The Buffalo News - Movies Latest stories from The Buffalo News en-us Wed, 16 Apr 2014 18:42:07 -0400 Wed, 16 Apr 2014 18:42:07 -0400 <![CDATA[ Heavenly visions ]]>
His tale is inspirational for some and draws the wrath of others, who call it all a fabrication. That becomes a major source of tension in the film.

This story is fodder for countless debates. What should not be overlooked is the strong story of how a family must – along with this big event – deal with the normal hardships of life.

Director Randall Wallace shows – as he did on “Secretariat” and “We Were Soldiers” – that the strength of a movie comes from a focus on family. Even when “Heaven Is for Real” slips into theological mode, Wallace quickly pulls the attention back to how the family members deal with all that’s being thrown at them.

Too often in movies, a man of the cloth is either portrayed as being all-knowing or having fallen from grace. Greg Kinnear’s portrayal of Pastor Todd Burpo – the father of the young boy and the leader of the local church – is more human than most church leaders in film. He spends as much time worrying about the mortgage as he does preaching the Gospel.

It helps that Wallace gets an equally strong performance from Kelly Reilly as Sonja, the minister’s wife. Wallace doesn’t sacrifice the paternal and maternal parts of the couple’s lives in the name of their deep spiritual beliefs. Their financial struggles are very reflective of what’s going on across the country, and that makes the movie more accessible to those who don’t care as much about the spiritual aspects.

Wallace also gets a surprisingly good performance from 6-year-old Connor Corum. There’s a very natural feel to the way the youngster acts in scenes – especially when working with Kinnear – that helps fortify the family story.

The film is not without flaws. The biggest mistake in the script by Wallace and Chris Parker is the decision to actually show on film what the youngster says he saw in heaven. No matter how reverent the approach, the depiction of angels comes across as a cheesy special effect. And the appearance by Jesus looks like the worst moments from a church Easter production.

More clarification would have helped, especially when it comes to how the boy’s announcement shakes the foundation of those who should have a rock-solid faith. All of this chips away at the solid family foundation on which Wallace had built his movie.

These aren’t mortal sins. Wallace has created a movie that has a message that goes beyond preaching to the choir. That’s when the work is at its best. ]]>
Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:33:41 -0400 By Rick Bentley

Fresno Bee

<![CDATA[ Marlon Wayans is in it for laughs, but his career is no joke ]]>
The toy, a prop from Wayans’ latest movie, “A Haunted House 2,” was propped up in a chair across the table from the actor at a stuffy Beverly Hills restaurant. The doll, named Abigail, was meant to resemble a creepy figurine from 2013’s “The Conjuring”: Both shared dead green eyes, sooty peasant dress and pigtail braids.

Wayans, 41, has long been known for his outrageous comic taste. He dressed as a Caucasian female FBI agent in “White Chicks” and has been poking fun at the horror genre for years, launching the hit “Scary Movie” parody franchise in 2000. The first entry in his new spoof series, “A Haunted House,” was made for $1.7 million and last year grossed $60 million; the second installment is due out Friday.

Q: Your sense of humor is pretty out there.

MW: I’ve never progressed past the age of 15. I laugh a lot, and I don’t take things too serious. ... I think it’s good to be a kid again.

Q: You and your brothers worked on the first two films in the “Scary Movie” franchise, but the Weinstein Co. made three more movies without you. What happened?

MW: There’s nothing to really have any kind of bitterness for, because the reality is we just couldn’t make a deal. They knew it was going to be expensive to make a third one with us, so they went a different direction. We put a certain price on our jokes, and the franchise had made close to a billion dollars. We just wanted our slice of the pie, and we just couldn’t come to terms. … “Scary Movie” is like that child that you love that you put a lot of energy into, and then it went off to become a crackhead but you still love it because it’s your child.

Q: This movie had a $3 million budget. Is it hard to make a movie on the cheap?

MW: I don’t have a trailer when I do these movies – I got a honeywagon. Picture a porta-potty with a bed in it. But I like the challenge. Making movies like this is preparing me for when I go back to studio movies – I’ll be very responsible and know how to stretch the dollar.

Q: You’re often referred to as one of the most successful black filmmakers in Hollywood. How do you feel about that label?

MW: When we did “Scary Movie,” it had the biggest opening ever for an R-rated comedy, and they kept saying “for a black director.” My brother Keenan was like, “No, for any director.” Listen, I’m black, and I wear that every day. I wouldn’t want to change my color. But I won’t wear the cap that comes with what their perception of black is – it has a cap and ceiling and budget and parameter. Why can’t I dream like “Avatar”? Why can’t our movies open overseas?

Q: A few years ago, Bill Condon cast you to play Richard Pryor in a film about the comedian. Now that director Lee Daniels has taken over the project, I hear your brother Damon is in the running for the part. What’s up?

MW: I know it’s either meant to be or it’s not. Damon’s a great choice. Better him than anybody else. Whoever does it, I’ll be happy for them. I’ll give them advice. I’ve been doing standup for 3ø years to prepare for that moment to actually do that movie. To develop that skill set to play Pryor – it’s not going to be easy. I’ve read eight books on Pryor. I know enough about the man. For me, it’s important that they just do the movie right. … But if I do it, I know I’ll smash it. It’ll probably be my best work because I’m so committed. But if it doesn’t happen, I still think I’m gonna smash life and smash my career and do my best work because it’s ahead of me. ]]>
Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:13:50 -0400 By Amy Kaufman

Los Angeles Times

<![CDATA[ Hollywood tries to win Christians’ faith ]]>
Yet at the First Assembly of God Church in Phoenix, 9,000 congregants greeted the filmmaker with a standing ovation. A few days later, 11,000 boisterous students packed a convocation in the sports arena at Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., where Wallace, best known for writing the 1995 battle biopic “Braveheart” and directing the equestrian drama “Secretariat,” spoke about “Heaven Is for Real.”

Recent faith-based and Bible-inspired films such as “Noah,” “Son of God,” and “God’s Not Dead” have galvanized Hollywood with robust showings at the box office. One analyst dubbed 2014 “the year of the biblical movie.” But with the surge of major movie studios, marquee stars and prestige filmmakers lining up to shoot faith-based projects, Hollywood is finding it isn’t always easy to usher viewers from the church pew to the multiplex.

Religious moviegoers may be actively searching out more spiritually engaging content, but they remain on high alert for perceived distortions of biblical doctrine or any attempt at a bait and switch.

“There’s been a lot of effort to market to what they call the faith-based community,” Wallace said. “People have gone out to argue to churches that some movie is faith-based or relevant when it’s got nothing to do with what the churches are about. Those ministers view this approach like spam in their mailbox.”

Nevertheless, persuading religious leaders to talk up the movies in a church setting as a means of sparking larger conversations about spiritual uplift has become a top priority in creating the kind of prerelease awareness that can lead to massive ticket sales.

The strategic marketing and publicity firm Grace Hill Media has applied that tactic to marketing films as diverse as “The Blind Side,” “Dolphin Tale” and “Les Miserables” to the faith community.

“We pioneered taking clips from movies and partnering them with detailed sermon outlines, illustrations and resource materials that pastors could utilize at their choosing,” said Jonathan Bock, founder and president of Grace Hill Media.

Many in attendance at Wallace’s church events were enticed by “Heaven is for Real’s” source material: the best-selling 2010 memoir by Christian pastor Todd Burpo subtitled “A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.”

“This movie generates so much positive reaction, our thought was, ‘Let’s go out and show it in as many places as we can,’ ” Wallace said. “The most immediate place where you can raise huge audience interest has been in megachurches and those tend to be evangelical and even Pentecostal. Where people have big emotion. Great music. Real commitment. Great passion.”

Still, Wallace – who studied religion at Duke University and attended seminary – never lost sight of certain realities that are slowly turning into a kind of gospel across the film business. Namely, that it’s a mistake to treat Christian filmgoers as a monolithic audience by marketing movies to them with a “preachy” approach.

Bock agrees that there is no single surefire method to reaching churchgoing viewers. “This is not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” Bock cautions. “You’re talking about an audience of people that is enormous and covers every demographic there is.”

The latest evidence that buzz from the pulpit pays dividends is “God’s Not Dead,” an independently produced Christian drama that cost less than $3 million but surpassed all industry expectations by grossing an impressive $35 million in just three weeks of release.

“All these different churches gave it their seal of approval,” said David A.R. White, a producer of “God’s Not Dead” and co-founder of Pure Flix Entertainment, the film’s distributor.

That happened because Pure Flix set up screenings for 8,000 pastors in the two months leading up to the film’s theatrical debut.

“Some people say, ‘You’re losing a lot of money with the prescreenings.’ But for us,” White said, “the pastors are the gatekeepers to the church body. If they believe in what we’re doing, they can talk about it from the pulpit.”

DeVon Franklin is a producer of “Heaven is for Real” who also serves the senior vice president of production at Columbia Pictures with a sideline as a preacher with a dedicated following. He emphasized that the audience of nearly 200 million Americans who self-identify as Christians and go to church at least once a month has grown weary of being seen as a niche concern by Hollywood.

“We don’t want to be pandered to,” Franklin said. “When there’s a movie that can be in alignment with our faith and be an inspiration, that’s a movie we want to know about and support. At the same time, we don’t want to be treated like we’re from some other planet. We’re interested in ‘Captain America’ just like we’re interested in ‘Heaven Is for Real.’ ” ]]>
Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:15:10 -0400 By Chris Lee

Los Angeles Times

<![CDATA[ Is it really about “Mad Men” at all? Is “Fargo” about Fargo? ]]>
Let’s talk about chronology first. The show will split its final year into two parts: six more episodes now after Sunday’s premiere, seven more after a long layoff in 2015.

As annoying as that may be, that’s how things are done these days with such huge draws among faithful fans – the ones for whom the show has long been “appointment TV” and one of the best shows on television.

I’m not one of them, but I must say I’ve been a reasonably dedicated watcher for a couple years now.

It’s the true “Mad Men” faithful, now, who are charged with the final moral questions in the continuing narrative: Did Don Draper (Jon Hamm) deserve to be a de facto exile from the advertising firm he’s still involved with on paper? Did Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) deserve to be overlooked on the job and the landlord of a crummy building in a lesser 1969 neighborhood who’s assailed, often after a bad day at the office, by tenants with clogged toilets?

Did Roger, in his continual search for life’s more sybaritic pleasures in a sexually liberated 1969 world, deserve to be rather ostentatiously forgiven over Bloody Marys for his paternal transgressions by his daughter? Did Roger deserve to come home exhausted to an already full bed (young woman, young man) in which the woman in the middle tells him everybody’s always welcome in HER bed?

And to think, all Roger wanted was a good night’s sleep.

We see and hear Richard Nixon’s first inaugural address on Don Draper’s television set so we know where the show was set on Sunday – January 1969. Clearly, it has a long way to go and a lot of stories to tell before the tales of these people are over.

We’ve known for years now that contrary to the title of the show, “Mad Men,” it’s not really about men at all, it’s about women – most especially Peggy (Moss) and Joan (Christina Hendricks), living, breathing transitional figures in a world transformed by feminism.

Commonplace speculation about the end of “Mad Men” is that Don and Peggy will have, in effect, changed places in the advertising industry by the time of the show’s finale. Frankly, I’m not all that interested at the show’s end by the fate of either one.

On the final show of its season in 2015, the fate I most want to know is Joan’s, one of the most original characters in all of television. There, truly, is a story no TV show has ever told us before – the tale of a beautiful, buxom, hugely ambitious woman capable of moral compromise to get ahead but even more capable of developing enormously in an executive job.

I’ll be there at the very end but I must tell you, as it stands now, it’s her fate in the show’s finale I care about most.

And now a few words about another major premiere this week, FX’s “Fargo” which begins this evening. Can’t help thinking about the Coen’s original movie from 1996? Me neither.

First, always with me, comes Carter Burwell’s incredible music – that opening theme for a snowscape secretly full of humanity. Nice people. Sweet people. Stupid people. Comic people. Wretched people.

It is magnificent film music. It is grand but as seemingly familiar as a folk song our grandparents or great grandparents might have heard in some European “ old country,” an ocean away.

The next thing that inevitably pops into my head about the Coen Brothers’ original film “Fargo” is the great Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, the very pregnant cop, traipsing through bloody snow in heavy boots and fur ear flaps and saying “Jeez” all the time.

Who didn’t love Marge, one of the most original cops in movie history? An Oscar for the role proved it. I certainly loved her. The real actress, of course, is married to director Joel Coen and had an adopted son with him two years before “Fargo” was made. For them, a fantasy about a pregnant Minnesota cop stomping through the snow to find blood and mayhem is virtually business as usual.

For the rest of us, it was wildly original. But then, it was a Coen Brothers movie, after all, and we knew how singular their take on parenthood could be from “Raising Arizona.”

The next thing immediately in my head about the Coen’s original “Fargo” is John Carroll Lynch, as the quiet, peace-loving stamp-designing husband of Marge Gunderson. He’s the one whose stamp design isn’t chosen by the Post Office for one of the major stamps, only one of the little ones that sell for pennies. But jeez, says Marge immortally, trying to cheer him up, every time they change the price they need the little ones to make up the difference for people who bought the old ones? Right? (Not anymore, with forever stamps but that’s another story.)

It’s a glorious tiny moment of uniquely Coen comedy – so true, so reminiscent of a mother trying to confront and reassure a weepy 8-year old son and so familiar in tone to the actual marital lives of Americans everywhere.

Let’s not even talk about Marge Gunderson encountering the body stuck in the backyard wood chipper.

I saw “Fargo” only once when the movie first came out. And yet detail after detail is lodged in my head more vividly than some movies I saw last week.

And now, this evening, we have the premiere of an idea from the FX network that I expected to deplore but don’t – a weekly TV series based on the Coens’ “Fargo.”

Let’s admit right off the bat that everything – and I do mean everything – about the first 45 minutes of Cameron Hawley’s TV series “Fargo” (the Coens are listed as executive producers but then so is former NBC executive Warren Littlefield) is a little off.

The music by Jeff Russo is vaguely reminiscent of Burwell’s music but not nearly as good. There is no equivalent of Marge Gunderson, even though there’s a cop’s pregnant wife (an entirely different point there).

No bodies are stuffed into the backyard wood chipper either. For the first 45 minutes of this evening’s “Fargo” you think that the frantic and put-upon insurance salesman played by Martin Freeman is a pale imitation of what the Coens did so much better.

Stick around. Our much-bullied and mocked loser with the comically broad Minnesota accent suddenly asserts what he feels to be his “manhood” in the worst possible way and at the worst possible time.

And then, as the publicity folks might say, the fun begins.

None of it would have happened, you see, if he hadn’t encountered Billy Bob Thornton playing a somewhat satanic hired killer in the great American tradition of Twain’s “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” and the like. Old Billy Bob plays a mischievous trickster who just can’t keep himself from fighting the bullies of the world by playing pranks on their duller-witted victims.

That “Fargo” turns out to be a pretty good TV show was, I must say, a minor shock. But then I was just as shocked before when Hitchcock’s “Psycho” turned into the weirdly compelling “Bates Motel.”

Heaven help us, I think I now like the idea – classic movies turned into TV shows by clever people who are, in fact, leaving the contents of those movies alone and reinventing wholly different stories just from the atmosphere of the originals.

Call it post-modern TV and it’s awfully good at times, I think. Tonight’s “Fargo” is full of the Coen Brothers’ favorite subjects –blood, murder, rural stupidity and violent, abusive, awful people who get just what might be coming to them.

A pleasant surprise.

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Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:13:23 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ A ‘Sharknado’ might be in the forecast, thanks to the Buffalo Niagara Film Office ]]>
They were fighting off imaginary alligators or sharks in the streets.

It was all for a movie that is being produced by the same company that gave the Syfy channel the campy success “Sharknado” last summer. I was told the tentative title was “Alligator Apocalypse,” but some suspicious extras now believe the scenes they were shooting really were for “Sharknado 2: The Second Coming.”

Whether it was “Alligator Apocalypse” or the “Sharknado” sequel, the film is a long way from the big one that got away – “Draft Day,” the Kevin Costner film set inside the Cleveland Browns organization that opened this week.

The original “Draft Day” script was set in Buffalo and director Ivan Reitman scouted Ralph Wilson Stadium before movie finances forced him to change the setting to Cleveland.

Reitman actually apologized to Buffalo on Wednesday night on John Murphy’s Buffalo Bills radio show. The Toronto native noted on WGR that the extra money saved by shooting in Ohio just was impossible for Buffalo to beat.

But according to local Buffalo Niagara Film Office Commissioner Tim Clark, New York State soon will be leveling the playing field somewhat with additional tax breaks that could lead to more movies filmed here.

And we all know how much pride Western New Yorkers take in films shot here.

Clark explained that starting in January a bill passed in the State Legislature calls for an additional 10 percent tax credit for labor costs for episodic TV or movies shot here, Syracuse and Rochester. That is in addition to the 30 percent already given for some film costs.

He quickly added that the bill wouldn’t have saved “Draft Day” because the 10 percent comes off “below the line” expenses that don’t include actor’s salaries.

“You don’t want taxpayers to pay up to 30 percent of Tom Cruise’s salary,” explained Clark. “That’s above the line. The reason we lost ‘Draft Day’ is Ohio has a 25 percent tax incentive. It is lower than New York and people may ask why didn’t they shoot here? It is for both below and above the line. Kevin Costner is in that thing so they pay 25 percent of his salary.”

“Ivan really wanted to shoot here,” added Clark. “He is from Toronto, he likes Buffalo. We couldn’t match the 25 percent. We were $3 million off. These guys go back to their studios. The guys in the accounting departments make the decisions.”

A former local TV news executive and press representative for local politicians, Clark has been the film commissioner for eight years.

“We’ve gone from a few TV shows a year and maybe some locally produced movies to bigger regional stuff and it has grown and grown and grown,” said Clark. “And we’ve actually captured some pretty big things now. The biggest thing we were involved in was (Nik) Wallenda walking over Niagara Falls.”

The wedding of Pam and Jim in “The Office” a few years ago and the shooting of scenes for the Melissa McCarthy movie “Tammy” also were big catches.

Clark is hopeful that the positive experience that “The Office” director Paul Feig had here will pay off down the road.

“Paul Feig is very close to Melissa McCarthy and when she was here shooting ‘Tammy’ last summer she even said to me that Paul said he had a great time in Niagara Falls. He remembers his experience. And that could be good.”

In his eight years, Clark said he has driven “around a lot of interesting people” in his 2006 SUV and had some interesting experiences.

“The first major movie that I worked with was ‘The Savages’ with Philip Seymour Hoffman right after he won the Academy Award for ‘Capote.’ Laura Linney (who co-starred in “The Savages”) said the paparazzi saw her at the airport. The movie guys were ticked off about that. They ended up asking me to help Hoffman get from the airport. The NFTA Police brought him to my car and eventually to the set. I had the car for a week. The first thing he did was light up a cigarette. I’m like, ‘Dude, this is a brand-new car.’ ”

Clark said a similar drill occurred when Susan Sarandon arrived to shoot scenes for “Tammy.”

“I met her at the airport,” recalled Clark. “I wasn’t quite sure it was her because she had big glasses and a hat. I went to her and said, ‘Susan is that you?’ I said, ‘I’m from the film office.’ So we took her out the back door to a golf cart, to the NFTA Police, to her car service.”

Clark suggested that the tax break bill for filming west of Albany is likely to lead to him driving around more celebrities in his SUV shortly.

“It is driving lots of inquiries,” said Clark.

“There are numerous calls from major networks about shooting scenes in Western New York because of this incentive,” he said.

Clark added that WNY’s connections in the TV and film world can be helpful in attracting projects.

“I run into more people from Buffalo in decision-making roles at networks and movie studios and even in smaller production companies who for whatever reason – maybe an emotional attachment to their hometown – they want to bring shows back here,” said Clark.

Clark noted you lose some like “Draft Day” and you win some like “The Best Man Holiday,” directed by Malcolm Lee, Spike Lee’s cousin.

“Malcolm Lee shot scenes here last May,” said Clark. “They transformed the Ralph into Giants Stadium. In the movie, he thanked the Buffalo Bills even though it said New York Giants.”

The film projects shot here not only make Western New Yorkers proud, they also pay off in a more lucrative way.

“The economic impact is millions,” said Clark. “I can tell you Malcolm Lee spent $1.2 million locally. There were a lot of local extras, a lot of local crew, the caterer was on duty 24 hours a day.”

Clark can’t give away any secrets, but he noted three films will be shooting here this summer, one starting in May. The productions typically stay here for 28 to 35 days.

So beware of alligators, sharks, pitchforks and chain saws.

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Sun, 13 Apr 2014 13:08:16 -0400 Alan Pergament
<![CDATA[ ‘Rio 2’ piles it on and spoils the fun ]]>
There are more stars in this birds-of-the-Amazon musical, with Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth, Oscar winner Rita Moreno, Andy Garcia and pop star Bruno Mars joining in. And all of them sing. Because there are more tunes.

There are more animals for those stars to play, with Chenoweth voicing an exquisitely animated spotted tree frog, plus anteaters and tapirs, scarlet macaws and pink Amazon River dolphins.

And there’s more story, as Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) take their brood (they now have three kids) into the Amazon to help Linda (Leslie Mann) and her scientist husband Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) track down a rumored lost, last flock of their species.

But one thing the cluttered, overlong “Rio 2” lacks in extra supply is jokes. A script designed to give cute moments to everybody from the first film as well as all those brought in for the second is a cumbersome, humor-starved affair.

The simple situation of the first film was a nervous flightless pet bird, Blu (Eisenberg), shipped south to ineptly mate with the last female of his breed, the born-to be-wild Jewel (Hathaway). They’re birdnapped and forced to survive in the wild – or on the wild streets of Rio during Carnival. The subtexts of the evils of the tropical bird trade and the destruction of habitat were there, easy for the youngest child to embrace.

The new film is all about that subtext, as Linda and Tulio and Blu and Jewel and Jewel’s old flock (Garcia is her dad, Mars voices an old suitor) race against clear cutters to save the rainforest, full of the Brazil nuts that macaws love.

Their old friends Nico (Jamie Foxx), Pedro (Will i. am) and Rafael (George Lopez) tag along to audition new singing stars for this year’s Carnival, leading to a cross-species “South American Idol” bit (Capoeira Turtles try out their act) that works.

The evil cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) survived the first film, and with an anteater and lovesick sidekick frog, Gabi (Chenoweth), sets out for revenge. Chenoweth sings the daylights out of the best song in the new film, “Poison Love.” We’d expect no less. Clement does a killer version of “I Will Survive.”

Mostly, though, the humor aims much younger here, with kid-pandering gags. Which is kind of what the movie does by trying to replace the quality of the first film with mere quantity. Blue Sky Animation is back to cranking out good-looking animated sausage to its old “Ice Age” formula, which is a singing, crying shame. ]]>
Fri, 11 Apr 2014 17:18:04 -0400 By Roger Moore

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

<![CDATA[ ‘Oculus’ scores scares with smoke and mirrors ]]>
“Doctor Who” alumna Karen Gillan sheds her Scots accent and most outward signs of emotion as Kaylie, a young woman who went through something terrible and, she is convinced, something supernatural 11 years before. Now, she’s out to prove that and “kill it,” the thing that killed her parents and put her brother into a mental institution for more than a decade.

The “thing” that did this: an ornate, Baroque mirror, which seemed to possess her parents and, when she and her brother were little, tricked them out of destroying it.

Kaylie stares at the mirror with the look of a stone-cold killer. Or glass-breaker. She’s taken a job at an auction house to get that mirror within her reach. She’s set up cameras, computer sensors and timers to monitor its evil and document what she does to it.

The problem: She’s dragged baby brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites), fresh from the mental hospital, along as a witness and helper. They’re back in the house where their parents died. And Tim, filled to the gills with psychobabble, sees himself as the one who “faced it,” who dealt with the trauma of that night with mental health professionals. To him, there is no “super” in supernatural. Just a dad (Rory Cochrane) who killed their mom (Katee Sackhoff) after she went crazy over an affair he was having.

Co-writer, director and editor Mike Flanagan structures this Night of Reckoning in parallel storylines. We have Kaylie and Tim wrestling with their past, teasing and tormenting the haunted mirror, goading it to kill again. And we have them as kids – fearfully played by Annalise Brasso and Garrett Ryan – terrified as their family explodes, forced to be “really brave” to face what they cannot fathom.

Gillan handles the film’s exposition, a long, breathless narration-on-camera that tells her brother and her video “evidence” audience the tortured history of this mirror, whose victims mutilate themselves and then kill before they themselves are killed. That’s the dull part of “Oculus.”

The exciting stuff comes from Gillan’s Kaylie – brave, then and now, trash-talking the mirror, touching its crack and purring, “I hope it still hurts.”

And Sackhoff, of “Riddick” and TV’s “Battlestar Galactica,” makes the most of her motherly descent from suspicion to paranoia to madness, selling this far-fetched fantasy, start to finish. She renders this plausible.

It’s not a contest, but the guys are good and the women, to a one, much better in this chiller. The effects are modest and affecting, the pacing not quite as brisk as you’d like and the finale entirely too predictable in this age of franchises. But “Oculus” earns its frights the old-fashioned way – with convincingly traumatized characters, with smoke and with mirrors.


2½ stars

Starring: Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Annalise Basson, Brenton Thwaites

Director: Mike Flanagan

Running time: 101 minutes

Rating: R for terror, violence and some disturbing images.

The Lowdown: A young woman sets out to prove a mirror with supernatural powers killed her parents. ]]>
Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:52 -0400 By Roger Moore

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

<![CDATA[ ‘Best Offer’ is visually charming but lacks subtlety, sophistication ]]>
That this clunky metaphor is played by Geoffrey Rush, who is incapable of painting a character in fewer than three dimensions, is one of two saving graces in a film that otherwise contains all the sophisticated mystery and allure of a Hardy Boys novel. The other is its sumptuous visual and aural atmosphere, created by the supremely gifted production designer Maurizio Sabatini (“Life is Beautiful”), master composer Ennio Morricone and cinematographer Fabio Zamarion.

Oldman is the tragic hero of the story. He is an aging auctioneer who has spent his life amassing a collection of priceless portraits for his own personal edification and selling off masterful forgeries to unsuspecting buyers. He receives a phone call one day from a panicked woman (Sylvia Hoakes) who implores him in a suspiciously raspy voice to appraise her family’s collection of antiques and artworks.

He reluctantly assents, setting the creaky plot in motion. The woman refuses to reveal herself in person, tempting and tantalizing him with tidbits of information about herself that are obviously calculated to arouse his interest. Soon enough, with the sage advice of his young friend (Jim Sturgess), he coaxes her out into the open and commences a relationship with her that will ultimately spell his downfall.

It could be that Tornatore, who directed the Oscar-winning “Cinema Paradiso,” is merely uncomfortable working in English and therefore could not personally gauge how offputting some of the less elegant sections of the script can be.

Like “Cinema Paradiso,” the film is a kind of love letter to moviemaking, and perhaps to Alfred Hitchcock especially, that lacks the narrative sophistication and momentum of its forebears in Italian and American cinema.

It also is remarkably similar in tone and visual content to Martin Scorcese’s far more alluring “Hugo.” It includes the same motif of marching time, of mechanical gears, even the use of an automaton as a kind of metaphor for mystery.

But while all the visual elements are there, and alluring as such, it’s the simplistic narrative and the writing that gets in the way.

In a conversation typical of the film’s heavy-handed writing, Oldman asks for advice from his longtime friend and master forger, played with aplomb by Donald Sutherland, who seems to be wondering whether his dialogue is for real even while he is speaking it.

“Human emotions are like works of art,” Sutherland’s character says to Oldman. “They can be forged.”

Despite its visual charms, it will be difficult for seasoned moviegoers to forge any emotion for this film other than ambivalence.

best offer

2 stars

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Sylvia Hoeks, Jim Sturgess

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Running time: 131 minutes

Rating: R for some sexuality

The Lowdown: A lonely and aging auctioneer stumbles into a new trove of treasures and a dangerous love affair.

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Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:46 -0400 Colin Dabkowski
<![CDATA[ Don’t miss ‘Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,’ showcasing a living stage legend ]]>
Stritch tells him about the time she replaced Uta Hagen in the fabled original production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In the plays’s big dramatic “reveal” (as movie folks like to call them) from co-star George Grizzard, Stritch matter-of-factly informs Turturro that she actually had her first orgasm on stage at that moment.

Turturro blinks a bit, but that’s about all. We barely do, either. We register the outrageousness of it (True or untrue? Who the devil knows with Stritch?) and wait for what comes next.

“The Incomparable Broadway Legend” is how she was billed when doing her show “Elaine Stritch: At Liberty” with just a pianist.

And while we’re involving the Lord of the Underworld here, who the devil would argue with her billing, either?

Here is the woman who first hit Broadway in 1944; introduced the song “Bongo Bongo, I Don’t Want to Leave the Congo,” on stage; starred in Noel Coward’s “Sail Away,” which was written for her; introduced Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” in his show “Company”; got no action from John F. Kennedy on their second night together (he told her he didn’t want an evening ending with Glenn Miller records and scrambled eggs); starred in Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” and calls it “one of the best things I ever did”; played the mother of Alec Baldwin’s character on “30 Rock”; and affectionately refers to the actor’s penchant for drama by calling him “Alec Joan Crawford Baldwin.” (In return, he lovingly croons profanities at her and was the executive producer of this film.)

“We never know what to expect” from Stritch, says Tina Fey. They didn’t on “The Today Show,” either, when she came on the show to promote this documentary about her life and legend – a kind of collaborative self-portrait a la Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” – and dropped taboo expletives all over the place.

“Woo!” says Fey succinctly about the experience of working with Stritch.

To understate considerably, Nathan Lane deadpans to the camera: “on a personal level, she’s very, very truthful.” When she meets fellow diabetic Tracy Morgan at a “30 Rock” rehearsal, her first question to him is “Hello, darling, how’s your blood sugar?” To an old friend, she says on reuniting with her: “Your hair looks good for a change.”

Everybody loves her to pieces, and why would they not? As she admits, “It’s wonderful to be 87. You can get away with murder.” Like, for instance, telling the cameraman shooting the film, “Don’t you think you’re awfully close to me? I don’t know whether this is a skin commercial or not.”

When she runs into the late James Gandolfini (to whom the film is dedicated), he says something and she replies, “Don’t condescend to me.” After which Gandolfini immediately confides to the camera, “If we both met when we were both 35, I have no doubt we could have had a torrid love affair, which would have ended very badly.”

The ancient and now politically incorrect term fits her perfectly: Stritch is what used to be known as one of the truly “great old broads” – probably the greatest now living. In other words, she’s hilariously candid, displays her vulnerability, talent and bravado with complete equality, and is adored to pieces just about everywhere she goes. She’s state-of-the-art Broadway star flamboyance, senior female division.

Seconds after she gets on the elevator at the Carlyle Hotel (where she lived until recently), the elevator man joins her in a duet chorus of “There Will Never Be Another You.”

“This is the time in my life when I’m going to behave like an elegant human being or not,” she confides hopefully at one of her more vulnerable moments. “It’s almost post time.”

As good a time as any to see one of the great living show business figures in a way she doesn’t mind being seen.

I wouldn’t miss it if I were you.

Elaine stritch: shoot me

3½ stars

Starring: Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Stephen Sondheim, James Gandolfini, Nathan Lane

Director: Chiemi Karasawa

Running time: 81 minutes

Rating: No rating, but R equivalent for profanity.

The Lowdown: Documentary follows around outrageous Broadway legend Elaine Stritch in her 87th year.

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Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:40 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ 'Draft Day' won't go No. 1 ]]>
You’ll remember that it was Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” that introduced film audiences to the somewhat unfamiliar notion that the devious shenanigans of the front office high priests and buccaneers in the world of professional sports could make for a pretty exciting and dramatically pointed movie.

And so it does in the final half-hour of “Draft Day,” opening tonight, where we discover whom the beleaguered general manager of the struggling Cleveland Browns (Kevin Costner) is going to pick as his No. 1 college draft choice.

This is a guy having one tough week. His father, a legendary football coach, has just died, which means his mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants to march out on the team’s practice field and scatter his ashes there. His girlfriend, the team’s money cruncher (Jennifer Garner), has just informed him she’s pregnant and he didn’t exactly handle it like a romantic all-star.

And his owner (Frank Langella) has told him that he jolly well expects his GM to draft the Heisman Trophy winner – an ace QB named Bo Callahan – as the No. 1 choice in the draft. After all, didn’t the GM trade away three straight years of the team’s No. 1 draft choices to get a shot at Callahan in the first place?

Pay close attention, by the way, to Langella as the team owner. He wears shades throughout the whole movie, indoors and out. You can, if you choose, think it’s a good actor making a smart actor’s choice about the character he’s playing. Me, I’m guessing it’s just Langella doing everything possible to hide as much evidence as possible that he’s actually in this movie, lest anyone remember the fact.

As if all that weren’t enough of an assault on the blood pressure of an NFL team’s general manager, the movie that’s telling his tale begins with the unmistakable bombastic bark of ESPN’s Chris Berman narrating the bloody thing.

If it seems to promise to be a long evening (or afternoon), so it is until the final 40 minutes or so give us a payoff that actual moviegoers can live with on the way out to the parking lot without thinking the whole experience a crashing waste of time.

This was the movie they were originally going to make in Buffalo about the Bills until Cleveland and the State of Ohio offered sweeter and more seductive financial incentives to film there. For their troubles, the film makes it very clear it thinks of Cleveland as a poor, struggling, uninteresting lakeside wasteland except for everything that goes on with its No. 1 sports team. (Which, we’re reminded, was previously stolen by the city of Baltimore in a round of plutocratic vileness among football’s ownership class.)

It is Cleveland’s GM whom his Seattle counterpart considers stupid and desperate enough to give away the store (as in three successive years of No. 1 draft picks) just to get Callahan. “I have the Golden Ticket,” says Seattle’s weasel. “If I give it to you, you get to save football in Cleveland.”

Which, the movie makes crystal clear, is, in its view, the only reason anyone would want to live in Cleveland. No one even mentions the Cavaliers, for pity’s sake. Let’s not even talk about the culture. And just think – Buffalo could have been treated that way in the film.

Meanwhile, back in the chaotic life of our sorely tested general manager, we in the audience have long since discovered that this movie, despite a few funny lines salted here and there by comic veteran director Reitman (“Ghostbusters,” “Twins”) is nothing but a soap opera with a rather defective sense of dramatic rhythm and a tin ear for dialogue.

Stay with it. The cavalry comes in the film’s last half-hour to save the thing from its opening minutes of rather pitiless badness.

It goes without saying, I hope, that unless you’re into football in general, and the NFL in particular, this movie about winning and losing and whether character counts in such matters may well seem like a waste of a soapy story that could have worked in a better milieu. (Country music, anyone? Politics?)

Sean Combs, the former Puff Daddy, plays star quarterback Bo Callahan’s cynical agent. Buffalo Bills GM Russ Brandon has a scene – and a line – when the Browns’ GM gets around to seeing if the Bills, on Draft Day, have anything he wants.

The movie, of course, is smart enough to remind us that the NFL draft doesn’t necessarily mean squat. The Baltimore Ravens’ defensive gamebreaker Ray Lewis was picked 26th, and the New England Patriots’ future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady went 199th.

The City of Buffalo should, no doubt, understand. When it came time to make this movie, we just didn’t have enough to be the filmmakers’ No. 1 pick.

The movie finally becomes watchable because of its pseudo-“Moneyball” ending, but if you ask me, aside from all that movie money the city could have used, we dodged a bullet.


2½ stars

Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Sean Combs, Frank Langella and Ellen Burstyn

Director: Ivan Reitman

Running time: 105 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual references.

The Lowdown: On the NFL’s Draft Day, the beleaguered general manager of the Cleveland Browns has to figure out whom to pick at No. 1.

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Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:19 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ “Raid 2” is a sequel not worth watching ]]>
One of the weirder – and indeed more comic – rituals of Asian martial arts cinema could be seen back then: to wit, the attack on a single mind-boggling martial arts virtuoso by a bunch of bad guys who seemed to line up single file to await their turn to get the stuffing smashed out of them as if awaiting their turn in the teller line at the bank.

The comic, show business unreality of it is, as always, patently ridiculous choreographic stylization in a movie genre that otherwise takes great pains to realistically portray bloodshed and the sounds of bones crunching – all of which is withstood by the martial arts masters to an impossible degree.

There’s a lot of that in “The Raid 2” by Gareth Evans, the Welsh director who discovered the various Indonesian forms of martial arts and brought them to the world in action extravaganzas as relentless as any. But then in Evans’ sequel to his original “The Raid: Redemption” there’s a lot of almost everything. It’s two and a half hours long for pity’s sake.

When the original “The Raid” opened, we had just seen the Farrelly Brothers “The Three Stooges” movie and it occurred to me that in a diametrically opposite way, the constant violence and assault on the human body of Evans’ blood-choked Indonesian martial arts exhibition was as unreal as all the slamming and eye-poking in a Three Stooges movie. The huge difference, though, is in both affect and effect. All the mayhem is supposed to be truly injurious in martial arts and we in the audience are nevertheless supposed to celebrate the continual bone-crushing, blood-gushing orgy of it. All 148 minutes of it in this case.

It is part of the legend of Evans’ “Raid” movies that the Welsh director found his star Iko Uwals carrying mail in Indonesia.

I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling you that if there aren’t scenes of truly astounding fight choreography all the way through “The Raid 2.” But you’re not watching dance. You’re watching the supposed destruction and the defilement of human bodies with all the techniques of Indonesian martial arts, in this case including by a beautiful young woman in shades (Julie Estelles) who wields two claw hammers and another guy who, with deliberate comic effect, wields a metal bat and a baseball. (He asks his victims for the ball back so he can hit a better and more head-squishing shot at their noggins. It’s probably the only truly comic moment of “The Raid 2.”)

In the original “The Raid,” our hero, the cop Rama (Uwals) was fighting his way out of an armed urban fortress filled with the craziest thugs in the city. This time, he’s gone undercover after two years in the joint to insert himself into an all-out gang war instigated by the betrayal of a philosophical Jakarta mob boss by his stupid, crazy, greedy, paranoid and ambitious son.

The plot then is a decent, sometimes even stately, set of B-movie variations on “Godfather” themes. Imagine if Don Corleone’s impetuous son Sonny were as vilely disloyal to the family as Fredo.

That’s just the skeleton on which to hang the nonstop action, much of it in the most ridiculously stylized martial arts mode, e.g. bank teller lines of marauders taking their turns at getting crushed heads and slit innards and colliding into cement walls with sickening thuds.

I thought the original “Raid” may have been the most violent film I’d ever seen. And to the degree that could be quantifiably disputed, the whole question seemed to me a distinction without a difference. In its epic length “The Raid 2” that’s still true.

After “The Raid,” you needn’t have been a genius to know a sequel was coming. I dreaded it. I’ve now seen it and I was right to dread it.

The action and choreography are indeed amazing. But an infantile celebration of brutality is the movie’s only point. We’re watching cartoons that pride themselves on giving you real blood and gorily split craniums.

Does anyone mind if I ask why? If you can sit through it, the movie also seems to want to know just why at the end.

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Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:57 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ ‘Le-Weekend’ is a life-changing trip to Paris ]]>
The melancholy Dylan scene.

The shocking dinner scene.

And the delightful dancing scene, to name a few.

As the movie opens, Nick and Meg are emerging from the Chunnel on their way to Paris, where they honeymooned, to mark their anniversary. From the start, it is obvious that “celebrate” would be too strong a term for the state of their marriage.

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are flawless as the 60-ish couple. They are far from the people they were when they first wed, but they have been together too long to walk away. Meg copes through sharp verbal jabs; Nick’s weapons are silence and sarcasm.

Even after all these years, they also are still capable of carrying secrets and hiding their feelings and of being nearly as volatile as teenagers. Also, even after all these years, romantic sparks remain, and their genuine affection for one another still makes it to the surface – once in a while, anyway.

As Meg, Duncan has none of the joie de vivre we saw when she was “the crazy blonde” in “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Here she is going gray, getting old and often getting angry. She wants more from life, and Paris suggests how much she has missed.

Broadbent brings to Nick the subtle and all-too-common air of a man who quit trying to reach his potential ages ago and now is paying the price. It isn’t hard to see why Meg feels let down – not that she has helped any. So when Nick brings them to the very beige and nondescript hotel that he’s booked for their weekend, Meg cracks.

With Nick chasing behind, she makes a break for it, and they land instead in an unaffordable palatial suite where Tony Blair is said to have stayed. “As long as they’ve changed the sheets,” Nick remarks as he acquiesces.

After enjoying their stunning view of the Eiffel Tower and breaking into the well-stocked mini-bar, Nick and Meg set out in their argyle and tweed to re-create their romance. It is hit and miss, as their sightseeing is interrupted by calls from a deadbeat son. A highlight is a visit to Montparnesse Cemetery, where they pay respects to Beckett and Sartre.

The mood swings continue through meals and those moments:

Nick in his underwear, listening to “Like a Rolling Stone” on his iPod as it asks him, “How does it feel to be on your own, like a complete unknown,” and you see his heart breaking.

The couple at the home of Nick’s obnoxious Oxford pal, played fearlessly by Jeff Goldblum with no effort to endear himself whatsoever. In their own way, Meg and Nick each confront perception with their reality, with Nick’s dinner speech a masterpiece of self-revelation.

We think that’s the big pay-off, that their penultimate romp from the overpriced hotel is another of Michell’s nods to madcap cinema before things wind down to some sort of resolution. And it is.

But the resolution is so sweetly irresistible it will have you heading to YouTube for more. Your search terms: Jean-Luc Godard. “Bande à Part.” And “dance.”

Ah, Paris. Life can be good.

Le week-end

3 stars

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum

Director: Roger Michell

Running time: 93 minutes

Rating: R for language and some sexual content.

The Lowdown: Comedy-drama of a British couple spending their 30th anniversary in Paris and bringing too many of their problems with them.

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Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:32 -0400 Melinda Miller
<![CDATA[ Frowning at ‘The Face of Love’ ]]>
Usually, his weed liked him back. It made him loving and generous and convivial. To listen to him talk on that Mexican getaway from Los Angeles, it made both tequila and life taste better.

Until he got high and went for a late-night swim and drowned.

It’s difficult to know exactly which dulled capacity led to death in his well-baked state but it’s the weed that his widow blames for the death that left her bereft.

Flash forward five years. His widow – who used to haunt the Los Angeles Art Museum all the time – goes back to it one day. And there, on a bench in the open sunshine, is a man who is a dead ringer for her dead husband. He’s played by the same actor, Ed Harris.

He’s the double that, in the questionable folk wisdom, we’re all supposed to have somewhere in the world – and, if not that, the double that has been fueling our fictional narratives, high, low and in-between, for a millennium or so (certainly since the 19th century in a concentrated way.)

To say that she misses her late husband doesn’t begin to cover it. She’s been completely adrift since his death. She has apparent wealth, a spectacular house he designed (the house is Annette Bening’s most important co-star in the film, believe me) and a daughter in her mid-20s who’s searching for romantic permanence.

That sudden apparition on the museum bench is too much. She finds out from his Jeep Wagon windshield that he’s got a faculty parking sticker at Occidental College. She looks him up on the school’s website, stalks him (essentially) and begins a relationship with him.

“The Face of Love” is a kind of granddaughter of “Vertigo,” and a distant upscale Los Angeles sister of the dark and creepy current Toronto doppelganger fantasy “Enemy,” with its mind-boggling ending.

The trouble here – and I’m afraid it’s close to fatal to “The Face of Love” – is that its ending is absolutely dreadful. It is, to coin a phrase, all wet (i.e. beyond soggy). Any tantalizing Hitchcockian vibes you were getting from the film – especially from its droplets of pseudo-Bernard Herrmann music – were a bit of a conjurer’s trick on the part of director and co-writer Arie Posin, who seemed to have the Lifetime or Oxygen TV networks on his mind.

I have no doubt that some will leave the theater satisfied with what they’ve just seen but I wasn’t one of them.

Posin is certainly a stylish filmmaker on the level of cinematic technique (the house the film was made in helped a lot). And his stars, Bening and Harris are grand cinematic company for 92 minutes of screentime, especially Bening, who is always a pleasure to watch on the job and who has made far too few films while living a complicated domestic life with husband Warren Beatty. (See “Star,” the Beatty biography by Peter Biskind.)

It was wonderful, in theory, to see her again in a small indie fantasy co-starring Robin Williams in the stereotyped Gig Young/David Wayne best friend role.

But the expression on the faces of a lot of us when the film is over will not be those of love. They will be something else entirely.

If you want a doppelganger movie this evening, “Enemy” is the one that will clear out the memory of this in a hurry.

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Wed, 9 Apr 2014 16:07:27 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Mickey Rooney: A lifetime full of entertainment and drama ]]> LOS ANGELES – Mickey Rooney’s approach to life was simple: “Let’s put on a show!” He spent nine decades doing it, on the big screen, on television, on stage and in his extravagant personal life.

A superstar in his youth, Rooney was Hollywood’s top box-office draw in the late 1930s to early 1940s. He epitomized the “show” part of show business, even if the business end sometimes failed him amid money troubles and a seesaw of career tailspins and revivals.

Pint-sized, precocious, impish, irrepressible – perhaps hardy is the most-suitable adjective for Rooney, a perennial comeback artist whose early blockbuster success as the vexing but wholesome Andy Hardy and as Judy Garland’s musical comrade in arms was bookended 70 years later with roles in “Night at the Museum” and “The Muppets.”

Rooney died Sunday at age 93 surrounded by family at his North Hollywood home, police said. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office said Rooney died a natural death.

There were no further details immediately available on the cause of death, but Rooney did attend Vanity Fair’s Oscar party last month, where he posed for photos with other veteran stars and seemed fine. He also was shooting a movie at the time of his death, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” with Margaret O’Brien.

He was nominated for four Academy Awards over a four-decade span and received two special Oscars for film achievements, won an Emmy for his TV movie “Bill” and had a Tony nomination for his Broadway smash “Sugar Babies.”

“I loved working with Mickey on ‘Sugar Babies.’ He was very professional, his stories were priceless and I love them all ... each and every one. We laughed all the time,” Carol Channing said.

A small man physically, Rooney was prodigious in talent, scope, ambition and appetite. He sang and danced, played roles both serious and silly, wrote memoirs, a novel, movie scripts and plays and married eight times, siring 11 children.

His first marriage – to the glamorous, and taller, Ava Gardner – lasted only a year. But a fond recollection from Rooney years later – “I’m 5 feet 3, but I was 6 feet 4 when I married Ava” – summed up the man’s passion and capacity for life.

Rooney began as a toddler in his parents’ vaudeville act in the 1920s. He was barely 6 when he first appeared on screen, playing a midget in the 1926 silent comedy short “Not to Be Trusted,” and he was still at it more than 80 years later, working incessantly as he racked up about 250 screen credits in a career unrivaled for length and variety.

“I always say, ‘Don’t retire – inspire,’” Rooney said in an interview with the Associated Press in March 2008. “There’s a lot to be done.”

This from a man who did more than just about anyone in Hollywood and outlasted pretty much everyone from old Hollywood.

Rooney was among the last survivors of the studio era, which his career predated, most notably with the lead in a series of “Mickey McGuire” kid comedy shorts from the late 1920s to early ’30s that were meant to rival Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” flicks.

After signing with MGM in 1934, Rooney landed his first big role playing Clark Gable’s character as a boy in “Manhattan Melodrama.” A year later, still only in his mid-teens, Rooney was doing Shakespeare, playing an exuberant Puck in Max Reinhardt’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which also featured James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland.

Rooney soon was earning $300 a week with featured roles in such films as “Riff Raff,” “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Captains Courageous” and “The Devil Is a Sissy.”

Then came Andy Hardy in the 1937 comedy “A Family Affair,” a role he would reprise in 15 more feature films over the next two decades. Centered on a kindly small-town judge (Lionel Barrymore) who delivers character-building homilies to troublesome son Andy, it was pure corn, but it turned out to be golden corn for MGM, becoming a runaway success with audiences.

“I knew ‘A Family Affair’ was a B picture, but that didn’t stop me from putting my all in it,” Rooney recalled.

Studio boss Louis B. Mayer saw “A Family Affair” as a template for a series of movies about a model American home. Cast changes followed, most notably with Lewis Stone replacing Barrymore in the sequels, but Rooney stayed on, his role built up until he became the focus of the films, which included “The Courtship of Andy Hardy,” “Andy Hardy’s Double Life” and “Love Finds Andy Hardy,” the latter featuring fellow child star Garland.

He played a delinquent humbled by Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in 1938’s “Boys Town” and Mark Twain’s timeless scamp in 1939’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Rooney’s peppy, all-American charm was never better matched than when he appeared opposite Garland in such films as “Babes on Broadway” and “Strike up the Band,” musicals built around that “Let’s put on a show” theme.

One of them, 1939’s “Babes in Arms,” earned Rooney a best-actor Oscar nomination, a year after he received a special Oscar shared with Deanna Durbin for “bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.”

He earned another best-actor nomination for 1943’s “The Human Comedy,” adapted from William Saroyan’s sentimental tale about small-town life during World War II. The performance was among Rooney’s finest.

“Mickey Rooney, to me, is the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with,” “Human Comedy” director Clarence Brown once said.

Brown also directed Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor in 1944’s horse-racing hit “National Velvet,” but by then, Rooney was becoming a cautionary tale for early fame. He earned a reputation for drunken escapades and quickie romances and was unlucky in both money and love. In 1942 he married for the first time, to Gardner, the statuesque MGM beauty. He was 21, she was 19.

They divorced a year later. Rooney joined the Army, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.

When he returned to Hollywood, disillusionment awaited him. His savings had been stolen by a manager and his career was in a nose dive. He made two films at MGM, then his contract was dropped.

“I began to realize how few friends everyone has,” he wrote in one of autobiographies. “All those Hollywood friends I had in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941, when I was the toast of the world, weren’t friends at all.”

His movie career never regained its prewar eminence. “The Bold and the Brave,” a 1956 World War II drama, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. But mostly, he played second leads in such films as “Off Limits” with Bob Hope, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” with William Holden, and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” with Anthony Quinn.

In the early 1960s, he had a wild turn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” as Audrey Hepburn’s bucktoothed Japanese neighbor, and he was among the fortune seekers in the all-star comedy “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”

Rooney’s starring roles came in low-budget films such as “Drive a Crooked Road,” “The Atomic Kid,” “Platinum High School,” “The Twinkle in God’s Eye” and “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”

But no one ever could count Rooney out. He earned a fourth Oscar nomination, as supporting actor, for 1979’s “Black Stallion,” the same year he starred with Ann Miller in the Broadway revue “Sugar Babies,” which brought him a Tony nomination and millions of dollars during his years with the show.

“I’ve been coming back like a rubber ball for years,” Rooney wisecracked at the time.

In 1981 came his Emmy-winning performance as a disturbed man in “Bill.” He found success with voice roles for animated films such as “The Fox and the Hound,” “The Care Bears Movie” and the blockbuster “Finding Nemo.”

“He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that ever lived. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Singing, dancing, performing ... all with great expertise,” Margaret O’Brien said. “I was currently doing a film with him, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” I simply can’t believe it. He seemed fine through the filming and was as great as ever.”

Over the years, Rooney also made hundreds of appearances on TV talk and game shows, dramas and variety programs. He starred in three short-lived series: “The Mickey Rooney Show” (1954); “Mickey” (1964); and “One of the Boys” (1982). A co-star from “One of the Boys,” Dana Carvey, later parodied Rooney on “Saturday Night Live,” mocking him as a hopeless egomaniac who couldn’t stop boasting he once was “the number one star … IN THE WO-O-ORLD!”

A lifelong storyteller, Rooney wrote two memoirs: “i.e., an Autobiography” published in 1965, and “Life Is Too Short” in 1991. He also produced a novel about a child movie star, “The Search for Sonny Skies,” in 1994.

In the autobiographies, Rooney gave two versions of his debut in show business. First he told of being 1½ and climbing into the orchestra pit of the burlesque theater where his parents were appearing. He sat on a kettle drum and pretended to be playing his whistle, vastly amusing the audience.

The second autobiography told a different story: He was hiding under the scenery when he sneezed. Dragged out by an actor, the toddler was ordered to play his harmonica. He did, and the crowd loved it.

Whatever the introduction, Joe Yule Jr., born in 1920, was the star of his parents’ act by the age of 2, singing “Sweet Rosie O’Grady” in a tiny tuxedo. His father was a baggy-pants comic, Joe Yule, his mother a dancer, Nell Carter. Yule was a boozing Scotsman with a wandering eye, and the couple soon parted.

While his mother danced in the chorus, young Joe was wowing audiences with his heartfelt rendition of “Pal o’ My Cradle Days.” During a tour to California, the boy made his film debut in 1926’s “Not to Be Trusted.”

The Mickey McGuire short comedies that followed gave him a new stage name, later appended, at his mother’s suggestion, to the last name Rooney, after vaudeville dancer Pat Rooney.

After splitting with Gardner, Rooney married Betty Jane Rase, Miss Birmingham of 1944, whom he had met during military training in Alabama. They had two sons and divorced after four years. (Their son Timothy died in September 2006 at age 59 after a battle with a muscle disease called dermatomyositis.)

His third and fourth marriages were to actress Martha Vickers (one son) and model Elaine Mahnken.

The fifth Mrs. Rooney, model Barbara Thomason, gave birth to four children. While the couple were estranged in 1966, she was found shot to death in her Brentwood home; beside her was the body of her alleged lover, a Yugoslavian actor. It was an apparent murder and suicide.

A year later, Rooney began a three-month marriage to Margaret Lane. She was followed by a secretary, Caroline Hockett – another divorce after five years and one daughter.

In 1978, Rooney, 57, married for the eighth – and apparently last – time. His bride was singer Janice Darlene Chamberlain, 39. Their marriage lasted longer than the first seven combined.

After a lifetime of carrying on, he became a devoted Christian and member of the Church of Religious Science. He settled in suburban Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles west of Los Angeles. In 2011, Rooney was in the news again when he testified before Congress about abuse of the elderly, alleging that he was left powerless by a family member who took and misused his money.

“I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated,” Rooney told a special Senate committee considering legislation to curb abuses of senior citizens. “But above all, when a man feels helpless, it’s terrible.”

That year Rooney took his stepson Christopher Aber and others to court on allegations that they tricked him into thinking he was on the brink of poverty while defrauding him out of millions and bullying him into continuing to work. At the time, Aber declined to comment on the suit except to say, “this lawsuit is not from Mickey Rooney – it’s from his conservators who are stealing from him.” The New York Times reported that the suit was settled last year.

Mon, 7 Apr 2014 23:37:19 -0400 By Anthony McCartney


<![CDATA[ ‘Child’s Pose’ is a tight, infuriating drama ]]>
Opening Friday, “Child’s Pose” – nothing to do with yoga here – is a tight, infuriating drama about a privileged woman bulldozing her way into a terrible situation to manage her neglectful adult son out of the punishment he deserves. Audiences hopeful that the restored North Park would honor its “art house” potential will cheer this award-winning film for its intensity and dedication to the inner workings of the human conscience, even when that conscience is conveniently silent.

Cornelia (Gheorghiu), a designer and architect in the free but casually corrupt atmosphere of modern-day Bucharest, enjoys all the luxuries her success can buy her in the post-Soviet world. Expensive cars, a beautiful home, important friends and a child who wants nothing to do with her.

Her pain is buried so deeply under her anger that it is hard to feel sympathy for Cornelia. She blames her son’s girlfriend, she blames her husband, she blames everyone but the spoiled young man who drives his car too fast, too aggressively, and winds up running down and killing a child.

That is Cornelia’s signal to act, her chance to force Barbu, her son, to appreciate her.

Arriving at a distant police station in a sweep of fur and purpose, Cornelia reins in her self-importance long enough to avoid offending the dead child’s family before reaching her son (Bogdan Dumitrache) and making her intentions clear. In front of the local police, who are suitably cowed, she instructs her son to rewrite his statement about the accident. He was NOT going 140 km, she says. Put down 110.

Barbu, her “poor boy,” sullenly does as instructed, and it isn’t long before the police are bending to her will, asking for and being granted “favors,” and even advising her on who to strong-arm next. Cornelia is well on her way to her goal.

In scene after scene, Cornelia’s need to control is wickedly revealed: A conversation with the housekeeper she conveniently shares with her son becomes an interrogation; a visit to get clothes from his apartment invades his space and privacy; and then there is the genuinely creepy massage she gives Barbu under the pretext of putting medication on his back.

We see her at the best of her worst when she meets with the other driver involved in the crash, an arrogant man who feels no responsibility and who comfortably sizes up Cornelia and nearly matches her in his selfishness as they negotiate his price for lying. The sterile mall cafe setting adds a normalcy to the exchange that is chilling.

“Child’s Pose” won the Golden Bear at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival and took home Romania’s version of the Oscars for its acting and screenplay.

And that is where director Calin Peter Netzer puts his attention. All the money in the production is seen in the trappings of Cornelia’s life – her home, clothes and cars – and not in any fancy sets, innovative lighting or clever cinematography. Almost documentary in style, it looks like it could have been filmed with a cellphone.

We are, in a sense, holding that phone, riding along with Cornelia as a companion – let’s not say friend – and tracking the action. We may not care much about her or how things work out, but we do watch in wonder at how she gets there.

child’s pose

3 stars

Starring: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Ilinca Goia and Natasa Raabames

Director: Calin Peter Netzer

Running time: 112 minutes

Rating: Unrated, but PG-13 equivalent for profanity and adult conversations.

The Lowdown: An affluent Bucharest woman tries to use her son’s car accident as a way to get control of his life by keeping him out of jail. In Romanian with subtitles.

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Wed, 2 Apr 2014 16:15:23 -0400 Melinda Miller
<![CDATA[ ‘Captain America’ is a world-saver from the old school ]]>
Not bad for a guy who is 95. Not bad at all. But then he’s had a lot of rest.

I can’t say that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the most fun I’ve ever had at a Marvel Comics CGI fest. But I can honestly say that I’ve never had more fun at a Marvel Comics movie than I had at this one – not at an “Avengers” movie or a hip Jon Favreau “Iron Man” movie either.

And no small part of that is that the ratio of CGI to old-school stunts, fights and shoot-ups is considerably lower than it often is. I’m not saying there isn’t a ton of CGI in this thing – of course an army of computer animators was involved; it’s a Marvel Comics movie for pity’s sake. But it’s the wild fight scenes and crazy swooping stunts and squib-gobbling bullet riddling special effects that make it as much fun as it is. In other words, this is a Marvel CGI movie with bloodlines to a James Bond or “Die Hard” movie.


And along with it, the script is full of good, droll wisecracks and has an unusually tantalizing ’40s serial take on the standard-issue bad guys intent on world domination and the return of social order uber alles.

As long as total candor’s involved, I need to mention that one member of this team of scriptwriters – Christopher Markus (his partner is Stephen H. McFeely) – is a family friend whom I’ve known since he was a funny kid at St. Joe’s.

I could, quite frankly, have done without a bit of techno soldier-speak in the first hour, not to mention the movie’s slightly off-putting way of assuming that every audience member has a crazed fan’s avid memory of exactly where we left off last time around with Captain America.

The movie begins a bit too much in the middle for some of us slower learners and lip-readers and non-fanboys out in the audience. But once all systems are go, it’s a great deal of fun, as much from the writers’ keyboards as any place else.

I promise I’m not burying the lead here, too, but I’d certainly be remiss if I didn’t hasten to add at this point that Scarlett Johansson makes a great superhero sideback as Natasha. The biggest news of all: Robert Redford, in his 77th year on earth, has finally decided to stop being so all-fired timid and cautious as an actor and start doing things on screen he should have done 20 or 30 years ago when he got himself stuck in Romantic Hero and Crusading Idealist gear.

Now that his movie romancing days have ended, he can spend whole films fighting bad weather at sea (see the astonishing “All is Lost”) and being the sort of all-American fascist who’s happy to see 20 million carefully selected people dead for the sake of the security of 7 billion. “To build a better world sometimes means tearing the old one down,” he says full of Redford rectitude now used in a brand new way on screen. (Earlier, his character kind of tipped his hand a bit by telling a member of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s World Security Council “I don’t care about one boat, I care about the fleet.”)

Even block-headedly heroic Charlton Heston knew how good a villain he’d make – see him play Cardinal Richelieu in Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies. It’s high time Redford played smarter as an actor.

The diabolically clever trick of these Captain America movies is that they’ve taken an old superhero of World War II fantasies – an ultimate soldier now in red, white and blue tights armed with nothing but a shield – and, through comic-style scientific hocus pocus turned him into a hugely sympathetic floundering fish out of water, played by the engagingly human Chris Evans.

He makes for a nice movie center when you’ve got him in the middle of Johansson as the beauteous, acrobatic and smoky-voiced Natasha, Samuel L. Jackson as the rakish, cynical, one-eyed head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Anthony Mackie as the Captain’s new flying buddy, Falcon, a sort of Recovery movement Icarus too smart to fly into the sun.

Nor are they the only merry cast featured in this “Captain America” movie. Would you believe a delicious walk-on by the always eloquently whiny Garry Shandling and a major role for a now-mature Jenny Agutter, who first registered with some size in the movie world as a naked teen in Nicolas Roeg’s visionary masterpiece “Walkabout?”

That’s the secret with these Marvel Comic fantasias. All the splendid CGI in the world, for instance, isn’t going to get a leaden Thor movie (the original, for instance) off the ground if it’s – to steal a wonderful Southern rural locution I heard once – dumber than a barrel of hair.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is so much smarter than it needed to be – and so much more excitingly filmed in traditional big action-adventure style by veteran TV brothers Anthony and Joe Russo that it’s awfully smart stuff for the kind of movie that it is.

“What makes you happy?” someone asks Captain America at one point.

“I don’t know” says the chronologically adrift 95-year-old superhero who looks as if he’s in his 20s.

What made me popcorn movie happy, I confess without shame, was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

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Wed, 2 Apr 2014 00:24:14 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ ‘The Lunchbox’ is an exquisite tale ]]>
Nominations in the category are made by the country, which means that every bit of two-bit homegrown political backbiting and local incomprehension can torpedo a truly great film from even having a chance at winning an Oscar, much less actually winning one. Despite unanimous critical and audience affection and a strong showing at international film festivals, “The Lunchbox” was passed over in India for something else.

It’s a small bilingual film made in Mumbai in English and Hindi with subtitles. It’s about a widower and claims adjuster in a government agency about to retire after the sort of 35-year record of impeccable work that has made him an office bulwark.

It’s also about a lovely young woman with an adorable young daughter (“Don’t walk under trees,” she tells her on mornings threatening rain) and a husband whose dirty laundry is about to offer up aromatic evidence of an affair.

On a day before that, though, the woman packs a lunch to be delivered to her husband at work. Their relationship has slackened so she’s received culinary advice from her unseen “auntie” living in the apartment directly over hers. They communicate by yelling at each other outside the back window and by lowering and raising baskets of food. She makes something especially delicious to reawaken her husband’s passion through his taste buds.

Unfortunately, her lunch is delivered to the wrong man – the soon-to-retire widower – by those who deliver lunchboxes from wives, restaurants and cafes. They’re called dabbawalas in Mumbai and, in this case, the deliverer gets it very wrong.

When the future retiree discovers how delicious his erroneously delivered lunch was – and polishes off every drop and crumb – he writes a note to whoever prepared it.

What is thereby begun is an epistolary romance between a melancholy older man and a lovely young mother whose marriage is slowly but inexorably fading into oblivion.

It’s the emotional subtlety with which all this is handled that makes it so exquisite. We are watching gently parallel lives as they ever-so-slowly come close to the point where parallel lines change course and meet.

At the same time, we’re watching the plot of the man’s retirement and imminent replacement by an eager but raw young man who, in his pronounced psychic disarray, somehow gets through to the older man and forges a sensitive outsider’s bond with him.

The Indian actors here are wondrous: Irrfan Khan, as the reserved and sad-eyed older man astir with tender feelings he’d long since forgotten, and Nimrat Kaur as the beautiful young woman whose exchange of notes with a man she’s never met is emboldening her to think outside of a life that has come to neglect her utterly.

The resolution is wistful and incomplete and all the lovelier for being so. What we know at the end is more than enough: They’ve touched each other profoundly.

In so doing, they’ve touched us.

The Lunchbox

3½ stars

Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Director: Ritresh Batra

Running time: 105 minutes

Rating: PG for smoking and thematic material.

The Lowdown: Much-acclaimed Indian film in which the wrong lunchbox is delivered to a claims specialist in Mumbai who develops a relationship with the woman who created it. In Hindi and English with subtitles.

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Wed, 2 Apr 2014 16:15:18 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ ‘Noah’: A soap opera where Dad has the universe’s most demanding boss and no specific love for any individual animals ]]>
Here is a relatively complete list of people who may be happy with the film: conservationists, those Comic-Con folks who believe in the primacy of special effects in movie fantasies, crusading vegetarians, soap opera fans and devoted adherents to the decidedly dubious notion that there’s nothing in any story that’s ever been told in the history of civilization that couldn’t be improved by a Hollywood rewrite.

Let’s be blunt: I really wanted to like Aronofsky’s “Noah” – every penny’s worth of its supposed $130 million budget. I have been avidly interested in everything he’s done since he made, for $60,000, one of the most astonishingly creative major film debuts by an American filmmaker of the past 25 years, “Pi,” an amazing film about a number theorist that didn’t stint on mathematics.

And then, after that, came a succession of challenging, obsessive, uncompromised films few others would have undertaken: “The Wrestler,” “Black Swan,” “Requiem for a Dream.”

How wrong could he go with “Noah”? We’re talking about one of the greatest stories ever told in that universally known repository of some of the greatest stories in the history of our species. The tale of Noah is the first apocalypse story of them all and arguably the best. Whatever one’s feelings about the Bible as Revealed Truth (Noah, remember, was supposedly 600 years old when it all happened), it is uncontestably a majestic, near-inexhaustible source of some of the greatest stories we know.

Sure, we’re used to it now in the comedian’s version – Bill Cosby’s wonderful take (“Lord? What’s an ark?”) and Steve Carrell’s considerably less wonderful “Evan Almighty,” – but that doesn’t mean that a provably brilliant filmmaker shouldn’t take a whack at taking it seriously on film.

Somewhat incredibly, the best “Noah” story on film remains John Huston’s version in “The Bible: In the Beginning,” from 1966. In that one, a great filmland megalomaniac and moneybags (Dino DeLaurentis) had the bright idea of doing the Bible, start to finish, on film with the greatest talents in movies, only to see them all drop out but Huston, always game for an absurd challenge and a quick way to settle gambling debts.

When you watch Russell Crowe play Noah, you’re watching a big-hearted fanatic and near-clinical depressive. The news that mankind had become so wicked that his deity was going to wipe everyone out except inhabitants of a big boat could depress anyone.

Huston, on the other hand, decided to play Noah himself after trying and failing to lure Charlie Chaplin back to do it. His version of Noah – which I now, officially, love compared to Crowe’s – is a kind of genial host to all of the earth’s creatures at a very peculiar apocalypse and end of the world party. When he gets drunk later in the tale (it’s all in Genesis; tradition has it that Noah was the first ever to get drunk), Huston, a famous tippler, was clearly in his element.

I wouldn’t dream of pretending there’s nothing to see in this version of “Noah.” But it’s not enough – not nearly so for me, anyway. Because of the actors involved and the primal soap opera difficulties of Noah’s family – the primal rivalry of sons Shem and Ham, the barrenness of Ila – the emotions can be moving and the flood scenes can be impressive.

Unfortunately, almost comically bad are the “watchers,” fallen angels once made of light but now monsters made of stone. They’re the family’s protectors and day-laborers building the ark.

None of it is enough. The Scripture’s writers were incomparably better.

The movie is like a grand, majestic soap opera where Dad has the most demanding boss in all of creation and is going a little crazy because of it – which is a huge trial to his whole family.

If no one minds me raising my hand to ask an appallingly obvious question, what the devil is the point of spending $130 million in a story of Noah and the Ark giving the animals the shortest of short shrifts?

We do get some impressive CGI when, in the space of minutes, all the birds and then all the snakes and reptiles show up two by two for heavenly duty on the H.M.S. Noah.

But, after that, forget it. No individual animals really are either cute or scary. Naameh –Mrs. Noah (Jennifer Connelly) – develops some knockout incense for the animals and the whole ark full of critters is asleep throughout the movie. And, there, I say, went all the of the potential fun to be had in 138 minutes of screen time.

In doing some research, I encountered some great Noah tales from Jewish folklore – that, for instance, the ark’s notable sanitation problems caused Noah to create two new animals. He passed his hand over the elephant who then gave birth to a pig to devour the filth. Then, to deal with the exploded rat population, he rubbed the lion’s nose and created a cat which took care of the growing army of rats.

All of which is infinitely more creative and better than anything you’ll see in Aronofsky’s “Noah.”

For the record, Anthony Hopkins, as always, is tonally perfect as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather.

The movie certainly has its moments from Connelly and Emma Watson, too.

But it seems to me that if asked to contribute to a focus group responding to Aronofsky’s “Noah” movie, Jehovah might well quote the rhyme from the spiritual repeated in his greatest book by James Baldwin: “The Lord gave Noah the rainbow sign/No more water, the fire next time.”

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Fri, 28 Mar 2014 16:03:00 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ ‘Enemy’ is deeply disturbing doppelganger tale ]]>
No matter what, I assure you you’ll have a very lively conversation in the car on the way home (or wherever), but you’ll have a lot more to chew on if you’ve paid attention.

The film ends very differently from the novel on which it’s based by Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago. A great deal of Saramago’s novel “The Double” corresponds to what happens in the film – just not the ending which is another matter entirely. So don’t search there for clarity. The ending is by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve and his screenwriter Javier Gullon.

Obviously, it’s in the great doppelgänger tradition of Western storytelling, the tradition where you’ll find Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “William Wilson,” Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novella and E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale both called “The Double,” Joseph Conrad’s story “The Secret Sharer,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and any number of others.

The tale here from Villeneuve – whose later impressive and ultra-dark film opened previously and was called “Prisoners” – is about a mild-mannered Toronto academic named Adam who is told by a chirping colleague that even if he doesn’t like movies, he owes it to himself to see a film called “Where There’s a Way.”

Adam’s sex life with his girlfriend doesn’t seem to be all that satisfying anyway so instead of coming to bed one night, he watches the film on video. And there, in a spear-carrying role in the background, he spots a man who could be his exact double.

Put a trained academic together with a computer and in no time he discovers that the actor doing the flash-by walk-on part in the background is named Daniel Saint-Claire. His real name is Anthony Clare. He has a pregnant wife and he seems to live in an apartment much more high-end than Adam’s grim gigs in the arid apartment buildings found in Mississauga (rather starkly rendered).

He knows he shouldn’t seek him out. So do we in the audience. Even if we didn’t, the creepy droning electronic soundtrack score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans reminds us. But Adam the academic can’t stay away without finding out more.

So he does. What he discovers is that the two not only look exactly alike but sound exactly alike. And not only are their voices identical but the women in their lives could be sisters.

When they meet, the focus shifts to Anthony’s life – suggestions of recklessness and fecklessness, a history of infidelity and tensions with his mother (played by Isabella Rosellini).

Their personalities are very different – cautious, fretful, given to depression for Adam, Anthony given to wildness and a secret life.

Anthony’s wife learns her husband has a double but Adam’s girlfriend is left in the dark.

What these suddenly secret twins eventually concoct is the ancient temptation of all twins in stories – the trading of partners.

What each vaguely unhappy woman discovers during unknowing sex with their partner’s double is a satisfaction she couldn’t get before from her real lover.

And then after that in this dark expressionist tale of Toronto Gothic, you’re entirely on your own, with only your fellow audience members and critics to help you. As I said, Saramago’s original novel can’t explain it for you.

I like the fact that the droning, proto-electronic soundtrack seems to have made a comeback for this kind of creepy thriller (think of T-Bone Burnett’s music for HBO’s “True Detective”).

The movie isn’t long but it doesn’t feel rushed or jangled. Its narrative jostlings, up to the end, are coherent and logical. You’ll need to do some figuring out sometimes to match actor Jake Gyllenhaal with the right character and the right narrative but you’ll have little difficulty.

And then, quite nicely, the movie blows your mind to kingdom come.

An artfully minor horror thriller to disturb your fantasies and dreams for a bit longer than usual.


3 stars

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Isabella Rossellini, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Running time: 90 minutes

Rating: R for nudity, strong sexual content, language and horror film imagery.

The Lowdown: A mild Toronto college professor spots his exact double in a film and can’t stop himself from seeking him out with increasingly dire consequences.

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Thu, 27 Mar 2014 07:04:29 -0400 Jeff Simon
<![CDATA[ Jason Bateman knows all the ‘Bad Words’ ]]>
As it turns out, Guy’s motivation for trying to destroy everything the spelling bee stands for only half explains how this otherwise normal-looking middle-aged man came to despise practically everyone and everything in the world around him.

Jason Bateman, directing his first feature film “Bad Words,” stars as the single-minded sociopath, a man unconcerned about the feelings of others and possibly unaware that others actually have feelings. His manner as he steamrolls his way into the spelling bees (the loophole is that contestants cannot have passed eighth grade, and he never did) is purposeful and guarded, while his language is hateful and vulgar to the extreme. Even when he doesn’t use actual profanities, everything he says sounds like a curse, if it’s not a threat.

Guy’s encounters make you cringe, but like a man on a burning high-wire, it is fascinating to watch.

Bateman, who has made a career as the smart or hapless straight man, owns this character, so cool and understated while making his vile observations that Guy becomes both crazy and believable. He speaks to almost everything with a careless disregard; his meanness might be steeped in obscenity but there is little overt anger.

Guy’s behavior is shocking and can be shockingly funny – the movie is a comedy, but it gets its edge from Bateman’s unflinching commitment to being a jerk.

As it turns out, Guy is only the least likable person in a movie filled with characters who are perfectly comfortable with putting their own interests first. That includes the shameless reporter (Kathryn Hahn) whose Internet “news organization” is sponsoring Guy; the strict spelling bee director (a great Allison Janney) who stops at nothing to try to topple the interloper; the bee’s sanctimonious founder (Phillip Baker Hall) who preaches about his success in dodging any ill consequences from past mistakes; and even Chaitanya Chopra, a doe-eyed little boy and fellow contestant who only wants Guy to be his friend – or so he says.

Out of boredom and an interest in the contents of the kid’s mini-bar, Guy goes along with Chaitanya’s (Rohan Chand) relentless efforts to buddy up. Chaitanya is a winning counterpoint to Guy’s global contempt, cheerfully acknowledging that he has no friends, that his parents treat him like a trained pet and that his favorite word is “subjugate.”

Chaitanya’s only real friend is the computer he studies with: “He’s cool and he’s smart, and that’s why I named him Todd,” he says.

Sensing a chance for gratuitous mischief in his downtime, Guy adopts the little fellow and shows him a whole new world on a vivid, implausible night on the town that includes vulgar pranks, bad driving, shoplifting and a quickie peep show.

Bateman succeeds as a director by not trying to insert the real world in Guy’s life, or by not making us buy into his nasty agenda. As Guy says in narration partway through the film, “I could have stopped then, but that would have required the kind of lessons I was never taught.”

Guy achieves his goal, sort of, and the movie could have stopped then. The fact that it goes on a few minutes more for the “happy” ending just shows that Bateman and screenwriter Andrew Dodge are no match for Guy, who in his version of life would have simply walked away.

Bad Words

3 stars

Starring: Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Rohan Chandames

Director: Jason Bateman

Running time: 89 minutes

Rating: R for profuse profanity, crudity, sexual content and nudity.

The Lowdown: A foulmouthed 40-year-old man uses a loophole to compete in and dominate a national spelling bee for reasons only he knows.

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Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:32:21 -0400 Melinda Miller