By Steve Greene | Criticwire March 7, 2012 at 1:00PM
Fish diplomats, creepy cabin getaways and musical terrorists all figure into this week's new releases. Here's a look at some of the averages for new films rated by members of Indiewire's Criticwire Network.
With a "B+" average from Criticwire members, Greek writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Attenberg" is the Pick of the Week. Since opening at Venice, Tsangari's first feature in a decade has received steady critical attention as it has traveled the festival world. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn pegged the story of a young woman dealing with the impending loss of her father as “the death drama that "The Descendants" haters will love,” citing inventive storytelling filled with vibrancy and charm. In his positive review of the film, Criticwire member Michael Nordine singled out writer/director Tsangari’s attention to character as a main reason for the film’s success: “Tsangari catalogues the men and women who populate her film like butterflies pressed between the pages of an entomologist’s journal, makes brief notes of each one’s idiosyncrasies, and moves on to the next.”
Other films opening this weekend include “Sound of Noise” (B+ Criticwire average), the latest comedy from Swedish team Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, which tells the tale of a half-dozen musicians who engage in a literal sonic revolution. Alison Willmore calls it a refreshing interpretation of a heist film. “'Sound of Noise' is light and insubstantial as a feather,” she writes, “but the performances are something to see.”
One film that many critics consider less successful in carving out new territory in its genre is “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” in which a British government employee is tasked with introducing the titular fish into Yemeni waters. His resulting travels bring him to the Middle East, where he finds love. Despite the detailed fish content, some critics are arguing that the basic story is simply too familiar, which explains its B- average. Gregory Ellwood of Hitfix argues that the film seems satisfying enough, but that it strips the source novel of its satirical, multi-dimensional underpinnings. “Someday you may catch "Salmon Fishing" on HBO or Showtime or a plane and think 'that's cute,' but if you were a big fan of Torday's original tome...you may find yourself very disappointed.”
Critics have kinder words for Jennifer Westfeldt’s new romantic comedy “Friends with Kids,” giving it a B average. Chronicling a close-knit group and their adventures in parenting, the main focus rests on the two unmarried members of the pack who decide to have a child together, even while seeing other people. An impressive cast (Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph and Adam Scott) anchors the central group, which The Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth identifies as the film’s main redeeming quality. “If Westfeldt doesn't quite deliver with the story,” he writes, “the great cast she has lined up breaks her fall...The result is a film that features a great middle third, with a patchy start and a bland finish.” Monika Bartyzel, at Movies.com, praises Westfeldt’s writing style as an asset, saying that the writer/director/co-star “fills the script with genuine heart and laughs, as well as everyday vulgarities, proving that a mixture of heart and raunch is human rather than reductively masculine.” Those who crave screams more than smooches do have a movie to look forward to this weekend, even if critics have been less than impressed with it, putting it in the B- range.
Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, the filmmaking duo responsible for the divisive 2004 offering “Open Water” are back with “Silent House.” This time, their star is Elizabeth Olsen, playing a young woman who retreats to a remote family cabin to perform some much-needed renovations. The resulting horror narrative unfolds (with some tricks) in a continuous camera shot, an intriguing element that--argues Jordan Raup of The Film Stage--works against the overall product. "With all the focus centered on this trick, the characters and plot are left by the wayside,” he writes. Rob Nelson of Variety echoes those sentiments in his negative review, saying that “the hyperventilating Olsen works awfully hard in the service of a film that, in the end, does little or nothing to preserve her character's integrity...the pic's true star is [cinematographer Igor] Martinovic's unblinking camera, which really ought to have been let loose in some other house.”