By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
As a change of pace, director Gregg Araki (most recently of the 1999 comedy Splendor) reins in his typically flippant, nihilistic tendencies to reveal a never-before-expressed sensitivity and depth. In the process, he achieves his most satisfying and involving film. He's aided immeasurably by the performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a giant leap from his days on NBC's Third Rock from the Sun), who plays one of two young men whose lives have been irrevocably damaged by the sexual predator who coached their little league baseball team.
This quietly harrowing Japanese film is all the more unnerving for having been based on actual events. It stars five children, excellent actors all, whose mother abandons them in their small apartment with only a little money. For a long time, the two oldest manage well, cooking and cleaning and entertaining the toddlers. Then, as the money drains, the situation becomes increasingly dire. The pace is slow, with director Hirokazu Koreeda taking time to notice and document incremental changes, such as fraying clothes and smudged faces. What the children learn, and how they cope, is mind-blowing and heartbreaking all at once.
Jarhead was a nifty, sharp film about the boredom suffered by soldiers waiting for their chance to kill or be killed, but it presented a stylized fiction only loosely based on one man's sorta-kinda fact. This movie is the real deal, an unsettling, occasionally profound, and ultimately devastating chronicle of six weeks spent with the groggy, pissed-off, and homesick men of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, stationed in Fallujah in early 2004, just before the insurgents claimed that bloody town as their own by hanging and burning alive several U.S. contractors. When they're not on patrols, rousting people they don't blame for being pissed, the soldiers are getting shot at, arguing political motivations, and waiting ... for something, for anything. Thanks to the fine filmmaking of Garrett Scott and Ian Olds, you are there, in cramped confines in the middle of nowhere, and will come to wish that you, like these soldiers, could be anywhere else in the world.
Seventeen-year-old Claire (Lola Naymark) works at a supermarket in her hometown in rural France, where she is pregnant and deeply unhappy. Through a friend, she meets Madame Melikian (Ariane Ascaride), an older woman who has lost her son in a motorcycle accident. Claire has a talent for embroidery; Madame Melikian embroiders for Parisian designers, including Lacroix. So begins the women's strained working relationship, which slowly grows into something more. It's a slender plot but a very rich movie, with deeply felt silences, gorgeous camerawork, and a tender understanding of many kinds of grief.
Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) has a tendency toward the pretentious, especially when it comes to filters, split-screens, and editing trickery. And in this weird mystery/thriller, he found a story that perfectly suits his style. Ewan McGregor stars as a psychiatrist who starts to lose his grip on reality after meeting a suicidal young artist (Ryan Gosling). The final twist isn't hard to guess, but it's almost beside the point Forster absolutely nails a certain kind of dream logic, the type in which the dreamer occupies more than one body within the narrative. 20th Century Fox didn't have the confidence to screen the film for critics, but it's well worth screening at home once it shows up on DVD.
Mike Mills's adaptation of Walter Kirn's novel is a dreamily gorgeous portrayal of a family from the perspective of its searching teenage son. In psychological terms, Justin (Lou Pucci) is the "identified patient" the family member seen as broken and in need of fixing. (The title refers to Justin's oral fixation.) What Mills's film understands is that Justin is expressing the conflicts that other family members can't, or won't. His coping mechanism is stigmatized, but it's no different from any other (drinking, smoking, drugs, sex) except, perhaps, that his mechanism isn't hurting anyone. In Thumbsucker's world, everyone has issues. Same goes for our world too.
The Upside of Anger
The ending is silly and the film occasionally leans toward cliché, but Upside remains a satisfying and spirited comedy. Joan Allen gives a crackling performance as an oblivious mother whose every attempt to connect with her children results in insult. Her daughters played by Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood, Erika Christensen, and Alicia Witt are independent-minded and alive, acting out in sad, hilarious, and believable ways. Even Kevin Costner, playing a washed-up baseball player (for a change), manages to come across as authentic.
The cinematography is ugly and the marketing campaign was even uglier, but Waiting ... is a movie made to be discovered on cable or video. Just as Office Space ultimately found its audience among viewers who could relate, so too should Rob McKittrick's comedy, which perfectly skewers the idiosyncrasies of customer-service work at a low-end chain restaurant. Star Ryan Reynolds was terrible as a straight man in The Amityville Horror remake, but in this kind of raunchy comedy, he's golden. And Anna Faris should be his leading lady as often as possible.