Star vehicles that deliver, with more flash than art
In The Runaways, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning play ’70s teen rock & roll princesses Joan Jett and Cherie Currie with down-and-dirty baby-doll spunk. The movie, however, is just a watchable, rather so-so rock biopic. It gives the Runaways their due as a (packaged) girl-power band, but it never makes them interesting as individuals. Buried is a thriller that takes place inside a coffin, with Ryan Reynolds as a truck driver buried alive in Iraq. It has tension and some clever surprises but also its share of contrivances. It’s a little too much like Phone Booth underground.
Won’t you be my Blue Valentine?
In this lushly heart-wrenching and beautifully told tale, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are Dean and Cindy, a young, semi-working-class couple who meet, fall in love, get married, raise a little daughter, and lose their spark, though not necessarily in that order. (The movie fractures time with elegant originality.) There are real demons in Blue Valentine: alcohol abuse, a pregnancy wrapped around a lie. Yet the director, Derek Cianfrance, shows an appreciation for how even very imperfect people can lunge for love as if it were air. Acting without a net, Gosling and Williams sear, delight, and break your heart.
Two docs that rock
Casino Jack and the United States of Money is Alex Gibney’s powerful portrait of Jack Abramoff, the conservative lobbyist who took influence peddling to new heights (or depths). But the film is really a look at how the culture of Washington was effectively rebuilt to sell itself to the highest bidder. Joan Rivers — A Piece of Work follows the 76-year-old comedy legend as she riffs, worries, complains, performs, and prepares her nightclub act with an index-card scrupulousness that belies her Jewish-firecracker spontaneity.
Nowhere Boy brings a teen Beatle to life
It’s 1955, and John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) is a brash Liverpool delinquent living, almost like an orphan, with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Before long, two things will rock his world: He learns that his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), lives just down the road; then he sees a film of Elvis Presley, and from that moment on Elvis is who he wants to be. The director, Sam Taylor-Wood, captures how John Lennon’s incredibly sordid, messed-up family life never quite let him know who he was. When he’s drawn to the joyful bad-boy catharsis of rock & roll, it gives him more than an outlet — it gives him an identity. It’s the role he was born to play.
The Company Men makes white-collar bosses sympathetic
In the first movie written and directed by John Wells (the executive producer of ER), Ben Affleck is a smug Boston corporate manager who gets tossed out of his job; Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones are his beleaguered colleagues. As their livelihoods melt away, we observe their suddenly traumatized lives with an arresting mixture of sympathy and schadenfreude. The film’s message might be: Greedy, scum-sucking executive parasites are people too.