Just to keep pace with the fast-breaking developments, a quick timeout from basketball:
Chloe. A renaming and reworking by Atom Egoyan of the French film Nathalie by Anne Fontaine. Despite the pedigree (Egoyan, if you need reminding, has signed such tony items as Ararat, The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, among others), this would fit comfortably on the Lifetime Movie Network. What’s more, I could swear I saw on that channel the very same premise: a suspicious wife sics a high-end escort onto her husband (maybe on television it was a private detective) as a temptation, a test. True, the escort’s oral reports have a graphicness you mightn’t hear on LMN (“I could feel he was excited through his pants,” “I put my tits in his face”), and Julianne Moore, as the midlife gynecologist who lives in a luxurious red box with musicologist Liam Neeson, gives you more acting per second than you get from Judith Light or Joanna Kerns, and the expanses of flesh (not just the always game Moore, but also the uninitiated Amanda Seyfried as the escort) are decidedly “R”-rated, though these are matters of degree, not substance. The odor of cheesiness, both the main attraction and the main limitation of the film, never dissipates, only intensifies: the escort, gradually proving herself even crazier than her client, develops an at first reciprocated crush on the woman and then, when rebuffed, turns her attentions to the latter’s teenage son. (Fatal Attentions might have been a franker title.) Neither of the women, in fairness, takes further leave of senses than Egoyan. The Canadian locale only firms up the Lifetime affinity.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid. “This is a journal, not a diary,” corrects the pint-sized protagonist in voice-over, mortified that his clueless mother would have gone against his explicit instructions not to buy him a daybook with the D-word on the cover. The live-action adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s popular series of cartoonishly illustrated “tween” books, which of course I had never heard of, is not in diary form but is nonetheless sufficiently episodic (the “Cheese Touch” episode, the “Devil Worship Woods” episode, and so on), covering the hero’s traumatic first year in middle school, with no help from his tormenting older brother. The dishonorable, even dastardly hero, or better say antihero, can be charitably said to have a lot of growing up to do. But whatever lesson the target audience may take away, actual grown-ups can appreciate the spectacle in the full knowledge that the growing-up in many ways and in many cases never gets done. The universality of the character extends way beyond his age group. Zachary Gordon is, for all the character’s faults, vulnerable and sympathetic in the title role. No less is Robert Capron as his cherubic best friend, a mutual outcast than whom the antihero firmly believes he will soon find someone better. Though there are bits of mandatory, albeit moderate, gross-out humor (boogers and such), there are also truly witty touches (the montage of physical changes over summer vacation in children on the verge of puberty; the animated popularity rankings, forever open to revision, from the top of the class to the bottom; the screaming headline in the school paper, “Cheerleader Gains Pound”), and the photography by Jack Green is gaily colored, and the direction by Thor Freudenthal has energy and flair. I had him pegged after Hotel for Dogs as one to watch. I have him pegged as that still.
Greenberg. Noah Baumbach, writer and director of The Squid and the Whale, features Ben Stiller as a kind of middle-aged-crazy Jesse Eisenberg (nose up, shoulders forward), a self-absorbed self-conscious ineffectual intellectual, who, upon his release from a mental hospital, wants to concentrate on “really trying to do nothing for a while,” aside from house-sitting for his brother in Los Angeles, maybe building a doghouse for Mahler the family pet, firing off letters of complaint to impervious corporations, and, not least, drinking like a fish. The fecklessness infects the entire film, which is sort of like a Woody Allen without the polished one-liners. Greta Gerwig, a diva of the “mumblecore” movement, as the brother’s personal assistant who is always on call to assist, has an odd, ditzy, dishraggy appeal.
The Art of the Steal. Documentarist Don Argott relates the story, with the aid of a roundtable of talking heads, of what happened to the Barnes Foundation, specifically its collection of post-Impressionist and early modern art, after the death of the philanthropic Philadelphia pharmaceutical king, Albert C. Barnes. (One of the talking heads, an Inquirer reporter by the name of Lucinda Fleeson, happens to have been my sister’s bosom buddy in elementary school back in Minnesota. I hadn’t laid eyes on her in something near fifty years.) The paintings, expressly intended never to be sold, loaned, or moved, were simply worth too much — “billions and billions” — for everyone to obey the terms of the trust. It is at bottom a story of money, how money makes people lose their heads and their hearts, as well as a story of race, class, and politics, a complicated story clearly told, with an interesting cast of characters and a wide variety of villains (“I brought the Barnes,” one proclaims proudly, “out of the Dark Ages”), lacking only a Gary Cooper or a James Stewart to transform it into a Capra story.
The Bounty Hunter. Laboriously contrived rom-com action thriller, laboriously directed by Andy Tennant, wherein a pair of hostile exes, he a skip-tracer and she a bail-jumper, re-bond while solving a murder and dodging a hit man en route to the hoosegow. Not a good showcase for the assets of Jennifer Aniston, apart from her well-roasted exterior: Jennifer Taniston. Gerard Butler endeavors to match that with his beard stubble.
Final favorites, after Carlos Saura’s previously mentioned Io, Don Giovanni, from the Latino film festival: Andrés Wood’s La Buena Vida from Chile and Andrea Martinez Crowther’s Cosas Insignificantes from Mexico, two views of the everyday world around us that will serve as examples of what can be done when you’re obliged to do it without hundred-million-dollar budgets, computer-generated imagery, and dreams of world domination.