Race car drivers, rock stars, witches, flight attendants, and more: choose your Halloween costume from this week's new movies!
For this week's longer reviews, check out Dennis Harvey's take on the doc Inequality for All, and my chat with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett in honor of the band's new 3D IMAX concert film, Metallica: Through the Never. Read on for short takes galore!
Baggage Claim Robin Thicke may be having the year of a lifetime, but spouse Paula Patton is clearly making a bid to leap those “Blurred Lines” between second banana-dom and Jennifer Aniston-esque leading lady fame with this buppie chick flick. How competitive is the game? Patton has a sporting chance: she’s certainly easy on the eyes and ordinarily a welcome warm and sensual presence as arm candy or best girlfriend — too bad her bid to beat the crowd with Baggage Claim feels way too blurry and busy to study for very long. The camera turns to Patton only to find a hot, slightly charming mess of mussed hair, frenetic movement, and much earnest emoting. I know the mode is single-lady desperation, but you're trying too hard, Paula. At least the earnestness kind of works — semi-translating in Baggage Claim as a bumbling ineptitude that offsets Patton’s too-polished-and-perfect-to-be-real beauty. After all, we’re asked to believe that Patton’s flight attendant Montana can’t find a good man, no matter how hard she tries. That’s the first stretch of imagination, made more implausible by pals Sam (Adam Brody) and Janine (singer-songwriter Jill Scott), who decide to try to fix her up with her old high-flying frequent-flier beaus in the quest to find a mate in time for her — humiliation incoming — younger sister’s wedding. Among the suitors are suave hotelier Quinton (Djimon Hounsou), Republican candidate Langston (Taye Diggs), and hip-hop mogul Damon (Trey Songz), though everyone realizes early on that she just can’t notice the old bestie (Derek Luke) lodged right beneath her well-tilted nose. Coming to the conclusion that any sane single gal would at the end of this exercise, Patton does her darnedest to pour on the quirk and charm — and that in itself is as endearing as watching any beautiful woman bend over backwards, tumbling as she goes, to win an audience over. The strenuous effort, however, seems wasted when one considers the flimsy material, played for little more than feather-light amusement by director-writer David E. Talbert. (1:33) (Kimberly Chun)
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 The sequel to the 2009 animated hit based on the children's best-seller promises the introduction of "mutant food beasts," including "tacodiles" and "shrimpanzees." (1:35)
Don Jon Shouldering the duties of writer, director, and star for the comedy Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has also picked up a broad Jersey accent, the physique of a gym rat, and a grammar of meathead posturing — verbal, physical, and at times metaphysical. His character, Jon, is the reigning kingpin in a triad of nightclubbing douchebags who pass their evenings assessing their cocktail-sipping opposite numbers via a well-worn one-to-10 rating system. Sadly for pretty much everyone involved, Jon’s rote attempts to bed the high-scorers are spectacularly successful — the title refers to his prowess in the art of the random hookup — that is, until he meets an alluring “dime” named Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), who institutes a waiting period so foreign to Jon that it comes to feel a bit like that thing called love. Amid the well-earned laughs, there are several repulsive-looking flies in the ointment, but the most conspicuous is Jon’s stealthy addiction to Internet porn, which he watches at all hours of the day, but with a particularly ritualistic regularity after each night’s IRL conquest has fallen asleep. These circumstances entail a fair amount of screen time with Jon’s O face and, eventually, after a season of growth — during which he befriends an older woman named Esther (Julianne Moore) and learns about the existence of arty retro Swedish porn — his “Ohhh…” face. Driven by deft, tight editing, Don Jon comically and capably sketches a web of bad habits, and Gordon-Levitt steers us through a transformation without straining our capacity to recognize the character we met at the outset — which makes the clumsy over-enunciations that mar the ending all the more jarring. (1:30) (Lynn Rapoport)
Enough Said Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a divorced LA masseuse who sees naked bodies all day but has become pretty wary of wanting any in her bed at night. She reluctantly changes her mind upon meeting the also-divorced Albert (James Gandolfini), a television archivist who, also like her, is about to see his only child off to college. He's no Adonis, but their relationship develops rapidly — the only speed bumps being provided by the many nit-picking advisors Eva has in her orbit, which exacerbate her natural tendency toward glass-half-empty neurosis. This latest and least feature from writer-director Nicole Holofcener is a sitcom-y thing of the type that expects us to find characters all the more adorable the more abrasive and self-centered they are. That goes for Louis-Dreyfus' annoying heroine as well as such wasted talents as Toni Colette as her kvetching best friend and Catherine Keener as a new client turned new pal so bitchy it makes no sense Eva would desire her company. The only nice person here is Albert, whom the late Gandolfini makes a charming, low-key teddy bear in an atypical turn. The revelation of an unexpected past tie between his figure and Keener's puts Eva in an ethically disastrous position she handles dismally. In fact, while it's certainly not Holofcener's intention, Eva's behavior becomes so indefensible that Enough Said commits rom-com suicide: The longer it goes on, the more fervently you hope its leads will not end up together. (1:33) (Dennis Harvey)
Haute Cuisine Director and co-writer Christian Vincent’s unassuming ode to French food takes for granted that we’re here to learn about the life, joys, and preoccupations of a working female chef, regardless of politically correct concerns (dig that foie gras reference) or gossipy tendencies. Precisely encapsulating a very un-haute attitude that falls in line with its mild-mannered protagonist, Haute Cuisine breaks its cool only when the country’s head of state comes into view or a testosterone-y rival pulls a power play. As the movie opens, Hortense Laborie (Catherine Frot) is hard at work at a far humbler job — cooking fine food for the rough crowd of workers at the Alfred Faure base in Antarctica while dismissing the attentions of a visiting video crew. Flashback to the story they’re hot to uncover, as the country innkeeper, farmer, and cooking teacher is swept off her feet by none other President François Mitterrand, not for romance but to make home-cooked regional food for his personal meals. The halls of power — and Hortense’s passage through the labyrinthian bureaucracy and pecking order — threaten to blot out the identity of the little cook from the country, but she holds her own in her chaste relationship with Mitterrand as she coaxes him to let her source directly from farmers and producers. However, the mostly one-way, closed relationship between the two can’t last forever. Haute Cuisine doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel — much as Hortense would never claim to tweak her beloved St. Honoré —and it generally refrans from looking much deeper into its main character beyond what Frot offers in her acutely telling looks and her playful give-and-take with sous chef Nicholas (Arthur Dupont). But it does gently draw the food lover and the more oblivious eater alike into its spell, with a soupçon of tasteful, and tasty-looking, food porn and its obvious respect for chefs who are dedicated to giving pleasure to those they serve. (1:35) Opera Plaza. (Kimberly Chun)
Inuk Though the Greenlandic-language Inuk takes its name from its troubled Inuit protagonist, ice is arguably its central character. And the lyrical sweep and striking beauty of the icy expanses in Uummannaq Bay and Nuuk, Greenland, threaten to upstage the adventure story at Inuk’s heart. Seeking refuge from his alcoholic mother and her abusive friends and escaping into hip-hop, the teenage Inuk (Gaaba Petersen) has been found battered and sleeping his car far too often, so he’s taken to a in the north by teacher and foster care worker Aviaaja (Rebekka Jorgensen) to learn about the old ways of hunters and an ancient wisdom that is melting away with the polar icecap. A journey by dogsled with local hunters turns into a rite of passage when bear hunter Ikuma (Ole Jørgen Hammeken) takes Inuk under his damaged wing and attempts to reconnect him to his heritage. “The ice is no place for attitude,” he declares, as Inuk makes foolish choices, kills his first seal, and learns the hard way about survival north of the Arctic Circle. You can practically feel the freezing cold seeping off the frames of this gorgeous-looking film — a tribute to director Mike Magidson and his crew’s skills, even when the overt snow-blinding symbolism blots out clarity and threatens to swallow up Inuk. (1:30) Roxie. (Chun)
"Millie Perkins in the Exploitation Cinema of Matt Cimber" Millie Perkins was a successful 20-year-old model with no acting experience when she made her film debut in 1959's The Diary of Anne Frank, playing the title role. But her mainstream Hollywood career almost immediately foundered and soon she was playing much less angelic roles in B-movies — among them several subsequently cult-worshipped Monte Hellman films and the 1968 AIP counterculture-nightmare hit Wild in the Streets. In the mid-1970s she made two back-to-back movies for Italian exploitation maestro Matt Cimber (aka Thomas Vitale Ottaviano), who a decade earlier had briefly been married to Jayne Mansfield. The Film on Film Foundation is screening rare 35mm prints of both in this one-night tribute bill. The better known of the duo, The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976), is a bizarre psychochiller in which Perkins gets one hell of a role as SoCal cocktail waitress Molly, who seems normal enough (if a tad taciturn) but is prone to irrational rages, blackouts, drinking binges, indiscriminate pill-popping, and ... murder, though we (and she) aren't always sure whether her crimes are real or delusional. While Witch has gained some critical appreciation in recent years, the prior year's Lady Cocoa (also released, even more improbably, as Pop Goes the Weasel) remains obscure — a late addition to the early '70s blaxploitation craze with "First Lady of Las Vegas" Lola Falana in a non-singing role as a tough jailbird who gets a 24-hour pass to testify against her evil thug ex-boyfriend — or at least try to, if his goons (including NFL Hall of Famer "Mean" Joe Greene) don't snuff her first. Perkins has a supporting role as one half of an alleged honeymooning couple who aren't quite as harmless as they seem. Perhaps overwhelmed by the challenge of topping these two films, Perkins was inactive for several years afterward, then found herself welcomed back to Hollywood via numerous roles in TV movies and big-screen ones, plus recurring roles on primetime soap Knots Landing and the 1990 miniseries Elvis (as the King's mom). Roxie. (Dennis Harvey)
On the Job Filipino director Erik Matti's gritty crime thriller has such a clever hook that Hollywood is already circling it for a remake. No shock there. It is surprising, however, that On the Job is based on true events, in which prisoners were temporarily sprung to work as hired guns for well-connected politicos. (Kinda genius, if you think about it.) The big-screen version has veteran inmate Tang (Joel Torre) dreading his imminent parole; he'd rather have the steady income from his grisly gig than be unable to provide for his wife and daughter. As he counts down to his release, he trains volatile Daniel (Gerald Anderson) to take his place. Poking around on the other side of the law are world-weary local cop Acosta (Joey Marquez) and hotshot federal agent Francis (Piolo Pascual), who reluctantly team up when a hit cuts close to home for both of them. The case is particularly stressful for Francis, whose well-connected father-in-law turns out to be wallowing in corruption. Taut, thrilling, atmospheric, and graphic, On the Job makes up for an occasionally confusing storyline by offering bang-up (literally) entertainment from start to finish. Groovy score, too. (2:00) Metreon. (Cheryl Eddy)
Out in the Dark Meeting in a Tel Aviv gay bar, Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) and Roy (Michael Aloni) are instantly smitten with each other, though there's much dividing them. Roy is a Jewish lawyer working at his father's high-end firm, while the former is a Palestinian graduate psychology student who's lucky just to get a temporary travel pass so he can take one prestigious course at an Israeli university. Even this small liberty brings him trouble, as his increasingly fanatical older brother considers any contact with Israelis borderline traitorous to their homeland and to conservative Muslim values. Needless to say, Nimr is not "out" to his family — and even though Roy is, his parents' "tolerance" proves superficial at best. The men's relationship soon runs into considerable, even life-imperiling difficulty from various political, cultural, religious and personal conflicts. Director and co-writer Michael Mayer's first feature isn't the first screen love story between star-crossed Israelis and Palestinians (or even the first gay one). It can be a bit clumsy and melodramatic, but nonetheless there's enough chemistry between the leads and earnest urgency behind the issues addressed to make this a fairly powerful story about different kinds of oppression. (1:36) Elmwood. (Dennis Harvey)
Rush Ron Howard’s Formula One thriller Rush is a gripping bit of car porn, decked out with 1970s period details and goofily liberated camera moves to make sure you never forget how much happens under (and around, and on top of) the hood of these beastly vehicles. Real life drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda (played by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, respectively) had a wicked rivalry through the '70s; these characters are so oppositional you’d think Shane Black wrote them. Lauda’s an impersonal, methodical pro, while Hunt’s an aggressive, undisciplined playboy — but he’s so popular he can sway a group of racers to risk their lives on a rainy track, even as Lauda objects. It’s a lovely sight: all the testosterone in the world packed into a room bound by windows, egos threatening to bust the glass with the rumble of their voices. I’m no fan of Ron Howard, but maybe the thrill of Grand Theft Auto is in Rush like a spirit animal. (The moments of rush are the greatest; when Lauda’s lady friend asks him to drive fast, he does, and it’s glorious.) Hunt says that "being a pro kills the sport" — but Howard, an overly schmaltzy director with no gift for logic and too much reliance on suspension of disbelief, doesn't heed that warning. The laughable voiceovers that bookend the film threaten to sink some great stuff, but the magic of the track is vibrant, dangerous, and teeming with greatness. (2:03) (Sara Maria Vizcarrondo)