seeks salvation and looks for signs from the satellite gods. Wonderful satirical drama is cutting and charming, surreal and sympathetic. Garrone offers a tender look at a family man flailing toward something better while lighting a match on organized worship, whether it involves a church or a television. And Arena’s performance—his face, rough and rugged, childlike and open—shows a man who is both invested and totally lost in the lure of celebrity. He’s through the plasma screen. Director-writer Garrone (Gomorrah) had to get permission from a judge to procure his leading man, a former Mafia hitman who is serving life in prison. So do not expect to see Arena in too many projects. [R] **** 

Upside Down (Dir: Juan Solanas). Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall. On a planet with opposing gravitational pulls, there are two worlds—an affluent top world and a dreary bottom world. After discovering, Eden, his long lost love from up top (Dunst), the bottom-dwelling Adam (Sturgess) longs for a reunion. Even though he gets a job at her company, TransWorld, whose strangling corporate conformity doesn’t feel satirical, obstacles exist. The two worlds do not mingle and Eden’s amnesia has wiped out their memories. Still, Adam fights against societal norms and neurology. Interesting take on the perils of class distinction never finds its creative juice. Writer-director Solanas spells everything out for us—which starts immediately with Sturgess’ endless pie-in-the-sky prologue—while the concept of an upside down world feels unnecessary, not to mention a pain in the ass to watch. Adam and Eden’s story works without that angle—just ask the makers of The Vow—and Solanas never examines the logistics and challenges of living in this new world; he just puts old problems in a new setting. A better movie could have been made with this material. In fact, Sturgess’ concluding narration reveals one. That is not good. [PG-13] **

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