+ "The Wind That Shakes The Barley": Ten months after it surprised many by winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Ken Loach‘s film about the conflicts in early 20th century Ireland arrives in a few US theaters (and, as it’s being released by IFC First Take, also on VOD). Reviews, as you’d expect given the pedigree, are generally good. David Denby at the New Yorker calls "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" "a beautifully realized work and perhaps Loachâ€™s best film… Refusing the standard flourishes of Irish wildness or lyricism, Loach has made a film for our moment, a time of bewildering internecine warfare." At the New York Times, A.O. Scott writes that:
Radical though he is, Mr. Loach is hardly a romantic, and the deep humanism that informs his best work â€” a category in which â€œThe Wind That Shakes the Barleyâ€ surely belongs â€” is insulated from sentimentality by the sense that history is a long, bruising fight, a chronicle of compromise and defeat as well as of tentative triumph and provisional hope.
At LA Weekly, Scott Foundas spies some modern-day parallels, writing that it is "a profound consideration of the fog of wars that rage between not only nations but, all too often, within their own borders."
At indieWIRE, Chris Wisniewski finds the scant sketching-in of ostensible main characters Damian (Cillian Murphy) and Padraic Delaney (Teddy) is almost problematic, writing that the film "could easily suffer from its thin characterizations and somewhat conventional plotting, but both actors bring a genuine, earnest quality perfectly suited to Loach’s improvisational sensibility." Armond White at the New York Press (who allows that Loach is "a real artist, albeit a didactic one") does find it problematic, concluding that:
Itâ€™s as if Loach abhors conventional dramatic development in order to resist bourgeois platitudes (including the romanticism of Neil Jordanâ€™s failed Irish epic Michael Collins). Damien and Teddy are only identified by what happens to them (medical student Damien is rushed into fighting, athlete Teddy is tortured by prison guards). Who they are as individuals is muddled, almost desultory.
Jeremiah Kipp at Slant sighs that "As a document of the shape of political thought, the film is successful; but as a living, beating heart about a populace living through a time of upheaval and confusion, it’s mediocre," while Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club calls "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" "[b]y far the most spinach-y film Loach has made lately," while also finding that "Loach and [writer Paul] Laverty are still capable of creating moments startling in their naturalismâ€”almost like a window into the past." Andrew O’Hehir at Salon (who interviews Loach in a podcast here) generally likes the film, while shrugging that "I wouldn’t mind Loach and Laverty’s old-line Marxist convictions either if they didn’t tend to create scenes where characters suddenly stand off against each other like ideological positions rather than people." And Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly writes of the end, as the two brothers argue over whether to continue fighting or to lay down their arms: "If Loach had given full voice to each side of this division, he could have made a great film â€” maybe the great film â€” about the Irish struggle."
+ "I Think I Love My Wife": Chris Rock‘s rendition of Eric Rohmer is generating mixed reviews. Fondest is the New York Times‘ A.O. Scott, admits that Rock "is still, unfortunately, not much of an actor," but still declares that the film works, in part because "[w]ithout making race into a Big Theme, Mr. Rock and [co-writer] Louis C. K. nonetheless pepper the film with sharp insights into the black middle class, taking note of how the consciousness of race remains lodged in the fine grain of daily life." At the Onion AV Club, Scott Tobias similarly notes that Rock "can’t really play anyone other than himself," but finds that the film, "[though] hampered at times by Rock’s limitations as an actor and a director…stays faithful to the spirit of Rohmer’s original, grappling honestly with the uncertainties of settling down and the temptations that lurk outside even the most stable marriages."
Stephanie Zacharek at Salon makes the ballsy argument that, while Rock may be "no threat to Rohmer as a filmmaker," his remake…is, for all its aggressive American obviousness, a much livelier picture than the original." Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly disagrees: "Rock…has taken Rohmer’s marvelously probing, psychologically refined, exquisitely yakky, and deeply French movie and turned it into a coarse-talking, race-conscious, tonally challenged life-crisis comedy."
Dana Stevens at Slate decrees that "it’s not a funny movie. At all." She goes on:
There is at least one moment in the film that gets a legitimate laugh, when Rock does a bit about women who dress too provocatively on the subway platform. This openly nasty rant is funny because it resembles Rock’s stand-up style, which uses his natural sweetness as a foil for the expression of some really hostile and aggressive impulses. During Rock’s best stand-up moments, you go, "Wow, this nice guy thinks like that?" Unfortunately, the rest of I Think I Love My Wife tamps down that aggression just enough to let it leach out in the form of laugh-free misogyny.
Armond White at the New York Press writes that "Trouble starts with Rockâ€™s temerity to direct another movie after the disastrous Head of State. Call this one State of Confusion instead because itâ€™s difficult to tell Rockâ€™s directorial ineptitude from a lack of thematic focus." And Nathan Lee at the Village Voice, while teasing us by calling "Pootie Tang" "one the greatest movies ever made" and then not elaborating on the argument, echoes Stevens statement, concluding that "Rock capably directs a screenplay graced with one or two chuckles (‘You stare at a soccer mom too long and they’ll post your name on the Internet’) and soured by a whole lot of misogyny."