It's Summertime and the theaters are filling up. There's a varied selection of new releases, from studio pics "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and "Brave" to excellent documentaries "The Invisible War" and "Kumaré" (in NY; it comes to LA's Cinefamily July 27). Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" and Lorene Scafaria's "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" (here's our report from its LAFF premiere) are both disappointing romantic comedies that miss the mark.
Here's a roundup of reviews for Timur Bekmanbetov's ("Wanted") "Vampire Hunter," in which style seems to supercede storytelling, but doesn't necessarily succeed. Pixar's "Brave," featuring their first heroine, is a charming trip to Scotland, but its story takes some disappointly twee turns. Yes, Princess Merida has incredible hair and great aim with her arrow, but her adventure falls short of our expectations and feels far too safe. The film is essentially a mother-daughter bonding tale ("Finding Nemo" was the father-son equivalent but with a far superior script) that also delivers the message that people should be able to choose who they love and and when they marry. "Brave" is arguably more a supporter of gay marriage rights ("breaking tradition" is also a big theme) than it is a new stance on female empowerment, which is just as well because Merida would be hard-pressed to compete with "The Hunger Games"'s Katniss Everdeen.
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Midnight in Paris" - two of Allen's best and each deliciously told by the auteur - are now followed by the lazy "To Rome With Love" which recently opened the LA Film Fest. Good actors are completely wasted, and ditto the Italian city, chosen apparently at random. The interwoven stories are incomplete and often painful to sit through, relying on charm that doesn't exist to cover-up the glaring holes.
"The Invisible War" is the must-see of the weekend, a powerful and infuriating look at epidemic rape in the miliary. As stated in our LAFF mid-fest report, the importance of the film's subject matter can't be overstated, given that the suicide rate in the military is at nearly one per day. The film is an engrossing and upsetting trip alongside the women and men who are fighting against our behemoth military and its institutionalization of sexual assault. Rape (of women and men) is expected and accepted, and those suffering the consequences are often left without aid (beyond exhorbitant amounts of prescription drugs) to find a way to survive the consequences. Your blood will boil.
"Kumaré" is another absorbing documentary that is surprisingly funny and moving. Inquisitive and accidentally inspiring, it goes beneath the asanas and mantras of the Western world's attachment to Eastern philosophies to comment on the often manilupative nature of religion and the human path to connection. There is an element of controversy to director Vikram Gandhi's approach, but it's also the reason the film works.
"Brave" Disney Pixar, US | Dir: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell; Cast (voice): Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Bully Connolly | 73% Fresh | Salon: "Moms and girls everywhere deserve this movie, absolutely, and I hope they have a great time. But they also deserve much more, and much better."
"Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" Focus, US | Dir: Lorene Scafaria; Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Martin Sheen, Connie Britton, Melanie Lynskey | 58% Rotten | Variety: "The end of the world can't come fast enough in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a disastrously dull take on the disaster-movie formula."
"To Rome with Love" Sony Pictures Classics, US/IT/SP | Dir: Woody Allen; Cast: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Penelope Cruz, Alison Pill, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg | 47% Rotten | THR: "Allen the writer-director has gone tone-deaf this time around, somehow not realizing that the nonstop prattling of the less than scintillating characters almost never rings true."
"The Invisible War" Cinedigm, US | Dir: Kirby Dick | 100% Fresh | THR: "This eye-opening documentary turns a glaring spotlight on sex crimes in the American armed forces, and on the military establishment's astonishing insensitivity to the issue."