This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of April to June 2012


“We Need to Talk about Kevin”-Frankly, I don’t want to talk about Kevin. But here goes. I found this to be a rather depressing and unlikely film about a rotten kid. The mother, Eva, played by the fine actress Tilda Swinton, is not particularly warm to her newborn son, Kevin, but it’s obvious nevertheless that the kid is malevolent from birth. Is it nurture or nature? This film makes it clear that it’s the latter. The three actors playing Kevin (Rock Duer, as a toddler; Jasper Newell, from ages 6-8, and Ezra Miller, as a teenager) were chosen perfectly because they are just right in showing expressions of utter contempt, without any obvious cause, for anything the mother does. Meanwhile, the boy’s father, Franklin, played by John C. Reilly, is oblivious to any aspect of the kid’s evil nature. This is “The Omen” without any hint of the supernatural. And the film, portrayed via a variety of flashbacks, ends up just about where you’d expect. My recommendation? Skip it. C- (6/24/12)


“Red Tails”-Based on the true-life story of the Tuskegee Airmen (here known as the “Red Tails”), heroic black American fighter pilots stationed in Italy in WW II, this film is unfortunately something of a mess. Loaded with clichés and stereotypes, it’s difficult to watch even as it tries to tell the important story of how African-Americans were treated in the military during the 1940s. Even the battle scenes in the air don’t look like something that was filmed with 21st Century movie magic. And there’s not one performance that really stands out. Nate Parker and David Oyelowo try their best, playing, respectively, Marty “Easy” Julian, the lead pilot of the group, and its “star,” Joe “Lightning” Little, but they don’t have enough charisma to make up for the pitiful script. Bryan Cranston (wonderful in TV’s “Breaking Bad”) is completely wasted in the role of a racist colonel, and Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr., as the officers in charge of the “Red Tails,” aren’t given enough to work with. Daniela Ruah, an American actress (what, they couldn’t find an Italian actress who really speaks Italian?), is miscast as a local Italian woman in a relationship with Little. This film should have been a lot better. The Tuskegee Airmen deserved more. C- (6/22/12)


“London Boulevard”-Mitchel (Colin Farrell) is a thug who gets out of jail with the intent of never returning, only to have Gant (Ray Winstone), a local gangster, try to force him back into illegal activities. Mitchel has other ideas, trying to stay straight, and contemplating a job as a hired handyman for Charlotte (Keira Knightley), a retired actress. But as time goes on, Gant’s pressures grow. “London Boulevard” starts out strong, giving the feeling that it is going to be something new and original. But ultimately it falls into a series of violent gangster film clichés combined with a particularly weak performance by Keira Knightley, an actress whose popularity eludes me. Colin Farrell is always fun to watch no matter the situation and, otherwise, the cast does a good job, especially the wonderful David Thewlis as Jordan, Charlotte’s right-hand man, Anna Friel as Mitchel’s hopeless sister, and Ben Chaplin as Billy Norton, a thug who isn’t quite sure what side he’s on. But overall, "London Boulevard" just doesn't go anywhere. C+ (6/17/12)


“In Darkness”-Directed by the outstanding Polish director, Agnieszka Holland, “In Darkness” tells the painful true-life story of a group of Jews during WW II in Lvov, Poland (now Ukraine), who are hidden in the town’s sewer system to avoid the Nazis. Deservedly nominated for Best Foreign Language film, “In Darkness” is important, powerful and surprisingly riveting considering that much of it takes place “in darkness” in the sewers. Although a little long, considering the depressive nature of the story, the film portrays how prejudice can change into heroics. Robert Wieckiewicz is outstanding as Leopold Socha. a sewer inspector with the same anti-Semitic prejudices as most of his neighbors, who initially helps a group of local Jews into the sewers in exchange for their money and valuables, but who ultimately develops his own humanity, becoming emotionally attached to the people he is protecting from the Nazis. There were times during the film when I couldn’t imagine how the story could carry on in this horrific place, but it does, and the film successfully explores the dangers and difficulties of the 14-month stay of these people below the ground in their dark, dreary, and smelly “home.” Also of note in this excellent cast are Benno Fürmann as Mundek Margulies and Maria Shrader as Paulina Chiger, two of the leaders of the Jews saved by Socha. (In Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish and German with English subtitles) A- (6/15/12)


“We Bought a Zoo”-This film is a pleasant, albeit somewhat cloying endeavor. Animal lovers can’t really go wrong. There are wonderful animals in the film and none are harmed in the production. Matt Damon is Benjamin Mee, a California writer whose wife has died leaving him with two children, including the astoundingly cute seven year old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). When his teenage son, Dylan (Colin Ford), begins to act out and is expelled from school, Mee decides to move the family and winds up buying a house in the country that just happens to be attached to an almost defunct zoo. Despite arguments to the contrary from his accountant brother Duncan (Thomas Haden Church), Mee undertakes to restore the zoo with the help of a group of unpaid employees, including the attractive and zealous zookeeper, Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson). Considering the incredible expense of restoring the property and caring for all the animals (lions and tigers and a bear, oh my), and the unquestioning enthusiasm of the apparently unpaid employees and supporters, the story seems like an absurd fantasy. But in fact it’s based on a book by the real Benjamin Mee who runs the Dartmoor Zoological Park near Plymouth, England. Cameron Crowe, who directed the film, could have stuck closer to reality but I guess it was too tempting, in a story of this nature, to include characters that are simply too good to be true. Maggie Elizabeth Jones is a little darling as Rosie, but so cute as to be ridiculously unbelievable. And there just happens to be the adorably sweet and loving teenager, Lily (Elle Fanning), to calm Dylan’s heart. And then there’s the intriguing possibilities of the adorable Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson characters. “We Bought a Zoo” has some great animal characters and a pleasant cast, but is undermined by the saccharine nature of the plot and some of the characters. C+ (6/9/12)


“Carnage”-Based on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, and directed by Roman Polanski, “Carnage” begins with a scene in which an angry teen hits another with a stick, causing physical damage. The parents of each boy come together to discuss the situation and the discussion, initially amiable on the surface, begins to deteriorate dramatically. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly are Penelope and Michael Longstreet, the parents of the injured boy, who host Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz), parents of the aggressor. “Carnage” is said to be something of a comedy, but not in the sense of laughter-inducing humor. Rather, it is more in the academic sense of bitter satire on the frailties of human interaction and discourse. Whereas initially, the Longstreets, especially Michael, go overboard to accommodate the Cowans and ameliorate the situation, every time the Cowans prepare to leave, realizing that the conversation is going downhill, the script artificially keeps them in the Longstreet’s apartment so that the “carnage” can continue. And as things progress, the battle evolves with petulance from the Longstreets vs. the Cowans, to the husbands vs. the wives. “Carnage” is 75 minutes of blistering verbal abuse, interrupted by a seemingly interminable series of business cell phone calls that Alan receives. I would imagine in real life, Alan would go out in the hall to take these calls. But to serve the dramatic purposes of the play, he talks right in the Longstreet’s living room as if no one else is there and the hostility grows. The four stars provide powerful performances with Jodie Foster especially dramatic as the obvious tension grows in her facial expressions. B+ (6/8/12)


“Shame”-Is this a work of art or a work of porn? Simply because of the intense serious nature of British writer/director Steve McQueen, and the quality of the cast and cinematography, it must be placed in the former category. But if you are squeamish about cinematic nudity and sex, this film is not for you. Michael Fassbender (seemingly in every other movie these days) is Brandon Sullivan, a handsome New York businessman of sorts (it’s never made clear what he does) who is living a life dedicated to a sexual obsession. Whether he’s engaging in intercourse, often intense and rough, with one or two women, pleasuring himself in the office bathroom, checking out female assets in the subway, on the street, or on his laptop, or engaging in gay sex, Brandon has little else going on in his empty life. When he actually gets to know a lovely co-worker, Marianne (Nicole Beharie) on a real dinner date, he’s unable to succeed when they finally wind up in bed. In another revealing scene, Brandon goes to a bar with his married boss, David (James Badge Dale). They meet three women and David does everything in his power to seduce the most attractive, a blonde, while Brandon does nothing. Yet, it is the icily cool, almost pathological, Brandon who finds himself being picked up by the blonde after David has departed. And then Brandon’s sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), arrives (discovered naked in Brandon’s shower), moves into Brandon’s apartment, and it becomes clear that these two are the result of some sort of traumatic upbringing. Their relationship, like everything else, is unhealthy. Sissy, a nightclub singer (who is seen performing an agonizingly slow version of “New York, New York”), is needy to the nth degree and Brandon can’t stand it, especially when Sissy falls into Brandon’s bed with his boss David. “Shame,” rated NC17, is elevated beyond soft-core porn by the quality of the production and McQueen’s effort to analyze the life of a sex addict and his inability to interact normally with others, including his own sister. Fassbender and Mulligan provide powerful performances in roles that I imagine require some level of acting bravery because little is left to the imagination. But the question remains: is there really a point to all this cinematic sexual and emotional squalor? And that’s the shame of “Shame.” B (6/2/12)


“Winter in Wartime”-Based on a semi-autobiographical Dutch novel by Jan Terlouw, “Winter in Wartime” takes us back to Holland in January 1945. The Germans have occupied the local town and the mayor thinks he can control the situation by kowtowing to the Nazi officers. The mayor’s 14-year old son, Michiel (Martin Lakemeier), however, is not particularly happy with his father’s approach to the Nazis. When a neighbor’s son casually involves Michiel in a resistance plot, Michiel eagerly joins in, after watching the Nazis kill a neighbor involved in the plot, by caring for Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), a British RAF pilot, who is hidden in a bunker in the wintry woods. Michiel enlists the aid of his sister Erica (Melody Klaver), a nurse who finds herself attracted to Jack, and their acts ultimately have a great deal of consequences for all involved. Beautifully filmed in the Netherlands and Lithuania, and directed by Martin Koolhoven, “Winter in Wartime” is a fresh look at the fate of civilians in the middle of a harsh winter and a brutal war. It is important to note the powerful performance of Yorick van Wageningen as Michiel’s Uncle Ben, a man first greeted by Michiel with great warmth but who ultimately causes the boy to wonder. (Primarily in Dutch and German with English subtitles) B+ (5/26/12)


“Young Adult”-Charlize Theron obviously prefers to play flawed characters. This time she’s Mavis Gary, a 37-year old who is single following a failed marriage, and although she’s beautiful and somewhat successful as a writer of young adult books, she’s miserable. Mavis was once a stuck-up high school beauty who probably could have married her sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), but she didn’t and now she lives in Minneapolis, far from her old hometown. But when Buddy sends her an email announcing the birth of his new daughter, Mavis decides to go home and try to win him back. That it has been many years, and Buddy is married and a new father seems not to bother her in the least. The premise seems a little awkward and unlikely, but the film is effective in centering on Mavis and her obvious alcoholism and disturbed psyche. But it also introduces an interesting foil for Mavis’ obsessions: Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), a short chubby semi-invalid who was beaten and seriously injured as a high school student by homophobic teens (although, as it turned out, Matt was not homosexual). Both Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are excellent in their portrayals of these interestingly imperfect characters. Theron manages to make us feel very uncomfortable as she is making a total fool of herself. Oswalt is outstanding as a sensitive man who never imagined he’d have an opportunity to know someone as beautiful as Mavis, and it doesn’t take long to learn that even when Mavis thinks she’s learned something, she hasn’t. One of the problems with the film is the character of Jack, played a little too blandly by Patrick Wilson as a man who seems ridiculously oblivious to just what Mavis is up to. The cast includes a couple of actresses I haven’t seen in a while: Jill Eikenberry as Mavis’ mother; and Mary Beth Hurt as Buddy’s mother. B (5/25/12)


“The Women on the Sixth Floor”-Jean-Louis Joubert (Fabrice Luchini) is a wealthy stockbroker living with his rather pleasant but dull wife, Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain) in a nice, for 1962, Parisian apartment. They have two snotty upperclass sons who are away at school as the film begins. When their long-time maid quits suddenly, they hire lovely young Maria Gonzalez (Natalie Verbeke), one of the Spanish maids living upstairs on the sixth floor of the building. One gets the distinct feeling that in 1962, the French were not exactly enamored of the Spanish, but were happy to pay them to clean, cook and otherwise care for their households. Without much explanation, Jean-Louis finds himself extremely attracted both to the Spanish maids and Maria in particular, as the film proceeds to follow his wide-eyed fascination with these lively women who seem to have a great deal more personality and character than any of the French women of his social class. The biggest problem with “The Women on the Sixth Floor” is that once Jean-Louis has established his interest in the women, not much happens until he, at last, admits his true desire to change his life. (In French with English subtitles). B- (5/18/12)


“War Horse”-For a variety of reasons, “War Horse” is a typical Steven Spielberg film because it is emotionally appealing to basic childhood feelings of love, affection, and loss for an animal, in this case a thoroughbred horse. The horse, Joey, is born in rural England where he is purchased spontaneously by a drunken farmer, Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan), who really needed a horse for plowing. Despite the possibility of the Narracotts losing their farm because of Ted’s misadventure, Joey is named and raised by Ted’s son Albert (Jeremy Irvine), only to be lost to the military as World War I begins. What follows is the tale of Joey’s miraculous adventures in war-ravaged Europe as he passes from one owner to another, whether it be the German military, two young German deserters, or a young French girl and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup). It’s a long film but a simple tale. There aren’t too many deep philosophical points of view here, especially in a miraculous tale of survival, unless you count the unlikely anti-war scene in which a British soldier and a German soldier come out of the trenches into the hell-like no-man’s land to join in rescuing Joey from barbed wire (the scene leading up to this must have been shot via computer graphics as the horse is shown wildly crashing into and being totally wrapped by barbed wire). Of note in the cast are Emily Watson as Albert’s mother and David Thewlis as the Narracott’s sarcastic landlord. B-(5/13/12)


“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”-This story of a nine-year old boy who loses his adored father in the World Trade Center on 9/11, pushes lots of buttons. A few too many perhaps. Thomas Horn is memorable as Oskar Schell, an extremely precocious boy who engages in reconnaissance missions with his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), until the father dies on what the boy later calls “the worst day.” A year later, searching through his father’s belongings, Oskar breaks a vase and discovers a key in an envelope marked “Black.” Believing it to be a puzzle left behind for him by his father, Oskar decides that he is going find the lock for which the key fits. He begins an obsessive search, planning to meet every person named Black in the New York telephone book and on foot. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” portrays a boy who may or may not have Asperger’s but he definitely is not acting in a normal way. He never seems to go to school and no one, including his mother (played with tremendous warmth by Sandra Bullock), questions his activity. In fact, he is joined in his search by an elderly mute man (the wonderful Max von Sydow) who is boarding with Oskar’s grandmother (Zoe Caldwell), who is probably Oskar's long lost grandfather, and who communicates extremely well by notepad. This film is a fantasy but one based on a great deal of angst. The fantasy goes a little too far, especially in the astounding scene in which Oskar tells the old man his story in an obsessive rant. The cast is first-rate. Also appearing are Viola Davis (“The Help”) as Abby Black, one of the first people named Black that Oskar visits and who may hold the key to the mystery of the key. Jeffrey Wright is William Black, Abby’s ex-husband, and John Goodman appears as the doorman who is used to Oskar’s peculiarities. Beautifully photographed in New York City, the film is based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. B+ (5/11/12)


“Haywire”-On the Blu-ray version of this film, Director Steven Soderbergh admits that he created this picture around Gina Carano after seeing her fight on TV in her Mixed Martial Arts specialty. Haywire’s weaknesses show all over the place and Soderbergh should have known better than engage in this indulgence. Carano plays Mallory Kane, a private special ops agent, who is sent in to Barcelona to rescue a kidnap victim, only to find that she has been set up and double-crossed. In the process she will find who did it and get revenge. In typical thriller fashion the film jumps back and forth between the present and flashbacks. How original! While Carano doesn’t sound like a complete amateur, it doesn’t take long to sense from her tone of voice that she’s a novice actress, but one who is surrounded by a bunch of pros, including Michael Fassbender (who engages in rather raucous combat with Mallory in a hotel room), Ewen McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, and Antonio Banderas. Despite their talents, they are unable to rescue this film. The background story is obscure and artificial and the characters’ roles never emerge clearly. “Haywire” is a film that should not be at the top of anyone’s must see list. C (5/4/12)


“Albatross”-Jonathan (Sebastian Koch of “The Lives of Others”) is a writer living off the renown of a novel he wrote many years ago about the seaside hotel he and his family owns and runs. His wife (Julia Ormond) is frustrated and bitter, while his 17-year old daughter, Beth (Felicity Jones), is seeking a life of her own, including a future at Oxford. Into their lives comes Emilia (Jessica Brown Findlay), an intelligent, independent, and sassy teen who believes she is the descendant of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, and is good at hiding her own troubles. Not only does Emilia, who works as a maid at the hotel (where Jonathan’s book is in every room), befriend Beth but she also begins a flirtation with Jonathan. “Albatross” is a charming but slight little film, made better by the presence of a talented cast. In particular, Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley of the TV series “Downton Abbey”), stands out as a young woman who enjoys stirring things up, but who ultimately goes a little too far. Sebastian Koch and Felicity Jones are appealing in their supporting roles, and the cast is further enhanced by the presence of one of Britain’s great character actors, Peter Vaughn, as Emilia’s grandfather. B (5/2/12)


“J. Edgar”-This is a puzzling film. Written by Dustin Lance Black, an LBGT activist, and Oscar-winning screenwriter for the excellent “Milk,” the film barely notes J. Edgar Hoover’s well known homophobia. On the other hand, directed by conservative Clint Eastwood, the film hints at Hoover’s sexual preferences by including a kiss between Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his chief assistant/roommate/life partner, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Tolson’s insistence that Hoover stop showing a social interest in dating celebrity women such as Dorothy Lamour. Although the film portrays many episodes of Hoover’s career, including his involvement in the notorious Palmer Raids against the American left in 1919-1920, his insertion of his federal bureau into the state investigation and arrest of Bruno Hauptmann as the Lindbergh baby kidnapper, and his obsession with the alleged “Communism” of the civil rights movement, and especially his spying on Martin Luther King, Jr., the film seems surprisingly non-judgmental as it jumps back and forth between Hoover’s early days in government and his death on the floor of the bedroom of his mother’s former home. What really takes a toll on the effectiveness of this film is the mediocre makeup used for the aging of both Hoover and Tolson. Armie Hammer, in particular, looks more like an alien as the elder Tolson than a genuinely aging human being, although his performance is outstanding. While the makeup does give DiCaprio something of Hoover’s appearance (at least his hair style), the script and DiCaprio’s performance seem too hesitant to reflect the powerhouse that was J. Edgar Hoover, a man who served as Bureau of Investigation and, later, FBI director under eight presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Richard Nixon. “J. Edgar” hints at Hoover’s possession of secret files (including an alleged letter revealing a lesbian relationship involving Eleanor Roosevelt, and files showing a sexual liaison with a German spy by Senator John F. Kennedy) that kept him in office no matter who was president. Hoover is shown receiving assurance from his career-long secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts, whose talents are wasted), that his secret files will not be found upon his death (and they weren’t). But the only significant criticism of this very powerful American governmental figure seems reflected in weak questions by colleagues and by Tolson of the appropriateness or lawfulness of some of Hoover’s actions. At the heart of whatever it was that made Hoover who he was, according to the film, was his relationship with his beloved overbearing mother Annie (Judi Dench). The imperfections of this film appear traceable to the writer (Black) and director (Eastwood) who seem to have been attempting two different portrayals of the late FBI director. B- (4/28/12)


“The Iron Lady”-Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Meryl Streep is the best actress you and I have ever seen and “The Iron Lady” is another demonstration of proof that she can play and become almost anyone. Here she manages to give a great deal of humanity to the uptight and rather cold conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and that’s saying something. The film begins with a fictional present in which the elderly Thatcher is still talking to her deceased husband, Dennis (Jim Broadbent), but seems still to have a sharply functioning brain, at least to some extent. This modern fiction allows for flashbacks to the early days when Margaret (played as a young woman by Alexandra Roach) went off to Oxford, married Dennis Thatcher (played as a young man by Harry Lloyd), and decided to run for Parliament. But it’s Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the very tough PM, who was surrounded by MPs who were undoubtedly not used to being told what to do by a woman, that makes this a very worthwhile film. To put it mildly, Streep becomes Margaret Thatcher. The scenes in which she directs British military officials and cabinet members in the conduct of the war in the Falkland Islands are something to behold. Meryl Streep is so good she almost made me sympathize with Thatcher, a Prime Minister who probably did more damage to the working classes in Britain that any other British 20th Century leader. B+ (4/22/12)


“Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol”-The “Mission: Impossible” series is all about action, and this latest one takes the cake. From a humorous and clever escape from a Russian prison, to a dramatic explosion at the Kremlin; to Tom Cruise’s escapades high up on the outside of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world; to an astoundingly complex battle inside a modernistic parking garage with electronic auto lifts, “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” gives the series back its life and provides hope for future adventures for the good old IMF. With an appealing cast, including Paula Patton as Jane Carter, the requisite sexy female agent; Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn, the tech expert who seems to be electronically connected to every building and everything in it; Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, who seems to be a politician but turns out to be a first class IMF agent, the film keeps you on the edge of your seat. And on the other side are two actors playing surprisingly effective evil characters. Michael Nyqvist, who played Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” appears as the mad Kurt Hendricks, bent on starting a nuclear war, and Lèa Seydoux, who was the lovely Gabrielle in “Midnight in Paris” is Sabine Moreau, the hired killer whose goal is to provide Russian nuclear codes to Hendricks. “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol” isn’t perfect but it’s a good two hours of entertainment, especially watching, with amazement, Tom Cruise doing his own stunts. B+ (4/21/12)


“A Dangerous Method”-This story of a dangerous liaison between Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and an intelligent but deeply disturbed patient, Sabrina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), and how it influenced Jung’s relationship with Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), falls flat on its face. For the purposes of a film of entertainment, clearly intended here with these stars, it needed a far more crisp and insightful script. The filmmakers are trying to tell a story based on actual occurrences about the early days of psychoanalysis in which the married Jung improperly begins a relationship with Spielrein, his patient, and then lies to Freud about it. Although Jung and Freud meet and discuss the goings on and some of the philosophy of psychoanalysis, including the nature and importance of dreams, the script simply fails to get across the heart of the matter. To make it worse, “A Dangerous Method” has some of the most stilted acting I’ve seen in a major motion picture in a long time. At times, I felt like I was watching actors saying their lines, rather than characters actually speaking to each other. The film has other failings. For example, Jung’s wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) is portrayed as a pretty and wealthy trophy wife and mother, but it is never even remotely hinted that she was also a psychoanalyst and author. C+ (4/20/12)


“Melancholia”-I am convinced that Danish writer/director Lars Von Trier, who admits to suffering from melancholy, is trying to force the rest of us to join him in his suffering. Frankly, I can’t think of a film of his that I’ve seen that couldn’t also be called “Melancholia.” Films like “Breaking the Waves,” “Dancer in the Dark,” and “Dogville” all fit the bill. Many people go out of their way to avoid depressing films. So, if that’s they way you feel, avoid this one and anything by Lars Von Trier at all costs. Kirsten Dunst is Justine, a seriously depressed young woman who tries to marry and be happy but fails virtually immediately. The film begins with the arrival of Justine and her new husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), at their wedding reception at the dark and dreary home/castle of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland), located by the eeriest body of water and 18-hole golf course I’ve ever seen. We are forced to listen to uncomfortable speeches by several characters, including Justine’s father (John Hurt), her bitter and sarcastic mother (Charlotte Rampling), and her hated boss (Stellan Skarsgård). But somewhat off screen in the first half of the film is another form of “Melancholia” and this one is a little more overwhelming. Seems a newly discovered planet named “Melancholia” is heading straight for earth and it arrives in part 2. Although some think it will simply be a flyby, others are expressing feelings of doom and this is beginning to overwhelm the otherwise healthy sister, Claire. Got the picture? While there is nothing to complain about with regard to the cast, “Melancholia” is simply too strange and melancholy to recommend unless you’re one of those people who finds inspiration and philosophy in depression. C- (4/13/12)


“The Adventures of Tintin”-Based on the Belgian comic “Les Aventures de Tintin,” this animated film is the story of Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell), a young reporter with a unique curl in his red hair who is accompanied by his trusty and very smart terrier, Snowy. When Tintin buys a model ship called the Unicorn, he’s immediately accosted by two men warning him of dire consequences if he fails to sell the model to them. In this Steven Spielberg-directed film, the adventure and mystery grows into a rip-roaring tale as Tintin and sea-faring Captain Haddock (voice of Andy Serkis) travel over land and sea to fight off the evil Red Rackham (voice of Daniel Craig). Looking like a direct steal from one of Spielberg’s own Indiana Jones films, “Tintin” goes just a wee bit overboard, almost to the point of becoming a little tiresome. But the animation is astounding and the characters can be quite humorous [especially the bumbling twin detectives Thomson (voice of Nick Frost) and Thompson (voice of Simon Pegg)]. The best and funniest character in this film is the amazing Snowy who does his darndest to keep up with Tintin and save him from whatever trouble he has gotten himself into. With a somewhat less raucous tale, “The Adventures of Tintin” might have been almost perfect. But for the humor and its amazing animation, and especially if you’re an Indiana Jones fan, it’s worth a viewing. B (4/7/12)


“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”-In the late 1970s, the great Alec Guinness led a wonderful cast of British actors in the seven-part TV series of the same name, playing George Smiley. It was a masterpiece made from the incredible novel by John LeCarrè. The latest “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” directed by Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) tells the story of the cold-war search for a Russian mole in the British Secret Service in one sitting and is equally satisfying. In fact, if my memory of the TV series is right, the film makes it easier to follow this complex tale. The cast is brilliant starting with Gary Oldman as the calm, collected and intelligent Smiley, a spy who had been pushed out of the Service but is now back to find the mole. Director Alfredson, a Swede, does a masterful job of pacing the story and script. Little by little we learn the details of how the Service, also known as the Circus, learned of a potential mole and how Smiley and his assistant, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) are going to find him. Who could ask for anything more than John Hurt as Control, the head of the Service who assigns the nicknames tinker, tailor, soldier, poorman, and beggarman to the potential moles, including Smiley, only to die before learning the truth; Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds, and David Dencik as the spies at the top of the list; Tom Hardy (“Inception” and “Warrior”) as Ricki Tarr, the agent whose affair with the wife of a Russian spy has provided important clues; and Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux, the agent who is sent by Control to Hungary to bring home a prize only to be double-crossed, thus proving that the Service has a double agent at or near its top? And to make it even more effective, the film has a wonderfully effective score by Alberto Iglesias which enhances the tension of the tale. A (4/6/12)

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