Opening in New York, Weekend of July 19, 2013

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The film I most want to see this week is Computer Chess (74), the latest film from Andrew Bujalski. I very much enjoyed his films Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation, and this film, about the early days of computer programming, looks promising. A. O. Scott: “the superficially distant reality of “Computer Chess” is recognizably our own. The personalities of the programmers are refreshingly idiosyncratic, playing against easy stereotypes. There is a fine line between genius and fraud, and between inspiration and error. And there are worries about the dystopian path on which these tireless hackers may be leading the rest of us, as intense arguments take place after hours about the possibility that the machines will eventually take over.”

The best-reviewed film of the week is The Act of Killing (89), but it’s not something I want to rush out and see. It’s an unblinking look at mass murder in Indonesia, told from the point of view of the killers. Scott: “The horror of “The Act of Killing” does not dissipate easily or yield to anything like clarity. Some queasiness may linger at the thought of a Western filmmaker indulging the creative whims of mass murderers, exploiting both their guilelessness and the suffering of Indonesians who remain voiceless and invisible here. But this discomfort is an important indicator of just how complicated, how perverse, the cinematic pursuit of truth can be. This is not a movie that lets go of you easily.”

Also in documentaries this week is Blackfish (83), about the incident in which a killer whale killed its trainer. It is noteworthy because Sea World, which takes a beating in the film, proactively disputes the film’s findings, that killer whales should not be held in captivity for the amusement of humans. Jeannette Catsoulis: “Much of the footage is painful to watch: bleeding whales, flanks raked by the teeth of their fellow captives; a trainer crushed between two gigantic beasts with only his wet suit holding him together; another trainer dragged repeatedly to the bottom of a pool until he manages to escape. Providing context for this alarming behavior, researchers describe highly socialized, caring creatures used to living in thousands of miles of ocean and ill suited to theme parks where they may be subjected to repeated overnight confinements in dark concrete pens.”

There’s nothing terribly exciting in multiplexes this week. The likely box office winner is The Conjuring (68), a haunted house movie that is surprisingly well-reviewed. Manohla Dargis: “With amusing self-awareness, Mr. Wan (his earlier movies include “Saw” and “Insidious”) leans on the usual genre tricks throughout, making you jump with hard edits and doors being squeaked open by unseen hands. But he also makes intelligent use of narrative delay and ellipses that help build suspense and suspicion.”

Also in multiplexes this week are Kristin Wiig in Girl Most Likely (37), and a feast of Mary-Louise Parker films: Red 2 (47) and R.I.P.D. (26). Parker has announced her retirement, saying that she is tired of being the subject of nasty comments on the Internet. Perhaps if she chose better material. It’s a shame, because she’s a terrific actress.

Finally, there’s Only God Forgives (36), Nicholas Winding Refn’s follow-up to Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas has his foul-mouthed mother. Stephen Holden: “Unable to give his automaton any suggestion of an inner life, Mr. Gosling moves through “Only God Forgives” as if in a slow-motion trance. He starred in Mr. Refn’s last film, “Drive,” and will survive this catastrophe. But whether Mr. Refn can recover is open to question. The movie is so devoid of emotion that its ritualized gore acts as a narcotic. Filmed in shades of red, with a minimal screenplay, “Only God Forgives” looks like a ghoulish fashion shoot in hell.”

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

5 responses »

  1. Can’t say I’m surprised about the thrashing for Only God Forgives, seeing where Refn’s work was going, or how it came full-circle to Valhalla Rising.

  2. I really liked Only God Forgives, but I completely understand all of the criticisms. It would be an interesting movie to debate should others see it.

  3. Saw Only God Forgives today and thought it was truly awful. It’s aggressively bad, as if Winding Refn was purposely trying to self-destruct his career. It’s ugly, borderline incomprehensible despite a bone-simple plot, and pitifully acted to the extent that it’s “acted” at all. It’s like some 13-year-old Ed Wood with some twisted Norman Bates fantasies decided to make a Michael Mann movie. It’s grotesque, but in an incompetently juvenile way.

    I’d love to read your defense of it, James.

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