ImageWith its heavyweight themes, three-hour running time and addled sense of focus, director Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret is a glorious mess of a movie.

Originally intended for theatrical release in 2006, the film was to be Lonergan’s directorial follow-up to his Oscar-nominated debut, You Can Count On Me. The project languished in post-production hell, however, as Lonergan and the producers fought over the final edit.

Margaret had a very limited theatrical run late last year and has now been issued to home video in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack with both the shorter theatrical cut and Lonergan’s own three-hour director’s version.

I watched the three-hour cut and suspect the shorter edit will have its merits, studio-imposed or not. The film is long and rather exhausting, but in a good way. It’s like taking a walk around the city, getting a little lost, and going about twice as far as you’d planned. It still feels good afterward, and you see some interesting things.

It goes like this: New York City private school student Lisa Cohen lives a life of relative privilege. Mom (J. Smith-Cameron) is a working actress on Broadway, dad (Lonergan) a commercial director in L.A. One dark day, Lisa is involved in a tragic accident when she accidentally distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), who runs a red light and kills a woman crossing the street.

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ImageAs a full-blooded Scotsman on both sides of the family, I really wanted to like the latest film from Disney/Pixar, the animated comedy-adventure “Brave.”

The story of a plucky princess in the highlands of medieval Scotland, it’s the first Pixar joint since last year’s underwhelming “Cars 2,” the first to feature a female protagonist, and it has the girl-with-a-bow-and-arrow thing going, which is curiously fashionable these days.

I didn’t love the movie, but am happy to report that the video game tie-in title “Brave: The Video Game” (PS3, Wii, X360, DS, PC, Mac) is a winner as a family game. “Brave” continues the improbable winning streak of Pixar video game adaptations. As a big-budget console title, Brave doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a solid adventure/platformer with beautiful art design, nice game balance and a quick learning curve.

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ImageIt all seems a little too cute, doesn’t it? THE ARTIST is a black-and-white silent film, shot in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio, about the Old Hollywood silent film era. And it’s French! And it won the Best Picture Oscar!

I was skeptical, too—this seemed like the sort of artsy, delightfully impertinent gesture the Academy likes to make every few years. But I was wrong. The Artist is a pure delight from beginning to end; a genuinely inspired piece of popular entertainment with bonus resonance for movie history geeks.

Debuting this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital, The Artist stars French actor Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, an aging movie star navigating the end of the silent film era. The talkies are coming, bringing with them a new breed of movie star like the young and radiant Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).

The film follows George and Peppy as their relationship shifts from mentor and rookie to something else entirely. The story is told without dialogue, and with a minimum of intertitles. As such it relies on music, staging and strong physical performances from Dujardin and Bejo and the supporting cast (including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Uggie the dog.)

The real star here, though, is writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, who puts it all together and makes it sing. The Artist is first and foremost a love letter to the history of cinema, reverently evoking the silent film era in both content and form. But it’s also a elegantly rounded story, a comic melodrama that earns its laughter and thrills. The movie never feels gimmicky.

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Review: Lola Versus

July 5, 2012

ImageActress Greta Gerwig has been called the indie Meg Ryan, which is unfair and pretty much right on the money. Like Ryan, queen of the 1990s rom-com, Gerwig is innately, immensely likable and instantly brightens every scene she’s in. She might be a good source of alternative energy, actually. I wonder if the government has looked into this.

Gerwig headlines the appealing, uneven “Lola Versus,” which has the shape of a traditional romantic comedy, but the texture of a mumblecore indie. The movie is reliant on Gerwig carrying the lead, which she does with her usual effortless and natural performing style. It’s funny, I know that what Gerwig does is technically called acting, but I can never actually catch her doing it.

Gerwig plays part-time New York City grad student Lola, 29 and recently dumped by her fiancé, Luke, a handsome cad played by Joel Kinnaman. (Luke is on the cusp of NYC art star glory thanks to his oil paintings of stills from celebrity sex tapes.)

Catatonic with despair, Lola shuffles around her apartment, tended by her loyal friends Alice and Henry (Zoe Lister Jones and Hamish Linklater) and her aging hippie parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman).

The rest of the movie follows Lola’s attempts at recovery as she pairs off with men in and out of her circle of friends. Complicating matters, her friends pair off with one another as well, and pretty soon everyone is sleeping with everyone else. Ah, to be 20-something again.

The things that happen in “Lola Versus” aren’t as interesting as how they happen. Director Daryl Wein (“Breaking Upwards”) stages scenes that can be very funny. In one sequence, Lola has a painfully awkward one-night stand with a former Eagle Scout who likes to sing Ani DiFranco songs during sex. Another scene explores the abiding wisdom secretly coded into “Beverly Hills 90210.” That particular monologue is funny in different ways for different age groups, I suspect.

Bill Pullman has great lines as Lola’s libertine father (“It’s not about perfect fidelity, it’s about high fidelity”) and I especially liked how he shows support for Lola by immediately unfriending her ex-fiancé on Facebook.

The script, by director Wein and co-star Jones, abounds with effective moments. There is a specificity to the characters and situations that avoids the usual setup-punchline rhythm of romantic comedies. Music and creative editing also give “Lola” a different cadence.

But the moments don’t add up to anything. There is no character arc at all with Lola, unless going from lovable to adorable can be considered personal development. The hipster dialog occasionally gets a little too precious, and the 20-something romantic drama gets tiresome.

The movie’s final scenes fall flat as the filmmakers appear to concede they’ve written themselves into a corner. There’s nowhere to take this thing but into the maw of convention. Lola learns to love herself, but she’s already been loved to death for 90 minutes by the audience.

 

DVD+Digital: Louie CK

July 5, 2012

ImageToo much good TV, that’s the problem. It’s impossible to keep up with all the quality series on television these days – Mad Men, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Girls. Well, not impossible, but certainly tricky, and you have to give up things like family and daylight.

One show I never miss, though, is LOUIE, the verite-style situation comedy from veteran alt-comic Louis C.K. Season two of the hit FX show is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s a good opportunity to catch up with this genre-busting endeavor.

C.K. has long been known as a “comic’s comic,” which in most cases is code for “not very popular.” But C.K. has proven the exception and has won legions of fans with his comedic style of brutally honest self examination.

In Louie, C.K. plays a fictionalized version of himself as a divorced father of two young girls, plying his comic trade in New York City and occasionally on the road. What’s amazing/impossible about Louie is that C.K. has negotiated for near-complete creative control with this show. He writes, directs, produces and even edits each episode.

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