The first installment in a trilogy of Swedish mysteries based on the novels by Stieg Larsson, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a touch on the lengthy side, but remains a corker of a whodunit. Imposingly violent, tightly plotted, and the superbly acted, the picture is an intriguing introduction to these acidic characters and world of abuse, taking viewers on quite a ride as it establishes an arresting tone of alarm and budding intimacy.
In approaching the sordid history of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, director Marco Bellocchio has selected an enthralling operatic method to tell his tale. With deception, animalistic sexuality, mental illness, and teary passions, it makes sense to twirl this intimate tale of tainted love into a visual shotgun blast of history and surrealism. “Vincere” drives aggressively and confidently as it builds a case against the ruthlessness of Mussolini, molding a motion picture of threadbare reality, but convincing dynamism.
Most features opt for grand statements of suspense to get by, positioning villains, weapons, and natural disasters to keep audiences glued to their seats. The Italian comedy “Mid-August Lunch” favors a more relatable route, communicating the intensity of time alone with four elderly women. A modest slice of life comedy, “Mid-August Lunch” is loaded with charm, embracing the observational opportunities that appear with a mature cast wedged inside a restrictive condo setting.
It took 15 producers to bring “City Island” to the screen, which seems an enormous effort to breathe life into a fairly routine set of domestic troubles and idiosyncratic characters swimming around for emotional enlightenment. Fortunately, there’s a cast here that molds something passably meaningful out of a flat screenplay, instilling the material with a sense of dimension and longing that helps to swallow 90 minutes of exaggerated foibles.
“The Red Baron” hopelessly desires to be accepted as the German equivalent of a Bay/Bruckheimer production, taking a glossy, rudimentary path toward wartime reverence. It’s a “Pearl Harbor” riff that might satisfy some curious WWI aficionados (perhaps Snoopy fans too), but offers nothing in the way of excitement or a compelling psychological shakedown of the feared pilot that ruled European airspace, eventually immortalized in the history books and on frozen pizza boxes.
“The Princess and the Frog” represents Disney’s big comeback to feature-length, traditionally animated filmmaking. Granted, it’s only been away for five years, but a comeback is a comeback, and I’ll take any renewed interest in 2-D storytelling I can get. Playing it safe to rekindle the animated magic that once defined the Disney name, “Princess and the Frog” is a joyful lap around familiar Mouse House artistic elements, looking to help rebuild the kingdom brand name with a cushy tale of a princess, smooch-happy amphibians, and the grandeur of turn-of-the-century New Orleans.
Lest I come across like a curmudgeon who despises all things slapstick, I’ll state that “Old Dogs” is poor slapstick. A spastic, noxious comedy, “Old Dogs” is scattershot and out of control, bludgeoning the audience with all sorts of eye-bulging mugging and dire cliché. It’s insufferable and lazily directed, trusting sheer frontal force will be enough to supply laughs. Shot two years ago, the picture has the feel of a movie that’s been reordered and reworked a few dozen times, shaved down to a pure goof-and-sentiment experience that fails both goals. It’s dreadful, but at least Disney’s been kind enough to suggest as much through their disheartening marketing efforts.
Released during the same week “The Hurt Locker” swept up major Academy Awards for its harsh depiction of life on the Iraq War frontlines, “Green Zone” elects to take the opposite route of dramatization. While coarse and unquestionably whirlwind, “Green Zone” should be viewed in the vein of a graphic novel adaptation, with its sniveling villains and primary colored view of wartime ethics. It’s entertainment first and foremost, with ham-fisted politics popping the mood far too often, sucking away a desired tempo of defiance to play a crude game of Middle East Stratego.
A charmer from the school of Apatow, “She’s Out of My League” takes a fantasy dating situation and tries to tilt it toward a sense of realism while retaining all the required silly business. Without reinventing the wheel or resisting the lure of lazy gross-out jokes, the picture gets by on a funky, winning cast and the occasional, ever-so-faint, squint-to-see-it moment of emotional truth the genre typically treats like a nasty infection. As goofball as it is, “She’s Out of My League” shows a surprising conscience to go along with its frat-house humor.
To describe “Our Family Wedding” as an offshoot of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is undoubtedly an insult to the 1967 Stanley Kramer film. Perhaps my memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, but I fail to recall the original picture containing a scene in which a goat, jacked up on a spilled bottle of Viagra, endeavors to dry-hump an understandably confused leading character. Again, perhaps that’s my mind playing tricks on me.
Poetic, romantic, and tied together by a crippling event of violence, “Remember Me” aches to be absorbed as a drama of substance and lasting impact. However, it’s dour, hysterical sudser that never lifts off the ground, no matter how hard it flaps its wings with sequences of nicotine-stained rebellion, cycles of abuse, and bootleg turns of fate. Compassionate but never assured, “Remember Me” is perhaps best appreciated for Robert Pattinson, who steps away from the ghostly make-up, dead air bother, and diamond skin (the hair remains) to portray a plausibly disturbed young man on his way to an emotional breakdown.
In 2006, director Bong Joon-ho brought “The Host” to the world stage. A clever, startling reawakening of the monster movie genre, the film brought the director tremendous, well-deserved success, making him something of a master of the genre after only a single picture. “Mother” returns Bong to familiar cinematic ground, taking on a slightly comic, utterly transfixing murder mystery that pins violence and messy displays of injustice on the most saintly of screen images: dear old mom.
I’m not one to romanticize the life and times of actor Corey Haim, but I’d be lying if I wrote that his screen work didn’t have an effect on me. His not-entirely-unexpected death today, at the young age of 38, certainly summons feelings of sadness, as we lost someone who was obviously troubled and torn for most of his life. We also lost a once engaging young actor who showed more pep and snappy comedic timing than most of his peers during his reign as a superbly coifed, smirking teen heartthrob.
As witnessed throughout much of his filmography, Tim Burton has the uncanny ability to reach astonishingly dark moods while still maintaining a jovial atmosphere worthy of his riotous imagination. Occasionally, the shadows get the best of him. Much like “Batman Returns” and “Mars Attacks,” “Alice in Wonderland” is a Burton vehicle with four flat tires, attempting to pull off a tricky juggling act of whimsy and violence, using author Lewis Carroll’s legendary novel as a playground for the blandest of fantasy visions. It’s a drab feature film molded with garish CGI and acted as if there wasn’t a director on set at all. It’s far from deplorable, but it does represent the filmmaker at his most persistently ineffective.
It’s been some time since Roman Polanski made something as cagey and good-naturedly twisted as “The Ghost Writer.” He’s been off vacationing inside of his youthful trauma during the last decade (“The Pianist,” “Oliver Twist”), which makes his new film a cunning achievement, steered by one of the filmdom’s sharpest minds. Verbose but lovingly toxic, “The Ghost Writer” nails a perfect pitch of paranoia with a distinctly retro flair, restoring some needed maturity to the bustling business of thriller cinema.