Friday Movie Roundup: Lighten Up, Leo, Edition

Nov 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm
click to enlarge Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Catch Me If You Can'
Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Catch Me If You Can'

When will Leonardo DiCaprio lighten up? It doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon.

Asked recently if he would consider doing something besides the heavy dramatic lifting of recent years (see Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Departed, Body of Lies, Revolutionary Road, Shutter Island, Inception and now J. Edgar), the 37-year-old actor responded with this to-the-point rebuttal: “Why would I want to do something I would consider a profound waste of time?"

Alright, then. —-

The odd thing about Leo's refusal to tackle anything but serious stuff is that he's at his best when he cracks that mischievous, knowing smile of his youth (see Growing Pains, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, portions of This Boy's Life and The Basketball Diaries or even Romeo + Juliet, which was a vibrant if schizophrenic take on the Shakespeare classic). That guy hasn't been seen since 2002's Catch Me If You Can, an entertaining transcontinental romp that just might contain Leo's best performance.

Dude, we know for a long time you wanted to get away from the crazy, once-in-a-lifetime success of Titanic and the legions of screaming teenage girls it yielded, and we know it's hard to say no to the likes of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Christopher Nolan. We're not saying you have to lower yourself to the cliched romantic and/or largely lame bromantic comedies of current Hollywood ilk, but there's got to be an edgy satire or more overtly trashy genre picture out there for the taking. Give Alexander Payne a call. Or Lars von Trier. Or Jim Jarmusch. Or the Coen brothers. Or even the Duplass brothers.

Ah, there might be hope yet: DiCaprio recently signed to to star in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, in which he will play a sadistic Mississippi plantation owner. If anyone can pull out Leo's playful side, it's QT.

But back to J. Edgar — DiCaprio's collaboration with the impressively prolific, often overpraised Clint Eastwood — which opens this week and which is getting curiously polarizing reviews (I've yet to see it): Roger Ebert, J. Hoberman and Manhola Dargis liked it, while David Edelstein, Dana Stevens and CityBeat contributor Scott Renshaw did not.

Elsewhere in this rather robust week, we have the latest abominations from Adam Sandler and self-proclaimed “visionary” director Tarsem Singh; a thriller featuring an Olsen who can act (the twins' younger sister Elizabeth); and a documentary about the Yiddish writer some called the “Jewish Mark Twain.”

Then there's Pedro Almodóvar’s latest melodramatic mind-fuck, about which, after my initial viewing of it at the Toronto Film Festival, I had this mixed take: “... too twisted (and ultimately vacuous) for its own good — even for Pedro. After a parade of typically stylish Hitchcockian narrative and visual hijinks, The Skin I Live In’s too-obvious finale left one word dangling in my beat-up frontal lobe: duh.” A second viewing changed my outlook slightly — Almodóvar's technical prowess, narrative daring and fearless weirdness is certainly more interesting than 97 percent of the films released today. That said, I still don't like it as much CityBeat contributor Cole Smithey.

Finally, don't forget about HorrorHound Weekend, which features a smorgasbord of genre-geek activities — from celebrity panels and vendors to parties and screenings. I talked to HorrorHound magazine editor/Weekend organizer Nathan Hanneman about the event, which runs tonight through Sunday, here.

Opening films:

IMMORTALS — Pimped as coming to you from the producers of the 300, this Greek adventure myth features a cavalcade of buff bods (courtesy of Henry Cavill, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, Isabel Lucas, Frieda Pinto and Stephen Dorff) and a couple of craggy veterans (Mickey Rourke and John Hurt), all of whom are likely to take a backseat to the lush visuals of director Tarsem Singh. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: D-

J. EDGAR — Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) have as a subject one of American history's most enigmatic, polarizing figures in J. Edgar Hoover, and yet J. Edgar almost never offers the buzz of discovery. It's merely a 50-year kaleidoscope of American history, with the founder of the modern FBI serving as Forrest Gump. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide Friday.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated R.) Grade: C

JACK AND JILL — What at first seemed like a farce is, alas, not: Adam Sandler plays both a successful advertising executive and his annoying twin sister. Longtime Sandler surrogate/directing pal Dennis Dugan is back in the saddle yet again. Katie Holmes and Al Pacino offer acting support. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: F

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE — Writer-director Sean Durkin introduces Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) as a member of a commune, one of the compliant women who have surrendered to the domestic duties, the listless routine, the second-class status, and the waiting to share the bed of Patrick (John Hawkes), the paterfamilias of this clan. From a performance standpoint, Olsen is a quiet revelation. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: A-

SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS — Joseph Dorman's documentary looks at the Yiddish writer — dubbed by some as “the Jewish Mark Twain” — whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — JG (Not Rated.) Review coming soon.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN — Pedro Almodóvar proves himself an apt technician at sustaining suspense in the thriller genre. Antonio Banderas returns to work with Almodóvar for the first time in over 20 years, since his memorable performance Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Esquire Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: A