42 – 7

Remember the Landmark Series of books – great events in history written (well) at a 6th-grade level? This could have been a movie version of one of those books, describing breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. It did make me wonder about the reality of the events depicted, in a more nuanced world where all the good guys didn’t go to the Hall of Fame and all the bad guys weren’t fired, or traded to Pittsburgh. All the melodrama did bring tears to my eyes and there were nice touches: Harrison Ford channeling his inner Daniel Day-Lewis to portray Branch Rickey, and Hamish Linklater providing good-guy Ralph Branca with a new legacy, 60 years after his home-run pitch to Bobby Thomson. As for the baseball scenes, you wonder how Jackie Robinson ever stole a base if he didn’t take off until the pitch had been delivered.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present – 8

Very cool. I don’t know if what she does is “art” or “theater,” or maybe “performance art” is something in between, but what matters for this film is how well we get to know Marina Abramovic, how open she is to the filmmakers and how she works her way into our hearts. I was skeptical going in but cried at the end. As for the signature performance piece at MoMA, where she sits still in a chair facing a procession of audience members, I can best compare it to a living self-portrait. Think of sitting across from Durer or Rembrandt for ten minutes, staring into those eyes.

The Place Beyond the Pines – 7.9

The most notable aspect of this film was its structure, which Siri didn’t like but which I admired for its originality: the movie’s first half was about the Ryan Gosling character; the movie’s second half was about the Bradley Cooper character; and the third half, a separate coda 15 years later, was about their respective sons. Gosling and Cooper, both excellent, had to make life-changing decisions based on changed circumstances in their lives. The kids’ decisions were less convincing, perhaps because we didn’t see what their previous 15 years were like. Where did A.J. come up with his Elvis hairdo and inner-city accent? And why, after the Sopranos, would anyone call their kid “A.J.”? As far as names go, where was the place beyond the pines, anyway? Ray Liota and Eva Mendes were special treats in an intense film with one fine touch after another.

Spring Breakers – 3

It was hard to find a socially redeeming quality in this film about sex, drugs and violence on spring break in Florida, and despite thinking long and hard I failed. Nothing was realistic, so okay, maybe this is some kind of American magic realism. Except there was no magic. Just a lot of posing. James Franco was unattractive, the blond girls were unconvincingly bad, the plot was two sentences on a napkin and somehow, everyone had to take their top off except for our stars. I will say that the rowdy crowd in the theater was, nevertheless, mesmerized.

The Sapphires – 7

What’s not to like in a film about four young Aborigines overcoming racism, entertaining our troops in Vietnam, finding love and singing classic Motown tunes under the tutelage of the loveable Chris O’Dowd, reprising his character in Bridesmaids? Well, lack of originality for one thing. Every plot development screamed “formula,” and there was a sense of amateurism accompanying the inauthenticity. In short, it would’ve been much better to discover this film at the SBIFF, where it first played in Santa Barbara.

No – 7.8

An interestingly ambiguous movie about the power of a superficial ad campaign to bring down a dictator. You have to root for Gael Garcia Bernal – one of cinema’s more appealing actors – but are we sure that “Don-worry-be-happy” is the level of discourse we want in our political campaigns? And in another twist, the film suggests that commerce, making money, trumps all: the two leads can be enemies when it comes to torture and censorship but still work together when selling soda and soap opera. In an effort at authenticity, I suppose, the film was washed-out and grainy, but I could have done without the hand-held jumpiness and blinding backlighting. In all, though, it was an education in Chilean history and offered food for thought and discussion.

The Gatekeepers – 8

I don’t know which was more remarkable: the footage of Israeli security forces battling Palestinians or the unanimity of opinion among the former Shin Bet chiefs who were interviewed. Together they produced stunning confirmation, if any was needed, of the shortsightedness of Israel’s own Middle East policy. As usual, it was the politicians who were the bad guys – except maybe Yitzhak Rabin, who paid the price. All the interviewees – and just getting them onscreen was a major achievement – came across as intelligent and reasonable, willing to look at Palestinians as people, not a problem. In addition to its important subject, this documentary was skillfully edited and engrossing.