IF THIS IS MARCH, CAN THESE MOVIES REALLY BE WORTH SITTING THROUGH?
It's no secret that money-crazed Hollywood studios have long thrived on serving moviegoers their biggest, frequently indigestible turkeys during the first three months of the year. That way the moguls can save their genuinely nourishing feasts until the tail end of the year, when it's hoped they'll stir up lucrative box office gravy and gather award nominations. Yet it does seem to me that at least two or three of the March releases noted below could also be heavyweight contenders. See what you think.
In some cases, links have been provided to the post-premiere praise and pans received by these films from fearless, never-hold-back critics. Keep an eye out for the green type!
THE FACE OF LOVE
Directed by Arie Posin
Written by Arie Posin and Matthew McDuffie
Starring Annette Benning, Ed Harris, Robin Williams, Amy Brenneman
In a role originally announced for Diane Keaton, Annette Benning plays an ambitious, well-connected moneymaker whose specialty is converting drab dwellings into chic, must-purchase Los Angeles showcases. No question about it: Annette is having it all this time out, including her own mini-mansion with a cozy pool and—hip! hip! hooray!--a charismatic, proudly potent architect husband.
Yet nobody’s perfect, a fact of marital life this know-it-all wife learns the day her spouse leans a tad too heavily on his double-crutch of booze and drugs, resulting in a lethal dip into the deep blue Pacific. Is it any wonder that Benning responds by sinking into her own private stupor? Against all odds, however, she stages an atta-gal comeback when a dead ringer for her dead hubby crosses her path at the L.A. County Museum of Art! (Luckily for our hang-in-there heroine, both of these charmers are played by the never-say-die Ed Harris!) Sorry, but you’ll have to see the movie to discover if this madcap mating is for all time or merely a lark.
We must face the fact that most reviewers did not love this meeting-cute story. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to agree that Benning and Harris have sensational chemistry. Click here to read how 20 top critics, from Rex Reed to Chuck Bowen, handled this heavily contrived yet beautifully acted movie.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Directed and written by Wes Anderson
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Tony Revolori, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Owen Wilson, Lea Seydoux, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel
Beginning in 1996, native Texan Wes Anderson has kept us reeling with such impudent, sometimes melancholy comic adventures as “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and especially “Moonrise Kingdom,” the beauty that topped my 10 Best Films of 2012 list. And now the 45-year-old writer-director is inviting us for a star-studded stay at a flauntingly kitschy hotel in Eastern Europe. Bear in mind, however, that the jaunt will involve traveling back to the 1930s, to that not so innocent time between two less than great wars.
If you’ve been eavesdropping on early viewers of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” you’ve probably heard that the great Ralph Fiennes, playing an alternately obsequious and obscene concierge who’s determined to keep an endangered Renaissance masterpiece out of a certain scumbag’s sweaty hands, tops everything he’s ever done on screen. Also drawing gasps is Tilda Swinton as a naughty, never-say-no senior with a red hot crush on Fiennes.
The final score of the Metacritic roundup for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" reviews was a hefty 87 out of a possible 100. According to the popular website, the critics who gave the movie what could be considered a "100" rating included A.O. Scott (The New York Times), Steven Rea (Philadelphia Enquirer) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York). Among those greeting the flick with a dismissive yawn were Dana Stevens (Slate), David Denby (The New Yorker) and Kyle Smith (New York Post). Click here to check out the 45 complete reviews printed by Metacritic.
ON MY WAY
Cohen Media Group
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Written by Emmanuelle Bercot and Jerome Tonnerre
Starring Catherine Deneuve, Nemo Schiffman, Gerard Garouste, Camille, Claude Gensac, Paul Hamy, Mylene Demongeot
During her smooth rise to stardom the spirited, resourceful Catherine Deneuve was celebrated primarily for her lush beauty. But it didn’t take long for moviegoers in France and all around the globe to notice—in such solid works as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Repulsion,” “Belle de Jour,” “Tristana,” “The Last Metro,” “Indochine,” “8 Women,” “Changing Times,” “A Christmas Tale” and “Beloved”—that she is also a phenomenally gifted actress. And now, at 70, in this hit French comedy-drama, she reportedly gives one of the sexiest, all-around charming performances of her entire career, playing a lusty mother (and grandmother) who is rudely dumped by her steady stud for a 25-year-old tart.
Where’s this all going to end? Do you think the resourceful Deneuve will go gently into the night? Or do you think she’ll hop into her trusty Mercedes, zip down the highway and hook up with a new and much younger lover than the loser she’s leaving behind? If you answered “no” to the last question, you clearly do not know your Deneuve.
Catherine Deneuve is surely an astonishing actress and, as I discovered when I sat across from her in a hotel bar one memorable afternoon in Paris, she is every bit as bright and beautiful in person as she is on screen. Click here for the interview.
Even the few critics who roasted "On My Own" managed to make it clear that Deneuve herself was not deficient. She never is, which is why she has remained a major star all these decades. To read what a dozen reviewers have to say about her latest performance, click here.
Directed by Jason Batemen
Written by Andrew Dodge
Starring Justin Bateman, Allison Janney, Rohan Chand, Rachel Harris, Kathryn Hahn, Judith Hoag, Ben Falcone, Philip Baker Hall
It's understandable that you might be tempted to skip a movie focusing on a Los Angeles spelling bee crammed with swarms of smug kids mouthing lengthy, obscure words, all of which they can--and do--spell with robotic accuracy (thanks to constant coaching by rabid parents).
If early reports are on the mark, however, you will be missing out on a ton of fun if you judge this dark, ultimately poignant comedy without first visiting your neighborhood cineplex. Much of the buzz has been about Justin Bateman, the reliable if underpraised comic actor who makes his directorial debut here and also stars as a 40-year-old, obscenity-spewing, child-loathing troublemaker who manages to qualify for participation in the spelling bee by pointing out that he did not attend school beyond the eighth grade. Any way you spell it, the guy's a ballbreaker, a word the kids will feel obliged to add to their list.
Directed by Guillaume Canet
Written by Guillaume Canet and James Gray
Starring Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Zoe Saldana, Lili Taylor, James Caan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Mila Kunis, Noah Emmerich, Griffin Dunne
After serving a huge chunk of his prison sentence for murdering a rival thug, Chris Pierzynski, an aging but still potentially lethal tough guy, is sent home early as a reward for the good behavior he managed to fake behind bars. The thoroughly British Clive Owen takes on the role of this native New Yorker under the direction of Guillaume Canet, the French filmmaker responsible for the riveting “Tell No One” and “Little White Lies,” and advance reports suggest this duo’s invasion of foreign turf has resulted in a slambang Yankee Doodle bloodbath. More good news: their multinational playmates include France’s Marion Cotillard as Chris’s wife, a hooker who’s hooked on heavy drugs; James Caan as Chris’s bullheaded dad; Billy Crudup as his younger brother Frank (a cop with disposable scruples); and Zoe Saldana as a hot ex-bedmate Frank sets out to woo back, an effort that requires him to play a filthy trick on her current beau, a loose-cannon criminal acted by Belgian heartthrob Matthias Schoenaerts. An extra-large bucket of popcorn is a must.
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME 1
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Connie Nielsen, Udo Kier, Sophie Kennedy Clark
“I am proud to say we do have some fully erect male actors in ‘The Idiots,’” Lars Von Trier once told me in an interview. “And I'm sure they wanted to participate more fully, but somehow it's not so easy to have sex with the camera on.”
Possibly the performers in the Danish director’s latest film discovered having sex with the camera on is not all that difficult, since, as the promotional material for “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1 and Volume 2,” puts it, “The films contain graphic depictions of sexuality to a degree unprecedented in a mainstream feature film.”
“Volume 1” of this double-header offers Charlotte Gainsbourg, an audacious Von Trier veteran, as a young, physically violated sex addict named Joe, a serial victim who is rescued in an alley by a not-so-young bachelor (Stellan Skarsgard) and given shelter in his home. Bit by shocking bit, over a period of time, she clues him in on the extraordinary events of her erotic, masochistic past. If you like what you see in “Nymphomaniac: Volume 1,” you’ll be happy to hear that “Volume 2” will hit theaters on April 4.
For my complete 2000 interview with Von Trier, click here. To read David Denby's multi-layered review of "Nymphomaniac," in which he describes the film as a pornographic work of art, click here. My guess is that Denby will make you want to see the movie. He certainly has me psyched up! On the other hand, if you click here and read The New York Times review by Manohla Dargis, you may think twice before paying the price for this tricky trip to porn paradise. And if you feel the need for more guidance from the critics, click here and catch up with the pronouncements of 37 experts on Metacritic. The scores range from 88 to zero. That's right--ZERO!
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by John Logan
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Nick Nolte, Frank Langella, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman
Quick, what’s your favorite bible movie of all time? Henry King’s “David and Sheba,” starring Gregory Peck and sexy Susan Hayward? Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” starring Charlton Heston and sexy Yvonne De Carlo? Or maybe your pick is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” boasting an intense cast headed by sexy Jim Caviezel, who was supposed to become a superstar, thanks to his blood-spurting performance in the title role. Alas, that particular miracle never materialized.
If I had to vote for my own favorite biblical pig-out, it would be DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah,” in which sexy—but sexually spurned--Hedy Lamarr proved she too could play tough by bringing a shattering end to the bad hair days of hunky—but hopelessly gauche--Victor Mature.
Like DeMille before him, Darren Aronofsky knows how to work wonders with his actors. But, you may ask, how can we expect the director who last steered Natalie Portman to an Oscar in “Black Swan,” lift Russell Crowe to similar award-worthy heights in “Noah," an epic in which he attempts to say something fresh and presumably serious about a daring, not-so-young man and his Ark full of odd couples?
To tell the truth, the film’s behind-the-scene voyage has not been super calm. There were reports that the director fought Paramount over post-shooting changes the studio bosses were keen to make. Apparently, not everyone was thrilled or even slightly amused by the vivid depiction of Noah’s drunken celebration of his safe arrival on land. In the end, Aronofsky triumphed, however, and we shall all be treated to the wacky pleasure of watching Noah drink something far stronger than salt water. But will his wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, also belt down a few? Maybe. Or perhaps she’ll merely treat her hyper hubby to a haircut.
POSTED BY GUY FLATLEY ON 3/6/14