This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of October to December 2010


“Cairo Time”-This is a lovely little film, written and directed by Ruba Nadda, a young and very promising Canadian filmmaker. “Cairo Time” is the story of a middle-aged woman named Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) who arrives in Cairo to see her husband, a UN employee, only to find that he is away on business in Gaza. Although upset by his absence, Juliette is distracted by her husband’s friend and former colleague, Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a charming and handsome Cairo native who greets her at the airport and introduces her to the sights of this city on the Nile. This 90-minute film moves at a slow and relaxing pace as Juliette discovers some of the eccentricities of Egyptian men (they mysteriously follow her around) and customs (Tareq’s men-only coffee shop). Patricia Clarkson is effective as a long-married woman curious about her feelings and attraction to a handsome and attentive stranger, although at times her performance seemed a little too phlegmatic. Alexander Siddig’s performance was quite captivating as a man dedicated to making Juliette’s stay in Cairo as pleasant and interesting as possible. The photography, by cinematographer Luc Montepellier, is breathtaking. B+ (12/30/10)


“Salt”-Wow, this thriller surprised me because I wasn’t really expecting much but a lot of special effects and gore. But then again with a director like Phillip Noyce (an Australian who has made such first-rate spy films and thrillers as “The Quiet American,” and “Patriot Games,” and who also made the brilliant and sensitive drama about Australian Aboriginal children, “Rabbit Proof Fence”); the dynamic and always exciting (for one reason or another) Angelia Jolie; and the presence of Liev Schreiber, one of the most talented and appealing actors around, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. For as it turns out, “Salt” is one of the most rock ‘em, sock ‘em exciting and surprising spy thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. Angelina Jolie goes all out (and I really mean all out) as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent married to a German spider expert (August Diehl). She works closely with Ted Winter (Schreiber), until one day a man named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) appears and informs Salt and her colleagues that a secret Russian agent is about to assassinate the Russian president when he appears at the funeral of the American vice-president in New York City in order to stir up enmity against the United States. That agent, he says, is named “Evelyn Salt.” All hell begins to break loose as Salt mysteriously finds it necessary to break her way out of CIA headquarters and is hunted by Agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) accompanied by the confused and disbelieving Ted Winters. “Salt” has twists and turns (what spy thriller doesn’t?), but they are very different in this film from what one would normally expect. Angelina Jolie, who apparently did many of her own stunts, is simply a spectacular action figure in the usually male role of a completely self-reliant and creative spy/agent who has simply no fear. The film is beautifully photographed in Washington, DC, and New York City and its environs, and is loads of fun. When I sat down to watch "Salt" I never would have expected that I would rate it an A- (12/29/10)


“Valhalla Rising”-Mads Mikkelsen (“Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” and “Casino Royale”) gives a powerful performance without saying a single word in this film. He is a one-eyed mute held as a slave by Vikings in approximately 1000 A.D., until he finally frees himself and gains vengeance against his former captors. “Valhalla Rising” is a very slow-moving morality play of sorts. It has a European sensibility, is a little ponderous, and is in English (written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, a Dane who grew up in New York). One-Eye, named by the boy, Are (Maarten Stevenson), who served his captors and now follows him, meets and joins a group of Christians who plan to travel to and “free” the Holy Land. They travel by boat and find themselves in a mysterious fog only to arrive on a river in a beautiful land of forests and mountains, seemingly unpopulated until they start being killed off by unseen people and by each other. It is hard to fathom the purpose of “Valhalla Rising” unless one sees it as a commentary on the fanaticism and ultimate failures of religious zealots when we see the leading Christian promise that he will found, in this newly discovered land, a New Jerusalem that will last a thousand years. And then he is murdered within seconds of his promise. B+ (12/27/10)


"Micmacs”-Co-writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie” and “A Very Long Engagement”) clearly enjoys making eccentric and original films, and “Micmacs” certainly fits the bill. The story centers around Bazil (Dany Boon), a man whose father was killed by a landmine when he was young, and who himself was accidentally shot in the head while working at a videostore, but survives. Bazil, who still has the bullet in his head, has reason to gain revenge against the manufacturers of the landmine and the bullet, and with a crew of very eccentric friends, including Tambouille (Yolande Moreau of "Seraphine"), Fracasse (Dominique Pinon of "Amelie"), an attractive blonde contortionist, La Môme Caoutchouc (Julie Ferrier), and a human calculator, Calculette (Marie-Julie Baup), he does just that. Unfortunately, the players in Bazil’s gang too closely resemble cartoon characters as they engage in a series of ingenious shenanigans (Jeunet’s translation of “micmacs”) aimed at the two arms manufacturers (played with finesse by Andre Dussollier and Nicolas Marié). Although “Micmacs” is clever and its theme is well-aimed, the repetitive humor tended to run out after the message was received. In this case, although the film certainly has its merits, I think "Micmacs" is just a little too clever for its own good. B (12/25/10)


“The Town”-Ben Affleck’s reputation as both an actor and director increases tremendously with this fine flashy and dangerous crime drama. Using the wonderful city of Boston (he was raised in Cambridge) and Boston’s tough Charlestown neighborhood in particular, as his scenic locale, Affleck has made a film that’s beautifully photographed, and contains an intelligent hard-nosed script (written by Affleck, among others) and a brilliant cast to put those words and actions into effect. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a hood who has the smarts to plan difficult bank robberies with the intent of avoiding violence, but whose gang includes the dangerous, on-the-edge James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker”). The film opens with their daring masked robbery of a bank in which the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall of “Vicki Cristina Barcelona”), opens the safe under duress and is then kidnapped by the gang and released without harm. But when Doug finds that she lives not far from where the gang members live, he checks up on her and finds himself attracted to this lovely young woman. Claire, having no idea that Doug was one of the hoods who robbed the bank and kidnapped her, begins a romantic relationship with Doug that has the potential to get her into a great deal of legal trouble with the suspicious FBI. In the background, providing insight into Doug’s painful youth and motivations, are Doug’s imprisoned father (Chris Cooper) and a florist, Fergie Colm (the wonderful British character actor Pete Postlethwaite), an underworld power broker in Charlestown . On the other side are Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) as FBI agent Adam Frawley, aided by agent Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver), who are dead set on finding and stopping the gang. One of the devices that makes “The Town” stand out from so many other crime dramas are the brilliantly frightful masks and costumes used by the gang, including nun habits/face masks that are used to an extremely chilling effect. Virtually the entire cast is outstanding, including Blake Lively who appears as the sad Krista Coughlin, James’ sister, who has been used and abused by a few too many Charlestown hoods, including Doug. This is a memorable film of its genre. Not to be missed. A (12/24/10)


“Exit Through the Gift Shop”-This is an enlightening and entertaining but eccentric and controversial documentary or mockumentary, depending on whether or not you believe the events portrayed. Some insist it’s a true story, but it reminded me of “This is Spinal Tap.” Banksy, a clever and original British street artist who hides his identity, begins by describing a film he was to make, but then tells how it was taken over by a man named Thierry Guetta, the owner of a clothing shop in LA, who describes his ultra-fascination and attachment to a video camera. Thierry is so attached to that camera that he can’t stop filming a variety of street artists in action. With narration by Rhys Ifans, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” introduces Space Invader and Shepard Fairey (famed later for the Obama “Hope” poster) in action. But filming isn’t enough for Thierry. He rather miraculously turns himself into Mr. Brainwash, an amazingly productive street artist of his own who puts on an ultra-commercial show at the former CBS studios in LA. Thierry Guetta is a comedic figure. We never quite see him creating the art he supposedly is responsible for (much of which looks like rip offs from Andy Warhol--Campbell Soup cans, for example--and other famed pop artists) and there is one hysterical scene in which Thierry, after breaking his foot, is pushed around in a wheelbarrow as he attempts to set-up his show. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a commentary on the commercialism of street art and the easy way in which the public is gulled into believing the value the artists have placed on their own work. Some believe Thierry Guetta is actually Banksy, who is only shown in shadows with a disguised voice. Who knows? But “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is quite an interesting and revealing experience about a world that seems to fit perfectly in Hollywood. B+ (12/19/10)


“The Kids Are All Right”-Lisa Cholodenko (“Laurel Canyon”) has put together a smart and pithy film, co-written with Stuart Blumberg, portraying what can only be called an out of the ordinary family. “The Kids Are All Right” is both serious and funny as it explores the difficulties of a lesbian marriage with children (one by each woman, fathered by a single sperm donor). Annette Bening is powerful as Nic, the over-controlling and overbearing doctor spouse of Jules (Julianne Moore), who has pretty much sacrificed her own career to be the housewife/mother, but is now attempting to give herself an identity by starting up a landscaping business. Their two kids, 18-year old Joni (Mia Wasikowska), about to leave for college, and 15-year old Laser (Josh Hutcherson), decide they’d like to meet their sperm donor and they manage to find Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a local restaurant owner who had almost completely forgotten about donating sperm when he was 19. Paul is a little flummoxed when he meets Joni and Laser but is naturally taken with the children he “fathered,” and he gradually enters the family circle despite some initial resistance from Nic. Paul’s presence, though, aggravates some deep-seated antagonisms between Nic and Jules and problems in the relationship between them and their children begin to emerge. Lisa Cholodenko clearly wanted to demonstrate that a lesbian family is no different than other more “standard” families when it comes to the spectrum of marital emotions, including love, sex, power, and jealousies. Annette Bening has deservedly received most of the accolades for her role as a woman who doesn’t realize just how controlling and annoying she can be, but I was also very impressed with Julianne Moore as the more docile partner who finds herself engaging in sexual exploration. It’s the best performance Moore has given in quite some time. In fact the entire cast is first rate. Mark Ruffalo is just right as a man who doesn’t quite know how to deal with his new relations, and just about manages to screw everything up. But I must mention that I was very impressed with young Mia Wasikowska, who was delightful as the title character in “Alice in Wonderland,” and who is powerful in a role requiring a great deal of emotional depth. Recommended. A- (12/18/10)


“Inception”- Because of the hoopla surrounding this film, including the fact that it was named to some top 10 lists and received a Golden Globe nomination, I decided to watch it for a second time on January 2, 2011, after seeing it originally on December 17, 2010. I have modified my comments slightly as a result. Upon second viewing I understood some of what was going on a little better than the first time, but I did not find the story more cohesive the second time and I believe one should not have to watch a film twice to understand it:This sci-fi film centers around a man named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has perfected a way of entering and controlling people’s dreams and stealing ("extracting") whatever he needs for his corporate employers. The film begins with such an invasion, but one that is so hectic and confusing as to leave this viewer utterly perplexed. Cobb is then challenged by a Japanese businessman, Saito (Ken Watanabe), to do an “inception,” in other words, to implant an idea in someone’s brain during a dream-like state, rather than steal something. Cobb accepts the challenge and assembles his team, including designer/architect Ariadne (Ellen Page), his assistant Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Earnes the forger (Tom Hardy), to convince Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to break up his father’s energy conglomerate. But Cobb has a personal demon which disrupts his dream-invasion activities. The death of his wife, Mal, played by Marion Cotillard, is constantly on his mind and she appears at every dreaming opportunity to disrupt Cobb’s activities (the music that’s used to wake up the dreaming characters is a song by Edith Piaf--get the joke?) But it’s not simple enough to enter Fischer’s dream to make an implant. Oh no, they have to enter multiple layers of dreams and fight against bombs and rapid-fire weapons at almost every level (at one point all or some of our heroes are simultaneously asleep on an airplane, in a van falling off a bridge, battling inside a hotel, battling at an armed fortress in the snow, and, even lower, at the limbo Cobb and his wife created--with the snow/fortress scene reminiscent of the climax of a James Bond film). While the plot is not difficult to follow because the intentions of the characters are clear, the immediate events are, especially during the last hour of the film. If you can watch this film and understand in each scene where the characters are, why, and what’s going on, you’re a better person than I am. If you like to see ultra-special effects (and there are some spectacular ones, including the amazing scene of Paris streets folding back on top of each other) and are satisfied by wondering how they were done, and if you like lots of explosions, loud noises, and a loud and annoyingly pulsating score (by Hans Zimmer), this film’s for you. But oh what a bewildering mess it is (one reviewer, Stephanie Zacharek referred to it as "ADD tedium"), especially stretched out over 2 1/2 hours! Writer/director Christopher Nolan got off to a great start in his career with “Memento,” a fine and ingeniously constructed film. But with “The Dark Knight” and now “Inception” he’s gone over to the dark side--the mindless idiocy of cartoon-like characters who fail to create empathy in the viewer, ultra-special effects, numerous explosions, and lots of grenades and rapid-fire weapons. C+ (12/17/10 and 1/2/11)


“Eat Pray Love”-Way back in the early 1970s, it seemed almost everyone was looking for peace and enlightenment. I sought peace of mind in my 20s by practicing yoga and going to an ashram in Virginia. The classic comment I remember from several participants in the program was that they had to get “their s--t together.” Writer Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is a modern version of those people, with seemingly similar root causes for her need for guidance: her poor romantic decisions. When the film begins (and I did not read the book and can’t compare it), Liz is in a bad marriage to Stephen (Billy Crudup). So, the marriage ends on a nasty note and Liz takes up with a young handsome actor, David (James Franco). Although David seems a lot more charming than Stephen, it’s not enough for Liz who had met a “yoda-like” spiritual adviser, Ketut Liyer (Hadi Subiyanto), in Bali on a past travel-writing trip and decides to spend a year in Italy, India, and Indonesia (Bali) trying to find herself (whatever that means!). What follows is primarily a travelogue with lovely scenery in Rome, India, and Indonesia, as Liz always seems to meet just the right sort of people for her. In Rome, she befriends a young Swedish woman, Sofi (Tuva Novotny), makes lots of delightful and supportive friends, and eats plenty of pasta. In India, she lives at an ashram and while there is pushed around, ridiculed, and finally befriended by Richard from Texas (the always wonderful Richard Jenkins of “The Visitor”) who ultimately reveals to her the sad reason why he’s there. And, then she arrives in Bali where she is almost run over by the charming Brazilian, Felipe (Javier Bardem). Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give the impression that Liz has really learned much. Every time she’s confronted with emotional decisions, her face tightens up and she runs. At the end, she makes what appears to be a rather hasty significant life decision, but only after Ketut has virtually told her what to do. So much for enlightenment. “Eat Pray Love” is a pleasant film to watch, even if not terribly enlightening, although I found myself yawning and wishing it would move along a little faster. Also in the cast is the excellent Viola Davis (“Doubt”) as Liz’s New York friend Delia. B (12/11/10)


“Agora”-Director Alejandro Amenábar (“The Sea Inside” and “The Others”) here presents the story of the rise of Christianity in ancient Alexandria, Egypt. And any such tale is also necessarily about the adverse consequences to non-Christians, including the pagans and Jews who also lived there. One of the pagans was a rare species, a female, non-believing philosopher/astronomer, Hypatia (Rachel Weisz). It is rather sad that the story of religion is usually the story of violence and hatred and this movie is certainly a good example of that. It’s the beginning of the 5th Century and the Roman Empire is beginning to lose its power. The pagans, many of them Greeks, who established the great Library of Alexandria are suddenly confronted with an onslaught (literally and figuratively) of Christians, led by Cyril (Sami Samir), portrayed here as a fanatic and murderous religious leader who was one day to be named a Saint. Cyril encourages his hordes to murder as many pagans as possible, then the Jews, and finally non-believers like Hypatia who would not kneel down to “Jesus.” In the legends of history, it is told that Hypatia was stripped and torn to bits by a Christian crowd, but Amenábar eases the story slightly by showing her being killed mercifully by a former slave, who adored her, just before the crowd begins to pummel her with stones. While “Agora” doesn’t have the sharpest script and one wonders about the likely audience for this film, it does do an effective job of establishing its theme. Early Christianity comes off very poorly, while one can’t help but root for Hypatia’s science and enlightenment. Notable in the cast are Michael Lonsdale as Theon, Hypatia’s father; Max Minghella as Davus, the loving slave; and Oscar Isaac as Orestes, one of Hypatia’s very adoring students who became Regent of Alexandria as Cyril was rising to power. B+ (12/10/10)


“Splice”-Whoa! Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody, two fine actors, in a sci-fi horror movie so pathetic it makes me wonder about their careers! Polley, who was making some good films in the late 1990s, plays Elsa Kast, half of a genetics team (the other half is Clive Nicoli, played by Brody) that is detached from modern scientific morality/standards and is creating new life forms by gene splicing for the benefit of their pharmaceutical employer. But Elsa is not content with non-human creations, she decides to mix human DNA with non-human genes to create a humanoid creature. Clive protests frequently but only half-heartedly as he is in a relationship with the more psychologically dominant Elsa (and the film hints at problems in Elsa’s upbringing that may have caused these obsessions), and the product is a female humanoid creature Elsa names Dren (“Nerd” spelled backwards),played by French actress Delphine Chanéac. Although in the early portions of the film, the filmmakers mostly avoid the usual clichés of this sort of genre, unfortunately in the later stages they resort to standard sci-fi horror film silliness/creepiness with lots of blood and death. The film ends with a scene reminiscent of “Rosemary’s Baby,” but on a much less impressive scale. To put it mildly, “Splice” is a creepy and unpleasant mess. D (11/27/10)


“Toy Story 3”-One of the most unusual things occurring in the cinema today is that animated films made by Pixar, obviously aimed at an audience of children, are among the most enjoyable and might I say intelligent films made for adults. Pixar’s screenwriters, directors, and animators are responsible for some of the best films made in recent years, including “Wall-E,” “Cars,” “Up” and “Toy Story.” The animation is breathtakingly realistic, but that wouldn’t be enough without the crisply smart stories being told that bring out all kinds of themes and emotions. “Toy Story 3,” is loaded with themes of family, growing up, friendship, love and loss, and dealing with oppression. Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and Buzz (voice of Tim Allen) and their pals have to face the fact that their owner, Andy, is grown and leaving for college. Although Andy plans to take Woody along to college, and place the rest of the toys in the attic, they all wind up at a day care center where a toy bear with a southern accent (Lotso, voice of Ned Beatty) initially charms them and then turns out to be a repressive dictator. With shades of “Animal Farm,” and a few touches of “Indiana Jones” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” Woody and his friends engage in a thrilling effort to escape Lotso’s clutches and return to Andy. “Toy Story 3” has several brilliantly funny scenes, including a romantic matching of Barbie (voice of Jodi Benson) and Ken (voice of Michael Keaton), and a fashion show that shouldn’t be missed; and a delightful segment in which Buzz Lightyear turns into a Spanish charmer (voiced skillfully by Javier Fernandez Pena). Recommended for all. A- (11/23/10)


“Please Give”- The title of this film, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”) should be an indication of the theme. Something to do with charity? Well, once you meet the characters it’s not that clear. Except that the main character, Kate (Catherine Keener), is obviously so full of guilt that she feels the need to give money and/or food to almost anyone she meets who is homeless or appears so, sometimes with embarrassing results. But why is she guilty? Well, it could be due to the fact that she and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), who live in a fancy apartment building on Fifth Avenue in New York City, seem to take advantage of others by buying the furniture of deceased people from their surviving children and then selling it in their store at extraordinary prices to shoppers with questionable taste and judgment. Or it could be related to the fact that they are eagerly (although they deny it) waiting for the death of their elderly neighbor, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert), so that they can expand their apartment into hers. But while waiting, they wind up meeting Andra’s two granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), a pleasant x-ray technician who seems not to have much of a life, and Mary (Amanda Peet), a spa facial specialist, who seems bitter and sarcastic about life. And then there’s Abby (Sarah Steele), Kate and Alex’s teenage daughter who is pissed that her mother gives more money to strangers than she does to her. “Please Give” is one of those films about city living that dwells on the not particularly uplifting aspects of daily life, including aging, illness, guilt, loneliness, and greed. When Kate goes to look at furniture for sale, the adult children of the deceased seem happy to get rid of their parents’ stuff as fast and as painlessly as possible. In one strange scene at the end, Kate returns a vase to one of those people, a man who had expressed dislike of his mother’s possessions, telling him that she discovered it’s worth $700 and wants him to have it back. As she’s walking away, you can hear the vase break and the man cursing. Did he drop it or did he break it on purpose? It’s not clear, but it seems to represent the general mood of the film. Of the cast, Sarah Steele stands out as the teenager with skin problems and the overwhelming desire for a new pair of jeans. Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) does an amazing job of transforming herself into a tall, gawky, and emotionally repressed young woman. And Amanda Peet is outstanding as the sarcastic sister who can’t believe she was overthrown by her boyfriend, stalks her successor, and ultimately interacts with Alex in a what would seem to be an unlikely way. B (11/20/10)


“The Missing Person”-Written and directed by Noah Buschel, this film received special attention at the Moscow International Film Festival. Somewhat of a moody, lumbering film noir and psychological study, Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) appears as John Rosow, an enervated, alcoholic, cigarette-smoking private eye, who is figuratively dragged out of bed in order for him to follow a man from Chicago to LA on the California Zephyr with no idea why he’s doing it. That Rosow manages to follow the man, Harold Fullmer (Frank Wood), all the way to Mexico, seems more accidental than the result of his detective skills, but Rosow discovers that Fullmer is transporting lost children to a home in Mexico which may or may not be run by drug dealers. “The Missing Person” has an interesting cast of characters who ultimately help explain what’s going on (including a September 11, 2001, connection), although it seemed rather frivolous and confusing. The cast includes Amy Ryan as Miss Charley who initially gives Rosow his assignment and then turns into something more for Rosow; Margaret Colin as Lana Cobb, who seduces Rosow but has another agenda in mind; and John Ventimiglia (“The Sopranos”) as a southern California cabbie with the eccentric name of Hero Furillo and a New York accent. The nature of the characters, especially Rosow, whose personal secrets ultimately come out, seems more the heart of this film than the somewhat silly plot. “The Missing Person” can only be described as an interesting, but not totally successful film noir. B- (11/15/10)


“Winter’s Bone”-This film takes place in the Missouri Ozarks, where it seems every beat-up house, surrounded by various kinds of debris, has members of the extended Dolly family with at least one fairly attractive but rundown woman and one really nasty male. Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17 and caring for her brother, sister, and disturbed mother when she discovers that they are about to lose their home unless their missing father appears for a court date. Ree sets out to find him by asking various family members if they’ve seen her father, only to experience menacing hostility from all. There is obviously something seriously wrong and she needs to discover the truth. Discovering it, however, causes her physical and emotional hardship, until at last she gets some help from her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes of “Deadwood”). Directed by Debra Granik and based on a novel of the same name, “Winter’s Bone” is a haunting view of life in the misery and poverty of the Ozarks and the results of inbreeding. At one point, Ree mentions her blood relation in seeking help from the others, but finds that in this part of the country that doesn’t necessarily mean much since one is related to almost everyone. Jennifer Lawrence gives an impressive performance in a difficult role. John Hawkes does a fine job of changing gradually from hostile to helpful. Also in the cast is Garret Dillahunt (“Deadwood”) as the Sheriff who may be at the heart of the mystery. B+ (11/6/10)


“The Girl Who Played with Fire”-In this part of the trilogy, the story of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" continues, but concentrates on Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who becomes a suspect following the murders of two journalists working on a story for Millenium about young women being sold into prostitution. But not only are they murdered, but also Lisbeth’s guardian, the evil Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), and the gun that killed them has Lisbeth’s fingerprints on it after she carelessly handled it when last visiting Bjurman. Needless to say, although he hasn’t heard from Lisbeth in awhile, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is convinced that Lisbeth is innocent and he sets out to find her. In the process, we learn a great deal about Lisbeth’s background and relatives, although the complete “reveal” will have to wait for the third film in the trilogy, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Again, having read all three books, my view of the film is affected by that fact. The film leaves out a tremendous amount of detail and character development, but that’s what happens when you only have two hours to tell a long story. I also knew coming in that the film leaves the viewer in suspense and for that reason I have to recommend, for those who have not read the books, that they wait for the issuance of the third film on DVD or Blu-ray and then watch at least the last two at the same time or close to it. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is fairly good, considering the circumstances. B (10/31/10)


“Robin Hood”-This is not the good old Robin Hood riding through the glen with his merry band of men. Instead, directed by Ridley Scott (“Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down”) and written by Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone” and “Mystic River”) and others, “Robin Hood” takes a new approach to the old tale and gives us the story of how Robin Hood came about. Instead of King Richard the Lion Hearted being held captive in Europe following his crusade, with Robin Hood fighting all of King John’s evil henchmen/tax collectors, including the Sheriff of Nottingham, in order to protect the people and ransom King Richard, our hero is Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe), an archer in King Richard’s army returning from a crusade which may have involved some atrocities by Richard’s army. When Richard dies with an arrow through his throat while attacking a French castle, at almost the same time the French king is plotting an attack on England with British baron Godfrey (Mark Strong, who seems always to play the bad guy--and does it so well), Robin returns the crown to the royal family and finds himself welcomed in England as Robert Loxley (a knight he pretends to be following Loxley’s death at evil hands), by both Loxley’s father, Sir Walter (Max von Sydow), and wife Marion (Cate Blanchett), although it takes her a little time to warm up. In this film, the Sheriff of Nottingham (Matthew Mcfadyen) is almost an afterthought while the film concentrates on the doings of William Marshall (William Hurt) who ultimately joins forces with “Loxley” and other British barons to help Prince (now King) John (Oscar Isaac) defeat the French. But in the process, the nasty King John makes lots of Magna Carta type promises that he has no intention of keeping and ultimately turns on our hero “Loxley,” an act that leads to that merry band of men we’ve always heard about. In typical Ridley Scott fashion, the action is well done and beautifully filmed. There are lots of battle scenes with arrows flying through the air by the thousands. Russell Crowe seems to have lost some weight and seems acceptable as the film’s hero. Cate Blanchett, as always, is charming as Lady Marion who decides at the end that she really wants to be a knight. The story is a mishmash of history and legend, but in the end a rather appealing take on the old legend. B (10/24/10)


“I Am Love”-This Italian film starring British actress Tilda Swinton has a lot to say about social class, family, and love. But I doubt that the themes are likely to have much impact on an American audience other than deep-thinking movie lovers. Swinton plays Emma Recchi, a Russian woman who met and married a wealthy Italian businessman, Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), in Russia, accepted his proposal and immediately moved to Milan to become the mistress of a powerful household and the mother of two sons and a daughter, now young adults. Emma is obviously taken with her handsome and self-confident son, Edoardo, Jr. (Flavio Parenti), who becomes co-head of the family textile business when his powerful grandfather, Edoardo, Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti) dies and leaves him and his father, Tancredi, in charge. But a combination of events exposes Emma’s utter dissatisfaction with her life. First, Edoardo, Jr., introduces her to an attractive friend and chef, Antonio (Edoardo Gabriellini), with whom he plans to open a restaurant in the mountains, and, second, her daughter, Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), an artist and photographer, reveals that she is a lesbian and moves to London. The family lives by certain upper class Italian rules but Emma is finally feeling that these events and her desires outweigh those rules. Tilda Swinton is excellent as a woman who emerges from the class and family shell in which she has been buried to express shocking emotions, especially after a family tragedy. The rest of the cast is also first-rate, including Flavio Parenti as the son of destiny, Edoardo Gabriellini as Emma’s young lover, and Alba Rohrwacher as the daughter who first finds herself insulted as a photographer by her grandfather and who then chooses to openly live a life with another woman. The film, directed by Luca Guadagnino, has an excellent and appropriate score by John Adams, composer of “Nixon in China.” (Primarily in Italian with some Russian and English, with English subtitles) B+ (10/17/10)


“Vincere”-The Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, is said to have been married first to a woman named Ida Dalser who had a son named Benito Albino Mussolini. History tells us that while Ida claimed to be Mussolini’s real wife, no written evidence of the marriage was ever found and Mussolini married another woman and had several children. “Vincere” is the story of Ida (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and her son Benito Albino (Filippo Timi, who also plays the dictator as Ida’s husband in his early years). Mussolini was initially a socialist and, with Ida’s financial support, started a newspaper. But when he returned from WW I, he became the leader of Italy’s fascist movement. The film provides no explanation for this complete turnaround in his beliefs. But even more so, the film never explains why Mussolini abandons Ida and her son completely. The majority of the film is a somewhat Kafkaesque tale of Ida’s confinement by the government in mental institutions run by Catholic nuns, and ultimately the institutionalization of her son. Filippo Timi is a fairly handsome actor who really looks very little like Mussolini, and the film strangely switches, once Mussolini has become Il Duce, from images of the actor to stock footage of the real Mussolini in action. The images are so completely different that it’s hard to imagine that it’s the same man (there is one weak attempt to have Ida note the differences in his appearance based on photos she’s seen of him). But Timi is effective as both the father and son, and particularly in scenes at the end in which the son impersonates the fanatic speeches of his brutal father. Giovanna Mezzogiorno (“Love in the Time of Cholera”) is a lovely actress who is compelling as the insistent Ida Dalser, a woman who apparently never wavered from her claim to be Mussolini’s real wife and who ultimately died while institutionalized. In Italian with English subtitles. B+ (10/15/10)


“The Square”-This Australian film, directed by Nash Edgerton and written by his brother, Joel Edgerton, who also appears in the film, is an interesting psychological thriller, but with a few holes in the plot. The basic premise is that Raymond Yale (David Roberts), a married middle-aged construction superintendent, is having an affair with the much younger (and also married) Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom, seen recently in HBO’s “The Pacific”). When Carla discovers that her husband has a container full of cash hidden away in the ceiling, undoubtedly from some unspecified illegal activity, she talks Raymond into a plot to steal the money and escape their spouses. While Raymond initially has doubts (and any smart man with a good job and a seemingly decent wife and life would have), he eventually falls for Carla’s proposal and things, not surprisingly, go downhill from there. I’ll leave the plot at that. Suffice it to say that a lot more happens and violence escalates due to a misconception on Raymond’s part about a blackmail attempt until the film reaches a final irony. My biggest complaint is that I can’t imagine a man like Raymond (even though he’s shown to be a mildly dishonest individual at the jobsite) getting involved in such a plan, even if his sexual and social desires are getting the better of him. And one more little complaint. I hate it when filmmakers introduce pets into the plot only to have them killed off. It’s bad enough when the pet is killed as part of the plot, but here a dog dies in what can only be considered a symbolic and gratuitous scene. So “The Square” certainly has merits, but be prepared for a rough and somewhat violent ride. B (10/11/10)


“Art & Copy”-If you’re fascinated about who makes all those ads we watch or look at, or watch “Mad Men” and are curious about the reality of the advertising business, this film is for you. “Art & Copy” is an informative documentary with commentary by some of the greats of the business, such as George Lois, a controversial art director who has claimed responsibility for many classic commercials, including the ads which turned Tommy Hilfiger from an unknown into a star; Lee Clow of TBWA\Chiat\Day the California based firm which created some of the great Apple Computer commercials from “1984” to “Think Different;” and Mary Wells Lawrence who literally changed the colors on Braniff airplanes. And you’ll find out how Nike came up with “Just Do It.” But “Art & Copy” isn’t just about the ad creators, it also introduces us to some of the men who post the ad billboards, scenes which serve to move the film along. Directed by Doug Pray, “Art & Copy” provides some insight into an otherwise mysterious business. B (10/8/10)


“Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky”-Following “Coco Before Chanel,” seen earlier this year and starring Audrey Tautou as Gabrielle Chanel, this film provides a somewhat different and slightly older image of the great French designer. Whereas Audrey Tautou portrayed Coco as an up-and-coming but independently minded novice, in “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) has now become an utterly independent, vastly creative, and self-oriented superstar of French fashion. The film notably begins with a singularly memorable recreation of the 1913 introduction of one of the greatest musical compositions of the 20th Century, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Performed to a highly unusual and imaginative “Indian” ballet choreographed by the great Nijinsky (Marek Kossakowski), the combination of modern rhythmic (think pounding) sounds and dance, performed before an audience (including Coco Chanel) not used to such modernity, leads to a riot. We are then thrust forward in time past World War I to 1920. Chanel is introduced to Stravinsky (Mads Mikklesen). Within a short time, knowing of Stravinsky’s financial difficulties, she invites him and his family (including wife Catherine, played by Elena Morozova, and their children) to live with her in her country estate. Although Stravinsky still retains affection for his wife, he soon finds himself utterly seduced by the strong-willed and beautifully coifed Chanel who makes it clear that she has no regrets for her personal actions. Mads Mikklesen (“Casino Royale” and “Flame and Citron”) and Anna Mouglalis engage in lustful communication that seems to take place primarily in their eyes. There is little conversation, and it does wind up in bed to the embarrassment and distress of Catherine who ultimately removes herself and her children from the house. “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” is not so much a story but an analysis of a relationship between two incredibly creative and lustful souls. The film is based on a novel and screenplay by Chris Greenhaigh. That there was a romance between Chanel and Stravinsky in real life is apparently only a rumor. But in this film, the two stars certainly bring it to life. (In French and Russian with English subtitles) B+ (10/2/10)


“The Eclipse”-Written and directed by playwright Conor McPherson, based on a story by Billy Roche (who appears in the film), “The Eclipse” has the advantage of a rather good cast and a nice Irish location, but its supernatural silliness ultimately brings it down to earth. Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds) is a recent widower, a woodworking teacher with two children, who is a volunteer with a local literary festival. Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) is a famous writer who lures Lena Morell (Iben Hjejle), a writer of ghost stories with whom he had a one night fling, to the festival. While the married Holden, an obvious jerk, attempts to establish a relationship with Lena, she finds herself attracted to the far more reticent Michael, her festival driver. Not a bad premise for a romantic tale, but in the midst of all this enters a ghost and lots of scary/eerie sounds in the night (and the corniness of Lena being put up by the festival in a lonely house far from the middle of town). To make it even sillier, it’s the ghost of a person still alive when it first appears. Now that must be a first. Ciarán Hinds, a rather prolific Irish actor, most notable recently for playing Julius Caesar in HBO’s “Rome,” is effective as a rather quiet man still mourning his lost wife while trying to care for two children and deal with his attraction to the lovely Lena. Iben Hjejle, a Danish actress who speaks perfect English and has been in several major films without receiving much attention, is most notable in my memory as John Cusack’s girlfriend in “High Fidelity.” Here, she is a good foil for the men in the romantic triangle. Aidan Quinn has the difficult role of playing an alcoholic creep and he does it to such a degree that one can only describe it as overacting. I won’t say more about the ghost story, but it turns “The Eclipse” into a nonsensical tale that distracts from the main event. C+ (10/1/10)

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