Twenty Feet from Stardom – 7

A “fun-fun-fun” movie with great music and genuinely heartwarming cameos by Bruce Springsteen, Sting, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger. Although nominally about them, the backup singers Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Kennear, et al., somehow remained in the background. I couldn’t figure out if the movie had a “point” – how someone becomes a background singer, why someone remains a background singer, what makes a good backup singer – but there was so much pleasure in watching them work and hearing the stars (all men) laud them, that it hardly mattered.

World War Z – 7.4

What I found incredible were Brad Pitt’s initially rejecting the request that he help save mankind and the Israelis’ letting all comers, including Palestinians, into their secure compound. By comparison, I found the zombies quite believable – frighteningly so – and the discovery of how to combat them quite brilliant. (Well, okay, maybe Brad’s successful injection of just the right amount of toxin gave me pause, as well.) Pitt, to my mind, is generally miscast, but here he carried the movie with ease. Our hearts raced along with the breakneck plot and our minds were kept engaged well after the film was over.

Frances Ha – 7

It all comes down to how much you enjoy the company of Greta Gerwig, and I found her quite pleasant. She is sufficiently attractive to be pleasant on the eyes, but not such a looker that she can’t play an “undatable.” Her insecurity and attempts to cope with her shortcomings are generally endearing, as we suspect, or maybe know, that she won’t come acropper at the end. How she in fact turns her life around so completely is a mystery; maybe we can just chalk it up to turning 28. I don’t remember the details of Lola Versus, but I think this was basically the same movie.

Before Midnight – 3

Not since My Dinner With Andre have I watched two such uninteresting characters talk so self-indulgently, often in complete paragraphs, to so little purpose. Julie Delpy came across as real, albeit neurotic, but Ethan Hawke was unconvincing as a novelist, as an expatriate, and certainly as a dad. When you watch a young couple courting, which is the subject of most movies as well as the excellent earlier installments of this saga, there is the easy payoff of consummation, with all that follows left to the imagination. Here, when we see similar exchanges – what, seven years into the marriage? – there is no payoff. This will go on forever, which is what it felt like watching.

Hannah Arendt – 2.5

What is it with cigarettes and movies? Although smoking has not been a part of “the world I live in” for 40 years or more, 80% of the movies I see have a scene with a character who lights up. Is this the only way to tell us we are in the 1950s, or that someone is stressed, or bored, or – in the case of Hannah Arendt – is “thinking”? And since this movie is all about “thinking,” there is nary a scene that does not involve Hannah and/or other characters lighting up or just lying there, puffing away. Even Mr. Shawn gets in on the act. The cigarette intrusions got to be quite distracting, not that there was that much to distract from. The American characters were all portrayed as a German director would portray them, which added a farcical element to what strived to be a deeply philosophical film. The crux of the trouble, though, was that the story turned on Arendt’s alleged condemnation of Jewish leaders in connection with the Holocaust without indicating where this theory came from. Thus, we had to weigh the pros and cons of this argument without any underlying facts. What did come through – also interestingly from the German director – was the rabid irrationality of the Jewish community, in Israel and America, an attitude that persists in the so-called “Jewish lobby” today with similar consequences. Barbara Sukowa gave a serious performance, smoking aside, but the actors around her came across as amateurs.