Fake toughness, fake sentimentality, fake style infected by Michael Mann. Brooding existential stuntman and petty criminal Ryan Gosling is so laconic and cool he’s inadvertently comic. This second-rate actor occasionally drops his Steve McQueen impersonation and lets slip Mickey Rourke’s old smile. Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn.
Five Star Day
Cam Gigandet—a B-movie Dean Stockwell and so good at villains—here plays an ardent college student who finds his spiritual connection to others (particularly Jena Malone as a young single mother) when he takes off for an independent study. A modern, unexpectedly pleasant road movie and humanist romance. Directed by Danny Buday.
Midnight in Paris
Name-dropping 1920 American expatriates in Paris (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, etc.), Woody Allen takes another story about cheating, narcissistic bourgeois (Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams) evading responsibility to each other. Don’t be fooled by the mock-surrealism, this is obnoxious. Dir. Woody Allen.
The Mighty Macs
A female version of the jock uplift genre, based on real-life Immaculata College Basketball Hall of Fame coach Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino). Feminist inspiration takes the place of religious conviction yet, better than Doubt, more rousing than Hoosiers, its irresistibly positive vibe makes up for obvious plot mechanics. Written and directed by Tim Chambers.
Glum and smug look at professional sports martydom (Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane), this may be the least enjoyable baseball movie ever made: The Social Nework for jocks. Rent Oliver Stone’s masterpiece Any Given Sunday instead. Dir. Bennett Miller.
The Other F Word
Perhaps it took a woman director to approach the bravado of punk rock boys who age into fatherhood. This terrific subject explores the depth of what initiated punk in the first place. Unfortunately, it lacks the depth of the great Anvil: The Story of Anvil and bogs down into the self-congratulatory self-pity of boys-turned-men making up for the deprivations of their own childhoods. They sentimentalize fatherhood as “the punkest thing of all.” Jim Lindberg of Pennywise, Art Alexakis of Everclear and Ron Reyes of Black Flag have kept their charm but surely John Lydon knows better. Directed by Andrea Blaugard Nevins.
Paul Goodman Saved My Life
Hagiography disguised as cultural history and political biography. The famous anarchist writer is eulogized for his daunting literary ambition and as a founder of countercultural philosophizing but this too-conventional doc unintentionally reveals delusional, political selfishness. It turns one’s curiosity into embarrassment. Directed by Jonathan Lee.
Puss in Boots
More Shrek dreck, this time losing what little appeal the Puss in Boots character (voiced by Antonio Banderas) brought to previous episodes of the franchise. At least there are fewer human facile grotesques, but all the fairy tale/pop culture satire (from Humpty Dumpty to Jack and Jill) and feline cuteness becomes a jumbled-up overload. Directed by Chris Miller.
Don’t confuse this semi-porn S&M screed with Catherine Breillat’s extraordinary The Sleeping Beauty from earlier this year. Breillat traced the history of romantic ideology from the middle ages to the present, but in this Aussie oddity, hard-working Emily Browning literally sleeps through a prostitution gimmick (K-O/J-O). Another of producer Jane Campion’s wacko feminist-exploitation flicks, strictly for self-pity. Directed by Julia Leigh.
The Son of No One
Channing Tatum plays a Queens precinct cop haunted by a troubled adolescence in the post-9/11 era. Emotional angst and bad role models (Ray Liotta, Al Pacino) define New York class struggle with a poetic authenticity and relentlessness that Sidney Lumet’s Big Apple movies never had. Tatum dives into the crisis of urban insecurity, recalling Brando’s masculine brooding, yet not enough eloquence. Directed by Dito Montiel.
Midwest laborer (Michael Shannon) becomes unstable, sensing apocalypse in the changed wind (as Bob Dylan would put it). Political paranoia takes elemental, eschatological form, driving wife (Jessica Chastain) and blue-collar buddy (Shea Whigam) to the edge. Tipping into horror movie cliché, the political tension gets unbearably overwrought. Dir. Jeff Nichols.
The Three Musketeers
A visionary approach to the Dumas adventure about egalitarian loyalty and true romance. Using 3-D in a period setting is both opulent and cluttered. The hyper masculine cast (Matthew McFayden, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans) is ably foiled by Milla Jovovich’s Amazonian Milady. There’s an awesome battle among 17th-century airships, but the imagery often overwhelms the story. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.