+ "The Departed": We had a suspicion Martin Scorsese‘s latest wasn’t going to be so great â€” no reason, except that perhaps it seemed a too good to be true. Scorsese returning to crime and criminals; Scorsese remaking "Infernal Affairs"; Scorsese doing Boston! Well, looks like we were wrong, thank gods.
At LA Weekly, Scott Foundas calls "The Departed" "the best thing [Scorsese]’s done in ages," and while noting that he "wouldnâ€™t rush to call the movie one of Scorsese’s best," also concludes rather nicely that
Indeed, the very vibrancy of this movie is tied to its familiarity, to the thrill of seeing â€œMartyâ€ shrug off his yen for enshrinement in some ersatz canon and rekindle the old razzle-dazzle â€” the pulse-quickening energy, the restless zooms and tracking shots, the explosions of gory violence â€” that once made every young film student in America want to be him (before they decided they wanted to be Tarantino instead).
Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly thinks that the shift of setting to Boston has freed Scorsese up: "In embracing this new locale, Scorsese creates a movie built on the foundations of GoodFellas and Mean Streets but not chained to it, a picture that feels as effortless as The Aviator and Gangs of New York felt effortful." At New York, David Edelstein writes that "[t]he movie works smashingly, especially if you havenâ€™t seen its Hong Kong counterpart and havenâ€™t a clue whatâ€™s coming. But for all its snap, crackle, and pop, itâ€™s nowhere near as galvanic emotionally." He also finds DiCaprio a little "lumpish," and Nicholson a little too much "Jack," an emotion seconded by Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "[H]eâ€™s playing bigger and badder than life with engines roaring. Itâ€™s a loud, showy performance." In comparing this remake with the original, she adds that "Hong Kong and Hollywood action films are themselves doppelgÃ¤ngers of a sort, and Mr. Scorsese, himself larger than life, is one of their biggest, baddest daddies."
Dana Stevens at Slate (who cautions that "The Departed isn’t the masterpiece I have the feeling some may hail it as. It feels like the kind of movie critics might overpraise, if only because it’s nice to see Scorsese back in the saddle and a treat to find a cops-and-robbers thriller with some energy and wit.") is one of several to hail Mark Wahlberg‘s performance: "As the foul-mouthed putdown artist Dignam, Wahlberg can’t deliver a line without cracking the audience up. He shines even amidst a uniformly strong cast, just as he did in I Heart Huckabees."
At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek writes that "This is a picture of grand gestures and subtle intricacies, a movie that, even at more than two hours long, feels miraculously lean. It’s a smart shot of lucid storytelling." She goes so far as to say
People will want to compare "The Departed" with "Goodfellas," but the movies are worlds apart: "Goodfellas," for all its violence, carries nearly no emotional weight — it’s a tooting fairground organ with no soul. "The Departed" has weight and bite, although it’s also a thrilling entertainment.
And J. Hoberman at the Village Voice compares and contrasts "The Departed" with "Infernal Affairs" more than anyone else, finding the former lacking and "[n]either a debacle nor a bore." His problem, too, is Jack, and he slips in that "Scorsese has a long history of burdening films with unpleasant and even atrocious central performances, and Nicholson seems bent on twirling the mustache off Daniel Day-Lewis‘s heavy in Gangs of New Yorkâ€”a role that really belonged to producer Harvey Weinstein."
+ "Little Children": While soundly derided by everyone we spoke to at the New York Film Festival (we passed on it â€” Matt Singer reviews it here), Todd Field’s second directorial effort has attracted mixed-to-good reviews from the general critical mass. Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly declares the film a "jolting, artfully made drama set in and around a suburban playground somewhere between American Beauty and In the Bedroom on America’s psychic highway," and A.O. Scott at the New York Times, in a thoroughly rapturous review, heralds Field as "among the most literary of American filmmakers, one of the few who tries to find a visual language suited to the ambiguous plainness of contemporary realist fiction."
Elsewhere, other aren’t impressed. At LA Weekly, Ella Taylor bemoans that the film "divides its time evenly between melodrama and black comedy, uneasy bedfellows under most conditions but especially in a movie that solicits sympathy for its wounded souls." David Edelstein at New York calls the film "an unusually powerful mess," but ultimately finds that it works: "This is satire that doesnâ€™t diminish its characters. It makes them bottomless."
And Andrew O’Hehir at Salon wraps it all up:
"Little Children" is going to get some very good reviews, and right now its producers are expecting to line up onstage at awards shows toward the end of winter. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s an unholy mess, simultaneously too Gothic and too sarcastic, that preaches liberation and delivers only puritanism. It’s a craftsmanlike but robotic imitation of "interesting" filmmaking, only in patches, and by accident, the real thing. Let it win awards; no one will even remember it in five years.
+ "Shortbus": The surprise champion of John Cameron Mitchell‘s melange of unsimulated sex and post-9/11 trauma is Armond White at the New York Press, who sets aside his aversion for all things hipster to declare "If Gregg Arakiâ€™s kaleidoscopic Nowhere was Gen Xâ€™s La Dolce Vita, this is Gen Yâ€™s funny-and-raunchy Rules of the Game":
I never expected a movie this playfully adroit and poignant from the director/star of the calamitous Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The events of 9/11 must have sent a jolt through Mitchell, causing him to understand that boho grandstanding on its own has little justification.
Others liking the film include Scott Foundas at LA Weekly, who writes:
The sex in the movie is â€œrealâ€ not just because it isnâ€™t simulated, but because the bodies taking part in it are of all shapes and sizes, including a great many that would never pass a Hollywood screen test. But the boldest provocation of Mitchellâ€™s sweet, tender and gently funny film may be its exuberant celebration of community and togetherness at a cultural moment rife with fatalism and disconnect.
Manohla Dargis at the New York Times is charmed: "Mr. Mitchell isnâ€™t the first non-pornographic filmmaker to incorporate sexually explicit material into his work, but he may be the most optimistic and good-natured…Make those bodies laugh as well as writhe, as Mr. Mitchell does here, and the metaphors can feel less punishing, more palatable." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon is also charmed:
[T]he sex is the most unremarkable thing about it. What surprised me most about this gentle-spirited sprawl of a movie, set in post-9/11 New York City, is what I can only call the friendly, Midwestern quality of the filmmaking… This may be a movie made by a New Yorker (albeit a Texas-born one), yet it’s anything but insular. Gregarious, neurotic, maybe a little guilty of oversharing: "Shortbus" is American right to its nonexistent short shorts.
Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly declares that "If I’m going to see sex on
screen â€” as opposed to the brushing of teeth â€” I want something hotter.
I find these people silly, and desperately antic." And Reverse Shot‘s trio, which this week is made up of Michael Koresky, Keith Uhlich and Jeannette Catsoulis, are mixed. Uhlich dislikes the "false-hearted pathos/catharsis," while Catsoulis and Koresky love and like it, with Koresky writing that:
Mitchell’s cinematic instincts — so musical, so grandiose, so spectacularly queer yet attempting to be hetero-friendly — are so dead-on ("Shortbus" contains the most humane, compassionate use of the close-up of any American film this year) that it will be easy for many to overlook "Shortbus"’s slightly faulty wiring and precarious plot pivots.