The Sun Recommends
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Wondering what else is in theaters this weekend? Here are seven films recommended by The New York Sun’s critics that you can still catch around town.
PG-13, 110 minutes
From the moment he arrives in Vienna in 1900, brooding, sly Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) establishes himself as a crowd-dazzler. In the words of a fictional critic, his work “transcends mere illusion and approaches the realm of art,” but others, sensing the dark side of his craft, wonder if he has sold his soul. His true rivals — like the ambitious, seemingly unscrupulous Inspector Uhl (Paul Giammati) and the brutish Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) — refuse to believe that his stagecraft is anything more than the usual sleight-of-hand.
Tightly written, convincingly acted, and superbly structured, “The Illusionist” is at once an attractive period piece, a probing meditation on truth and illusion, and, by its conclusion, a reminder that the contemporary equivalent to Eisenheim’s astonishments is found in the cinema.
— David Grosz
THE BLACK DAHLIA
R, 120 mintues
The 1947 murder of aspiring Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Short was tailor made for a Brian De Palma film, but the action of the “The Black Dahlia” occurs afterward. Reducing the density but not the sprawling feel of James Ellroy’s chunky 1987 novel, the film focuses on the subsequent investigation.
It’s the kind of Big Sleepy whodunit that still feels unresolved by the credits, and Mr. De Palma, who thrives in self-contained cinematic worlds, piles on film noir tropes and lavishes the period detail, like the zoot-suit riot that opens Mr. Ellroy’s work. What was for Mr. De Palma partly work-for-hire (taken over from David Fincher) becomes a measure of redemption, with the director’s cynically scrawled notes on artistic creation and the mutilated dreamer shining through.
— Nicolas Rapold
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
NC-17, 95 minutes
With humor and fearless gusto, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” the new documentary by Kirby Dick, takes square aim at the surprisingly secretive organization that minds our PG’s and R’s. The Motion Picture Association of America may be best known as moderator of the movie-going public’s intake of sex and violence, but Mr. Dick uncovers an organization rather less savory than its family image.
The film initially concerns itself more with the organization’s questionable practices as ratings arbiter than with its business role, but it ultimately shows how the two are inextricable. It also sets about identifying the mysterious faces of the members on the appeals board of the MPAA.
R, 106 minutes
The indie drama “Half Nelson” packs a wallop with the year’s best performance so far. Ryan Gosling again showcases his talent for inhabiting characters with his incarnation of Dan, a 20-something Brooklyn schoolteacher, idealist, and drug addict. Instead of a clichéd portrait of torment, we see a young guy buoyed by dreams but slowly, slowly sinking.
The film, which grew out of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s equally impressive 19-minute short, “Gowanus,” is set in the short’s eponymous Brooklyn neighborhood. The fulcrum is the fraught rapport between Dan and one of his middleschool students, Drey (Shareeka Epps). But the movie isn’t some quixotic innercity schoolhouse schlock, or even chiefly about their fragile bond. The real lived-in drama occurs outside the classroom and inside Dan.
R, 96 minutes
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the title character, and just like Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich,” she sets out on a scantily clad expedition to exceed preconceived notions about herself. But “Sherrybaby” is everything that “Erin Brockovich” was not. Thanks mostly to Ms. Gyllenhaal’s tumultuous performance, it is a much more realistic portrayal of someone struggling against the constraints of low expectation.
Though an ex-con and former heroin addict, Sherry is determined to straighten out her life. She returns home after three years, expecting to rehabilitate her relationship with her daughter. While it is endearing to watch someone turn her life around for the sake of a child, it is nevertheless difficult to watch someone who, despite a strong desire to do right, just can’t cut it.
— Meghan Keane
PG-13, 86 minutes
Following the work of the children’s preacher, Becky Fischer, “Jesus Camp” coolly observes the lives of the combustible kids who attend her “Kids on Fire” Christian camp. Expect discomfort as 10-year-old Tory talks about her unfortunate tendency to dance “from the flesh” rather than from the spirit, and expect to be disturbed as you see children lambasted by adults for being sinners and hypocrites until they burst into tears, fall on the floor, and speak in tongues.
Guaranteed to terrify liberals, “Jesus Camp” shows where the religious right is coming from. They don’t want religion to co-opt political issues; to them, politics is a religious issue. Thank God these evangelists come across as humorless nerds; otherwise all their talk of indoctrinating their children into an army to return America to Christ would be truly scary.
— Grady Hendrix
PG, 100 minutes
Lassie, the world’s most famous motion picture mutt, returns just when it seemed like she’d become a pop culture punch line. Contrary to popular belief, Lassie hails from Yorkshire, not America, and this flick returns her to her roots, going back to basics and revealing that while this old dog doesn’t know any new tricks, she can still wring a tear or two when duty calls.
The supporting cast is loaded with extraordinary actors — Samantha Morton, Pete Dinklage, Jemma Redgrave — who knock this simple script right out of the park. While the director occasionally cracks open the scenes of Lassie running through the majestic Scottish countryside like so many cans of dog food, the low-key sincerity of this endeavor achieves a corny grandeur. This Lassie doesn’t warn people of trouble at the old mill but passes through their lives, reminding them of their better selves.