by Beck Ireland
Billed as a
sequel of sorts to the 2007 indie hit Once,
the black-and-white documentary The Swell
Season might fare better as a bonus special feature on the DVD release of
that film than as an independent theatrical release. Only die-hard fans of the
musical drama starring Glen
Hansard and Markéta Irglová will have
much interest in the contrived portrayal of the demise of the couple's
real-life romance. A cynical viewer may even go so far as to think the entire
film is a stunt staged specifically for promoting the duo's musical enterprise,
also called “The Swell Season.”
In Once, Hansard plays Guy, a Dublin busker who falls for a married Czech
immigrant called Girl, portrayed by Irglová. In the film, the two collaborate
on the Guy's compositions and deal with their star-crossed love. During the
promotional tour for the film, Hansard, then 37, and Irglová, then 19, began an
off-screen romantic relationship. Co-directed by Nick August-Perna, Chris
Dapkins and Carlo Mirabella-Davis, The
Swell Season follows the musicians in the aftermath of the movie's success —
including receiving Oscars for Best Original Song for "Falling
Slowly" from the soundtrack — and as they tour together as the folk rock
duo The Swell Season.
Although the filmmakers accompanied
Hansard and Irglová on the road and at home for two years, there's a surprising
lack of intimacy in the documentary. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes tour
footage, such as obsessed fans, questions over a missing piano, and antics on
the duded-out tour bus that makes the lone female Irglová an extremely
sympathetic figure. But scenes portraying the actual relationship between the
two leads are suspiciously skimpy (even despite their willingness to go
gratuitously nude on a beach in one.) In place of footage that shows us their
romance, we're given interviews from both explaining it. And they're not very
For the most part, Hansard, also the
frontman in the rock group The Frames, seems in control of the subject matter
and the general direction of the movie. He's much more interested in talking
about himself and his newfound fame than the relationship, and this is
unfortunate because in these interviews he comes off as pretentious and narcissistic. He exhibits navel-gazing
at its self-involved worse. He even tries to censor what his own mother says
about him and his fame.
In fact, Hansard's one-track egotism
centered on his rookie celebrity makes the documentary seem more like fodder
for a Christopher Guest mockumentary than a serious music documentary.
Ironically, Hansard's exaggerated concern about being a flash in the pan or
one-hit wonder may make him just that. The
Swell Season will only stand the test of time if Hansard does.
There is one scene that rings truer
than the rest. In it, Irglová, the one bright spot for most of the film,
finally delivers an unwelcome home truth to Hansard. At an outdoor cafe in the
Czech Republic city of Telc, she dares Hansard to stop complaining about
achieving his dream of popularity and just enjoy it. That scene
reveals more about the couple than any of the previous ones, on stage or off.
And the real tragedy is that Hansard can't stop his whining long enough to see
the logic in her comment. (Unrated) Rating: 0 (Posted 12/31/11)
by Beck Ireland
screenwriter/director Aki Kaurismäki laboriously blends French New Wave styling
and contemporary political issues to create a sort of modern-day fable in Le Havre. However, the amalgam of overt
stylization and a labored plot leads to tedious scenes full of anachronistic
affectation and unmerited sentimentality.
his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen), is hospitalized for serious reasons she won't
disclose to him, aging bohemian turned shoeshiner Marcel Marx (André Wilms)
makes it his mission to help Gabonian immigrant Idrissa (Blondin Miguel).
Idrissa had escaped police detention when he and his fellow travelers,
including Idrissa's grandfather, were discovered in a shipping containing at
the docks. With the help of his neighbors Claire (Elina Salo) and Yvette
(Evelyne Didi), Marx hides Idrissa, despite the boy's penchant for disobeying
instructions and going out in public. Marx’s help comes until Idrissa can be
returned to his mother, now residing illegally and working in a Chinese laundry
the tattling of a neighborhood informant, the grocer (Francois Monnie), and an
unenthusiastic investigation by police officer Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin),
Marx is finally able to charter Idrissa's passage to London on a fishing boat.
But first he and fellow shoeshiner Chang (Nguyen Quoc Dung), also residing in
Le Havre illegally, arrange a benefit concert to pay for the boy's passage
headlined by local French rock star Little Bob a k a Roberto Piazza. On
Idrissa's final day in Le Havre, he pays a visit to Marx's wife, where he may
or may not perform a miracle.
efforts to evoke classic French New Wave and noir are highly successful.
However, in tandem with the contemporary storyline — the portrayal of illegal
immigration — the set design, costumes, and even the dialog come off as quirky,
at best. At worst, the treatment seems forced and offers no particular insight
into the narrative. As such, these choices are self-conscious and sometimes confusing.
Without any follow through, the affectation is all style and no substance.
Compared to other movies from this year that provide a touching homage to the
classics but contain their own charming storylines, such as The Artist or My Week with Marilyn, Le
Havre suggests a less complex, less thoughtful filmmaking process.
acting in Le Havre is skillful. Both
male leads — Wilms and Miguel — are likeable enough, but only when the script
gives them a chance. Full of cornball moments, such as when Monet brings a
pineapple into the bar, the film doesn't give any of its actors a chance to
take much action or grow. It's as if all decisions are made on a whim, and then
are therefore rarely taken seriously or followed to conclusion. They're given
contradictions, distractions and quirks that do nothing to develop character or
plot. And in the end, even Idrissa's final deed in Le Havre suggests a level of
mawkishness not earned by the rest of the film. (Unrated). Rating: 2 (Posted
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
In order to justify making a silent
movie in 2011, it’s important to not to simply recreate the look or the
technique of the movies of the ‘20s but to demonstrate what we really have lost
by adding sound to images.
French writer-director Michel
Hazanavicius’ The Artist is more than
a simple stylistic experiment. Having to part with dialogue and synchronized
sound for most of the film forces him and his collaborators to use their
imaginations and come up with dozens of great sequences that wouldn’t make it
to the screen if the actors stopped to talk.
Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin,
Hollywood’s most popular actor during the silent era. From watching the crowd
from behind the screen at his latest premiere, Valentin knows that he has
another hit on his hands. The crowd continually gasps as he and his trusty dog
Jack (played by three brilliantly trained Jack Russell Terriers) slip in and
out of danger with astonishing ease. With the way the crowd adores the film, how
could his career be on anything but an upswing?
Actually, there are several signs of
doom on the horizon. For one thing, Jack and just about every star in
Tinseltown have put their fortunes in the hands of Wall Street. There’s also a
new technology that enables movies to feature synchronized sound so that fans
can actually hear what their favorite stars sound like. A consummate master of
pantomime, Valentin thinks the new “talkies” will be a fad.
Actually, Valentin’s worst enemy is his
own ego. His snobbish attitude toward sound doesn’t help, and hogging the
spotlight at premieres has alienated his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller). He
has too much pride to adapt to the changes in movies and may be yet another
casualty of the microphone.
While Valentin’s life and career are in
a tailspin, a young starlet named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, Hazanavicius’
wife) is quickly conquering the business. Spotted by Valentin at a red carpet
event, she rises from lowly extra to leading lady in a few short months. While
Hazanavicius never lets us hear her voice, it’s obvious she’s a natural for
talkies. The well-named Peppy (she has enough energy to light up New York for a
year) pines for Valentin and wants to help the man who enabled her first break.
If the plot is similar to A Star Is Born, what makes The Artist special is that Hazanavicius
embraces the possibilities of silent cinema and has a good deal of fun in the
process. The prologue has some rousing action scenes, but the most charming
sequences in The Artist involve the
performers simply exploring how much they can convey without straining their
During a scene where Peppy discovers
Valentin’s jacket and winds up imitating both partners in an embrace, it’s
astonishing how Bejo can play both characters with simply her posture and her
arms. Sound would mar a sequence like this one, although Ludovic Bource’s
original score is fantastic and drives the mood of the film without detracting
from the action on screen.
Dujardin has the unflappable confidence
of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., but he’s got enough range to play convincing pathos
as well as merriment. It also doesn’t hurt that he has the sort of footwork
that would make Gene Kelly proud. Dujardin and Bejo have both worked with
Hazanavicius before in the OSS 117 movies, so they have a chemistry that’s even more remarkable when you consider
that their voices are muted.
The rest of the cast includes familiar
faces like John Goodman (as the opportunistic studio head), Malcolm McDowell,
Ken Davitian and James Cromwell who can pull of the pantomime without
exaggerating their expressions. Good silent movies didn’t feature actors
flailing their limbs as if someone had electrocuted them. As good as the humans
are, however, the dogs steal just about every scene they’re in. Whenever
Valentin seems like a vain loser, it’s impossible not want him to come back
because Jack pleads so earnestly for his recovery. It’s too bad that dogs don’t
win Oscars. These three pooches certainly deserve a statuette or at least some
better dog treats.
Not only does The Artist clearly demonstrate that something was lost when movies
started talking, but it also proves that we haven’t begun to learn what can be
done with images alone. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 12/23/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Steven Spielberg has made several
fortunes with movies such as E.T. The
Extraterrestrial that appeal to kids. He’s also earned countless awards for
making terrific films for adults like Catch
Me If You Can and Schindler’s List.
His latest, War Horse attempts to
reach both audiences and generally succeeds.
Set during the First World War, the
film follows a horse as it experiences the conflict from Devon, England to
France and to Germany, serving as a beast of burden for different factions
during the conflict. In real life, nearly a million horses died during the
first conflict on the British side alone, so it’s long overdue that a movie
celebrate their contributions as well as their sacrifices and suffering.
The film actually begins before the
conflict when the young colt Joey takes his first steps. The one human who
seems to relate to the unruly animal is a lad named Albert Narracott (stage
actor Jeremy Irvine). Albert admires Joey and even convinces the animal to bite
on an apple, but he’ll never own the carefully bred horse. Or so he thinks.
His capricious father Ted (Peter
Mullan) has other plans. Thinking that a racing horse would be able to plow his
rocky hillside farm, Ted bids far more than his meager proceeds from farming.
If the untrained horse doesn’t prove great at plowing, the landlord (David
Thewlis) will evict Ted, his wife (Emily Watson) and Albert.
Despite the looming deadline, Albert
makes remarkable progress with Joey, but World War I is looming, and Ted reluctantly
sells Joey to a cavalry officer named Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston). Albert
is too young to serve, so he has no choice but to say goodbye.
The captain thinks the horse is bound
to take part in a grand gentleman’s conflict, but modern war machinery results
in hellish confusion. At one point, Joey is taking part in a grand charge. In
another, he’s on a French farm with a grandfather (Niels Arestrup) and a young
girl (Celine Buckens). He pulls a cart for some German soldiers (David Kross
from The Reader and Rainer Bock).
Spielberg and screenwriters Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) cover a lot of emotional
territory in adapting Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel and Nick
Stafford’s stage play. Having helmed everything from Saving Private Ryan to Close
Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg can effortlessly generate just
about any mood he wants from an audience. It’s a given that he’s create the
right sense of horror for trench warfare or the childlike wonder at Albert
bonding with Joey.
The trick is to get all of those
moments to come together as a whole. The emotional shifts that viewers
experience during War Horse can be
jarring despite the power of individual scenes. Without browbeating viewers,
Spielberg registers the futility of cavalry charges and the emotional bonds
humans and animals can have. Placing these moments into one package takes some
getting used to, and trying to keep the film from being too scary for tots or
too simplistic for adults is challenge for any filmmaker. Even somebody as
redoubtable as Spielberg can have trouble pulling off this sort of balancing
On a technical level, War Horse is remarkable. Spielberg’s
regular cinematographer Janusz Kamiński can pull off everything from
gorgeous, sweeping vistas to hellish, claustrophobic battles to intimate
close-ups. No shot in the film look dull or not engaging. The performances are
universally solid, and Spielberg wisely uses an all-European cast. Having a
name American star would have made the film feel silly and false.
Horse might have been a great movie had it grown up or maybe if it hadn’t grown up at
all. Thankfully, Spielberg’s artistic “adolescence” is more interesting than
most filmmakers’ entire careers. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 12/23/11)
Bought a Zoo
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Filmmakers are often advised to stay
away from kids and animals because of their inherent unpredictability. If they
become uncooperative, shooting schedules become meaningless.
On the other hand, watching them successfully
perform is about the most interesting thing you can commit to video. If they’re
on their game, they can save a film that would be unexceptional otherwise. Such
is the case with We Bought a Zoo.
While writer-director Cameron Crowe manages to take what could have been a
maudlin disaster and turn it into a workable film, he owes quite a bit to the
critters and the kids.
Matt Damon stars as journalist Benjamin
Mee, whose book provides the basis for the film. Mee once had an exciting
career chasing the eyes of hurricanes and having challenging discussions with
heads of state. That comes to a crashing halt when the news business starts
collapsing and when his beloved wife dies unexpectedly.
Benjamin’s teenage son Dylan (Colin
Ford) gets himself expelled from school for repeated behavioral problems, and
the strain of taking care of Dylan and his eight-year-old daughter Rosie
(Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is making it hard for him to concentrate on new
Benjamin decides that moving from Los
Angeles to rural California might do his family some good, but their dream
house in the country has an additional consideration. It comes as part of an
exotic animal park that has seen better days. While the zoo’s keeper Kelly
Foster (Scarlett Johansson) is still around, she’s working for far less than
she’s worth simply to keep the animals alive. The other staffers (Angus
Macfadyen, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit) are in the same boat.
Thinking a change of pace would do both
his family and the animals some good; Benjamin takes over the park and
discovers why the previous owners left. Giving the animals proper care is
expensive, as Benjamin’s accountant brother (Thomas Haden Church) warns him. In
addition, getting past a fastidious inspector (John Michael Higgins) is another
By acknowledging how challenging it is
to keep zoos going, Crowe makes the film more credible, and his loose episodic
approach keeps the film from feeling obvious or telegraphed. After all, if Mee
had failed, it’s a safe bet they wouldn’t have bothered with either a book or a
There are a few revelations that seem
to have been pulled from a template instead of reality, but Crowe’s lively
dialogue helps keep adults in audience from running to the exits. Damon is
typically good as a fellow who has taken on seemingly more than he can handle,
and Johansson projects just enough intelligence to make viewers believe she
could run such a complex facility.
While having these two grownups
involved keeps the film from feeling too phony or condescending, the real stars
are the critters who are charming simply by being themselves. When you consider
that they might find the cast or the audience delicious under the right
circumstances, that’s saying something.
Similarly, young Jones is so adorable
she can distract viewers when Crowe tries too hard to push their buttons. She’s
so earnest and cute she can induce amnesia into the hardest of skeptics.
As usual, Crowe picks some terrific
songs for the soundtrack, but he seems to know that the youngsters and the
animals can make up for whatever shortages he experiences with his imagination.
(PG) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 12/23/10)
Goethe in Love
by Brandon Whitehead
you ever had a friend who was into obscure foreign art-house films? You know,
the ones that drag you to an 11 am showing on a Sunday morning because that's
the only time it’s screening? Most everybody has had a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend
like that; so I ask you, dear reader: Did it seem like the film was almost calling
you dumb for not liking it?
Goethe in Love is pretty much just that: a fictionalized (and overwrought) account of that
famous German writer in his youth — before he was famous. Now, if that sounds
like a pretty thin summation, sorry, it's all I got.
of all, let me swear to the gods that I DID watch this movie — all the way
through. In fact, it just ended minutes ago, and I am already forgetting what
gets kicked out or flunks at being a lawyer or clerk or something and goes to
some village. He has a friend who stutters, falls for a girl with a rich
boyfriend (I know he was rich because he didn't have dirt rubbed on his face),
gets in a duel ... at least I think it was him, writes a book, which the girl
secretly publishes behind his back, and has a ponytail. That's it: actually,
I'm a little proud of myself for remembering that much.
not going to go into the various actors here, mostly because everybody gives an
okay if bland performance, you wouldn't know any of them anyway and I've never
figured out how to do umlauts, and man do Germans use a lot of them.
away the pretension and pedigree, and this is just another "all famous
writers must have had fascinating and dramatic lives" bits of tripe that
seemed so favored by those looking for some "high-cinema". Well,
that's fine but it's also far from true. Believe me: I'm a writer, and I'm
pretty sure I've never been in any duels. There are a few writers out there
that can fill the bill: Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and such, who had crazy
lives while being fantastic writers, but here the whole thing seems more than a
get me wrong, I often prefer foreign films over Hollywood, like subtitles more
than voice-overs, and enjoy the slower, more measured and thoughtful films, at
least occasionally. The cinematography is excellent, the costumes are very
nice, but this is just a boring movie stuffed with a predictable plot and stock
Merry Christmas, America: I hereby give you the gift a being able to NOT like
long-winded, boring foreign films despite how "masterful" you artsy
friend says they are. I also give you the right to pick the next 10 movies.
(Unrated) Rating: 2 (Posted 12/23/11)
The Adventures of Tintin
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Since 1929, the intrepid young reporter
Tintin and his even smarter dog Snowy have been delighting readers with their
journeys to the far corners of the earth. While Tintin and his world were
created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, they’re beloved by millions, and the
stories have been translated into several different languages. The impact of
the cow-licked hero is tough to overestimate. The ‘80s pop band The Thompson
Twins took their names from the bumbling lookalike detectives who try in vain
to help the boy reporter unravel mysteries.
Producers Steven Spielberg (who’s
credited with directing) and Peter Jackson could have run roughshod over the
material and still made a quick buck simply selling this motion capture
animated film on their names alone. Fortunately, the two are rabid Tintin fans,
and it shows. While Tintin isn’t as well known on this side of the Atlantic, The Adventures of Tintin may change
Incorporating components of Hergé’s The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, The Adventures of Tintin features Tintin
(Jamie Bell) buying a model ship at an outdoor flea market only to discover
that at least two people want the seemingly worthless replica. The most
persistent is a creepy bespectacled nobleman Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel
Craig). Sakharine is so determined that he kidnaps Tintin and holds him captive
on a ship nominally helmed by the inebriated Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).
Tintin and Snowy manage to rescue the captain from house arrest and join him in
a quest to find an ancient treasure associated with the captain’s long departed
ancestor Sir Francis Haddock (also played by Serkis).
It would be overly simple to say the
trio escape from the ship and begin an adventure, but that would like saying
you’d read the Bible if you’d only stopped reading after Adam and Eve’s expulsion
Spielberg and Jackson load the film
with exotic make believe locales. Before viewers have a chance to catch their
breaths, Spielberg has moved on to the next thrill. There are duels, high-speed
vehicle chases and even a pirate raid. Screenwriters Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) come up with enough
plot twists and snappy banter to fill a miniseries. They also include several
of Hergé’s most beloved characters like the overconfident but clueless Thompson
and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Shawn
of the Dead) and the eerily proficient opera singer Bianca Castafiore (Kim
Stengel). The three manage fit all these folks in without making viewers feel
as if the characters had been placed there in an obligatory manner.
It’s a given that Jackson and Spielberg
can create convincing fantasy environments. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasant
surprise that Spielberg enthusiastically embraces the possibilities of working
in 3D and uses it with remarkable finesse. He’s not content to merely make the
audience feel that objects are headed toward them. Instead, the 3D enables
viewers to take in how ornate and lavish Tintin’s world is.
Motion capture technology is still a
type of filmmaking I haven’t gotten used to. In many cases, gifted performers
like Tom Hanks, Robin Wright or Gary Oldman are turned into eerie, lifeless
mannequin through the black sorcery of digital technology. That said, Jackson’s
Weta special effects house does a far better job of making digital performances
that are moving and empathetic. Spielberg has opted for a stylized look for the
digitally generated people, which prevent them from looking like something out
of a boutique window. This also enables actors like Craig and Serkis to more
convincing record their expressions in their CGI avatars. Curiously, Tintin
himself looks more like a real person, so conversely, he looks a bit out of
place in the fantasy world that Jackson and Spielberg have created. Snowy has
been rendered using traditional animation, and he winds up stealing the show.
It’s too bad they don’t sell dogs like him in the pet store.
Still, it’s obvious that The Adventures of Tintin has been made
with love, and it’s easy to return the affection. Spielberg and Jackson have
made a fortune hunt that’s a treasure in itself. (PG) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
As a fan of the original Swedish
language movie adaptation Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it was difficult to get excited by
the new version hitting theaters today. Because the original can be viewed with
both subtitles and an English-language dub, it seems pointless to retell the
story from scratch with name actors and a Hollywood budget. Noomi Rapace leaves
an indelible impression as the title character, regardless of whether you speak
Swedish or not.
Having seen dozens of horrible American
re-workings of good European films like Open
Your Eyes, I approached The Girl with
the Dragon Tattoo with great trepidation. Thankfully, director David
Fincher (The Social Network) and
screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s
List) have made a sincere and generally successful attempt at capturing the
late Larsson’s grim but engrossing story. If you really must see moonlighting
James Bond Daniel Craig play Mikael Blomkvist or have an aversion to subtitles,
this film makes a credible introduction to Larsson’s world. That said, if
you’re already familiar with the story, it does lose some impact in the
As with the first movie, Blomkvist is a
once successful muckraking journalist whose career is now in a shambles after
losing a libel suit. Thanks to a dubious lead, he’s lost his life savings and
has few options. Curious retired industrialist named Henrik Vanger (Christopher
Plummer) hires an investigator to discover if Blomkvist was on to something or
was merely careless. When his secretive investigator Lisbeth Salander (Rooney
Mara, The Social Network) discovers that Blomkvist’s conclusions were right
even though his data was lacking, Henrik asks Blomkvist to help him locate the niece
who disappeared over 40 years before. The family estate is on an island, and
the bridge to the mainland was blocked on the day she vanished. There’s no
body, but Henrik’s family is loaded with Nazi collaborators, alcoholics and
other fiends. No wonder the old man thinks his relatives are the prime
Blomkvist discover some previously
missing clues and being a gifted investigator himself finds Lisbeth and
recruits her as an assistant. While he is an old school gumshoe in his digging,
she can do remarkable things with a keyboard and has a photographic memory. She
can process entire pages of data with a single glance. Having endured painful
child abuse as a youngster, Lisbeth is sympathetic to Henrik’s niece and
uncovers a grisly series of murders that matches the timeline of the heiress’
disappearance. Lisbeth is also a rebel with few close friends. She’s bisexual
but rarely spends more than a one-night-stand with her partners. Her small size
and her gray hoodie enable her to slip through the streets of Stockholm
undetected. Underneath her jacket, she wears distinctive punk-Goth regalia and
takes grief from no one. When her probation officer (Yorick van Wageningen, The Way) abuses his financial power over
her and demands sexual favors, her revenge is like a nuclear counterstrike to a
Lisbeth and Blomkvist uncover a sordid
history that Henrik’s filial disgust only hints at. Plummer, who’s Canadian,
projects an old world gentility while carrying a hint of menace that leaves
viewers wondering if he’s like the rest of his evil clan. His effortless turn
is one of several things that actually work better in this version of the tale.
Because Zaillian is a native English speaker, his dialogue is snappier and more
fluid than the subtitles or the dub. The low key score by Trent Reznor of Nine
Inch Nails and Atticus Ross creates a sense of dread without advertising that
viewers are supposed to be scared. The violence and the sordid villains who
occupy the film creep-out viewers without any help.
Mara doesn’t have the same command of
the role that Rapace did, but her less distinctive features make it easier to
believe she could wander through Stockholm unobserved. She doesn’t have the
same charisma that Rapace had, but she’s convincing as someone whose small
frame belies her iron will.
Zaillian also spells out more of the
details of the story, making it easier to grasp Larsson’s complicated
storyline. At times, however, it might have been better if he had left viewers
to piece together the clues with Lisbeth and Blomkvist. Some of the shock value
is lost when the details are spelled out. He also sets up a closer relationship
between the two investigators that isn’t all that convincing. Perhaps it’s a
matter of taste, but Larsson’s stories are more involving with her being a free
spirit instead of having her carry an unrequited crush.
While there are some terrific and
familiar actors in the supporting roles (Stellan Skarsgård, Steven Berkoff and
Robin Wright), they don’t bring anything new to the roles that the performers
in the first film haven’t done already. By shooting in Sweden, Fincher invites
comparisons between his film and the previous one.
Further, knowing who the culprits are
in advance (for those who have read the book or seen the original) lessens the
impact of their exposure. With movies like Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac in his résumé, Fincher is a specialist at setting dark
moods. The problem is that even he can’t renew the impact of Larsson’s original
twists, unless you have an aversion to long books or subtitles. (R) Rating: 3.5
(Posted on 12/20/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Much of the charm of director Jason
Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody’s (the team behind Juno) latest film together is that the protagonist for Young Adult is neither young nor much of
Mavis Gary (Oscar-winner Charlize
Theron) is a thirty something woman who makes her living ghostwriting a series
of romance novels aimed at teens. If she has any skill at her craft, it’s
because she’s never really left high school. Emotionally, she’s still 16. When
she does get out of her fantastically cluttered apartment, she’s listening to
what teen girls say to each other and putting their words in the mouths of her
Unfortunately, when the younger women
gush about romances that could never happen outside of a teen’s imagination,
Mavis hasn’t figured out that these sorts of relationships simply don’t happen
in the real world. Perhaps believing in this sort of love is what keeps her
going. She’s divorced, alcoholic and far behind schedule on the last novel in
the soon-to-be defunct series. Her only close friend in her new hometown of
Minneapolis is a small dog, who’s more patient with her bad behavior than most
humans would be.
She’s also on the verge of a deeply
painful lesson. When her high school flame from Mercury, MN sends her a photo
of new newborn daughter, Mavis flies into a rage and heads back to Mercury in
the hopes of wooing Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) back. Only someone as
delusional as Mavis can see that her attempt at home wrecking is doomed to
failure. His wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) is a kind, charming woman and a
capable mother. While Mavis may have left Mercury, everyone still living in the
town has left their adolescence long behind. One glance at Buddy, whose life is
dominated by his new family, would send more prudent adulteresses packing, but
Mavis’ persistence leads her into more embarrassing calamities. Because the
boozing and the junk food have had little impact on her physique, most of the
men in Mercury ignore her, except for an old classmate named Matt (Patton
Oswalt), who attempts to talk her out of her futile quest.
Watching Mavis slip further into a
moral abyss could get old, but Theron and the filmmakers have some sympathy for
her. Watch Theron’s body language closely, and you’ll see some fascinating
moments that casual viewers might miss. When Buddy shows off the infant to
Mavis, she looks at the adorable child as if the tyke was some sort of diseased
vermin. When Matt shows off the homemade whiskey he’s been distilling, he
savors it as she gulps it down.
While it is funny watching Mavis brush
off serious moral obligations as if they were casual annoyances, Cody and
Theron give us plenty of indications that Mavis simply doesn’t know how to
behave like an adult and has only a fleeting sense how profoundly life has
changed since she got out of high school. Cody provides several hints at where
Mavis has gone astray, but she doesn’t explicitly say what’s made her such a
self-centered train wreck. As a result, the scenes where a viewer is asked to
sympathize with Mavis don’t seem phony because the solutions to Mavis’ problems
could have already been reached if they were simple. Mavis may be a fascinating
curiosity, but she’s not a freak. Similarly, Oswalt’s Matt has a vulnerability
that’s more visible than Mavis’. He was beaten up because some classmates
mistakenly thought he was gay. Now he has to walk with crutches and can’t get
over the indignity he’s suffered. Because he walks a fine line between being a
realist and a moper, he not just a Cassandra.
Fans of neat conclusions may want to
stay away from Young Adult, but the
film’s messiness is a virtue. Mavis’ contemptible behavior would be less scary
if her desires were those of a monster instead of a human. (R) Rating: 4
(Posted on 12/16/11)
Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
In order for a Mission: Impossible film to work, it helps to embrace the
“impossible” part of the title and to settle for nothing less than outlandish.
Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the fourth film in the series and is the least grounded
in reality. Because it’s Mission:
Impossible instead of, oh, “Mission: Plausible” or “Mission: Likely,”
director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) can get away with action
sequences that might have looked silly in the cartoons he has made.
With Ghost Protocol, Bird manages a fairly delicate balancing act for
movie loaded with relentless explosions. He acknowledges that the film’s plot,
stunts and setup can’t be duplicated at home (there are plenty of wisecracks
throughout), but he still manages to inspire enough awe in how the laws of
physics and thermodynamics have been overruled.
Yes, Tom Cruise is back as the
undersized super agent Ethan Hunt, but as with the third Mission, he’s part of an ensemble instead of being merely a
good-looking acrobat with high-tech toys. His partners include an analyst named
William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), who fights surprisingly well for a desk jockey,
a hard kicking beauty named Jane Carter (Paula Patton, Precious) and a computer expert named Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg),
who’s a little too happy to be out in the field.
The four have chosen to accept a
mission that’s even more challenging than usual. In fact, the Impossible
Mission Force has been abandoned because they’ve been framed for blowing up a
little complex in Moscow that’s called the Kremlin. Understandably, the
Russians are furious, and the U.S. government has disowned IMF altogether.
Essentially, Ethan and his crew,
without outside help, have to intercept the Russian nuclear terrorist Cobalt
(Michael Nyqvist from the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) before he acquires the ability to
use the nuclear launch codes he stole from the Kremlin. The explosion was a
really showy way to cover his tracks and blame others. It might not be the most
cost effective way to purloin secrets, but nobody wants to watch slow
psychological games on an IMAX screen.
To Cobalt, nuclear war is a great idea.
He is a mad terrorist, after all. So the deaths of billions don’t make Cobalt
lose too much sleep, even if several of the potential dead currently live in
his native Russia. Hunt and the IMF agents have to chase him across Europe and
Asia from Budapest, to Mumbai to the Burj Tower in Dubai. They also have to
clear their names of the Kremlin plot because an unforgiving Russian agent
(Vladimir Mashkov) is on their trail. Oh, and there’s an impeccably dressed
French assassin (Léa Seydoux) who’s already killed an IMF operative. She only
takes diamonds for payments.
If your head is beginning to hurt from
trying to make sense of the plot, the best thing to do is leave the analysis to
Benji and Brandt, and gaze at the relentless action Bird has assembled. Before
a viewer’s “yeah, right” instincts are aroused, Bird has already moved to
another jaw dropping set piece. He uses the IMAX format effectively, making the
stunt-work even more stylish and impressive. Having Cruise climbing on the Burj
Tower (the world’s tallest building) is impressive in itself, but Bird puts in
just enough real world danger to make the possibility of Ethan falling to his
death believable. You can see the strain on the glass as Cruise climbs.
Bird and screenwriters André Nemec
(Alias) and Josh Appelbaum give the actors more to do than simply punch or kick
this time, and with Pegg and Renner, that’s a plus. They also have spy gadgets
that malfunction like a first generation Microsoft product, so the team’s
mission isn’t guaranteed success. This generates some much-needed tension
because the action can get by on size alone for only so long.
While Bird proves that his success in
animation was no fluke, one hopes he doesn’t leave his previous art form. Ghost Protocol, which refers to the IMF
team working in the cold, is the first movie where he hasn’t had a writing
credit. Listen to the extras on The
Incredibles, and you’ll realize that he spent more time thinking through
his story and characters than most other live action filmmakers do.
Protocol isn’t as cerebral as his cartoons, and that’s sad because this guy used to be a
guiding force on The Simpsons and King of the Hill. The new film could
have benefitted from even more of the wit and skill for character he
demonstrated in his previous movies and TV work.
Nonetheless, Bird does make the
impossible seem credible without also making it look mundane a well. (PG-13)
Rating: 4 (Posted on 12/16/11)
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
I don’t object to Snatch director Guy Ritchie retooling Arthur Conan Doyle’s most
famous creation. Canadian Bob Clark had the fictional Sherlock Holmes solving
the real life Jack the Ripper killings in Murder
by Decree, and so many filmmakers have taken their shot at the now public
domain property that it’s silly to chide any of them for deviating from the
original source material. That said, I wish that Ritchie and star Robert
Downey, Jr. had made the master of deductive crime solving just a little bit
As with their previous take on Holmes
and his trusty sidekick Watson, Ritchie and Downey add frantic pacing and a
steam punk sensibility and don’t bother with putting the deerstalker hat on
Holmes’ head. They also treat Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) with a little more
dignity than he’s received in past films.
Conan Doyle was a physician himself,
and occasionally had Holmes holding back information from his partner because
he knew the sharp-eyed Dr. Watson would easily be able to tell Holmes was
faking illness to trick a crook. Watson’s also a veteran of Britain’s war in
Afghanistan, so he’s a good man to have in a fight.
This time around Watson actually
marries his beloved Mary (Kelly Reilly), but the real sparks fly when he’s with
his frustratingly eccentric mentor. Holmes doesn’t take well to idleness, and
he expects the otherwise committed Watson to be at his beck and call.
Fortunately, he doesn’t have to worry
about down time. His old nemesis Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is using the
unrest fomenting at the end of the 19th century in Europe to build
demand for the weapons he hopes to make a fortune from. Naturally, Holmes feels
obligated to stop him.
How Moriarty will achieve this goal is
fuzzy, but it somehow manages to involve Holmes’ old enemy Irene Adler (Rachel
McAdams) and gypsy fortuneteller (Noomi Rapace, the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). It also
introduces Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), who is both proud of and
annoyed with his younger sibling. Fry seems to be enjoying himself, and his
glee helps keep the film from seeing obligatory.
While the bickering between Holmes and
Watson is still fun (they’re like a couple who’ve been married too long to
remember how they ever got together), it would have been preferable if we could
have shared in Holmes’ ability to crack the case. Simply taking for granted
that he’s a genius seems like a cheat. Mysteries are a lot more fun if viewers
can solve the case with the detective.
Ritchie’s hyperactive style, which
seemed fresh in the first movie, gets old here. During the fights, the quick
cutting makes the punches and kicks seem less realistic. In addition, the
elaborate sets get all too brief a chance to shine before Ritchie has moved on.
As a result, everything seems preordained. The outcomes are often as
unconvincing as the comic disguises that Downey wears throughout the film. It’s
also a shame that Rapace is given relatively little to do. While she can still perform
action scenes with flair, it’s a shame that all she’s asked to do is look
exotic. Roles like Lisbeth Salander don’t come around very often, and anything
she does from now on will unfortunately invite unflattering comparisons.
Downey won’t be killing the franchise
any time soon because anybody who wants to can make a Sherlock Holmes movie of
their own. Perhaps it’s time someone as bright as the detective himself should
do so. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted on 12/16/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Dutch writer-director Dick Maas, the
mind behind The Elevator and Amsterdamned, is probably going to get
some pretty cruddy presents for Christmas. Actually, the residents of Amsterdam
are more likely to exchange presents on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, which is
December 5. That means that by the time of this writing, Sinterklaas, as the
Dutch call him, has already caught up with the filmmaker. As his movie Saint (or Sint) indicates, St. Nicholas
can indeed be generous, but you don’t want to get on his bad side.
Homicidal Santas are nothing new.
There’s the long Silent Night, Deadly
Night series, but Maas has fun reworking the Dutch myths about the fourth
century bishop who lived in what’s now Turkey. In Saint, Nicholas was not a nice guy at all during his life. In a
prologue set in Amsterdam in 1492, the future Sinterklaas is a marauding,
corrupt bishop who gets his comeuppance when the residents of the city kill him
and his henchman in retaliation for his raids. For centuries to follow, if
there’s a full moon on Dec. 5, which only happens every 32 years or so,
Amsterdam becomes a killing field. Being long dead doesn’t stop him or his
subordinates from terrorizing the city.
The only person who fully understands
the danger of a full moon on Dec. 5 is a burned out cop named Goert (Bert
Luppes). Understandably, nobody in the city takes him seriously or even thinks
of cancelling St. Nicholas Eve festivities. Goert, however, knows the myths are
more than stories to scare kids. He’s the sole survivor of a rampage that
killed everyone else in his family. It’s no wonder he’s the only resident of
Amsterdam who looks morose. He knows the tales about Sinterklaas and his
assistant Black Peter stealing bad kids away to Spain are nothing to worry
about because what he’ll really do is far worse.
The Dutch perspective on St. Nicholas
gives Saint a fresher approach to the
Santa slasher genre. For one thing, the film implies the residents of the city
sure like to give each other dildos. But the film quickly devolves into a
garden variety teens in trauma horror movie. Egbert Jan Weeber stars as Frank,
a hard partying student who makes the mistake of dressing up as Sinterklaas and
gets framed for the dead saint’s murders. Blood and severed body parts ensue,
but there’s no suspense as Frank desperately tries to stay alive and prove that
he’s not the one spoiling the entire city’s holiday.
The subtitles don’t make Saint any more sophisticated than
domestic horror films. After a while the carnage loses its shock value. If all
the holiday, or as Bill O’Reilly would demand I say, “Christmas,” cheer that’s
thrust up on us is starting to annoy you, Saint is clearly intended for you. There are only so many times a person can watch
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer before going mad, but after a while, pointless
gore isn’t much fun either. (N/R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 12/09/11)
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
Something tells me the contracts for New Year’s Eve are probably more
interesting to read than Katherine Fugate’s script. In order to land a cast of
dozens of stars, the producers have demonstrated creativity and initiative that
are nowhere to be found in the screenplay. What perks would have to be provided
to induce Robert De Niro to spend a couple of days lying on a bed reciting
tired clichés that scream “Oscar-bate?” How many star-specific makeup artists
had to be hired to ensure the actors looked good as they went through the
motions, waiting for more substantial gigs.
Sadly, viewers are forced to settle for
what was actually filmed. Director Garry Marshall (who teamed up with Fugate on Valentine’s Day) has pulled off a
nifty little technical trick. Having filmed the movie the previous winter in
the Big Apple, there are all sorts of digital tricks to get all the signs
rigged so that they read “2012.” In addition, he’s managed to raise the amount
of product placement by having movie theaters advertising a different Warner
Bros. movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of
Shadows. When the filmmakers go to absurd lengths to make sure actors are
holding Coke cans or that the billboards plug merchandise conveniently
available for the Christmas rush, there’s no room for the movie itself.
As with Valentine’s Day, there are
several interlocking storylines, none of which are remotely entertaining or
even mildly interesting. Hilary Swank stars as the person in charge of making
sure the Times Square ball drops as scheduled at midnight. Naturally, the
sucker, like a first generation Apple product, malfunctions in front of
billions. If this is Marshall’s or Fugate’s idea of a crisis, I wonder how
they’d act during an earthquake or a tornado.
De Niro plays a dying Vietnam-era
combat photographer by reciting long monologues. These seem really polished for
a guy at death’s door. Maybe I’d become suddenly eloquent if Halle Berry was my
Meanwhile, Abigail Breslin plays a teen
who wants to spend time in Times Square with her boyfriend despite the
disapproval of her overprotective mother (Sarah Jessica Parker), and a young
courier (Zac Efron) gives a mousy secretary a chance to meet all of her new
year’s resolutions in a single day. The latter subplot is ripped straight from The Bucket List and is even less
inspired than the original.
Perhaps there’s some joy to spotting a
star walking on and delivering a quip before heading back to his or her day job
on a sitcom. Marshall and Fugate make little effort to develop any of the
situations they thrust their performers into and as a result waste their
potential. There’s room for debate about whether placing Ashton Kutcher and
moonlighting Glee star Lea Michele in
a malfunctioning elevator was a good idea. The two predictably become an item
even though there’s no chemistry to speak of between them. Because of ersatz
lift is built like a cage, it might have been funny to watch the two try to
figure out how to climb through it. There’s actually some potential for some
physical comedy. Instead, Fugate seems to think that having the two whine
during their captivity is more fun.
Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel almost
score some laughs, as a couple trying to have their baby be the first child
born in NYC during the new year. Meyers has a way with a sarcastic quip, but
it’s so much more rewarding to hear him reading comic headlines on Saturday Night Live than it is
witnessing him try to make Fugate’s material fun.
The one positive aspect of New Year’s Eve is that Marshall and
Fugate are running out of Hallmark holidays to exploit. Thankfully, Groundhog
Day is already taken. (PG-13) Rating: 1 (Posted on 12/09/11)
Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
It’s been said that The Velvet
Underground and Nico sold only one thousand copies in its initial release, but
we remember the album because every person who bought it formed a band. The
same could probably be said of the veteran Los Angeles ensemble Fishbone.
Members of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt readily acknowledge how much
they admire and have been influenced by the band. Chili Pepper bassist Flea
bluntly acknowledges copying his approach to his instrument from Fishbone
co-founder Norwood Fisher. Curiously, Flea and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani are
tycoons and household names, whereas Fisher and singer-saxophone player Angelo
Moore are adored by critics and fellow musicians but are sadly not getting rich
and are still unknown to most of the public.
Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone may help remedy that. Lev Anderson and
KC-native Chris Metzler persuasively argue that the band members’ lives and
music are worthy of wider recognition. The filmmakers do a terrific job of
explaining why Fishbone matters and how their music explains and enriches our
culture as a whole. Formed in late 1970s Los Angeles, the African American
musicians met when they were bused to high schools outside of their native
South Central. The scrappy but charismatic Fisher and the nerdy Moore had an
almost instant chemistry, and their friends, through the influence of having to
live in different neighborhoods, developed an unusual approach to music. In a
typical Fishbone song, ska, heavy metal, funk, punk and silky harmonies all
come together in one package. Like fellow Angelinos Los Lobos, Fishbone aren’t
bound to a single genre, but Fishbone can effortlessly switch styles in the
middle of a song.
This helps explain why they didn’t
catch on quickly in the ‘80s even though they were a fixture in the L.A. punk
scene. In the documentary, admirer Ice-T recalls how Fishbone played the type
of tunes that made other black listeners switch the dial. Columbia Records
actually had to market the band to white listeners to get them on MTV or radio.
Another problem is that while the band sounded great in the studio and wrote
songs that examined the horrors that lead to the L.A. riots of the ‘90s, their
best moments were live.
On stage, the band plays with the
precision of a Swiss watch and the fervor of rabid dogs. There is no focal
point during a Fishbone show. While Moore sings lead, the entire band
harmonizes with him and engages in a kind of call and response. They jump across
the stage just as the fans do in the mosh pit below, and a music video can’t
capture the excitement of Moore diving into the crowd and the band becoming
part of it. Recordings can reach a lot more people than auditoriums, but the
latter is really the only place to see the band properly.
While Everyday Sunshine argues that the band hasn’t gotten a fair shake,
it also reveals that their personal stories are infinitely more fascinating
that a typical VH1 Behind the Music episode. While substance abuse and musicians seem to be an unavoidable pairing,
Fishbone’s situation is more intriguing because on the cusp of stardom,
guitarist Kendall Jones had a nervous breakdown and then joined a cult. When
his band mates tried to rescue him, they wound up charged with kidnapping.
Moore also drove out “Dirty Walt” Kibby because he became obsessed with playing
a Theremin. The electronic instrument annoyed other members as well.
Anderson and Metzler collect dozens of
great bits of rehearsal and performance footage as well as intimate footage
between Moore and his family. During the making of the film, Moore had to move
in with his mother to cut down on expenses after a well-reviewed album flopped.
Moore and Fisher are also fascinating guys to follow. The former personifies
quirkiness whereas the latter’s calm masks a confident toughness that explains
his longevity in such a rough business. There are also animated segments that
fill in where footage is missing and help set the mood of the era. It doesn’t
hurt that the film is narrated by golden-throated actor Laurence Fishburne who
does more than simply play on the pun surrounding his last name.
A good music documentary can help fans
get a better understanding of a band they already enjoy. An exceptional one
helps non-fans appreciate a combo’s legacy and even wins the group new
admirers. Everyday Sunshine is
clearly in the second category. (N/R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 12/02/11)
Note: Filmmaker Chris Metzler will be doing Q&As after the
screenings this weekend at the Screenland Crossroads on 17th and
Washington. Go to www.screenland.com for more information.
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
With his latest effort Answers to Nothing, co-writer-director
Matthew Leutwyler appears to have confused glum with profound. For over two
hours, he treats us to miserable people whining about their place in Los Angeles,
which according to the film must be the most depressing city on the planet. All
those palm trees must get everyone down. Even when a crisis resolves itself
favorably, you get the feeling these folks will simply whine more quietly as a
The problem with Answers to Nothing is that it’s just about impossible to share in
any of the characters’ miseries. These folks appear to be demanding their
lachrymose states or may be some of the dumbest college educated characters in
screen history. They’re almost as dumb as the knife bait teenagers in slasher
Moonlighting standup comic Dane Cook
stars as Ryan, a therapist who has some issues of his own. After a tryst with a
younger singer (Aja Volkman, a vocalist in the band Nico Vega), he rushes to a fertility
doctor where his wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell) is waiting to see if the two
are good candidates for in vitro fertilization. It’s best not to know how he
manages both encounters immediately after each other.
In films like Dan in Real Life, Cook has demonstrated that he
has decent acting chops and can play straight roles easily. Unfortunately, a
little levity would have helped here. Ryan’s kinky philandering comes off as
morose and unsympathetic. He’s obviously upset about his runaway father, but aping
his dad seems like a pretty foolish way to deal with the issue. It certainly
makes things difficult for Ryan’s long-suffering mother (Barbara Hershey).
If Ryan’s plight is unsympathetic so
are the other interlocking tales. There’s a hard bitten cop (Julie Benz) trying
to get a sketchy neighbor (Greg Germann) to confess to the abduction of a
missing grade schooler, an African American writer (Kali Hawk) who feels
conflicted about her own ethnicity, an alcoholic woman (Miranda Bailey) who
wants to take care of her paralyzed brother and a uniformed cop (Erik
Palladino), fresh from the academy. These stories and the others that accompany
them are not that interesting, and Leutwyler, who’s credited with editing the
film, paces the film so slowly that it has trouble keeping up with viewers, who
are well ahead of it. The cast is generally solid, but their attempts to make
their characters’ struggles engaging are futile.
Leutwyler and co-screenwriter Gillian
Vigman follow in the well-worn footsteps of Robert Altman, John Sayles (Lone Star) and Paul Haggis (Crash) but can’t find any new or
involving angles on what their predecessors have done already. In better
ensemble vehicles, viewers wait for a character to learn and grow, pay the
price for folly or serve as a warning to others. Any change that happens to
these folks seems phony and telegraphed. In some ways, Answers to Nothing is
smaller than life, instead of larger. Staring out any window for two hours is
more edifying and entertaining than what’s on the big screen now. (R) Rating: 1
(Posted on 12/02/11)