Laughing Pains

Margot at the Wedding

(Paramount)

Margot (Nicole Kidman, or someone who looks just like her) is a fiction writer whose tales are based, uncomfortably and unkindly, on the real-life family for whom she seems to care very little. Hence sister Pauline's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) late discovery that Margot's a "monster" — late to her, not to the audience, which gets glimpses of her cruelty early and often. Noah Baumbach reunites the siblings in a gray, dreary Hamptons, where Pauline's about to marry sour slacker Malcolm (Jack Black, tamped-down and ill-tempered). Margot has in tow the son she's close to ruining, unless he makes his escape. Sharp, funny, and painful — that's Baumbach's signature of late, and it's writ large in this overlooked dramedy (absent extras except for a chat with the filmmaker and Jason Leigh) that's worth another glance. — Robert Wilonsky

Bastard and bitch: Jack Black and Nicole Kidman crash the wedding party.
Bastard and bitch: Jack Black and Nicole Kidman crash the wedding party.

American Gangster: Unrated Extended Edition

(Universal)

Director Ridley Scott's take on the true-life tale of Harlem heroin-kingpin Frank Lucas didn't need to be 18 minutes longer; sounds more like a threat than a selling point, though the theatrical take's available here as well. The movie plays in either state like a cross between Super Fly (or Scarface) and Munich, with Denzel Washington as the high-livin', mother-lovin' dope dealer and Russell Crowe as the rumpled supercopper, ringleading other officers charged with taking down Lucas and his killer kinfolk. Occasionally thrilling but also TV-show familiar, American Gangster's a flashy procedural as tragic epic — and Scott's damned proud of his accomplishment, down to the detail of the period garb, as evidenced in the lengthy making-of starring the real-life Lucas as his own sorta-repentant self. — Wilonsky

Lust, Caution

(Focus)

Ang Lee has always liked taking movie genres — say, kung-fu flicks or westerns — and turning them on their ear. Here, he's tackled the erotic thriller, but those looking for Body Heat will be as disappointed as those who expected gunplay from Lee's Brokeback Mountain. Oh, there's sex all right — sex as graphic as anything your nephew can find on Google. (Prudes: There's also an R-rated version, in addition to the original NC-17 cut.) Slow but rarely dull, Lust, Caution revolves around political machinations in 1940s China. Western viewers might feel they're lacking context, especially as the line between good and bad grows ever more blurry. But at the center of the film is the relationship between Tony Leung and Tang Wei, whose sex scenes reveal what their lie-filled dialogue can't. — Jordan Harper

Excellent Cadavers

(First Run)

Here in America, the Mafia is dead in both fact and fiction: The Sopranos are finished, and RICO beat the New York boys like a goombah on a snitch. But in Palermo, it's the prosecutors who took the hit, as this poorly made but fascinating documentary illustrates. Covering the brave battles and tragic end of an anti-mob lawyer in Sicily, Excellent Cadavers is grim, full of grainy footage of streets strewn with corpses and interviews with marked men. Bad news is, the film's based on a book and narrated by its author, who reads with all the brio of Laurence Olivier (post-death). A note to journalists and documentary-makers: Unless your name is Hunter S. Thompson, you aren't the story. Get out of the way, and hire an old British guy to read the narration. — Harper

 
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