Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

January 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Directed by: Stephen Daldry (“The Reader”)
Written by: Eric Roth (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)

With 9/11 brooding at the center of its emotionally manipulative core, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” displays about as much modesty regarding the 2001 tragedy as Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. Simply put: it’s an exploitative sham.

While the self-important drama would like to do for September 11 what a film like 1997’s “Life is Beautiful” (“La vita è bella”) did for the Holocaust by telling a whimsical and heartfelt story within the framework of an unimaginably painful time in history, it doesn’t have nearly enough charm to pull it off. Its lack of quality storytelling and characterization begins and ends with acting newcomer Thomas Horn as the film’s main character Oskar Schell. Metaphorically and pretentiously speaking, the boy’s last name could refer to the hard outer covering of the personality he must break through to let others in. Sigh.

Oskar, who just might be one of the most posturing characters in cinematic history, is unlike any other brainy 9-year-old kid usually seen in the locker room with his underwear pulled over his head. Not only is he an amateur entomologist, Francophile, pacifist, and undiagnosed autistic — his idea of fun is going on fact-finding expeditions through the New York City his father (Tom Hanks) creates for him. When his father dies in the World Trade Center attacks, Oskar is convinced a mysterious key he discovers is a clue left behind for his next journey.

Ignore the fact that Oskar’s mother (Sandra Bullock) allows him to walk around NYC unsupervised or that actually coming across a lock the key will fit is highly improbable; what is most problematic about the screenplay is the rambunctious and grating nature of Oskar himself and the phony relationships he creates along the way, including one with his estranged mute grandfather (Max von Sydow).

Despite the exaggerated melodrama, what works best in the film are the few moments director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) allows a child’s perspective to be the window through which the audience watches the events of September 11 unfold. Hanks, too, is memorable when he’s not on screen. The voice messages he leaves on an answering machine on what Oskar calls “the worst day” are chilling, to say the least.

Beyond that, however, “Extremely Loud” is meaningless. As much as it wants to affect, connect, and heal, there’s only so much fiction you can attach to 9/11 before it feels like just another sob story. If the Academy made a glaring gaffe with this year’s nominations, it was in calling this sentimental drivel one of the best films of the year. In fact, this is a forced tearjerker that can’t wrap up soon enough.

Robin Hood

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone”)
While the comparisons are obvious, director Ridley Scott’s version of “Robin Hood” is nothing like his first collaboration with actor Russell Crowe in the good but slightly overrated 2000 film “Gladiator.” Amazing production value aside, “Robin Hood” is a high-end production with lofty ideas and a convoluted screenplay begging for some major editing.
In his fifth film with Scott, Crowe isn’t the same Robin Hood most would expect from the dozens of versions that have come before (the best is still Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood”). Instead, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have jerry-built a chaotic prequel based on the legendary tale of an English outlaw from Sherwood Forest who robs from the rich to give to the poor.
To begin, Crowe is not actually Robin Hood, but Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, who sets off with his own band of followers (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle) after the king is killed by French forces. When Robin and his men get their hands on King Richard’s crown, they return it to London where John (Oscar Isaac) is ready to take over the throne from his slain brother and impose heavy taxes on his people. He appoints Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is secretly working for the French, as his tax collector, but is unaware of his ulterior motives.
Godfrey wants to help France invade England. Robin, who acquires a new identity from a dying knight with a last request, connects with the knight’s father (Max Von Sydow) and his widow Lady Marion of Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and helps them save their land by posing as the deceased son and husband. If that’s not complicated enough, 13th century politics play a major role in the ill-conceived script as Scott takes all the adventure out of the myth through longwinded speeches and conventional storytelling.

Sure, it might feel like we’re somewhere in Nottingham simply for the terrific art direction and costume design, but the technical aspects are skin deep. This “Robin Hood” is void of any real emotion or awe-inspiring heroics that the iconic literary character has built his name on for the past few centuries.

Shutter Island

February 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Martin Scorsese (“The Departed”)
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander”)

There are times during Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese’s (“The Departed”) thriller “Shutter Island” where you can feel the anxiety of the picture frothing up inside your gut. Once Robbie Robertson’s disturbing Hitchcockian score and Robert Richardson’s misery-stricken cinematography merge to create the ominous tone during the opening scenes, it is obvious Scorsese plans to keep you as uneasy as he possibly can for as long as he can.

There is only so much, however, that a masterful director like Scorsese and a few members of his technical crew can do before its foundation collapses from under them. Adapted from the Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) novel of the same name, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (“Alexander”) rides Scorsese’s coattail as far as she can before the work itself shrinks back into predictable dark corners. The twist and turns might be sharp, but that doesn’t make them any less dull.

Collaborating for the fourth time with Scorsese, Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”) plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. marshal investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a murderess from a mental hospital known to house the most criminally insane patients. Teddy’s new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) joins him on his tour through the facilities where he plans to interrogate every one who knows Rachel, including psychiatrists Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) who aren’t exactly cooperating with Teddy’s methods of inquiry.

Teddy, however, has more to worry about than unsupportive head doctors who seem to be hiding the truth. Nightmares of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and his time in the war begin to haunt him as he and Chuck end up stranded on the island during a vicious thunderstorm. They are the type of hallucinations that would easily be dismissed if they were in any other horror-type movie, but since Scorsese is directing the scenes we’re led to believe that they should be considered more artistic than overly-stylistic. However you want to identify them, they have no bearing on any emotional aspect of the story, which is unfortunate since they are revisited numerous times.

Most of the emotional pull comes from DiCaprio’s performance itself. Walking a fine line between awareness and madness, his on-the-spot portrayal of a man uncertain of his own mental welfare as he caves in on himself is frightening. Still, the suspense refuses to take another step forward once the pieces start fitting together more obviously. Once that occurs, it is only a matter of waiting out the rest of the unsubstantial plot points in “Shutter Island.” By then, all the dread has subsided and that ball of nerves that was floundering around inside you earlier feels more like bad indigestion.