Home movies: The Descendants, House of Pleasures, Melancholia, My Week With Marilyn, The Adventures of Tintin, The Three Musketeers, Young Adult, Wizards and more

March 16, 2012

Lots of stuff. There will be a part two.

Absentia (R, 91 minutes) — Two sisters investigating the disappearance of one of their husbands seven years before are drawn to a mysterious tunnel. Effectively creepy low-budget horror film that doesn’t rely on gore, written and directed by rising star Mike Flanagan. Grade: 83

The Adventures of Tintin (PG, 107 minutes) — Notable mostly for its technical awesomeness, Steven Spielberg’s motion-captured The Adventures of Tintin seems harmless enough, a kind of animated Indiana Jones story that features an intrepid young Belgian journalist (who looks like a boy but is apparently a man), an alcoholic sea captain and a villain who bears an odd facial resemblance to the director himself. It’s an oddity that might yet become a franchise. Grade: 86

Bellissima (Not rated, 151 minutes) — Luchino Visconti’s classic 1951 film about a working-class Italian stage mother (Anna Magnani) pushing her 5-year-old daughter on movie director Alessandro Blasetti (who plays himself in the film). A remarkably prescient essay on the nature of celebritization as well as a witty satire of Italian cinema. Grade: 88

The Descendants (R, 115 minutes) — Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is a thoroughly enjoyable if somewhat forgettable, fairly faithful adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ 2007 novel about a decent man’s tribulations. It stars the ever likable George Clooney as Matt, a Honolulu-based lawyer who is descended from American missionaries and Hawaiian royalty, and is therefore the lucky beneficiary of a vast family fortune that he oversees as the chief trustee. But Matt’s life is not exactly idyllic; he has just discovered that his wife — who lies dying in a coma — was having an affair, and he’s under pressure from some of his relatives to sell off a hunk of pristine beachfront real estate.
Despite all its awards, nominations and laudatory reviews, there is less bite in The Descendants than in any Payne film to date. Still, as entertainment, it’s well-made and digestible — a fine movie that’s mainly distinguished by the performances of its youngest actors. Clooney is effective at suggesting an inner life for Matt, but it’s a movie star turn — we fill in vast gaps because we know and presumably like the star.
There’s nothing really wrong with that, but Payne has done better work, more substantial work. Aside from About Schmidt (which was marred by a creepy snobbery), this is his weakest film. It’s still worth seeing. Grade: 88

House of Pleasures (Not rated, 125 minutes) — A highly atmospheric, deeply cinematic series of images focusing on the daily routines of the brothel’s indentured denizens — a deeply unsexy (yet still sensual), practically plotless film that feels more like some of the more formal work of Peter Greenaway than something you’d come across on Cinemax at 1 a.m. If you’ve seen Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s 1998 film Flowers of Shanghai, you have some idea what director Bertrand Bonello means to get at.
He has a way with beautifully discomfiting images and juxtaposition of the everyday rituals of the brothels (a lot of time is allocated to hygiene) with the gilded grandeur of the Belle Epoque furnishings — the movie drips with silk and velvet; you can very nearly smell the leather and perfume, taste the champagne. But there’s another story in the hollow eyes of the assembled courtesans, the palpable air of hopelessness that pervades this pretty, airless film.
This film is also known as House of Tolerance. In French with English subtitles. Grade: 84

Melancholia (R, 136 minutes) — A devastatingly powerful film about how we are all going to die meaningless deaths and there’s nothing we can do about it. It was one of last year’s best films and, in a perfect world with no deadlines and an unlimited amount of newsprint, I could unpack my soul while explicating and illuminating the film’s remarkable mise-en-scene — the beyond beautiful images it employs and the unnervingly accurate performances of the actors. It is a work of art, and like a poem, the best, most concise description of the movie may be the movie itself. To say it another way, Melancholia is to a large degree “about” its own articulation: the visual and linguistic grammar that it employs to convey itself.
Or, as the Fresno Bee DVD reviewer Rick Bentley called it, it’s an “[e]nd-of-the-world movie starring Kirsten Dunst.” Grade: 90

My Week With Marilyn (R, 97 minutes) — In which Michelle Williams impersonates Marilyn Monroe to somewhat charming effect. Grade: 87

Screwball: The Ted Whitefield Story (R, 85 minutes) — The premise is better than the execution, but the world deserves a movie about professional whiffle ball. Not this mockumentary, though. Grade: 76

The Three Musketeers (PG-13, 102 minutes) — I could watch only the first half hour or so. What a mess. As far as I can tell, this “modern retelling of Alexander Dumas’ story” has nothing at all to do with the original beyond the characters’ names. Ray Stevenson deserves better. Grade: 69

Young Adult (R, 94 minutes) — On paper, the movie — a darkly comic sketch of a damaged thirtysomething who looks to regain her mojo by returning to her small hometown and snatching her high-school sweetheart away from his wife and newborn child — sounds highly promising. Casting Charlize Theron — a highly intelligent (and refreshingly subversive) actor — in the role of this wack-job is inspired. When you add Patton Oswalt to the mix as an unlikely truth-teller, the potential for awesomeness is such that it’s difficult to control your expectations. I don’t mind telling you I was looking forward to Young Adult — I expected (and wanted) it to be very good.
It isn’t. But it isn’t exactly bad either. It’s very smart and it has a couple of genuinely fine performances and some sharply observed comic moments, but in the end it’s just not enough. It’s not funny enough. It’s not tough enough. It’s not story enough. Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman needed to think more. Grade: 85

Wizards (PG, 82 minutes) — Ralph Bakshi’s cult favorite animated fantasy film is being re-released for its 35th anniversary. Hurray. Grade: 88

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