Starring: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Janet McTeer
Directed by: Rodrigo Garcia (“Mother and Child”)
Written by: Glenn Close (debut), John Banville (“The Last September”), Gabriella Prekop (“VII. Oliver”)
When it comes to cross-dressing and film, male characters color coordinating handbags and heels are typically played for laughs (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Tootsie,” “The Birdcage”). Those films wherein a female character shows off her masculine side tend more to the dramatic (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Yentl”). Sure, there are exceptions, but in Hollywood a boy in pantyhose is funny; a girl speaking in a lower register is just too heartbreaking to imagine.
That gender-bending double standard carries over to the occasionally sympathetic but more often stagnant period drama “Albert Nobbs.” Adapted from a short story by Irish novelist George Moore, Nobbs stars five-time Academy Award-nominee Glenn Close (“Dangerous Liaisons”) as a woman living in 19th-century Dublin who disguises herself as a man so she can work as a waiter in an upscale hotel. Waiting on stuffy guests, “Albert” is saving each shilling she earns so she can purchase her own tobacco shop. When Albert’s secret is accidentally revealed, however, her once seemingly attainable dream evolves into something much more complicated.
As Albert, Close takes on the most daring role of her career since the 1987 thriller “Fatal Attraction.” The physical look of the character may not be nearly as unbelievable as Julie Andrews’ in the 1982 musical comedy “Victor Victoria,” but even the noteworthy makeup and prosthetics are a bit bizarre looking. Confined inside her black suit and tie for most of the film, it’s Close’s nervous glances, awkward smiles, and perfunctory movements that actually bring to life this reclusive human being whose character depth should be far more involved than the one-dimensional script would have you believe. “Such a kind little man,” one hotel guest says when describing Albert to her husband. Unfortunately, the rest of the screenplay doesn’t do much better in bringing Albert to light.
Credited as a co-writer, Close, who also wrote the lyrics for the original song “Lay Your Head Down” sung by Sinead O’Connor, cuts corners when attempting to expand on the emotional agony Albert endures. It’s only during a few scenes where she speaks candidly with Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a house painter also facing an identity crisis, when a more meaningful narrative is exposed beyond the tea parties and gossiping help. McTeer, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1999 for “Tumbleweeds,” matches Close shot for shot when they share the screen. The collaboration is poignant, but ultimately gets sidelined in favor of an insignificant relationship between a naive young maid (Mia Wasikowska) and an insensitive maintenance man (Aaron Johnson). Also lost somewhere inside the script is actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“Match Point”), who shows up as a hotel guest for no legitimate reason other than to don Victorian Era garb.
Directed by Rodrigo García, whose last film was the touching 2009 drama “Mother and Child,” “Albert Nobbs” is a picture lacking passion and genuine conflict. It’s also missing that great sense of female empowerment it desperately wants to convey; in fact, it seemingly has no idea where to begin. Putting Albert in a dress and sending him to run on a beach just doesn’t cut it.
Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) and Jane Goldman (“Stardust”)
When did it all of a sudden become cool again to rip off from Quentin Tarantino? When filmmakers were doing it back in the late 90s, everyone scoffed. Now, they just slap “Tarantinoesque” on it and praise it for its stylized violence. While “Kick-Ass” boasts some of the same campiness as “Kill Bill,” it’s not nearly as fun. Besides the scenes where Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) goes medieval on the bad guys, there is not much behind the rather dull story about a geeky high school kid (Aaron Johnson) who becomes a wanna-be superhero. This should have been a movie about Hit Girl and her father (Nicholas Cage). Instead, the script devotes most of its time to the most uninteresting characters of the bunch.
English actor Aaron Johnson, 19, has played some iconic roles in his career. From portraying Charlie Chaplin in the 2003 comedy “Shanghai Knights” to embodying John Lennon in 2009’s “Nowhere Boy,” Johnson says he’s looking for versatility when auditioning for roles.
That’s one of the main reasons he took on his most recent character in the comic book movie “Kick-Ass.” In the film, Johnson plays the title character, a superhero who is actually just a shy high school kid who one day decides he wants to fight crime. He becomes famous after a video of him is uploaded online.
During an interview with me, Johnson talked about what superheroes he looked up to as a kid and what he thinks about all this controversy surrounding the ultra-violence in the movie.
What was it about this superhero character that made you want this role?
It was completely original. It wasn’t a typical superhero. I love the fact that he’s just an ordinary kid. He’s really into his comic books. It’s something he believes in. He creates this alter ego because he wants to be this confident, heroic guy.
What was your impression of the comic book when you first saw it?
I liked the originality of it. It was really unique. It reminded me a lot of “Superbad,” that teenage angst. I really wanted to venture into that sort of character and make it come to life.
Were you the kind of kid that would pretend to be a superhero when you were younger?
Yeah, I would play around and pretend I was Wolverine and Spider-Man. I loved all the Batmans. I actually wanted to be Robin when I was younger. I thought he was a bit of a badass even though Batman always saved him.
Is the superhero movie genre something you could see yourself doing again in the future?
For me, I have to go far away from it for a while and then come back. If something great comes along and it’s completely different from “Kick-Ass,” yeah, I’d go for it.
The film explores the idea that the internet can make anyone famous these days. If your video goes viral a million people can see it in a day. Talk a bit about how that plays into the film.
Yeah, YouTube is a pretty populated website right now. People make home videos and put them on the website and it gets 1,000 viewers and then it goes to a million. I think the film really jokes about that a lot. We have Kick-Ass who gets into a fight with these three guys on the street and it gets filmed on a cell phone. And then he gets on the news because nowadays these things are getting brought up on the news all the time. That’s a huge part of why my character becomes famous online.
Do you think a film like this could trigger a real-life superhero movement?
There’s already people that I’ve seen on YouTube that dress up like superheroes and even have their own crew. They go out and sweep the streets of New York and help grannies cross the road.
There’s been some controversy about the violence in the film mostly because it’s coming at the hands of a little girl (Hit Girl played by actress Chloe Moretz). Explain why the violence is an important part of the story.
The whole controversy thing is just ridiculous. I think people who are saying that are just sad in the head. It’s just a comic book movie. People are going to see this movie and look past all that and say, “Whoa, Chloe. What a fantastic actress. She’s only 11 and she got all that hard work in and she worked with the stunt guys.” We should appreciate her work. She is a sweetheart and a really down-to-earth girl. I mean, there are people who take their kids to beauty pageants when they are only six years old and put makeup on their face. To me, that’s controversial. That’s teaching your kids to be insecure about themselves. There are kids at the age of 15 getting collagen put in their lips. That’s what is wrong in the world.
With all the action scenes in the film, I’m guessing you went home with some injuries. Any scars worth mentioning?
Chris [Mintz-Plasse] hit his face with a nunchaku and split his eyebrow open. He was okay. Everyone was laughing their heads off. It’s a pretty cool scar. Chicks dig it.