As is the case every year, the big studios use the first quarter as a dumping ground for its duds, movies that for one reason or another they think are unlikely to generate much interest in an audience whose expectations are already diminished. Still, this year's list of dumpster dwellers seems even more robust than usual. On the other end of the spectrum, I can think of only two studio films to this point that have transcended the mediocre: Paul Feig's Bridesmaids and Duncan Jones' Source Code, both of which tweak genre conventions in slightly unexpected ways.
(To be fair, it’s not as if I’ve been comprehensive in my viewing habits this year. I’ve more often than not heeded the advice of CityBeat’s contributing film writers/general critical consensus when it comes to several of the more heinous-looking studio offerings, several of which starred the shameless Nic Cage. Though I wish I'd caught Hanna and Insidious, a pair of genre films that got good notices from friends I trust.)
Yet all is not lost. Perusing 2011's releases also reveals a number of worthwhile smaller and/or under-the-radar films, some of which are already available on DVD: Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole, Tom McCarthy's Win Win, Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men, Dover Koshavilli's Anton Chekhov's The Duel, Miguel Arteta's Cedar Rapids, Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre, Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Denis Villeneuve's Incendies.
And then there are the recently released Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's most engaging film in years, and Terrence Malick's Palme d'Or-winning The Tree of Life, another beautifully shot, willfully obtuse effort from a filmmaker who somehow is allowed to work on his own singular wavelength. The Tree of Life opens in Cincinnati June 24, by which time area audience might also get to see one of my favorite movies from the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, Mike Mills' Beginners.
THE ART OF GETTING BY — Writer/director Gavin Wiesen's formulaic romantic comedy attempts some familiar indie-pic variations on the romantic coming-of-age theme but ignores the most fundamental need of the genre: Somewhere, there better be somebody you actually want to root for. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (PG-13.) Grade: C
BICYCLE DREAMS — In 2005, director Stephen Auerbach and a determined crew set out to document the Race Across America from San Diego to Atlantic City, riding as hard as the participants in order to tell the stories of the mad men and women willing to submit to this ultimate challenge. (Read full review here.) (Screens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 22 at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Not Rated.) Grade: B
DUM MAARO DUM — This Bollywood offering from director Rohan Sippy centers on a corrupt police officer (Abhishek Bachchan) who is entrusted with the task of cleaning up the local and international drug mafia operating in the small Indian state of Goa. The film, which being pimped as a thriller, has been controversial in its home country for its supposedly crass use of easy sex, drugs and violence. (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Rated R.) Review coming soon.
GREEN LANTERN — Director Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) forgoes the urban realism of Christopher Nolan’s Batman reboots and the romantic/heroic ideal of Superman for the CG rendering of the otherworldly power of the Lantern & the Ring in his introduction to the origin story behind how a recklessly daring pilot named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) became the first human member of the Green Lantern Corp. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: D
POPPER'S PENGUINS — Loosely based on Florence Atwater's
1938 children's book, Mr.
Popper's Penguins never completely gels. But that doesn't stop
Jim Carrey from using everything in his arsenal of comic physicality
to keep his audience entertained. (Read full review here.) (Opens
wide today.) — Cole
Smithey (Rated PG.) Grade: