With Pina, Wim Wenders has made one of the most enjoyably kinetic dance movies ever filmed.
  • With Pina, Wim Wenders has made one of the most enjoyably kinetic dance movies ever filmed.
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Pina ****

The first era of 3-D gave us flying lances and tomahawks, but the thrill (like the fad) faded. The process was revived creatively by Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. A brisk step forward is Pina, from Wim Wenders.

While he doesn’t hustle the effect — nobody jetés into our laps — Wenders has made a dance movie, one of the most enjoyably kinetic ever filmed. He uses our familiarity with live dance, our sense of how bodies sculpt space as a performance necessity. His subject was profoundly aware of it: Philippina “Pina” Bausch, the German choreographer who died two days before Wenders started shooting (they had consulted in depth).

Taught by Kurt Jooss, Antony Tudor, and Paul Taylor, Bausch (1940–2009) shaped the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch into a force. For years she worked with her key dancers, drawn from many countries, freeing them to tap not only sinew but memories and emotions. Even in ensemble sync they seem individuals, often amusing in their nervy intensity, like Brechtian clowns from a hyperactive circus. Some dancers speak on camera, but mainly they dance (so does Pina in a few clips), and their sweating, puffing realism make us realize the work inside the art.

What most struck me about the dances, seen in sizeable fragments (including the epic Rite of Spring, with its floor of soil), is how rich in muscular stress the dancers are, how un-ethereal. No Ariels or Tinkerbells! We always sense real bodies in true space, taking risks. When a woman collapses into a man’s arms, we fear she may crash through them. A dancer, whirling near a cliff edge, scares us. Although the great critic Arlene Croce called some Bausch trademarks “flashy schtick,” I was entirely engaged by the dancers putting so much on the line without reaching for virtuoso stardom.

Wenders emphasizes the sensuous Bausch motifs (walls, dirt, water, rocks) and uses great spaces such as a gliding monorail and a Miesian glass-box studio in a park. His perceptual tricks, like the dancers seen briefly miniaturized in a mock-up theater, have deft magic, a touch of Prospero. A pretty dancer hopping en pointe in classical ballet slippers seems to both rebuke and charm a huge factory behind her. Rather than flaunting the 3-D, Wenders folds it into choreographic spaces. The movie dances.

Bausch was not so fluently witty as Mark Morris, nor a genius like George Balanchine. But her art’s respect for gravity throbs with honest, give-and-take tension. Our greatest star dancers on film have seemed to glide a little above the earth and danger: Astaire, Kelly, Baryshnikov. Their hovering muse was Buster Keaton. Bausch was closer in spirit to Chaplin, who knew that every foolhardy, bravura gag could flop and sometimes would, painfully.

Inventively photographed by Hélène Louvart, Pina has a funny central image: dancers moving in a jokey, jerky parade line to Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues.” Up for two Oscars, Pina leaps high and lands close to Wenders’s two finest films, Kings of the Road and Paris, Texas.


W./E. 0 stars

I missed Madonna’s Filth and Wisdom. So my full entry to her “vision” is, with all due respect to her half-time show at the recent Super Bowl, her second film as a director, W./E. A gilded wallow in sham-glam nostalgia for the love affair between Britain’s Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, a married American, it defines “love” as “He gave up everything for her” (in 1937 Edward abdicated the throne to marry the newly divorced Simpson). To feel the great love of Madonna, we must give up only our taste and intelligence.

The title W./E. stands, of course, for Wallis and Edward. She dreamily writes the initials in lipstick on a mirror. On that same level of inspiration is the intercut story of a modern, Wallis-fixated woman also named Wallis. As Wally 2, Abbie Cornish (so fine in Bright Star) seems reduced to imitating minor Hollywood royalty: Ali MacGraw.

An American, she is married to William (Richard Coyle), a New York doctor. He is a medical saint but drinks too much, denies her sex, and beats her. With perfect kitsch symmetry, that ordeal echoes the savage beating of Wallis Simpson by her first husband (no, not O.J.). The modern Wallis dreams of producing a child as the past Wallis never could (Edward, as the Duke of Windsor, became her pouting, aging child and is played by James D’Arcy as a simpering fool for love).

Andrea Riseborough does a credible job as the famous Wallis, somewhat prettied up, brainy, catty, chic, a snob by pure ambition (during a youthful year in China she learned Mandarin only for “Boy, bring me champagne”). Auteur Madonna prefers to believe that she really didn’t want the scandal and marriage but could hardly reject Edward’s epic sacrifice. Well, what’s a go-gal gonna do? For decades, the Windsors were high-society bores in exile, their “great romance” sealed in a wax of vapid fame.

The script seems pulled from back issues of Vogue and Vanity Fair, gaping at power-black outfits, royal lawns, silver services, jewelry, and palatial hotels. There is a fly-by wink at the Windsor visit to Hitler and much more time for the prince’s royal visit to Welsh miners who greet him like Jesus. In the lamest wow, modern W. gets an E. of her own, Evgeni, a “Russian intellectual turned security guard” for (you guessed it!) Sotheby’s auction of the Windsor goodies. Poor Oscar Isaac, trying to be more than a boy-toy, is required to flash some butt when he sits down at the piano.

The best flush for this fluff turd is Noel Coward’s comment on the 1963 epic of Egypto bling, Cleopatra: “A monument to vulgarity.” W./E. makes The King’s Speech seem more witty, nuanced, and humane than ever. They make a perfect contrast.


Safe House *

Denzel Washington is still a dominator. With a smile or the chill charm of the line “I am your house guest,” he owns the story, the movie, the audience. The trouble is, we are all still stuck with the movie Safe House.

The hero role goes to Ryan Reynolds, who is decent but lightweight. As Matt, he is bored running a CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Boredom ends with the unexpected arrival of Tobin Frost (Washington). Frost is a genius of ruthlessness, a fabled CIA agent gone rogue, now selling for many millions a tiny cyber file that incriminates about half of the world’s spy agencies. To hide it, he needles the thing into his leg (infection is never an issue).

Frost “rewrote the book on interrogation,” but director Daniel Espinosa is not about to rewrite the book (or comic book) of standard action pictures. He shows some waterboarding, yet torture just blends into the amorphously morbid indictment of all secret government procedures. He works up some competitive bonding between Matt and Frost, but that gets pulverized by the zeal to feed viewers their adrenaline pellets every few minutes: chases, crashes, maulings, a woman trampled at a soccer stadium, a huge (fake) explosion. Villains are disposable, treachery is pervasive, and good actors (Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades) are plot dots with familiar faces.

Both the story and the action sprees defy close examination. They are so juiced and looped and crazed for quick payoff that we can shut down our minds and become Pavlovian eyeballs. A nice, humane moment over a bottle of wine is soon shattered by gunfire. The Great Debaters wasn’t bad, but it has been way too long since a first-rate Washington movie. The waste of a great talent fits this film’s cynicism.

Reviewed in the movie capsules: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, The Secret World of Arrietty, This Means War.

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monaghan Feb. 15, 2012 @ 5:53 p.m.

In overrated "Pina" the best move is when a woman dancer dives headfirst through the outstretched encircled arms of a male counterpart, sort of a slam-dunk-with-humans. Otherwise, the movie is an expensive cure for insomnia at $14 for oldsters.

AMC La Jolla 12 also has posted a sign about intent to sell alcoholic beverages, which could be an omen that management may be going to transform the place into one of those high-priced barcalounger dinner theaters that have been proliferating in North County.That would be a shame.


David Elliott Feb. 16, 2012 @ 4:24 p.m.

Monaghan, You saw "Pina"and then remembered a good stunt. No, a terrific dance movie was not for you, only for those "oldsters" (and youngsters) who relish how an artist's inventive 3-D salute to another artist can combine two arts (dance, film) beautifully.

As to the AMC La Jolla 12, can alcohol keep that pleasant plex afloat? My feeling is that booze and movies, like booze and driving, don't really mix. However, I admit that a bottle of Scotch, plus a Green Goddess salad and slab of meat, would enhance any viewing of "The Oscar."


knowitall Feb. 19, 2012 @ 10:16 a.m.

dear reader, i would like to apply for a position as a movie critic. like your current critic, i have no real credentials for the position. this seems to be the only qualification for the job. however, unlike your current critic, i will actually go and see the movies i critique, rather than regurgitating the reviews of other critics i googled - unless it is a foreign or art film, in which case i will defer to your current critic to praise and lift on high, regardless of how unviewable it is, as he seems needful of constantly proving how superior his knowledge and acumen is compared to we mere mortals. instead, i will give an accounting of films based on what 99% of us go to a movie for: to be entertained!

in lieu of hiring me you might consider including the following guide as part of your review section:

our critic gave it a black dot = you will probably like it. our critic gave it 3 or 4 stars = you will probably hate it. our critic gave it 1 or 2 stars = he probably never saw it and is relying on other reviews he read online.


Duhbya Feb. 19, 2012 @ 2:05 p.m.

Hey, look - another "drive-by" poster! Is that burning odor coming from the grinding of an ax? Disagree with Mr. Elliott's reviews as you please, but do not question his credentials if you are unaware of them. Why don't you consider submitting a freelance "knowitall" review for consideration?


SurfPuppy619 Feb. 19, 2012 @ 7:43 p.m.

Why don't you consider submitting a freelance "knowitall" review for consideration?

OK, I will second Duhbya's motion


knowitall Feb. 19, 2012 @ 4:01 p.m.

thank you, duh, for your primer on how NOT to use idioms, your stern and fatherly lecture("i reprimand because i care")and your suggestion.

i'm only guessing here but i think that odor you detect may be synapse misfires.

unlike the rest of your "knee jerk" response, your(one and only) valid point about submitting my own reviews seems genuine enough, but i'm afraid it would cut too deeply into my "download internet porn" time to warrant much of a commitment on a purely volunteer basis.


SurfPuppy619 Feb. 19, 2012 @ 7:47 p.m.

Now Children, no fighting on the blog, I do enough of that to cover for EVERYONE!

BTW the knowitall profile pic of Rat Bolger is awesome!


Duhbya Feb. 20, 2012 @ 6:24 a.m.

You are most welcome, kia, and I commend you on the "duh" notation, inspired as it was. Please accept my apology regarding the "drive-by" crack, as it appears you'll soon be promoted to the prolific pile. Having recently undergone a painful and costly synapse bypass, I guess your guess was just a guess. I took the liberty of having the ashes analyzed, and apparently the offending bouquet was caused by the untimely demise of your keyboard's caps key. (They mentioned that the space bar was on its last jabs, too) Keep on pornin', you tonguein' sheik! Merely mortally yours, Duhb (a.k.a. The Knee Jerk Kid)


knowitall Feb. 19, 2012 @ 8:28 p.m.

lol, sure thing surf!

gotta love ray bolger, and i figured the scarecrow ("if i only had a brain")was a good choice of avatar to go with my arrogant profile moniker (which is meant to be tongue-in-cheek).

always enjoy reading your clever and insightful comments in the reader!


knowitall Feb. 20, 2012 @ 9:10 a.m.

duhb, i am, at the same time, humbled and inspired by the eloquence and adroitness of your reply! proof positive that the agony (both physical and financial)of said bypass was a sacrifice not undertaken in vain!

i cannot accept your apology, however.(though i do gratefully acknowledge and accept its intent) my reason for NOT accepting it is twofold: a)it was pretty funny. and b)as a "newbie" i should expect and certainly be willing to appreciate a bit of good natured ribbing from wily veterans such as yourself.

i hope the analysis of those ashes was not too much of a bother and i am now indebted to you for your kindness. in all candor though, i must confess that the blame for the lack of "caps," falls squarely at the feet of the keyboard's operator. in my defense i can only offer that it is my way of rebelling against "the man/woman."(equality)and all his/her "then/than," "its/it's," "your/you're rules" that shackle and repress those of us that didn't pay attention in composition class because karen dunlap sat right in front of us and she was the cutest girl in school and smelled like strawberries and petiole oil and who can focus on grammar when every fiber of your recently pubescent body wonders what it would be like to... uh, sorry... what was i talking about?

"tonguein' sheik" haha! well played! i bow to you, sir!


Duhbya Feb. 20, 2012 @ 12:55 p.m.

"Trucing begins in 5 minutes", to paraphrase Governo....er, President(!!)Raygun. Truth be known, my over-the-top protective frothing (hey, "knee jerk" DOES sound better) had nothing to do with Mr. Elliott's literary prowess, but everything to do with his championing the restoration of the Loma Theater to its former glory. I mean, that place holds a ton of sacred memories for me. Like the time Becky Anderson and I saw "Old Yeller" there. Actually, she did all the yelling after I pulled the "popcorn surprise" gag. Now ya got ME doing it!! Bowing back, Jack.


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