Films This Week
Check out the movies playing around town.
With reviews and trailers.
Historical action lacks depth, conviction in 'The Eagle'
It's big and shiny and carved out of bronze. But it's true value is its symbolism, standing for both the glory of the Roman Empire and the brutality of conquest (depending on one's viewpoint). It's the Eagle of the Ninth Legion, the standard carried into battle by a company of Roman Legionnaires who vanished into the murky mists of northern Britain in 120 A.D. And most of the historical action film, The Eagle, is devoted to trying to convince us—without much success—that this object is worth a lot of bloody slaughter.
The film is based on Rosemary Sutcliff's popular 1954 historical young adult novel, “The Eagle of the Ninth.” Its YA origins are evident in the film's straightforward action plot, simplified relationships, and the high degree of palaver about the "honor" of Rome while running riot over the indigenous tribes of Britain—who are (surprise!) inspired to respond with equal savagery. One hopes the reason director Kevin Macdonald and scriptwriter Jeremy Brock (they also collaborated on The Last King of Scotland) are resurrecting this material now is to draw parallels to our modern age of reckless adventuring in foreign lands. But The Eagle never gains the level of complexity that would make its story profound.
Magic vs. reality in Sylvain Chomet's lovely, animated 'Illusionist'
he lovingly hand-drawn animated feature, The Illusionist, is an artifact of another era—in so many ways. The second feature from French animator Syvain Chomet (his first was the nutty-sweet The Triplets of Belleville), it has the look of old-school cel animation, in which every luscious frame is a mini work of art. The milieu it depicts, too, harks back to an earlier time, the waning days of postwar vaudeville, with its plucky variety acts, once-glamorous theaters, and slightly seedy showbiz hotels.
It’s not surprising then that the script was actually written decades ago by the late French film comic Jacques Tati. Although the word "script" can only be loosely applied to the scenario of plot and encounters in a film that is mostly without dialogue. Tati himself was practically a mime, in a series of live-action comedies with the visual gags, balletic precision and timelessness of silent film comedy. There is sound aplenty in The Illusionist —voices, music, laughter, traffic—but very few distinguishable words, which contributes much to the wistful whimsy and charm of Chomet's film.
Fierce morality vs. mortality in haunting 'Biutiful'
How long is long enough to save the world? Even the miniscule portion of your immediate world where you might actually be able to make an impact? This is the dilemma faced by the hard-luck protagonist played with furious grace by the great Javier Bardem in Biutiful, a man clawing a living out of the urban underbelly of Barcelona who discovers he has only a short time left to straighten out his messy life for the sake of his beloved children. Brooding and heartfelt, it's a dark, yet tender vision of life on the fringe from the always provocative Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Appealing cast vs. silly premise in 'No Strings Attached'
Like many romantic comedies, No Strings Attached begins with an absurd premise. It's about a couple who have fun together, the sex is fabulous, and they're simpatico in every way, but they can't be together because of one of those ridiculous, self-imposed conditions you find only in the movies that they spend the entire movie trying (and ultimately failing) to stick to.
And while the audience is still trying to suspend its disbelief, the first half hour of the movie goes by in a series of drunken encounters, idiotic guy talk, and a barrage of penis jokes. Not jokes involving actual penises, but jokes involving the word "penis," which is evidently supposed to be hilarious in its own right because, once upon a time in the Stone Age, it was one of those words you weren't allowed to say in the movies. (It's like the first time Mel Brooks discovered he could get away with saying "shit" onscreen, and then he couldn't shut up about it; every new film was peppered with gags where that was the entire punchline.)
Weir limns gripping trek from Siberia to India in 'The Way Back'
Imagine a 4,000-mile trek on foot from the frozen wastes of Siberia to Mongolia, across the Gobi Desert to Tibet, and over the Himalayas into India. It's an incredible journey supposedly made by a handful of indomitable escapees from a Soviet prison camp in 1941, as depicted in The Way Back, another absorbing drama on the collision and collusion of man and nature from the formidable Peter Weir.