REVIEW ROUND-UP: ‘Alps’, ‘Butter’, and ‘Dark Horse’

In the plethora of reviews that I have been rounding up during the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals, I have been focusing on movies that have been preceded with some sort of Oscar buzz. However, there are dozens of movies that play at Film Festivals that are not necessarily going to be recipients of major awards, but could very likely become critical gems and well-respected Fall or Spring releases. Instead of dedicating individual posts, I thought I would compile a single post that encompasses those films I missed.

Alps

Yorgos Lanthimos was catapulted to notoriety in the United States last year when his film Dogtooth became an instant cult hit and even garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Lanthimos announced in an interview that his follow-up film would be more extreme which raised a lot of eyebrows. His film Alps premiered in Venice over the weekend and in some senses it seems to have delivered on that promise. Lanthimos’ absurdist films tend to be hard to synopsize, but loosely the film is about an organization that stands in an impersonates a dead loved one to help with grieving.

Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter says that the film is truly absurd yet it has a magnetic ability to capture a viewer’s interest:

This fine example of cinema of the absurd focuses on a bizarre club whose members are paid by family of the deceased to “stand in” for their loved ones, living in their homes and reciting the dead person’s words by rote. Given the emotional distance the director puts between his characters and the audience, Alps is a strictly intellectual game that will leave most viewers in the cold.

Lee Marshall of Screen Daily says that the film is very thematically comparable to Dogtooth:

Lanthimos is clearly fascinated by alternate families that operate according to their own set of rules. Alps is a sort of Dogtooth 2 in this respect – and the cultured urban audiences turned on by the sheer kookiness of that film may feel a slight sense of dejà vu here. But then again there’s a pleasure to be had in watching the progress of a European auteur who has something genuinely knew to say, and a genuinely new way of saying it (the ability to make black comedy, poignant melancholy and dark menace coexist is not the least of Lanthimos’ talents). With his third feature, the director is becoming a name to watch on the international cineaste circuit, and Alps is likely to trickle into most of those territories that still have an appetite for challenging cinema.

Alps has a TBA U.S. release date.

Butter

Having recently attended the Minnesota State Fair where the Dairy Building features an annual plethora of butter sculptures, I though this movie was mildly intriguing. Much like the title suggests the film depicts a butter-carving competition in a Midwest state and it stars Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde, and Hugh Jackman among others. I suspected that the film would be little more than a well-made romantic comedy and the reviews seem to indicate my prediction was correct.

Gregory Ellwood of HitFix says the film criticizes the conservative Midwestern mindset and has some obvious political references:

Garner could have gone a number of ways with the buttoned up Mrs. Pickler, but it’s easy to see the influence of Presidential Candidate and Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann in Laura.  From the pearls to the sleeveless cocktail dresses and the every so slight Minnesota accent, the controversial political figure was no doubt an inspiration.  It’s a funny performance that starts off as a stereotype, but finally opens up to a more three-dimensional character the audience can actually sympathize with as the movie goes on.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere says that the films laughs dry up pretty quickly. His review is more of a critique of other people’s reviews :

Butter was being compared last night to Michael Ritchie‘s Smile (’75), an admired satire about a teenaged beauty competition in Santa Rosa. Forget it, nowhere near, not even close. Hammond mentioned Alexander Payne‘s Election as another similarity. No way in hell — Butter isn’t remotely in the same league. I tweeted last night that Butter “is not, repeat NOT, the new Little Miss Sunshine, as some have suggested. Michael Arndt‘s Oscar-winning Sunshine script is heads and shoulders above.”

Butter has a TBA U.S. release date, but is expected to come out this Fall.

Dark Horse

Todd Solondz has never gotten Awards attention for his films despite two of his films getting Criterion releases. His latest movie Dark Horse seems like it might get less appreciation from critics, which makes it even less likely to get any Awards attention. The film is about two grown-up children who find love in unlikely circumstances.

Justin Chang of Variety says that it will be even less commercial than Solondz’s past films:

Solondz is nothing if not a dark-horse filmmaker himself, and given his penchant for auto-critique, the fuzzy narrative logic of the pic’s final reels — with their push-pull between an unhappy ending and, well, a slightly less unhappy ending — could well be interpreted as an admission of his own complicity in his character’s fate. Yet there finally doesn’t seem to be enough going on here to invite or reward such pondering to begin with. Pic wraps on a note that, in typical Solondz fashion, could be read as either a tender parting gesture or a particularly spiteful punchline.

Oliver Lyttleton of The Playlist mostly agrees despite a great performance from Donna Murphy:

The acting honors definitely go to Broadway star Donna Murphy as Walken’s secretary, and Abe’s greatest supporter/enabler. Timid and mousy in the office, she gets to let loose with a fantasy version of the character, a ferocious, seductive femme fatale with some of the best lines in the film (to whit: “It’s not cheating if you despise each other”). But therein lies the greatest stumbling block of the film. Much of the second half of the film involves some kind of fantasy of Abe’s so much so that you lose your investment in what’s happening: if you’re never quite clear if what’s happening is, well, actually happening, it becomes hard to care, and despite some moments that could have been moving towards the finale, the film never gets out of the muddy waters.

Dark Horse has a TBA U.S. release date.

Other Fall 2011 Review Round-Ups:

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