Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
What’s with the recent glut of documentaries about musicians and bands who failed commercially during their heyday only to be appreciated later on? This straightforward but compelling effort mixes interviews and archival footage to chronicle the career of Big Star, a Memphis pop group that thrilled critics and industry executives in the early 1970s but didn’t experience widespread success until two decades later, when other bands cited their influence. The film could have spent more time playing music and less time simply talking about the band’s greatness, but it does offer insight into the group’s rise and fall, and its unique place in pop-music history. (Rated PG-13, 113 minutes).
Hammer of the Gods
There’s an abundance of hand-to-hand medieval combat violence but not much else in this absurdly macho action saga, set in the ninth century, about a young warrior (Charlie Bewley) who returns home at the request of his ailing father to defend a British territory populated by Saxons and Vikings and the like. More specifically, he and his henchmen must endure an arduous journey to track down his estranged brother in a quest to claim the throne. The hyper-stylized battle sequences and pulsating music score cause the film to resemble a video game, and perhaps that will be enough to satisfy aficionados of Norse mythology. (Rated R, 95 minutes).
I’m So Excited
The latest raunchy, over-the-top sex farce from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (Talk to Her) takes place aboard a commercial airliner with mechanical problems that will force an emergency landing. Meanwhile, the passengers and crew members become both relaxed and aroused through a combination of booze, pills and musical numbers. The mood is playful and the visuals are bright, like some of his past work, yet the movie never really takes off. The quirky collection of characters is thinly sketched and stereotypical (especially the flamboyantly gay flight attendants), and the jokes are hit-and-miss in what feels like a side project for Almodovar between his more ambitious ventures. (Rated R, 89 minutes).
Just Like a Woman
This well-intentioned but woefully melodramatic effort from French director Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory) follows Marilyn (Sienna Miller) and Mona (Golshifteh Farahani), two friends trying to escape abusive relationships, not to mention Marilyn’s sudden job loss and Mona’s possible involvement in her mother-in-law’s death. So they take a cross-country road trip with the hope of joining a belly dancing troupe in New Mexico. As crazy as that sounds, the portrayals of the two actresses provide an intriguing multicultural dynamic until the screenplay — which is an unflattering rip-off of Thelma and Louise, among others — completely falls apart amid a collection of heavy-handed cliches. (Rated R, 87 minutes).
Relationships between humans and art are perceptively explored in this unassuming yet quietly charming character study about Johann (Bobby Sommer), an elderly guard at a Vienna art museum who befriends Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), a curious visitor tending to a sick relative in the hospital. Through their shared appreciation for art, their friendship deepens in unexpected ways. Writer-director Jem Cohen smartly incorporates the breathtaking Kunsthistorisches Art Museum as a third character in the film, but that doesn’t mean his rich visual essay is accessible only to art lovers. Although the pace is deliberate, splendid performances help to bring authenticity and depth to the material. (Not rated, 107 minutes).