Close

Wonderwall

Capsule reviews: 'Black Swan,' 'Barney's Version'

The Associated Press, Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 3:28pm (PST)

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

"Barney's Version" — Paul Giamatti is perfectly cast as novelist Mordecai Richler's lovably self-destructive curmudgeon Barney, Canadian producer of schlock TV, wooer of women way out of his league, self-righteous and self-loathing arbiter of all that is wrong with the people around him. Director Richard J. Lewis' sparkling film adaptation moves effortlessly between churlish hilarity and aching melancholy as Barney savages friends and enemies alike over the course of 30-plus years. The filmmakers have done a terrific job compacting the novel to present a faithful rendition of Barney's rich, sordid and always interesting life story, which includes stormy marriages to three wives (Rachel Lefevre, Minnie Driver and Rosamund Pike). Giamatti and Pike create a wonderful portrait of mismatched lovers, she an embodiment of virtue and devotion, he an outrageous, blustering yet big-hearted buffoon that she — and the audience — cannot help but love. Giamatti and Pike both deserve serious Academy Awards consideration, as does Dustin Hoffman, a perpetual scene-stealer as Barney's crude beat-cop father. R for language and some sexual content. 132 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

— David Germain, AP Movie Writer

———

"Black Swan" — At once gorgeous and gloriously nutso, a trippy, twisted fantasy that delights and disturbs in equal measure. Darren Aronofsky takes the same stripped-down fascination with, and appreciation for, the minutiae of preparation that he brought to his Oscar-nominated "The Wrestler" and applies it to the pursuit of a different kind of artistry: ballet. But then the director mixes in a wildly hallucinatory flair as "Black Swan" enters darker psychological territory. Working with his frequent cinematographer, Matthew Libatique, and incorporating some dazzling visual effects, Aronofsky spins a nightmare scenario within a seemingly gentle, pristine world. The visions and dreams soar over-the-top at times, but always knowingly so, and with great style; "Black Swan" wallows in its grandiosity, and if you're willing to go along with it, you'll find yourself wowed by one of the best films of the year. Natalie Portman gives it her all in a brave and demanding performance as Nina, a driven but innocent New York City ballerina. When it comes time to stage a bold, new production of "Swan Lake," the company's artistic director (a skeevy and manipulative Vincent Cassel) thinks Nina is perfect to play the White Swan. But he needs a dancer who also can portray the fierce sexuality of the Black Swan. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), a savvy and confident newcomer who represents Nina's biggest threat to getting the lead role. R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use. 110 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

———

"I Love You Phillip Morris" — Jim Carrey gets to show off the best of what he can do here, both the physical comedy he made his name on and the unexpected tenderness that has crept into his later, more dramatic work. He uses that whole range to play a gay con-man driven by love, giving a consistently charming, breezy performance in a film that frequently feels inconsistent in tone. The directing debut of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote the awesomely inappropriate "Bad Santa," veers a bit jarringly between its humorous, serious and romantic moments. But Carrey, as real-life scam artist Steven Russell, is never short of fascinating to watch. The story is so incredible, you're constantly wondering what outlandish scheme he'll perpetrate next. (A quick intro to the film assures us: "This really happened. It really did.") Ficarra and Requa's script, based on the book by former Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Steven McVicker, follows Steven Russell's many creative efforts to procure money, then break out of jail each time he's caught. During one of his stints behind bars, he meets the true love of his life: a sweet, soft-spoken pretty boy named Phillip Morris, whom Ewan McGregor plays with great delicacy and heart. Carrey and McGregor are awfully cute together, and one of the great strengths of "I Love You Phillip Morris" is the matter-of-fact way it handles their relationship; it's never precious or mawkish, and frequently the humor between them is quite raunchy. R for sexual content including strong dialogue, and language. 98 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

———

"Night Catches Us" — So much is right about writer-director Tanya Hamilton's feature debut: terrific acting, great music, a painterly eye for detail, fine period trappings that bring the mid-1970s to life without turning the film into a garish flashback. Yet her story of former Black Panthers moving on after the civil-rights movement is predictable and overly simple, an injustice to the characters and environment she's created. The drama unfolds in an obvious manner as a prodigal Panther (Anthony Mackie) comes home to his blighted Philadelphia neighborhood, has run-ins with cops and old comrades turned adversaries, and reconnects with the woman (Kerry Washington) for whom he once carried a torch. It's an admirable story, admirably told, but there's nothing fresh or unexpected here. Within minutes of each character's appearance, you know them as well as you're going to, and they play out their parts in Hamilton's story just as you suspect they will. The period details are a highlight, including a sharp '70s soundtrack bridged by a funky score from the Roots. R for language, some sexuality and violence. 89 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

— David Germain, AP Movie Writer

Show Comments
When using Facebook Connect your image and name may display on Wonderwall. All Privacy Settings are controlled by Facebook
Like us on Facebook?
UP NEXT
Body After Baby
aa
Thanks for subscribing!