IN THE FOG, RED 2 and THE CONJURING



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In a Russian village recently taken over by the Germans during World War II, six men are marched out to be hung for being part of the underground.  One is pardoned.  Assuming that the pardoned one must have been an informer, two Russian soldiers are sent to kill him.   The one pardoned denies having done anything wrong, but can’t explain why he was released.   It doesn’t matter.  It’s gotten to the point where he’s not sure whether he wants to live or die as it is.
 In the Fog is a story about a group of people trapped in a nightmarish situation that cannot have a satisfactory ending for anyone involved.  Reminiscent in certain ways of Army of Shadows (Jean Pierre-Melville’s powerful story of French resistance fighters), all the characters are forced to make up their own morality as they go along because there are no standards to cover their situation.  As a result the three men find themselves in both a literal and metaphorical miasma that is referenced by the title.  It’s a harsh, unflinching and deeply moving story about a situation that most of us will never find ourselves in.
Written and directed by Sergei Loznitsa, with Vladislav Abashin, Vladimir Svirskiy and Sergie Kolesov as the three men.
I would truly love someone to explain this to me: Pacific Rim, which is filled with one-dimensional characters, bland actors, even blander acting, and even blander dialog, with a slip-shod script, a movie that has almost nothing to redeem it except some neat CGI (as if the producer/director/writer thought that’s all a movie is, instead of that being the least a movie should be), gets a 65% with top critics on rottentomatoes.com (72% all critics), while Red 2, a thrill ride of a movie with brilliant actors playing fun and vibrant characters, spouting witty dialog worthy of, well I won’t go Oscar Wilde, but I will go Noel Coward,  in a clever plot and a story not dependent on special effects, only gets a 28% from top critics and a 39% from all critics?   Maybe contemporary wisdom is wrong.  Maybe it’s not the studios that are the problem here if critics can’t even tell the difference between a good blockbuster and a bad one.
Red 2 is a sequel to Red (okay, not much originality there, but still).  As in the earlier one, a bunch of over the hill secret agents get caught up in some totally ridiculous set of circumstances whose purpose is not so much to make sense, but to give the audience a great time watching over the hill actors get to do things over the hill actors are almost never allowed to do (unless you’re Sean Connery).  I won’t try to explain the plot except to say it’s as dexterous as a roller coaster at Six Flags and involves some sort of apocalyptic macguffin mumbo jumbo and a bomb planted in the Kremlin. 
Many of the usual suspects are here.  Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker are still working out their Nick and Nora Charles relationship while John Malkovich plays the part of the guy who is summed up with the old chestnut, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you” (and having the time of his life doing so).  Also back on board is Helen Mirren, channeling Julie Newmar by purring her way through her part as a hired assassin, whether she’s dumping acid on a dead body or shooting Russian soldiers while lying on a picnic blanket with her stocking foot curled up as if she’s having an orgasm.  They are joined by newcomers of various generations, including Anthony Hopkins as a mad doctor; Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kryptonite (she plays a woman in lust with Bruce Willis and all involved carry this off without one reference to Michael Douglas, which may actually be the real miracle here); Byung-hun Lee (the great star of Korean films like I Saw the Devil and The Good, The Bad and The Weird) as a Bruce Lee type martial arts expert who owns his own plane; David Thewlis who traffics in stolen information, but has an Achille’s punt (that pun’s a bit obscure, but I’ll go with it anyway); Brian Cox as a Russian agent who has a foot fetish (but it’s Mirren’s foot, so who can blame him); and Neal McDonough as a fascist with the smile of a Neo-Nazi. 
Directed by Dean (Galaxy Quest, which may explain a lot) Parisot and written by Jon and Erich Hoeber (who wrote Battleship, which doesn’t, though the source material, a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, may). 
The Conjuring is one of those horror movies like The Innocents and The Haunting about creepy crawly doings at a house in a remote location.  A family made up of mother, father and five, count ‘em, five, girls move into a fixer-upper whereupon slowly, but surely, ominous things start happening, the sort of things that get so bad, the family feels compelled to call in demonologist experts Ed and Lorraine Warren (most famous for their investigation of the Amytiville Horror—oh, did I forget to mention that The Conjuring is based on a true story—well, that’s their story and their sticking to it). 
The movie starts out rather well with some nice fun and wittily eerie scenes (one involving a hide and seek game that employs clapping).  The house itself is a marvel of design and becomes a character in its own right (with gigantic basements and crawlspaces).   And the family is headed by Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston, who give first rate performances (why, oh, why isn’t Lily Taylor given more to do in films). 
Things get a bit harder to take seriously when Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the demonologists enter the scene.  They have a totally different acting style than the others (they underplay to a fault, apparently to emphasize how every day the supernatural is to Ed and Lorraine—they have lines like demons can stick to you like gum on a shoe).  They’re a bit stiff to the point that a few generations before this, they’d make perfect models for American Gothic.  What also doesn’t help is that the movie takes place in the 1970’s and just one look at Wilson in his sideburns and polyester suit and Farmiga in her granny dress, and it’s hard not to let out an unintentional giggle or two (it was the ‘70’s; what did we know about fashion).
The movie has a nice build in the beginning (it doesn’t rush things as too many scare fests do); has its fair amount of frights; and there’s enough mood left over to feed an orphanage.  But by the end of the movie, director James Wan and writers Chad and Carey Hayes go for broke and basically throw everything at the story except the kitchen sink (which kind of makes sense since, in the movie, the various demons throw everything at the characters except the kitchen sink).  At this point, the movie becomes a fairly routine and pedestrian ghost story. 
Perhaps what is most disturbing, though, is the idea that the witches killed at Salem (you remember them from history class, right) weren’t just poor beggar women or people who made enemies of the wrong people or an injustice grown out of sexual hysteria—no, according to the movie, the Salem witches were really, well, witches.  Huh.  Who’d a thought it?

PACIFIC RIM



When Orson Welles went to Hollywood in 1940 and arrived at the studio, he called it “the biggest train set any boy ever had”.  Out of that, we got Citizen Kane.  Today, we get movies like Pacific Rim.  It’s a movie that reminds me of that joke in which you get a child an expensive toy and all he wants to do is play with the cardboard box it came in.  Because that is all Pacific Rim is.  It’s a blockbuster of a toy engulfed by cardboard characters with cardboard emotions with a cardboard set up and a cardboard plot as flimsy as that metaphor suggests. 
The basic idea is perfectly fine.  A rift between dimensions down deep in the Pacific Ocean is allowing gigantic creatures to come through and attack mankind; as is fairly obvious, this is not by accident, but at the behest of some ugly creatures who have worn out their own place of existence and need to colonize (you know, like when the Europeans came to the Americas).  To combat these creatures, gigantic robots have been built that are piloted by pairs of people who have close, though not quite psychic, relationships to each other.   Yes, that’s right.  This is basically Godzilla v. Transformers…not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.
Six years later, the bad guys are winning and the good guys are just now deciding that it might actually be a good idea not to just fight the creatures in a rock ‘em, sock ‘em manner, but to more fully investigate and actually do something about the trans-dimensional fissure itself.   And by now all the governments in the world have dropped all conflict and come together to combat a common foe, in true Susan Sontag, 1950’s sci-fi style.  But since Asia is now perhaps the major importer of American films, the final pair in the final robot in the final fight are a hero from the USA and a refugee from Japan (though in keeping with proud U.S. tradition, the American hero is played by a British actor). 
The cast is filled with a bunch of B-listers and refugees from various TV series: Charlie Hunnam; Indris Elba; Diego Klattenhoff (who wins the award for best name); Max Martini (oops, sorry, no, Max wins the award for best name); Robert Kazinsky; with Charlie Day and Burn Gorman in the roles of C3PO and R2D2, though without those tin cans’ more appealing personalities.  And c’mon, if truth be told, though many of these actors have shown talent, this is still the sort of cast you end up with when, for whatever reason, you can’t get the ones you really would have liked to have had.   Only Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (who in true formulaic tradition, becomes Hunnam’s partner) perhaps escapes this description, though you wouldn’t know it by the performance she gives.
What’s so surprising, as well as frustrating, is that for a story that has at its center the need for deep, almost psychic bonds between people, no couple—not one—shows one whiff of chemistry between them.   This is probably because every performer is pushed over the top in their acting with performances that are robbed of the remotest sign of subtlety.  When the special secret guest star, the inevitable Ron Perlman, is eaten by one of the monsters, I turned to my friend and said, “well, we know they don’t keep kosher since they just ate a bunch of ham”. 
The screenplay is by Travis Beacham, with dialog at the level of his previous foray (“Release the Kraken!”), and by Guillermo del Toro, who also directed, in the manner of a police officer reduced to traffic cop (I don’t think we’re in Pan’s Labyrinth anymore, Toto). 
One of my most painful movie going experiences in recent memory.

BYZANTIUM, I’M SO EXCITED, THE LOOK OF LOVE and YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET



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Byzantium is the new vampire flick written by Moria Buffini and directed by Neil Jordan.   Neil Jordan also did that other vampire flick, you know the one, uh, Interview With the… something or other.  Let’s just say that he’s come a long way since then.
The story is about two women, mother and daughter, trying to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as vamps are wont to do these days.  But because of the relative times in which they turned, the two masquerade as sisters.   They are on the run from a brotherhood who want to eliminate them because women are not allowed to be vampires (yes, Gloria, the whole thing has a somewhat feminist slant to it; not only are they female vampires in a male vampire world, the mother takes over a group of prostitutes from a twitchy, male pimp).   The daughter is played by Saoirse Ronan, who played the title role in Hannah, and her mother/sister is played by Gemma Arterton, who played Gretel in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.  Both are more than quite good (Ronan is especially riveting) and are quickly gaining a reputation for playing characters you would not want to meet alone in a dark alley…or in broad daylight on a public street for that matter.
They are backed up by a slew of British B listers, including Daniel (Made in Dagenham) Mays as a hapless, shaggy dog looking motel owner;  Sam (Control) Riley, as a sympathetic vampire (giving a much better performance than he did in the recent outing, the somewhat embarrassing On the Road); Johnny Lee (Elementary) Miller as a woman hating cad; Tom (In the Loop) Hollander as a well meaning teacher; and Maria Doyle (Orphan Black) Kennedy as a fellow teacher.   All provide much more than adequate support.
To say Byzantium is a poetic mood piece is an understatement.   It lives, breathes and exults in its moodiness.  It’s filmed with dark, muted colors.   The scenes always feel overcast, even during the day.  There’s a menacing atmosphere in every shot set as it is against a fun fair, the dark streets of a coastal city and an ominous looking deserted, broken down pier.    And it takes its moody time in telling its tale.  Of course, there’s the rub.  How you react to it will probably depend on how you feel about the pacing.  If you like it, you will probably think of it as deliberate.  If you don’t like it, you will probably think of it as sloooooooooow.  I loooooooooooved it, so that’s that.
Writer/Director Pedro Almodovar’s new film I’m So Excited opens with a wonderful Saul Bass like set of titles that felt like it had that perky and fun feel so often associated with an Almodovar film, especially, to quote Woody Allen, the early, funny ones.  Unfortunately, that was the last wonderful thing about it.   The movie never gets off the ground.
I know, I know.   That was a really groaner of a pun.  But I think I’m more than in the right since the whole movie is sort of one big metaphorical groaner of a pun type thing.  The basic premise is as fabulous as the three gay flight attendants that serve everyone’s needs (everyone’s).  A commercial airline has taken off for South America, but when one of its landing gears won’t work, they must make an emergency landing.  But to do so, they have to find an appropriate airport.  This requires them to go around and around and around…and around, in circles, not getting anywhere.  On top of that, the flight attendants have drugged everyone in second class so they won’t cause any trouble, leaving the first class passengers wide awake to deal with their personal soap opera like problems.  Yes, indeed.  The whole shebang is a metaphor for Spain today as it tries to grapple with their disastrous economy, beset by a variety of scandals.
But to reiterate: it’s a fabulous idea that, very sadly, just doesn’t work.  And it’s easy to see why, and in a “if it was a snake it would have bitten you” way.  Almodovar begins the whole rigmarole in the middle of act one.  There’s no set up for the characters and their conflicts and much of what set up there is takes place off screen (like the drugging of the second class passengers).  Because of this, we have no idea who anybody is or why their actions matter or why their actions are funny (everyone seems terrified of one particular passenger, but why is unclear until almost half way through the movie).  And though the movie is suppose to be about the passengers on board, at a couple of points, the whole movie stops to go back down to earth to follow the actions of the lover of a famous actor who is also on the plane.  The screenplay has no focus, no shape, no discipline.  Normally, that would be positives for an Almodovor film; but here, I’m afraid it’s not—it actually takes focus, shape and discipline to create a satisfying lack of those.
With Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz in cameos for some reason as unclear as most of the plot.
The movie The Look of Love (written by Matt Greenhalgh and director Michael Winterbottom) also opens with a wonderful title sequence, this time one that seems inspired by James Bond films.  But also like I’m So Excited, that’s just about the last wonderful thing about it too.
The Look of Love is the based on the true story of Paul Raymond who became Britain’s richest man by building up an empire of erotica (not pornography as he has to keep telling people who for some reason, just don’t seem to believe him).  The movie gives us the facts of his life; it gives us the fashions and styles of the various periods; it gives us erotic sex, including such oddities as a British farce Raymond produced that has as part of its set a swimming tub inhabited by naked women who have nothing to do with the play’s plot (it was a huge hit).  What it never gives us is a reason why anyone wanted to tell this story. 
And like I’m So Excited, it’s also incredibly clear (see snake comment above) why the movie doesn’t work.  By the time you get to the end, it becomes apparent that the movie was supposed to be a study of Raymond’s relationship with his daughter (played by Imogene Poots) who died from a drug overdose.  But since half the movie doesn’t deal with this relationship (especially the half before she’s even born), the movie never seems to be going anywhere or to have any real purpose to its existence. 
The cast does what it can with the material.  Steve Coogan, as Raymond, who was excellent in the recent What Mazie Knew, is as bland and dull as his character is written here.  But the movie does better in the supporting area, including Simon Bird of The Inbetweeners, almost unrecognizable in Sgt. Pepper hair and mustache, as the jingle writer who marries Raymond’s daughter; Chris Addison from In the Loop, also unrecognizable as Raymond’s right hand man and photographer; James Lance as Raymond’s attorney; and David Walliams of Little Brittain in a witty performance as a randy vicar (Matt Lucas can also be seen in a blink and you’ll miss him scene as Divine). 
At one point, the movie has a scene between Raymond and the illegitimate son (Liam Boyle) he’s never met.  It’s a painful study of awkwardness and suggests everything that the movie could have been, but wasn’t.
You Aint Seen Nothing Yet is the latest from legendary director Alan Resnais.  It’s about a stage director who dies and in his will invites a number of the legends and soon to be legends of France’s acting community to an isolated mansion (including Mathieu Amalric, Hippolyte Giradot, Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema and Lambert Wilson).  There the director’s attorney shows them a new production of a play the director staged many times, Jean Anouilh’s Eurydice (though the play seems to be a combination of two of Anouilh’s stage works).  All the invitees have at some time been in a production of this play under this director’s direction, so as they watch the play they begin to act out the parts themselves.
This is actually the most interesting aspect of the film, watching the way different actors would say the same lines; seeing actors who are far too old for the parts (since they originally played them when they were younger) still giving convincing performances; seeing the setting switch from the director’s home to modified sets.
But this movie never quite comes together.  I suspect whether it works for you will depend on what you think of the play within the play they are performing.  As was said, it’s a combination of two of Anouih’s works (adapted by Resnais and Luarent Herbiet) and though it starts out well, it eventually becomes almost incomprehensible until you lose all emotional connection to Orpheus and his doomed lover. 
After the play is over there are a couple of surprise endings that aren’t that surprising and aren’t that interesting.  Perhaps it’s best to say that the whole thing just went over my head.

WORLD WAR Z and WHITE HOUSE DOWN



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About the only positive thing I can say about the rash of apocalyptic movies lately is that most of them have been in the planning for years, which means that they may no longer be reflecting a zeitgeist, and in fact may be a few years behind the times.  If this is true, then the new bunch of movie ideas of the future may very well offer a slightly rosier view of our future.  We can only hope, because these movies are giving us precious little of it.
World War Z (directed by Marc Forster and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, and J. Michael Straczynski) is basically Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, but with a zombie twist.   The premise may be pure fantasy, even ridiculous if you like, but there’s just enough realism to the background, to the way such a preposterous event would be handled, that it gets under your skin in a way other apocalyptic movies don’t.  Like another recent apocalyptic film with a similar fantasy premise, Battle Los Angeles, the movie is just a tad too real.
In many ways you know the story.  A virus breaks out that turns people into rabid beasts that have no other goal than to spread the virus to other hosts.  It’s up to our intrepid hero, Gerry Lane (blond, blue eyed Brad Pitt, natch) to save the world, or save it the best it can be saved.  To do so, he must travel the globe from New York to Korea to Israel to Spain, with a side stop in…New Jersey (oh, well, no “if it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” itinerary can be perfect).   In fact, this may very well be the first travelogue zombie flick.
Pitt also saves the movie.  There is nothing special about his character, or any of the characters.  As in Battle Los Angeles, they are all fairly bland with dialog that falls more than a bit flat.  But Pitt takes control in the old fashioned way of a John Wayne.  If you don’t have a three dimensional hero, you at least have someone incredibly handsome and charismatic to look at.
What’s more, his travels not only help him solve the mystery of the outbreak, it also enables him to meet some of the first rate thespians of other countries.  I don’t know who the casting director is, but he or she is worth their weight in gold.   As Pitt travels from place to place, he runs into such top notch character actors as Luki Boeken from Israel (who usually only produces film); Peter (The Loop) Capaldi from England; Piefrancesco (Columbus in Night at the Museum) Favino from Italy; Ruth (12 Years a Slave) Negga from Ireland; Moritz (The Baader Meinhof Complex) Bleibtreu from Germany.   Perhaps the biggest find of the movie is Daniell Kertez who gives a powerful and touching performance as an Israeli soldier who gets co-opted into the fight.   Mireille Enos of The Killing is also along for the ride; she has the embarrassing and thankless task of the “those also serve who sit and wait” role of Pitt’s wife (sigh).
Though the screenplay cheats once or twice when it comes to the rules (especially a scene on an airplane), and though it has some of the clichés one often sees in genre films like this (a child with asthma, a car that won’t start—though both seem thrown away and used at unimportant points in the story), it is rather intelligent.  It does something really clever: it tells us at the beginning to look for clues.  And through Pitt’s eyes we do.  Because of this, the plot is not just a series of meaningless action sequences in a vacuum.  We know it’s going somewhere. 
In talking about sic-fi films, the critic Susan Sontag said that “[s]cience fiction films are not about science.  They are about disaster”.  She also made one another pertinent observation, that one of the continuing themes of these movies it that by giving the world a common enemy, it brought a unity to mankind; all wars and disagreements stopped as all the nations on the earth joined forces as one to defeat this threat to the earth.  She was mainly referring to the films of the 1950’s, but in the end, this is the ironic happy ending of this movie as well. 
Can Channing Tatum steal a movie?  That’s certainly a question I never thought I’d ask.  Even stranger, it’s also not a question I’d ever thought I’d answer, “yes” to.  But he actually achieves this remarkable feat in the new action film White House Down.  Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that he was one of the producers, insuring that the movie would play to his particular strengths.  But it must be said, his underplaying naturalness and the stumbling way he says his lines are the primary joy one gets from this  action film.
The story revolves around a domestic terrorist plot to take over the White House.  It climaxes with the possibility of missiles being launched in which the world as we know it would cease to exist.  But since this is a movie directed by Roland Emmerich, that’s not really what’s at stake.  Nuclear war could break out; millions could die; the world could become a radioactive wasteland.  But for Emmerich and writer James Vanderbilt all that’s irrelevant.  In the end, all that really matters is if Channing Tatum’s character Cale can earn back the respect of his young daughter. No, I’m not making this up.  Really.  And it’s almost as close a call as those launch codes getting into the wrong hands.
How much you enjoy White House Down will probably depend on your tolerance level for silliness on the day you see it (it’s one of those movies, you know the kind, where everyone starts out being a crack shot and then, once the big opening action sequence is over, no one can hit anyone else except when it’s convenient for the plot).  I guess, though, if truth be told, I was in a particularly good mood that day, because I kind of got a kick of the sheer lunacy of it at times.
It does have a nice supporting cast, with Richard Jenkins as the Speaker of the house, as well as a welcome appearance by the veteran Michael Murphy as the VPOTUS.  Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum have a nice chemistry together (actually, Tatum has a nice chemistry with everyone).  And for what it is, Vanderbilt’s screenplay is very well written: stupid, over the top, preposterous, but well crafted where everything that happens has a payoff (sort of a variation on those lines from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible”, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions”).
If you’re a Republican, see the first half.  If you’re a Democrat, see the second.

DIRTY WARS, ALIYAH and A HIJACKING



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Dirty Wars is a documentary that begins as an investigation into the killing of the members of a family who gathered for a celebration in a remote area of Afghanistan.  The victims included pregnant women; the victimizers were a specialized force of American soldiers.  The attack was covered up (to the jaw dropping extent of the soldiers removing bullets not just from walls, but from bodies themselves).  But journalist Jeremy Scahill, who also wrote a book exposing the dirty dealings of Blackwater, found out about it and in investigating what took place, discovered that this attack was only one of many covert actions carried out by JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, a group that are made up of men who don’t exist on paper and who have missions taking place in countries we’re theoretically not at war with.   Mission: Impossible, but without the camp element.
Dirty Wars is a film that succeeds from a documentary standpoint, but doesn’t do as well from an aesthetic one.  The story is powerful and makes you angry.  It makes you want to scream that something should be done.  And it infuriates you when you realize that JSOC were the ones responsible for the raid on Osama Bin Laden and are therefore now untouchable.
But Dirty Wars falters in other areas.  It is narrated by Scahill with a blandness and droning quality that was just a bit too Jack Webby for my taste.  And somewhere along the line, director Rick Rowley, and writers David Riker and Scahill, seemed to have gotten the idea that the story is about Scahill and not so much about JSOC and their victims.   Because of this, the movie constantly cuts way from the horrifying atrocities committed by American forces to show Scahill looking wistfully off into the distance, losing his innocence as he grows more frustrated at how little attention is being paid to his story (a loss of innocence that really isn’t that convincing, at least not for a journalist who has been writing for as long as he has).  There’s even a scene that looks like an outtake from The Hurt Locker where Scahill is bored shopping, wishing he was back in a war zone.
But in many ways, it is understandable if this criticism seems a bit petty.  In the end, this is a troubling and disturbing film that should be seen.
Aliyah (which refers to the immigration of Jews to Israel) is a more than satisfying light drama from France about a small time drug pusher who is no dope (pardon the pun).  He realizes that if he’s ever going to get out of the life, now is the perfect time to do it before he is too far in.  So when he finds out his cousin is going to open a restaurant in Israel, he asks to be let in on it.  He just has to make enough money for his part while doing things like proving he’s Jewish, improving his Hebrew and taking a course on what it means to move to Israel.
That’s really about it.  Not a lot happens outside of that.  In fact, the film, as written by Gaelle Mace and the director Elie Wajeman, seems to do everything it can to avoid formula.  Even when a studio style of telling the story rears its ugly head at the end, threatening to introduce the one last drug deal cliché, the author here takes a different way out. 
Alex, the central character, is played by the tres handsome actor Pio Marmai with an effortless charm.  In fact, he seems to sweat charm, which is perfect for a movie that wins you over using the same approach.  It’s a nice, low key character study and is recommended.
A Hijacking, the Danish movie written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, is about the tense negotiations revolving around the taking over of a ship by Somalian pirates.  It’s an action film without any action, a thriller that is more tense by having few thrills.   It’s a film in which the suspense is played out in meeting rooms, cramped ship quarters and over the phone, with the chief negotiators never meeting one another.  Take that Steven Segal and Tommy Lee Jones.   
The drama revolves around three characters:   Peter C. Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), the chief negotiator for the company who owns the boat, a character of great noblesse oblige and a slight case of hubris; Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek), the hapless cook on the boat who gets roped into being a go between because he’s, well, the cook, and the pirates need to be fed and he’s there, so he becomes the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time squared; and Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the negotiator for the Somalians who keeps claiming he is not a member of the hijackers (with almost the same inflection of Dante in Clerks—“I’m not even suppose to be here today”).  It’s a triumphant triumvirate of acting.  
Negotiations are made more difficult because Ludvigsen is informed by a pirate expert (yes, such people exist) that if he immediately agrees to whatever the pirates ask, they will simply ask for more and then more and then more.  Instead, Ludvigsen has to bargain, certainly a skill he more than possesses, but one he has never had to use when human lives are at stake.   So Ludvigsen has to treat the hostages as if they are cargo and offer a ridiculously lowball counter offer to the pirates.  And then the games begin.
Lindholm is also the co-author of two of director Thomas (The Celebration) Vinterberg films, the haunting drama about two brothers, Submarino, and the soon to open film The Hunt, a tense and striking story about a man accused of pedophilia.   In this solo effect, he has created one of the must see films of the year.  It’s riveting, powerful and leaves you gasping at times.  It’s a story you will not forget soon.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER and THE BLING RING



The Kings of Summer is the new coming of age film by writer Chris Galetta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.  It’s very sincere and heartfelt in the tradition of such movies as Stand by Me and The Breakfast Club.   But in the end, how you feel about it all will probably depend on how you feel about the central teenage characters.  Personally, I thought they were a pair of drama queens and ungrateful little shits who didn’t know how well off they were.  So I guess you know where I stand.
Both Joe and Patrick, the aforementioned teens, act like they’re from homes headed by Joan Crawford.  Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is stuck with the nightmare of parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) whose worst crime is that they would fit right in on any network sit com.  They give him hives (just like most network sit coms give me).  Joe (Nick  Robinson, late of Mud) has a father,  Frank, (played by Nick Offerman) who is portrayed with a bit more depth—he’s still recovering from the death of his wife.  Joe helps him through it by taking hour long showers and, when his father complains, standing nude in front of him.   Frank’s biggest sin is wanting to have a family game night so Joe can meet the new woman Frank is dating.  Well, all I can say, folks, is call child welfare services before any of them get out the wire coat hangers.   
So, beset by the slings and arrows of, etc., that they believe they are receiving from their parents, the two callow youths run off to live in the woods where they can be their own boss.  But they do it in the manner of Henry David Thoreau who made sure he was close enough to civilization to receive a constant barrage of visitors and near enough to his brother so his sister-in-law could do his laundry once a week (in The Kings of Summer, the pair have people over for game night and are within walking distance of a Boston Market).
The only aspect of the screenplay that seems to support the boys’ view of their horrible childhood is how little effort the parents put into trying to find them.   I would think that this lack of interest would be even more upsetting than the hives Patrick gets.  At the same time, it must be said that this section of the screenplay isn’t that believable, both that the authorities don’t put a lot more effort into it and that the kids couldn’t be found very easily (this all might have made more sense if the parents knew exactly where their sons were and decided to just let them work out their issues on their own). 
But nothing in the film is really that believable.  It all seems a bit pushed, a bit forced, a bit too romanticized, from the house that’s built in the woods (in less time than it takes most people to build a doghouse); to the third musketeer in their band of merry-men—to mix literary references (this is Biaggio, played by the Al Jolson-eyed Moises Arias who is unsure of his sexual orientation and is therefore used as comic relief—he’s actually the only one I sympathized with since his father didn’t even seem to know he had taken off); to the parents who are written with the attitude that they were never the confused, young, alienated kids their children are (there is almost always a whiff of hypocrisy in these films where the adults are ridiculed and made fun because they don’t love or understand their kids; but the writers, former kids all, don’t feel they have to do the same for the parents, and who probably now act more like the parents they write about than the kid;  at the same time, credit must be given where credit is due—Offerman, Mullally and Jackson are excellent).   
In the end, character arcs are fulfilled and life lessons are learned (especially never play Monopoly with either Joe or Patrick, who, apparently, are the sorest losers in the world), with formula being the real king here.  But the whole thing is done with so little tension and conflict that the filmmakers have to force an ending by bringing in a deux ex machina in the form of a cotton head since nothing the characters are doing are ever going to resolve anything.  Vogt-Roberts even seems to instinctively understand how little drama there really is here; he uses all sort of directorial flourishes like slo-mo shots, montages and constantly cutting away to nature to cover up what seems to be lacking at the core of it all.
The Bling Ring, the other coming of age film to come out this year, this one written and directed by Sofia Coppola (based on a Vanity Fair Article by Nancy Jo Sales), is filled with drama queens and little shits just like The Kings of Summer.  But the difference is that that’s the point.  Where The Kings of Summer is a romantic fantasy, The Bling Ring is a dark comedy that, as all good dark comedies do, becomes more real than reality.
The Bling Ring is another of Coppola’s dissection of the idea of celebrity (all of her films, except for her first, The Virgin Suicides, has some connection to this idea—even in Marie Antoinette the tragic queen isn’t looked at from a political point of view as much as if she was an 18th century version of Lindsay Lohan).   The movie chronicles the true story of a group of entitled kids who break into the homes of and steal from various celebrities who are out of town on film and modeling shoots (some of the biggest revelations here are that celebrities are some of the worst when it comes to locking their doors; none of them seem to have live in help or very large families; and one of them wears high heels large enough to fit the male lead, though which of the celebrities has man feet, that I will not tell you).   This is a group of psychopathic Bugsy Malones whose chutzpah is only overshadowed by their sheer stupidity; they upload pictures of their booty on Facebook, as if it never entered their head that adults even know what social media is.
The story begins in the same way that so many of these teenage tragedies do: a depressive with issues of self loathing (Marc, a gay teen who is school attendance challenged, played by Isarael Broussard with a series of hang dog looks) meets a sociopath (Rebecca, played by steely eyed Katie Chang).  As happens in any self respecting film noir, an innocent is seduced by a femme fatale; think Double Indemnity with a lot more acne.
If nothing else, The Bling Ring is highly entertaining.  It never lets go once it grabs you.  The story seems too ridiculous to be believable, but like a train wreck, you just can’t look away.   Coppola has gathered a first rate cast of young people to play her jackal-like pack of juvenile delinquents.  I am even not ashamed to say that I didn’t recognize Harry Potters’ sweet Hermione, Emma Watson, as a self-absorbed teen with a messianic complex with delusions of grandeur.    She steals the show with as much ease as she steals Paris Hilton’s purse. 
The biggest criticism I’ve heard about this film is that Coppola doesn’t explain or pass judgment on her characters (this was also a criticism I remember at the time Martin Scorcese released Goodfellows).  I have to admit I don’t quite get this.  If you have to have Coppola tell you that these people are morally reprehensible and what they are doing is wrong, then the problem probably isn’t with Coppola, it’s probably with you.