Opens Fri July 15
If there's one lesson to be learned from March of the Penguins, it's that the adorableness of penguins is underrated. Penguins are so totally cute. Cuter than kittens. Definitely cuter than baby people, and possibly as cute as those little harp seal things that're always getting eaten by polar bears. Penguins follows these bundles of cuteness as they trek for days across Antarctica in search of a safe place to hatch their even-more-adorable babies.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers felt the need to enlist Morgan Freeman as narrator, and to force him to talk about the penguins' "Journey of Love," and to intone phrases like, "They're not so different than we are, really." The anthropomorphization is at its most ridiculous in the mating scenes--which feature extreme close-ups of what appear to be penguins making out while smooth jazz plays in the background. The imposition of a narrative onto the migratory patterns of an animal would be unforgivable--if only the penguins weren't so damn cute. ALISON HALLETT
Opens Fri July 15
Happy Endings plays the familiar game of looping multiple plot lines together, a technique that's become all too common. Nonetheless, here it's done with a lightness of hand that doesn't make flaunting its clever linkages the point--rather, the energy of the film is dedicated to perfecting each thread's entirely unique stories and characters.
Lisa Kudrow plays an uptight counselor for women considering abortion. Her life is disrupted when Nicky (Jesse Bradford), a young aspiring documentary maker, claims knowledge of her long lost son. Nicky then blackmails her into helping him make a documentary on her lover, Javier (Bobby Cannavale), a masseuse who pretends, for the sake of the film, to provide "happy endings" to his rich female clients.
The other threads are similarly convoluted, involving a gay couple who suspects their lesbian friends have "stolen" one of their sperm, and a rich man (Tom Arnold) whose house is plagued by a manipulative, sexually ambitious strumpet (a bit of a cliché managed gracefully by Maggie Gyllenhaal) who screws both his gay son (Jason Ritter) and himself.
Happy Endings' ability to shift from being hilarious to tear jerking to absurd keeps it not only interesting, but true to life. (Even as silent movie-style text gives the audience a leg up on the plot while adding to the film's ever-changing mood.) Ultimately, the film creates dynamic characters that are deeply relatable--and it does so without being heavy handedly self-important. MARJORIE SKINNER
Cecil Taylor: All the Notes
Opens Fri July 15
Clinton St. Theater
Part of what makes jazz… well, jazz is that it's impossible to do it justice when examining it in any other format. But sometimes it's interesting to try--check out Cecil Taylor: All the Notes, where the unpredictable, asymmetrical nature of pianist Taylor's free jazz collides with--and eventually decimates--the otherwise-rigid confines of documentary filmmaking.
Director Christopher Felver (apparently aware that a standard doc won't cut it) doesn't so much direct as just lackadaisically string random chunks of film together. And Taylor, for his part, is fascinating, part musical genius and part batshit-crazy uncle. Between revelatory key-poundings and New Age-y musings on musical theory, he's content to tell the same stories over and over again, or dance like he's forgotten a camera crew is in his gleefully cluttered home.
It's all pretty entertaining, even while it's often maddening to stick with All the Notes as it veers all over the goddamn place without any regard for the viewer. Then again, that relentlessly idiosyncratic attitude is what makes some jazz great--and even if the attitude works a lot better in a jazz improvisation than it does for a documentary, watching a film succumb to the chaotic exuberance of Taylor is still a pretty neat thing to watch. ERIK HENRIKSEN