What should I see this weekend?, 10/2-10/4

ScreenerBlog

The Martian soars and Freeheld sinks in the latest edition of FJI's Friday review roundup. What are you planning to see?

(SR)=Specialty Release

The Good

The Martian: “Weir’s enormously entertaining book, combined with Goddard’s light, genre-savvy touch and Scott’s always-brilliant visual sensibility, gives audiences a movie that is at once a rollicking good time (its two hours and 21 minutes fly by) and extremely emotionally affecting.”

Labyrinth of Lies (SR): “Germany’s bid for the Foreign-Language Film Oscar nomination is a serious drama about an ambitious young public prosecutor in the 1950s whose obsession with justice detours him to an investigation of some respected elder Germans hiding their Nazi pasts. Tense doings recall 2007 German Oscar winner The Lives of Others, even if plotting here may be too labyrinthine.”

Partisan (SR): “Dark, chilling, impressive film about the training of child assassins in a sequestered commune led by a charismatic figure, played to perfection by Vincent Cassel.”

He Named Me Malala (SR): “He Named Me Malala is much more effective than any essay or political speech on the destructive nature of what the Taliban is attempting to do. One suspects its impact on young women will be profound.”

Shanghai: “Floridly atmospheric, top-notch cinematography, art direction (with a casino right out of Josef von Sternberg’s camp masterpiece The Shanghai Gesture) and costumes continually delight the eye even as you wonder what the hell is going on, so you may as well just relax, buy a box of popcorn, and immerse yourself in this movie-fed version of an endlessly fascinating time in history.”

A Christmas Horror Story (SR): “A Christmas Horror Story is a quasi-anthology with just about everything a genre nut could want under the tree: teen sex, elf zombies, a demonic Krampus…and Shatner. Fanboy love would be assured for this very entertaining little number even if it weren't coming from a crew associated with the much-loved Ginger Snaps franchise.”

Talvar (SR): “A true-crime whodunit exploring the infamous 2008 Noida double-murder case, which has already given rise to a TV movie and the feature film Mystery (Rahasya) released earlier this year, Talvar (Guilty) is a gripping thriller and police procedural.”

The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (SR): “With remarkable access to [former WWF wrestler Jake “The Snake”] Roberts in all his disturbing decrepitude, filmmaker Steve Yu sets out to tell the story of his attempt at a comeback–not to wrestling, but to reclaim his own life. Sometimes rough, often raw, but always real, Yu’s vérité-style documentary has the potential to reach a broader audience than just pro-wrestling fans with a profile of determination and courage that goes well beyond the drama displayed even during Roberts’ most fabled bouts.”

The Creeping Garden (SR): “An out-of-left-field, nerdy delight, Tim Grabham's and Jasper Sharp's The Creeping Garden hones in on a peculiar, obscure life form and follows it not just through the usual naturalist format, but into the realms of science and art.”

Shout Gladi Gladi (SR): "Fistula is the subject of this supremely compassionate documentary—not an easy subject, but the filmmakers should be saluted for tackling it in such an intelligent and thorough manner."

The Blah

This Is Happening (SR): “This sunny, mildly funny road-trip comedy is the brainchild of writer-director Ryan Jaffe. This Is Happening is nothing all that special but ingratiating enough, with a pertly appealing music score, and quite well played by its two leads.”

Lost In Hong Kong (SR): “Far less coherent, structured and engaging than [director Xu Zheng’s] previous fish-out-of-water farce, the massive 2012 hit Lost in Thailand, Xu's latest is best enjoyed as a relentless stream of visual gags.”

Narcopolis (SR): “[Narcopolis is] anchored by a weighty subtext involving notions of fate and free will, predestination and the degree to which the future might be subject to change. While less than subtle, its treatment of those themes generally manages to stay just this side of ponderous. The end result is good enough to make you want to see what Trefgarne does next.

Gravy (SR): “Cannibal killers invade a Mexican restaurant and torment the staff and patrons in this broad but not particularly funny comedy/horror picture… [O]verall it's the kind of movie best suited to group viewing with an open bar: It's a trifle much improved by company and Coronas.”

The Ugly

Freeheld (SR): "Good intentions threaten to upend Freeheld, a period drama about lesbian partners fighting for their rights in a bigoted New Jersey town. (Set in 2005, the story feels like it took place decades ago.) This well-acted movie pushes all the expected buttons without finding a compelling tone. A story this inspiring should not feel like medicine."

This Changes Everything (SR): “By failing to address basic issues, This Changes Everything comes off as misleading at best, deliberately confusing at worst. Telling environmental advocates that solutions to climate change are protest songs, ethnic dances and ‘power to the people’ demonstrations is insulting.”

Taxi (SR): “Unlike This Is Not a Film and Closed Curtain, banned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s Taxi is an exercise in self-pity that will test the limits of his most sympathetic audiences.”

The Neorealism: We Were Not Just Bicycle Thieves (SR): “The Neorealism is more a rambling shuffling of notes than a fully thought-out thesis, barely scratching the surface of neorealism’s revolutionary impact on the form and other filmmakers.”

Addicted to Fresno (SR): “Small-screen comic talent is all over Fresno, with key players from series including “Parks and Recreation,” “Arrested Development” and “Portlandia” teaming up for a tale of two sisters stuck with a hard-to-dispose-of dead body. The feature, sadly, exhibits none of the smarts or agility that fuel those series, with supporting players like Fred Armisen, Ron Livingston and Aubrey Plaza seeming to be acting in different movies, each of which protagonists Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer rush through in a sex-and-scatology-joke haze.”

Northern Soul (SR): “Originally intending to make a documentary about the underground soul-music scene which enjoyed a feverish cult following across parts of Britain in the mid-1970s, [Elaine] Constantine instead switched to a dramatic treatment of the subject, producing a rite-of-passage period piece that feels at times like a low-budget English cousin of Saturday Night Fever."