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Mini Reviews (December 2010)

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, All Good Things, Babies, The Tourist, Rabbit Hole, In My Sleep, The Six Wives of Henry Lefay

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (December 2/10)

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work documents a year in the life of the legendary comedian, as filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg follow Rivers through her various gigs, her familial encounters, and her (rare) moments of introspection. It's clear right from the get-go that Stern and Sundberg have been granted an all-access pass into Rivers' day-to-day exploits, and the eye-opening peek into the 75-year-old's surprisingly busy existence certainly proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest. The biggest hindrance to the movie's success is, at the outset, Rivers herself, as the star's notoriously grating personality is awfully tough to take in such large doses - with her surgically-altered appearance, which is nothing short of terrifying, only compounding this feeling. The movie's vibe of excess becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, and it's ultimately impossible to shake the feeling that the whole thing would've been better suited to a brief segment on 60 Minutes. Still, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a well made, sporadically fascinating documentary that benefits substantially from the inclusion of several unexpectedly poignant moments and it's finally impossible to walk away from the film without feeling a small degree of newfound respect for its subject.

out of

All Good Things (December 3/10)

It's certainly not difficult to see why All Good Things has been languishing on the shelf for a couple of years, as the movie primarily comes off as a tedious, thoroughly pointless piece of work that boasts few attributes designed to capture the viewer's interest. All Good Things follows Ryan Gosling's David and Kirsten Dunst's Katie as they attempt to start a life together in the face of his wealthy family's disapproval, with the film subsequently detailing the various (and increasingly sinister) problems within the couple's relationship. Director Andrew Jarecki instantly finds himself unable to overcome the story's almost eye-rollingly familiar trajectory, as screenwriters Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling offer up a culture-clash romance that comes off as a pale imitation of other similarly-themed films (including Gosling's own The Notebook). Jarecki's inability to transform the two central characters into figures worth rooting for and caring about proves disastrous, and there's consequently never a point at which the viewer is able to work up even an ounce of interest in their ongoing exploits. (Not helping matters is Gosling's less-than-enthralling performance, with the actor's surprisingly bland turn exacerbated by his decision to mumble his way through most of the dialogue.) The film does, however, threaten to improve once it becomes clear that there's something not quite right with David, yet Jarecki squanders even this aspect of the proceedings by emphasizing a midsection that couldn't possibly be more tedious (ie it boils down to a repetitive series of sequences in which David acts sinister and Katie attempts to escape from his grasp). By the time the absolutely inexplicable final 20 minutes rolls around (in which David takes to cross-dressing), All Good Things has certainly cemented its place as an utterly misguided piece of work with little worth recommending - which is a shame, really, given the presence of several undeniably talented performers within the supporting cast (Frank Langella, Philip Baker Hall, etc).

out of

Babies (December 6/10)

A documentary in the loosest sense of the word, Babies follows four infants from across the globe - Ponijao from Namibia, Bayarjargal from Mongolia, Mari from Tokyo, and Hattie from San Francisco - as they engage in a series of adorable yet thoroughly pointless activities (ie Hattie eats a banana, Mari attempts to stand up, Ponijao squabbles with a sibling, etc, etc). There's little doubt that the experience of watching Babies is all-too-often akin to watching someone else's home movies, as filmmaker Thomas Balmès eschews anything even resembling a narrative and is instead content to just document the four babies living and interacting within their natural environment. The complete and utter lack of context ensures that the film begins to wear out its welcome after just a few minutes, and although Balmès admittedly does pepper the proceedings with a handful of compelling interludes (ie Ponijao repeatedly falls asleep while sitting up), Babies is, for the most part, an absolutely interminable piece of work that seems destined to send most viewers into protracted fits of daydreaming.

out of

The Tourist (December 8/10)

Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The Tourist follows math teacher Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) as his European vacation becomes fraught with danger and peril after he meets and befriends a mysterious woman named Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) - with the film subsequently (and primarily) detailing the pair's ongoing efforts at avoiding a variety of pursuing figures (including Paul Bettany's tenacious police officer and Steven Berkoff's nasty gangster). Filmmaker von Donnersmarck does a superb job of capturing the viewer's interest right from the get-go, as The Tourist opens with a thoroughly captivating sequence in which Jolie's character is pursued and watched by cops as she goes about her morning routine. The movie's easygoing vibe is perpetuated by Frank and Elise's first encounter aboard a Venice-bound train, with the chemistry between the two disparate figures initially compensating for a midsection that's decidedly less-than-eventful in its execution. And while it ultimately does become clear that von Donnersmarck is looking to ape the atmosphere and tone of a circa 1960s caper movie, The Tourist suffers from an almost pervasively lighthearted feel that inevitably cements its place as a watchable yet forgettable piece of work - with the inclusion of several engrossing performances and a certain last-minute revelation just barely pushing the proceedings to the positive, rather than negative, side of things.

out of

Rabbit Hole (December 11/10)

Based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole follows married couple Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) Corbett as they attempt to move forward after their young son's sudden death. It's a decidedly stirring premise that is, at the outset, employed to competent yet far-from-gripping effect by John Cameron Mitchell, as the filmmaker, working from Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay, offers up an opening half hour that generally comes off as an overly conventional look at grief - with Becca's inability to accept her boy's loss precisely the sort of reaction that one expects from movies and stories of this ilk. Mitchell's surprisingly solid directorial choices, coupled with the stars' stellar performances, ensures that Rabbit Hole is never quite thwarted by its familiarity, however, and there inevitably does reach a point at which the movie morphs from watchable to enthralling. The inclusion of several thoroughly wrenching sequences within the film's latter half - ie Becca and Howie engage in a screaming match - proves instrumental in cementing Rabbit Hole's place as an unexpectedly powerful piece of work, with the movie ultimately representing an almost astonishing improvement over Mitchell's previous effort (2006's amateurish and ill-conceived Shortbus).

out of

In My Sleep (December 19/10)

An intriguing yet uneven thriller, In My Sleep follows lifelong sleepwalker Marcus (Philip Winchester) as he wakes up one morning covered in blood that may or may not be his - which effectively forces Marcus to figure just what happened before the police catch up to him. It's a compelling premise that's generally employed to lackluster effect by filmmaker Allen Wolf, as the movie boasts a slow-moving sensibility that prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with either the central character or his increasingly perilous plight. This is despite a fine performance from Winchester, with the actor's strong, predominantly shirtless (?) turn as the befuddled protagonist anchoring the proceedings on a rather consistent basis. The watchable (if far-from-enthralling) atmosphere persists up until around the movie's midsection, after which point Wolf emphasizes the story's mystery-based elements to an extent that quickly becomes oppressive - as the movie is bogged down in flashbacks on an increasingly frequent basis. There is, as a result, little doubt that the eventual explanation of what's going on comes off as thoroughly anti-climactic, which unfortunately cements In My Sleep's place as an almost passable piece of work that seems like it would've been better off as a 15-minute short.

out of

The Six Wives of Henry Lefay (December 24/10)

Shockingly inept from start to finish, The Six Wives of Henry Lefay follows the womanizing title character (Tim Allen) as he attempts to juggle his former and present lovers under the watchful eye of his disapproving daughter (Elisha Cuthbert's Barbara Lefay). It's a workable premise that's employed to consistently underwhelming and flat-out incompetent effect by writer/director Howard Michael Gould, as the filmmaker proves utterly unable to offer up a single compelling (or even remotely authentic) figure - which instantly ensures that one has virtually nothing invested in the various characters' ongoing exploits. There's subsequently little doubt that the film suffers from an almost aggressively pointless atmosphere that only grows more and more oppressive as time progresses, with the total dearth of laughs ensuring that the movie, for the most part, boasts the feel of a hopelessly uneventful, slow moving drama. It is, of course, not surprising to note that the sentimental elements that crop up towards the end fall completely flat, as the viewer has absolutely nothing invested in these characters or their happiness - with the end result a nigh worthless piece of work that manages to waste a fairly impressive cast (ie it takes some effort to drain Allen of his natural charisma).

out of

© David Nusair