Pick Of The Week: New

Paul Williams Still Alive (Virgil Films)
Let’s get one big fat caveat out of the way first: Stephen Kessler, the director of Paul Williams Still Alive, goes the Michael Moore/Morgan Spurlock route and inserts himself into this otherwise inspiring documentary about songwriter/actor/professional celebrity Paul Williams. Kessler is a huge distraction, hectoring his subject relentlessly when he isn’t manufacturing drama where it doesn’t exist. But Williams is a gem of a human being, sweet and self-deprecating, and Kessler succeeds in piecing together a life lived in the spotlight. Williams’ inability to say “no” to anything leads to some wild revelations, like how readily he could go from the career highlight of collecting an Oscar with Barbra Streisand for “Evergreen,” the love theme from A Star Is Born, to jumping out of an airplane for Circus Of The Stars. The DVD extras are skimpy, however, with five brief song clips from concerts Kessler photographed on the road.


Pick Of The Week: Retro

The Ballad Of Narayama (Criterion)
Not to be confused with the (also excellent) 1983 version by Shohei Imamura, Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1958 drama The Ballad Of Narayama plays on the same popular Japanese folk tale about a village that takes drastic measures to manage its scarce resources. When its residents reach their 70th birthday, they’re carried to the top of Mount Narayama and left there to die. The Ballad Of Narayama follows an aging woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) who spends her final days setting her affairs in order, including pairing her widowed son with a new wife. Kinoshita shoots the film kabuki-style, on sets that make no pretense to naturalism, and the effect is strikingly colorful and vivid. The sparse extras include trailers and a helpful liner-notes essay by Philip Kemp.

Don’t Break The Seal

Alex Cross (Lionsgate)
The film adaptations of Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider, based on James Patterson’s Alex Cross books, were no great shakes, but Morgan Freeman’s presence as Cross at least lent them some air of dignity. Casting a non-drag Tyler Perry in the Freeman role represents a fatally steep drop for Alex Cross, a ludicrous cat-and-mouse thriller torpedoed by some of the most unfortunate casting decisions in recent memory. Perry actually fares better than Lost’s Matthew Fox, who wildly overplays his serial-killer adversary, and Edward Burns, who sleepwalks his way through yet another supporting role as Perry’s partner. Extras include a commentary track by director Rob Cohen, deleted scenes, and a making-of documentary.


What else?

Flight (Paramount)
Robert Zemeckis’ return to live-action filmmaking after a decade squandered in motion-capture animation is mostly a triumph, save for its notably on-the-nose music cues. The storytelling is crisp, the supporting performances (by Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and John Goodman) are aces, and Denzel Washington provides a strong anchor as a pilot whose brilliant crash landing reveals the depth of his alcohol addiction.

Peter Pan (Disney)
It seems like all classic early Disney films have some unfortunate racist sequence to contend with, from the crows in Dumbo to great swaths of Song Of The South, so enjoying Peter Pan means putting up with “What Makes The Red Man Red,” an unctuous treatment of Native Americans. The movie around it is mostly wonderful.


Cabaret (BD) (Warner)
The 40th anniversary of Bob Fosse and Liza Minnelli’s triumph about the thriving Kit Kat Club in the pre-war Berlin of 1931 brings a features-loaded Blu-ray set, with a commentary track, interviews, featurettes, and a “Digibook” full of behind-the-scenes information. Review to come soon.

Here Comes The Boom (Sony)
When the dire Kevin James vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop became an unexpected breakout hit, it seemed like there was no stopping this exceedingly mild comic juggernaut. But James has revealed himself to be all-too-mortal since, and Here Comes The Boom, an inspirational comedy that casts him as a middle-aged teacher who takes up MMA fighting, tanked at the box office.

Deadfall (Magnolia)
An Olympic boxer turned convict (Charlie Hunnam). A casino-robber (Eric Bana) and his sister (Olivia Wilde). A small-town deputy (Kate Mara) and her sheriff father (Treat Williams). A couple (Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek) waiting for their son’s Thanksgiving visit. All of these elements come together in the coincidence-packed thriller Deadfall, but according to The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray, “the pieces fit together too neatly.”


Celeste And Jesse Forever (Sony)
Rashida Jones co-writes and stars in this indie romantic comedy about a Type-A personality (Jones) who shares a complicated relationship with her soon-to-be-ex husband (Andy Samberg). The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray finds Jones’ talent as an actress currently outstrips her abilities as a screenwriter: “[The script aims] for an offhandedness in the interactions that instead comes off as contrived, or sometimes just bland.”

A Late Quartet (Fox)
If Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Catherine Keener made a movie together, would it make a sound? Apparently not, based on A Late Quartet’s curiously muted reception, but The A.V. Club’s Sam Adams found a lot to like about a string quartet that falls to pieces after 25 years of playing together as an ensemble. Says Mr. Adams: “It’s a pleasure to watch [Hoffman and Keener] as a long-married couple, peeling back the layers of pain and love, trying to discover what, if anything, still binds them together.”

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (E1)
The documentary world certainly has no shortage of profiles about icons in the fashion world, but critics were kind to Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, a 90-minute tour through the life of the tastemaker who discovered Twiggy, advised Jackie Onassis, and edited Harper’s Bazaar for 25 years before moving on to Vogue.


Side By Side (Tribeca)
The unstoppable trend toward digital filmmaking and projection has left many celluloid devotees questioning whether the new technology is good or bad for the medium. Director Chris Kenneally’s documentary dispatches Keanu Reeves to question some of film’s biggest directors and camerapersons to gauge their opinions on the matter, including James Cameron, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Soderbergh. The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray approves, admiring “how comprehensive it is in documenting how the art form changed.”

Toys In The Attic (Hannover House)
Despite an English voice cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Joan Cusack, and Cary Elwes, the latest from Czech stop-motion animator Jirí Barta barely received a theatrical release last year. Now on video, Toys In The Attic seems ripe for rediscovery, offering a darker twist on Toy Story’s premise of playthings coming to life when no one is looking.