"Factotum": The combination of Norwegian director Bent Hamer ("Kitchen Stories"), great American raconteur of dissipation Charles Bukowski and Matt Dillon is apparently a potent one; LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas writes that "it’s the closest any film has come, outside of the Bukowski-scripted Barfly, to distilling the author’s world of lonely barrooms at noon, $500 cars, and desperate men and women who cling to each other less out of love than out of terror of loneliness." He likes Dillon’s performance as the author’s alter-ego Henry Chinaski, as does Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, who thinks that "[l]ike the film itself, Mr. Dillonâ€™s performance works through understatement… Mr. Dillon’s phrasing carries the weight of such feeling, as does the hypnotically slowed gestures that give him the aspect of a man sitting at the bottom of a pool and thinking about drowning."
At Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman also has nice things to say about Dillon’s Chinaski (which sounds vaguely dirty, or is that just bleary us?), but not such nice things about the direction: "It’s too bad that the film was directed by the Norwegian minimalist Bent Hamer, who makes a fetish of building scenes around silence. As Chinaski’s derelict muse, Lili Taylor calls up the poetry of desire, but this is the sort of movie in which nothing happens â€” in the worst sense." And of Reverse Shot‘s weekly three, Nick Pinkerton and Justin Stewart are unimpressed ("’Factotum”s primary flaw is not egregious, but it’s all too common among adaptations — it simply goes through the motions," writes Stewart), while Nicolas Rapold finds it a modest success.
+ The "Pusher" trilogy: The wiseness of releasing all three films in Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Danish crime trilogy at the same time and in the same theater remains to be seen, but most are impressed by the "Pusher"s. Nathan Lee at the New York Times allows "Given an appetite for grisly crime flicks, they make for a delectably nasty epic." Lee thinks the films get better as they go alone, and that "Mr. Refn’s final iteration of his pattern achieves the hard, bright light of an archetype from hell." The Village Voice‘s Michael Atkinson finds that "the ‘Pusher’ movies play less like features than like the nastiest hit TV series HBO never made," and seems to like the first film best. Andrew O’Hehir at Salon makes the same comparison, though a bit more fondly, and adds that "I doubt anything [Refn] can do with the ‘Pusher’ franchise at this point will outdo the penultimate scene of ‘Pusher III,’ which is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to watch in a motion picture."
+ "The Illusionist": Coming somewhat out of nowhere to generated some surprisingly good reviews is Neil Burger‘s "The Illusionist," with stars Edward Norton as a magician who romances an aristocrat (Jessica Biel). Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader adores it, giving it four stars, dubbing it "a lush piece of romanticism" and calling out Burger’s "exceptional gifts as a storyteller and as a director of actors." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon allows that the film has plenty of flaws, but that "ultimately, by God, I succumbed to the picture’s faux-laudanum haze":
In its best moments, "The Illusionist" doesn’t feel simply like an old-fashioned movie (it employs some charming technical touches, like iris shots, that filmmakers rarely use anymore), but like a movie summoned up from another era.
At the New York Times, Stephen Holden is charmed by the film, while stopping short of the rapturous praise others give it:
If the parallel cat-and-mouse games Eisenheim (Norton) plays with the prince and policeman have all sorts of political, religious and historical implications, "The Illusionist," filmed in sepia, prefers to let them lie. This entertaining movie is content to be something a bit more modest: a pungent period folk tale that teases you until the very end.
The LA Weekly‘s Scott Foundas is less amiable, though he has upgraded his opinion of the film from "torpid romantic mystery" at first viewing: "The Illusionist goes down easier the second time around, in large part because Burger’s tiresome fixation on whether or not the magician, Eisenheim, is endowed with supernatural powers falls away on a repeat viewing, making it easier to appreciate the movieâ€™s elegant cinematic sleight of hand." Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly presents the film as a showcase for a great performance from Norton; Dana Stevens at Slate writes that it is "almostâ€”almostâ€”too good to be true. It’s an exquisitely crafted period picture." But she, along with (fair warning!) everyone else, dislikes the ending.