- This Week: Sep 15
- This Is Where I Leave You (Sep 19)
- A Walk Among the Tombstones (Sep 19)
- Tracks (Sep 19)
- Next Week: Sep 22
- The Boxtrolls (Sep 26)
- Jimi: All Is by My Side (Sep 26)
- The Equalizer (Sep 26)
- Maps to the Stars (Sep 27)
This Week: Sep 15
This Is Where I Leave YouOpens Sep 19, 2014
That old saw about bickering siblings returning to their childhood home to pick at old scabs on the road to a feel-good group hug gets recycled yet again in Shawn Levy's bland-as-oatmeal comedy This Is Where I Leave You. The movie is so festooned with clichés it proves that Tolstoy was dead wrong when he wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This clan is just like the one in August: Osage County (or Home For the Holidays or The Family Stone), only with more eye-rolling one-liners about Jane Fonda's cantaloupe-sized breast implants. It's a misfire that's especially confounding considering that you couldn't ask for a more promising cast of brother-and-sister bickerers: deadpan maestro Jason Bateman, sarcastic bossy pants Tina Fey, slow-burning straight man Corey Stoll, and the whirling dervish wildcard Adam Driver.
Based on Jonathan Tropper's 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You swirls around Fonda's imperious and gleefully inappropriate matriarch Hillary Altmana bestselling author and family therapist (oh, the irony!) who gathers her four children and their significant others to the stately suburban colonial they grew up in to sit shiva after their father passes away. Each is grappling with his or her own set of issues: Bateman's Judd recently walked in on his wife cheating on him with his loutish boss; Fey's Wendy is stuck in a loveless marriage and still pines for her first love (Timothy Olyphant); Stoll's Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) are fighting a losing battle with infertility; and Driver's Phillip is your standard-issue cosseted screw-up. After viciously needling one another like they used to as kids, they all wind up helping each other unpack their emotional baggage because...well, that's what the sharp-as-a-butter-knife Hollywood playbook dictates.
It's not the actors' faults. Some of them (especially Bateman and Rose Byrne as his old high school flame) are quite good. But none is called on to do much more than deliver punchless punchlines and goopy third-act dollops of laughter-through-tears schmaltz. And they look like they know it. All of which leaves you wondering: Why cast such talented, interesting, and edgy performers if you're only going to ask them play it safe? C
A Walk Among the TombstonesOpens Sep 19, 2014
Five years ago, Taken transformed Liam Neeson from a delicate dramatic actor into a snarling action star. The change might have been lamentable, if not for the fact that in the half dozen genre films he's toplined since 2009Unknown, The Grey, Non-Stop among themhe has each time elevated the janky material with his stalwart workmanlike commitment. In the latest case, A Walk Among the Tombstones, he plays gruff Brooklyn private eye Matt Scudder (the bullet-holed hero of Lawrence Block's popular book series), here tasked with hunting down a pair of deviant kidnappers that used power tools on the wife of a drug dealer (Dan Stevens). No matter how ridiculous and ugly the story gets, Neeson is an endlessly compelling presenceso gaunt-faced and haunted that for a moment in time it's regrettable that he didn't portray Abraham Lincoln as originally planned. It hardly matters when his low growl of a voice switches from an Irish brogue to ''Was wonderin' if I could tawk to ya?'' in the space of one sentence.
Director Scott Frank, the Out of Sight screenwriter whose first feature was 2007's moody noir The Lookout, aspires to do something higher-brow with Block's pulp novel. This backfires on the script level, where a number of head-scratching social commentaries (including gun safety, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Sickle Cell Anemia) inappropriately elbow their way into a plot repellent enough to features a woman's breast being sliced off by piano wire. But he has more artistic success with the movie's visual style, collaborating with the imaginative cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (The Master) to create a darkly beautiful, tilt-focused picture of wintry Brooklyn. The tombstones of the title refer to the ones in Greenwood Cemetery, a New York attraction of magnificent landscape and design, which is flaunted in its entire spooky cinematic splendor for one of the first times ever onscreen.
Frank borrows from the best. A visual reference to the World Trade Center late in the film is an exact replica of Steven Spielberg's Munich finale, and he also cribs from Martin Scorsese (GoodFellas) and David Fincher (Zodiac) when he uses a Donovan song as the soundtrack for florid violence. More original are his period preoccupations. Though Block's book was published in 1992, Frank has adapted it so that it takes place in 1999, and he loads on the fifteen-year-old details: video stores, pay phones, microfilm, Y2K anxiety. The nostalgia is most evoked in the depiction of the sociopathic killers as a gay couplea smutty tactic trotted out in 90s thrillers like Basic Instinct and rarely seen in movies nowadays. The relationship is too undercooked for anyone to accuse the movie of homophobia, but the subplot almost works as a knowing wink from Frank, who clearly has an eye on hoary devices of decades past. As a throwback to a type of nasty, ugly crime film of yesteryear, A Walk Among the Tombstones cleans up. B
TracksOpens Sep 19, 2014
Now that technology has made it impossible to ever be truly lost or alone, the idea of venturing out into the wilderness by yourself feels all the more romantic. No wonder it's becoming a popular movie fantasy. In December, Reese Witherspoon will star in Wild, the true story of Cheryl Strayed's 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. But Strayed's story owes a lot to the one in Tracks, which follows real-life pioneer Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) as she treks 1,700 miles through the Australian desert with four camels and a dog by her side. She went on to write a National Geographic piece about the experience that she then expanded into a best-seller.
Like Davidson herself, this lush adaptation from director John Curran (The Painted Veil) is remarkable for accomplishing so much with so little. There's no love story, although Adam Driver is marvelously dorky as a National Geographic photographer who meets up with Davidson every so often and might be nursing a crush. There's minimal dialogue and, really, not much to say, because Wasikowska's riveting performance tells you everything you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there's virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson's motives for taking the journey: The script only hints at a tragic backstory, and in a voice-over, Davidson thwarts any attempt to brand her as a women's-rights activist or a nature conqueror, stating only that she wanted to ''feel free.''
Still, what's on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson's chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we puny mortals are. There's a powerful message about human endurance in there, and no one needs to hear it more than this generation, which came of age too late for Joseph Campbell's rites-of-passage ceremonies and would never survive in the desert without an iPhone compass app. A