"Lesson: Don't buy the cheap, made-in-China multi-tool," Aron Ralston (James Franco) says to himself in Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. It's a solid observation—as he says it, Ralston's in the bottom of a remote Utah canyon, where a falling boulder has pinned his right arm against a rock wall. Trapped at the bottom of a crack in the desert—with few things nearby aside from his video camera, the occasional ant, a big goddamn rock, and a smear of blood, skin, and bone—Ralston slowly begins to realize how overwhelmingly fucked he is. He didn't tell anyone where he was going. He thought he'd only be gone for a few hours, so he has hardly any food or water. And since his only knife is the one inside his cheap, made-in-China multi-tool, he's having a hell of a time figuring out how he's going to hack off his arm. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Those expecting Black Swan to be one of the best pictures of 2010 might want to adjust their expectations. While Darren Aronofsky's eagerly anticipated film is a lot of things—beautiful, weird, sexy, daring—it's a bunch of other things, too: inconsistent, goofy, unintentionally funny. On the surface, it's a labyrinthine, complex, surreal story about tricky, slippery stuff: self-image, reality, sex, art, aging, death, failure. Deeper down, it's something simpler: a movie about a ballerina (Natalie Portman, in a performance as good as everyone's saying it is) going batshit crazy. If it goes too far—if Aronofsky ventures too deep into Nina's slowly shattering brain, or if he overestimates his audience's patience for plot twists and surrealism—it's not for lack of ambition or confidence. Maybe Black Swan will creep you out, or maybe it'll crack you up; if you're like me, maybe it'll do both. That certainly makes it one of 2010's most interesting films, if not one of its best. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Do It Again
A documentary that "chronicles Boston Globe reporter Geoff Edgers on his irrational quest to reunite the Kinks." Clinton Street Theater.
A modern-day western that owes so much to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that its trio of characters are introduced only as the Driver, the Killer, and the Cop (and the Killer has an Ennio Morricone ringtone!), Faster's built like a low-budget '70s revenge flick. In shades of burnished gold and copper, the action plays out: A former getaway driver (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) gets out of prison and promptly peels out in his Chevelle SS, ready to kill the bastards who double-crossed him. So tough that he sports the wounds from a bullet going through the back of his head and out his cheek, he metes out his justice in bloody slow motion. Meanwhile, both a junkie cop only a few days away from retirement (Billy Bob Thornton) and a calculating, remorseless assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) try to track him down. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Boxing is as much a test of inner strength and determination as it is a punching contest. That makes the sport a near perfect metaphor for the get-knocked-down-and-pull-yourself-off-the-canvas mentality that Americans love to believe in—and that Hollywood loves to exploit. And sometimes they exploit it brilliantly: Raging Bull, Rocky, The Great White Hope, The Set-Up—all films whose climactic fight scenes reflect the battle raging within the soul of the fighter. Director David O. Russell's The Fighter falls somewhat short of that list—but not embarrassingly so. It's a prequel of sorts, documenting the early years of junior welterweight "Irish" Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who eventually went on to wage some truly legendary and bloody battles against Arturo Gatti in the early 2000s. What hobbles the film is, surprisingly, its own characters. Mickey's brother—played by an almost unrecognizable Christian Bale—is the true magnet of this film, often making Wahlberg disappear into the scenery. Likewise, Melissa Leo's desperate portrayal of Mickey's mother, and Amy Adams' equally desperate (in a different way) girlfriend make Mickey himself a little... well, superfluous. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY Various Theaters.
Four Lions humanizes terrorism. Don't misunderstand: This is a very different statement than "Four Lions makes terrorism understandable and sympathetic." I mean to say that Four Lions does, in fact, humanize terrorism, by reminding the audience that human beings can be incomprehensibly dumb and clumsy animals. One has to be a special sort of idiot to think dressing in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume to suicide bomb a charity fun-run is going to win you any sort of heavenly reward, but this is the humanity Four Lions concerns itself with, and those are the sorts of terrorist plots incompetently employed, and these are the confused, chucklefucked faces of terrorism. BOBBY "FATBOY" ROBERTS Various Theaters.
An amiable and rather unapologetic victory lap for Robert Duvall, who plays a crazy old hermit who returns from the woods after 30 years in order to organize and attend his own funeral. Director Aaron Schneider gets strong performances from his cast, including Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, and a deadpan-even-for-him Bill Murray, but the main reason to watch is Duvall, who imbues his stock Snuffy Smith character with undercurrents of humor, pathos, and wounded menace. ANDREW WRIGHT Various Theaters.
The Girl Who Kicked the
It is inarguable that the best part of the Swedish film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy is the actress Noomi Rapace. Her Lisbeth Salander is a once-in-a-lifetime creation: a tough, damaged, goth computer hacker who can't manage to choke down her own sense of justice long enough to disengage with society. Unfortunately, the plot dictates that Salander spend the first half of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest in a hospital bed, recovering from a brutal beating administered in the end of the second film in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire. (Uh, spoiler alert?) But Rapace's Salander is riveting even in her convalescence, as she prepares for her defense in a murder trial that will mark the climax of the series. As with the other installments, Daniel Alfredson's direction is unflashy but skillful. The story, which could be dense and impenetrable in the wrong hands, whirs along at a steady clip—until it ends with a whimper. (Larsson reportedly had more adventures waiting to be written at the time of his death, and Hornet's conclusion makes that franchise-planning glaringly obvious.) PAUL CONSTANT Various Theaters.
In which Jack Black takes a big ol' tenacious dump on Jonathan Swift. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
How Do You Know
James L. Brooks' latest bit of suds, starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd, Jack Nicholson, and Cousin Larry from Perfect Strangers! Various Theaters.
I Love You Phillip Morris
Jim Carrey has always struck me as a precocious but needy child, one that so desperately craves love and attention that he's been contorting himself through his entire career, overacting his way into as many hearts as can possibly stand him. This time around, Carrey's hamming his way through a fact-based homosexual love story with a streak of black humor, courtesy of directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (writers of Bad Santa). But whatever promise I Love You Phillip Morris holds is squandered by the end of its running time, as—like Carrey—the movie simply wears out its welcome. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
The King's Speech
Combining cinema's most overdone (British monarchy melodrama) and least done (speech therapy) elements, screenwriter David Seidler drew from his own struggles with stammering to re-imagine the details of the true circumstances behind King George VI's (Colin Firth) speaking handicap. George—nicknamed "Bertie"—never expected or hoped to inherit his father's throne, but after his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates, he's faced with the crown, as well as the increasingly threatening advance of a Germany led by Adolf Hitler, whose fiery speeches inspire the sinister unification of his people. It may be a predictable triumph-of-the-human-spirit vehicle, but sometimes experimental isn't on the table. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
The comedic dream team of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro are at it again—dealin' out all your favorite laugh-'em-ups, bodily functions, and all the other highbrow shit you've come to expect from this storied cinematic collaboration. Except this time, it's ostensibly about children? Except not really? Like, at all? I don't really know... I mean, there were children in this movie, but their presence seemed as inconsequential to the plot as virtually anything else outside of Ben Stiller's wide-eyed comedic impotence and Robert De Niro's tragedy mask face. ZAC PENNINGTON Various Theaters.
Love and Other Drugs
The little blue pill known as Viagra changed the sexual potential of baby boomers everywhere, and it also changed Jamie Reidy's life. With Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, Reidy exposed many of the pharmaceutical industry's insider secrets—secrets that director Edward Zwick has set out to further publicize with Love and Other Drugs, casting Jake Gyllenhaal as Jamie. Not content to tell the story of one man's maturation in a politically relevant industry, Hollywood added a love interest in Maggie (Anne Hathaway), and because this movie is about medicine, she had to be sick. If you're looking for any poignant criticisms of the pharmaceutical industry, you might want to adjust your expectations in favor of relationship montages and two or three cycles of break up/make up. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Made in Dagenham
Though at times heavy handed, Made in Dagenham is one of the better cinematic experiences of moral righteousness so common in the pre-Oscar months. It's a fetchingly styled dramatization of the 1968 strike of women workers at a Ford plant in east London, with Sally Hawkins shining as working woman leader Rita O'Grady, flanked by sassy coworkers whose demand for equal pay led in part to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Director Nigel Cole does a thorough job of investigating O'Grady's evolution, with a dash of nostalgic style (Biba and Mary Quant are both name-dropped, and there's black liquid eyeliner for days, cuz). Girl power and vintage fashion—what else does one need, exactly? MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
A documentary about Mark Hogancamp, who—following a severe beating in 2000—built a "one-sixth scale World War II-era town in his backyard." Living Room Theaters.
New Year's Day Grindhouse
See My, What a Busy Week! Hollywood Theatre.
First, her name wasn't "Tangled." That's confusing. It was Rapunzel! She started out as a baby—then turned 16! But before that she was a baby princess. And a mean bad mommy witch stole her from Queen Mommy and King Daddy and put her in a tower! Because her hair was MAAAAGIC! And when mean bad mommy witch touched it, she turned young. And pretty! But still mean. So Rapunzel's hair got very, very, very, very, very, VERY lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng. So a thief came along, and Rapunzel took a frying pan... BANG! Hit him in the face. That was funny. But the thief's name was Eugene and he didn't want to be a thief—he wanted to be a prince! Just like Aladdin! Can we watch Aladdin? Pleeeeaasee?? Eugene tried to help Rapunzel escape, but they were chased by two brainy-eyed guys and a funny horse who acted like a dog. And there was a little old man... and he wore a DIAPER! OH. So so so so FUNNY! The mean bad mommy witch chased them too... and... and... I forget what happened next. But the movie ended. MAXINE DALEY, AGE FIVE Various Theaters.
On the 400th anniversary of the Bard's last play, Julie Taymor (who might be celebrating her last play with Broadway's messy money pit, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark) sprinkles all sorts of empty calories over The Tempest. The cast desperately tries to scream Shakespeare over a howling CG storm at sea. A cheesy rock song blares as the androgynous sprite Ariel (Ben Wishaw) pyrotechnics the crap out of a ship, crushing it on the shores of a deserted island. Shipwrecked teenagers touch each other's faces with feather-soft adoration while singing cringing ballads. And poor Prospera (Helen Mirren) is saddled with the ugliest coat this side of Joseph's technicolor dreams. The Tempest, while more ludicrous than dull, is Taymor's most uninspired effort to date. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
Lena Dunham's acclaimed coming-of-age comedy. Cinema 21.
Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie's much-derided latest, directed by The Lives of Others' awesomely named Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Various Theaters.
The only thing of interest regarding the incredibly boring and asinine Tron: Legacy is that it features "Quorra," a saucy little minx played by the scrumptious and nubile Olivia Wilde. Seductively stealing every scene she's in, Ms. Wilde wears an exquisitely skintight latex bodystocking throughout; in this critic's humble opinion, Ms. Wilde should receive several Academy Awards for her explosively arousing performance. (She certainly caused this critic to "gush"!) If you enjoy this film for any of its attributes that are not, in fact, entirely those of the delightful Ms. Wilde, then you are a fucking imbecile. FRANK CASSANO Various Theaters.
Every year—or at least every couple of years—the Coen brothers put out a movie, and every year—or at least every couple of years—said movie is one of the best in recent memory. True Grit is no exception. Funny, thrilling, and moving, True Grit is the sort of genre picture that reminds us why genres exist in the first place: When all the factory-made gears and pieces are accounted for, and when all of 'em are settled into place by inspired people who know what they're doing, the end result is a thing that clicks together, smooth and precise. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Dreams and illusions wend their way through Undertow, a nuanced romance from first-time director Javier Fuentes-León. Its setting—a remote fishing village on the north coast of Peru, where the windy beaches meet an ocean that has a remarkable, emerald clarity to its waters—is dreamlike, making it understandable that its protagonist, Miguel (Cristian Mercado) accepts the realization he's being visited by a ghost. It's hard to ignore the fact that at least on a superficial level, this film owes a great debt to both Brokeback Mountain and Ghost. And while it probably lacks the ingenuity to become as iconic as either of its predecessors, it nonetheless plumbs societal depths that continue to be relevant and compelling. MARJORIE SKINNER Living Room Theaters.
One of the best novels of 2010 was Marlene Van Niekerk's Agaat, about the uneasy relationship between an aging white homesteader in South Africa and the black South Africans upon whom her livelihood depends. The French film White Material begins with a similar premise, and a similarly single-minded protagonist: It's set in an unspecified, conflict-riddled African country, on a coffee plantation run by a white woman determined to see her crops to harvest even as the countryside erupts in violence and chaos. Under the direction of Claire Denis (1988's Chocolat), the film is tense with menace, and it's oddly sterile, too. The poverty depicted is thoroughly sanitized, its characters largely symbolic—but as a tableaux of dumb brutality and all-consuming violence, White Material is profoundly effective. ALISON HALLETT Living Room Theaters.
Smokey Bear makes a good argument against forest fires, but Yogi makes a better one for burning those fuckers down. DAVE BOW Various Theaters.