The most exciting opening in these parts is Jeff Nichols’ Mud (77). Brian is a big Nichols fan, and Take Shelter was my favorite film of 2011. Another in a series of Matthew McConaughey reclamation projects, A.O. Scott writes: “Mr. Nichols’s screenplay is perhaps a little too heavily plotted, especially toward the end, when everything comes together neatly and noisily, but he more than compensates with graceful rhythm, an unfussy eye for natural beauty and a sure sense of character and place. What might have been an earnest, oversensitive, stereotypically Sundance-y piece of regionalist misery is leavened by suspense and jolts of laughter.”
The big new opening in multiplexes is Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain (45). I hate Bay with the intensity of a thousand suns, though this is stripped down Bay, with no cities being destroyed. Scott writes: “What follows is two hours of sweat, blood and cheerful, nasty vulgarity, punctuated by voice-over ruminations about Jesus, physical fitness and the American dream, along with a few tactical visits to a strip club. It all leaves you pondering whether you have just seen a monumentally stupid movie or a brilliant movie about the nature and consequences of stupidity.”
Also opening wide is The Big Wedding (30), the kind of movie that is an instant turn-off to me, with lots of stars (Robert De Niro is back to slumming for a paycheck) and no wit. Stephen Holden writes: “To say that Justin Zackham’s farce “The Big Wedding” takes the low road doesn’t begin to do justice to the sheer awfulness of this star-stuffed, potty-mouthed fiasco directed by the screenwriter of “The Bucket List.” This is a movie in which the racket kicked up by various couples “boinking,” to use its favorite euphemism, is enough to wake up an entire city.”
One of the films nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language, Norway’s Kon-Tiki (63) is the story of Thor Heyerdahl’s epic journey. It should be noted that the release here in the U.S. is in English; it was shot in both English and Norwegian. Manohla Dargis: “Directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg, with a script by Petter Skavlan, “Kon-Tiki” is a stolidly old-fashioned and manly hair-in-the-wind entertainment of the sort that could have filled out the bottom of a studio double bill. The men are handsome, the sea is pretty and if the sharks look as rubbery as last week’s chicken, at least they add some drama — and buckets of sloshing blood and guts — to what otherwise proves a dull affair.”
There are also a host of small indies. I won’t mention them all, but the best reviewed is An Oversimplication of Her Beauty, (77) a film, directed by and starring Terence Nance, about a relationship between two African-Americans. Nicolas Rapold: “His patchwork scheme (incorporating an original short film titled “How Would U Feel?”) recalls hybrid creations in American avant-garde cinema (imitating watercolor, line drawing, collage), as well as the dreamily puddling creations of 1970s animation, with their spontaneous sense of cosmology.
Second-best reviewed is Graceland (74), a Filipino film that would seem to have nothing to do with Elvis. Jeannette Catsoulis: “Yet even while embracing the breathless beats of the crime thriller, “Graceland” holds tight to its concern for exploited children. Endangered innocence is everywhere — sometimes portrayed in appropriately uncomfortable ways — and the cinematographer Sung Rae Cho deserves enormous credit for emphasizing vulnerability over titillation.”
Rahmin Barani, the director of the excellent Goodbye, Solo, returns with At Any Price (65), starring Dennis Quaid, a film about the murky world of agribusiness. Stephen Holden: “On one level “At Any Price” is a critical exploration of agribusiness and its cutthroat, hypercompetitive ways. On a deeper level it is a searching, somewhat ham-handed allegory of American hubris in the 21st century and a bleak assessment of the country’s wobbly moral compass.”
At Film Forum this weekend is Safety Last, starring the great silent film clown Harold Lloyd. It’s best known for the sequence that has Lloyd climbing the outside of a building, and is the source of one of the most recognizable stills in silent film history.