2014 End-of-Year Cramfest Capsules, Part III

indexWednesday, November 26

Get On Up (Dir.: Tate Taylor; GRADE: B) This energetic, time-hopping biopic of James Brown comes on as a Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould-style take on the Godfather of Soul, but it becomes more conventional and familiar as it progresses. Still, nothing can detract from the lead performance of Chadwick Boseman, who transcends the limitations of impersonation to capture the seething hunger that made Brown tick.

The Babadook (Dir.: Jennifer Kent; GRADE: B) A much-lauded festival hit from Australian first-timer Kent, a low-budget, low-gore horror chiller with plenty of style and smarts.  Essie Davis plays a single mother raising a kindergarten hellion with severe protection issues, a complex only exacerbated by the mysterious appearance of a terrifying black-and-white “children’s book.”  There is some wonderfully excruciating suspense in the buildup, but the ending strives for therapy at the expense of scares.

images2Rocks in my Pockets (Dir.: Signe Baumane; GRADE: C+)  Although originally produced in English, this is the Latvian submission for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards.  Baumane tells the story of the women in her family who battled with depression and suicidal thoughts, including herself, and while the film has a nice mix of empathy and irrepressible humor, the animation is static and doesn’t do much besides mimic the narration.

Friday, November 28

Nymphomaniac, Vol, I (GRADE: B-); Nymphomaniac, Vol. II (GRADE: C+)

index3Nymphomaniac, as an experience (Dir.: Lars von Trier; GRADE: B-) I watched both films with my wife in one sitting on the morning after Thanksgiving, just as I imagine the filmmaker intended.  The first part, with its Scheherazade set-up and deranged diversions into flyfishing and cake forks, is more tolerable than the punishment-heavy second volume, but they are both alternately enticing and insufferable, dogmatic and deeply personal, stimulating and repulsive throughout.  I’m glad I saw it…now let’s never speak of this again.

Still Alice (Dir.: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland)  ***DO NOT OPEN UNTIL EARLY 2015***

images4Birdman (Dir.: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; GRADE: C) Like being hit in the brain with a tiny hammer by a guy who thinks that people saying “balls” = satirical comedy.  Once the impressiveness of the technical virtuosity wears off (for me, it was about a half hour in), you’re left with a film that expresses contempt for everyone and everything save for the smell of its own farts.  It actually made me long for Inarritu’s earlier, funnier work.

Merchants of Doubt (Dir.: Robert Kenner; GRADE: B) A documentary about the fake experts and pseudo-scientists employed by corporations to spread doubt about scientific facts, a practice originally perfected by the tobacco industry but taken to new levels by global warming skeptics.  More of a muckraking piece about media manipulation than a psychological exploration into the mind of a hired liar, but still a compelling watch. Reviewed for the SN&R on April 9, 2015.