Susanne Blier and Anders Thomas Jensen,  who have collaborated on such stűrm and drang films as After the Wedding, In a Better World and Brothers, go the way of rom com with their new film Love is All You Need and don’t do a half bad job of it.  They take the basic approach to the genre as such entries as It Happened One Night in which two people not only have no intention of falling in love, they don’t remotely want to, and of course, find themselves hopelessly attracted to each other. 
Trine Dyrholm plays Ida, a woman who has undergone treatment for cancer and who has lost her hair.  She comes home to discover her husband in flagrante delicto with his accountant just before they are to travel to Italy to see their daughter get married.  Pierce Brosnan plays Philip, a man who has never forgiven the world for the death of his wife years earlier and has closed himself off emotionally from everyone (he lives in a frigid, minimalist building that looks like the inside of The Guggenheim sans the art); he’s going to Italy to see his son get married.  When Ida decides she doesn’t want to really park in the disability space at the airport parking garage, she backs up and…well, I think you can see where this is going.  
For the most part, it’s a charming film.   Dyrholm and Brosnan carry this somewhat traditional romance on their more than sturdy shoulders.  It’s amazing how loose and talented an actor Brosnan has become since he left Bond, James Bond behind (Daniel Craig, take note) and Dyrholm is radiant.  And there’s something absolutely wonderful about these two people who, having left love behind, find it thrust upon them, no matter how much they kick and scream to keep it at bay.   The ending may be obvious, but that doesn’t stop the suspense from killing you.
At the same time, Blier and Jensen also only do a half good job of it.  While Ida and Philip’s story is delirious and transcendental at times, it is backed by the less than dramatically (or comically) satisfying sets of through lines that one often sees in farces where families gather together for holidays, funerals and weddings.  This humor is mainly based on gauche people acting gauchely (and not that originally), though there is one major subplot that changes the course of human events that is telegraphed so obviously from the moment a secondary character appears, it’s one of those “if you didn’t see this coming, you need to get out to the movies a bit more, or at least watch a few television series”.  This subplot is actually rather insulting to a certain minority class because it’s not remotely believable and seems to come out of nowhere, only there not because it’s true to the characters, but because the writers need an arbitrary plot turn to force the ending. 
But we’ll always have Ida and Philip.
Sightseers, the new import from director Ben Wheatley and written by Amy Jump and the movie’s two stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, is also a rom com, though a bit darker in hue perhaps.  Lowe plays Tina and Oram plays Chris, two misfits who go on a caravan trip to Chris’s favorite tourist traps.  They’re young, they’re in love, and they kill people.   But while Bonnie & Clyde goes somewhere and paints an indelible portrait and breathes new life into the man and woman gangster on the run genre, Sightseers doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
It starts out well with some sharp characterizations and piercing dialog.  But after the first couple of killings, the movie sort of stops going anywhere, except to more and more, well, killings, and it all pretty much stays on the same level of tension.   Tina and Chris don’t even change, not really.  They’re both as sociopathic at the end as they are from the beginning.  Well, that might not be completely true.  They do change in one way.  As the two go one, they more and more begin to resemble a conservative’s few of the working class: two losers who can only whine about not getting anywhere, painting themselves as victims and blaming everyone else for their own failures.  In turn, the two take their frustrations out on the annoying and/or petit bourgeoisie, and other vague representatives of the haves.   But other than that, it all becomes a bit of a slog to get through.
Tell me what you think.


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When I first started watching Frances Ha, the new comedy of quirkiness directed by Noah Baumbach and written by Baumbach and its effervescent star, Greta Gerwig, I have to admit that my heart sunk a bit.  It had all the earmarks of one of those mumble core movies, that “hey, my uncle’s got a barn and my aunt can make the costumes, so let’s put on a show” movement that had nothing to say and nothing to offer and that seriously (I mean, seriously) bored the hell out of me.  At first Frances Ha seems like mumblecore prime, filled as the opening scenes are with annoying and self-absorbed people who think they are fascinating, but aren’t remotely, backed by cinematography in pretentious black and white. 
But it’s not long before something very odd, and maybe even ironical, happens.  The more annoying and unlikable Frances becomes, the more likeable and less annoying she becomes, which, as a friend of mine said, is a pretty neat trick.  And it’s not long before you’re won over and find yourself completely entranced by the Frances and her story.
Frances is someone who so thought she was going somewhere: she has the perfect best friend/roommate, someone who really gets her; she has a boyfriend; she is a dancer and teacher for a dance company that she thinks is going to be her future.  And then, as happens so often in life (which is a good thing for screenwriters or otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to write about), she loses everything in a quick succession of events.   And suddenly she’s left floundering.
And boy does she flounder, like a fish flopping around on a boat, she flounders.  The structure of the film is basically made up of a series of scenes that are defined by the many different locations she is forced to move to and from as she tries to figure her life out.  She has no stability and no future.  But she is Frances Ha, which means that no matter what else, she never gives up.  No matter how foolish and stupid she looks, she never stops trying.  And she never loses her most endearing trait: her sincerity.    In fact, it grows.  As she becomes more and more annoying and unlikeable, and becomes less and less stable (like panicking and flying to Paris on the spur of a moment’s notice—a wonderful set of scenes, and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve done that), she just becomes more and more sincere.  Meanwhile all the people she knows, as they become more and more stable, they become less and less sincere, become as pretentious as the black and white photography used to film them.  And soon Frances becomes the most likeable and sympathetic character in the movie because she’s about the only one with a heart.  
There is a nice supporting cast here, with an always more than welcome Adam Driver (Lena Dunham’s sort of, kind of on again, off again boyfriend in Girls) and Michael Zegen as Frances’s callow second set of roommates as well as Charlotte d’Amboise as a choreographer who cuts to the chase like a knife (she’s the only other really likeable character in the story, probably because she is just as sincere as Francis—hell, she doesn’t have time to be anything but).  And on a bit of trivia note, Frances’ parents are played by Ms. Gerwig’s own.
But in the end, of course, it’s Gerwig who holds the movie together.   True, she exudes so much charm it might be wise to wear a radiation suit while watching the movie, but she is pretty marvelous, more than willing to let herself look foolish and unflattering.  At the same time, I’m not fully convinced that Frances has earned her happy ending (which is perhaps more bitter sweet than happy, but still, the point still stands).  There seems to be a step missing, the one moment where Francis realizes she has been backed into a corner and has to make a decision she doesn’t want to make; this seems to happen off screen.  At the same time, Gerwig has earned so much good will from the audience, it’s almost impossible to not want her to land on her feet.  Dramatically the movie may not have earned it, but Gerwig herself has and that’s good enough for me.
Tell me what you think.


What may be most surprising about the new franchise entry Star Trek Into Darkness is how much it has in common with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, at least from an aesthetic point of view.  Both are filmed as if everyone and everything was caught up in a fever; both are overdirected with an emphasis on the visual over narrative; and both strive to make their stories relevant to current events.   But though …Gatsby never quite reaches the heights it could and doesn’t quite come together, at the same time, …Into Darkness is such a failure it makes …Gatsby look like something directed by Orson Welles. 
There is something incredibly sad and dispiriting about …Into Darkness.  It’s actually easy to miss it, but a lot of people die in this movie; I mean, a lot of people.  But with perhaps one exception, they are all disposed of with the flick of a CGI switch and without any sort of context or build up so that their deaths have any sort of emotional impact.   These characters (if you can even call them that) don’t die in ways that mean anything; they die in ways to thrill the audience so those watching can ooh and aah at all the explosions and neat SFX going on.  And there’s just something depressing about taking a franchise that, from its original incarnation and up through the movies made with the original TV cast, was meant to be uplifting and full of hope with a theme of the sacredness of life, and turning it into a cold, merciless killing machine, like the Terminator. 
J.J. Abrams is the director and the screenplay is by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, all of whom, except for Lindelof, were responsible for the 2009 rebooting.   I have to be honest.  The story here never made a lot of sense to me.  It begins with a terrorist attack by the villain de jour, Khan (played by buffed up Benedict Cumberbath, though not as buffed as Ricardo Montelban who originated the role, but hey, some pecs are harder to fill than others), in which he manipulates events to get all the top military brass in one room.  Why?  Well, unless I missed something (and in the spirit of full disclosure, it’s quite possible I missed a lot in this movie), his real target is only one person in that room.  All I could think afterwards was: Khan is this genetically altered superhuman, a scientific genius, and had the freedom of mobility of any other citizen, so why didn’t he just take his target out the old fashion way of a Tony Soprano: just show up on the bastard’s doorstep and blast a hole in his head.  No, Khan’s approach here is what is called in screenplay parlance as trying to swat a mosquito with an elephant. 
This lack of logic doesn’t stop here.  Our intrepid hero James Tiberius Kirk is quick enough on his feet to figure out before anyone else that the meeting of the brass was a set up.  Yet, he then seems incredibly slow on the uptake when it never seems to occur to him that Khan’s stashing himself away on the Klingon planet of Kronos might just also be a set up.  In fact, this is one of those screenplays in which people tend to act in certain ways to make sure the plot works out the way the writers need it to rather than let the characters dictate what happens.
To the filmmakers’ credit, and as was said, the authors try to make this Star Trek relevant and there are some interesting ideas that are broached in the first act.  There is a clear parallel to the present day controversy over using drones to take out American citizens without benefit of trial or a discussion as to whether they have Constitutional rights.  And Peter Weller plays a Karl Rove/Donald Rumsfeld type character who tries to start a war under bogus pretenses.  But after these intriguing and thought provoking issues are introduced, they’re pretty much dispensed with (as quickly and with as little conscious as those unknowns that are killed off) so Abrams can get around to doing what he does best: blow things up.  As I said, it’s all a bit dispiriting.
Even the strongest aspect of the 2009 entry doesn’t wear well in this sequel.  Whatever else one can say about the previous Star Trek movie, it was brilliantly and cleverly cast.  Half the fun of the film was enjoying how well everyone fit and played their roles.  But here, the acting is pushed to the edge with in your face line readings and everybody wearing their emotions on their sleeves.  No one has the impact of the earlier film here because there’s no room for subtlety among all the ticking time bomb plot turns going on (all of which seem to be set for thirty seconds, yet feel like they take minutes to happen).  And it doesn’t help the actors that there’s precious little humor here, far less than in the previous entry; even Hamlet has more laugh lines.   Cumberbatch as Khan is perfectly fine, but since most of his acting is relegated to telling everyone what happened in the past (and even this is a bit hard to follow and understand) and he’s given no real emotional arc to play here (in the episode in the TV series, he’s at least allowed to fall in love), he can do little but sit and glower.    Only Weller really makes an impression.   In fact, about the most interesting thing about the cast this time round is there willingness to be billed in alphabetical order at the end (which must have made John Cho’s day).
Even the climax feels like a downer.   Kirk sacrifices himself in the same way that Spock did in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  It certainly doesn’t have anywhere near the emotional impact of Spock sacrificing himself.  And not only does it just feel lazy and unimaginative, it also feels like an insult to the writers of the earlier movie. 
Tell me what you think.


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The new version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is filmed by director Baz Luhrmann as if everyone and everything in it had a fever, which in many ways is probably a very acute approach to this story that takes place during a particular frenzied time in U.S. history.   Everything is hyped, over the top, as if it’s on Benzedrine.   As a result, this is probably Luhrmann’s best film to date.  This is not to say it’s a good film (it doesn’t quite go there), but it’s certainly far superior to Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! 
People always talk of the difficulty of adapting Fitzgerald’s classic novel (which wasn’t so classic when it came out; it flopped miserably when it was first published).  For me, the problem has always revolved around the character of Gatsby himself, who is, in many ways, the least interesting person in the book.   He’s not the central character; Nick Carroway, the somewhat callow observer, has that honor and it’s Nick who the story is about.  And most of what makes Gatsby interesting takes place in the past long before the story starts; and when this past is related, it’s often open to credulity.   So how do you dramatize a story about someone who is a secondary character and whose past is primarily myth?
Luhrmann and his co-writer, Craig Pearce, in many ways take the same tact that the writers and director did in the 1949 version starring Alan Ladd.  They downplay all the other characters and fight fiercely to bring Gatsby center stage.   The Ladd version did it by turning the story of Gatsby into a film noir, fully dramatizing in flashback his rise to gangster glory.  Luhrmann and Pearce do it by emphasizing the love story between Gatsby and Daisy, giving it a tragic, star crossed lovers feel.
This approach has its downside.  It often reduces the other characters to their bare necessities.  Jordan Baker now has so little to do, one wonders why she is even in the picture.  And the Wilsons, George and Myrtle, are now no more than mere melodramatic contrivances (this actually works the best because these two characters now feel more like toys that the well to do play with rather than real characters in their own right).  
But from a dramatic standpoint, Luhrmann’s approach was probably a sound stratagem because the romance is the part of the movie that works the best.   There is something touching, often beautiful, about these two doomed lovers.  Luhrmann is able to restrain himself a bit here and let the actors and the screenplay pull their weight such that when Gatsby is a terrified little boy waiting for Daisy to arrive for tea or when he is throwing his shirts down to Daisy, the moments become rather transcendental.   
Of course, Luhrmann and Pearce have to cheat a bit to make it work.  They up the tragedy by purifying the love story.  In the novel, one of the reasons Gatsby is attracted to Daisy is due to her background (the movie leaves out Gatsby’s line that Daisy’s voice sounds like “money”) and the writers downplay that one of the reasons Daisy first rejects Gatsby is because he has no wealth and then accepts him more to get back at her husband for cheating on her than out of true love.  And they also play a bit fast and lose on the death of Myrtle; in the book, there’s some indication it wasn’t totally an accident, that Daisy swerved the car purposely, while in the movie the suggestion is that it was completely unintentional and unavoidable.  No, Luhrmann instead decides to swoon in delirium over the couples feelings for each other.   And some good swooning it is.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Gatsby and it is his performance that holds the movie together.  When he appears, DiCaprio shows both Gatsby’s strength and vulnerability at the same time just by standing there.   His line readings are spot on; even the “old sport”, a phrase almost impossible to say with a straight face (maybe it works because DiCaprio pronounces the words as if they are as much of a sham as the house he lives in and the parties he throws).   This Gatsby is both so fierce and adorable in what he wants, he makes us want it to.  
And he gets able support from Carey Mulligan as Daisy and Joel Edgerton as her racist, to the manor born husband Tom.  They have great chemistry with DiCaprio and match him line reading for line reading.  It all results in a scene that feels like it’s torn from a boulevard drama: all the characters are trapped in a hotel room together when everything comes out.  Everyone plays it like they were doing O’Neill and they pretty much get away with it.   Sad to say, though, Tobey Maguire, as Carraway, is the weak point here.  He is given the thankless task of voice over narrating.  But the narration is clunky and Maguire is listless and flat, a deadly combination.
But in the end, though there is actually much to like here, and even much to admire, it never quite comes together in a satisfying whole.   It works best when Luhrmann matches his editing and directing style to the brilliantly chosen, but often anachronistic music.  However, the film is more of an interpretation of The Great Gatsby rather than a story that works in its own right.   This even leads to Luhrmann and Pearce working very hard to parallel the story to today: Nick works in bonds at a time just before the country will be hit by recession; Tom is a representative of the 1% while the Wilsons are the 99; and the authors really emphasize the increasing presence of blacks in society. 
But Luhrmann is also such a visual stylist and such an over director, that all subtlety is lost.  Everything is over telegraphed to such a degree that the weak parts of the book (the obvious symbolism of the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the melodramatic contrivances of who is driving what car when Myrtle is killed) only feel weaker, while the strengths of the book are done so big they often get in the way of allowing one to become emotionally involved in the story as one would like.   Rather than feel the emotions, you are much more interested in critiquing Luhrmann’s approach to the material (though I have to say, I loved the Rhapsody in Blue intro of Gatsby at his party).
Tell me what you think.


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Disconnect, the new techno-thriller from writer Andrew Stern and director Henry Alex Rubin, spends half its time preaching the horrors of modern computer technology and all the evils it can spawn, and then seems to change its mind and spend the other half telling us how that very same technology (and the evil it spawns) can bring estranged people together and save our souls by revealing who we really are.  One might think that the filmmakers were going for irony, but I have to be honest and say I think irony was the last thing in play here.  For me, the driving force of the film was pandering to the audience with filmmakers taking a typical middlebrow approach to art: confront the audience with something important and even horrendous, but only to the degree that it doesn’t upset them too much and affect the box office. 
Disconnect has several through lines in which people are linked in a sort of La Ronde relationship—one person in one story is connected in some way to a person in another.  It never comes full circle, so it doesn’t quite fit the structure of Schnitzler’s legendary opus, but it is the cleverest aspect of the film and perhaps the only satisfactory irony to be found: we’re all disconnected due to the internet, yet we end up being even more connected than we thought. 
The movie is ambitious and sincere, but never quite has the emotional impact it is aiming for.  One reason for this is that for a thriller, Stern and Rubin aren’t able to really generate that many, well, thrills.   There’s a lot of conflict, but precious little tension and it seems to take its time going anywhere.  There could be several reasons for this.  None of the various stories are all that original and their plot lines have few surprises; every turn is signaled well before it happens and the resolutions are rather ho-hum with a touch of LOL along for the ride (they all climax in a set of slow motion, Matrix like intercut sequences that were probably suppose to emphasize the tragedy of it all, but instead only doubled the over the top feeling that was already there).  
In addition, each through line has enough going for it to be a whole movie unto itself; but by squeezing each plotline into the length of basically a half hour TV episode, it tended to also squeeze out all the suspense (I couldn’t help but think of what Alfred Hitchcock or Claude Chabrol could have done with just one of the stories).   Finally, the whole thing just felt a bit too manipulated, never quite real, with characters that seemed more driven by the plot than the plot being driven by the characters; the result is that the more empathy the filmmakers tried to create for their characters, the less there was.
The acting is solid, but save for a couple of exceptions (Alexander Skarsgard as a victim of identity theft and Michael Nyqvist as someone who may or may not have stolen that identity), no one really rises above the limitations of the screenplay.   Hope Davis is wasted in a minor role (and for some reason is given the thankless and perplexing task of not understanding why her husband, played by Jason Bateman, might actually want to find out why his son tried to kill himself).   Everyone seems to wear their emotions on their sleeves.  Subtle is not a word that might be used to describe the film.
In Sam Shepard’s great play The Curse of the Starving Class, there is a conversation that goes something like this: one character wants to move in order to get away from their present environment, but another character responds by saying, “…but we’ll still be the same people”.  I couldn’t help but think of this when I saw Arthur Newman, a film about a man who creates a new identity for himself (yes, Virginia, Arthur’s last name is not the most subtle of choices here). 
Colin Firth plays the title character, a Babbit in a grey, flannel suit (well, since he works for Fed Ex, brown khaki pants, but you get my drift).  Arthur is a rather boring character, to be both blunt and kind.  And when he’s fired from his place of employment, he decides to reboot his life.  Unfortunately for him, and the audience, the new Arthur is as boring and uninteresting as his previous incarnation.  To make matters worse, Firth uses a bland American accent that’s even more tedious than his personality.
Things pick up a bit when he meets Emily Blunt (as things are wont to do when one meets Emily Blunt), who plays a character who has identity issues of her own, issues compounded by a game she talks Arthur into playing in which they break into people’s homes, wear their victims’ clothes, eat their victims’ food, drink their wine and have sex in their beds. 
In the end, screenwriter Becky Johnston and director Dante Ariola show great empathy for their characters, but the movie never really comes together.  I suspect that this is because there are so many through lines going on (Arthur wanting to be a golf pro; Blunt’s issues; their sex games; Arthur’s failed relationship with his son), that the filmmakers can’t seem to find a way to weave them all together in a satisfactory whole.
The Iceman, the new crime drama by writers Ariel Vromen (who also directed) and Morgan Land, is a movie where Ray Liotta finally meets someone even more psychopathic than he is and where Winona Ryder, David Schwimmer and Chris Evans try to earn street cred by playing against type (for the record, Evans comes out best).   There’s nothing really wrong with the movie.  It gets the job done and I was never bored.  Michael Shannon does very well in the title role.  But in the end, it doesn’t come close to plumbing the existential depths of the television series Dexter and falls into the “if you’ve seen one contract killer movie, you’ve seen them all”.   
Tell me what you think.


Iron Man 3 is one of those movies you don’t really look forward to seeing, but when you do, it actually turns out to be much better than you ever thought it would be.  In fact, I think I’ll go out on a limb a little bit here and say that it’s a pretty nifty movie and you won’t be disappointed.
The beginning did fill me with a sense of foreboding.  The whole thing begins with a flashback in which all the actors pushed their characters just a bit much (Guy Pearce is particularly weak here; well, actually, I thought he was embarrassingly bad, but perhaps that’s just me) and the humor was just a bit too, too.  But once everything jumps to 2013, the film quickly finds its sea legs and we’re off on an adventure that is basically, as is the norm for a Marvel superhero, an existential crisis meets the apocalypse.  
Not everything works quite as well as it might.  Robert Downey, Jr., back once again as the man in the tuna can, can’t quite sell his anxiety attacks and his voice over is a bit clunky at times (though it does lead to a nice little punch line at the end which means, non-spoiler alert, you must, MUST, stay in your seat until that last little credit has left the screen).  But let’s not be petty.  Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, has filled the dialog with tons of wit of the tongue planted firmly in check kind and has come up with a story in which excitement abounds by leaps and.
But perhaps what really makes this entry is an unexpected delight of a first rate supporting cast.  In fact, in many ways, that’s all this movie is.  Not a series of action scenes filled with CGI special effects in which a director is trying to make up for his penis size, but a series of roundelays in which Robert Downey, Jr.’s acting style has a pax de duex with one character after another.   In fact, as a friend of mine pointed out, this was an Iron Man movie without Iron Man since Tony Stark is separated from his body armor for such long periods of time, he actually has to solve the problem as a mere mortal like the rest of us.   He’s also more than dependent on his sidekicks than usual, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pot and Don Cheadle as Rhodes, both of whom made the wise decision of sticking around for the paycheck (they’re both very good, Paltrow surprisingly so).
But to get back to subject, these scene stealers include such cameos as the not seen enough Dale Dickey as the mother of a suspected suicide bomber (I guess she’s the person you go for if you can’t get Melissa Leo); Andrew Lauer as an “I’m your biggest fan” satellite technician; and a series of guards who quickly realize that they aren’t paid enough for this shit.  But certainly special note should be made of Ty Simpkins who plays a precocious tyke whose cajones haven’t dropped yet, but he still has enough of them to try to guilt trip Stark.   If he’s not brought back for the next installment, his manager should sue.
Still, with no reflection on the aforesaids, no one can quite steal a scene like the sly Sir Ben Kingsley.  Like the movie, his first scene as the Mandarin (or Man Daren in the Chinese version) filled me with a sense of foreboding as he employs just about the worst American accent I’ve heard in some time.  But suddenly, he…no, sorry, I’m not supposed to say, it’s one of the best twists in the movie, and he gives the best performance in the film.   I mean, when he…no, I can’t, I just can’t.  You’ll just have to see it. 
And what superhero, studio blockbuster would be complete without villains, villains and more villains.  In fact, that was about the only thing worth the price of admission for Iron Man II, Mickey Rourke’s powerhouse performance as Ivan Vanko.   Here we have Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a scientist who does some sort of rigmarole with the brain and DNA that has the unfortunate side effect of creating human time bombs (my friend said he wished they had dealt more with that and I said they could have dealt with it for the entire movie and I still wouldn’t have had any idea what they were talking about).   Pearce gives one of his more relaxed performances in awhile.  Oh, and Rebecca Hall is his second in command, but you’ll have to forgive me if I almost forgot her since she doesn’t really have anything to do.   
But speaking of the villains, I do have to be honest and say I am a bit squeamish in the movie’s attitude toward terrorism, blaming it on bullying and a hell hath no fury like a woman scorned one night stand.  It’s all a bit cartoonish, even for a comic. 
But hey, arrive for the CGI and stay for the Kingsley.
Tell me what you think.