|Loitering with Intent|
|Paddington (Big Scruffy's and Little Scruffy's Rating)|
|Paddington (my rating)|
A little bear's big adventure highlights the week in film:
"Taken 3" is a good movie to chop celery to, or marinate a skirt steak, or put the finishing touches on a sauce almondine. I doubt you'll even notice it's playing as you set the oven timer and take the occasional phone call. That's a good thing, because the storyline - involving the gruesome murder of Liam Neeson's ex-wife (Famke Janssen), an eight-figure debt owed by her second husband (Dougray Scott) to a Russian oligarch (Sam Spruell), and mortal danger to Neeson's daughter (Maggie Grace) - is distasteful. (The use of Russkies as villains is a trite and cowardly trope belied by the sweetness of the Russian people.) Among the cast, only Forest Whitaker as the LAPD honcho chasing Neeson appears at all engaged. Scott, Spruell and Grace overact significantly, and Neeson? He is who he is now.
Michael Mann, who's given us some of the sleekest films of the last two decades, hits a speed bump with the dust-choked and drastically overlong "Blackhat," about a convicted hacker (Chris Hemsworth - stop laughing), his college roommate (Leehom Wang), and the roommate's sister (Wei Tang) thwarting an international cybercrime conspiracy out to make billions on tin ore by flooding a huge Indonesian basin and depressing supply. Though I'm always a sucker for neon-lit Far East night skylines, the movie's even less interesting than it sounds, with performances wooden enough to regrow a rainforest and a tarted-up Viola Davis slumming it as Hemsworth's U.S. government handler. I hold out hope that both American and Chinese audiences will reject its crass transcontinental marketing.
I like the droll sensibility director Talya Lavie brings to the Israeli import "Zero Motivation," an office comedy of sorts about women soldiers clock-watching at the remote desert base to which they have been assigned for their mandatory two-year term of service. We spend the movie in the cramped Administration building, where staffers are given such titles as "Postal NCO" and "Paper and Shredding NCO," and women are routinely passed over for advancement. But droll and wry only go so far; the movie could have used more big laughs. And Lavie should have left out a bloody and tonally jarring scene in which an interloper who'd posed as a soldier to get close to a summertime crush kills herself, after he spurns her, by puncturing her stomach.
Patrick Stewart's performance in the stagy "Match" is so devoid of nuance it makes Cheyenne Jackson in "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks" seem almost subtle by comparison. As a renowned dancer turned Juilliard instructor, he pitches his line readings all the way to Tia-fucking-juana, while nobody around him seems to notice that HE'S SCREAMING THE WHOLE TIME. This is very much a filmed play, about a couple (Carla Gugino and Matthew Lillard) who finagle an interview with Stewart's Tobi Powell on the pretense of her dissertation on the history of dance. That they have a hidden agenda will come as no surprise, nor will the hidden agenda, nor any of the twists by which writer-director Stephen Belber attempts to imbue the story with ersatz gravitas.
"Loitering with Intent" starts with this brilliant premise: best friends Dominic and Raphael (Michael Godere and Ivan Martin, who also co-wrote), still tending bar while trying to break into pictures, bump into a girlfriend who works as a producer's assistant. He's looking for a film-production tax credit, so she offers them $300K to make a movie if they can churn out a script in ten days (because God knows the one thing it's impossible to find in New York City is an unproduced screenplay). They decamp to Dom's sister Gigi's (Marisa Tomei) country house to write in peace, until Gigi, her assistant, her PTSD-suffering ex-boyfriend (Sam Rockwell), and his brother all show up, at which point even more overwritten, circular conversations take place. With a runtime of 80 uneventful minutes that makes it almost offensive to charge for tickets, "Loitering with Intent" goes nowhere - quickly.
A mild recommendation for Paolo Virzi's "Human Capital," a sort of Italian "Crash," which uses the at-first unsolved hit-and-run death of a bicyclist to provide entrée into the lives of a wealthy fund manager trying to make up losses with even bigger bets, his stuck-in-neutral wife (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in the movie's richest performance), their spoiled six-pack-abs son, his on-again-off-again girlfriend, her cheery and fatuous father, and his psychologist wife, who treats the young drug criminal who may also figure into the accident. I enjoyed the social satire - and Tedeschi - more than the "Rashomon"-esque retellings from multiple perspectives. A couple of plot points go down too quickly to be believable, and at the end a turn in the market makes the financial conundrums we've been sweating disappear.
The clear pick of the week is writer-director Paul King's charming movie of "Paddington," the beloved bear who lands at London's Paddington Station in search of a home and family (like all of us, but different). The effects used to bring him to life, and Ben Whishaw's voice work as Paddington, strike the right, unsentimental tone to make his predicament real to us.
The Browns - Mary (Sally Hawkins) and Henry (Hugh Bonneville), and kids Judy and Jonathan - bump into Paddington and put him up just long enough to find the geographer who, on an expedition to Paddington's native "darkest Peru," promised him a warm welcome in England. Of course he ends up staying much longer (like, forever), after a cleverly conceived encounter with the geographer's daughter Millicent (Nicole Kidman), a taxidermist keen to stuff and mount this "ursinus marmalada." There are some scary and sad moments, but just enough, I think, for stalwart youngsters to benefit from getting through. Kidman makes a delicious villain; Hawkins, Imelda Staunton and Julie Walters are highly winning; and Bonneville steals the show with his witty and genuinely funny reactions to Paddington, as when he phones his insurer to raise his coverage level: "We have a guest staying with us. A bear. Yes."
The Scruffies loved "Paddington" even more than I. Big appreciated the grown-up humor and Little - another little bear with big adventures - saw himself in every scene. It's his new favorite.