David Thomson on Films: An Unsparing Portrait of American Breakdown
December 13, 2011

There are advertisements and reviews out there that tell you to expect comedy in Young Adult. You deserve a sterner warning. Yes, the picture is written by Diablo Cody* (of Juno and TV's “United States of Tara”) and it is directed by Jason Reitman (of Juno and Up in the Air). But, if you recall, Up in the Air had George Clooney as a cool, amiable flake whose job it is to tell people they are fired, and who is set back (to zero?) when Vera Farmiga’s colder character tells him that their love affair of convenience and intricate travel schedules is going nowhere.

TNR Film Classics: Whatever Happened to Black-and-White? (August 30, 1975)
December 08, 2011

How many major black-and-white movies can you think of that have been made in the last five years? I can think of five: The Wild Child (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971), Paper Moon (1973), Lenny (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). In all five, the decision to use monochrome was both calculated and special. There was a time in the not-so-distant when using color was the choice that was calculated and special. What happened and why? For one thing, television.

David Thomson on Films: Why Does This Movie Want Us to Feel So Miserable About Sex?
December 06, 2011

What do you expect from a film called Shame with an NC-17 rating? Right at the start we see Brandon awake in the pale blue sheets of his bed. He gets up, goes to the bathroom, and turns around. He has a penis, and I suppose it is Michael Fassbender’s. So many of the things an actor brings to a picture are his parts, and it is up to us and the whole project to decide whether they also belong to a credible and interesting fictional character. Brandon exists alone in a Manhattan apartment with those bed sheets and his situation.

TNR Film Classic: 'Kramer vs. Kramer' (1979)
December 02, 2011

Last week a note on what a pair of good actors can do for a weak romantic script. This week a look at what a crackerjack cast—first-class all the way—can do for a middling contemporary drama. Kramer vs. Kramer, based on a novel by Avery Corman, was written by Robert Benton who also directed. I don’t know the book: the script tells, in lithe dialogue, the story of a New York couple who split. The struggle is not about the divorce, which as such is never glimpsed, it’s about the custody of their small son.

The Most Tender Tribute Marilyn Monroe Has Ever Received
November 29, 2011

Some time towards the end of this delightful entertainment, the realization dawns of how much courage Michelle Williams needed in accepting the offer to play Marilyn Monroe. Yet an hour earlier, I had been asking, “Oh, why do it? Why take on this child monster yet again, in the year before we will be inundated with memories and garbage at the fiftieth anniversary of her death?” The more familiar the icon or celebrity in a movie biopic, the more hazardous it is to attempt impersonation, a process that can look stilted or unnecessary on screen.

The Good Wife
November 28, 2011

Before there were desperate housewives, real housewives, and Good Housewives, there were witty housewives. Or there was one, anyway: Myrna Loy, whose

David Thomson on Films: A Mainstream Movie for People Tired of Noise and Violence
November 24, 2011

At the public screening of The Descendants I saw, there was gentle but earnest applause as the film ended. It’s merited, and I suspect it came from a middle-aged audience that is weary of noise and violence in our films, and respectful of anyone prepared to deal candidly with family material. That doesn’t mean this is softer than PG. It’s an R film, with a lot of rough language, most of it coming from a ten-year-old and a seventeen-year-old.

Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Rare Spirits
November 23, 2011

Paul Goodman Changed My Life Le Havre Young Goethe In Love A familiar shock arrived with a documentary called Paul Goodman Changed My Life. (He touched my life, but he didn’t really change it.) The shock was in realizing yet again that a figure once important is now virtually forgotten. In the middle of the last century, Goodman was very widely recognized as a kind of polymath critic. His sharp comments on a surprising range of topics, his analytical writings on education, politics, city planning, psychology, meant much to many.

Thomson on Films: Clint Eastwood’s Disappointingly Cautious Depiction of J. Edgar Hoover
November 15, 2011

Whatever respect you feel for Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, or even Warner Brothers (its distributor), I think you know that a $35 million dollar movie about J. Edgar Hoover, running over two hours (it often feels longer), is going to face this issue: Are we going to see Hoover in drag? You can argue that many things about this man are more important, but a movie is a movie. It depends on things it can show us, and this one runs the risk of “explaining” Hoover’s vicious pursuit of power (or his overcoming of insecurity) in terms of sexual repression.

David Thomson on Films: ‘Page Eight,’ a Small Screen Movie That’s Nonetheless About Large Issues
November 10, 2011

Page Eight gives every sign of being a momentous television event. It is a debut outing for “Masterpiece Contemporary” on PBS. Some of the color photography, by Martin Ruhe, is exquisite but sinister—there’s a bruised sky against college masonry in Cambridge that escapes the usual proviso that television cannot be “beautiful” without seeming picturesque. The subject matter turns on such large issues as security, intelligence, Intelligence, honor, and love. The cast is so daunting it makes you keep an open mind about which characters are not to be trusted.