The band's all here: Alexander, Browning, and Murray.Amplify Films

The band's all here: Alexander, Browning, and Murray.Amplify Films

Opening ThisWeek The Drop Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Sundance

Opening
ThisWeek

The Drop

Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Sundance Cinemas and other theaters. Rated R. 104 minutes.

The easiest knock against The Drop is that it operates in an overexposed milieu: current urban American crime. It’s hard to pump something new into this world, but the film succeeds because of its rich attention to detail and a Dennis Lehane script with a surplus of tasty dialogue. Lehane, the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, adapted the screenplay from his short story “Animal Welfare.” Two initially unrelated incidents make the plot go: the rescue of a wounded dog and the closing-time robbery of a Brooklyn tavern called Cousin Marv’s. The bar’s mild-mannered, mind-my-own-business bartender, Bob Saginowsi (Tom Hardy, late of Locke), is walking home one night when he hears the pathetic mewling of an abandoned pit bull. The abused dog is on the property of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and these two strangers strike up a friendship around the dog; it is just possible they might be interested in each other. The robbery, meanwhile, puts hapless Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) in a tight spot; he’s already lost ownership of the bar to Chechen gangsters, who would really like their stolen money back. They play rough.

We surmise early on that not all is as it seems, and the storyline has some effective revelations along the way. But the painting of a culture is the real draw here; not only are Lehane’s underworld denizens unable to escape, it doesn’t even occur to them to imagine escaping. (The one exception is Marv’s sister, played by Compliance star Ann Dowd, who touchingly nurtures some vague idea of seeing Europe someday.) Bullhead director Michael R. Roskam has his actors sunk into this defeated world: Rapace (of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies) gives her best English-language performance yet; and Hardy’s soft-spoken turn is another step on the road for this eerie actor. Slipping his English accent seamlessly into American gangsterese, Hardy overtly pilfers from the De Niro playbook, but mostly he creates a lived-in character. Matthias Schoenaerts (Marion Cotillard’s partner in Rust and Bone) is formidable as a neighborhood creep, and John Ortiz squeezes unexpected moments from the cop role. Gandolfini, of course, owns this turf, and the late actor goes out strong—he can suggest a lifetime’s frustration just by the way he shoulders his bulk out of a car.

Such behavioral niceties, and Lehane’s ear for street talk, keep The Drop rooted in its concrete jungle. Robert Horton

God Help the Girl

Runs Fri., Sept. 12–Thurs., Sept. 18 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Not rated. 111 minutes.

If the music of Stuart Murdoch’s indie-pop band Belle and Sebastian is like the Smiths filtered through a rainbow, his film debut is like Lars von Trier on happy pills. His musical about a troubled young woman in gloomy Scotland is like some twee mashup of Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark. Yet unlike those idiosyncratic films, or the fanciful songs of Belle and Sebastian, God Help the Girl is cliched and bumbling, a coming-of-age tale as awkward as its characters.

The film’s central figure is Eve (Emily Browning), a stunning young woman struggling with anorexia whom we meet at a Glasgow hospital. Though she’s quite sick, she’s also an irrepressible music lover. Her pretty face and mod style attracts admirers when she breaks out of her ward, which is often. She meets handsome rocker Anton (Pierre Boulanger) and shy songwriter James (Olly Alexander), becoming close to the latter and his friend Cassie (Hannah Murray). Those three form a band, while Eve sees Anton romantically on the side.

The crowd-sourced God Help the Girl features 28 Murdoch songs, many familiar from his side project of the same name. Some are performed by the film’s cast; others are re-recorded or remixed versions of originals; and it’s this cobbled-together soundtrack that gives the movie a rehashed, jerky feeling. The aesthetic is further muddled by a similarly patchwork plot and a variable cast of young, largely unknown performers given little direction by the neophyte filmmaker.

Ultimately, we never really come to know Eve. Instead she remains a porcelain doll in Murdoch’s precious vision,with her friends merely enablers—always there to worry over her, praise her talent, glorify her looks. Her eating disorder is portrayed less as a real disease than as a routine symptom of sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, etc. When Eve abruptly leaves her promising band and slowly stabilizing life to attend music school in London, you can’t help but sense tough times ahead for her. That part of the story will happen off-camera, of course, and you can bet it won’t be set to music. Gwendolyn Elliott

PJealousy

Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 77 minutes.

In the opening scene of Jealousy, a relationship comes to an end. Shaggy-haired actor Louis (Louis Garrel) is leaving his girlfriend Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) as their young daughter Charlotte looks on. The moment isn’t hugely original, or even especially dramatic. It’s a thing that has to happen, and everyone knows it, and each person’s reaction is honored. Then we move on—but everything that happens after depends on this sequence. Louis goes to live with his new lover Claudia (Anna Mouglalis, the Chanel from the dreary Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky), herself an actress, albeit one who mysteriously hasn’t worked in six years. The design of veteran director Philippe Garrel (Louis is his son) takes all of this situation’s developments in stride—sometimes literally, as he likes walking scenes—as though observation, not manipulation, is his primary interest.

It lacks the clocklike inner workings of movies devoted to storytelling, but Jealousy does a lot of things right. The melancholy black-and-white widescreen photography—actually shot on 35 mm film, not digital—comes courtesy of legendary Wings of Desire cinematographer Willy Kurant, and it sets exactly the right sad-in-Paris mood. Jean-Louis Aubert’s acoustic-guitar score is spare but soulful. The modest 77-minute running time is apt, given the general feeling of pages from a sketchbook being brought out for view. And the empathy for the characters is unflagging, especially whenever we visit Charlotte (Olga Milshtein), the child trying to sort out how to be with her mother and how to act around her father’s new companion.

In a fascinating Film Comment interview, Philippe has said that the film partly springs from his own childhood, when his father (actor Maurice Garrel) maintained a relationship with a woman who was not Philippe’s mother. Thus it’s no surprise that the scenes involving the little girl are especially lived-in; or that small details—a lollipop offered by Claudia as a token of friendship—take on large proportions. Characters talk about living life fully and deeply, the way they do in French films. (If characters in French films ever stop talking about this, I’m quitting.) It’s a testament to Philippe’s quiet style that these passionate feelings are crafted in a way that seems unassuming and unpretentious, but with grave consequences nonetheless. Robert Horton

The Last of Robin Hood

Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Seven Gables. 
Rated R. 90 minutes.

Career on the skids, unable to remember his lines, performing some kind of Broadway abridgement of Jane Eyre, a bloated, alcoholic Errol Flynn wanders about the stage, reading from cue cards in the wings. It’s a brief scene, and not a little sad: Flynn, once so handsome and charismatic, is clearly not much of an actor (and he knows it). But the actor playing Flynn in this May/December mediocrity can certainly command a stage: Kevin Kline. There’s a good joke in here, one of several suggested by the once-famous swashbucker’s notorious life, that falls flat in this underwritten movie. A first-rate actor playing a faded yet glamorous actor from an earlier Hollywood era—well, we’ve seen that before with Peter O’Toole in 1982’s My Favorite Year.

The Last of Robin Hood, unfortunately, is nowhere near so clever. To begin with, it goes the melodrama route in relating the true story of Flynn’s final romance with a teenager (Dakota Fanning), a relationship enabled by her alcoholic stage mother (Susan Sarandon). Beverly is 15 when Flynn spots her on the backlot in 1957, he 48 and two years away from a fatal heart attack. This is a love that clearly won’t last, and the film begins after Flynn’s death, its story skipping back and forth with Florence’s narration. (She’s being recorded for a tell-all memoir, the vodka bottle slowly draining as the tape unwinds, published in 1960.) Florence is half-deluded about Flynn deflowering her daughter, and half-seduced by the attention he pays her, too. Acting as pimp-chaperone gets her trips, liquor, and parties. Where’s the pathos in the mother, the desperation in the daughter, the wickedness in the star? The script never shows us, instead treating Florence to lines like “I didn’t want our lives turning from an A-picture to a B-movie.” Given that everyone here—stars and hangers-on—is part of the Hollywood dream factory, the results are surprisingly dull.

Filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceanera) are clearly in love with the late-’50s idea of fading Hollywood: midcentury modernist living rooms, constant cocktail swilling, and the jarring rise of TV and teen culture. But Mad Men and the underrated 2012 Hitchcock have captured that postwar period with far more bite. The Last of Robin Hood feels tame by comparison; it’s too much Stella Dallas, not enough John Waters. Huge opportunities are missed: Flynn actually made a pro-Castro movie with Beverly in Cuba, while fighting was still underway; and he even pitched Stanley Kubrick that he and Beverly star in Lolita ! These are the pearls of truth that Glatzer and Westmoreland fail to polish and embellish in a movie bound for future broadcast on Lifetime. Kline and Sarandon deserve better; though this is the best Florence and Beverly could’ve hoped for. As for Flynn, his unrepentant posthumous autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, is still in print—and still waiting to be filmed. Brian Miller

PLove Is Strange

Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Harvard Exit, Lincoln Square, and Sundance. 
Rated R. 93 minutes.

Of the titles from Hollywood’s golden age that aren’t broadly recognized as classics but really ought to be, Make Way for Tomorrow is on the short list—no arguments brooked. Leo McCarey, a director with a notable human touch, crafted this 1937 masterpiece from a simple story about two long-married folks forced to live apart when their money runs out and their grown children prove inept at compassionate problem-solving. This outline proves remarkably durable in Love Is Strange, a new film that finds an ingenious variation on the same story. Here, the couple has not been married long, but they’ve been together for 39 years; in fact, it’s the gift of their marriage that inadvertently causes the unwanted separation.

Meet Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), whose cohabitation stretches back long before same-sex marriage was a realistic goal. Their new legal bond means that music teacher George is fired by the Catholic school where he has long worked—everybody there likes him, but they have to obey their bylaws. Manhattan is sufficiently expensive that Ben and George have to give up their place, and financial complications dictate a few months of couch-surfing before they can settle. George moves in with tiresomely younger, hard-partying friends; Ben takes a bunk bed in the home of relatives Kate and Eliot (Marisa Tomei and Darren E. Burrows), who already have their hands full with an awkward teen son (Charlie Tahan). It’s one of those sad situations in which everybody generally means well, but things just aren’t working out. Tomei is excellent, for instance, at suggesting a writer who would really like some uninterrupted time in the middle of the day but doesn’t want to hurt Ben’s feelings when he settles in for a mid-afternoon confab with her. Director Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On), who has charted an intriguing course for himself through the indie world, is confident enough to leave out the expected big scenes and allow us to fill in the blanks.

The movie’s about a great deal more than gay marriage, if it is about that. It’s about how nobody has any time anymore; and how great cities have priced ordinary people out of living in them; and how long-nurtured dreams—Ben has been a serious but financially unsuccessful painter all his life—have to be gently refocused. And it’s certainly about, as Make Way for Tomorrow was, the way older people are casually shunted aside as though by some accepted ancient ritual. Lithgow avoids his hammier instincts and Molina underplays nicely as the more grounded half of the couple, but true to Sachs’ style, the movie isn’t designed as an actor’s showcase. We’re not supposed to notice the acting here—just the people. Robert Horton

The Man on Her Mind

Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Varsity. 
Not rated. 98 minutes.

Alan Hruska’s adaptation of his stage comedy has as its heroine a New York fiction editor, Nellie (Amy McAllister), whose brain has perhaps been poisoned by reading too many outlandish manuscripts from the slush pile. Hruska, with a background in law and publishing, is vague about Nellie’s work life, however; she’s basically a creature of her cramped, book-lined apartment, where she waits for her confident, expensively suited lover Jack (Samuel James) to arrive. It doesn’t take long for us to gather that Jack is not what he seems, and it’s at about that same point that Nellie’s suburban sister and brother-in-law (Georgia Mackenzie and Shane Attwool) attempt to stage an intervention. Jack’s not the man for you, they insist. What about Leonard—the guy we tried to set you up with?

That Leonard, a mysterious but affluent Long Island nebbish, is also played by James provides your first clue that Hruska is crossing genres here. There’s a bit of sitcom humor, a splash of Woody Allen’s bathwater, echoes of Aristophanes, the specter of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, and more than one doppelganger afoot. None of it holds together very well; instead of a play in three acts, it’s more like three unrelated one-acts that happen to share a cast. And about that cast: Though Hruska is a New Yorker, he originally staged this play in London, then filmed it here with the same four performers. Their accents apparently drowned during the Atlantic crossing, save for Mackenzie’s Five Towns vowels. (If you’re gonna go broad, go broad.)

Nellie’s overactive imagination—“I don’t like real”—is never fully explained; nor does her inheritance of her mother’s luxury apartment, where she won’t move in, satisfactorily mesh into the plot. Whenever Hruska’s script runs into a dead end, he simply cuts to the skyline and cues up a sappy ballad. As vanity productions go, this is pretty inoffensive stuff; you just wish it were smart enough to seize on one idea and really run with it. (If Nellie can have one dream lover, why not several?) The Man on Her Mind also suffers greatly by comparison to the current The One I Love, in which the fantastical elements finally congeal into a real parable of selfishness. That’s the kind of magic that Nellie ought to be publishing and Hruska filming. Too bad nobody wrote it for them. Brian Miller

A Master Builder

Opens Fri., Sept. 12 at Varsity. 
Not rated. 127 minutes.

There’s a built-in audience for the latest collaboration between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, given the widespread arthouse affection for My Dinner With Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street. I’m certainly part of that audience, though I’d rather have seen their rendition of Ibsen’s problematic play in the theater. But after 14 years of development, it was performed only a handful of times to invited audiences in Greenwich Village—then thriftily filmed by Jonathan Demme. So this is what we’ll have to take.

Gregory has only a few scenes as Brovik, the broken-down old draftsman who’s given his life to the controlling, ever-ambitious Solness (Shawn). In Shawn’s free imagining of the text, the usually vital Solness is on his sickbed, attended by nurses and many beeping medical machines. Though enfeebled, he still rules the household like a petulant toad, bullying his underlings (Jeff Biehl and Emily McDonnell) and wife (Julie Hagerty). Then the avid and possibly insane young Hilde (Lisa Joyce) inexplicably arrives, and Solness springs out of bed. Springs, I tell you!

If Solness then never leaves the house or changes out of his pajamas, that’s also an indication of how Shawn has relocated the play in the nether-space between Solness’ ears. He has a lifetime of regrets and misdeeds to consider, and Hilde becomes his spiritual guide—like Scrooge’s sole ghost (in sexy white hiking attire, no less). His mental state isn’t one of Trumpian hubris—he’s more of a developer than an architect—so much as “an awful state of uninterrupted anxiety.” Instead of being put to the rack, Solness is gently pushed to the couch. He’s more neurotic than malign. Even when confessing the possible arson-by-inattention of his wife’s beloved old house, he shrugs off the guilt like a bad order of borscht. Well, I didn’t want it anyway. I wasn’t even hungry.

While Shawn gives Solness a muffled, shifty kind of villainy, Joyce has been directed to go in the other direction; she shouts from every hilltop, and then some. By turns hysterical, girlish, teary, and seductive, this Hilde has less to do with Ibsen’s heightened naturalism than the demons of Solness’ conscience. In a different kind of stage tale, she’d be called a fury, a sprite, or an enchantress. And I’m not sure these two modes are compatible. Gregory and Shawn have knocked Solness off his pedestal (there’s your plot, essentially), made him more of a peevish, recognizable human of the early 21st century who might be sitting next to you on the subway. But Hilde clearly never rides the subway (a zephyr or a unicorn, maybe).

Perhaps what Gregory (as stage director) and Shawn (as writer) are trying to do is this: Take the autobiographical 1892 play’s biggest flaw, the implausible Solness/Hilde relationship, and exaggerate it, make it even bigger. There is no reconciling his brick-and-mortar egotism with her ethereal insistence; it can’t be done. Hilde may force amends on those around Solness, those who act in accordance with the normal laws of society, but Solness is not such a man. And for his final accounting, even if only in a fever-dream, it takes a creature of his own design. Brian Miller

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A delicate balance: Milshtein, Garrel, and Mouglalis.Distrib Films

A delicate balance: Milshtein, Garrel, and Mouglalis.Distrib Films