What’s Beneath the Clothes: Burlesque Superstar Angie Pontani Kicks Off The Naked Truth March 17th

The world of burlesque is expanding as society perceives it in the proper light… as an ancient art form. Dita Von Teese is just short of a household name and, as we reported, Ivan Kane is about to open up Royal Jelly at the newish Revel in Atlantic City. Angie Pontani is a superstar in this wild world. She made a believer out of me one night and then another at Corio on West Broadway. It was Murray Hill (about to tour with Dita) MC-ing, Melody Sweets (now a star with her own billboard) celebrating her show Absinthe at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and a bevy of beauties that changed my perception of the game. Calamity Chang sells out every Friday at Hotel Chantelle after her sexy time performance with DeeDee Luxe and Michael Fassbender in Shame. Duane Park delivers the goods every Friday and Saturday nights. Burlesque is back and Angie Pontani is offering us The Naked Truth.

Angie, you are going to be in a show March 17th with my friend Jo Weldon. Tell me all about it:
It’s called The Naked Truth, and it will live up to its name! It’s a new burlesque game show from the hilarious and slightly-twisted mind of performer and producer, Jonny Porkpie. He has had another version of the show on the road for the past year – something like 30 different cities in five countries on three continents – and now it’s coming to NYC at the Triad on West 72nd Street! In the show, I (and all the other performers) are going to expose more than we’ve ever exposed before – deep secrets, thoughts, dreams, and fantasies! You’ll get to see what’s beneath the clothes. Jonny’s actually just sent me a long list of very intimate questions, which I’ll answer once I pour myself a glass of wine and run the bubble bath, then I’ll return them to him to use in the show. After I perform, the audience has to guess which answers are mine to win all sorts of great prizes. So in essence, the show not only includes amazing performances, but a thrilling game show element that will reveal the casts’ deep secrets and potentially get you fabulous prizes!
The Naked Truth…when and how did you decide that getting nearly naked for a living was the way to go? Tell me about your uncontrollable burlesque urges.
Ha! Well, getting "nearly naked" is just a natural byproduct of what I do. I grew up watching MGM Technicolor musicals and listening to Sinatra and Elvis. That old- school style of entertainment is what inspired me to go into show business. For me, it’s about the music, the costumes, the theatricality of what you can do in your five to seven minutes on stage. Sure, burlesque is striptease and requires "getting nearly naked," but for me, the journey of the tease is what people remember. It’s about giving my audience a thrill by getting dressed up as a savage jungle girl and wildly banging my bongo drum, or emerging encrusted in crystals from my 6-foot oyster shell, or maybe even taking a dip in my glass bathtub. You know…just another day at the office. 
I’ve heard some burlesque dancers refer to themselves as ‘strippers,’ while others run from that term. Is art the delineating factor?  
I’m a show pony; I live to be onstage. I don’t refer to myself as a stripper and I don’t refer to myself as an artist. I’m an entertainer –  that’s what I do. I’ve got an old-school brain in regards to burlesque, nightlife, and entertainment in general. I think of the ’40s and ’50s supper club culture;  that’s what I relate to in my performances and the types of shows and venues I tend to perform in. I’ve been to strip clubs and have had great times at them, but the experiences I’ve had at places like Scores, The Pussy Cat Lounge, Billy’s Topless, etc…they are very different experiences from what someone will have at one of my shows. In regards to "art:" sure, showbiz is an art, but I don’t really get down with intellectualizing my performances. It’s not my style. I just want to entertain you when I’m in the spotlight. Fred Astaire has a quote that he said when talking about how people tried to find deeper meaning in his
hop-shuffle-step, and it goes like this, "I am not sending messages with my feet. All I ever wanted to do was not come up empty. I did it for the dough and the old applause."   
You have found love in the biz…tell me about that. Is love common? Are burlesque relationships more difficult, or is it a great way to meet the man or woman of your dreams?
I have often thought that burlesque is the kiss of death to a relationship, and I never, ever wanted to date someone in the business – but I have been proven wrong. My man (trumpet-playing crooner Brian Newman), is fabulous. We have so much in common in regard to what we love about show business, music, and style that it’s pretty amazing. We can paint the town one night, dressed to the nines, and stay home the next, making lasagna and watching Jimmy Stewart westerns all night, it’s heaven! We are in the same world in a sense, but they are different enough so as they don’t collide. We’ve recently started doing more shows together, with a production we are calling "Burlesque-A-Pades, After Dark," where Brian’s band plays live music for the whole show. I love it; I feel like Lucy and Ricky. Plus, my performances are always a little more fiery when dancing live to my baby’s tunes. It’s also great because we can travel together a bit more, share fabulous
adventures, and create a great stage show! I think love and relationships can be difficult in any genre – you’ve just got to find the right person.
Angie Pontani
The current state of the art: burlesque seems to be booming. Where can/will it go?
I think, as each year passes, burlesque is just proving itself to be a sustainable form of entertainment, a genre in and of itself that I don’t think is going anywhere. Every year, it seems to get more and more popular and branch out into various styles. You’ve got classic burlesque supper club shows, downtown edgy dive bar shows, theatrical shows, nightclub shows, touring shows – heck, even game show shows, like the fabulous The Naked Truth. I think burlesque has grown into an umbrella of entertainment off of which different styles have emerged and it’s everywhere. Kind of like live music, there are a ton of different shows for each palette everywhere! I think it will continue to grow; it’s certainly not a trend or passing fancy.
I’ve caught your act and have been a fan since day one. How do you develop ideas and what is the process of perfecting the act?
First off, thank you, that means a lot coming from you! Ideas for numbers hit me over the head like a bedazzled hammer; all it takes to set me off is a great song or a photo of a starlet in an amazing gown or something like that, and then I am typically useless for a month or so while I create the act. The process can take one month to three or so, depending on the act. First, I have to get the costume made, as well as any props that I might require – only then can you really put the act together. I am a huge rehearser; when I am working a new act, I will practice the number at least a hundred times. I practice in every room in my house, in the dark, in my yard, in front of a mirror, away from the mirror, etc…It’s not that the choreography is so intense or anything like that, but in burlesque you have so many working components that you have to deal with, like 5-inch heels, binding corsets, snaps, zippers, headdresses etc. I practice and get comfortable with the costume and how it comes off, so that when I’m on stage I’m not looking down to find a clasp or tripping on my gown’s train or worried about anything but  driving the audience wild!
THE NAKED TRUTH plays at the Triad Theater (158 West 72nd Street) on the third Saturday of each month with March’s performance on Saturday, 3/17 at 10pm, April’s on Saturday, 4/21 at 10pm and May’s on Saturday, 5/19 at 10pm. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $45 for premium seating and can be purchased online at www.NakedTruthGameShow.com. There is also a two-drink minimum.

From ‘Shame’ to Fame: Calamit Y. Chang On Her Hot Mènage à Trois Scene

Shame is a hot movie. The hottest scene in this hot movie is a ménage à trois with uber hot star Michael Fassbender and our dear friend Calamit Y. Chang and DeeDee Luxe. Calamit Y. is hosting and starring in Burlesque shows all over town, including this Wednesday at Duane Park and every Friday at Hotel Chantelle. This Wednesday’s show has DeeDee aboard, as well as the wonderful Shien Lee. It’s all timed in honor of Chinese New Year and is destined to be fabulous. Calamit Y. and I talked about the scene in Shame and she seemed surprised that it was such a big deal. Known as the "Asian Sexsation," she is constantly surrounded by incredibly sexual beings who spend a great deal of their time and energy thinking of new routines to turn us on. If you haven’t caught this act, get out there and do it now before the fame from the movie exposes her talent to the masses and she’s whisked off to Vegas or playing big theatres. The atmosphere at Duane Park is intimate, old-school burlesque elegant. It’s a great date destination. I asked Calamit Y. Chang a few questions, half expecting to be shooing away autograph seekers.

So I’m watching the hottest sex scene ever in the movie Shame with Amanda, when we both exclaim aloud CALAMIT Y. !!!!!. Your famous feather tattoo confirmed it was you and DeeDee Luxe.  I understand sex; it didnt actually occur, but everyone was hot. Tell us about the scene, the conversations leading up to it, and conversations after.
When I went to the audition, I knew the film was by Steve McQueen. His first film, Hunger, also starring Michael Fassbender, was a huge hit with film fans, so I guess you can say I already trusted him and his vision for my role as “Late Night Lover #1." When we met, he showed me the script and explained what the film was about. I had a lot of questions about Brandon’s (Fassbender) character development because I was curious about how Steve was going to handle the subject of sex addiction. On the day of the shoot, DeeDee and I wanted to know if our characters were prostitutes. Steve didn’t give a direct answer but he did say something to the effect that we were just normal people living in NYC, and like many people, we sometimes accept money for certain things. This reminded me of some people in fashion who work for free in exchange for expensive clothes and shoes. I know countless stylists who dress like a million bucks but can’t pay their rent and are consistently borrowing money from people left and right. Steve further explained that our characters were already familiar with Brandon and we were expecting him. When he first arrived and I opened the door for him, Steve wanted me to look a certain way when I saw Brandon. He wanted me to have a look as if saying, “Oh yeah, you again. Of course.” I even had Steve be me so I could see what he wanted my face to look like. He was very fun, patient, and gave clear direction. The actual filming of the infamous scene was a closed set. It was just five of us, including Steve and the cameraman. During the shoot, Steve pretty much let us three do our thing and every now and then he would ask one of us to switch sides for a better angle of our faces. As for conversations after this scene, well, we joked and laughed about whatever. We had some food. We talked about other films we liked, wanted to see, and I do remember asking Steve and Michael if they liked Lars Von Trier (cause I don’t). They didn’t. Michael did some impersonations of De Niro and I think Marlo Brando. It was pretty laid-back and comfortable, like friends hanging out.
I was told it was a retake, that the original scene was replaced with yours.
That was what our casting agent told us. They had already wrapped shooting months ago, but I guess some of the scenes (including ours) didn’t work out, so Steve came back to NYC with the cast and crew and re-shot them. Nicole Beharie was on set with us that day too, but I don’t know what scene she was working on. I also don’t know who were in the first threesome scene. They didn’t really talk about it and we didn’t really care cause we were there to kill it!
Calamit Y.
Tell me about Wednesday’s Duane Park show.
This is my newest show and I am excited beyond words! It is a dinner and a show at Duane Park, a beautiful restaurant serving delicious food and famous for their burlesque shows. The intimate and elegant dining room sets the perfect mood for a show like "Les Fleurs de Shanghai" with live music with Shien Lee as our featured singer. She will be singing several Chinese songs from the golden jazz age in Shanghai – music that will enchant you and take you back to a different time. DeeDee and myself will perform burlesque, It takes place on the last Wednesdays of every month at 8:30 PM.
How did a nice chinese girl like you become this fabulous burlesque queen, performer, and organizer?
 Well, I’ve always been Chinese but I haven’t always been nice. Joking! My parents have always said I have a rebellious streak ever since I was little. I suppose they are right, they’ve been right about lots of things much to my chagrin!  My new show “Les Fleurs de Shanghai” at Duane Park is a burlesque show paying homage to the great jazz era of Shanghai during the ’20s-’40s. I’ve become obsessed with that tumultuous era in Shanghai’s history with the music, the fashion, and the glamour of that time, but I haven’t always been interested in my cultural heritage and background. When I was a teenager growing up in Texas, the last thing I wanted to do was listen to Chinese music. I wanted New Kids on the Block. I wanted Bon Jovi. I wanted Garth Brooks! Well, maybe not the latter, but you get my drift. Immigrant mentality is to assimilate and to grown up in a non-culturally diverse place like Texas. I tried my damn hardest to fit in. Unfortunately, that meant rejecting a lot of things that makes me unique. My parents always said that one day I will want to know more about being Chinese and “return to my roots,” so to speak. So they were right yet again! Although, I don’t think burlesque was what they had in mind. Burlesque, in its contemporary reincarnation at least, is very feminist. It is subversive, transgressive, and rebellious. And all those things draw me in uncontrollably.
Calamit Y.
Tell me how you develop your new acts.
 It’s a lot like writing, which I’m sure you can relate to on some level. You stare at a piece of blank paper and suddenly the task of having to fill it with words that make sense and construct an experience narratively becomes very daunting. Likewise, I pick a song that I want to work with. I put it on repeat in my living room studio and I stare in the mirror. There is always that sense of fear that I think all creative people face. The act of creation. Of forming something out of nothing. Whether it’s writing, painting, choreographing an act, designing a costume. I embrace it and stew in it. Sure enough, after a couple of hours, a dance routine comes out of it and I know what the character feels like and should wear. For me, many of my acts are never completely “done." There is always something to upgrade, whether it’s the costume or the choreography. For example, my red “Dusk ’til Dawn” act has evolved so much since I originally made it  two years ago. Now, I’ve added new pieces to the costume, added another song to it, and incorporated red fans in the routine. This act has gotten me accepted in the Dallas Burlesque Festival (Feb 2-5, 2012) and the London Burlesque World Games (May 7-13, 2012).
I saw you develop an audience at Hotel Chantelle. At first, it was slow-going, but now your Friday night galas are packed. How does the newfound fame from Shame translate to a fanbase. How does it affect friends? Do you have major new burlesque credibility?
Yes, it was hard in the beginning, especially since I am the first person to bring burlesque to Hotel Chantelle; the road had to be paved! Thankfully, Tim Spuches (who found and hired me) didn’t doubt me and now it’s really great. I have met several male audience members at Chantelle who tell me they saw me in Shame and came to see me perform; it makes me very happy that people are going to see real films with quality editing and storytelling. And it makes me even happier that in all the press and interviews the film has gotten, Steve and Michael have been describing us as burlesque performers. I think this is so great because this gives burlesque and us burlesque performers credibility in the film world. I am always so happy to hear about other performers who get cast for a TV show or film, because the more crossover we have, the more people will come to our shows!

Steve McQueen’s Masterpiece ’12 Years a Slave’ Tops TIFF

“Right now I couldn’t do a better film than Shame,” said director Steve McQueen back in 2012. “I couldn’t do better, but I hope the next one that I do will be better. It will be better.” And although Shame was an masterpiece of emotionally gutting intimate psychology in its own right, McQueen’s follow up has proved to surpass everyone’s expectations, and apparently, even his.

As an unflinching and astounding director whose brilliance is evident in everything he touches, McQueen has delivered, what is sure to be, the year’s most epic film, 12 Years a Slave. With a passion and talent for exposing brutality with an honest and emotional eye, McQueen’s film showcases the work of a man who harbors an uncompromising vision and an incredible ability to pull performances from the marrow of his actors. Without pandering to an audience, without trying to dull down the absolute horror of Solomon Northup’s story or the atrocity of slavery, McQueen’s film unravels you emotionally from its very start and leaves you with the sensation that you have truly just watched a film—that feeling you cannot shake even hours leaving the theater, that’s what cinema is about.
And after its warm reception at TIFF and in Venice, last night 12 Years a Slave took home the award for BlackBerry’s People Choice award—and rightfully so. Is this an indication of Oscar contention? Will all the ravenous hype thus far elevate the film to a Best Picture award? Who cares. All that matters is that with this film McQueen has created a picture that will last in Hollywood and illuminate an enormous part of American history with an unwavering and beautifully-crafted authenticity. Looking at his progression from Hunger to Shame to this, we can only anticipate what he could possibly do next. “ I’m not reactionary; I’m not trying to stir the pot. I’m just trying to make films that have a reason to be made.”
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono)
The BlackBerry People’s Choice Documentary Award

The Square (Jehane Noujaim)

Qissa (Anup Singh)

All the Wrong Reasons (Gia Milani)

Requiem for a Robot (Christoph Rainer)

Noah (Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg)

When Jews Were Funny (Alan Zweig)

Asphalt Watches (Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver)
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for Special Presentations
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Prize of the International Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery Programme

The Amazing Catfish (Claudia Sainte-Luce)

Watch Steve McQueen & the Cast of ’12 Years a Slave’ at Their TIFF Press Conference

Director Steve McQueen is nothing short of a hero. With only a small amount of films under his belt, he’s proven to be a beacon for modern cinema, creating briliant work that’s both brutally human and viciously beautiful. And not only is he talented, but it’s his self-possessed and outspoken nature and his refusal to pander to Hollywood or hide from challenge that sets him above his contemporaries. And after his second film Shame debuted to mixed criticism, anticipation has been running high for his next feature 12 Years a Slave.

After premiering in Venice and Toronto this past week, there’s no doubting McQueen’s film has far exceeded expectations, with reviews hailing the film a masterpiece. And with someone as interesting as McQueen at the helm, as well as a cast full of brilliant actors, the press conference held at TIFF over the weekend is indeed a fantastic watch of its own. “I made this movie because I wanted to tell a story about slavery, a story for me that hadn’t been given a platform in cinema,” says McQueen. “It’s one thing to read about slavery, it’s one thing to have these illustrations about slavery, but when you see it on celluloid, when you have a narrative, it’s different…If that starts a conversation it’s wonderful. It’s about time.”
Watch as McQueen and the cast navigate their way through the oft inane questions posed, as well as what they illuminate for us about McQueen’s stunning picture.

Steve McQueen’s ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ to be Released by Fox Searchlight This December

After seeing Shame upwards of three times in theaters and spending countless hours at MoMA throughout the year hiding out watching his 1994 short film Deadpan, it’s safe to say I am more than ready for vicious director Steve McQueen’s next film. As one of the most fearless and thrilling directors in contemporary cinema, McQueen crafts harrowing pictures that cut straight to the heart and rip you apart from the inside out.

And as of today, it’s been announced that his highly-anticipated Twelve Years a Slave has been acquired by Fox Searchlight. And it seems they’re on quite a roll lately, with the success of last year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and the upcoming premieres of The East and Trance, as well as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel next year. Having worked with McQueen before on Shame, there doesn’t seem to be better fit. And although it appears the film will not be premiering at Cannes, today we learn that there is in fact a release slated for December 27th, 2013.

Twelve Years a Slave stars a host of wonderful talent from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender (of course) and Benedict Cumberbatch, to Paul Giamatti and Scoot McNairy, as well as Fox Searchlight alums, Beasts stars Quvezhane Wallis and Dwight Henry. The film is based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography, telling his story as a slave who was kidnapped and put in a slave pen, "paving the way for a grueling life under numerous owners."


Let’s just say, I am more than a little excited for this one.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Explains Title Change to His Directorial Debut & New Stills From ‘Don Jon’

For someone that’s been around Hollywood for most of his life, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems strangely reluctant to push boundaries. Not that he doesn’t take on interesting roles or try his hand in all mediums, but when it comes to his directorial debut, it appears, with each new development, that he is chipping away at something interesting and powerful to make it safe. After re-cutting his Don Jon’s Addiction post-Sundance to appease the MPAA and have it fit nicely into an R-rating, the actor/director has taken things a step further by chopping off the "Addiction" from the title

Now simply, Don Jon, JGL was concerned that the title was giving off the wrong message about the film, leading potential viewers astray down a path of sex-fueled nights and emotionally hollow days. Personally, I was led to believe from every bit of information about the picture that this was the story of a porn-addicted lothario who desperately tries to unplug from the online smut when he finds human connection in two women, but maybe I was looking at this from the wrong angle—that glaring ADDICTION, you know?

JGL released a thorough explanation for the title change, and along with it, his own explanation of the film—telling us exactly how he wants us to see it and what it’s supposed to mean, as if the title was really going to sway all of the work that went into the feature. But really, is this all necessary? It’s very polite of you, JGL, but since when do directors change the titles of their films to help us understand it better and then provide us with a very cookie-cutter mold for us to view the film through? I’m pretty sure Steve McQueen didn’t issue a statement telling us that although his film was titled Shame, don’t be confused— Brandon doesn’t always appear to be experiencing distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

But whatever, along with the explanation we also get a few stills from Don Jon, including a first shot of JGL and Tony Danza, who plays his father. We also get a look at Scarlett Johansson as one of the his romantic leads and of course, a nice one of him pumping iron as well.

Check out the explantation and stills below.

Hey everybody,

So, as you might’ve heard already, I wrote and directed a movie last year, and it’s coming out later this year. Which is absolutely crazy, and I still kinda can’t believe it. Anyway, I’m posting this today to let you all know that I’m changing its title. It’s now called… DON JON. I decided to change it, first of all, because DON JON is just so short and simple, and if you know me, you know I’m a fan of brevity. Second of all, it felt to me like the old title, “Don Jon’s Addiction” was throwing some people off a bit from the point of the movie. People were assuming it was a film about porn addiction and sex addiction, which really isn’t true. That’d be sort of like saying “The Maltese Falcon” is a movie about a statue of a falcon. DON JON is a comedy about how men and women treat each other, and how the media we consume can create unrealistic expectations that we put on one another. That’s why the story centers around a relationship between a young man (played by me) who watches too much pornography and a young woman (played by Scarlett) who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies. It’s a topic I personally find fascinating and hilarious.

And while I have your attention, I figured I’d show you the first production still we’re releasing of Jon’s father, played by none other than Tough Tony Danza. More to show soon. We’re just starting to work on the trailer now. And I’m heading down to SxSW with Tony this weekend with the film, so I’ll see some of you in Austin!thanks again.






Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Cutting Graphic Sex Scenes From ‘Don Jon’s Addiction’ But I Wish He Wouldn’t

In order appease the MPAA, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is cutting some "graphic" sex scenes from his directorial debut Don Jon’s Addiction. But I wonder if he’s concerned at all about how that will effect the film has a whole? Not to say that I’m assuming it relies on purely on sexual appeal, but for a film about a porn-addicted lothario who is desperately trying to unplug himself from an online world of smut, you’d think to make it really interesting we’d want to see all the gritty and gross aspects of his life. We want to see that point where porn loses all sexual appeal and just becomes this sad and frightening crutch for comfort, offering as much emotional and psychological nourishment as a bowl of M&Ms.

But whatever, apparently JGL, who is currenrly at the Berlin Film Festival promoting the picture, says, "Yes, we expect we have to do that and I’ll be getting started on it as soon as I get back. But like, I can’t imagine JGL’s world being any more graphic and starkly sexual than Steve McQueen’s Shame, which operated fine within the R rating confines. "I think it is important that those images are in there but what precisely you see isn’t that important," JGL went on to say. "We were very careful about picking just the right moments, just the right videos, and cropping them just the right way so that it feels like you’re seeing more than you’re actually seeing. You don’t technically see anything that’s not allowed in a rated R movie." Not allowed? Well, just as a reminder, here are some films that were originally given an X rating and still remain some of the best work of the last century.

Last Tango in Paris

Straw Dogs 

Midnight Cowboy

A Clockwork Orange

Who Should Really Win Academy Awards This Year?

Let’s face it: this year’s Oscar nominees seemed a little, well, off. As soon as the nominations were announced, it really struck home that there is an enormous disconnect between the voters and the passionate cinema-goers who actually look at film on a broader scope than just what’s playing at the multiplex down the street. The Los Angeles Times called it: the Academy is overwhelmingly white and male (not to mention the median age of 62), which might explain why Billy Crystal has stepped in to host the ceremony for the ninth time. While there were plenty of powerful movies deserving of recognition, this year’s Oscars lauded the typical melodramatic and emotionally manipulative fare. But what would happen if the Academy put on a show representative of the changing trends in cinema?

For starters, there’d be no Extremely Twee and Incredibly Manipulative 9/11 Movie. And while we appreciate the love letters to cinema in the form of The Artist and Hugo, there’d be fewer masturbatory films that appeal to the Academy’s demographic. Yes, we love Scorcese and Malick and Allen and Spielberg, but why not recognize a few younger directors? And don’t even get us started on The Help. Instead, take a look at what we think deserved (and undeservedly lacked) recognition this year by clicking through the slideshow below. 

Winter Movie Reviews: ‘Carnage,’ ‘Shame,’ ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’

The easiest way to shock the bourgeoisie is to hold up a mirror, something Carnage director Roman Polanski knows a thing or two about. Adapted from the Tony-winning play by Yasmina Reza, this barbed and lively film owes everything to its exceptional leads—Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly—and is so agoraphobic it could almost have been filmed on a stage set. The scene is contemporary Brooklyn, with its peculiar liberal clash of granola and BlackBerrys. Two couples, one haughty in its feigned lack of pretension, the other pretentious in its delusions of grandeur, meet in an apartment one winter afternoon to discuss an afterschool brawl that involved the child of one pair thwacking the offspring of the other with a stick. It doesn’t take long for everything to come apart at the seams. After several hysterical monologues and a prodigious amount of vomit courtesy of Ms. Winslet, what remains is a miasma of hypocrisy and self-delusion, which is not to say the whole affair isn’t terribly funny. If nervous laughter is a sign that you’re too close to home, Carnage cuts to the quick. —Megan Conway

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Novices to the smoke-and-mirrors tactics of the espionage thriller might require a second viewing to keep track of who’s double-crossing who—frankly, even who’s who—in this twisty adaptation of John le Carré’s classic genre novel. Awash in a Cold War palette of iron grays and military browns, Tinker, Tailor resurrects a familiar spycraft storyline: expose—and then whack—the mole. A Soviet spook has breached the highest level of British intelligence, known as “the  Circus,” and it’s up to Gary Oldman, playing le Carré’s mild-mannered but brilliant protagonist, George Smiley, to sniff him out. Along the way, the actor proves once again that he’s as much chameleon as he is human. With a roster of the best actors Britain has to offer, including Tom Hardy and an oily Colin Firth, and fastidious dedication to the minutiae of le Carré’s world—from thinning hairlines to duplicitous stares—director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) prods the viewer into doing what every good spy must: look closely, then look again. —Ben Barna
With Shame, British fine artist Steve McQueen secures his place as one of the world’s most uncompromising—and controversial—filmmakers. Reuniting with Michael Fassbender, star of his 2008 debut, Hunger, about the famous hunger strike led by IRA prisoner Bobby Sands, the director takes on the topic of sex addiction. While Shame is beautiful to look at, what we see ain’t pretty. Fassbender plays Brandon, a calculating Manhattanite whose sterile apartment and insatiable appetite for flesh leave him one chainsaw away from Patrick Bateman country, were it not for a flicker of conscience. That inner voice only grows louder when Brandon gets a surprise visit from his bohemian sister (Carey Mulligan), a lounge singer named Sissy who desperately wants to connect to her brother. In the film’s most wrenching scene, she croons a version of “New York, New York” that brings Brandon to tears, his mysterious inner turmoil literally spilling over. McQueen’s New York is glassy and cold, built for anonymous encounters. It’s only when those encounters get too personal that Brandon is overcome by the film’s titular emotion. —BB
Man on a Ledge
While English majors might be inclined to fish for metaphors, Man on a Ledge takes its title quite literally. The film stars Sam Worthington as Nick Cassidy, a man on the ledge of a building who’s threatening to swan dive to his death. Why? Well, his motives are obscure at first. But as events progress and Cassidy—a former police officer and current fugitive—is joined by a police psychologist (the always-welcome Elizabeth Banks) who tries to talk him down, it becomes clear that this escapade is a smokescreen designed to help his young brother (Jamie Bell) pull off a daring diamond heist, one that will clear Cassidy’s name. As a crowd gathers, the would-be jumper ascends to folk hero status, evoking shades of Al Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon. Worthington is no Pacino, but he does do an admirable job of keeping us invested in Cassidy’s fate by injecting moments of levity—pausing, for instance, to wolf down a cheeseburger—that soften these precarious proceedings. —Hillary Weston
In the Land of Blood and Honey
It’s hard to ignore the question that dogs this film: Should audiences cut debut writer-director Angelina Jolie slack for trying something new, or should they condemn the actor-bombshell for making a vanity project? Set in a land torn apart by political strife—it is Jolie, after all—Blood and Honey considers Bosnian
painter Ajla and Serbian nationalist Danijel, who fall in love on the eve of the intractable Bosnian War of the 1990s. In the first scene, they’re dancing in a nightclub. Then, in what’s perhaps an overly literal moment, a bomb explodes. The film veers toward The Night Porter territory when Ajla is brought to a Serbian military camp in the hills outside Sarajevo, where Danijel, the son of a warlord, placates his troops with captive Bosnian women. Ajla and Danijel rekindle their affair, and it’s here that the film begins to find its pace and center of gravity. Blood and Honey contains moments of beauty and credible ambiguity. Its greatest strength might be that by the end, you’ve forgotten entirely who’s calling the shots. —MC