300: Rise of an Empire
If you saw the first installment, 300, directed by Zack Snyder, then you probably have a pretty good idea what to expect. This is the same sort of video game/graphic novel-inspired combat fantasy movie, except even more over-the-top. The story might be loosely based on real events, in this case the Battle of Salamis in which the Greeks turned the tide of Persian ambitions on the Greek mainland in 480 BC, but after that it is pretty much pure fantasy. Director Noam Murro follows the Snyder playbook pretty much play for play, and the film is primarily about huge CGI effects, gaudy costumes, men in leather underpants, women in revealing armor, lots of sex, buckets of gore and the kind of moronic dialogue that fanboys remember forever. If you like ultra-violent high camp then this is something you are going to love, but things like acting, character and narrative cohesion are pretty much tossed by the wayside.
The film has caught the attention of the public with its racy subject matter and the promise of pornographic titillation in mainstream cinemas under the cover of artistic expression. The critics have come away with a general assessment that Lars von Trier is not quite so cynical, and that while Nymphomaniac is certainly not for all sensibilities, and certainly not for the prudish given its extended sequences of erotic acts (often, according to publicity material, performed by doubles from the porn industry), it is a mature work of cinema by a veteran director. It is a cinematic fable that is less about explicit sex than about the eternal questions of how sexuality can be discussed and understood. Nymphomaniac manages to be good-humored and serious-minded at the same time, and while the story, an account of a young woman’s sexual history, and the manner of its telling pushes the boundaries of absurdity, it is an entertaining tale that synthesizes the world, ideas and filmmaking savvy of the director.
A documentary about the reclusive novelist J. D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, who after the phenomenal success of his book all but disappeared from the literary world. Directed by Shane Salerno and featuring many greats from the arts ranging from Philip Seymour Hoffman to Gore Vidal, the film provides a few genuine gems of biography buried amid a bombastic and chaotic presentational style that tries to hype its subject with various literary and cinematic tricks when the story itself is perfectly sufficient. The integrity of the filmmaker further comes into question when you discover that the film is also linked to the upcoming issue of previously unpublished works by Salinger. At this point it seems like an overlong promotional picture (it runs 124 minutes) for a publishing event.
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Yet another attempt to bring the Jackass franchise to the big screen in a story about the 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville), who travels from Nebraska to North Carolina with his 8 year-old grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Of course, there are plenty of pranks along the way, and even at low-ebb the movie effuses an infectious, mischief-making joy. Knoxville’s style of humor is familiar to anyone who has seen Jackass on TV or in its previous cinematic incarnations, but Nicoll proves a real talent at the pranking game and embellishes the movie with his own style. The film is inevitably episodic and often sloppy, but it has just enough impish energy to keep it going.
Paris or Perish
A Moroccan-born fashionista, Maya, living the dream in Paris finds herself deported back home to Morocco, where she lands back in the spartan country home she left 20 years earlier. This is a debut feature for actress-turned-filmmaker Reem Kherici and is an endearing comedy that riffs off the contrasts between snobby, stylish Paris and charming, rustic Marrakech. There are plenty of titters and giggles along the way as Maya gets charmed and angered by her relatives at home and struggles to get back to Paris where she thinks she belongs. Her hardships are never too hard and the film remains annoyingly lightweight throughout, without any insight or character development to give it ballast. There are some perfectly adequate supporting roles and technically the film is well made, but probably better suited to a Friday night at home on the DVD.