Quite a few openings this week, although it seems like 10-plus new movies is becoming the norm these days. (At least there's no big film festival to distract you from the regular ol' cinema at the moment.) In the spirit of efficiency I did a combo-platter review of sci-fi chiller Europa Report; Johnnie To's latest, Drug War; Tenebre, a 1982 Dario Argento giallo that's screening at the Roxie tonight; and doc Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector, which plays the Balboa. Also at length, Dennis Harvey takes a look at Shirley Clarke's freshly restored 1967 doc Portrait of Jason, also screening at the Roxie.
The Artist and the Model The horror of the blank page, the raw sensuality of marble, and the fresh-meat attraction of a new model — just a few of the starting points for this thoughtful narrative about an elderly sculptor finding and shaping his possibly finest and final muse. Bedraggled and homeless beauty Mercè (Aida Folch) washes up in a small French town in the waning days of World War II and is taken in by a kindly woman (Claudia Cardinale), who seems intent on pleasantly pimping her out as a nude model to her artist husband (Jean Rochefort). As his former model, she knows Mercè has the type of body he likes — and that she's capable of restoring his powers, in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. Yet this film by Fernando Trueba (1992's Belle Époque) isn't that kind of movie, with those kinds of models, especially when Mercè turns out to have more on her mind than mere pleasure. Done up in a lustrous, sunlit black and white that recalls 1957's Wild Strawberries, The Artist and the Model instead offers a steady, respectful, and loving peek into a process, and unique relationship, with just a touch of poetry. (1:41) (Kimberly Chun)
Blue Exorcist: The Movie Though it's spawned from Kazue Kato's manga-turned-TV-series, familiarity with the source material is not necessary to enjoy Blue Exorcist: The Movie's supernatural charms. Set in True Cross Academy Town — named for the Hogwarts-ish school of exorcism at its center — the film opens with a folk tale about an adorable demon that wrecked an entire town by turning all of its inhabitants into lazy slackers. The creature was eventually captured, but nobody knows where it's been hiding — until boyish exorcist-in-training Rin, half-demon himself, encounters a suspiciously adorable critter while chasing yet another demon, this one huge and prone to damaging city blocks (and cracking open things that should remain sealed in the process). Trouble ahead! Blue Exorcist does contain some yep-this-is-anime moments (there's a powerful female exorcist ... who wears a tiny bikini top that barely contains her enormous bazongas), but it's mostly fun fantasy, with a sly sense of humor ("Let's put a beatdown on these Tokyo demons!") and some endearingly flawed heroes. (1:28) Four Star. (Cheryl Eddy)
In a World... Lake Bell (Childrens Hospital, How to Make It in America) writes, directs, and stars in this comedy about a women who sets her sights on a career in movie-trailer voiceovers. (1:33)
Jobs With the upcoming Aaron Sorkin adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography nipping at its heels, Jobs feels like a quickie — true to Silicon Valley form, someone realized that the first to ship can end up defining the market. But as this independent biopic goes for each easy cliché and facile cinematic device, you can practically hear Steve Jobs himself spinning in the ether somewhere. Ashton Kutcher as Jobs lectures us over and over again about the virtues of quality product, but little seemed to have penetrated director Joshua Michael Stern as he distracts with a schmaltzy score (he should have stuck to Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, and era-defining AOR), and relies on corny slow-motion to dramatize the passing of a circuit board. The fact that Kutcher might be the best thing here — he clearly throws himself into impersonating the Apple icon, from his intense, upward-glancing glare to his hand gestures — says a bit about the film itself, as it coasts on its self-made man-captain of enterprise narrative arc. Dispensing with much about the man Jobs became outside of Apple, apart from a few nods to his unsavory neglect of friends and offspring, and simply never acknowledging his work at, say, Pixar, Jobs, in the end, comes off as a lengthy infomercial for the Cupertino heavyweight. (2:02) (Kimberly Chun)
Kick-Ass 2 Even an ass-kicking subversive take on superherodom runs the risk of getting its rump tested, toasted, roasted — and found wanting. Too bad the exhilaratingly smarty-pants, somewhat mean-spirited Kick-Ass (2010), the brighter spot in a year of superhero-questioning flicks (see also: Super), has gotten sucker-punched in all the most predictable ways in its latest incarnation. Dave, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and Mindy, otherwise known as Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), are only half-heartedly attempting to live normal lives: they’re training on the sly, mostly because Mindy’s new guardian, Detective Marcus Williams (Morris Chestnut), is determined to restore her childhood. Little does he realize that Mindy only comes alive when she pretends she’s battling ninjas at cheerleader tryouts — or is giving her skills a workout by unhanding, literally and gleefully, a robber. Kick-Ass is a little unnerved by her semi-psychotic enthusiasm for crushing bad guys, but he’s crushing, too, on Mindy, until Marcus catches her in the Hit-Girl act and grounds her in real life, where she has to deal with some really nasty characters: the most popular girls in school. So Kick-Ass hooks up with a motley team of would-be heroes inspired by his example, led Colonel Stars and Stripes (an almost unrecognizable Jim Carrey), while old frenemy Chris, aka Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) begins to find his real calling — as a supervillain he dubs the Motherfucker — and starts to assemble his own gang of baddies. Unlike the first movie, which passed the whip-smart wisecracks around equally, Mintz-Plasse and enabler-bodyguard Javier (John Leguizamo) get most of the choice lines here. Otherwise, the vigilante action gets pretty grimly routine, in a roof-battling, punch-’em-up kind of way. A romance seems to be budding between our two young superfriends, but let’s skip part three — I’d rather read about it in the funny pages. (1:43) (Kimberly Chun)
Lee Daniels' The Butler Forest Whitaker stars as the White House's longtime butler in this based-on-a-true-story tale, with the added bonus of some creative POTUS casting (John Cusack as Richard Nixon; Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan; Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower). (1:53)
Paranoia A young go-getter (Liam Hemsworth) gets drawn into the world of corporate espionage thanks to a feud between evil tech billionaires (Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman). (1:46)