Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Grand Seduction, We are the Best!, Filth, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Night Moves

The Grand Seduction
We are the Best!


A Million Ways to Die in the West
Night Moves

Capsules on this week's new movies:

What is Canadian director Don McKellar, who has helmed films as innovative and special as "Last Night" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," doing behind the camera for "The Grand Seduction," a movie so cloying it makes cotton candy seem sophisticated by comparison? Brendan Gleeson plays Murray French, the mayor of the tiny harbor of Tickle Head (ugh) in Newfoundland, where the fishermen, estopped from plying their ancestral trade, have been reduced to collecting welfare checks and drowning their sorrows in drink. An oil company proposes to build a facility for the treatment and disposal of refining byproducts, but to land the plant, Tickle Head must have 200 residents (40 more than its actual population) and a full-time doctor. Enter Dr. Paul Lewis (bland, generic Taylor Kitsch), found with cocaine in his bags by an airport screener (Murray's predecessor as mayor) and compelled to give Tickle Head a month to persuade him to stay. The townspeople set about seducing him, feigning interest in his beloved cricket and jazz fusion music in scenes worthy of "Three's Company." To convince the CEO they number 200, everyone makes a mad dash from the town watering hole to church, just as he opens the door. Meanwhile, as the town postmaster, comely Liane Balaban has nothing to do but spurn Kitsch's advances. "The Grand Seduction" tries to pass off a few picturesque seascapes and jaunty accents as charm. I'm not buying…Lukas Moodysson's "We are the Best!", about three 13-year-old girls who form a punk band in Stockholm in the early 80's, doesn't reach the heights of his "Tilsammans (Together)," which climbed well up my top-ten list in 2000, but there's unbridled joy and a lot of big laughs in the girls' unabashed self-assurance (perfectly encapsulated in the title) and us-against-the-world mentality. Moodysson mines a few keen insights into the nature of friendship and rivalry and the balancing of boys against more important things. And, as Klara, the brashest of all, Mira Grosin sports a mohawked mug that will keep you smiling the whole time…The less said, the better about a truly unenjoyable piece of dreck called "Filth," starring James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson, a corrupt Scottish cop who humiliates, threatens, and turns his colleagues against each other to thwart any competition for the newly open chief inspector position. McAvoy has appeared in some good films, but he sorely lacks movie-star quality, and in this overwritten and false-ringing bad-boy role, he gives a palpably effortful performance. The picture only really comes to life in Bruce's sporadic hallucinations, with Jim Broadbent as the doctor who, in a gleeful singsong, tells him what a doomed sack of shit he is… One-and-a-half stars may be generous for "Filth," but one star for "A Million Ways to Die in the West" all but makes me Santa Claus.(Everything gets rounded up when the Kings win.) This movie tested my rule that I don't go below one star, no matter how bad the picture, unless it's also repugnant on a moral or ethical level. Still, I can aver that there will be no worse one-star movie this year. Two long hours without a single laugh, a single chuckle, a single smile. Two long hours of silent, open-mouthed, slack-jawed stupefaction, and the nagging thought: someone from my species thought this would be funny? Seth MacFarlane looks and sounds so out-of-place on the big screen, even he must recognize it's just not a match. Actual actors also appear, some as talented as Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson and Giovanni Ribisi. Maybe they had fun making it. I hope so. For us in the paying audience, it's a bottomless bowl of insult and degradation…The clear pick of the week in film is Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves," with Jesse Eisenberg (Josh), Dakota Fanning (Dena), and Peter Sarsgaard (Harmon) as three environmental activists who plot to blow up a hydroelectric dam in Oregon. There's no substitute for confidence in a director, and no surer sign of confidence than quietude: allowing scenes to play out naturally, without succumbing to the impulse to fill silences with unnecessary dialogue. This Reichardt does expertly in a film of two halves: the advance work (including a scene in which Dena attempts to buy 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer from a feed store owner who insists on seeing her Social Security card), the act itself (followed by a whisper-quiet canoe ride back to shore halted - while the bomb timer continues to tick - when a car pulls over at an outlook with a direct view into the lake), and the aftermath, when Dena learns that a man was killed in the explosion and, overcome with guilt, threatens to unravel their carefully laid plans. Harmon insists that they have no further communication. Josh follows Dena to her place of employment, clearly considering how to keep her mum. These are scenes of exquisite tension, observed without comment by Reichardt and ably enacted by Fanning and Sarsgaard. Eisenberg is the de facto lead. This gifted actor has always been the smartest guy in any scene he graces, but it hasn't always translated into an emotional connection with the audience. Here, it does. He paints a memorable portrait of a serious young man who has dug in way over his head and keeps digging. When Josh, late in the film, sheds a single tear, it's a eulogy for a dream unrealized, friendships lost, lives wasted. Reichardt ends the film without a dramatic confrontation, but we know what will happen to this intentioned, na├»ve young man who comes to embody the danger of a little knowledge and a lot of zeal.

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