Safety Not Guaranteed tells the story of Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a bored intern at a Seattle magazine. While researching a human interest story about Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a scientist/ store clerk who has placed a newspaper ad looking for a companion to accompany him into the future, Darius finds herself learning valuable life lessons about trust, loss, hope and, of course, love.
In cinema, children generally represent wisdom. Their innocence suggests a mind and spirit that has not yet been polluted by anger, disappointment, jealousy, greed, bitterness or any of the other flaws and foibles that accumulate as we turn the corner from adolescence to adulthood.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, by British director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), is a “hands across the water” movie flavored with large doses of “there’ll always be an England” pluck. It culminates in a warm and thoughtful look at our innate ability to rediscover unexplored strengths within ourselves even on the last few miles of life’s journey.
The Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc, are known for their low-key, plot-light, character-heavy tales of survival, usually played out in a small Belgian town that serves as their spiritual microcosm and often focused on the struggles of children to make it to adulthood in one piece. The Kid with a Bike, which won a top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, continues down this path, though Dardenne purists may find fault with the film’s upbeat conclusion, a contrast to the harsher endings of their earlier efforts.
A Separation is a highly ambitious piece of work. It successfully tackles a range of topics and themes, from class, religion and gender to pride, guilt and justice. It is a tale that appears uniquely Iranian but quickly transcends physical and spiritual borders to portray the difficulty of doing the right thing under difficult, even life-threatening circumstances.
Undefeated is a solid piece of filmmaking that is also too little too late. The Oscar-winning documentary by Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin concerns the travails of a high school football team in a poor black neighborhood of North Memphis that overcomes years of futility thanks in large part to a white volunteer coach who inspires them to believe in themselves both on and off the field.
Albert Nobbs's journey from page to stage to screen has been long and bumpy. Simone Benmussa adapted a short story by Irish writer George Moore into the play The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs; this was then nearly made into a film by the celebrated Hungarian director Istvan Szabo. The fact that the project was still alive and kicking in 2011 is due, in large part, to the determination of Glenn Close.
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Carnage plays out entirely in a New York City apartment, where two couples are trying to deal with a playground incident involving their 11-year-old sons, one of whom struck the other in the mouth with a stick. In the process, the film—directed and coscripted by Roman Polanski, based on Yasmina Reza's play God of Carnage—peels back the skin of each supposedly caring parent, revealing the person beneath the civilized facade.
The primary reason to immerse yourself in the jagged world of We Need to Talk About Kevin is the towering lead performance by Tilda Swinton, an actress of continuing spontaneity who traveled a circuitous route through experimental and art cinema before embarking on a second career in the mainstream.
Judging by the ads, you might think that this tale of a former high school prom queen who returns to her small Minnesota town to reclaim her old boyfriend is a light story filled with big yucks and a happy ending. But director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody are serving up a dark story about wasted lives and shattered dreams that coyly takes a few cheap potshots at the clueless folks who populate a small town.
This first feature by writer-director Sean Durkin, a big hit at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, centers on an enigmatic character with a minimal backstory. Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a 22-year-old who has spent the past two years living in a cult community in upstate New York.