By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood May 15, 2014 at 3:22PM
At long last, those lucky enough to live in New York or Los Angeles can see director James Gray's measured, masterful period film "The Immigrant" this weekend. Those inclined toward multiplex fare can comfortably seek out "Godzilla" and "Million Dollar Arm," which both offer plenty of popcorn pleasures. Meanwhile, two other small-scale indies off the festival pipeline arrive: "Chinese Puzzle," and "Half of a Yellow Sun." (Trailers below.)
With visuals to-die-for, including a fabulously framed closing shot, James Gray's ("Two Lovers") "The Immigrant" stars Marion Cotillard as the titular new-girl-on-the-block in Ellis Island, 1921, trying to survive in a new world but only half-succeeding. She falls into the clutches of Joaquin Phoenix's Bruno, a Jewish pimp who uses a exotic variety show as his front. Everyone is hustling to survive, and profit, in America here. Cotillard is radiant and emotive, elevating this moving postcard of a bygone era -- along with strong turns from Phoenix and Jeremy Renner (as a streetwise magician) -- out of the clunky historical epic and into the realm of cinematic grandeur.
Director Gareth Edwards ("Monsters") has admirably returned to the Toho roots of "Godzilla" 60 years on and made the Kaiju myth as relevant as ever, even adding a humanistic twist. Drawing on the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant disaster as inspiration (what if it wasn't an act of nature?), and utilizing the best that CG animation has to offer, Edwards delivers the thrilling monster goods along with a sense of melancholy. Of course, the only actor not upstaged by Godzilla and his MUTO adversaries is the always reliable Bryan Cranston as the troubled scientist. (Indiewire's Eric Kohn offers a great analysis of the film as an arty blockbuster.)
Director Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl") and screenwriter Tom McCarthy are certainly no stranger to offbeat drama and comedy, and "Million Dollar Arm" represents his greatest dance with dramedy. The inspirational biopic about recruiting two raw talents from India and turning them into major league baseball pitchers in less than a year also affords "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm the opportunity to show off the full range of his acting chops.
Also opening in select cities, Claude Klapisch's "Chinese Puzzle," starring Audrey Tautou, caps off a trilogy that includes "L'auberge Espagnole" (2002) and "Russian Dolls" (2005); Biyi Bandele's "Half of a Yellow Sun," adapted from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's celebrated novel, follows two sisters in 1960s civil-war-torn Nigeria, and it stars Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The Immigrant Dir. James Gray, USA | The Weinstein Company | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner | 81% Fresh | AV Club: "Gray is the most underappreciated of this country's major filmmakers; his movies distill a century's worth of American feature film-a little late silent cinema here, a little New Hollywood there-into a distinctly personal style." | Our Cannes 2013 review, press conference and NYFF coverage
Godzilla Dir. Gareth Edwards, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, David Strathairn | 79% Fresh | NYT: "One of the pleasures the movie offers is the thought that actors who have done splendid work elsewhere ... are being paid well for shouting, grimacing and spouting expository claptrap." | Our review and roundup, and Edwards Q&A
Million Dollar Arm Dir. Craig Gillespie, USA | Walt Disney Pictures | Cast: Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin, Lake Bell, Madhur Mittal | 57% Fresh | Salon.com: "'Million Dollar Arm' is a dithering, uncertain film from an era of dithering uncertainty, when baseball has become a thriving global enterprise but long ago lost its aura of specialness in American life." | Our interview with Gillespie
Chinese Puzzle Dir. Cedric Klapisch, France | Cohen Media Group | Cast: Romain Duris, Kelly Reilly, Audrey Tautou, Sandrine Holt, Cecile De France | 80% Fresh | Variety: "Bringing an appreciative outsider's perspective to the sights, sounds and polyglot energy of New York, Klapisch and his collaborators ensure that the two hours whiz by decoratively and entertainingly."
Half of a Yellow Sun Dir. Biyi Bandele, Nigeria | Monterey Media | Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Joseph Mawle, John Boyega, Anika Noni Rose | 59% Fresh | Time Out: "This well-acted adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's award-winning novel starts like a college soap opera, before turning into a Nigerian Gone with the Wind." | Our Toronto Film Fest Q&A with Ejiofor