Monday, October 31, 2011

Pedro Almodovar: Sex Without a Face (The Skin I Live In)

Antonio Banderas, Blanca Suarez, The Skin I Live In, Sony Pictures Classics, 2011.

Pedro Almodovar remains one of the few and finest directors currently working that is comparable to the past masters. His finite grip on style ansd substance sets his films apart as truly visionary and unique. In the last decade, his career has reached a pinnacle, with his camp and quirk slowly transmuting into melodrama, then human drama. Talk to Her is one of the greatest films he has ever crafted.

With his chilly, meticulous new picture, The Skin I Live In, Almodovar pays homage to the classic film noir melodrama Gods while materializing a shocking, fascinating and deeply disturbing parable of desire, gender and modern medicine. His palette is spot-on, his screenplay glues you to your seat as usual, with its twisting sheen and morose jauntiness.

Antonio Banderas mines depths of his screen persona he has left untouched for decades, while Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes match him step by step. Alberto Iglesias' score is a windswept homage to Racksin and Hermann. The pleasures and discomforts of this precise work will haunt you days afterwards.

While many of the sexual escapades hark back to his over the top 90s, Almodovar's main influences here would seem to obviously be Georges Franju's arthouse horror film Eyes Without a Face as well as David Cronenberg's cold, creepy erotic medical thriller Dead Ringers. As with any great artist, Almodovar has ingested the past and redefined the future.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lucky McKee: Family Matters (The Woman)

Pollyanna McIntosh, The Woman, Bloody Disgusting, 2011.

Cult Horror auteur Lucky McKee (May, The Woods) cultivates feminist horror films which are alternately dubious, cheezy, disturbing, campy and invigorating. He is one of the few younger Horror directors who is truly gifted with vision. His new film, The Woman, adapted from the notorious Jack Ketchum novel, is a myriad of things. It pulses with life, resounds with artifice, titillates, horrifies and leaves us panting, out of breath.

A low budget look and feel only impacts his mise-en-scene favorably, as the rough hues only make the unspeakable that much closer to us. Character actor Sean Bridgers gets a rare chance to shine in the role of a lifetime - he treads the tightrope of caricature and madness brilliantly. Angela Bettis, the fragile and fascinating star of Mckee's earlier triumph, the creepy cool May, is magnificent as his put upon wife. Pollyanna McIntosh, Lauren Ashley Carter and Zach Rand all lend excellent support, almost spellbound in their respective roles.

A twisted and twisty family drama, which seems cliched but flails to life under McKee's certain hand, descends into madness and terror as a small town family captures a feral woman. The ingenious way in which McKee shapes the narrative to flavor his themes of male patriarchy, female victimization and masculine violence and its transfer from father to son is all apart of the sick pleasure of the picture. Imperfect, yet so integral in its refusal to curtail to the current mediocrity of the genre which attempts to confine it.

David Frankel: Of Birds and Men (The Big Year)

Owen Wilson, Steve Martin, Jack Black, The Big Year, 20th Century Fox, 2011.

Hollywood studio workman David Frankel delves once again into the usually generic star driven comedy and comes up holding aces. For a director with no discernible style or motif, it could be said that the good star driven comedy is his motif. He locates just enough heart in his characters to make them human, while leaving them adrift in a patented movie world not quite real. Previously, he delivered the good comedies The Devil Wears Prada and Marley and Me.

With The Big Year, he ably guides three endearingly great comedic actors, Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, from a script by Howard Franklin from Mark Obmascik's book, through pratfalls and shenanigans as three "birders" or bird watchers, as they loathe to be called. Martin's snark and circumstance lend an uncanny edge to his businessman birder. Black's zany physicality wins us over to the side of his schlubby slacker birder. And Wilson's barbed niceties mask his egomaniacal antagonist.

What binds the picture and its typicalities together is the utter obsession of these three fellows and their demented pursuit of a "big year". Throughout the film, they are moored to their homes by the women in their lives, played well by JoBeth Williams, Dianne Wiest and Rosamund Pike. As par for the course, Frankel engages us with character and narrative insightfully enough to make the whole affair click.

Craig Brewer & Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. : Better in the Eighties (Footloose and The Thing)

Miles Teller, Kenny Wormald, Footloose, Paramount Pictures, 2011.

Remake fever has reached its apex when they will remake anything and everything. This week's new movies display talented craftsmen going through the motions, redoing two pivotal eighties films that didn't need redoing. Instead of meeting the status quo, they would have been far better off creating original works.

Craig Brewer came on the scene as one of the most interesting narrative artists of the last decade with his gritty, uncompromising films Hustle and Flow & Black Snake Moan. With his third feature, he jumps on the Glee fever bandwagon and goes for the paycheck. Its not that his Footloose is all that bad, its just not very good. The original Herbert Ross flick wasn't particularly good, either, its just steeped in an 80s nostalgia which some find irresistible, a cheezy comfort, excellent cast and great tunes of the times.

This new Footloose lacks all of these things. Even though Brewer injects a lot of his attention to Southern detail, and some of the dancing is cool to watch, the young cast is uninteresting and disposable, maybe all except the aw shucks likable Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) in the Chris Penn role. None of these youngsters can hold a candle to the charismas of Bacon, Singer, Parker and Penn in the original. Dennis Quaid fills a thankless role commandingly, replacing John Lithgow from the original. There's just not much here to keep your spirit truly jiving.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing, Universal Pictures, 2011.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) gets a stylish but pointless retread in Norwegian helmer Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.'s new retelling. Yes, Carpenter's creepy eighties masterwork was itself a remake, of Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World (1951). Yet all those films shared was a plotline and a creatively menacing dread. Stylistically, they are worlds apart - 50s drive-in sci-fi vs. 80s sci-fi/horror.

Heijningen, Jr.'s remake is atmospheric and well crafted, its just that it adheres so closely to Carpenter's film that you might as well watch the better version. Some of the effects are gruesomely over the top and Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a fascinating screen presence.  Yet despite all that is stylish about the picture, it just draws attention to the superiority of the Carpenter classic.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mateo Gil: The South American West (Blackthorn)

Sam Shepard, Blackthorn, Magnolia Pictures, 2011.

The neglected American art form of the Western gets a considerable lift in Spanish writer-director Mateo Gil's incandescent new film, Blackthorn. A follow-up, of sorts, to whatever became of legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy, after the end of George Roy Hill's iconic film, Gil and his excellent team pull us into a sweeping, yet austere and intimate, counterpart to the Wild West we've always known through tall-tales, television and movies. The South American West is just as dangerous, and possibly even more dangerously breathtaking.

Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia penetrates the heart of the distant vistas, leaving just enough room for our imaginations to take shape. Gil rarely steps wrong in materializing scripter Miguel Barros' languid, sparse world. It's a tricky thing for what is in essence an adventure film, to pull off, but Gil triumphs, tipping his hat to Altman, Ford, Eastwood, Hawks, Leone, and Malick in the fascinating process.

Sam Shepard, the ruggedly laconic actor-playwright, finds the correct scaling of introversion and aggression as Cassidy. He carries the picture in a turn so good it reminds us how many underused actors of yesteryear are out there. As he makes his way through the escalating violence of this new West, this episodic, moody mini-epic takes flight. Eduardo Noriega and Steven Rea bristle and combust as his cohorts along the way.

Gil previously directed two genre-films little seen outside of Spain, the thriller Nobody Knows Anybody (1999) and the horror film Spectre (2006), both well done. He is better known as the other half of one of the most interesting writing teams currently working. With writer-director Alejandro Amenabar, he created the indispensable films Thesis (1996),Open Your Eyes (1998), The Others (2001), The Sea Inside (2004) and Agora (2009). This exceptional work is conclusive; with the great Western Blackthorn, Gil has arrived as a masterful filmmaker in his own right.

Shawn Levy: Schmaltz and Robotics (Real Steel)

Hugh Jackman, Real Steel, Touchstone Pictures, 2011.

One last gasp of Summer heat comes ambling our way courtesy of executive producers Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg in the entertaining, uneven Real Steel. Basically an extension of Spielberg's technically steamrolling Transformers flicks, heavy on the Spielbergian sentimentality, which minus Spielberg equals schmaltz.

Essentially a rock 'em sock 'em remake of Menahem Golan's campy 80s classic Over the Top, director Shawn Levy gives us Michael Bay light set pieces of small town carnivals and underground robot boxing matches in all their nine ball, grimy biker glory. An excellent cast including Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, newcomer Dakota Goyo, Hope Davis and James Rebhorn are lost amid the sweepingly senseless mise en scene, drenched in a long-lost father-son relationship which would have felt flat in the first draft.

Aside from all of this, there is something to be said for getting lost in the sheer star magnetism that is Hugh Jackman. An old-school movie star and a damned good actor, Jackman all but carries the picture on his rippling shoulders. The boxing bots are an impressive mix of animatronix and CGI, and Danny Elfman concocts an oddly dreamy, guitar heavy score.

As almost always, the problem lies in the writing and direction. The screenplay written by John Gatins, is a drearily pedestrian affair. And Shawn Levy, a middling helmer best known for the mediocre Night at the Museum flicks, never really gets his foothold. He seems to be drifting from film to soulless film, a potential author in search of a style.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun: To Be Displaced (A Screaming Man)

Youssouf Djaoro, A Screaming Man, Film Movement, 2011.

In the tradition of the great politicized film artists of the 1960s, Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun chronicles the social and spiritual downfall of a fringe dweller, dissecting his country's colonial past and tumultuous present in the brave new film, A Screaming Man.

Taking pages from Glauber Rocha's demystifying revolutions, Tomas Gutierrez Alea's darkly comedic everymen and Yilmaz Guney's socio-political exposes, Haroun constructs a fascinating tower of glass which he finally shatters and invites us, as pro-active audience, to pick up the pieces of. Youssouf Djaoro turns in a magnetic performance as Adam, a former athletic star turned swimming pool attendant for one of the biggest hotels in Chad. His pride at his work infects everybody around him, his co-workers, admiring women and his worshipful son included. When he loses his job, his displacement and subsequent look around him, at his own life and country, proffers cataclysmic results.

Haroun weaves his picture with the lightest touch, avoiding the overdone tone of another African film earlier this year, Life, Above All. We become completely immersed in Haroun's natural born gift as a storyteller and in Djaoro's magnificently sensitive portrayal of a diluted individual who believably becomes conscious of the stratification within his country. The threads of melodrama all intertwine over this solitary figure, purely fabricated and made flesh by the steady hand of a greatly gifted director.

Jacques Rivette: Perplexed Under the Big Top (Around a Small Mountain)

Jane Birkin, Sergio Castellitto, Around a Small Mountain, Cinema Guild, 2010.

Fifty golden years later, the influence of the French New Wave is still apparent in everything from Woody Allen to David Fincher. The liberation of the constraints on the film form was heralded by a convergent group of exciting film critics turned fascinating auteurs in their own right. We lost Truffaut far too soon, and only recently kissed Rohmer and Chabrol goodbye, leaving us with perennial provocateur Godard and the most overlooked of the group, Jacques Rivette.

Rivette was the late bloomer, taking his sweet time to compile his film debut, Paris Belongs to Us (1962), which proved to be one of the most challenging pictures in the collective canon. Over the next 45 years, Rivette helmed twenty feature films and a handful of shorts. All of his works share common themes of time, dreams, love, and death. But above all, his works are self-reflective communications on the intimacy and implosive effects of cinema itself. 

From his riveting mid-50s essays on Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray to his eyebrow raising yet dead-on insistence that Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls (1995) is one of the greatest films ever made, Rivette lives, breathes and dreams the cinema. More than any other common thread, The Nun (1966), L'Amour Fou (1968), Out 1 (1971), Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), Merry-Go-Round (1981), La Belle Noiseuse (1991), Joan the Maid (1994), Va Savoir (2001), and The Story of Marie and Julien (2003), aside from being some of the most fabulously kinetic films ever made, are about the sanctity of storytelling through the camera's eye.

In the ranks of the world's great octogenarian auteurs (along with Godard, Resnais, Varda, Oliveira, Bertolucci and Nagisa), Rivette continues rolling full speed ahead, as fresh as when he debuted, only wiser. Around a Small Mountain, his 20th feature as director, is a complex thing of strange, transfixing power. A wandering gentleman becomes caught up in the intrigues of a ragtag traveling circus, becoming smitten with one of the performers, a mysterious woman with a past.

The plotline is almost arbitrary as it takes a backseat to Rivette's transgressions of hypnotic mood, rhythm and tone, as the act and art of performance blurs the lines of reality. A strangely affecting piece, Mountain perplexes us as its performers are perplexed and perplexing. Rivette's vision remains a phantom of the cinemas, a magic trick under the big top.

Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio: A Father, his Son, and the Sea (Alamar)

Jorge Machado, Natan Machado Palombini, Alamar, Film Movement, 2010.

The free form documentary receives a jubilant jolt of vision in experimental documentarian Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio's achingly sumptuous new picture, Alamar. Chronicling an exotic fishing excursion between father and young son (Jorge Machado and Natan Machado Palombini), Gonzalez-Rubio forces us to examine the fine line betwixt truth and fiction, cinema and life.

Filmed unobtrusively, the images wash over us like the cool, clean waters which surround the nurturing, eccentric father and his preciously innocent young son. Nature photography comes alive at our fingertips, enveloped in a personal tale which unfolds in a captivating, naturalistic key. Jorge and Natan's mother, Roberta Palombini, are seen at the outset in old photographs displaying a spring fever love affair which culminated in pregnancy and drifting apart. We enter this world as Jorge comes to take his adorable young son on what will be a cathartic fishing trip, where father and son forge the bonds which will never break, as the terrible beauty of wild Mexico.

The waning calm and tenderness catches us adrift, and the smooth narrative style feels like a triumphant fiction film, even though all we see is real. Gonzalez-Rubio, a gifted documentarian, brings to mind Robert Flaherty and Ernest Hemingway with his radically original yet deceptively simple ode to fathers and sons and the tides of life.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jeff Nichols: Perfect Paranoia (Take Shelter)

Michael Shannon, Take Shelter, Sony Pictures Classics, 2011.

The creeping collective fear and loathing of Armageddon, mental illness and the future plays out in subtly riveting tones in new American master Jeff Nichols' ferocious new film, Take Shelter. Bolstered by a tour de force performance from one of our greatest contemporary actors, Michael Shannon, this is a movie that gets everything right.

Seeping into our consciousness like the chemical rain threatening the mid-western town we find ourselves in, Nichols commands every frame with a totality which is exhilarating and frightening. Shannon's husband/father becomes troubled by startling storm weather and jarring death dreams that plague him at every turn. His sweet, soft spoken wife (an amazing Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter watch helplessly as he slides into a maniacal tail spin. But the great thing about the picture is its refusal to cave in to audience expectation. Nichols never articulates whether this is doomsday or a case of paranoid schizophrenia. That ambiguity, calling into question our own perceptions of reality, marks this as a masterpiece.

Dream and waking blend imperceptibly, punctuated by astute details of middle-American family life. Shannon's face is a mask of repression and fragility that cuts to the bone. Chastain's tenuity acts as a translucent mirror to Shannon's escalating furor. Adam Stone's cinematography is a thing of debilitating beauty, marking him as an artist to watch. David Wingo's luxuriously menacing score outlines the progression of the plot ethereally.

Nichols emerged a few years back with the austere Shakespearian redneck opus Shotgun Stories, one of the best American directorial debuts of the last decade. Like any supreme sophomore effort, Take Shelter combines the strengths of his first film and expands on them. I was reminded of Malick, 70s Spielberg, Polanski and Stephen King by the textural and thematic blossoming here. I was also reminded of some of my favorite movies of the past twenty years, especially David Fincher's masterpiece Fight Club (1999) and Mary Harron's sublime American Psycho (2000), both of which similarly skewed perception while touching on the darkness inherent in masculinity.

Take Shelter breathlessly exists as a propulsive piece of art in its own right. By mastering perfect paranoia, Jeff Nichols has announced himself as one of our country's most gifted auteurs.

George Clooney: The Order of Things (The Ides of March)

Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March, Columbia Pictures, 2011.

The title of actor-director George Clooney's new political drama The Ides of March is appropriately culled from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the ultimate classic of bureaucratic intrigue and status-mad betrayal. What we have here is a fascinating if uneven skewing of the stateside status quo, hoisted up by cleverly rhythmic dialogue and a dream team ensemble cast.

A pragmatic portrait of well oiled political machinery, Clooney takes inspiration from the powerhouse government melodramas he adores from the 1960s, namely Sidney Lumet's Fail Safe and especially John Frankenheimer's The Best Man, to play on his beloved liberal themes. Laid bare in all of their skulduggery, the chicanery of a decisive Democratic primary race towards the presidency sets a pace the director relishes. Overall an actor's dream, bristling with brilliant performances, the film gets just about everything right, while still coming out feeling underwhelmed.

Innumerable elements contribute to its strengths. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael imbues the ordinary with a honey light, while composer Alexandre Desplat's score supports the spirit in a methodically fanciful fashion. Ryan Gosling locates his character's evasive focal point once again, surfacing just the right ambiguity to make him enigmatic yet touchable. Ace character actors Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti spark a simmer at the picture's outset, as Evan Rachel Wood balances fragility, precociousness and ambivalence. Clooney himself renders palpable the vast complexities of a public figure in a refreshing way.

Even though nothing here is wholly original, it is woven together well. The human drama which cuts into the civic process sucks us in slowly, penetrating our minds in pinpoints. Clooney is one of our great old-fashion movie stars who also happens to be a hell of an actor. Through his several intelligent, precise films as director, he has shown a startling proficiency for stylishly old school movies. His debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), was a wild, woolly romp based on one of genius scribe Charlie Kaufman's weaker screenplays. His sophomore effort was the much lauded, intellectually stimulating, gorgeously shot historical film Goodnight and Good Luck (2005). His third feature proved to be his best so far, including this new film. The misunderstood screwball sports comedy Leatherheads (2008) took its inspiration from masters Capra and Preston Sturges, and was effortlessly entertaining.

Within these sprockets, Clooney has found the dramatic pulse of American politics. His fascination with the order of things is incredible. Style and substance are mastered by Clooney, who has never worked more freely than in a few key sequences; Gosling at a crucial turning point, his breakdown seen through a rainy windshield distorting his face phantasmagorically; and especially the rigorously shadowed meeting between Clooney and Gosling, their faces half drowned in darkness as they haggle over the direction of their imperial fates.

Martin Scorsese: Raw Icon ( George Harrison: Living in the Material World)

George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Home Box Office, 2011.

George Harrison was always the odd man out when it came to the Beatles. Not grandstanding like Paul, rebellious like John or random like Ringo, he was the dark man who always stood out in our minds, the eloquent rock poet obsessed with pushing the limits of the musical form and seeking out the truth about himself and this life. Martin Scorsese's new documentary is an incisive, gentle glimpse into the world, via archival footage and talking heads, of one of rock music's raw icons.

No super-stylistic flourishes or catchy technique here. Scorsese lays it all out matter-of-fact, elegantly tracing a music biography which mutates into a questioning of existence. For how portentous that sounds, its no wonder that a master like Scorsese cuts to the heart of the matter: a man struggling to reconcile fame, fortune and the material world with a quest for the meaning of it all. Harrison's story is so heavy with elements of great storytelling that the picture slips into our minds with the ease of a golden riff.

George continues a labor of love for Scorsese, that is documenting the musical experience of the 20th century as Scorsese has lived and felt it. Pop culture has never seemed so clean. His The Blues, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and Shine a Light all enlighten us with the complexity that goes into creating great art. His George carries that torch with the lightest touch.

Emilio Estevez: Journeyman (The Way)

Martin Sheen, The Way, Arc Entertainment, 2011.

Brat packer turned overlooked helmer Emilio Estevez procures an apt filmization of self-discovery in his basic yet sporadically profound tale The Way. Affording his gifted father, actor Martin Sheen, his best role in some time, he utilizes the chance to comment on their own father-son relationship, father-son relationships in general, and life en masse.

The Way recalls the set-up for Billy Wilder's forgotten 70s comedy Avanti, but with a downbeat, uplifting tone. Certain points of this workman-like effort truly break through the celluloid surface, touching on common themes which in the wrong hands can be stifling and overdone. Estevez does just about everything right.

First off, the picture is an emotionally engaging, stylistically downplayed portrayal of a regretful, aging American man's transformative trek which attempts, sometimes successfully, to transform its audience. Secondly, it is a showcase for the burrowed, eclipsing talents of Sheen, an old-school actor so good we forget about him and the truth he has brought to many characters in his almost fifty year career. Estevez himself, Deborah Kara Unger and Tcheky Karyo give fine support.

Estevez came onto the scene as a gifted actor in his own right in the1980s, often overshadowed by his equally talented brother, Charlie Sheen. Although we've seen less of him as an actor, his vision behind the camera has produced such variegated and buried pictures as Wisdom, Men at Work, Rated X and Bobby. These films awarded us a glimpse into the gossamer trappings of criminality, labor, business and politics. Yet he never lost sight of the human factor inherent in the process. With his newest work, that element is front and center for a mildly cathartic but unforgettable creation. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jim Sheridan: Broken Home (Dream House)

Rachel Weisz, Dream House, Universal Pictures, 2011.

A fragmented melodrama/horror-thriller/haunted house/did he or didn't he picture which frustratingly does not come together, Jim Sheridan's intriguing Dream House is a delicious melange of style with little substance and no resonance.

A mediocre script with A-list talent sometimes works, but definitely not here, so lets not get into the sandy narrative. It's all derivative and unbuyable anyway. Instead we'll focus on the better aspects. The A-list cast is really very good. Daniel Craig, as always, invests himself completely in Will, a businessman who finds that he and his family have moved into an idyllic murder house. Rachel Weisz is warm as his doting wife Libby, and Naomi Watts is good if a little out of place as his shifty neighbor Ann. The underrated Marton Csokas is driven and forceful as Ann's husband, Jack. Elias Koteas is always welcome in any cast.

Caleb Deschanel's cinematography is a beast of ferocious pleasure, his dance of shadow and light adding a sheen of mystery to a plot seriously lacking in that department.  John Debney's score is playful yet genuinely creepy. I always love when a filmmaker steps out of his comfort zone and tries a new genre. For the last 25 years, Sheridan has become known as the Irish workingman's director. His plaintive, simple biopics and domestic dramas were all well done and lauded, including My Left Foot, The Field, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer and In America.

With Get Rich or Die Tryin', he stepped out of his comfort zone and succeeded. It was an honestly well done picture, with Sheridan's touch just the thing it needed to take it to another level. His remake of Susanne Bier's Brothers was a return to his old visual style and emphasis on domesticity. With Dream House, he triumphs stylistically, while as a whole, it is the least film in an impressive, individual body of work.

Jonathan Levine: Tightrope of Tedium (50/50)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, 50/50, Summit Entertainment, 2011.

Up and coming director Jonathan Levine treads a tightrope of tedium and for the most part, succeeds, in the entertaining new picture, 50/50. A painfully rote plot line is resuscitated thanks to clever dialogue (by comedy producer turned first time scripter Will Reiser), top notch acting and sensitive direction.

A young man living in a house it doesn't seem he could afford in reality with his public radio job, is diagnosed with cancer. The way this plays out is depicted in a lot of completely cliched characterizations and sequences which only work because of the talent heralding them. When these sort of pictures get made by people with artistic merit, we have to marvel at the fact that it's not what a film is about which determines its value, but how it is about it.

Ultimately, the entire affair is a showcase for the incendiary talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His performance as Adam is a tender, ferocious thing of beauty. Anjelica Huston matches him along the way as his clinging Mother. She is a powerhouse in what is the juiciest role she's had in years. The rest of the cast fill in their roles well, Seth Rogen perfect if typecast as Adam's schlubby dirt bag buddy Kyle, Matt Frewer and Phillip Baker Hall exceptional as Adam's treatment pals, and Bryce Dallas Howard and Anna Kendrick both good as the opposite women in Adam's life.

Levine, who broke out about five years ago with the original indie horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
which he followed with the interesting pseudo-indie film The Wackness, makes a confident studio debut with this two hankie early Oscar baiter. A heavy reliance on acting and audience expectation pays off, with a fairly intelligent, well-meaning popcorn flick.

Gus Van Sant: Youthful Bodies at Rest and in Motion (Restless)

Mia Wasikowska, Henry Hopper, Restless, Sony Pictures Classics, 2011.

The meet-cute/disease sub-genre gets a much needed jolt of joy in American master Gus Van Sant's sublime new film, Restless. The deceptive simplicity of the premise is brought forth with a spellbinding immediacy which endears us to the DOA blueprint. Van Sant is among an elite group of helmers who are the only ones capable of making hipsters likable.

Henry Hopper and Mia Wasikowska are perfectly cast as our January lovebirds, both misfits in their Pacific Northwest hometown. They are frustrated teenagers, quirky and from fractured families. He has a Japanese kamikaze pilot imaginary friend. They meet-cute at a funeral, and their sweet courtship is defined in smart, clipped dialogue and lingering medium shots.That we are swept up in its dreamy web attests to its directors courage and power as a film artist.

Van Sant emerged in the 1980s as a force to be reckoned with. His three masterpieces (Drugstore Cowboy, Elephant and Paranoid Park) are devastatingly astute maladies about youth, love and death, his favorite themes. From mainstream (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, Milk) to pseudo-indie (My Own Private Idaho, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, To Die For) to the daringly personal (Mala Noche, Psycho, Gerry, Last Days), he has carved his name into the cinematic consciousness with his utter control of his craft, his instantly recognizable style, and the hypnotic effect of his cumulative effort. He and Larry Clark have located the heart of American youth in all of its fragility and terror.

Which makes him the only director, aside from Clark, who could have turned the typical into triumph. Jason Lew's pared down script, Harris Savides' intoxicating visual mines and Danny Elfman's roving score all back up Van Sant's vision breathlessly. The wisdom of his eyes, fixed on these youthful bodies at rest and in motion, is the main thing. Paying homage to Hal Ashby and his favorite director, Bela Tarr, he transports us with the mystery of his mastery.