John Malkovich returns to weirdo creepy mode in this pretentious coming-of-age family drama, playing an alcoholic writer who shows up at the door of his estranged sister (Dana Delany), then befriends her teenage son (Jacob Zachar) who isn’t aware of past family secrets. The teen tries to arrange the purchase of a boat from a con man (John Goodman) as a way of healing the fractured family. Strong performances help give weight to an uneven script that tries to be cerebral but winds up without much to say. The low-budget effort feels like an intimate, idiosyncratic acting workshop that might have worked better on stage. (Not rated, 98 minutes).
Farewell My Queen
This sultry costume drama from French director Benoit Jacquot is not a biopic of Marie Antoinette, but rather an intimate glimpse into the downfall of her regime during the onset of the French revolution. Specifically, it focuses on the relationship between the monarch (Diane Kruger), one of her young readers (Lea Seydoux), and an aristocrat (Virginie Ledoyen) who becomes Marie’s alleged lover. The film sometimes tries too hard to be socially relevant, and can’t decide whether it wants to be a historical drama or playful romance. Yet the performances from all three leads are dynamic, and the visual re-creation of the period is stylish. (Rated R, 99 minutes).
Cynical viewers might wonder if this sometimes riveting documentary is partially or completely fabricated, but it won’t matter because it contains enough suspense and left-field plot twists to fill a half-dozen crime thrillers. Using interviews and re-enactments, the film tells the story of Frederic Bourdin, a French con artist who tries to avoid jail time by changing his identity to that of a missing teenager from San Antonio, then trying to convince both international authorities and the missing child’s distraught family. The approach of director Bart Layton heightens the mystery and international intrigue, and the movie benefits from an abundance of colorful characters of mixed intelligence. (Rated R, 98 minutes).
Vibrant visuals cannot compensate for a disjointed narrative in this gritty re-imagining of the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by versatile British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart). He relocates the story to contemporary India, with Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) playing the title role as the eldest daughter in a working-class family who falls for a wealthy resort manager (Riz Ahmed), only to see a series of socioeconomic conflicts and matters of sexual politics interfere with their relationship. It’s an ambitious and evocative effort derailed in part by a passive lead performance that keeps the material at an emotional distance. (Rated R, 117 minutes).