+ "Kings and Queen": By all accounts, Arnaud Desplechin‘s latest is the film to see this weekend. Various critics are gurgling in cinephile bliss over it, most notably Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, who devotes the majority of his monthly "Beyond the Multiplex" column to "Kings," pleading:
For God’s sake, see this one. When I tell you that it’s a French movie that’s 150 minutes long — well, let’s face it, your heart sinks. But I was so wrapped up in its world of love and betrayal and madness, its story of a pampered belle and a man crumbling into insanity in a trashed apartment and the skein of invisible threads connecting them, that when it ended I didn’t want to leave. If I could have convinced the projectionist at the press screening to load up the first reel and start over, I’d have sat through it again.
He, along with the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman, classify "Kings and Queen" as a melodrama in the least pejorative sense (what else can you call a film in which "Moon River" plays an important role?). Michael Koresky at indieWIRE calls it a "wondrous forest of sensory overload"; David Denby at the New Yorker says it’s "by any normal standard, a mess," but also "fully alive and extraordinarily intelligent." Manohla is particularly infatuated with Desplechin’s assault on narrative point-of-view (something that turns on a third-act reveal in which we realize we’ve been seeing certain characters in the way they see themselves, rather than observed from the outside): "Mr. Desplechin has no interest in polishing narrative like a gemstone; he would rather take a chisel to it." David Edelstein at Slate is similarly impressed with the film’s vivid complexity, though he’s not entirely a fan of the ending.
+ "Layer Cake": Manohla is fond, but the Village Voice‘s Michael Atkinson and LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas agree: Daniel Craig may be the delicious fresh strawberry on top, but the rest of "Layer Cake" is such a stale romp in post-Tarantinoism (despite the fact that it’s miles ahead of Guy Ritchie‘s work) that it should warrant a ten-year moratorium on British gangster films just to give the cliches a rest.
+ "Unleased": Luc Besson‘s latest exercise in style, with Jet Li as a man raised as an attack dog by a scenery-chewing Glasgow gangster (Bob Hoskins), has a plot that certainly warrants Manohla‘s labelling the film "infinitely silly" (despite, as has been noted, her overfondness for the word). Matt Zoller Seitz at the New York Press isn’t impressed by the film, which he calls "a so-so international coproduction" while using it as a launching pad for an odd interview with Li/thoughts on the "new martial arts film" feature. Roger Ebert finds the movie saved by its performances: "Because Hoskins is so good at focusing the ferocity of Bart, he distracts us from the impossible elements in the trained-killer plot." Stephanie Zacharek points out the Dickensian feel of the story; Jet Li as wide-eyed orphan adopted by a group of misfits who form a type of family unit, even as the frothing villain from his past won’t leave him alone. She also waxes poetic on Li’s performance:
Li, as he certainly showed in "Hero," is a marvelously perceptive actor: His face shows fine-grained shadows of emotion that, I think, are part of his physicality, not something detached from it. In that way, Li is like a silent-movie star: His face has a vocabulary that trumps the use of words.
Stephanie, Manohla’s got some words for you: "’Unleashed’ has been peddled as the action movie in which Mr. Li flexes his acting chops, which is, to put it nicely, a load of hooey."