When a film stars AARP actors and features an amusing, touching story, thereby appealing to a specific age range, it’s referred to as “geezer catnip.” When a film about one of the most beloved film critics of all time comes along, it’s called “critic catnip,” precisely what we get with the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself. Steve James’ film is also simply “general moviegoer catnip” and easily the best new bet this week, but don’t overlook Third Person, the latest from writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash; In the Valley of Elah). The film features Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Adrien Brody, Kim Basinger, and Maria Bello and unfolds via three interconnected stories set in New York, Paris, and Rome. Based on (I suppose) it’s horrendous critical reception, the Carolina has already given up on its local chances, relegating it to evening shows of 6:40 and 9:30…precisely when the core moviegoing audience buys tickets (*shakes head no no no no no*). As always, I encourage you to decide for yourself, but for me it’s a lot better than most reviewers suggest.
For mainstream releases, it’s officially “Sequels to movies that were surprisingly not horrible” week as The Purge: Anarchy and Planes: Fire & Rescue quickly follow their 2013 predecessors. Not a sequel but somehow feeling less original than the above Part Twos is Sex Tape, in which a married couple played by Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel accidentally upload their titular recording to “the cloud,” which in turn makes it available to friends, family, and the world. The one trailer I’ve seen (which made many many references to “the cloud”) was a laugh-free affair, but perhaps the filmmakers just didn’t want to give away their best material? We shall see.
Fleeing the Scene
When Edge of Tomorrow is the best film saying “sayonara,” you know you’re not losing much. Fellow peacer-outers lower on the cinematic totem pole are Hellion and Deliver Us From Evil (out at the Carolina) and, speaking of laugh-free affairs, Obvious Child (out at the Fine Arts Theatre).
Plenty of jokes and what’s essentially a Flight of the Conchords song makes Rio 2 a worthwhile view while double the Ed Harris and a good Annette Bening performance are enough to keep The Face of Love afloat. Otherwise, there’s the technically sharp but ultimately empty Under the Skin, the latest pretentious flick to be almost unanimously embraced by the critical mass.
On Netflix Instant
I’m a bit shocked to see James Gray’s The Immigrant, one of the year’s best films to date, available so soon after its theatrical release, but if that lets more people see it, I think it’s a grand idea. Joining it is another Joaquin Phoenix vehicle, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, in which the actor goes head-to-head with Philip Seymour Hoffman and surprisingly holds his own; Michael Mann’s Manhunter, the first adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon and the first onscreen appearance of Hannibal Lecter. (I’m in the minority, but I prefer Brett Ratner’s version); basic cable MVP Hitch; and the overlooked nail-biter 13 Sins, which I referred to in my review as “a deliciously sick combination of David Fincher’s The Game and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire with a healthy dose of Saw.”
It’s also a big week for documentaries, starting with Downloaded, Alex Winter’s fantastic look at the history of Napster. Elsewhere, I’ve heard good things about The Battered Bastards of Baseball, which chronicles the rag-tag Portland Mavericks, who were owned by Kurt Russell’s dad, and while I thought pretty highly of The Act of Killing, it was already too long at two hours and so I have no interest in seeing a director’s cut with 37 extra minutes. Now, if Winter added more time to Downloaded…
Roger Ebert once hit on my sister in Chicago. His pick-up line?
“I just bought John Travolta’s suit from Saturday Night Fever. Wanna come over & see it?”