LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED and SIGHTSEERS



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.

POLITICAL THEATER: Reviews of The Green Zone and The Ghost Writer


Green Zone is the latest exercise in shaky cinematography from Paul Greengrass, one of my favorite directors today. Greengrass is one of the few filmmakers who can dramatize political issues using a pop culture style (somewhat like Charles Dickens). He starts a movie, grabs you by the throat and won’t let go, using racial unrest and government cover up (The Murder of Stephan Lawrence); the conflict in Ireland (Bloody Sunday); terrorism (United 93); and intelligence corruption (the Bourne movies) as his bailiwick. Green Zone is true to form as it is a fictionalized (to say the least) look at how the U.S. got into the war in Iraq and then got hoisted by its own petard. But in the end, though the movie is entertaining enough and I was never bored, it never really satisfied. This may be because as visual a stylist as Greengrass is, Green Zone may actually demonstrate the downside of considering movies mainly a visual art form. Having a visual style and an ability to tell a story in visual terms is fine, but it can only do so much when it comes to characterizations and creating interesting and exciting plot twists and turns. One way to demonstrate this is by comparing Green Zone to In the Loop, also a political diatribe, but with a black comedy approach. In the Loop is about the petty conflicts and furious wrangling leading up to America and Great Britain’s entry into the Iraq war. But it has the same conceit as Green Zone: in In the Loop, just as one comes to think that maybe, just maybe, a war with Iraq can be avoided, we realize that, no, it can’t, because in real life, we went to war with Iraq. In Green Zone, it’s about the search for WMD’s and the truth behind an intelligence source and the idea that if only the truth could be revealed in time, the future of Iraq could be different; and as In the Loop, the audience for Green Zone already knows the truth, they know that the there were no WMD’s and the intelligence source was fabricated and that the “good guys” lost. But while In the Loop grabs us emotionally even though we know the outcome, Green Zone leaves us a bit hungry and unsatisfied. And the reason seems to be that while Green Zone is beautifully directed, the screenplay by Brian Helgeland has characters that are bland and not that interesting and the plot is filled with twists and turns that lack surprise (with an ending that is just a bit too pat to work). In contrast, while In the Loop has the somewhat bland look of a TV show (which it is based on), the characterizations and dialog are so brilliant and the constant farce inherent in the twists and turns so surprising, we can’t help but become emotionally involved and even devastated when the truth, something we already knew, is revealed. The movie stars the square jawed Matt Dillon as the hero; Greg Kinnear as the oily bad guy; and Brendan Gleeson (struggling with an American accent) as the intelligence officer not intelligent enough to outthink Greg Kinnear (not something one would want to put on one’s resume). They’re all fine, but can’t do much with what they’re given.

The Ghost Writer is the latest film from Roman Polanski, also a political thriller, but a bit less frenetic; in fact, it’s as soothing as a Budhist retreat in comparison. In it Ewan McGregor plays a down on his luck author hired to ghost a former British Prime Minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs after the previous writer (a long time assistant and faithful friend to the PM) is found dead from drowning, an apparent suicide. The basic premise of this story, that the PM’s wife is a CIA operative who actually pulled the strings of her husband’s actions, might have worked well as a dark comedy on the level of Dr. Strangelove and The Loved One, but as a drama, it’s a bit hard to take seriously. The screenplay, by Robert Harris and Polanksi himself, never makes the whole back story believable, though they do provide some of the drollest lines in movies of late. The movie itself, though it has its pleasures, starts out a bit slow (possibly because McGregor never solves the mystery so much as stumbles onto various clues, each discovery of which takes a lot of setting up). It’s not until McGregor drives his predecessor’s car and the GPS leads him to Tom Wilkinson, a slithery professor who claims not to have known the PM and doing such a convincing job of it that one knows he’s lying, that the pace picks up. Wilkinson and especially Brosnan, showing what his career could have become if it hadn’t been sideswiped by Remington Steele and James Bond, give the best performances in the movie. Everyone else gets the job done, though Kim Cattrall doesn’t have the most convincing of English accents (Wilkinson doesn’t have the most convincing of American, but he manages to rise above it). The ending never quite made sense to me. It wasn’t clear who put the code in the book (was it the previous ghost writer or the PM, either choice of which comes equipped with their own set of holes in the plot) and it has one of these codas where the hero has a choice: call the media and the PM’s political opponents and tell them the truth, or reveal it to the one person who can have you killed. Guess which one he chooses? And then he gets killed in a way that can’t guarantee a person would be killed (hit and runs, though visually shocking, aren’t as certain in their results as this movie would have you believe). The movie looks good, with its bleak, film noir cinematography of grays, and the effective music by Alexandre Dusplat adds to the tension, but the story never really works. There’s also an odd subtext to the film. The British, at least in such films and TV programs as Love, Actually, The State Within and The Girl in the Cafe, have often held themselves up as the moral arbiter of the world, a righteous country often checking the U.S.’s rash political policies. Here, the idea is taken one step further: maybe England didn’t take the high road in the war on terrorism, but it wasn’t their fault; the PM’s office was just an extension of the America CIA. This might be a frightening idea if the British hadn’t chosen an organization to blame that couldn’t even kill Castro when it wanted to.