Aliens, Debaters, Jack Nicholson

This week's new releases

Page 5 of 6

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (R) A feel-bad comedy about people doing terrible things to each other in the name of love, Margot at the Wedding isn't a bad film by any stretch, but it is a difficult one to sit through without squirming. Writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) crafts some of the sharpest dialogue around, but the filmmaker seems more interested here in purging personal demons that in entertaining his audience — consequently, Margot often steps over that fine line straddling pain-based comedy and pure pain. As with Baumbach's other films, most of the characters here are monumentally self-absorbed East Coast artists and intellectuals — Volvo-driving, white wine-drinking neurotics who relentlessly poke and prod at one another but are powerless to stop their own aggressive, self-defeating behavior. The director positions his angsty characters amidst idyllic surroundings, at a rambling country home in the Hamptons, where a wedding unfolds more like a competition than a celebration. Baumbach reminds us a bit of Woody Allen during his initial transition from crafter of neurotic comedies to chronicler of contemporary angst, but if The Squid and the Whale was Baumbach's Annie Hall, then Margot at the Wedding is very nearly his Interiors, filled with characters so essentially unlikable that it's hard to see the things that are genuinely interesting about them. Stars Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Zane Pais and Ciaran Hinds. 3 stars

MICHAEL CLAYTON (R) A character study of a man defined by his compromises, Michael Clayton stars George Clooney as a former prosecutor gone to seed and long reduced to working as a fixer for a big law firm. It's a no-brainer Clayton's in trouble from the first moment we see him — the GPS on his swanky Mercedes is on the blink, after all, movie-metaphor-ese for the guy's moral compass being out of whack — but half the pleasure of Michael Clayton is watching its title character's slow-mo meltdown lead up to that revelatory moment of painful self-knowledge. The other half of the movie's pleasure takes the form of a curiously gripping conspiracy thriller that percolates on such an ominously low frequency it almost catches us off guard when it finally officially announces itself. What lies at the heart of Michael Clayton isn't ultimately that far removed from conventional socially-conscious melodrama, but where the movie excels is in how it puts all this together, coming at the story from unexpected angles and neatly folding its sweeping political agenda into the personal struggles of its individual players. Also stars Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe and Ken Howard. 3.5 stars

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM (PG) The directorial debut of Zach Helm, who wrote the absurdly over-praised Stranger Than Fiction, the bland and listless Mr. Magorium stars Dustin Hoffman as the 243-year-old owner of a magical toy store wedged amongst the skyscrapers of some modern metropolis. Hoffman's performance is as lazy as it is irritating — out-of-control eyebrows and an effected lisp are the main things alerting us to his "wildly eccentric" nature — and Natalie Portman seems distinctly uncomfortable as the reluctant employee chosen to take over the store. There's also a little boy wandering around acting pointlessly lonely and a straight-laced accountant who can't see the magic all around him — and none of it goes anywhere. The influences here are painfully obvious, but Mr. Magorium never lives up to its Willy Wonka meets Toys meets pretty-much-anything-by-Tim-Burton prototypes. None of the elements tie together in a particularly coherent way; the characters exhibit little discernable personality; the story plods; and the movie even lacks the visual panache to pull off this sort of thing. Also stars Justin Bateman and Zach Mills. 1.5 stars

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (R) Much has been made of No Country for Old Men being some sort of contemporary Western, but when the filmmakers are Joel and Ethan Coen, you can bet the "Western" in question is going to scream for quotation marks. An expertly crafted nail-biter steeped in the beloved noir the filmmakers have repeatedly tinkered with, the Coen Brothers' new film takes place in a dusty Texas wasteland as redolent with alienation as a vintage Antonioni landscape. Enter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a certified piece of trailer trash who happens upon a drug deal gone south and winds up fleeing the scene of the crime with a briefcase filled with cash. This inevitably puts some very bad people on Llewelyn's trail — chief among them a soulless super-psycho named Anton Chigurh (an exquisitely chilling Javier Bardem) — and right behind is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a small-town lawman resigned to the nasty ways of the world. No Country is a beautifully modulated film, folding intense bursts of periodic violence into a carefully orchestrated atmosphere of mounting tension that is both eerily poetic and a bit melancholy. In its elegantly world-weary way, this is as iconic a chase film as The Night of the Hunter, as deeply mysterious as the Coens' masterpiece, Barton Fink, and not without perverse grace notes all its own. Also stars Kelly Macdonald, Tess Harper and Woody Harrelson. 4.5 stars

Scroll to read more Events & Film articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.