The Pick: After encountering less-than-admirable creative and critical success with "Quantum of Solace" (after all, it is one of the five worst Bonds of all time, right?), the 007 franchise is back in peak condition. With award-winning director Sam Mendes at the helm, "Skyfall" has the highest average among new releases this week, earning an impressive "A-" average that has eluded even some of the most buzzed-about festival films.
The key with this installment? No vicious pans. No critic has gone lower than a "B," which might be because the film has acknowledged the character's institutional importance without being tethered to the whole legacy. As Katey Rich from Cinema Blend describes, "Midway through the film, [Bond] deadpans that his hobby is 'resurrection,' and though this new Bond was technically introduced six years ago, it really does feel like he's been reborn." Part of that reinvention may be a return to its origins as much as anything else. Stephen Whitty's assertion in his Newark Star-Ledger review is that "what Mendes and the rest have done is smartly re-set the Bond clock all the way back to 1963 or so, before the wild gadgets and ever-more-improbable plots took over. There's nobody here crying tears of blood, no missions in space, no woman with a double-entendre name."
But it's not just Mendes, or Daniel Craig, or the always-dependable Javier Bardem who have received acclaim. One of the stars of the show is cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose camerawork is getting raves. Oliver Lyttelton's review at The Playlist explains: "Thanks to the cinematographer, the film looks, frankly, astonishing -- most notably in its Wong-Kar-Wai-sci-fi-fever-dream vision of Shanghai, and the fiery climax, but consistently throughout. It stands up with the finest work that Deakins has ever done, which pretty much means that it's as gorgeous as film gets."
Tread Lightly, Reader: Whether you live in peril of spoilers around every corner (as I mostly do) or staunchly maintain that no amount of plot information can ruin a well-crafted film, there are some movies designed with a certain kind of reveal intended to shed light on a particular character during the course of the film, not before. Sean Baker's "Starlet" appears to be one such movie.
The vital piece of information that some reviews choose to withhold comes relatively early in the film, so writers like Patrick Gamble from CineVue and Jesse Klein from IonCinema take it as a necessary piece of exposition to discuss. For those inclined to a viewing experience with less advanced knowledge, Kate Erbland's piece at Film School Rejects and Katie Walsh's Playlist writeup might be alternate places to start.
Either way, it would probably be safe to describe a central element of the film, the unlikely friendship formed between Jane and Sadie (Dree Hemingway and Besedka Johnson), the former a twentysomething ambling through Los Angeles and the latter a disagreeable octegenarian widower. Their complicated relationship serves as a catalyst for much of the proceedings. As Klein points out, much of the film's tone is dictated by how it looks. "The bright palette, the locked off shots describe a stable, happy place—but the flares, the power lines looming overhead anchor it in something dirtier and darker, more complex and muddled," he writes. Less enthralled is Erbland, whose qualms lie partly in that key friendship, explaining that "while their chemistry eventually comes together, the film takes far too long to get to the meat of their story. And although their relationship hits some emotional beats, it’s still quite predictable, and it feels far too much like other independent features of the same mold."
The Week's Underachiever (And Why It Might Have Fared Thusly):
"Nature Calls": "Otherwise the movie is a collection of the derivative and totally expected. You get a scene with a creepy, homoerotic cop; an unfiltered, misogynist best friend; and of course the requisite amount of urination, injuries, and gratuitous nudity." - Tomas Hachard
The Immovable (and Incredibly Creepy) Object: Now that Roman Polanski's horror classic "Rosemary's Baby" is on Criterion Blu-Ray, critics are lining up in droves to praise it. In fact, it's one of the few films in Criticwire's history to receive near-unanimous approval. Sure, it's a proven, iconic film, but that "A+" average is still something to marvel at. (If you haven't had the chance to experience it for yourself or are just curious to see what extras in the Criterion set might have put it over the top, all the information is here.)
A full list of films opening this week (along with their averages) can be found on the next page.