It’s big, it’s bold and it is undeniably spectacular, but the new film by Gavin Hood suffers from a number of faults that have afflicted his earlier work: a profound lack of humor. Hood burst onto the popular consciousness in 2005 with Tsotsi, a film that followed the life of a homeless black boy in the backstreets of Johannesburg. It was not a film that required a light touch. But when dealing with extraordinary rendition in the star-studded Rendition, or superhero exploits in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, irony, if not humor, would have been appreciated. With Ender’s Game, a thoughtful and magnificent astro-adventure that pits a child against alien hordes intent on the world’s destruction, Hood provides metaphors, moral dilemmas, and soul-searching aplenty, and the onscreen battles take starfleet engagements to a whole new level -- but oh, for something to lighten the load! A sequel-ready ending further weakens the drama, and while Ender’s Game fails to be all that it could be, it is packed with so much material most people would be hard-pressed not to find something they liked about it.
A sequel to Machete, the 2010 Robert Rodriguez splatter fest that was anchored by the iconic, if long-suffering, character actor (and former felon and ex-boxer) Danny Trejo. Trejo plays a machete-wielding killer who is hired by the US government to battle his way through Mexico to take down an arms dealer who is about to launch a weapon into space. With Trejo in the lead, you can expect a high body count, and with Rodriguez in the director’s chair, you know the blood is going to be in your face. And that is the best reason to go watch Machete Kills, a top-notch B-movie that knows exactly what its customers want. Throw Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas and Charlie Sheen into the mix, and you know that Rodriguez is out to have some fun. Don’t expect logic, or nuance, or anything that is going to get in the way of people being killed for your entertainment. As one of the character’s in the film says, “Machete kills. That’s what he does!” And that about sums this film up.
It was getting to the point where it was becoming hard to be a Woody Allen fan anymore. Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream were a low point, redeemed ever so slightly with more recent work such as Whatever Works and To Rome with Love, which were at least interesting, but also a little bit workmanlike. With Blue Jasmine Allen has found a muse in Cate Blanchett, and created what may be his best film in a decade. Blanchett is Jasmine, a New York socialite who has been taken for everything she has by Hal (Alec Baldwin), and has come to San Francisco to impose on her much less wealthy sister (Sally Hawkins). She is fighting a losing battle with her memories, and her narcissistic hang-ups and their consequences begin to overwhelm her and everyone around. Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, one of the most sober of film critics, goes so far as to say that “Cate Blanchett tops anything she’s done in the past” with this role that is hilariously funny while also being absolutely tragic.
A film for writer-director Noah Baumbach -- who most recently directed Greenberg, which has a strong claim to being the best of all Ben Stiller’s movies -- is back with what may be his most compassionate and nuanced film since The Squid and the Whale. Shot in velvety black and white, recalling the tones of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Frances Ha tells the story of a New York woman who throws herself headlong into the realization of her dreams, even as we discern that the possibility of their actualization is constantly dwindling. Like some early Allen pictures, Frances Ha is an ode to the city of New York and the people, in all their variety, who live there. It watches the character of Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, struggling to invent herself. Gerwig sparkles, and actress Micky Summer (daughter to musician Sting), is a perfect foil in a slight tale that manages to be charming, effervescent, playful and deeply sad all at the same time.