Something in the Air
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for sexual content and language. In subtitled French and Italian, and English.
Depending on your tolerance for nostalgia, “Something in the Air” is either a bracing flashback to the 1970s wave of student radical fervor or a lengthy ride with some singularly self-righteous and naive troublemakers. Paris high schooler Gilles (mop-haired Clément Métayer) scratches the anarchy symbol on his desk as his teacher quotes Pascal: “Between us and heaven and hell there is only life, the frailest thing in the world.” He will learn just how frail it is over the summer, as he and his streetfighting classmates battle gendarmes, acquaintances become drug casualties, and his ailing screenwriter father increasingly calls on his help. Gilles flirts with art and dallies with girls, finding himself pulled between a beautiful radical and a rich, fickle muse. He gropes his way toward an uncertain future, juggling radical commitment and personal ambition, romantic impulses and creative drives. Writer/director Olivier Assayas renders the story’s adult supporting players and half-formed, questing protagonists with equal detail and evenhanded sympathy. He also crafts a master’s thesis in fire symbolism, from reverent votive candles to romantic outdoor lanterns to Molotov cocktails. The French title, “Après Mai” is a genius bit of wordplay, evoking the explosive political climate after the May ’68 student riots shocked the nation, and Louis XV’s cavalier “Après moi, le déluge,” shrugging off the wake of disaster he left behind himself. The pitch-perfect soundtrack features Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart, the Incredible String Band and Syd Barrett.
At Any Price
⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language.
In this farm melodrama, respected indie director Ramin Bahrani, who did wonders with nonprofessional actors in “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo,” tackles his first star-driven project. The result is like what would have happened if he had tackled a revving John Deere combine. Dennis Quaid, emoting as if his children’s lives depended on it, plays corn farmer Henry Whipple. His son, Dean (Zac Efron), loathes Pa and sees a dirt-track racing apprenticeship to NASCAR as his ticket to freedom. The film views modern farming as an orgy of greed and duplicity. Henry is so crooked he screws his pants on every morning. He cheats his suppliers and betrays his wife (a solid Kim Dickens) with the co-op secretary (Heather Graham, jarring in this rural context). This sleazy Horatio Alger is a choirboy compared with the litigious bio-seed corporation peddling a patented breed of supercorn. The film’s inspiration seems to come not from “Hud” or “Giant” but “Peyton Place” and sensationalist daytime soaps. It may be saying some true things about the new world of cutthroat agriculture, but it says them in a singularly unconvincing way.
The Angels’ Share
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: Drinking, language and adult themes. In English and subtitled Glasgow brogues.
Veteran director Ken Loach, usually a purveyor of politicized working-class gloom, lightens up in this bittersweet Scottish comedy, which won the 2012 Cannes Jury Prize. Glasgow hooligan Robbie (Paul Brannigan), facing prison for assault, receives a community-service sentence instead because he’s a father-to-be. He hopes to support his girlfriend and child, but his past means few job opportunities and a lot of enemies. He and three fellow petty crooks learn of an ultra-rare cask of whisky going to auction and decide to steal the priceless malt. Their cheeky amateurism is endearing. (How many master thieves hitchhike to the crime scene?) The mostly nonprofessional cast is so authentic that “English” subtitles translate their thick-as-peat accents. Veteran Roger Allam (“Tamara Drewe”) adds a posh touch as a snobbish, deep-pocketed spirits connoisseur. If you want to look for it, you’ll find a layer of metaphor (the distilling process as a symbol of the characters’ evolution) and social-realist commentary amid the gentle, life-affirming laughs.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Theater: Walker Art Center Cinema, 7:30 Fri., 4 & 7:30 p.m. Sat. with writer/director/star Shane Carruth present for all screenings. You will definitely have questions.
An unclassifiable experiment from Shane Carruth (whose time-trippy "Primer" has been blowing minds since 2004) and a smashingly successful one. The film is a cerebral, mournful mystery that resonates like a tuning fork struck on a far-off star. Computer exec Kris (Amy Seimetz) is abducted and drugged by a thief who infects her with a consciousness-altering larva. During her slow recovery she meets Jeff (Carruth), who may be another survivor. As their relationship deepens, they find that they share memories and obsessive traits. They are observed by "the Sampler" (Andrew Sensenig), who collects the psychotropic worms at a later phase in their life cycle. Dispensing with conventional scene structure, the film operates on an abstract, allegorical wavelength, bathing us in eerie sound design and sensuous, immersive visuals. "Upstream Color" is a racing torrent of ideas, beautiful, grotesque, chilling, freaky, defiantly resistant to simplification and endlessly debatable.
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, drug material and language.
“Peeples” is an African-American “Meet the Parents” that slips funnyman Craig Robinson into the Ben Stiller role. And here, formulaic or not, it’s funny. Robinson plays Wade, an entertainer for kids. How he ended up with stunning U.N. lawyer Grace (Kerry Washington) as his girlfriend takes a bit of imagination. Until you meet her parents. On a surprise visit to her family's place in Sag Harbor, Wade meets Grace's father, Judge Virgil Peeples, played by the criminally underemployed comic David Alan Grier. The rest of the family includes a retired soul singer with substance-abuse issues (S. Epatha Merkerson), a young kleptomaniac (Tyler James Williams) and a TV reporter with secrets (Kali Hawk). Robinson (“The Office,” “Hot Tub Time Machine”) is in his ease here, surrounded by funny people so that he doesn’t have to carry the movie. But reacting to every new discovery about the Peepleses, and about his girlfriend’s secret past, he’s a stitch. Tyler Perry produced “Peeples,” and he could take notes on how to make a lowdown, broad farce that’s never too low or too broad.
Roger Moore, McClatchy News Service