Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Hugo may be based on Brian Selznick’s enchanting
book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but it winds up playing more like a
heartfelt thank you letter that director Martin Scorsese has written to his
predecessors in the field. Thankfully what he’s made on his own is worthy of
the artists he wants to celebrate. It’s also full of fun and wonder.
Set in the railroad
station of Paris in 1931, Hugo follows a lad who could easily be
mistaken for the copious machinery there. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is only
about 10 or 12, but he’s responsible for keeping all the clocks in the station
in working order.
Technically, his uncle
Claude (Ray Winstone) is supposed to do that, but Hugo is an orphan and has no
place else to go. While Claude spends his days making sure that Paris’ whiskey
flasks are properly emptied, Hugo, his uncompensated apprentice, slips in and
out of clocks and has to steal for food and parts for a mysterious device he
keeps in his home.
The device is an
automaton, a windup man who can write once he’s activated. Hugo’s father
(played in flashbacks by Jude Law) was repairing the machine before his death.
Hugo believes the device could have a message from his dad, so he’s scrambling
to find any loose gear or other part that might be used to fix the automaton.
He makes the mistake of
robbing a toy merchant named Papa Georges (Sir Ben Kingsley). The old man wakes
from his slumber and forces Hugo to empty his pockets. Georges then confiscates
a notebook from Hugo’s father, threatening to burn it. There’s something in
those sketches that he doesn’t like.
With the help of Georges’
goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), he’s able to convince the old man to
let him repair his toys. After spending all day maintaining the clocks,
repairing windup mice is easy. The two men form an uneasy friendship. The old
man teaches Hugo a series of impressive magic tricks, but he gets agitated
whenever Isabelle or Hugo start bringing up some sketches they’ve discovered by
him or whenever they bring up the past, or movies.
Hugo discovers that
toys, magic and movies are all connected to Georges, but he can’t figure out
how. He also helps Isabelle sneak into a film so that she can discover what
At least working for
Georges keeps Hugo from the clutches of the determined Station Inspector (Sacha
Baron Cohen). Stuck with a wounded leg, he patrols the station with zeal and
thinks nothing of forcing a starving urchin into an orphanage.
If, like me, you’re so
in love with the movies that you will readily watch something, silent,
black-and-white or subtitled, it probably won’t take you long to figure out who
Georges really is. If however, you are not a film scholar or a fan of the
period, Scorsese will skillfully turn you into one without you even knowing it.
Without beating viewers
over the head, Scorsese populates Hugo with copious reminders of the
period. Blink for a second, and you’ll miss a shot of James Joyce or Django
Reinhardt. Screenwriter John Logan (Scorsese’s The Aviator) wisely
avoids pointing out to the audience who any of the luminaries of post World War
I France are. Nobody says, “Hey, aren’t you Django Reinhardt?” Logan and
Scorsese correctly figure that viewers would rather follow the story and take
in the consistently breathtaking visuals.
Hugo is Scorsese’s first film in 3D, and he uses it
with a subtlety and finesse that has been missing from the shamefully
overpriced movies that have treated the technology simply as a gimmick.
Scorsese hides objects behind steam, smoke or snow and draws viewers into
discovering clues to the story. With his regular collaborators production
designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Robert Richardson, it’s guaranteed
that Hugo would be great to look at. It doesn’t hurt that Selznick’s
original book was told by alternating between images and text. It’s almost as
if Selznick had storyboarded the movie before a production deal had even been
Like the filmmakers
they’re celebrating, Scorsese and his collaborators are trying to push the
limits of what movie technology can do and what sort of subject matter can
grace the big screen. There’s a lot of content in Hugo that might go
over the heads of children, but that’s much of its charm. The Station Inspector
attempts to impress people by using and misusing lots of words that aren’t
likely to make an elementary school vocabulary test. Then again, kids sometimes
love it if they can figure out something that baffles grownups.
When asked if a film is
good for children, it’s occasionally difficult to come up with a definitive
answer because youngsters can react unpredictably to what’s on screen and each
one is different. It’s easy to empathize with frustrated video store clerk
Randal in Clerks when a nervous parent queries, “Is this movie good for
a six year old autistic child?”
While I’m unable to
answer that question, I can say that Logan and Scorsese do several things I
wish more filmmakers would do in movies aimed at kids. Baron Cohen’s Station
Inspector initially seems like a buffoonish villain, but Logan and Baron Cohen
also give him a dignity that other filmmakers might not.
He’s a wounded veteran
of the Great War, and he’s earnestly trying to win the heart of a pretty flower
vender (Emily Mortimer). By having a dynamic antagonist, Logan and Scorsese
advise kids not to assume people who disagree with them are necessarily bad.
It’s a given that Baron Cohen’s antics will be funny, but it’s also great that
viewers aren’t asked to wish for the Station Inspector’s ruin in the process.
This warmth runs
throughout Hugo and is a pleasant reminder of how Scorsese and a lot of
others have fallen in love with movies and will probably continue to do so.
(PG) Rating: 5
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
It’s unfortunate that Danish
writer-director Lars von Trier (Antichrist)
is now best known for his bizarre remarks about Hitler at Cannes this year.
“I understand Hitler, but I think he
did some wrong things, yes, absolutely. ... He's not what you would call a good
guy, but I understand much about him, and I sympathize with him a little bit.
But come on, I'm not for the Second World War, and I'm not against Jews,” he
said during a press conference that got him permanently banned from the
Sadly his strange, if not foolish or
even offensive remarks detracted from one of his more intriguing movies. Melancholia is loaded with the same
striking visuals and grim themes that have dominated von Trier’s other movies,
but his protagonists are more sympathetic, in part, because they’re not begging
for their own demise.
The film begins with an eight-minute
montage of beautiful but disconcerting sights, accompanied by Richard Wagner’s “Tristan
and Isolde.” If you’re looking for Nazi comparisons, you can stop here. There
aren’t any more.
We see shots of an ominous looking
cosmos contrasted with images that initially look serene, but we can see birds
falling like leaves during autumn. Apparently, something really dreadful and even
apocalyptic has been happening. If I ever become ravaged by some horrible
disfiguring ailment, I want cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro to photograph
me because I think he’d make me look like a young Gary Cooper.
When the film actually kicks into gear,
it follows a newlywed named Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and her likable, if not
terribly perceptive husband Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). Their stretched limo
gets stuck on the way to the palatial home of her sister Claire (Charlotte
Gainsbourg) and her smug, short-tempered brother-in-law John (Kiefer
Sutherland). Perhaps the hapless chauffeur was doing the couple a favor.
While the reception is lavish (John
continually reminds Claire and Justine how much it’s costing him), Justine is
miserable. While some brides might dream of holding a wedding in a mansion
surrounded by a golf course, Claire senses all is not well.
It doesn’t take long to discover why.
Claire’s father (John Hurt) is something of an alcoholic dolt, and her mother
(Charlotte Rampling) tells anyone who will listen to her loud outbursts that
she thinks marriage should be avoided at all costs. She might be the worst
wedding guest in history, but at least she has integrity.
The best man is Jack (Stellan
Skarsgård, Alexander’s real-life dad), Justine’s boss. He runs the ad firm
where she churns out seductive copy. He’s so obsessed with work that he
promotes her during the reception and forces an uneducated lad named Tim (Brady
Corbet) to work for him, promoting shoddy merchandise.
It’s no wonder she looks at her coming
life with dread. All that money comes from dealing with loathsome people and
intolerable moral compromises. There’s also a scary looking star off in the
distance that indicates the worst is yet to come.
The film abruptly switches to Claire’s
point of view. If John seems like an oaf as a brother-in-law, imagine having
him for your smug, abrasive husband. We also gradually learn that the object
that was visible in the sky on the night of Justine’s wedding is actually an
out of orbit planet named Melancholia that’s now visible to the naked eye
during the daytime. At times, it appears bigger than the moon. Claire has a
difficult time explaining to her son Leo (Cameron Spurr) how, despite John’s
fatuous assurances, this can be a good thing.
In a lot of his earlier movies, von
Trier seemed to have an animosity toward
women. Horrible things happened to them, or they lead foolish males to their
mutual doom. In Melancholia, however,
the women seem to be the only ones who have a clue about the enormity of the
coming doom, even if they don’t have data to back up their intuitions yet.
Claire and Justine may get on each
other’s nerves, and Justine does a lot of rash, strange things. But both,
unlike their men, know you can be materially rich and still have crummy lives.
Both also understand there are a lot of things human beings have done during
our time on this planet that could use a good liquidation.
Dunst and Gainsbourg are terrific and
play off each other well, even if one begins to wonder why one sister sounds
American and the other sounds British. von Trier may be doing this odd but
successful casting on purpose. To keep the film from becoming relentlessly
morose, von Trier chooses the eternally creepy Udo Kier as a well-meaning but
befuddled wedding planner. One look at his face indicates the nuptials are
doomed, but who knew he had such a wonderful sense of humor?
Despite the modest budget, Melancholia is breathtaking to look at,
and the stellar collisions would make Michael Bay or James Cameron proud even
if von Trier actually has something worthwhile to say as he’s endangering the
Melancholia moves at
a measured but steady pace and remains gripping despite its two-and-a-half hour
running time. Perhaps it’s because von Trier is saying that if we can’t avoid
doom from the cosmos, it would be best to make a world whose loss is worth
mourning. If only he had said something like that at the press conference, we’d
be celebrating his film instead of chiding his errant tongue (R) Rating: 4.5 (Posted
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
George Clooney became a
star because he projects a sense of authority. Simply by standing in front of a
camera, he commands attention. What makes his latest vehicle The Descendants so fascinating is that co-writer director Alexander Payne (Sideways)
features the actor playing someone who’s not really in charge of anything.
At the beginning of The
Descendants, Matt King (Clooney) has a successful career as an attorney, a
nice home in Honolulu and a potential landfall coming from a patch of land his
family owns on the island of Kaua’i. Because he’s the trustee, he has an
unusual amount of control of the deal.
For all of his legal
gymnastics, Matt has spent far too much time at the office. His wife Elizabeth
is in a coma following a boating accident. Prior to the accident, the couple had
been drifting apart, and Matt had left raising their two daughters Alexandra
(Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) to her.
As Matt discovers, this
was a mistake. The 17-year-old Alexandra and the 10-year-old Scottie need all
the attention they can get. The firstborn child is in sort of a reform school,
and the younger daughter sends hateful, profane text messages to her
classmates. While Matt was filing cases, Elizabeth wasn’t doing much in the
parenting department, either.
Matt feels overwhelmed
by his new responsibility, but he gradually learns that his daughters aren’t
mere brats. Alexandra became furious with Elizabeth before the accident because
she caught her mother cheating on Matt.
In trying to find the
man who cuckolded him, Matt finally begins connecting with his offspring in a
way he hasn’t before. He doesn’t have much choice in the matter because
Elizabeth isn’t going to get any better.
The storyline for The
Descendants sounds rather glum, but Payne manages to squeeze quite a bit of
humor out of the scenario. For one thing, Matt discovers he can’t spend much
time with Alexandra without also dealing with her pal Sid (Nick Krause), who
has a knack for uttering things that guarantee he’ll be punched before he’s
asked to leave.
Scottie also has a knack
for committing acts that are unthinkable. They’re not unthinkably immoral.
They’re just, well, unthinkable. She leaps into the family pool wearing her
sister’s underwear and does things with sand that have to be seen to be
Payne manages to keep
the delicate balance between these antics and the somber nature of what’s
happening in Matt’s life. Matt feels a sense of loss at never having the
opportunity to make up for his failings as a workaholic husband, and Clooney
coveys it effortlessly. As The Descendants unfolds, he comes off like a
child learning to walk when Matt learns that he owes as much to his children
and to his ancestors as he does his clients.
Payne, working from the
novel Kaui Hart Hemmings, also creates some vivid supporting characters,
including Elizabeth’s abrasive father (Robert Forster) and a glib real estate
agent (Matthew Lillard), who loses his ingratiating veneer when confronted with
his moral failings.
Hawaii, the actual
location of the film, looks expectedly great, and Payne includes dozens of
regional songs on the soundtrack. Both establish the setting without slowing
down the story.
The subplot involving
the land deal gets a bit didactic, but Payne makes a convincing case that
having it made doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be happy about it. (R) Rating:
4.5 (Posted on 11/25/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Believing in Santa Claus
can be a tough challenge for a youngster, especially if he or she ever thinks
much about logistics. Arthur Christmas gets off to a terrific start by
letting inquisitive viewers know how the guy in the red suit manages to get all
those toys to two billion kids on a single evening. Made by the droll crew at
Brighton, England’s Aardman Animations (the team behind Wallace & Gromit),
the film’s strongest moments come when director Sarah Smith and her
co-screenwriter Peter Baynham figure out how to make Santa’s annual mission as
plausible as it is anticipated.
No, Jolly old Saint Nick
(voiced by Jim Broadbent) doesn’t personally slide down chimneys to hand out
goodies or eat the cookies and milk. His older son and potential heir Steve
(Hugh Laurie) supervises the operation from a hidden air traffic control center
on the North Pole. Legions of elves, who operate like commandos, slip in and
out of houses delivering the right gifts to the right children. It’s not like
the portly Santa himself could do it. They’re the only ones small enough to
pull it off.
Thanks to Steve’s
arsenal of gizmos, the system has worked flawlessly for decades. Having only
one glitch in two billion deliveries is a record any courier would envy, but it
would sure be unpleasant to be young Gwen (Ramona Marquez) in Cornwall on
Despite all the tools
and the quick thinking, her pink bicycle is still at the shop on the North
Pole. Steve’s earnest but bumbling younger brother Arthur (played to
sweet-hearted perfection by James McAvoy) discovers the bike and begs Steve and
Santa to deliver it before the girl wakes up disappointed. Santa, however, is
sleeping, and Steven isn’t going to risk having his stealth flying fortress
being discovered to get a present to a single girl.
grandfather (Bill Nighy) shares his own zero tolerance policy for undelivered
presents. Angry at having been passed over, he convinces Arthur to join him and
the long retired reindeer for one last unauthorized run. While simple in
concept, the journey winds up being hair-raising because Grandpa hasn’t flown
the sleigh since 1962 (it wasn’t pretty).
If you can imagine what Fred
Claus would have been like if Vince Vaughn were charming instead of
obnoxious, then you might get an idea of what makes Arthur Christmas work. Smith stages lots of jaw dropping flight scenes and finds several
creative ways for the trip to go into disastrous side turns. The characters are
generally appealing, including Imelda Stanton as Mrs. Claus and Ashley Jenson
as Bryony, an elf who can do with wrapping paper what McGuyver can do with
Sadly, the movie loses
some momentum toward the end and feels padded. A good ten minutes could be lost
without being missed. Do they really have to take that many wrong turns?
Nonetheless, the appeal
of Arthur Christmas is that the folks who made it have acknowledged that
believing in Santa Claus requires a good deal of imagination. These folks deserve
credit for admitting that being smart enough to question the discrepancies in
Santa’s trip is a great way to make the journey more entertaining. (PG) Rating:
3.5 (Posted on 11/25/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
The late puppeteer-producer Jim Henson
is still mourned because of his remarkable ability to make viewers care about
felt-skinned characters whose eyes never closed. Thankfully his successors have
managed to retain the charm of Henson’s creations and have done nothing to
disgrace the memories of those of us who have grown up with them.
Muppets manages to sneak the characters back on the screen by reintroducing them from
someone else’s point of view. Walter and Gary are two brothers who are very
close even though the two bear little resemblance. Gary (played by Jason Segel,
who also co-wrote the script with Nicholas Stoller) is a tall, baby-faced
fellow, and Walter (operated by Peter Linz) is, well, a cloths-skinned puppet,
who hasn’t grown since age seven.
It’s not surprising that Walter would
develop a fondness for the Muppets during their heyday in the ‘80s, after all
he’s practically one of them. It’s a no brainer that he’ll join Gary and Gary’s
perky girlfriend Mary (who else but Amy Adams?) on their trip to Los Angeles
and the Muppets Studio.
Mary is dismayed because the two
siblings are inseparable, even though she and Gary have been a couple for a
decade. Walter, however, is horrified to discover that the studio is now barely
a tourist attraction. An aged tour guide (Alan Arkin) is the only occupant on
the lot. Worse, an oil magnate named Tex Richman (KC’s own Chris Cooper) wants
to tear down the facility and drill for more Texas T.
Gary, Walter and Mary team up in an
urgent quest to reunite the Muppets so they can put on a show to save the
studio. While the performers are all capable of performing at peak form again
(puppets generally don’t age), Walter may be part of a diminishing fan base.
Actually, if you’ve been anywhere near
an Ipad or a computer, that’s not very likely. Still, all of that saturation
would get pretty annoying if the characters hadn’t retained their earnest
charm. As with the TV show and the movies that followed, there are a lot of
cracks in the fourth wall, oodles of in jokes and tons of celebrity cameos.
Thankfully, most of these are quite funny, and having Adams burst into song
(and fix cars and other machines) is another plus.
While Henson isn’t around to do Kermit
or the heckler from the balcony, and Frank Oz has quit doing Miss Piggy for
directing films, the puppeteers manage to get a lot of emotional mileage out of
characters that never blink and have limited facial expressions. They somehow
manage to give the characters an expressive body language that compensates for
the unyielding faces.
While Segel, Stoller and rookie
director James Bobin paint the humor in broad strokes, there’s still an
endearing sweetness that permeates The
Muppets. All involved seem enthusiastic about the project, and it shows,
even if Cooper has to settle for a “meta” version of a maniacal laugh.
The absence of snark is actually rather
welcome. If only Walter looked up to these little folks, there wouldn’t be much
of a movie. Thankfully, younger viewers can finally understand why their
parents keep singing “Mahna Mahna.” (PG) Rating: 4 (Posted on 11/23/11)
by Brandon Whitehead
on a book written by Colin Clark, My Week
with Marilyn shows the iconic Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) in England
filming The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957, just before her fame rose even higher with the release of Some Like it Hot. Partnered with an
older (and somewhat disillusioned) Sir Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), and
married at the time to what this movie portrays as "the world's biggest
asshole" Arthur Miller, Marilyn is a fractured, pill-popping mess who
turns to our young Colin for some comfort, mostly while she's nude.
you've kept up with the buzz on this flick reviewers are pretty much eating
this thing up. Period piece about early filmmaking? Check. Current actors
portraying famous deceased ones? Double-check. Portraying the beautiful and
famous, as flawed people with no fault of there own to blame? Super-triple
as directed by Simon Curtis, William's performance is perfect: She nails the
way Curtis has picked Monroe to look, speak and act. We see her as the flirty
sexpot, the struggling method actress, and the abandoned child who can never
get enough attention to fill that emotional hole. It should be compelling ... but
it's just not.
the filming goes on, Marilyn is often late, doesn't know her lines (or even her
"line"), and is as dependent on others as she is manipulative and,
frankly, kinda stupid. Branagh's Olivier quickly grows to both admire and hate
her, talking of her "natural talent,” which he quietly realizes is more
below her neck than above it.
would expect a book written from someone who actually knew the real person to
have some insight — but here she's almost more of a cartoon version, more a
Jessica Rabbit than a famous and complex icon. While it's true that Michelle
nails her character, she's just not a very interesting one. She looks like
Marilyn, talks like her, even moves just right, but in the end it's a lot of
effort for little return.
I'm probably in the minority here, unless you happen to be a huge Marilyn
Monroe fan, My Week with Marilyn is
about five days too long. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 11/11/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Crazy captures the rush of being young and in love and the inevitable glumness that
arises when desire can’t overcome real world obstacles. Director Drake Doremus
may have collaborated with Ben York Jones on the script, but much of the
dialogue is improvised. As a result, it’s easy to believe that American
graduate student Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and British undergrad Anna (Felicity
Jones) are gradually falling for each other. Jacob even makes custom furniture
for the object of his affection.
Because both are overwhelmed with
passion and hormones, neither pays attention to the restrictions on Anna’s
visa. While the United States is a wonderful place to live, it’s pretty damn
tough to emigrate here legally. When she attempts to return to the States after
having spent too long in Los Angeles before returning to England, Anna is
detained at LAX and is unceremoniously deported.
Jacob goes to great lengths to be with
her despite the distance, the expense and the time difference. Marrying Anna
can potentially expedite her return, but immigration officials, afraid of
attracting undesirables, treat Anna as one.
The strength and the weakness of Like Crazy is that it acknowledges that
even the most all consuming love can vanish or even fade away once barriers
arise. Both Anna and Jacob’s eyes start to roam when returning to Los Angeles
is no longer an option. Jacob even has an affair with an employee at his
handmade furniture company named Sam (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone). Naturally, Jacob gets torn apart by the situation,
and no one involved benefits.
By acknowledging that romance can
falter under the burden of international paperwork, Like Crazy becomes easier to believe, but there’s also a powerful
sense of disappointment because the characters continue to botch the process.
It would seem obvious that taking the Department of Homeland Security lightly
is not a smart move, making Anna and Jacob seem unsympathetic at times. That
said, finding a rational person deeply in love is as practical as unicorn
Furthermore, many of the restrictions
that Anna and Jake face seem pretty arbitrary. Anna might be rash, but she
could become a welcome addition. The Underwear Bomber had no problems with
immigration authorities, and it’s safe to say he should have.
Crazy has a nagging sense that once the spell is broken, there isn’t much left. Is
the struggle that Anna and Jacob have waged really worth it? Because both are
young, they might eventually regain their bearings and move on. The two might
have been more sympathetic if they were older or had been in a longer
relationship, where it would have been harder to start over.
Throughout it all, Yelchin and Jones
are convincing as enamored, if misguided, youths. There’s something to be said
for the feeling of being unable to look away from another’s eyes. Doremus
captures it, but I’m not sure I want to thank him for revealing that it goes
away. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 11/18/11)
Skin I Live In
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar
has had a knack for finding world-class thespians in his native land (like
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem) and for getting the best out of them when they
come back home. Such is the case with his latest teaming with frequent
collaborator Antonio Banderas.
Because Banderas has made most of his
income trading on his handsome features, it’s easy to forget how much talent he
really has. Listen to his droll delivery as the animated feline in Puss in Boots, and you’ll hear how
unfortunate it is that many of his other English language roles pale compared
to a dashing cartoon cat. In Spain, however, Almodóvar successfully cast him as
just about anything. He was an escaped loon in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, a regular Joe in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and jealous gay man in Law of Desire.
Skin I Live In, Almodóvar molds Banderas into Robert Ledgard, a gifted
plastic surgeon who’s on the verge of a breakthrough. He has a patient named
Vera (Elena Anaya), who lives in comfortable but creepy room where the doctor
and his maid (Almodóvar regular Marisa Paredes, High Heels) can watch her at all times. Vera spends most of her
days lounging and doing yoga exorcizes in a flesh-colored leotard. She has some
clothes she can wear over it, but for some reason she’s not able to or maybe
doesn’t want to.
Apparently, Vera is sporting a new type
of prosthetic skin. It’s resistant to mosquito bites and is potentially tougher
than the real thing while looking completely natural. This potentially
lifesaving discovery isn’t sitting well with Robert’s peers. While seeing the
promise, they’re skeptical of its commercial possibilities, and they’re also
confused on how to ethically develop the concept.
As we gradually discover, Robert has
wasted little time bothering with ethical issues. His wife died shortly after a
terrible car wreck and might have been saved if his invention had been
available earlier. Further, their daughter has also suffered misfortunes of her
own, and Vera has become both Robert’s lover and his guinea pig.
If all of this sounds sordid, The Skin I Live In actually has two more
acts to go. Almodóvar, working from Thierry Jonquet’s novel, has some jolting
revelations saved up that make the previous act seem almost like a Disney film.
Almodóvar’s previous films are loaded
with kinky content, and it says something for his skill as a filmmaker that he
can still jolt viewers after three and a half decades in the business. His tone
and handling are unusually low-key. The glaring colors of his earlier films are
muted, but the restraint may be his attempt to maximize the shock value. If the
whole movie looked gaudy, the plot twists wouldn’t alarm.
Reconnecting with Banderas is another
smart move. When we discover how low Robert has sunk as a scientist and a human
being, if anybody but Banderas was playing the role, viewers would dash through
the exists long before the ending. Banderas manages to make Robert both a
tragic and a menacing figure that is capable of obsessive love and appalling
Once Penélope Cruz started working with
Almodóvar again, her English language roles finally became as interesting as
the ones she had back in Spain. Here’s hoping Banderas has similar luck. (R)
Rating: 4 (Posted 11/18/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
George Miller, who has given us the Mad
Max and Babe movies, won his only
Oscar for a cartoon about singing and tap dancing penguins. Admittedly, Happy Feet was pretty entertaining. It’s
just too bad that the inspiration that ran though the previous movie has melted
like the Antarctic glaciers that crumble at the beginning of Happy Feet Two.
While the singing and dancing are still
a lot of fun, Miller seems to have spent more time thinking of set pieces than
storylines. That results in a lot of dead time between musical numbers. There’s
also the potential issue that Mumble Happy Feet (voiced by Elijah Wood), the
only penguin in Antarctica who seems incapable of singing to woo a mate, now
has a mate and is all grown up. The issues that bother him here simply aren’t
as interesting. Having a successful marriage to Gloria (singer P!nk) is
actually a letdown for the story.
His offspring Erik (Ava Acres) doesn’t
share his love of dancing, and is prone to leave the rest of the penguin flock
to hang out with the flamboyant Ramon (Robin Williams). There’s also a new
strange penguin with a Swedish accent named The Might Swen (Hank Azaria). He’s
got a colorful bill and, unlike the rest of the birds on the South Pole, he can
The crises that arise aren’t all that
involving. The performers give it their all. Williams seems to love hamming it
up as two of the penguins, and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon are a riot as a pair of
bickering krill who get bored with their lives as whale food. The former plays
a crustacean that believes he can simply will himself into being a predator
despite nature’s inflexible design. Good luck with that.
It’s understandable why Brittany Murphy
couldn’t reprise her role as Mumble’s wife (she’s sadly passed on), but neither
Nicole Kidman nor Hugh Jackman have returned to play Mumble’s parents, and they
were two of the more interesting characters in the first movie. While the
feisty krill do their part, the rest of the birds and beasts are sketchily
created and not that engaging. Sofia Vergara might play a defiant penguin named
Carmen, but she’s not on the soundtrack enough to register.
Like pretty much all of the big budget
films these days, Happy Feet Two is
in 3D, pointless, annoying 3D, that really doesn’t do anything to improve the
storytelling. Once the plot takes a break, the dancing begins, and the film
comes to life. The soundtrack is loaded with an engaging hodgepodge of pop and
hip-hop (Common is one of the penguins). When the DVD comes out, it will be fun
to skip past the story and go straight to the musical numbers.
Miller can coast a bit because baby
penguins are hopelessly cute, but a filmmaker of his considerable gifts is
wasting his time and ours by using his imagination and that of others so
sparingly. (PG) Rating: 3 (Posted on
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Pt. 1
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
If you’re already a fan of the Twilight series, go ahead and spend your
money and the 117 minutes of your life on The
Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1. Nothing I say will prevent you from
doing so, and the Constitution gives you the right to spend your cinematic
dollar as you see fit.
If you’re on either Team Edward or Team
Jacob, however, nothing in Breaking Dawn will win you over. Director Bill Condon (Kinsey, Dreamgirls) attempts to give the
proceedings some vitality, but he’s hamstrung by novelist Stephanie Meyer’s
torpid plotline. He’s also unable to solve the issue that has made the previous
films so unbearable: The lead characters are relentlessly dull and unappealing.
It’s impossible to believe that vampire
Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) would fight tooth
and nail for the hand of the sullen, mouth-breathing, passive and
personality-free Bella (Kristen Stewart). To be fair, she doesn’t have much of
a choice either. Edward is a whiny stalker, and Jacob has anger issues. Neither
has anything to offer except for well-developed pecs. If love means more to you
than watching dead-eyed automatons unconvincingly spouting tired clichés about
being devoted forever, stay away from this shallow, mindless, emotionally
If you can get past Stewart’s open
mouth gaze and relentless lip biting, there’s still the problem that neither
Pattinson nor Lautner is much of an actor. The charisma-free Pattinson has only
two skills as a performer: his ability to shed his native British accent and
his ability to grow his hair in directions that defy gravity. Lautner has more
of a screen presence, but about the only emotion he
seems to be able to convey is anger, and even that’s a little shaky. Condon
lets Lautner keep his shirt on more this time, but the performer’s chiseled
torso is frankly more impressive than his line delivery.
screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg seemed to be starting to have fun with all the morose
nonsense. Occasionally, she’d throw in a wisecrack that would break the glum
tedium. For the 20-minute wedding between Bella and Edward, there’s a joy
that’s been missing from the first three films. Cinematographer Guillermo
Navarro (an Oscar-winner for Pan’s
Labyrinth) creates a lush, florid environment that many couples may try
Once Bella and Edward tie the knot, the
story gets more complicated, but curiously never comes to life. Bella decides
to stay human for their honeymoon but winds up with some type of affliction.
Because the being is not necessarily human or vampire, it’s not quite
compatible with her system. From looking at Stewart during these scenes, she
appears to be either pregnant or afflicted with a ravenous tapeworm.
For reasons that aren’t explained,
having two new blood suckers irritates the werewolves of Forks and ends up
violating the longstanding truce. Despite the possibility of an all out battle
between vampires and CGI werewolves the size of trucks, there’s a curious lack
of tension that runs throughout Breaking
Dawn—Part 1. It doesn’t help that Condon adds a lot of odd, multicolor
montages that repeat footage from previous scenes in the movie without adding
anything useful or interesting.
The special effects in Breaking Dawn-Part 1 are the best of the
series, but that’s like saying that you’ve found your favorite member of the
Manson Family. The CGI wolves look less tacky than they have in the previous
films, but Condon doesn’t seem to have a clue on how to build a sense of danger
or to stage action scenes. During a conference between the giant canines, we
can hear their voices but can’t see their mouths moving. That device worked in A Boy and His Dog, but here the visual
and sonic cacophony results in a sequence that’s confusing and unintentionally
hilarious. Carter Burwell’s score gets louder and louder when the sequences are
supposed to be dramatic, but the film gets more laughable because the sonic
frenzy only advertizes how empty the film is.
Condon and everyone else are simply
making a film for the fans. That’s fine, but for those of us who have been
dragged by friends and significant others could use a little love, too. (PG-13)
Rating: 2 (Posted on 11/18/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
I have to admire director Clint
Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (an Oscar-winner for Milk) for even trying to make a credible
biopic of longtime F.B.I. chief John Edgar Hoover. With his nearly 50-year
career, Hoover (played by Leonard DiCaprio) outlasted the presidents and the
legislators who were supposed to be his bosses, and as a result he wielded a
considerable amount of power over them.
While he was justifiably one of the
most feared men in Washington, he was also one of the most mysterious. Hoover
had few close friends and took most of his secrets to his grave. As a result,
any film that covers his life is going to have to deal with large gaps that can
only be filled with speculation.
Because Hoover is both complex and
enigmatic, it’s no wonder that that J.
Edgar is only fitfully engaging. Black, who did such a marvelous job of
depicting Harvey Milk in his previous film, stumbles in fleshing out Hoover.
Milk’s political career, tragically, was far shorter than Hoover’s, and he was
an outgoing individual whom several people remember well.
Furthermore, Milk’s rise as the first
openly gay politician in America is undeniably a good thing. Too many
politicians have embarrassed themselves and their offices by pretending to be
something they aren’t. With Hoover, however, his legacy is mixed at best. While
he was a bureaucratic bully who tragically went on left-wing witch-hunts and
ignored the menace of organized crime, he also modernized the F.B.I. and made
it a formidable force against crime of all kinds.
Another challenge Black faces is that
the only people who were close to Hoover died before or soon after he did. Even
if they had outlived Hoover by a considerable margin, one gets the feeling that
his domineering mother (Dame Judi Dench), his loyal secretary Helen Gandy
(Naomi Watts) or his live-in best friend Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, The Social Network) would not say much
about him if asked.
Some of the conversations these
characters have with Hoover ring false. When Tolson or Gandy question Hoover’s
paranoia about communism, which was a formidable threat during his early
career, it sounds as if history, not flesh-and-blood people, is questioning
him. Tolson and Hoover might have been lovers and kept the exact nature of
their relationship secret because homosexuality was obviously shunned back
Black and Eastwood thankfully don’t
sensationalize their relationship. The temptation to do so is formidable. In Nixon, Oliver Stone implies the worst
thing Hoover could have done was feel attracted other men. The last time I
checked, using his public office as an extortion racket was a far, far greater
Black also frames the story, which
jumps back and forth in time, around Hoover dictating his memoir. It’s an old
trope, and Black doesn’t use it well. It’s hard to imagine junior F.B.I. agents
questioning him about his lies and exaggerations when most would have been too
young to recall the events he’s discussing.
Five decades is a lot to cram into a two-and-a-half
hour movie, and the compression of major historical events does hurt the film.
The kidnapping of Charles Lindberg’s baby son, Hoover’s war on bank robbers in
the 1930s, the Union Station Massacre and the influence of Martin Luther King
could all make terrific movies in themselves. In J. Edgar, they are reduced to sound bites (although Josh Lucas is
terrific given what little he has been given to do as Charles Lindberg).
The time factor also takes a toll on
the performances. DiCaprio and Hammer appear buried under their prosthetics as
the film progresses. While Watts’ makeup artists do a fine job of taking her
from Gandy’s youth to her final years in Hoover’s office, the makeup for the
leading me is occasionally unconvincing and ends up distracting from their
Eastwood’s subtlety is there for people
who are willing to pay attention. After Hoover compliments Bobby Kennedy
(clumsily played by Jeffrey Donovan) on his fireplace, watch the background in
Hoover’s office. Without a lot of speeches or needless emoting, you’ll discover
how Hoover’s vanity has gotten out of control.
Hoover’s legacy is one we can ill
afford to forget, so it’s commendable that Black and Eastwood tried to get it
right even though doing so appears to be elusive. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted on
Its Lesson for Today
by Brandon Whitehead
of various black and white footage from WWII, interspaced with footage taken at
the actual Nuremberg trials, Nuremberg:
Its Lesson for Today is a dispassionate account of the rise of the Nazi
party, from the early book-burning days, through the trumped-up reasons to
invade most of Europe, and of course on to defeat and the bitter end.
much like the trial itself, this documentary is filled with dry lawyer-esque
timelines as Hitler's advance dominates country after country, often dwelling
on various pacts and treaties he's broken, as if such agreements hold more
strength than the paper they're written on. The United States and Russia are
presented as noble defenders forced from a peaceful nature into reluctant
heroes (no mention about Stalin's murder of something like 50 million of his
own people, or Roosevelt's hesitation to get involved until after the attack on
the actual trial it was the photos of the concentration camp victims that
caused the greatest stir, and seen once again, they are as horrific as they are
disturbing. You can feel the absolute ruthlessness; indeed, the joy Hitler's
government had in tossing all pretensions to humanity aside is favor of what
seems like utter madness. Like most, I hate comparing ANY others with Nazis,
but ... let's just say most of the leaders on trial said just because they were
in charge, they had no idea of the atrocities occurring right outside their
window. Remind you of anyone?
no doubt that seeing the earlier footage of marching storm troopers, heads and
arms held high, superimposed with starving children and the elderly digging
helplessly through the rubble of their once-mighty country is a compelling
example of the folly of man.
it's also kinda boring. While the restoration of the original photos and films
is of utmost importance, it's hard to see anyone other than historians going
out of there way to watch this, or, of course, the next generation of high school
students. (No Rating) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 11/12/11)
by Beck Ireland
In Jack and Jill, Adam Sandler takes on
dual roles to play fraternal but look-alike twins. In the role of the female
counterpart, Sandler creates a disparaging drag act that is crude and unkind. He
relies on clichéd gags about masculine women for cheap laughs and risks nothing
of himself or an actual feminine side to make the character believable. Notwithstanding
the veiled misogyny and labored gags; however, Sandler's softer side — laid
bare by Al Pacino, of all people — gives the film heart, despite its best
efforts to remain rude and vulgar.
Bronx native Jill Sadelstein (Adam Sandler) is visiting her brother, commercial
director Jack Sadelsein (also Adam Sandler), and his family in Los Angeles for
the holidays. Although Jack criticizes his twin sister as homely, shrill and
annoying, she gets along well with his wife Erin (Katie Holmes) and two
children, a daughter who dresses her doll in identical outfits and son, adopted
from India with a fetish for Scotch Tape. She even charms the family's
infuriates Jack that Jill keeps extending her visit in order to take part in
various L.A. adventures, but when Al Pacino (playing himself), whom Jack needs
to convince to star in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial, takes a liking to Jill,
Jack asks her to go on the family's New Year's Eve cruise to Europe so that he
can pimp his sister out. When Jill refuses to meet with Pacino, Jack steals
some of her clothes to go on the date himself. On the date, Pacino convinces
Jack — disguised as his sister — that Jill is a loving and worthy person.
However, when Jack returns to the boat hoping to make amends with Jill, he
finds she has hurriedly returned to the Bronx after learning of her brother's
Jill was created by several veterans of Saturday
Night Live and its background in sketch comedy shows. Director Dennis Dugan
and writers Steve Koren and Robert Smigel don't miss a single opportunity for
easy slapstick or crass jokes. In addition, the main narrative is often
interrupted or put on hold; sacrificed to CGI sight gags, needlessly quirky
asides or physical abuse disguised as comedy. Jack's family is mere window
dressing and plays no part in the larger story. As Jack's wife, Holmes offers
vacant smiles in place of alarm at disturbing events or censure at her
husband's ill treatment of his sister.
as Jill is portrayed as a train wreck, Jack is much worse. He's a whiny, greedy
bully. The mistreatment of Jill only makes Jack seem petty and heartless. Yet,
he receives no comeuppance for his bad behavior, unless you count the shame of
forfeiting manliness to dress up as a woman as punishment. For this role,
Sandler should have taken notes from Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie or even Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. These actors gave humanity and dignity to their
female correlates and even learned a thing or two in the process. Even David
Spade, in a cameo cross-dressing role, seems to take more delight in the
transformation than does Sandler. Why does it take Al Pacino to make him see
that? (PG) Rating: 2 (Posted 11/12/11)
Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Once an intoxicant wears off, there’s
usually a major headache and an overwhelming feeling of shame about having
disgraced one’s self under the influence. Before that, it’s rather fun.
The same could be said for watching an
installment in the Harold & Kumar series. Watching these two stoners attempt to deal with their munchies and
other issues induces more giggles than a freshly lit bong. If you are as high
as the protagonists, you can laugh at the sophomoric gags and pretty colors. If
you’re sober, you can howl at how others misbehave when they’re baked. Either,
way, there’s a good deal of guilt coming your way once you realize what made
Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden
Schlossberg, who wrote the other two installments, come up with just enough
alterations on the formula to keep the tastelessness palatable. For one thing,
they acknowledge that the characters are now just a little too old to be
spending their lives wasted.
Just before Christmas, Harold (John
Cho) is getting ready to host his wife Maria’s (Paula Garcés) enormous family
for the holiday. His prosperous work is actually getting him down. While he
works on Wall Street, he’s not terribly proud as he walks by protesters eager
to pelt him with eggs.
Life at home isn’t much better. While
Maria clearly loves him, Harold’s father-in-law Carlos (Danny Trejo from Machete) isn’t impressed with Maria’s
taste in men. It should also be noted that he especially despises Koreans.
Surprisingly, Harold has actually given
up his beloved weed, but his estranged pal Kumar (Kal Penn) hasn’t. If Harold’s
life has been upwardly mobile, Kumar’s has gone the other direction. Living
with a different roommate (Amir Blumenfeld) and spending almost all his
considerable free time high, it’s no wonder that his place looks more
dilapidated than a crack house. When his girlfriend Vanessa (Danneel Ackles)
announces that she’s pregnant, his solution is to light his bong.
Before Kumar can sulk or smoke too
much, a package without a return address arrives for Harold. Kumar takes it to
his old buddy and inadvertently winds up leading to night of egging,
explosions, an angry Ukrainian gangster (Elias Koteas), Christmas carols,
flying orange barrels and Neil Patrick Harris playing himself.
As with the other two films, Harris
steals the show by depicting himself as such a repellent jerk that the
character he portrays in How I Met Your
Mother seems like a Nobel Peace Prize candidate in comparison. Naturally,
it’s a treat to hear him sing Christmas Carols and dance in kinky 3D Busby
Hurwitz and Schlossberg have ably
followed Mel Brooks’ formula for politically incorrect humor. Namely, the only
time it’s OK to trash ethnic and religious groups is if every conceivable
faction is ridiculed with equal ruthlessness. They and director Todd
Strauss-Schulson manage to make subjects like child endangerment and driving
while intoxicated amusing, which is no small feat. It probably helps that
Harold’s pal Todd (Tom Lennon from Reno
911!) isn’t intentionally exposing his two-year-old daughter to a
hilariously outrageous variety of hazards.
Strauss-Schulson seems to be having a
ball hurtling a bizarre cornucopia of objects at the viewer. It’s not the most
sophisticated use of 3D, but it’s certainly amusing. The script is loaded with
vulgar snark, but there’s still a hint that the filmmakers probably understand
that it’s impossible to stay high for the rest of one’s life.
Then again, it would be fun to know
what Hurwitz and Schlossberg were smoking when they wrote this stuff. (R)
Rating: 4 (Posted on 11/04/10)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Probably the only thing scarier than a
catastrophic storm might be a nagging sense that you’re losing a grip on
reality. Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter follows a man who can’t tell if his nightmares are omens of a coming apocalypse
or his own failing mind.
It’s not as if a struggling ditch drill
operator named Curtis (Michael Shannon, Boardwalk
Empire) doesn’t have a lot to worry about anyway. He and his wife Samantha
(Jessica Chastain from The Help and The Debt) have been saving his meager
wages to buy a cochlear implant for their deaf daughter Hannah (Tovah Stewart).
It also doesn’t help that digging around and laying pipe gets old pretty
Curtis has trouble concentrating on his
responsibilities because he keeps having dreams that make him reluctant to
sleep. Birds migrate in ominous formations, storm clouds tear up every building
in sight, and the family’s large but friendly dog becomes a ferocious monster.
When he’s not crushing what’s left of
his soul at work, Curtis is either trying to seek mental help, which is
difficult to find his small town or is acting on what he sees in the dreams.
Because he can’t tell if he’s really losing his mind, Curtis starts radically
expanding his storm cellar, even though the cost is prohibitively high. He’s
also bothered by the fact that his mother (Kathy Baker) has suffered from
mental illness, which makes him question his resolve at every turn.
While Take Shelter, has a consistently gloomy feel, the sense of
uncertainty keeps the film from becoming monotonous. Shannon has specialized in
playing tormented characters like Curtis, so it’s easy to believe that he can’t
tell whether he should commit himself or take his storm preparations even
farther. His protruding eyes give a sense that he’s unable to relax and might
be a troubled soul even if his dreams were pleasant.
Because it’s not clear if Curtis is
crazy, the film moves at a slow but gripping pace. It’s hard for viewers to
tell if he is a prophet in the wilderness or needs to be modeling the new fall
line of straightjackets. Neither fate is enviable, but for what’s left of his
dignity, it would almost be redeeming if he really were sensing something his
complacent neighbors have been ignoring.
Similarly, Samantha is torn between her
eagerness to help Curtis and her disgust with his instability. Chastain
effortlessly switches between spousal affection and tough love.
In turn, writer-director Nichols
manages to come up with enough chilling imagery to keep the simple setup from
getting stale. Despite the modest budget, his visions of doom are as jaw dropping
as they unsettling.
Not knowing where Take Shelter is going is a significant part of its appeal. When the
story does eventually end, the conclusion seems arbitrary and forced. By ending
the way it does, the film loses some of its force because it’s oddly seductive
to share Curtis’ torment. Having to determine for ourselves is Curtis is mad or
reacting appropriate alarm paints Take
Shelter into a corner.
That said, getting to the corner is a
grim but bracing experience. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 11/04/11)
by Beck Ireland
In Anonymous, screenwriter John Orloff
presents the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays
and poems attributed to William Shakespeare. Yet, this speculation, as thin as
it is on which to hang an entire movie, is the least outrageous of Orloff's
claims, which include over-the-top political intrigue, including illegitimate
heirs to the English throne, unknowing incest and a creative rivalry.
Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) is arrested for sedition by Robert Cecil (Edward
Hogg), the hunchbacked son of Queen Elizabeth's main advisor, William Cecil
(David Thewlis), the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), approaches
Jonson with the proposition to produce de Vere's plays under Jonson's name. It
is de Vere's desire to influence the choice of Queen Elizabeth's successor to
the throne through his plays' ability to sway public opinion. Jonson balks at
the plan on account of his own creative needs, and enlists oafish William
Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) to be the name and face of de Vere's numerous plays
and poems. Illiterate and oafish, Shakespeare is still able to follow Jonson to
de Vere's home to extort the earl, cutting out Jonson as middleman.
the Cecils are trying to persuade Queen Elizabeth to name James VI of Scotland
as her successor. However, encouraged by de Vere, two young noblemen, the Earl
of Southampton (Xavier Samuel) and the Earl of Essex (Sam Reid), rumored to be
the queen's illegitimate son and rightful heir, lead an attempted rebellion
against this course, which is quickly thwarted by the younger Cecil, with
information given to him by a jealous Jonson. A personal entreaty by de Vere to
the queen also fails.
the weight of Orloff's dark script, director Roland Emmerich, known for
effects-laden Hollywood action movies, has little room to play. As if on a
mission to prove Orloff's original point, Emmerich resorts to multiple and
confusing frames. Classical actor Derek Jacobi is charged with introducing the
Oxfordian viewpoint on a modern-day stage, which only returns at the very end
and seems to serve little purpose other than reiterating (or giving legitimacy
to) the main thesis. In addition, Edward de Vere is portrayed at three
different ages by three different actors, so there is little sense of
continuity for this character. We're supposed to believe that somehow in
adulthood wispy Jamie Campbell Bower transforms into Goth Rhys Ifans.
Elizabeth also comes in two iterations, played equally well by Joely Richardson
and her mother, Vanessa Redgrave. In her performance as the aged queen,
Redgrave is among the few bright spots of the movie. She manages to add
humanity to the matriarch by bringing her own characteristic quirkiness to the
film. She's Queen Elizabeth, a little disappointed at her own aged face, and
also still Redgrave in the way she dresses or sits dejectedly at the base of
her throne. Despite a very CGI-originated London, the wonderfully detailed
costume and sets add to this contrast between pageantry and humanity.
Shakespeare, Spall is also a highlight of the movie. He provides much-needed
comedic relief. Had the filmmakers intended to replicate the popularity of Shakespeare in Love, they would have
made Shakespeare, and the ridiculous circumstance he has lucked into, the
central character of the film. Instead, its focus relies chiefly on the
melancholy shoulders of tragic figure de Vere, who is Mozart to Jonson's
Salieri. Yet, that relationship is too burdened with de Vere's didactic speeches
on the power of words to change the course of history, which, ironically, don't
seem to change anything, as Cecil remains the main advisor to the throne.
Perhaps Orloff should have concentrated more on showing than telling. (PG-13)
Rating: 2.5 (Posted 11/04/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
A great sign that a movie isn’t working
is if you start to imagine how much each scene cost. Tower Heist must have kept the accountants busy. It features an
ensemble of high-dollar talent and, unlike a good number of films set in New
York, was clearly shot in the Big Apple. The sets and the effects are totally
convincing, and big players like producer Brian Grazer are involved.
While I’m sure it probably looks
impressive in the press kit that some of the film was shot in the Trump Tower,
the film isn’t that involving. While production designer Kristi Zea (Goodfellas) has created an enviable living
space, the characters that occupy the high rise aren’t nearly as interesting or
as well thought out.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, the
pedantic, multi-tasking manager of the building in question. The Tower is so
upscale that staff are forbidden to accept gratuities and carefully monitor the
residents’ personal lives to ensure they’ll want to stay in their multimillion-dollar
The resident whose unit occupies the
entire top floor is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), a fellow who has made several
fortunes running hedge funds. Actually, Shaw has squandered several fortunes
with a Ponzi scheme that unravels just days before Thanksgiving. A member of
the Tower’s board, Shaw convinced the building’s employees to invest all of
their retirement in his scheme. Needless to say, they’re out of luck.
On bail but under house arrest, Shaw is
stuck on the top floor both guarded and protected by an FBI agent (Téa Leoni).
Hidden in his penthouse lair is a rainy day stash worth hundreds of millions.
When Josh loses his job confronting Shaw about his crimes, he teams with an
evicted tenant (Matthew Broderick), a bumbling concierge (Casey Affleck), a coworker
(Michael Peña), who lost his job on the second day of work, a safe cracking
Jamaican maid (Gabourey Sidibe, Precious)
and a childhood acquaintance (Eddie Murphy), who is now a career criminal. With
this motley team, Josh hopes to return the cash to his coworkers’ retirement
Naturally countless obstacles get in
the way of our thieves and what should have been their retirement cash. What’s
troubling about Tower Heist is that little of the pursuit is that fun. Portions
of the film were shot through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade so it’s
obvious that some serious coin was spent. Logically, it almost makes sense.
With a big event like that distracting the cops, it’s easier to get away with
That said, there isn’t nearly enough
chaos or energy to make Tower Heist more than a boilerplate thriller. The people in the film are essentially
one-note characters, so the cast involved is grossly overqualified. Murphy has
played criminals before and has appeared to have more fun doing it. For a couple
of seconds, it’s fun to watch him imitate a white collar salesman, but neither
Murphy nor Stiller get much of a chance to stretch out their comic gifts. It’s
almost as if the stars were placed on a time limit and told to stop before
their antics became too funny. Only Sidibe and Alda approach their work with
any sense of enthusiasm.
Only rarely does Tower Heist offer anything more than a modest chuckle. Because the
characters don’t grow or change, it’s hard to care if Shaw gets his deserved
outcome. Mind you, it is difficult to make a Wall Street thief sympathetic when
so many are walking free after fleecing their clients. Still, with a performer
of Alda’s range and finesse, it would be more fun if he had more to do. If Shaw
were as crafty as he was crooked, our heroes would have a more formidable
obstacle to their revenge. Instead, he seems more like an eventuality instead
of an opponent.
Director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies) some moderately
interesting eye candy, but he’s far too stingy on the fun (PG-13) Rating: 2.5
(Posted on 11/04/11)