Archive for January, 2012

Pina

Posted in Documentary with tags on January 31, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Pina Bausch was a German choreographer who specialized in modern dance. She was the director for the Tanztheater (“dance theatre”) Wuppertal which focused on a particularly avant-garde expressionist version. In 2009, Pina was preparing to collaborate with German director Wim Wenders on this documentary. They were in the early preparatory stages when she suddenly died at the age of 68, five days after being diagnosed with cancer. Heartbroken he abandoned the project. However following the encouragement of the dancers from her company, he was inspired to continue making a film about her, even if it couldn’t feature her. Instead those same performers who had worked with Pina, could provide testament to her genius, Their words heard as background narration while their visages stare into the camera’s lens.

The picture presents four of Pina’s most noted pieces in her style. Regrettably, Pina is rarely seen and there is precious little insight into the woman herself. What Wim Wenders’ has decided, is to let the performances speak for her. As a biography on what must be a fascinating woman, it’s sadly lacking. However as a work of art, it’s captivating. Pina is not so much an informative document as it is an affirmation of the artistry of Pina Bausch. The film highlights four of her most signature pieces on a stage with silhouettes of the audience sitting at the bottom. Among the works introduced is the poignant Café Müller (1978) in which performers stumble around the stage crashing into tables and chairs. Other minor pieces are filmed outdoors. In each case, Pina uses every inch of space in her choreography to allow her dancers to convey feeling. I know nothing about this art form, but that didn’t stop me from being continually mesmerized by the dancers’ work. Their emotion is palpable.

Wim Wenders’ has done a tremendous job in bringing Pina’s artistry to the screen. The director has used cranes and steady cams to capture the dance as if we were in the middle of the production. He’s also chosen to shoot the film in 3D. It’s not required to enjoy the spectacle, but certainly highly recommended. The addition of the 3D format significantly adds to the feeling of being there on stage. The technically complex choreography of the troupe is even more impressive. Every time a new piece unfolded on screen I was transfixed not only by the dancing, but also by the creative cinematography and the beautiful music. By the end, one realizes this is merely a series of performances. There is no narrative about the woman herself to truly get us emotionally involved. Personally I can only get so excited about modern dance. However, before Pina, I had never heard of the choreographer and now I am a fan. Wim Wenders has made a hypnotic document to the legacy of an incredibly talented individual. Without words he presents a moving elegy full of feeling. Pina is a heady mix of her artistry and Wim Wenders’ direction.

Carnage

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Hobin

French playwright Yasmina Reza’s much lauded play God of Carnage is given the star treatment in this frequently amusing comedy-drama by director Roman Polanski. Two sets of parents come together in a Brooklyn apartment to address a fight their respective boys had on the playground that day. Their collective goal is to find an amiable solution. The cast is minimal: Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly are the Longstreets, Penelope and Michael. As the parents of injured son Ethan, they invite Nancy and Alan Cowan, into their home. They’re portrayed by Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz who are invited to account for the injury for which their son Zachary was responsible. “A comedy of manners…without the manners” proclaimed the poster for the play. Etiquette is the topic at hand, but as we soon see, it‘s far from the result.

To enjoy Reza’s theater piece one must take delight in the interplay between the four characters. Simple and crisp, the repartee is fun to see. Their discussion centers on child rearing, but it touches upon a myriad of topics. At first the chitchat is quaint in it’s civility. Listen to Penelope politely brag about her apple and pear cobbler to Nancy who feigns inertest in the recipe. But slowly the opinions turn more honest. Their initially polite interaction gradually deteriorates into pandemonium, flinging insults and engaging in behavior even more childish than their sons’ altercation. A discovery of their pet names for each other becomes mocking. Alan’s constant cell phone conferences is an irritant. Nancy berates Michael for releasing a domesticated hamster into the unprotected wild. It’s the kind of discourse only uppity New Yorkers could have. It’s smugly gratifying to witness their politically correct facade devolve into their true despicable nature over a brisk 79 minutes.

But other than their own moral collapse, not much happens. There is a running gag where the Cowan’s attempt to leave many times throughout the course of their visit, but are never quite able to do so. (Oh and an art book about Oskar Kokoschka is inadvertedly ruined ) But for the most part, there are no events. Dialogue IS the story. It’s a narrative where the introduction of an 18 year old bottle of scotch sets the stage for the climax of the picture. In a play simply built simply around a conversation in a room, I suppose there’s something to be said for a lack of subtlety. On Broadway, Marcia Gay Harden was the sole actor to win a Tony for her portrayal, even though the entire cast was nominated. It’s the showiest role and it’s interpreted here by Jodi Foster. She tries to seize the spotlight with her scenery chewing, histrionic performance. However I was much more impressed by Kate Winslet. She nicely underplays as the WASP-y upper class mom who is the “manager” of her husband’s wealth.

Eavesdropping on the intimate conversation of these four acting greats is worth a look.  To say the movie is stagy is to miss the point. It’s supposed to be a claustrophobic, pressure cooker in a tastefully decorated living room. However this is the sort of production that benefits from the immediacy of a live performance. A theatrical film makes demands on the viewer that actually hurt the story’s theater roots.  These sorts of intellectual pieces unfold much better on a small TV screen where the sitcom like setup is more enjoyable. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an obvious inspiration. Carnage is interesting, but the script doesn’t achieve anything close to the truly biting commentary of that classic. We keep waiting for a defining moment that never arrives and ultimately has nothing really profound to say. At least these actors ensure that things are always entertaining. The disintegration of the cordial facades of the bourgeoisie into chaos is still a consistent watch.

The Grey

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Thriller with tags on January 27, 2012 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketJohn Ottway is a sharpshooter responsible for protecting an oil drilling team in a remote part of Alaska from wild wolves. After completing the task, Liam and his colleagues’ board a plane for home, but weather conditions cause it to crash-land in the cold Alaskan wilderness. It’s up to Ottway to lead these headstrong tough guys to safety, before various forces of nature challenge their very existence. The Grey starts out with lofty ambitions. First we’re introduced to a rugged group of guys and they’re not stock personalities. Then there’s a spectacularly horrific plane disaster that all but guarantees that The Grey will never be any airline’s in-flight movie. Given the dire situation, it’s nice to see conversations that legitimately display the kind of dialogue real people facing death would have.

That The Grey actually bothers to focus on character development is the story’s nicest surprise. Liam Neeson worked with director Joe Carnahan before on The A-Team and the results then were less than spectacular. The Grey has a more thoughtful bent than minor films of this ilk. There’s an unexpected amount of personal relationship building in the beginning that an inferior script wouldn’t have even bothered to address. These men have families back home and the movie reinforces sentiment – sometimes awkwardly – whenever they pull out pictures of their families and wave them around. But the fact that the writing attempts something slightly more than a mere slaughter fest is admirable.

Unfortunately, despite pretensions to the contrary, this is just an action-adventure at heart. The men must compete with harsh elements initially but their very survival is much more threatened by a pack of gray wolves. The creatures are a combination of CGI, giant puppet animatronics and trained live animals. But just hold on a minute. These aren’t your typical wolves. These creatures are huge  – looming over the men like monsters several times the size of a normal sized wolf. They don’t behave like ordinary animals either – more like psychotic killers. The old adage, “they won’t attack unless provoked” doesn’t apply here. These wolves essentially see them as intruders and hunt them down. Once the killing starts, death is a foregone conclusion and the plot devolves into routine. The wolves terrorize and kill, then they retreat to take a break only to ambush them again, over and over without fail. Why they stop each time, instead of just finishing the job, is probably because the filmmakers wanted a longer running time. Given the naturalistic setting and the team’s lack of technological weaponry, I would have preferred a more reasonable animal that might have afforded the men a fighting chance. But these beasts have such an incredible advantage, the storyline becomes predictable, and the outcome is inevitable.

The Grey isn’t a bad picture, but it isn’t a great one either. There’s really nothing in it that pushes this past an entertaining diversion of the man vs. nature variety. We have an aircraft that bites the dust in a desolate area with a gang of oilmen aboard. It’s up to the survivors to maintain order and survive in grueling conditions of nature. A film should be judged on its own merits but comparisons here are unavoidable. I kept thinking of other movies while watching this: Deliverance, Never Cry Wolf, The Edge, Into the Wild. 1965’s The Flight of the Phoenix with James Stewart had the same basic setup. But where that classic took the narrative in a wholly original direction, The Grey is content to depict a tale that is decidedly less inventive. Any production that recalls earlier efforts, should strive to be better. Where The Grey succeeds, is the care it takes to develop realistic people. It’s barely an action film.  Call it a character study. It exhibits remarkable humanity. At one point faithful John curses God out of frustration. His “Oh why God, why?!” moment is kind of a novelty in an adventure of this sort. These days, I suppose any flick that tries to balance drama with action is something of a anomaly. I’ll give The Grey points for that….oh and a plane crash that will make me think twice the next time I board a plane.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on January 25, 2012 by Mark Hobin

The less we reveal about We Need to Talk about Kevin, the better your experience – but it certainly won’t make it any more accessible. Our account begins with a disheveled woman emerging from a run-down house defaced with red paint splattered all over it. We discover the woman’s car has also been vandalized as well. She drives to a travel agency in a strip mall to apply for a job, which she obtains. She currently lives alone but we flashback to a time when she was married with two kids, a son and a younger daughter. Actually the chronology jumps around from past to present frequently in a haphazard fashion. The non linear storytelling often seems more like a stylistic device than one conducive to coherent storytelling. Yet the events are spellbinding as they attempt to illustrate the root of evil.

It’s a singular performance that makes the picture. Tilda Swinton is mesmerizing as a successful travel writer, now mother. As Eva Khatchadourian, she conveys a woman who must juggle marriage, career, parenthood and her family, some with more interest than others.  The script indirectly suggests that her ambitions have consequences. John C. Reilly is frustratingly naive as her husband, Franklin. At least he’s capable at portraying a loving father. Nonetheless, Swinton and Reilly never make any sense as a couple and how these two could possibly fall in love and get married, constantly nagged at me. Actors Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller are extremely unsettling representing their son as a youngster and later teen, respectively. Kevin’s tense relationship with his mother is the core of the narrative, but it’s not the ultimate drive of the picture. Make no mistake, this is Tilda Swinton’s show. She seizes focus in every moment she is onscreen. Her portrayal resonates even more after the movie is over. Tilda is such a unique talent, I doubt any other actress could have pulled off what she accomplishes here.

Scottish director Lynne Ramsey has fashioned a stylishly made film from Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel of the same name. While the words of Eva’s letters written to her husband were so important in the novel, it is the subtle auditory and visual clues that the viewer must assemble to explain the reasons “why” of the story here. Notice the way Eva sits in her hospital bed after giving birth as her husband holds their newborn or Kevin’s piercing cry while being held by mommy Eva in a later scene. The color red appears throughout: Spain’s La Tomatina festival, graffiti on her home, the blinking numbers on an alarm clock, the rubber ball she tosses to her son, the wall of tomato soup cans behind her at the supermarket. The shade appears again and again and the effect is seductive in its hue. One major quibble, however, is the odd choice of songs, particularly Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle and Texas singer Washington Phillips’ gospel, which are totally inappropriate for the mood.

This is a study of the very nature of evil. A dissertation, if you will, on the factors that develop the personality of a human being. Can someone be born bad or is it learned? At the center is Tilda Swinton’s performance. We feel sympathy, then outrage. At times we want to rebuke her but then we forgive her. The justification for these emotions is often brutally vague, even to ourselves. Yes, director Lynne Ramsey raises more questions than she answers, but that’s the point. This is a drama ripe for discussion without clear cut solutions. She presents an interesting argument. The subject is sure to provoke a reaction and it’s definitely one worth “talking about”.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Posted in Drama with tags on January 24, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Monday, June 4th 2012 – Addendum

Reciving a free copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers is more than just a chance to re-visit the Best Picture nominee. It’s also an opportunity to check out the special features. Included on the Blue-ray are:

1.) Making Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (19:47) – Exactly what the title states as adapted from novel to film.
2.) Finding Oskar (7:50) – Explanation on how the filmmakers came to select Thomas Horn as the main protagonist
3.) Ten years Later (11:25) The impact surrounding a 9/11 victim’s photo on the memorial wall are shared as we hear testimonies and meet his family.
4.) Max von Sydow: Dialogues with the renter (44:00) A segment shot by Max von Sydow’s son shwouing us behind the scenes of his famous father. It’s a rather unpolished piece, but refreshingly intimate.

These extras will be most enjoyed by enthusiasts of the drama looking for more information. Although fans of legendary actor Max von Sydow should appreciate the last bonus regardless.

A nine-year-old child named Oskar Schell has lost his father in the 9/11 tragedy. Two years after that tragic event, he discovers a mysterious key among his father’s belongings. Thinking it might provide some connection to his father, he takes it upon himself to discover what it opens. Oskar is not your typical nine year old boy. He’s precocious bordering on abrasive. Oskar is an incredibly intense youngster and at times his personality can get a bit grating. He speaks in short clipped sentences spitting his declarations out in rapid fire with all the authority of an adult. He brings a tambourine along wherever he goes and shakes it when he gets nervous. Although never mentioned in the original novel, he has symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, an autistic disorder highlighted by awkward social interaction.

There is an inherent problem that cannot be avoided with using 9/11 as the backdrop for any drama . The wounds of that national disaster still feel fresh as if they had happened only recently. Any movie trying to address that grief is sure to be criticized (often unfairly) for being exploitative. Indeed, Jonathon Foer’s 2005 novel was also greeted with mediocre to bad reviews when first published for this reason. Harry Siegel, writing in New York Press, titled his article “Extremely Cloying & Incredibly False” based on the book‘s manipulative charms. Now director Stephen Daldry has fashioned a movie from the bestseller and the reviews, despite an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, have been decidedly less than positive. However the tale could have used any unprovoked attack on a group of people. Most of the events have really nothing to do with 9/11 at all, but rather Oskar’s mission to discover the history behind this unexplained key. It sends him on an emotionally affecting investigation of the city’s inhabitants. He travels from person to person interviewing these strangers to gather information. His ritual trek becomes his all consuming passion to come to terms with the death of his father.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ultimately matures into a sincerely touching film. At the center of this tearjerker is young actor Thomas Horn. Much like our central character, Oskar Schell, our first time actor is a curious subject. In 2010, Horn won on Jeopardy!, during Kids Week, earning $31,800. Producer Scott Rudin was in the midst of preparing an adaptation of Jonathon Foer’s 2005 book. He was so impressed by the little boy, it led to an audition as Oskar Shell, the brainy but socially isolated, protagonist. Obviously Thomas Horn is a similarly bright fellow. Undoubtedly his work draws much from his own identity. He’s remarkably sincere, yet the performance has been polarizing. It somewhat relies on your ability to accept Oskar’s idiosyncrasies as a disorder and not as a thoroughly irritating personality. At first I too found him annoying, but as time wore on, something else happened. I became fascinated by this little boy and his earnest desire to hang on to the memory of his father. I found the child’s exploration filled with emotional truth and humanity.

Extremely Loud is a picture of undeniable heart and it honestly moved me. Oskar’s hike through the streets of New York City is quite stirring. It starts out as a seed of an idea, but the concept develops into a full fledged scavenger hunt, much like the interactions he used to have with his father when he was alive. It takes time, but the purpose slowly germinates until before you know it, it has developed into a quietly poignant emotional journey. His interactions form the basis of the story with actors Max von Sydow, Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright logging the most screen time. They’re interesting as well, but the biggest surprise is that Sandra Bullock provides the film’s best scenes. By the end, I was overcome by emotion. There’s one particular moment of such pure virtue, it made the film for me.

Haywire

Posted in Action, Thriller with tags on January 20, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Mallory Kane is a covert operative for hire who works for various governments throughout the world. After saving a Chinese journalist who has been taken hostage, she is sent to Dublin on another assignment where things go horrible awry. Soon her life is in danger and she doesn’t know who she can trust. The star of Haywire is Gina Carano, a former mixed martial arts fighter. Surrounding her are accomplished actors only an auteur like Steven Soderbergh could assemble. Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas all show up in supporting parts. Given her rough and tumble background, Carano is a surprisingly stunning beauty. The fight scenes in this thriller have an organic, authentic feel that makes it clear she was selected for her athletic prowess over her thespian skills. Carano doesn’t give an emotionally engaging performance but I don’t hold that against her – that’s not mandatory for these types of pictures. She’s essentially required to kick butt and look pretty doing it, which she accomplishes.

This is a traditional low budget B movie at heart, dressed up in a 70s style aesthetic. Let’s face it, that’s an impressive cast to begin with. Now let’s address the look of the production. Every scene is beautifully composed and shot by Steven Soderbergh (credited here as Peter Andrews). Visual technique goes a long way in maintaining the audience’s interest in the story. The jazzy score by David Holmes is a playful romp. The smooth horns and piano elevate the events on screen. The violent punches and kicks seem much more sophisticated backed by the light music.

The plot is convoluted but again, it’s a spy thriller, so kind of expected.  Therein lies the problem. Not much happens that you wouldn‘t already expect in an actioner of this sort. Mallory attempts to make sense of her situation and things progress rather predictably. There are double crossings and ambiguous loyalties which must be resolved. Whether or not she will accomplish her mission is never a question. She is too capable for us to be concerned with that. The issue becomes, who‘s responsible and how quickly will she find out? In fact, the answer is very quickly as the movie runs only 93 minutes. It’s efficient and that’s probably a good thing in this case.

This is Steven Soderbergh Lite. I suspect he never intended this to be some grand statement about the life of a secret agent. There’s little in the way of innovation here. Female led action films can’t call themselves cutting edge anymore simply by virtue of the protagonist’s sex. Resident Evil, Underworld, Wanted, Salt and Hanna are just a few recent titles that fit this description. Take your pick, the trend is quite common (and profitable) these days. In the hands of a lesser director, this might have been less successful, but Soderbergh’s artistic touches (cast, cinematography and music) manage to push this adventure into a satisfactory time filler.

Cowboys & Aliens

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Thriller, Western with tags on January 13, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Cowboys & Aliens is a discordant, headache inducing mess. It’s unclear whether the filmmakers meant this to be a silly, light hearted adventure or a serious sci-fi adaptation. A case could be made for either. Harrison Ford plays Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde whose successful cattle business provides the small town of Absolution with its main source of income. He growls every line in a performance that is rooted firmly in camp. His gravel voice makes Clint Eastwood’s in Gran Torino look downright mellifluous by comparison. Dolarhyde and his son Percy act as though they are above the law and they initially emerge as the chief antagonists. Daniel Craig is Jake Lonergan, the apparent hero, but deeply humorless with nary a smile. He has amnesia right from the opening scene. He appears to be a fugitive from the law based on the shackle cuffed to his wrist. But he stands up for righteousness when he opposes Dolarhyde’s son who terrorizes the town. The first third of the film feels like a classic western of good vs. evil. It’s the best part. Although the setup is clichéd, at least it does a satisfactory job of laying the groundwork for the possibility of something exciting to come.

Unfortunately the story takes a turn for the worse. Technologically advanced flying objects appear overhead and abduct many of the townsfolk. This being a western set in 1873, the anachronism could have had a significant impact. Apparently this development was not meant to be a shock since the very title gives this revelation away. Even the trailer highlighted this spectacle. Without the element of surprise, the movie lacks excitement. Even the citizens seem rather unperturbed. Lots of blasts and explosions are presented in a blazing cacophony of CGI. The intruders are overly complicated monsters that scream “check out these creature designs!” to the Academy. The visual flourishes are plentiful, but the narrative is dull. Sadly Ford and Craig never fully connect and the promised sparks between the meeting of Indiana Jones with James Bond fail to ignite. We’re also introduced to a mysterious woman who joins the group and a Native American man who is Dolarhyde’s second-in-command. They have back-stories, but they seemed perfunctory. Where the aliens come from and their purpose, have routine explanations as well.

Overall the picture fails to captivate. Jon Favreau is a talented director. A string of his productions: ElfZathura and Iron Man, were all superior successes under his guidance. Oh yeah, some guy named Steven Spielberg is one of the executive producers here as well. The fact that seven (!) writers are credited with the disorganized screenplay supports the old adage “too many cooks“. A simplified, more singular vision would have been preferable. The best special effects extravaganzas are able to work in an engaging objective that makes the endeavor interesting, irregardless of eye catching embellishments. Here, the CGI is the story. It’s telling that when key people die in the end, it causes no emotional reaction. It’s just business as usual and off to the next adventure. <Yawn>

The Iron Lady

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on January 13, 2012 by Mark Hobin

If you approach The Iron Lady as a biography of Margaret Thatcher, the British politician, you will be disappointed. It plays out more like the aimless remembrances of a kindly old lady. Our production opens with a woman in the twilight of her existence. Fragile but capable, she has endeavored to buy a pint of milk in a nearby convenience store in what appears to be a rather seedy part of town. When she returns, we become aware that she has actually “escaped” from her residence much to the chagrin of her handlers. This is the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who held the office from 1979 to 1990. Through a series of flashbacks we are given glimpses of her life. Meryl Streep is Margaret Thatcher. She’s got her mannerisms, her look, everything is in order. Never once did I think this was an actress playing a part. She inhabits the role so thoroughly, at times I felt as though I were watching the actual politician in a documentary.

Where The Iron Lady flounders is in the editing. What could have been brilliant as the study of a complicated woman, is a failure as an incisive biography. We get snapshots of a life. Brief peeks in the chronology of her political timeline: election to Parliament, role as Education Secretary, accession to leader of the Conservative party. Her transformation from a working class woman to eventual role as Prime Minister is fascinating. The difficult road she traveled to assume that office is touched upon. Virtually all of the scenes depicting her civic side are endlessly entertaining. But the script addresses these political events without any real depth. Her dealings with the nation’s crippling recession, angry trade unions and The Falklands War, are all mentioned in a cursory manner. Many details are forgotten altogether, Blink and you’ll miss that she even knew close friend Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President during her tenure. It’s History Lite. Whenever the drama begins to develop steam we flash forward to a doddering old woman.

Her political career should have been the driving focus of the film. Unfortunately much of the narrative unwisely centers on Margaret Thatcher in the present day as a woman suffering from dementia. The modern day blends with the past and it’s meant to imply her own inability to tell the difference. But the framework is jarring to an audience and not conducive to a well told tale. In the here and now, she frequently has conversations with her dead husband Denis Thatcher played by Jim Broadbent. These dialogues are quaint, but they belong in a different movie. They listen to “Shall We Dance?“ from The King and I several times and the vignettes feel as though someone hijacked the memoir to tell the tale of a cute elderly lady. Give me a break!  This was the first woman to not only head a major political party in the United Kingdom, but to also run the whole country. The presentation of her professional life is so much more credible.

The Iron Lady is flawed. There’s a very good film contained within, but I suspect some of it is on the cutting room floor. Margaret Thatcher’s political pursuits are where this shines. Some judicious editing could have taken this to the next level. I’m reminded of another Meryl Streep vehicle. Julie & Julia was a good movie – whenever the chronicle focused on Julia Child, that is. So too is The Iron Lady a superior production whenever Margaret Thatcher is the tenacious leader of Great Britain. The agreeable matriarch of the present simply diminishes dramatic tension whenever things start to get exciting. Perhaps that’s the contradictory perspective director Phyllida Lloyd wanted to relate, but Thatcher’s energizing display as an obstinate firebrand of the past is so much more engaging. Meryl Streep deserves a lot of recognition for her singular performance, the story – not so much.

A Dangerous Method

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on January 3, 2012 by Mark Hobin

The early days of psychoanalysis are presented in this restrained drama. The year is 1904 and Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung treats Sabina Spielrein for psychosexual dysfunction in Zurich. She is admitted to the Burghölzli mental hospital there. Although she is initially a patient of Jung, she later becomes his student in the study of psychology. Their attraction as well as Jung’s tense friendship with Sigmund Freud – the founder of psychoanalysis – is highlighted. As his protégé, Jung utilizes Freud’s methods. Even their differing views in the world of psychiatry are explored.

If nothing else, A Dangerous Method is notable for Keira Knightley’s memorable portrayal. Sabine is a beautiful but unbalanced woman suffering from unorthodox sexual desire. It’s an incredibly mannered achievement full of facial tics and uncontrolled fits. Contorting her face with a severe underbite that looks positively unsettling, she chews the scenery but not in a displeasing way. I found her hypnotic. It raises the story to something beyond mundane biography. Without her manic representation, the whole pursuit would have been rather boring.

The rest unfolds in a rather pedestrian manner. Michael Fassbender continues his streak of remarkable roles in a single year. Carl Jung and Sabina’s relationship as doctor and patient develops in the predictable story arc of a soap opera. Yet his scenes with Knightly are compelling because of her. Their connection forms the most integral affiliation of the film. The professional relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud is examined as well but none of that is especially exciting. Viggo Mortensen is adequate as Freud in a studious performance. Yet I wonder if original choice, Christoph Waltz , might have been better. I found Mortensen’s interpretation underwhelming as he failed to capture my attention with an already underwritten character.

Despite the underlying topic of sexuality, the undertaking is surprisingly retrained for a film by David Cronenberg. Low key account is straightforward and quiet. That’s surprising in a drama where unconventional sexual impulses and sadomasochistic tendencies essentially form the basis of the story. I struggled to maintain interest at times. It’s a movie where the very discussion of ideas is supposed to be more shocking rather than the actual depiction of anything scandalous. Talky cerebral approach is admirable for its sophistication. I give the film credit for subtlety and precision, but it’s also kind of routine. See it for Keira Knightly. If not for her presence, the whole affair would have been rather forgettable.

The Adventures of Tintin

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family with tags on January 1, 2012 by Mark Hobin

Belgian artist Hergé’s series of classic European comics is given the big budget movie treatment from none other than Steven Spielberg. It’s also produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) and written by Steven Moffat (UK sitcom Coupling) Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). That’s an impressive array of talent. Needless to say my expectations were incredibly (or should I say unreasonably) high. Rousing adventure is entertaining enough and it’s got some nice spectacles, but the whole affair left me wanting more. The story is actually based on three of the original comic books: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Perhaps they should have just focused on just ONE of those classic publications. The saga is a bit chaotic at times and there are an inordinate amount of chase sequences at the expense of character development.

Steven Spielberg uses performance capture to animate the feature. Personally I tend to favor Disney or Pixar to motion capture, but to each his own. This is so close to the real thing, it begs the question, might this have been more effective as a live action movie? The cast is comprised of real actors whose motions were snatched and used to give life to the rendition. Let’s start with the bad guy. After all, what good is a comic without a villain? Daniel Craig voices the main antagonist Mr. Sakharine, a wealthy collector of model ships, and descendant of pirate Red Rackham. None of the actors resemble their parts physically but Sakharine strangely appears to be a dead ringer for director Spielberg. Jaime Bell is engaging as the titular hero. Apparently he’s a reporter, but he seems more of an explorer than a journalist as I didn’t see him do any reporting. With his trusty dog Snowy by his side, Tintin is a resourceful and intelligent fellow. He’s reliable with nary a flaw or imperfection. In direct contrast is Captain Haddock, a seafaring Merchant Marine played with gusto by Andy Serkis. They become fast friends and he accompanies Tintin unceasingly after they meet aboard Haddock’s boat. Unfortunately I found this most important role of Captain Haddock rather annoying. A complete drunk, Haddock is about as useless as Tintin is proficient. Time and again Haddock’s drunkenness is so debilitating that it makes him act like a complete idiot doing more damage than good.

The narrative is a succession of rousing action set pieces. They’re enjoyable enough but the picture often favors chaos over characterization. After an enchanting start with expository detail, we get one impressive extravaganza after another, each one more far fetched than the last. Case in point, After the drunk captain blows up their lifeboat by starting a fire to keep warm, they’re left adrift in the ocean. A seaplane starts shooting at them and Tintin, with only 1 bullet, shoots the plane down while stranded in the water. He then swims underwater to the downed plane, gets the pilots to surrender by threatening them with his empty gun. He then studies the pilot manual and escapes by flying the plane with the captain in tow. Seriously?! I’ve heard of suspension of disbelief but that’s kind of ridiculous.

I know. That’s the point. It’s a fantasy, but it kind feels stuck between animated fabrication and authentic adventure. Given the realistic look of the drama, a little more depth might have pushed this chronicle to the next level. It’s just too content to be a simplistic tale without much substance. Given the pedigree of people involved I guess I was just expecting so much more. It’s not a bad film. As it stands, it’s an enjoyable flight of fancy with some well choreographed chase sequences.  The first animated film Spielberg has directed works best if you view it as a theme park ride. It’s fun to experience but not much more.

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