Wednesday, June 01, 2011

May Movie Roundup


directed by Werner Herzog

Herzog brings his unmistakable documentary voice to the Chauvet caves, which house the oldest known cave art in the world, but which the French government closed off from general public access since they were first discovered in 1994. Herzog shows characteristic fascination with eccentric obsessives who march to their own drum - here the various artists and scientists who were allowed to study the caves - but wisely focuses most of his attention on the cave art itself, which is sublime. Some points subtracted for too much handheld camera in the early sequences (though that may have been due to the limitations on the type of equipment Herzog's crew were allowed to bring in) and an overly intrusive, though often quite beautiful, score towards the end. Overall, not quite as mesmerizing as Herzog's last docu, "Encounters at the End of the World" (see it!), but overall a rewarding experience, and one of the rare films worth seeing in 3D.



directed by Woody Allen
starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, with brief appearances by Kathy Bates, Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, and probably others I'm forgetting

Fluff, but enjoyable fluff, with all of Woody's best and worst qualities amply on display. The good: his trademark wit; his palpable affection for the beauty of the city (here, the "City of Light" in lieu of Manhattan - or Barcelona), balanced by a wry self-awareness of the limits of his rose-colored, nostalgia-tinted lenses; Owen Wilson, as the backwards-looking writer who finds himself shuttling between present day Paris and the Left Bank culture of the 1920s, and a surprisingly amiable stand-in for the Woody character - even if I kept hearing in my own head an echo of every other line as it would have been delivered by the Woodster. The bad: just about every character other than Owen Wilson's is a caricature, and per usual with late Woody, every female character either a harpy or a goddess (except for Kathy Bates' Gertrude Stein, who, well, enough said, and I mean that as a compliment). Still, it's hard to carp at a film that's quite clearly not meant for such scrutiny. It's a romp and a diversion, and succeeds on those terms.



directed by Kenneth Branagh
starring Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard, Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba

Big, kinda dumb, but rather likable, if also rather forgettable. Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth, as the rash and impetuous thunder-god who's stripped of his powers and cast down to Earth to learn humility, has charisma to burn, and plays the fish-out-of-water quite entertainingly. As a result, those scenes are the most fun; the celestial showdowns are clunkier, although Tom Hiddleston (who can also be seen as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," see above), as Thor's more complex, devious, power-hungry brother Loki, makes them a lot more interesting and nearly steals the movie. Hemsworth is the star, and an appealing one, but Hiddleston is the one to watch.