At Any Price
Directed by Ramin Bahrani
There’s a significant part of the population that considers the biggest corporate threat to America to be not an energy giant or weapons manufacturer but Monsanto. A key part of the American food debate, agri-business has gotten little cinematic attention beyond documentaries, which is why this is particularly disappointing. It's director Bahrani's most ambitious consideration of how people try to get ahead in America, but the expanded canvas dilutes his focus. The movie is like genetically modified food—designed to reach more people, but unappealingly unnatural.
Ryan Vlastelica (Apr 19, 23)
Directed by Neil Jordan
Interview with a Vampire had Tom Cruise at his peak and an ascendant Brad Pitt; director Jordan's return to vampires glows dimmer with less star wattage, but it's a livelier, more original meditation on the promise and peril of eternal life. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play mother-daughter vampires living in the present but carrying around a long gothic backstory, gradually revealed through a series of flashbacks (and perhaps too much tortured sulking from Ronan). The movie, based on a play, thoughtfully rewrites vampire rules. Also: Arterton has finally found a decent genre film!
Jesse Hassenger (Apr 25-27)
Hide Your Smiling Faces
Directed by Daniel Patrick Carbone
This gorgeously photographed idyll watches scrawny white boys being scrawny white boys: cutting through verdant New Jersey woods, rassling, riding bikes, shooting BBs, scamming drive thrus, and suffering stretches of summer boredom. With expertly naturalistic underage actors, the director fashions a story about death as a catalyst to coming of age. As the title suggests, it's a fascinating study of the way boys, ever emotionally taciturn, communicate through action. Real men don't pour their hearts out over the phone—they cry alone in the woods!
Henry Stewart (Apr 21, 22, 25, 27)
Directed by David Gordon Green
Director Green never really left us; he was even there in the 80s-VHS sloppiness of his recent experiments in Apatow-gang broad comedy. Nonetheless, some will mislabel Avalanche a return to form, because it features that oddball Green dialogue and his continuing fascination with the places where nature meets industrial rubble—in this case, a strip of Texas road in the late 80s, worked by Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch after a series of forest fires. Ninety percent of the movie is just them, and that sparseness brings pathos to the comedy—which feels of a piece with both Pineapple Express
and the funny bits of All the Real Girls
Hassenger (Apr 23, 26, 28)
Directed by Mira Nair
This movie dares to take seriously the views of someone who would be swiftly labeled an extremist or worse by those afraid of geopolitical complexity. It tracks how an America-loving Muslim can, step by step, be pushed by racism and political awareness from a fast-track Wall Street job to a professorship in Istanbul. It’s understandable that his American patriotism would suffer from the anti-Arab mood after 9/11 and the rush to military action. And it’s understandable that charges from other Muslims that he has abandoned his heritage for the American dream would cut him deeply. This personal story is surrounded by a spy story that is enjoyably twisty. But the film finds most of its drama in the complexity of not knowing how to feel.
Vlastelica (Apr 22, 24, 27)
Directed by Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gareth Evans, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto and Adam Wingard
Last year’s omnibus V/H/S
was an unexpectedly strong entry in not only the horror genre but also the tired found footage subgenre. By sporting a murderer’s row of gifted directors, it was able to concentrate on horror’s natural strengths (kinetic energy, social commentary) while limiting its weaknesses (an often-fatal apathy toward character development and nuance). V/H/S/2
is more of the same, but shows how vulnerable the formula is to becoming tired and repetitive. Each short is technically well made, but all follow the same pattern, and they start to blend together. Giving horror directors the chance to indulge does deliver some fun gotcha
Vlastelica (Apr 21, 24, 26)
Still from Byzantium