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SEASONS OF LOVE

Love Actually: It successfully crams every manner of rom-com trope into 136 wonderfully smarmy minutes, and we couldn’t be happier with the result. The exceedingly British export is also the perfect Christmas movie, and features a stalker-ish affair between Keira Knightley and that guy who kills everything on The Walking Dead. Get appropriately warm and fuzzy tonight at this screening party featuring themed cocktails, ugly sweaters, and live music by the Mistletones. Remember, “Christmas is all around us, and so the feeling grows.”

Tue., Dec. 9, 9:30 p.m., 2014

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Laggies Gets Adult Loneliness — and Cross-Generational Friendship

It’s an unwritten rule that we’re supposed to feel most in step with people our own age, as if sharing the same cultural and historical references somehow enables our ability to look into each other’s hearts. So why do we sometimes tumble into deeper friendships with people who are 10 or 20 (or more) years our junior or senior? Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, based on a script by Andrea Seigel, sidles up to that question without ever asking it overtly. It doesn’t really need to: Instead, it simply shows us moments of connection between unlikely people, laying out several kinds of loneliness in all their stripes.

The loneliest character of all — though she doesn’t realize it at the beginning — is Keira Knightley’s Megan, a late-twentysomething who’s just earned an advanced degree but still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She lives in her hometown, Seattle, doing truly menial work for her accountant father (Jeff Garlin) — she’s a sign-twirler, and she turns this tedious task into a blasé dance routine. Megan’s longtime boyfriend, Anthony (Mark Webber), wants to get married, and even though she loves him, there’s something in her that rails against the life he’s offering.

Part of the problem is that her old group of friends — a gang to which Anthony also belongs — are so busy planning ridiculous weddings and sprouting baby bumps that they can hardly believe that she, too, doesn’t want these things. They’ve also collectively lost their sense of humor, taking offense when Megan does silly stuff, like tweaking the nipples of a naked Buddha in a Chinese restaurant. “Buddha is sacred to a lot of people!” hisses the most uptight of them, a prissy bride-to-be played by Ellie Kemper. Recognizing that she may no longer have a place in her old pack, Megan falls in with a bunch of high schoolers, among them Chloë Grace Moretz’s orphan-eyed Annika. Megan distracts herself with their problems — their love troubles, their anxiety over parental discord — while she takes a breather from her own issues, though she’s not prepared for one giant, complicating factor: She finds herself attracted to Annika’s dad, Craig (Sam Rockwell), an abrasive, high-strung lawyer who’s still smarting over his own marital disillusionment.

Shelton is particularly skillful at telling stories about people lost in their personal present, like the perplexed, anxious characters in Your Sister’s Sister (2011): Should I have a baby? Should I try to turn a close friendship into romance? Should I sleep with an attractive woman when the opportunity arises? The problems in Laggies are different but hardly less bewildering. If Megan, a certified grown-up, can’t find her place in the world, what hope does Annika have, particularly when she, like her dad, is still stewing over her mother’s abrupt and cruel departure?

But even though Laggies is clearly well-intentioned — and the anxieties it tussles with are completely believable — the film is awkward in ways that are sometimes charming and sometimes off-putting. For the most part, Moretz and Knightley have a cozy sisterly rapport; they’re partners in crime, united against the idiocy of the world. But neither performance fully blooms on its own. In some scenes, Moretz’s Annika seems knowing and manipulative — there’s something about the way her eyes dart that makes you think she’s pulling a fast one, spinning out lies to win Megan over to her side, even though that’s hardly the case. Knightley can be a marvelous actress, but she hits some wrong notes here, at times flashing a smile that looks too much like a misplaced grimace — it’s as if she’s just one take away from getting it right.

It’s the smaller performances that really shine: As Annika’s best friend, Misty, Kaitlyn Dever (who had a small role in last year’s The Spectacular Now, as well as a recurring one on Justified) throws off naughty sparks — she’s a cherubic wisecracker, sort of a post-millennial Dead End Kid. And Gretchen Mol, whose career never quite gained the momentum it should have, especially after her stunning turn in Mary Harron’s 2005 The Notorious Bettie Page, gets just one small, quiet scene, but she’s terrific in it. She plays Bethany, Annika’s runaway mom, a woman who left her daughter to pursue big dreams that never quite materialized. When Megan drives Annika to Bethany’s house for a surprise visit, this radiant but somehow disappointed-looking woman can’t, at first, bring herself to face her daughter — her all-too-readable aura is a mix of shame, disquiet, and curiosity about the child she left behind. “If you treat somebody badly enough, you start assuming they’ll be happy to let you go,” she explains to Megan.

But Megan — who, conveniently, got her degree in marital and family counseling — intervenes, and Bethany comes around. She’s been working as a lingerie model, doing catalog work, and the companies she works for give her lots of free stuff. Would Annika like some of it? She brings out a bagful of bras and panties and holds up one or two delicate little nothings for Annika’s approval. It’s the wrong thing to do, a clumsy way of building a mother-daughter bridge, yet it’s the only thing to do. Mol infuses this nicely written scene with so much cautious sweetness that you believe every second of it. Bethany’s daughter may be a stranger to her, but there’s some hope the gap can be narrowed. A little lace and some Lycra aren’t a bad place to start.

Directed by Lynn Shelton. Written by Andrea Seigel. Starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper, and Gretchen Mol.

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Begin Again Won’t Let Mark Ruffalo Play a Person

Mark Ruffalo’s great gift, besides those scruffy good looks and that prickish, hungover charisma, is capturing the essence of the guy who’s spinning toward a crash but trying to angle himself back. His greatest performance, in Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, one of the best films of the 2000s, is a slow-motion skid-out, a portrait of a man who wishes he could honor the long-term promise of domesticity but can’t help but feel crushed by it — especially since he can enjoy the immediate pleasure of mastering the party and the pool table in any bar in America. Unlike most ramblin’ men in movies, Ruffalo’s Terry Prescott offered no wisdom about what life’s really about, and he was stripped of On the Road romanticism. He wasn’t searching for anything because he suspected there wasn’t a whole lot out there left to find.

More recently, that shifty restlessness has been tapped for The Avengers, where his sleepyheaded Bruce Banner also barely holds it together. Instead of hitting the road when life gets too tough, Banner’s going to punch the world — it’s the fantasy of the go-nowhere dude he captured so adeptly in Lonergan’s film, fight or flight blown up into smash or dash.

Begin Again, like several of Ruffalo’s more lackluster pictures, improves if you pretend his character is actually Prescott or Banner a couple years later, that this unsteady hunk might get fed up and either catch or throw a bus out of town. No such luck, unfortunately. Ruffalo stars as one of those movie guys who has it all but loses it in the first 15 minutes so that he can learn the kind of lessons Terry Prescott would laugh at. He gets fired, he’s separated from his wife, his daughter won’t talk to him, he sleeps on a grubby mattress in the Village, and his vintage Jaguar does what vintage Jaguars do: It craps out, giving him the chance to pound the wheel and collapse in an effective (but familiar) static shot.

Ruffalo plays Dan, the founder of a once-pioneering record label now scraping along in the internet age. He’s sold his interest and stayed on as an A&R rep, but he can’t score a hit. Once his truth-telling boorishness gets him canned, he winds up drunk at a Village open mic night, where he’s shaken with a this-is-what-it’s-all-about revelation: a plaintive ditty sung by Gretta (Keira Knightley) to a crowd not paying attention. The scene is writer-director John Carney’s strongest, or at least his most daring. As Knightley strums into the void, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, Ruffalo’s Dan imagines the drums kicking in and a string section sawing away, all of which we actually see, the sticks and bows working themselves without human hands. That his fantasy arrangement is hopelessly overwrought doesn’t kill the moment. Here’s a desperate man, dreaming big, and Ruffalo and the movie both sell it — for a scene.

From there, despite sturdy performances, Carney’s film never again connects to such urgent human feeling. That might not be a surprise, considering this is a movie about a down-on-his-luck millionaire willing to bet that Keira Knightley might be a star. Since he’s so obviously right, and since he’s not risking much at all, the story collapses into a curiously tension-free New York musical. All that prickly inner conflict Ruffalo is so adept at suggesting? Cheery Begin Again wants none of it, offering instead lots of scenes of two characters we don’t believe could ever exist arguing about authenticity in pop music. Dan’s old label isn’t interested in signing her, and Knightley’s character is too principled to sell out or stop cuffing her pants so high they look like culottes, so she and Dan hit on a plan just crazy enough to work in montage: record an album live outside in the city, each song captured in alleys, on rooftops, or — seriously? — the platform of the Wall Street subway station.

Dedicating themselves to her art solves all their problems, of course. Knightley plays Gretta, a songwriter from England who came to the States with her suddenly successful boyfriend (Adam Levine), a John Mayer type who sings ghastly falsetto pop and, as you might expect, proves no match for the temptations of fame. Carney tries to deepen the characterization some, but the boyfriend’s obviously a cad, which is emblematic of the problem with the movie as a whole: Everything works out exactly the way it seems it will, with only one exception. At times, Begin Again seems to be nudging Dan and Gretta into a romance, and since they’re two gorgeous people who make terrible decisions it wouldn’t be hard to believe, even if the performers don’t spark against each other. (Knightley’s lines never seem to come to her; they feel memorized.) As with his superior Once, Carney admirably resists that impulse — Dan’s estranged wife is played by Catherine Keener, for God’s sake. Who could possibly root for him to find new love?

The musical performances are pleasant, the songs all heartfelt chamber pop of the Aimee Mann or Sam Phillips variety, but without the idiosyncratic genius that might suggest. That goes for the characters Knightley and Ruffalo play, too. They’re pretty, and they have the occasional interesting exchange about the soullessness of the music biz, but you’d never mistake them for the real thing, actual people in the actual world. At least you can imagine he sneaks off to smash sometimes.

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Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: The Apocalypse Drag

Apocalype movies are a venerable enough genre (and reliable enough as box office cash spigots) to support a few lightweight, funny-sad-romantic entries every once in a while. Given the right touch, this approach can be just the antidote to the idea-free, effects-laden blockbusters and art house pity parties that dominate the form; it’s conceivable and even reassuring that the end of things might be muted rather than top volume.

It’s too bad, then, that Lorene Scafaria, screenwriter of the chipper, inexplicably lauded Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and first-time director of this Steve Carell summer-vehicle misfire, lacks that touch. By turns bizarrely affectless and then prattlingly manic, much like its dual protagonists, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World unfolds during the wind-down of civilization as we know it. A massive asteroid is three weeks away from impact with Earth (a TV-news voiceover at the start of the film describes the failure of an Armageddon-like space mission to obliterate the thing), and the world—or at least Southern California subbing for suburban New Jersey—copes, or doesn’t, with imminent demise.

Insurance salesman Dodge Petersen (Carell at his most downcast) continues to slog to the office and gym; Elsa (Tonita Castro), his housekeeper, keeps showing up to clean; his married friends (Rob Corddry and Connie Britton) throw dinner parties that have all the end-of-the-world abandon of an aborted swingers confab circa 1982; and so on. The odd high-rise jumper and traffic snarl aside, things go on pretty much as normal. Dodge, whose wife has had the good sense to run off into the night, meets perky neighbor Penny (a seriously unwound Keira Knightley) just as riots break out, and the pair flees—along with a charming terrier unloaded on Dodge by a stranger—to track down his first love and a possible charter flight to the U.K., so Penny can spend doomsday with the folks.

The reckonings and realizations fly once Seeking a Friend hits the road, and for all the absurdity of its characters achieving clear-eyed, perfectly articulated peace with their past demons in this stretch of the movie (I’m guessing pants-shitting panic would be more the norm), it’s a relief after the excruciatingly unfunny first act. Scafaria, who also wrote the film, floats the notion that sticking to routine in the presence of overwhelming chaos is a way of giving life meaning. That’s fair, but she conveys this with so little irony or insight that Dodge’s workmates, domestic servant, and the gaggle of randy, dedicated T.G.I. Friday’s–esque waitstaff he and Penny encounter on their journey come off more as morons than heroes. (Never mind the weird class contempt that’s attached to these characters.) This is banal, flinch-inducing stuff, so by the time Martin Sheen turns up down the highway as Dodge’s long-lost dad, it’s a breath of fresh air in spite of his speechifying.

This is unfortunate, because as Scafaria captures one-on-one intimacy with frankness and finesse, she manages to draw something real and touching from Knightley, who otherwise can’t stop mugging, and even the largely unearned poignancy of the movie’s climactic scene packs a punch. (On the other hand, Scafaria seems indifferent to visual innovation.) What’s missing from the story is the one element any apocalypse narrative suffocates without: a sense of urgency. By putting so much effort into straddling the lines between darkness and whimsy and profundity and absurdity, Seeking a Friend achieves the colorless tedium of a safe, dozy dream of catastrophe instead of anything like the real deal.

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Keira Knightley Reveals the Secret Behind Her Spanking Scene!

From the second Keira Knightley shrieks her way into A Dangerous Method for a Carl Jung talking cure that ultimately leads to a spanking session, I was in love with her fiery performance. The 26-year-old British actress—who segues blithely from franchise sequels to art films—plays the troubled Sabina Spielrein in the David Cronenberg–directed look at the early days of psychoanalysis.

Her take on the hysteria-laden human catalyst has divided people like Jung himself did, but I admired her guts enough to lay her on my Naugahyde couch for a searing interrogation about it last week.

“I’ve never done anything like that,” Knightley told me, “and I was amazed that David offered it to me. I thought, ‘If he’s going to offer me something like this, I’m just gonna go for it.’ I knew nothing about psychoanalysis or Freud or Jung, so I did research to find out what made her behave the way she did.”

And . . . ? “Although she’s a masochist,” complied Knightley, “she would have sadistic sides of her personality. Sadomasochism is a circle. A masochist will find a sadist, and if they can’t, they will become the sadist. It also involves playing a victim and being manipulative and forcing people into positions they’re uncomfortable with.” I know, dear, I know.

Knightley says Sabina transferred her feelings about her father onto Jung (Michael Fassbender), whom she loved and hated at the same time. And did Knightley herself love/hate getting whooped by the Shame star? “I was concerned about those scenes,” she admitted. “David Cronenberg said, ‘If you’re uncomfortable with them, we’ll just take it out.’ I didn’t want that to happen because I knew it was important for the story and not gratuitous at all. We discussed how he would shoot it and the purpose of the scenes, and it became easier for me to film them because I knew the reason they were there.”

And it probably helped that her butt never bristled, even after multiple takes. “I didn’t actually get spanked,” she revealed. “He didn’t actually touch me. He hit a box.” And, yes, the box was union.

“The character is fascinating to me,” added Knightley, “because of the amazing struggle she fought her whole life. It wasn’t like a miracle cure. This is someone constantly fighting with the side of herself that wanted to destroy everything, herself included.”

As for those who have transferred their feelings about their father onto A Dangerous Method, Knightley says: “It was always going to be a controversial film. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. You come up with a bland piece when you try to please everyone.”

Even more period self-destruction awaits in Anna Karenina, the remake she and Jude Law have wrapped for Joe Wright (who also Wrighted her in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement). “It’s a very different version,” Knightley told me. “There’s definitely a concept behind it that’s different from the others.” Perhaps a story within a story? “No, but yes, but no,” she responded, obliquely.

And what’s the story with The Children’s Hour, the stage melodrama Knightley revived in London last year? “The movie disturbed me as a young lesbian,” I smirked. “Is it really still relevant?”

“When we started rehearsing it,” Knightley replied, unfazed, “a student in America had said she’d seen a teacher kissing another [same-sex] teacher in the school. Ellen Burstyn brought the news article to rehearsal and said, ‘If anyone says the play isn’t relevant, tell them about this.’ It’s not just the homophobic aspect of it. The story is about what happens with a lie and how we’re so quick to judge people.”

Don’t be quick to judge Keira Knightley. Analysis reveals her to be perfectly fine, spank you very much.

And Now for a Gossip Cure

I also got to analyze director Stephen Daldry about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the one about the boy and the mute unraveling a mystery left by the kid’s father, who died on 9/11. “The kid’s journey is trying to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense,” Daldry told me at 21. “The kid creates his own therapy, and the mother then colludes.” Better than a talking cure, I’m sure. But how was my girl Sandra Bullock, pray tell? “She was like a proper partner in the movie and a proper leading lady,” he said, admiringly. Alas, while James Gandolfini played her proper boyfriend, the footage got ba-da-binged. As for Daldry, he’s going on to co-direct the Olympics, but he’s not going to make it about a boy looking for a father figure.

At a recent tribute to hot daddy Larry King, comic Colin Quinn mercifully seized things by the suspenders and it turned into a roast. I just ran into Quinn and told him how funny he was, and he impishly replied, “That was the longest night of my life!”

Comedy legend Neil Simon recently had a short night of entertainment. I hear Simon sat down for what he thought was an Academy screening of the animated film Alois Nebel. But Simon had written down the wrong time and soon realized he was actually at Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. He mutinied after five minutes.

Another comic near-miss: A source tells me that at Barney’s recently, Meg Ryan bumped into Nora Ephron, the woman behind three of Meg’s smashes. Or she almost did. The two were within feet of each other’s oversize sunglasses, but they simply proceeded in different ways! Weird! Unless they just didn’t recognize each others’ faces.

In other female shopping gossip, guess what Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have on when she wears a track suit, according to a close personal souse, I mean source? Underwear! All the better for some Jungian spanking scenes.

musto@villagevoice.com

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London Boulevard

The gift William Monahan gets from the gods for winning his Departed-screenplay Oscar, this bristly Brit noir has a slick and dazzling chassis, from the Tarantino-esque opening credits to the Yardbirds songs to the torrent of East End profanity. The story, from Ken Bruen’s book, is in the end a little less substantial, a small-boned saga about an ex-con (Colin Farrell) looking to skirt the low life and stay clean, and landing an ill-defined job as Man Friday to an agoraphobic, paparazzi-besieged actress (Keira Knightley). Thanks to her wealth and unused luxury cars, our hero is pressured by underworld types, in particular Ray Winstone as the requisite soft-spoken psychopathic crime boss, to loot the premises. Monahan rather deftly conjures a novelistic raft of characters—David Thewlis as the actress’s dope-addled assistant, Ben Chaplin as Farrell’s sleazy Johnny Boy buddy, Anna Friel as a bipolar ditz, Eddie Marsan as a bent copper, etc.—but unfortunately also a novelistic slackness of purpose. Farrell’s brooder only wants peace—if he loves Knightley’s skeleton princess, he’s not saying—and Winstone’s rhino only wants Farrell as a henchman, so when he’s turned down, corpses pile up. So? A movie of 5,000 lit cigs, Monahan’s debut has verve and charisma, but, in the end, the tension of a late-night pub shrug.

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NYFF: And the Ladies Have It

While gentlemen thespians such as Fassbender, Clooney, and Banderas hog all the headlines, the real story at this year’s New York Film Festival is the ladies. Good, strong, not-egregiously-regressive female roles are notoriously scarce, but in this fall’s survey, at least (and at last), there’s a surfeit of uncommonly compelling female characters. In addition to Oscar-courting turns by Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)—matinee idols with major chops—here are five performances (not a prostitute or a masturbating ballerina among them) worth seeking out at Lincoln Center in the coming weeks.

Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method

We’re used to watching characters go mad, but it’s rare—and frankly disorienting—to meet one who’s as far gone as Sabina Spielrein, a virginal hysteric in fin de siècle Zurich. The film opens on a buggy bounding for the funny farm as Knightley howls, kicks, and cackles, and her first few scenes with Michael Fassbender’s Carl Jung are a worrisome showdown between under- and overstated acting styles. Yet Knightley dials Sabina down, little by little, reining in her jaw juts and ticks until a complexly charismatic person emerges: Jung and Freud’s intellectual equal, she alone understands their theories in both her body and mind. There’s still a monster inside, but now she can control how and when to let it out.

Lola Créton, Goodbye First Love

First seen as a monster’s enigmatically tender child-bride in Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard, the 17-year-old Créton returns with a performance that should ensure a long career as a Gallic queen of the art house. In Mia Hansen-Løve’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama, her character begins at 15 and matures into her mid-twenties, trying different personas before returning to herself; all the while Créton somehow remains both open and interior, expressive and mysterious. There’s an integrity to her performance that converts what could be seen as soap opera—ricocheting between lovers and towns—into something emotionally and philosophically true. She’s fully herself when acknowledging that she has dual affections and desires.

Hani Furstenberg, The Loneliest Planet

Great acting isn’t just about line readings and scene stealing—Furstenberg’s performance is almost exclusively physical. From an opening shot in which she’s sopping wet, naked, and pogoing to stay warm, to mountain-climbing sequences, Furstenberg’s Nica comes alive through action. In Julia Loktev’s elliptical tale of a tourist expedition gone subtly awry, we’re meant to fixate on her star’s body—the camera lingers on her luscious red mane and marvels at her lithe and limber frame—but not idly. When a brief but shocking event estranges Nica from her backpacking partner and fiancé (played by Gael García Bernal), we feel his distance from her acutely. The film’s main attraction is the painterly Georgian landscape, yet Furstenberg, grinning, bounding, gazing, keeps stealing us away from the scenery.

Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Although beautifully written, composed, and constructed, the film simply wouldn’t work without Olsen’s committed and intuitive performance. Playing a young woman who has recently escaped from a cult, Olsen never lets us think of her character as a wayward child or silly dupe. Instead she exudes strength and intelligence and an idealism she won’t abandon regardless of how viciously it has been exploited. Director Sean Durkin complicates villainy to explore how it works, and Olsen complicates victimhood to make us care about the person, not simply what has happened to her.

Cécile de France, The Kid With a Bike

Although she has one of the more recognizable faces in world cinema, de France is never central to the action of this latest Dardenne brothers’ film, and she’s barely ever shot in the center of the frame. Yet from the periphery, she becomes the person through whom we see, love, and try to understand Cyril (Thomas Doret), an orphaned boy who’s desperate for care yet seemingly destined for tragedy. Playing an astonishingly undaunted foster parent, her performance is almost entirely reactive, chasing after her young co-star, receiving his blows, tracking his movements. She might never solicit our attention, but whenever she slides out of frame, we share Cyril’s anxiety over her absence.

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About Last Night: It’s a Bad Facsimile of Desire

This glossy will-they-or-won’t-they adultery drama stars Keira Knightley as Joanna, a writer who accompanies husband Michael (Sam Worthington) to a work party and catches him in discreet flirtation with sultry colleague Laura (Eva Mendes). The young marrieds fight, and before embarking on a business trip with said temptress, Michael almost convinces his wife that she’s just being paranoid. Five minutes later, Joanna runs into Alex (Guillaume Canet), the scruffy-hot French dude with whom she cavorted in Paris when she and Michael were on a pre-marriage break. While her starched-stiff husband’s away, will the sometime-shrew play with the artsy Eurostud who got away? Programmatically cutting back and forth between the two sets of would-be cheaters, each engaged in night-spanning epic conversations about why they’re not having sex, Last Night adopts the “tasteful” erotics of luxury fetishism familiar from the world of fashion propaganda. Here, as in a cosmetics ad, the performers are assigned to telegraph desire as characters defined by visual stereotype, their empty chatter decorated with facile metaphors (e.g., Joanna can’t resist sneaking cigarettes behind Michael’s back—foreshadowing her inability to give up bad habit Alex). The production design is richer in subtext, with the film’s exploration of forbidden intimacies set entirely in non-intimate spaces—open-plan Tribeca lofts, a business-traveler hotel, the awkward-run-in trap that is the trendy Manhattan restaurant. First-time director Massy Tadjedin conjures some essence of constrained desire, but mostly from the architecture.

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The Edge of Love Teeters into Period Genre Trap

No longer weighted down by the perukes she had to wear in The Duchess, Keira Knightley returns to the simpler chignons of Atonement in another World War II-set prestige piece with a starchy literary pedigree-this one scripted by her mum, Sharman MacDonald. Knightley sings and affects a Welsh whisper as Vera, a childhood friend of Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys, the gay sib on Brothers and Sisters), who meets up with the pickled poet in London during the Blitz. When Thomas’s even more aggro spouse, Caitlin (Sienna Miller, in a role originally attached to Lindsay Lohan), arrives, Vera opens her flat to the couple, and the trio becomes one big cuddle-puddle. Adding a fourth wheel, Vera hastily marries stoic soldier William (Cillian Murphy); while he’s fighting in Greece, the threesome decamp to adjoining cottages in Wales. Director John Maybury showed a defter hand with the artist biopic in his 1998 Francis Bacon film, Love Is the Devil. Here, he repeatedly falls into the genre’s traps, creating an inert, claustrophobic movie in which the constant sound of inhaled cigarette smoke is as showboaty as Rhys murmuring Thomas’s poetry and Murphy’s shell-shock. Occasionally, Angelo Badalamenti’s fine score will pleasantly remind you of Mulholland Drive. Knightley and Miller’s pseudo-sapphic tub-splashing will not.

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Keira Knightley Goes Aristocratic Yet Again For The Duchess

Based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, Saul Dibb’s costume drama tells how Princess Diana’s 18th-century ancestor (played here by Keira Knightley)—a naive ingénue married off in her teens to a fornicating icy stiff (get the parallel?)—grew into a politically sophisticated woman. Cruising lightly over Georgiana’s activism, Dibb firmly turns the spotlight on her love life, in which she must come to terms with a ménage à trois at home and a passionate love affair with Charles, Earl of Grey (an incongruously laddish Dominic Cooper), a future prime minister and namesake of the posh tea. But for all its frisky high jinks, brocaded homes, and creamy bosoms, The Duchess is a tragedy about the terrifying vulnerability of even the richest women in a society that deprives them of property rights. As a tale of mature self-sacrifice, the movie would be almost unbearably moving were it not for Knightley’s insubstantial performance, which allows her to be fatally upstaged by Ralph Fiennes—who, despite having played many a stiff quite stiffly, has bags of fun here playing Georgiana’s husband: a jerk, but also a man of his time who’s not oblivious to the happiness of the women in his life.