The Green Hornet, Blue Valentine, Barney’s Version, Crispon Glover in person and seven other new films
Suddenly, there’s a rush of new films, three about marriage difficulties, three on human rights, two pure Hollywood and an entertaining Canadian.
These are today’s titles:
The Green Hornet: 2 1/2 stars
Blue Valentine: 4
Barney’s Version: 3 ½
Somewhere: 2 1/2
The Dilemma: 2
London River: 3 1/2
Enemies of the People: 4
You Don’t Like the Truth --
Marwencol: 3 1/2
THE GREEN HORNET: Loud, dumb and sometimes fun. Only sometimes though. Point Grey High School’s two most famous graduates have crafted a superhero comedy that delivers a few laughs early on, outrageous action later on and nothing much consistent anywhere. Seth Rogen, who also wrote the script with his long-time best friend, Evan Goldberg, plays the masked crime fighter like pretty well every Seth Rogen character we’ve seen before. He’s a wisecracking slacker, not a debonair playboy as the previous radio and TV incarnations had him. Whether running the newspaper he inherits or chasing criminals, he’s rather inept but convinced he’s a sharp idea man. It gets tiresome under much long-winded dialogue.
Jay Chou, a pop star from Taiwan, is Kato, the sidekick who’s the real idea man, and Christoph Waltz, fresh from his Oscar win last year, is a crime boss looking to re-make his image into something more scary.
There’s potential in those concepts but the script can’t find much of it. Instead, it rests on a boyish fascination with gadgets and toys and then action: a cop car crashing into a store, a car chase inside a newspaper printing plant and then another one plus a gunfight up in the editorial offices. Michel Gondry’s quirky directorial style is not much in evidence and the added-on 3-D isn’t worth paying extra for. (Scotiabank, Oakridge, Dunbar, Rio and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
BLUE VALENTINE: This is the hottest title of the week, a must-see for anyone ready for brilliant acting and a grueling story. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams enact the disintegration of a marriage. They’ve both been getting awards and nominations in numerous venues for their work. It’s so real and harsh, you might want to be careful if your own marriage is a bit shaky.
We see them fall both in and out of love. The film jumps back and forth between the early and present days. When he first meets her, he’s working as a furniture mover. She wants to go to medical school. Their courtship has a goofy, charming warmth topped by a sidewalk dance by her to a ukulele-accompanied song warbled by him. The song is “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” Flip to the other scenes, and it’s painfully evident that love has evaporated, certainly in her. She’s now a nurse doing sono grams and uneasy that he hasn’t shown much ambition, having advanced only to house painter. He’s got a good heart but can’t understand why she’s unhappy and the film doesn’t judge either of them. It just shows their life changing. They listen to different music, just one of several well-observed small signs that they’re drifting apart. There’s a passionless sex scene and a dismal attempt to restart the fires with a night in a motel. It’s a grim but deeply affecting drama. (International Village and Silver City Coquitlam) 4 out of 5
BARNEY’S VERSION: A Canadian film you can honestly enjoy for its humor, its sharp portrait of a unique character and several wonderful performances. Chief among them is Golden Globe-nominated Paul Giamatti as Barney, the ornery TV producer who manages to keep us onside even at his most narcissistic moments. He’s a dreamer and portrayed a bit softer here than in Mordecai Richler’s novel but he’s still told to his face “you’ve screwed around everybody you ever met or cared about.” Normal rules don’t restrict him. At his wedding (to Minnie Driver), he meets, falls in love with and starts to pursue the woman he claims is the real love of his life (Rosamund Pike). His messy love life and his drink-fueled friendship with a pal (Scott Speedman) take up most of the story, although a murder allegation floats in and out a few times and problems with a failing memory add pathos.
His scenes with Dustin Hoffman are lively with humor and bawdy fatherly advice. The film is glossy, energetic and well-acted but slack direction and the sprawling story keeps our emotional involvement restrained. There’s plenty of Montreal flavor though, with nods to the Habs, The Expos and Grumpy’s bar, and cameos by Paul Gross and directors David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Denys Arcand are pure Canadiana. (5th Avenue, International Village and suburban theatres) 3 1/2 out of 5
SOMEWHERE: There’s no story as such in here, just a series of incidents that reveal character. That can work if the character is interesting. This one is not, The b-movie actor that Sofia Coppola has written and Stephen Dorff portrays with considerable ease and charm is aimless and bored. He falls asleep as twin strippers entertain in his hotel room. In another scene, he dozes off with his head in a woman’s crotch. Promoting his action film Berlin Agenda, he has to tolerate questions about “post-modern globalism” and in Italy, he’s given an award, as by the way this film has done (top prize, Venice Film Festival).
Just because Coppola grew up around people like this and knows this world intimately doesn’t make the film anymore appealing. She’s not telling us any deep celebrity secrets. We’ve seen essays on the sham of fame before. And in this one, it takes a long time for anything to happen.
It’s slow, although when the actor’s ex-wife dumps his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) on him for a while, a spark of life does arise. Fanning is delightful and there’s a sweet rapport between her and Dorff. It’s the centerpiece of the film, but, we surmise, only an interlude in his self-indulgent life. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 2 ½ out of 5
THE DILEMMA: If you’re expecting this to be a comedy, be warned. It’s more of a drama about marital difficulties and not all that funny. That’s so even though Vince Vaughn and Kevin James are the lead stars. They’re best buds, both at sports events and in the car accessory business they’re starting.
Kevin is the innovator and Vince, as you might expect, is the fast-talking hustler promoter. On the eve of a potential deal with Chrysler (to put some throaty noise into electric vehicles) Vince finds Kevin’s wife cheating on him. So, the dilemma. Does he tell his friend or try to fix things himself?
Confronting the wife (Winona Ryder) only gets him a sharp defensive rebuke, not a denial, and a warning to “Stay out of my marriage.” Before he’s done, Vince gets blotches from poisonous plants on his face and fights a guy with a blowtorch. He’s also revealed as a gambling addict who’s stopped going to his therapy group and has to endure an intervention in his living room. The story careens off in all sorts of directions like that, not bothering to stir up many laughs anywhere. The main exception is a wildly inappropriate speech Vince gives at an anniversary dinner. That came early, before the comedy leaked out of this film. (Oakridge, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
Three films about human rights, showing at the VanCity Theatre:
LONDON RIVER: There’s a big issue successfully dramatized in this small film. How an act of terrorism, in this case the London transit bombings five years ago, can cause collateral pain far beyond its blast. The story is told with a gentle humanism and not your usual movie bombast.
A mother from Guernsey (Brenda Blethyn) comes to London to find her daughter who she can’t reach on her cel phone. As she puts up posters and asks questions, she discovers a multi-cultural world completely alien to her. She also crosses paths with an African Muslim who came from France to find his son. At one point she has him arrested, but soon finds they have a common quest. Their children were living together and studying Arabic. “Who speaks Arabic?” Brenda asks. “Well, we all do,” a teacher tells her. Similarly she has to overcome the superiority she feels over the Muslim father, played with a quiet dignity by the late Sotigui Kouyate from Mali. He won an award for this at the Berlin Film Festival. A mutual respect evolves gradually between the two as they follow the trail. So does a feeling of dread, and occasional flashes of hope. Both actors are wonderful in this subtle and poignant film. (3 ½ out of 5)
ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE: This one is hard to take at times, but give it a try. It’s an extremely powerful attempt to find some answers about The Killing Fields, the atrocities carried out in the 1970s by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Almost two million people were murdered by or at the orders of the regime. Journalist Thet Sambath, of the Phnom Penh Post wanted to find out why from the very people responsible.
He spent 10 years gaining the confidence of some “uneducated farmers” who were low-level killers and one of the top leaders, Nuon Chea, who was known as “Brother No. 2.” (Pol Pot was No. 1). Chea is going before a tribunal on March 11 charged with crimes against humanity. The film ends with his arrest and not long before shows his admission of why the killings were ordered. It was to save the revolution by eliminating opponants and their sabotage, he says. Later he makes a dramatic and emotional apology. There are some extremely graphic descriptions from three of the “farmers” and this haunted reaction from one: “I feel terrible. My mind, my soul, my body is spinning inside.” An extraordinary film. (4 out of 5)
YOU DON'T LIKE THE TRUTH: FOUR DAYS IN GUANTANAMO: I couldn’t preview this film locally but it drew praise in Toronto when it played there back in October. The bulk of its 99 minutes is an interrogation of Omar Khadr, the Canadian Muslim teenager held as a terrorist at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. He’s since pleaded guilty, which to some invalidates the scenario of torture and injustice this film develops. Others still call on us to watch it with “sorrow, fury and revulsion.”
MARWENCOL: This intriguing and often bizarre film will also be shown at the VanCity Theatre starting Jan. 21, but gets a special presentation at the Pacific Cinematheque next Wednesday (Jan. 19). Special because it’ll be followed by a discussion with Dr. Derryck Smith, a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UBC, as part of a mental health series That should enrich an already fascinating viewing experience.
This is an award-winning documentary about Mark Hogancamp of Kingston, N.Y. who was beaten up outside a bar ten years ago, suffered brain damage and found a unique self-therapy. In his backyard, he built a scale-model village, said to be in Belgium during World War 2, and using Barbie dolls and action figures created intricate scenes that parallel his own life. He sees himself as an air force flyer and his attackers as German S S troops. It’s odd but also art. (3 1/2 out of 5)
CRISPIN GLOVER IN PERSON: The maverick actor and cult favorite, most recently seen as The Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland and still best known for Back to the Future, brings his oddball personna to the Pacific Cinematheque for three evenings this weekend. On Jan 14 and 16 he'll show his new film, Everything is Fine, starring cerebral palsey victim and screenwriter, Steven C. Stewart. It's described as "a transgressive yet tender psychosexual tale of disability and fantasy."
On Jan 15, Glover will show the first film he directed, an off-beat psychodrama called What Is It?
He'll start each evening with a slide show, and end by answering questions and signing books. For times, prices or other details visit http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/crispin-glover-in-person or phone 604 688 FILM.
NOTE: The images were supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.