Roman Polanski's 'Venus in Fur' - A Review: Bad Boys Get Spanked


'there's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear,' thinks Mathieu Amalric 

Roman Polanski has been associated with dark deeds, onscreen and off, yet as his rather elfin physique suggests, he's a mischievous filmmaker. His witches in "Rosemary's Baby" would be more at home in the Borscht Belt than the Old Vic, and his 1967 "The Fearless Vampire Killers" is a horror spoof both sophisticated and slapstick

Polanski's latest, "Venus in Fur," is an adaptation of a 2010 play by David Ives that itself was inspired by an 1870 novel of the same title by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, the Austrian writer whose surname gave us the word "masochism," just as the Marquis de Sade inspired "sadism." Put them together and you have "sadomasochism," a theme teased for playful yet purposeful effect in Polanski's new movie.

ring around the collar (or maybe vice versa): Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric

'Third Person' - A Review: Life Itself (Not)


'are you sure this isn't "Non-Stop"?' asks Liam Neeson in 'Third Person'

"Third Person" takes place in New York, Paris and Rome, but what it offers is a trip to Dullsville. The twist ending fails to redeem a pretentious slog that -- in the tradition of such predecessors as "Crash" (2004), "Babel" (2006) and "Disconnect" (2012) -- suggests everybody is a connected thread in this colorful tapestry we call life (or something like that). Yet in its tiresome earnestness, the film fails to connect with the viewer.

the girl with the raccoon eyes: Mila Kunis

"Third Person" does, however, connect to the aforementioned "Crash." The new movie also is the work of writer-director Paul Haggis, whose earlier film won the Oscar for Best Picture and earned Haggis a screenwriting Academy Award. "Crash" dealt with race and fate in Los Angeles, while "Third Person" is about regrets and relationships.

'Begin Again' - A Review: Make Mine Music


Keira sings nightly in 'Begin Again'  

Set in what a music producer calls that "crazy fractured mess of a city" known as New York, "Begin Again" is essentially an old-fashioned, let's-put-on-a-show movie musical disguised as an indie relationship drama for a balkanized generation of pop-rock consumers that is much more familiar with CeeLo Green and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine (both of whom have acting roles here) than with Busby Berkeley and Judy Garland.

'On the Town,' with earphones: Ruffalo and Knightley

Instead of song-and-dance numbers, the movie offers stage and recording-session performances and montages in which source music replaces the vocals that in an old musical would have been provided by the actors. In one long sequence, the two leads, Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, essentially dance through New York, "On the Town"-style, but the scene is "realistic" because the music that inspires their joy -- vintage Sinatra and Stevie Wonder recordings -- is provided by the iPhone the duo shares via headphones. (As the songs blast on the soundtrack, we, too, share their head space.)

'Obvious Child' - A Review: Not-So-Clean Slate


bathroom humor: Jenny Slate

As entertainment industry pundits have pointed out for years, minority voices -- and that includes women -- are underrepresented in our movies.

"Obvious Child" -- a vehicle for comic actress and writer Jenny Slate, who earned a cult following during her single-season tenure on "Saturday Night Live" -- does what it can to redress this failure.

The movie marks the feature debut for writer-director Gillian Robespierre, working from a short film she made with writers Karen Maine and Anna Bean. Maine and Elisabeth Holm are credited story writers on the feature.

Most of these women also are among the film's producers. Other key creative personnel include production designer Sara K. White and art director Bridge Rafferty. The supporting cast includes Gaby Hoffman, a powerful, distinctive and uncompromised feminine presence.

a stare is born: Triska is one of Godfrey Reggio's 'Visitors'

You may not be convinced a star is born but you will know a stare is born when you see "Visitors," the latest non-narrative head trip from director Godfrey Reggio.

The film opens with a lengthy closeup of Triska, a female lowland gorilla whose beetle-browed glower has become the movie's signature image. You may miss Triska's shiny, leathery face and glossy coat during most of the wordless  80-plus minutes that follow, which primarily (primate-ly?) focus on the faces of the ape's alleged evolutionary superiors, human beings, their expressions somehow less interesting in their complexity and familiarity than the gorilla's uncanny, unreadable ur-aspect.

a less furry of the 'Visitors'

"Visitors" -- which makes its Memphis public-screening debut at 7 p.m. Thursday (July 10) at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art -- is Reggio's fourth feature "documentary," to cite the inadequate and imprecise categorization applied to his work by the taxonomers at the Internet Movie Database.

'Snowpiercer' - A Review: Going Off the Rails on a Crazy Train


rebel with a cause: that's Chris Evans near the center, with beard and wool cap

As it circumnavigates the deadly frozen globe of the climatic post-apocalypse, "Snowpiercer" sometimes seems loaded with more freight than even a futuristic bullet train can carry.

Set in the year 2031 aboard the "rattling ark" of a high-tech "miracle train" that is the cramped home of "humanity's last survivors," the first English-language feature from South Korea's Bong Joon-ho -- director of the 2006 monster masterpiece, "The Host" -- is ambitious, violent, overwrought and occasionally awe-inspiring.

'Ida' - A Review: Out of the Past


nun but the lonely hearted: Agata Trzebuchowska

Absorbing, haunting, emotionally astute and impeccably crafted, "Ida" is the latest work from Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski, whose underappreciated "My Summer of Love" (2004) is one of my favorite films of the past decade.

"My Summer of Love" -- which more or less introduced Emily Blunt to moviegoers -- was about two young women engaged in a brief, dreamlike love affair in the Yorkshire countryside. "Ida" also depicts the brief relationship of two women, but to very different effect. (Two obvious differences: The new movie is in luminous black-and-white and in Polish, with English subtitles.)

With "Ida," Pawlikowski returns to his home country to tell the story of a young novice nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) in the 1960s who leaves the rural retreat of the convent where she was raised to visit her sophisticated aunt (Agata Kulesza).

Ida and aunt

The novice keeps her red hair -- a genetic inheritance from her dead mother -- hidden beneath her veil. Her only exposed cleavage is the impressive cleft of her chin. Her middle-aged aunt, meanwhile, is a self-described "slut" --  a once feared Communist Party prosecutor who is now something of a worn-out party girl.

Henry Gayden (photo by his wife, Cat Vasko, also a writer)

Henry Gayden was "obsessed" with movies, he says, even before Tom Cruise and the makers of "The Firm" turned his East Memphis street into a movie set for a few weeks in 1992.

The born-and-bred Memphian has turned that obsession into a career (to paraphrase Elvis Costello). He's the writer of the new kid-friendly science-fiction adventure film, "Earth to Echo."

You can read my interview with Gayden (which appeared in the July 3 print edition of The Commercial Appeal) here. My review of "Earth to Echo" is here.

And below, you'll find an earlier example of Gayden's work,  "Ham Sandwich," a comedic time-travel short (in comedy, isn't timing everything?). The 2011 film was scripted by Gayden and directed by "Earth to Echo" helmer Dave Green.

Reese Hartwig meets Buppo, er, Echo

The resonance alluded to in the title of "Earth to Echo" is extraterrestrial in origin, but parents who accompany their children to this science-fiction adventure may hear a roll call of movies past, resounding from the Hollywood Hills: "E.T.," "The Goonies," "Stand by Me," "Short Circuit," "Super 8."

"Earth to Echo" is entirely derivative in content (suburban kids on bikes help a lovable alien phone home, more or less) and style (it's another "found footage" movie). It's also earnest and even old-fashioned in its insistence that a movie for kids need not pander to its target audience with bathroom jokes and gross-out humor nor flatter older viewers with risqué references and in-jokes that youngsters won't comprehend.

'22 Jump Street' - A Review: Mirror Star


mirror image of itself: '22 Jump Street'  

With "22 Jump Street," a sequel that lacks the novelty but retains much of the wit of its surprising predecessor, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller again demonstrate they are Hollywood's most reliable alchemists/seamstresses: So far, they have yet to meet a sow's ear they couldn't transform into a silk purse or at least a functional and appealing handbag.