Pick Of The Week: New
Back in 2004, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s haunting debut feature The Return heralded an emerging talent from Russia’s moribund film scene, and Elena, a masterful drama with Hitchcockian touches, delivers on that promise. Played by Nadezhda Markina, the Elena of the title appears resigned to a life of subservience, scuttling back and forth between a wealthy husband who treats her like the help and a tenement-bound family that expects too much from her. When her husband dies, her claim over the estate turns on his relationship with his estranged daughter, which leads to some crafty maneuvers on her part—and a subtle bid for the power she’s never had. Zvyagintsev stages the action in widescreen compositions as crisp as a winter’s day, slowly converting what begins as a domestic melodrama into high suspense. The DVD includes a 30-minute interview with Zvyagintsev and a making-of video on the excellent, Czech-influenced poster design.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Universal)
Keeping it real: The 10 films featured on Universal’s Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection are not all masterpieces, save maybe for entrenched auteurists who want to rally behind the likes of Torn Curtain, Topaz, and Family Plot. But this nicely packaged Blu-ray box set contains much of his best work, including the newly minted Sight & Sound poll winner Vertigo and other rarely disputed masterpieces like Psycho, North By Northwest, Shadow Of A Doubt, and The Birds. It also has fascinating experiments like his Freudian thriller Marnie and his pretty-much-one-take Rope, as well as The Man Who Knew Too Much, Saboteur, and Frenzy. If the $300 list price still seems too steep—and really, most retailers offer it at a big discount—each film comes with a wealth of special features, including commentaries, production photos, featurettes, trailers, and other goodies. (Though the bulk are on his most acclaimed films.) Consider it an early holiday gift—to yourself.
Don’t Break The Seal
Craigslist Joe (Gravitas)
Perpetuating the unfortunate Morgan Spurlockification of documentaries, Craigslist Joe has director Joseph Garner putting himself in front of the camera for a gimmick: Over 31 days, Garner vows to live (read: mooch) off Craigslist—his meals, lodging, odd jobs, and random activities will all be courtesy of the popular listings site. The idea isn’t a bad one: What’s it like to interact with anonymous stuff-posters IRL? Can the online community be made real? Yet Garner’s journey of self-discovery is just that—a chronicle of all the fun and edifying experiences that have changed him forever. There’s just precious little there for the rest of us.
The Campaign (Warner Bros.)
Not all political comedies are satires, but The Campaign was unfairly received as one and criticized for not having enough bite. Though the story of a smug John Edwards-type (Will Ferrell) running against the black sheep son (Zach Galifianakis) of a wealthy politician exposes the folly of campaign image-making and dirty tactics, it’s really more silly than savage.
Safety Not Guaranteed (Sony)
Eye-rolling specialist Aubrey Plaza stars in this no-budget science-fiction as a Seattle magazine intern who finds herself intrigued by an eye-rolling classified ad looking for a time-travel partner. The A.V. Club’s Sam Adams says the film “[substitutes] charm, and sometimes quirk, for special effects” and leans on Plaza and co-star Mark Duplass to make its slight premise resonate.
Ruby Sparks (Fox)
Collaborating with writer/co-star Zoe Kazan, Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have made the ultimate critique of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” archetype laid out by The A.V. Club’s own Nathan Rabin. Kazan appears as a possible muse/MPDG to a writer (Paul Dano) who finds himself searching for ideas for a decade-late follow-up to his hit debut novel. It all sounds adorable, but the fantasy relationship is more complicated than it seems.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Olive Films)
The late Sidney Lumet was a great director of actors and he never had a better cast than the one he assembled for Long Day’s Journey Into Night, his adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s classic play. Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell are both heartbreakingly good in early performances, but it’s Katherine Hepburn, as the dope-addicted wife of an alcoholic (Ralph Richardson), who surprises by proving as adept at tragedy as she was at comedy.
Copper: Season One (BBC)
Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the team behind the groundbreaking Homicide: Life On The Street, lend their names to this well-liked BBC crime series about a boxer-turned-cop (Tom Weston-Jones) operating in the corrupt world of New York City in 1864. His territory is Five Points, an immigrant haven, and his partners are fellow Civil War veterans from vastly divergent racial and economic backgrounds.
As the son of French New Wave legends Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda, Mathieu Demy has a champion’s pedigree: Throw a saddle on his back and he wins the Cannes Film Festival. But his debut feature Americano, which makes references to films by both his parents, is a disappointment, with Demy casting himself as a lost boy who flies to Mexico to learn more about his late, estranged mother from a stripper (Salma Hayek).
In this gripping docudrama, French director/co-writer/star Maïwenn plays a journalist who covers the stressful day-to-day lives of members of the Child Protection Unit in northern Paris. Maïwenn wants to show how the pressure from the sensitive, dangerous work of rescuing children from abuse bleeds over into the CPU members’ private lives, but the film is far better when it stays in the streets or around the desks where they do their work.
Glenn Beck Presents: The Project (Blaze)
The erstwhile chalkboard defiler reveals the scoop of all scoops: A 2001 document, found in a raid in Switzerland, that reveals a plot of the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate and destroy the West. This is it, people. We’re through the looking glass.