Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Flight (2012)

No question about it, Denzel Washington is one of the finest actors around, one of that rare remarkable breed of performers whose work is always worth the price of admission, no matter the vehicle.  Fortunately for Flight, Denzel is on board; it’s difficult to imagine this film being as compelling with a less gifted actor in the pilot’s seat.

In Flight, Denzel stars as Captain William “Whip” Whittaker, a star airline pilot with a major substance abuse whose life is thrust into the eye of the media after miraculously saving a plane from mechanical failure.  On his road to recovery, Whip strikes up a bond with fellow addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly), while his lawyer (Don Cheadle) and union rep (Bruce Greenwood) try to save him from prison.

Flight could have been disastrous.  The marketing touts this film as an intense thriller about finding the truth behind a mysterious crash-landing, but what you actually get are two very depressing hours in which Denzel drinks and refuses help from everyone close to him.  This should not be a pleasant moviegoing experience.  But, like Whip, Denzel manages to save the movie from catastrophe by being so good at what he does.

Denzel plays drunk better than anyone in recent memory, recalling the Oscar-winning performance by Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart but with more fearless sophistication.  The key, he says, is that intoxicated people pretend they’re not drunk, and Whip’s continual rejection of his problem coupled with his insistence that he’s “good” give us a subtle depiction of a man who’s almost always toeing the precarious line between sobriety and jeopardy.  The film is so very nearly exclusively Denzel’s that I’m wondering if we’re looking at another Oscar nod for the man, who commands the film in ways very similar to Daniel Day-Lewis’s highly engaging work in Lincoln.

Indeed, you could strip away much of what else works in Flight and still have a central performance successful enough to carry a film on its own.  Cheadle and Greenwood are solid in supporting roles that require their patience with Whip’s frustrating regressions, but their characters never really pay off in the way that John Goodman’s cocaine dealer does; equal parts Walter Sobchak and The Dude, Goodman struts to the sounds of “Sympathy for the Devil” in two key scenes that advance the plot but introduce tricky moral choices that might leave the audience wondering just what’s being sanctioned.  This is to say nothing of the curious and nameless cancer patient played by James Badge Dale (you know him as Jack Bauer’s partner from Season 3), who’s introduced as a man potentially with all the answers, but the film never revisits him, neither physically nor thematically; it’s a shame, because the character is charming and memorable, and he says some particularly pointed themes on which the film ought to follow up.

Disappointingly, the biggest supporting role – one that’s almost set up as a featured co-lead – is Reilly’s turn as Nicole.  Introduced in an opening that pairs her personal rock-bottom with Whip’s midair emergency, Nicole never quite accomplishes anything other than serving as a kind of billboard for Alcoholics Anonymous.  She’s set up as a voice of reason, an exit for Whip from his disastrous lifestyle, and some of the scenes where she’s unable to save Whip are heartbreaking.  But the film’s investment in her dissipates when she exits the film without casting an eye back; at the film’s end, Whip’s hollow reunion with his estranged son might have rang truer had the film made peace instead with Whip’s unresolved relationship with Nicole (something the film only alludes to in photographs, a blatant storytelling cheat).

But where director Robert Zemeckis wisely allows the film to be Denzel’s, the disproportionate balancing act he plays with the supporting cast doesn’t carry over to his competency in the film’s crucial airplane scene, which is as viscerally terrifying as recent aerial trauma films like United 93 or even some of the less schmaltzy scenes of the Final Destination franchise.  As much as I deplore the shaky cam technique, Zemeckis makes it work here, helping us to forget that we’re watching a soundstage filmed upside down.  If there’s a complaint to be had about this scene, as successful as it is, it’s that I never quite felt in danger with Denzel at the helm.  Forget what the trailers gave away; I’d let Denzel pilot my airplane, substance abuse or not.

Ultimately, Flight is a movie that by all accounts shouldn’t work as well as it does.  There are several filmmaking missteps, including the fact that the movie never quite lives up to its highly compelling opening act.  But this is as much a Denzel Washington vehicle as anything else, and in this respect Flight earns high marks for allowing a star performer to wield his craft with as much dignity and dexterity as he possesses.

Flight is rated R “for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.”  As mentioned above, Denzel drinks, smokes, and ingests cocaine several times in the film, almost always to excess.  The film begins with Denzel in and out of bed with a fully nude stewardess, but after that the film is mostly chaste; the old buttocks/hospital gown gag is trotted out once more but is played for a weak laugh.  And most viewers will probably find the midair catastrophe distressing, as is its somewhat bloody and wrecked aftermath.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday at the Movies - November 26, 2012

Welcome to Week Forty-Two of “Monday at the Movies.”

Fight Club (1999) – I’ll say this for David Fincher’s Fight Club:  it holds up much better on a second viewing.  I came to it years ago under the auspices of anticipating the allegedly brilliant twist ending, but after predicting it fairly early on I found myself disappointed.  I won’t spoil the ending here, though I will say that the movie is much more successful when you know the reality-bending twist in advance, particularly since the self-congratulatory way in which it’s revealed may seem abrasive to viewers ahead of the game.  Edward Norton plays a pitch-perfect nameless sad sack (known only as “The Narrator”) who begins to find meaning in his life after the charismatic Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) begins a franchise of “fight clubs” in which men can take out their anger and recapture their masculinity in a consumerist and depersonalizing world; Helena Bonham Carter costars as Marla Singer, an intensely damaged individual whose self-hatred leads her into the path of Tyler and The Narrator.  At its best, Fight Club is classic Fincher:  dimly-lit, intensely violent, and monomaniacal in its examination of deranged, deviant personalities.  Pitt’s performance in particular stands out as one of his best; Tyler is infectiously exuberant and sadistically nuanced, allowing Pitt to show off the full range of his talents and recalling his nutty turns in Twelve Monkeys and, to a lesser extent, Burn After Reading.  What the film leaves you with is a slightly unsettling commentary on modern society that asks you to sympathize with The Narrator before abandoning you as his plans go awry; Fincher wisely avoids moralizing by leaving the ending ambiguous, asking the audience what is to be made of Fight Club and Project Mayhem.  If nothing else, it’s astounding that this is the same director who did The Social Network!

Hable con ella (2002) – It’s been a year of firsts here at The Cinema King, reviewing silent films (The Italian) and James Bond films (Skyfall) for the first time.  Now your first foreign-language film, courtesy of Pedro Almodóvar.  Hable con ella (“Talk to Her”) is an unusual film, many things at once without leaving much room for the audience to get comfortable in one genre.  Through a series of interconnected events, caregiver Benigno (Javier Cámara) and travel writer Marco (Darío Grandinetti) become friends in the hospital where the comatose loves of their lives sleep.  Marco’s relationship with the bullfighter Lydia (Rosario Flores) becomes more tragic as flashbacks and surprise reveals detail the secret she was keeping from him before her injury, while Benigno’s one-sided friendship with ballerina Alicia (Leonor Watling) becomes more unsettling as we learn more about the extent of his devotion to her.  I’m not sure what to make of this movie; it accomplishes a great deal without leaving much closer for the audience, and it seems that Almodóvar’s film is essentially a treatment of misinterpreted romantic relationships.  To that end it’s a compelling one, helped by strong performances and a willingness to let the audience put some of the major pieces together.  Grandinetti’s turn as Marco is particularly compelling, his emotional vulnerability and forthright nature reminding this viewer of Gordon Pinsent’s moving turn in 2006’s Away From Her.  The film is troubling in places (some unintentional, as I found myself a bit perturbed that the women in the film are literally reduced to bodies), but I think that Almodóvar is after just that – a destabilizing of assumptions and the revelation that everyone has something to hide, be it an emotional trauma in the past or an aberrant secret in the present.

That does it for this week’s edition of “Monday at the Movies.”  We had “Fight” today – tune in on Wednesday for Flight!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pulp Fiction (1994)

You know, it’s movies like this that make me realize how much I need a “Top 10 Movies of All Time” list on this site.  What qualifies a movie for that list?  A spot-on script, top notch performances, flair without being too flashy, no moment wasted, unending rewatchability, and a smile on my face the whole way through.

My friends, Pulp Fiction delivers the goods, as securely as if Jules Winnfield himself were the bagman.

I’m reviewing this movie now because I recently had the opportunity to watch the movie with someone who’d never seen it before, and it helped me to recapture a lot of what I love about Pulp Fiction without simply resorting to Nostalgia Glasses that allow me to effectively tune out the movie and revel in the reminiscence of the dozens of times previous that I’d seen this film.  (I’m also reviewing it in the context of being Quentin Tarantino’s second, and perhaps best, film, in the run-up to December’s Django Unchained.)

What, then, is Pulp Fiction about?  Many things, really.  It’s a nonlinear narrative about a group of Californians who lead lives dominated or surrounded by violence – Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a pair of hitmen; their boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames); his wife Mia (Uma Thurman); boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis); and Pumpkin & Honey Bunny (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer), the two robbers and lovers who frame the piece.  Pulp Fiction is about these people and the meaningful – and often surprising – ways their lives intersect, but it’s also about how these people are confronted by opportunities to change their lives before the violence gets them, too.  In strange ways, it’s about the importance of love, about divine intervention and the power of miracles, about how much pop culture matters to us, and about following codes that make no earthly sense but have a ring of the divine to them.

It’s about so many things that some critics have charged Pulp Fiction with being about nothing.  Perhaps they’re right – perhaps Pulp Fiction is just the Seinfeld of the movie world.  But for a multiplicity of reasons – philosophical, aesthetic, existential, etc. – I refuse to believe that a movie this sublime, this enjoyable, this... perfect could be an exercise in nihilism.  What about Pulp Fiction merits so much revisiting?

Much of the film’s strength comes from the stellar cast of once-was and would-be-yet stars.  As one of only three characters to appear in all three segments of the film (Marsellus and Mia Wallace being the other two), John Travolta is a fantastic “leading man” for an ensemble cast such as this.  His role as the “comeback kid” in the behind-the-scenes mythos of the film takes a backseat to his perfect fit as an accessibility point for the audience; he shepherds us through the film, feeling dread when we’re supposed to feel dread, breaking the tension when it needs it, and entering the film as a kind of outsider who needs to relearn the game after a stint in Amsterdam.  And, boy, can he dance.  The impromptu dance sequence with Uma Thurman is a real treat – for better or for worse the film’s most recognizable moment – a spontaneous and exuberant indulgence in the film’s own pop sensibility.  The two dance for no other reason than Mia’s “I wanna dance” logic, a perfect analogue for why I still watch this movie:  because I wanna.

Travolta’s counterpart is Samuel L. Jackson, the devout Protestant to Travolta’s lapsed Catholic.  (There’s no specific invocation of religious denominations here, but I contend that the whole movie comes down to miracles and how the characters respond to them – the subject, perhaps, for another article on here.)  Jules Winnfield is a career-making role for Jackson, establishing his trademark hybrid of the sacred and the profane with the almost lyrical way in which he drops an F-bomb.  Yet Jackson is gifted enough to oscillate between irreverent comedy (“I’m a mushroom-cloud layin’ motherf--ker, motherf--ker”) and intense introspection (“I felt the touch of God”), making Jules perhaps the most human of the film’s characters.  His quiet monologue in the film’s concluding diner scene is almost chilling for its earnestness; it ought to be difficult to believe that the same cheeseburger-gobbling gangster from the first ten minutes has become a contemplative amateur theologian, but Jackson makes that transition palpable and cues himself for the well-deserved success he’s enjoyed in his career thus far.

Then there’s Bruce Willis, the star of the film’s middle third.  It seems odd to say it, but I always forget that he’s in this movie until I start watching it.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that the Butch Coolidge section isn’t exclusively Tarantino’s script (co-written with Roger Avary), or perhaps it’s that “The Gold Watch” is such a traumatic and trippy piece that I psychologically block it out.  It’s not that I actively dislike “The Gold Watch” – indeed, Willis does some great work here as the sympathetic boxer, and the unforgettable Christopher Walken monologue that opens this chapter is equal parts touching, spooky, and weird (meaning it’s yet another Christopher Walken performance).  But “The Gold Watch” veers so hard and fast into disturbing territory that moviegoers likely won’t be prepared for where the film takes them.

“The Gold Watch,” though, is often underrated because it’s sandwiched between two classically Tarantino pieces – Travolta’s dance number with Thurman and the infamous bloody car cleanup.  But as with Inglourious Basterds, “The Gold Watch” is a segment where Tarantino displays his impeccable gift for generating tension; danger is around every corner in this portion of Pulp Fiction, with death or worse fates awaiting Butch and ensnaring those close to him.  The sensitive scenes with Maria de Medeiros (as Butch’s naïve lover Fabienne) are haunted by her question, “We’re in a lot of danger, aren’t we?”  Honey, you don’t know the half of it; “The Gold Watch” is dogged by the sense of impending and unrelenting doom.  It makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially when you find out what Zed and Maynard are really up to, but aesthetically it’s genius filmmaking as Tarantino pulls back on his trademark peppy dialogue and lets the visual language – long takes and intimate close-ups – do all the talking.

But lest you get the wrong idea, Pulp Fiction really is a barrel of laughs.  (Or, if it’s not, I’ve just outed myself as some kind of nut.)  It’s either genius or bizarre filmmaking when Tarantino turns an exploding head into one of the most riotous scenes in the film, allowing that trademark snappy dialogue to take over as Travolta and Jackson degenerate into a shouting match.  The film is told out of chronological order, which allows some of the more difficult bits to go down easier – as when a deceased character returns to the film in scenes from before his death – and it allows the film to reach a comfortable happy ending without sacrificing the danger that still waits for violent men who continue to act violently.

Though Inglourious Basterds concluded with the not-so-subtle intimation that it was Tarantino’s masterpiece, but I argue that Pulp Fiction retains that place in his oeuvre.  It’s quite simply a perfect film.

Pulp Fiction is rated R “for strong graphic violence and drug use, pervasive strong language and some sexuality.”  Where do we begin?  This film is unflinching in its depiction of shootings and their oh-so-bloody aftermath; profanity flows liberally with almost 300 F-words and nearly every other indecent verbiage included.  Drugs include alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, with numerous nicknames given.  Butch and Fabienne share an extremely intimate but fully clothed rendezvous which runs for a very long time, and there’s a scene of semi-graphic nonconsensual homosexual intercourse (everything seen but the body parts in question) that might be the film’s most disturbing scene of all.

Thanks for sticking with us all week, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving with your near and dear ones!  Come back here next week for our regularly-scheduled “Monday at the Movies,” as well as a review of Denzel Washington in Flight for Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lincoln (2012)

Four score and two years ago, Walter Huston starred as Abraham Lincoln in the D. W. Griffith biopic of the Sixteenth President, the first “significant” portrayal of the man on film.  Here in 2012, we have another – Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, ably helmed by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Lincoln subverts the normal biopic pattern by beginning with the President (Daniel Day-Lewis) on the eve of his second term.  Allied with Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and Congressional Republican Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), Lincoln presses to pass the Thirteenth Amendment before a negotiated peace with the Confederacy would maintain slavery as part of the terms of surrender.

In a sense, Lincoln is more civics lesson than characteristically Spielberg film, with the director backing off his signature style in favor of a more subdued experience that puts the actors fully in charge of translating the political maneuvering.  It’s a wise choice, especially with a cast as gifted as this one.  Day-Lewis is unsurprisingly engrossing as Lincoln, disappearing behind the gaunt cheekbones and stovepipe hat with a voice that recalls a timid Daniel Plainview.  To paraphrase Cornel West, “Do not be afraid to say Oscar!”  Day-Lewis’s totalizing performance is the stuff Academy Awards are made of; he’s practically a lock for a nomination, and a third Oscar for his mantel wouldn’t be a surprise.

The perfection of Day-Lewis’s performance is no surprise; when I heard that Liam Neeson had left the project, I was dejected only until hearing who would be replacing him.  But what’s more surprising is the plethora of familiar – and talented – faces rounding out one of the best ensemble casts in history.  Strathairn handles well the friendship with Lincoln, one of mutual respect tempered by political disagreement.  Jones is the true scene stealer here, inspired casting for an aging curmudgeon with a proclivity for verbose condemnation.  Though Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln is the weak link, Spielberg wisely restricts her to only a few scenes.

But the film is populated with veteran character actors, each of whom does wonderful and memorable work with only a few minutes of screen time.  James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson play rabble-rousers courting Congressional votes, while Jackie Earle Haley appears as the Confederate vice-president.  There’s Hal Holbrook as an influential Republican, Walton Goggins (best known as Boyd on Justified) as a hesitant Ohio representative, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S. Grant.  It’s almost enough just to list these folks, because you know the kind of work that they do; it’s as exceptional and entertaining as it’s always been.

What the film doesn’t do particularly well is tell us who Lincoln was.  The performance is entirely enthralling, with Day-Lewis giving it more than his all (as he always does).  But the film relies almost too much on Lincoln’s legend, taking for granted our reverent regard for him.  We never really get much access to Lincoln the man, with almost every scene feeling like a performance; in this particular month, Lincoln was the master strategist, playing each side and timing each move to achieve his goal.  It’s compelling and probably more honest than most whitewashing historians are willing to acknowledge, confronting the performativity of politics without bowing entirely to the “Great Man” simplification.  But it’s a bit of a cop-out when Lincoln refuses to tell his wife’s dressmaker what he really thinks about slavery, as if the movie doesn’t want to press too hard against our canonization of Honest Abe.  The truth is here somewhere – it’s likely that this Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union first without sacrificing his moral convictions against slavery, but the film never goes there, instead allowing this Lincoln to remain inscrutable.

But for this moment of historical disingenuousness, Lincoln is a marvelously gripping film, a certain Oscar contender on the other side of 2013.  It’s a showcase for an actor at the top of his game, a museum exhibit populated by an array of talented moving parts, and a Spielberg film that doesn’t hit you over the head with base sentimentality.  A film this talky ought to be a snoozefest, but the performances are lively and the politics accessible – a bit like The Wire at its most viewer-friendly.

Lincoln is rated PG-13 “for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language.”  The film begins with a brutal war scene, and there are several visits to battlefields strewn with bodies and dismembered parts, though these scenes are by far in the minority.  A few period-era profanities occur, but this is more Yosemite Sam than Deadwood.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for our Thanksgiving surprise!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

One of my favorite narrative devices is Chekhov’s Gun – that plot element that is introduced solely because it’s going to pay off later.  If you see a gun, you know it’s going to be fired (or used in some other meaningful way).  Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film, is littered with many such rewarding moments, leading me to label it “Chekhov’s Bond.”

And oh, is that a good thing.  Skyfall is one of the best Bond films in recent memory, even surpassing Casino Royale in several important ways.

After a brush with death in a fantastic pre-credits sequence, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is called back into active service when a series of intelligence attacks puts the life of M (Judi Dench) in danger.  It’s up to 007 to stop Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) and find out just why he wants M dead – fortunately, Bond has the help of quartermaster “Q” (Ben Whishaw) and slinky secret agent Eve (Naomie Harris).

Since Daniel Craig was cast as the sixth (official) Bond, Skyfall is the film for which we’ve been waiting.  Sure, Casino Royale was breathtakingly realistic in its prequel treatment of the iconic superspy, but its plausibility lacked a certain Bond-iness.  No Q, no one-liners to speak of, and no martinis:  Skyfall restores all of these to the Bond mythos and, without spoiling anything, sets up an exciting fresh-but-familiar direction for the franchise. 

There is much about Skyfall that feels familiar.  There are nods to bygone Bonds – Goldfinger’s Aston Martin appears, the explosion at MI6 recalls The World Is Not Enough, and there’s a cryptic allusion to Jaws – but these feel organic rather than forced, acknowledging the long legacy of the series on this, its fiftieth anniversary (Dr. No debuted in 1962).  Yet these references are not what makes Skyfall such a return to form; rather, there’s a sense that this is, finally, a Bond movie and not a Bond prequel.  Silva is more a Bond villain than Le Chiffre or Dominic Greene, the return of Q’s gadgetry is unexpectedly welcome, and when Craig adjusts his cufflinks after a spectacular action sequence he brings to life a Bond worthy at last to stand beside Connery and Brosnan.

Craig isn’t the only one doing a marvelous job here.  Though Bond films haven’t always been renowned for their spot-on acting, Skyfall is filled with talented stars who are as compelling as anything this side of the Oscar season.  Craig maintains the gravitas established in the last two films but cuts loose enough to bring that Bond sense of humor to bear, wisecracking in the middle of an interrogation and punning his way through a final confrontation.  And Bardem is a suitably creepy foe, his blond locks and impeccable scheme distinguishing him from his “other” villainous role in No Country for Old Men.  Whishaw and Harris too are welcome additions to the series, with their roles set up for future appearances.

Let’s not forget Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney, who play a government official and a helpful groundskeeper, respectively; they’re two reliable actors with long pedigrees, and they add that likely air of dignity they always bring.  But the “breakout” star of Skyfall is Judi Dench, in her seventh outing as M – “outing” being the operative word there, since she gets to step out of the office quite a bit, even more than she did as the hostage in The World Is Not Enough.  Dench gets plenty to do here, lending a hand in a few action sequences and layering emotional depth onto what has usually been a stuffy desk job.  While her talent comes as no surprise, we’re blessed that Skyfall takes full advantage of it.

Director Sam Mendes was perhaps an unlikely choice to helm a Bond film, known more for his introspective American Beauty than anything else.  He brings that same interiority to bear on Skyfall, but he does it without sacrificing any of the big-budget spectacle we’ve come to expect from 007.  Two separate train sequences, a great chase scene in the middle of London’s busiest tube station, and a thrilling shoot-out in a decaying British manor – Skyfall has enough major action pieces to tick off the boxes and more.  Mendes is surprisingly deft with these, controlling our perspective without resorting to any shaky-cam shenanigans.  These are smart, stable action sequences, reminding me once more how much I’d like a Christopher Nolan Bond movie (but then that’s me getting distracted).

Skyfall loses none of the Craig era’s approach toward relevance; Silva’s plot recalls Wikileaks and the worst of chickens coming home to roost, while M’s response is a reminder of how much the world has changed in the last decade (a wry wink, perhaps, to the satellite laser of death from 2002’s Die Another Day).  But Skyfall also emphasizes how much Bond still matters; there’s a very interesting comparison to be made here with The Dark Knight Rises, in that both took their heroes back to Square One to remind them that their true strength lies in their beginnings. 

With a return to form to match Bond’s revisiting of his roots, Skyfall is a great reminder that the sky (at least, post-Quantum of Solace) isn’t falling – rather, it’s the limit.  Whenever we see “Bond 24,” it’s already primed for greatness.

Skyfall is rated PG-13 “for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.”  It being a Bond film, there are many action sequences, plenty of gunfire, and bloody consequences thereof.  Bond also seduces several women, though no nudity is seen.  An F-bomb, a few cigarettes, and several cocktails (including that famous martini) are included, as well.  Ultimately, Skyfall is no less appropriate than any other Bond film.

Stay tuned for Wednesday’s review of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, followed by a Thanksgiving surprise!  (P.S. – I’m aware this is the first Bond Film reviewed on this site – don’t worry, that’s an oversight that will be corrected before long...)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday at the Movies - November 12, 2012

Welcome to Week Forty-One of “Monday at the Movies.”  
The Brothers Bloom (2008) – From Rian Johnson, the mind that brought you Looper?  There are connections, to be sure, but for the most part this feels like a completely different film.  To be honest, that difference isn’t always a positive thing for Brothers Bloom.  Unfortunately, this is one of those con-man movies that is too cute by half, trying to out-indie Wes Anderson by couching unsubtle foreshadowing within overbroad characterization.  Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo star as the eponymous brothers; the depressive Brody wants out of the life, even though Ruffalo’s cons are as intricate and successful as a Dostoevsky novel.  One last con, blah blah blah, Rachel Weisz as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl mark.  You can call this one from the concession stand; where Looper reinterpreted its own dialogue to add meaning to the twist ending, Brothers Bloom quotes itself at the ending as if to say, “What, you didn’t see this coming?”  In praise of the film, Ruffalo’s performance is quite good; from the man who’s done the best Bruce Banner in a decade, I wouldn’t expect less, but it’s a disappointment that the film focuses more on sad sack Brody than on his more compelling brother. As Penelope, Weisz straddles the line between ascetic shut-in and sexually precocious, but the two halves never coalesce into a realistic character worthy of the affection Brody displays for her; her American accent, though, is nonpareil (something we saw in The Bourne Legacy, as well), and there’s a fun turn by Rinko Kikuchi as the mostly-silent Bang Bang.  But The Brothers Bloom ultimately fails to enchant despite its enthusiastic attempts to do so.

That does it for this week’s edition of “Monday at the Movies.” We’ll see you here next week!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday at the Movies - November 5, 2012

Welcome to Week Forty of “Monday at the Movies.”  It’s the Fifth of November, true, but seeing as how I’ve already reviewed V for Vendetta on this blog, it’s time for something completely different.

Chronicle (2012) – With Chronicle, director Josh Trank does something that I had to see to believe:  he combines my favorite film genre – superhero science-fiction – with my least favorite film style – found footage.  The result is somewhat surprising, but entirely worth the 80 minutes it’ll take to watch.  Andrew (Dane DeHaan) and his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) discover a mysterious object in the woods and, with their class president friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan), gain the ability to manipulate objects with their minds.  What happens next?  Well, you know that line about absolute power.  Chronicle is one of the latest in the real-life-superheroes genre, following on the heels of films like Watchmen, Kick-Ass, and, to a lesser extent, The Incredibles.  Chronicle manages to do something slightly different, though, developing the characters even before they gain their powers; it’s a model that more superhero stories, I think, should follow, since we’re already invested – particularly in Andrew – by the time the plot asks us to be.  Aside from the smart character development courtesy of Max Landis’s screenplay, the film features some really deft special effects; since the whole movie is purportedly being filmed by Andrew’s camera, there’s a need for the effects to be particularly convincing to maintain the illusion.  (It helps that Andrew eventually uses his powers to work the camera in a more conventional manner.)  Fortunately, the film succeeds in rendering the trio’s powers effectively.  While the film’s racial and sexual politics are a bit wonky, the story Chronicle ends up telling is compelling and engaging, galloping toward an inevitable but heart-wrenching conclusion.  Its concision is one of its greatest strengths, but what matters more is that Chronicle is a sound story told well.

That does it for this week’s edition of “Monday at the Movies.” We’ll see you here next week!