Intouchables – 4

Pure hokum. Again, the curse of the “based on a true story.” No screenwriter would’ve dared come up with such an unlikely, farfetched story if he hadn’t had the stranger-than-fiction truth to egg him on. I couldn’t find a laugh all night, although the ladies behind me practically guffawed. As for me, it was a continuity of scenes ringing false, from the hiring of the unqualified, uninterested Driss in the first place, to his painting an abstract masterpiece despite having no interest in art, to madly racing through city traffic without a driver’s license, to taking a private jet to go paragliding, etc., etc. I never knew what to make of Francois Cluzet’s paraplegic, but all I could think of was Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man. Putting this on top of Marigold Hotel and there certainly seems a disconnect between popular taste this summer and my opinion.

Last Ride – 7.9

At bottom, this is the same story as Beasts of the Southern Wild, with a little less color but without any of that movie’s flaws. Instead of a sick father raising his daughter with tough love to prepare her for the world, here was a doomed father running from the law, raising his son with tough love to prepare him for the world. Both single fathers die and both children survive, lessons learned. The acting was equally brilliant. Hugo Weaving was tough, mean, loving and ultimately out-of-control, while Tom Russell had a less uplifting but dramatically more challening role than his Louisiana counterpart. And as foreign as the bayou was, South Australia was just as exotic. Beyond the parallels, what elevated Last Ride over Beasts for me was the logic of the story and the consistency of its telling. I was never confused as to what was real, what was imagination, what was memory; everything and everyone was of a piece and gripped me all the way.

Pelotero (Ballplayer) – 7.5

There’s a dance in the Dominican Republic on July 2 each year, when Major League baseball teams are permitted to sign contracts with 16-year-old Dominican ballplayers, who have this one chance to raise their entire family out of poverty. The temptation is great to lie about one’s age to command a higher signing bonus. MLB, conversely, is an unchallenged monopoly with an incentive to keep signing bonuses down. The documentary makers ofPelotero had the good fortune to choose for their story two young ballplayers who ended up exemplifying this push-and-pull: one seemingly the victim of collusion to keep his price down by spreading rumors of his ineligibility; the other, to the shock of his coach, having a fake birth certificate. The best news is that the former wound end signing, for less money, with the blameless Minnesota Twins and is now their top-rated minor-league player.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – 6.5

An extraordinary film, vividly capturing a foreign land inside the U.S. The acting is so authentic the movie comes across at times like a documentary, which led to my confusion: parts seem to be a commentary on post-Katrina Louisiana, while other parts – e.g., the escape from the hospital – are as fanciful as Moonrise Kingdom. The story itself wasn’t particularly wonderful, or even interesting. What was wonderful was the depiction of life in “The Bathtub,” a true community where races, sexes and ages mixed in harmony (and liquor) and people lived off the land (except for the liquor).

Moonrise Kingdom – 4

Half the humor and twice the budget of Ted, which we saw the same weekend. There are some artists you just don’t like – e.g., John Marin or Thomas Hart Benton – and Wes Anderson is one of those. His artistry is undeniable: he creates his alternate universe – this one is misleadingly labeled “1965” – and the stage sets and the people are all consistent. But I just don’t get it. None of the humor was funny – maybe “sardonic” was his goal instead – and none of his characters had either interest or appeal. Frances McDormand and Bill Murray have never been less attractive onscreen, and you sort of thought that was Anderson’s intent. The young lovers, Sam and Suzy, had more quirk than charm, and came across as cogs in Anderson’s bizarre wheel, not real people. In the future, when Anderson indulges himself artistically I will try to stay home.

Ted – 8

The heartwarming love story of a boy and his teddy, the one who won’t grow up and the other mature beyond his species. Oh, and there’s also Mila Kunis as the woman who comes between them. The other character is Boston, the city of Dennis Lehane, the Afflecks and the Farrelly Brothers, with homages like the French Connection car chase and the Fenway Park showdown. I laughed from the great opening scene – how children in Boston traditionally celebrate Christmas – and had tears running down my cheeks by the end. There were a few misfires – mainly the whole Norah Jones bit – but otherwise the pacing and tone were pitch-perfect. Only a curmudgeon or a jaded movie critic wouldn’t enjoy this film.

Elles – 4.5

Un film francais “typique,” with sex and talk and sex and talk and then un peu de fantasie au fin. Was it extolling the liberating properties of prostitution or condemning the men who engage in it, as well as the men who don’t? Well, there didn’t seem to be a point. The one thing that was clear was that Juliette Binoche’s character wasn’t much of a journalist. She was, however, beautiful as always, although the director tried for “realism” by showing her unmade-up, uncombed, sweating through Pilates. Oh, and one other French thing: a la Marienbad, there was no clear indication of what was taking place when – other than it couldn’t have been on the “day” in question.