Director Alex Gibney is the Energizer Bunny of non-fiction filmmaking. He has made a dozen feature-length films in just the last three years. Biographical portraits of Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson, topical investigations into the Catholic church pedophilia scandals and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, profiles of the downfallen politicos Eliot Spitzer and Jack Abramoff. He’s got another movie in post-production on Lance Armstrong. Obviously, the guy likes to be first in, first out. But just like that wind-up bunny, his films tend to jump around erratically and repeat the same ideas before running out of steam. His latest, We Steal Secrets:The Story of WikiLeaks, is a perfect example of this.
In the documentary Stories We Tell, director Sarah Polley invites us into her cinematic scrapbook of home movies and family interviews with a playful, warm embrace. The film is both a memoir about her mother and a meta-commentary on the process of making a movie about memory. Beginning with a disarming montage of relatives settling down on chairs and couches for interviews, admitting their shyness and asking Polley if anyone really should care about their family history, the movie immediately establishes a non-threatening atmosphere of trust and familiarity. The story being told here may be unremarkable, but Polley’s deft command of structure, film formats and dramatic layering is polished enough to invite our intimacy. Her honesty is so genuine that when a third act revelation comes along, a revelation not in the story being told but in the method used to tell the story, it has the potential to destroy nearly all the goodwill the film has accumulated up to that point.
The southern end of the Mississippi River is both setting and central metaphor of Mud, the new film from writer-director Jeff Nichols. Wide and deep, freighted with history and sensual possibilities, the river moves deliberately and patiently towards a predictable destination. Rather than make excuses for the literal connections, Nichols embraces the slow linearity of the Mississippi to tell a straightforward yet ungainly tale of two boys navigating the treacherous courses of love, trust, and betrayal.
The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise re-unites for Star Trek Into Darkness, the umpteenth reiteration of the immortal juggernaut, a never-say-die franchise lucky enough to be rebooted four years ago in this age of the continually recycled blockbuster. Think 2012’s The Amazing Spider Man or the upcoming Man of Steel. No fresh ideas? No problem. Just wait for the next crop of 10-year old boys to come along and start all over again. A decade from now the current cast of actors in Star Trek Into Darkness will almost certainly be reprising their roles in cameos for a brand new take on the original 1966 TV series which, let us all remember, ran for a brief three years. Funny thing is though, the characters established by creator Gene Roddenberry and embodied by Shatner, Nimoy, et al. a half century ago, now in the capable, careful hands of director J.J. Abrams (born the year the series debuted), still pulse with the same inimitable esprit de corps. Even for the laziest of Trekkies, there is an irresistible chemistry to this band of principled, prickly space pioneers that manually overrides any computer-generated apocalypse standing in their way.
Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby might be the answer to every high school teacher’s annual dilemma of how to keep a sleep-deprived sophomore awake long enough to make it to the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic: require them to read it aloud at the top of their lungs while listening to rapper Jay-Z at full volume, trade the classroom in for an amusement park Tilt-a-Whirl, allow them to binge on martinis and, for that 3-D effect, throw copies of the novel in their faces. This, at least, is Luhrmann’s strategy for the first forty minutes of the film, to fire a dizzying arsenal of computer-generated tricks at you–a multi-layered assault of superimpositions, rocketing pans and tilts and dolly shots, an editing scheme delivered via machine gun–that leaves you breathless, distracted, and uneasy. But just when you’re thinking of fleeing the google-plex to go home and curl up with the dog-eared comforts of the printed “Gatsby,” something unexpected happens. Jay visits Nick in his garden, the cacophony is silenced, at least intermittently, and gradually Fitzgerald’s unerring ear and eye for the crushed and sodden dreams of the lost generation are given their due, thanks in part to Baz Luhrmann’s faithful, fan-boy love of the material.
The idea that youth is wasted on the young appears not to have crossed director Olivier Assayas’ mind in his latest film, Something in the Air, a tender-hearted autobiography centered around a group of teenagers in 1971 Paris who fully embrace the independence and unapologetic idealism their innocence and privilege affords them. They would like to be revolutionaries, but beyond spray-painting the walls of their high school, throwing rocks at police, and printing flyers in underground collectives, their passion for anarchy is muted by the competing desires of art, sex, travel and the need to earn money. In other words, they are so busy being young and carefree, drifting from experience to experience, they have no time for the demands of rebellion.
Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep is as sturdy and comfortable as an old favorite pair of slippers, the ones you’ll wear around the house but not in public. The movie is a bit old-fashioned, a little slow, somewhat pointless and mildly entertaining. In other words, it’s hard to recommend without including a string of qualifiers, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Redford may be past his ability to make a film as fine-tuned and centered as his great Quiz Show, one of the signature films of the ‘90s, or as tightly wound as his 1980 debut, Ordinary People, but as with those two pictures, The Company You Keep is consistently professional. It also features a roster of actors only an icon such as Redford could gather together for one film.