It's time to break out the thesaurus to find enough adjectives to describe this comedy, which has an adult (Jason Bateman) competing in a spelling bee for elementary school students. We'll go with this: The film is splendiferous.
Bateman also shows great skill as a director as he mixes in light moments to keep the movie from collapsing into a black hole of comedy. His pacing is just right to make the stagnant world of a spelling bee come across as exciting. He also allows the supporting cast to shine.
For a novice director, Bateman shows tremendous courage by selecting this as his feature film debut. When a film wades so deeply into political incorrectness, there is a good chance of getting in over your head.
Bateman, though, has a knack for good storytelling and making it OK to laugh at the most improper situations. 4 stars
This senior citizen answer to Before Midnight follows an aging married couple who make a weekend trip to Paris to look for the love and passion that brought them together 30 years ago. Life has taken its toll on their romance and now the pair seeks signs of emotional sanity in a world that's rapidly deteriorating.
Nick (Jim Broadbent) adores Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and wants to show her through the trip. Instead, the couple reveal how they feel about each other, their future and their place as parents.
Director Roger Michell shows complete trust in Broadbent and Duncan, who give the script by Hanif Kureishi the emotional spark needed to hold the audience's attention. Broadbent and Duncan are so good that they make the tale of love and marriage feel timeless. 3 stars
-- Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee
Nymphomaniac Vol. I and Vol. II
Writer-director Lars von Trier (Melancholia, Antichrist) has long had a reputation for pushing audiences in uncomfortable directions. He certainly did so in this two-movie tale, the account of the life of a sexually voracious woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The announcement of the DVD release even promises "graphic depictions of sexuality to a degree unprecedented in a mainstream feature film."
And make no mistake: There are explicit scenes of sex acts in both films.
But there is also the question of whether the films are, in fact, good art -- and critics divided not only on that point but also on the relative quality of the two films. The first volume had a 75 per cent positive rating on the review-aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, while the second had 60 per cent.
That goes to part of the problem with Nymphomaniac, which Magnolia Home Entertainment has released both as individual films and in a package with both movies. The two films form a single, complete work, but there's a big difference in tone and style between the first and second, with the second quickly establishing itself as a bleaker work. In fact, the first at times functions as not only an account of sexual behaviour but also a commentary on screen erotica, including and mocking some of the conventions of it. The second was too stomach-turning for me to last until the end. But von Trier might have considered that a compliment.
Each volume includes a few extras. 2 stars
-- Rich Heldenfels, Akron Beacon Journal