New on DVD: I'm Still Here, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Eat Pray Love, The Expendables, Flipped, The Winning Season

(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, Ernest Hardy, Eric Hynes, Karina Longworth and Nick Pinkerton.)

I'm Still Here Directed by Casey Affleck, I'm Still Here purports to document Joaquin Phoenix's high-profile "retirement" from acting, his alleged attempt to transition into a hip-hop career, and his much-publicized meltdown. At the outset of the film, Phoenix describes his acting career as a "self-imposed prison," claiming frustration with his lack of creative control and resentment over his obligation to maintain his celebrity persona. And so, after participating in a charity event, Phoenix gives a red-carpet reporter the "exclusive" news that this will be his last night as an actor--and proceeds to implode in a flurry of drugs, shitty rapping, and bizarre public appearances. Was this all staged?

The end credits more or less confirm I'm Still Here to be, if not a traditional work of fiction, then at least primarily a performance produced for cameras. But knowing that it was more invented than accidental raises more questions than it answers. In other words, the question of whether or not Phoenix and Affleck are fucking with us is easily settled; it's much harder to determine why they're fucking with us. And are they even fucking with us--the average viewer--or are they fucking with their fellow celebrities, who stand to feel the force of the less than flattering aspects of themselves in Phoenix's portrayal? At once deeply felt and devastatingly cynical, I'm Still Here's bone-dry satire is an apparent attack on the Hollywood machine, but it's so insidery, so vicious, that to the everyday consumer, it's just not clear why this stunt needed to exist. (K.L.)

Rated R 108 minutes

The Disappearance of Alice Creed

In suspense films about confinement, characters may be kidnapped or tortured, but the real captive is the viewer. We're stuck in our seats, powerless against manipulated time and repeated turnabouts, eager, or at least morbidly curious, participants. For all of its stylistic ambitions and cool triangulations, J Blakeson's debut does little to modify or interrogate the genre, eagerly trading on the spectacle of a young pretty girl tied up. Rhythmically and visually, Blakeson takes an economical, methodical approach, documenting the grim preparations of two kidnappers, Vic and Danny (Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston), from a place of chilly reserve. Their plan and process, which gradually, inevitably comes asunder, is the engine of suspense, recalling Hitchcock's

Rope

-- until a second-act reveal outdoes even the master's own psychosexual hysteria. Marsan scowls and spittles, Compston bares gleaming teeth for all occasions, and Gemma Arterton completes the trio by getting stripped, splayed, and degraded early and often. Blakeson's feature-length calling card has storyboarded austerity and sadomasochistic promise but in the end lets the game play out in a familiar flurry of double-crossings, two-timings, and false deaths, content to only fetishize itself.

(Eric Hynes)

Rated R 100 minutes

Eat Pray Love

Lusciously shot by Oscar winner Robert Richardson (

The Aviator

,

JFK

),

Eat Pray Love

delivers a sensory overload as intense as Inception's, but heavily calibrated to stir the hearts, loins, and tear ducts of women for whom love handles and spiritual bankruptcy are of equally pressing concern. Julia Roberts's Liz leaves behind flaky husband Billy Crudup and "Yonkers yogi" boy-toy James Franco to embark on a year-long solo walkabout, with stops in Italy, India, and Bali. Writer/director Ryan Murphy keeps emotional currents bubbling on the surface, serving up near-constant catharsis but hardly any arc--the title is a spoiler in three parts. As vicarious travelogue,

EPL

stumbles by flattening its loaded locations into (beautifully photographed) set dressing. Politics and economics hardly exist; each place is populated chiefly by wise exotics who talk funny (including Richard Jenkins's Texan in the ashram) and exist solely to spout slogans and tell stories that make Liz's problems seem small: "Believe in love again!" "Americans know entertainment, but not pleasure!" "It won't last forever--nothing does!" Liz's happily-ever-after hookup with hunky divorcé Javier Bardem should be

EPL

's glorious guilty-pleasure climax; instead, it's a rushed foregone conclusion. Though targeted at the same female filmgoers who flocked to the self-realization via food porn of

Julie and Julia

,

EPL

is a comparative downer, offering the rush of self-improvement without having to do any of the work. I cried. Mission accomplished?

(K.L.)

Upcoming Events

Rated PG-13 133 minutes

 

The Expendables

"If the money's right, we don't care where the job is." So explains the leader of hired-gun task force The Expendables, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone). This credo lands Ross and his team (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews in "The Carl Weathers Memorial Role") in the Gulf of Aden as our story begins. Somali pirates staging a videotaped decapitation are pinned down by dancing laser sights--and soon, the baddies are ripped apart. A human trunk splats against the wall, and star/director/co-screenwriter Stallone slaps his cards on the table. Tipped by the presence of

Rocky IV

nemesis Lundgren and cameo favors called in from Planet Hollywood,

The Expendables

is a throwback to '80s run-and-gun action, when Hollywood gym rats made boffo box office depopulating Third World countries. Pirates liquidated, the Expendables' next mission concerns the fate of the South American nation of Vilena, where Generalissimo Garza grinds the populace beneath his iron heel. Garza is torn between his imperialist backers (Eric Roberts and bodyguard "Stone Cold" Steve Austin) and his idealistic daughter. As in Stallone's last

Rambo

, where a good-hearted Christian woman resurrected John Rambo's wrath to the woe of the Burmese junta, the daughter's vague Hope gives the Expendables a purpose. Though

Expendables

does not have that

Rambo

's . . . let us call it focus, it tries manfully to top that film's kill-'em-all climax. If

The Expendables

is no classic, for about 20 minutes, it blowed up real good.

(N.P.)

Rated R 103 minutes

Flipped

You'll be forgiven for groaning through the first 20 minutes of Rob Reiner's

Flipped

, which kicks off in a key of aggressively picturesque whiteness -- I mean, wholesomeness. Adapted by Reiner and Andrew Scheinman from Wendelin Van Draanen's novel, and set in a late-'50s America rooted more in that era's sitcoms than reality, the film's coming-of-age love story follows its hero and heroine from second grade to junior high. Juli (Madeline Carroll, excellent) loves Bryce (Callan McAuliffe, also excellent) from the moment his family moves in across the street. Bryce, terrified of Juli's forthrightness, masks his terror behind asshole behavior that worsens with puberty. Until those pangs of true love hit him. Narrated by both young characters,

Flipped

alternates p.o.v. to show how each interprets the same situations. The film settles into its hard-sell charm when it and Bryce segue from being dishearteningly dismissive of Juli as a stalker turned crazed eco-activist (foreshadowing '60s political upheaval) to celebrating her intrinsically principled decency. Bryce, meanwhile, struggles to shed an ideal of middle-class macho defined by his jerk father and reinforced by his best friend. Reiner, in very broad strokes, works in issues of poverty, thwarted dreams, and family obligation, and almost pulls it off, thanks to Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca De Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Mahoney, who impart humor and humanity to thinly sketched characters.

(Ernest Hardy)

Rated PG 90 minutes

The Winning Season

Bill (Sam Rockwell), a drunk, divorced dad and one-time hoops hero now busing tables in a grim Hoosier town, is approached by high school principal Terry (Rob Corddry) to lead the pathetic girls' varsity-basketball team. Avoiding all the aggressive emotional manipulation of his previous

Grace Is Gone

(2007), writer-director James C. Strouse's

The Winning Season

respects its misfits (and its audience) by not stripping away their foibles in the service of sports-movie cliches. A runty Walter Matthau, Rockwell greets his multiracial squad with boozy, bed-headed scorn. Yet his inevitable transformation to decent guy and devoted coach feels earned, not forced, and is largely the result of his charges' persistent, never bratty or precocious, demand that he do better by them (a true Title IX triumph). Though not every attempt to include real-world struggles within the confines of a basketball comedy works -- a well-intentioned subplot about same-sex feelings goes nowhere --

The Winning Season

still admirably addresses the woes and regrets of too-early parenthood and the hazards of being a teenage girl. When player Abbie (Emma Roberts, excellent), being raised by her granny and new to dating, asks Coach, "What makes a guy a jerk?," it's clear that the question has long been on Strouse's mind, too.

(M.A.)

Rated PG-13 119 minutes


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >