*/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras C screenplay by Ron Anderson, Steve Bencich and Ron J.Friedman directed by Mark Dindal
by Walter Chaw Frantic, frenetic, anxious, obnoxious: the ideal audience for Chicken Little should be in bed by seven, and Disney's umpteenth cry of "sure-fire comeback project" looks, appropriately, like another convulsive episode of corporate crying-wolf. Chicken Little, for instance, makes pop culture references that don't mean anything in the context of a film whose sole purpose appears to be instructing your children to be fearful and hyper. They're just there to give parents, alternately stunned and bored, a little rootless pleasure in the middle of epileptic flash; what's left isn't clever (or kinetic) enough for us to ignore its essential emptiness. What Chicken Little is more than anything else is exhausting. You could by rights hope that it's is a send-up of the Fifties cycle of Martian invasion pictures (it name-checks War of the Worlds for no good reason) as The Incredibles was a send-up of Golden Age superhero comics, but even a cursory comparison between the two films shows that Disney's desperation to make Pixar's looming secession a non-issue is as limp and impotent as the Nevada State Boxing Commission.
**½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Green Bush, Diane Ladd screenplay by Robert Getchell directed by Martin Scorsese
by Bill Chambers The zeitgeist made Martin Scorsese and his mentor John Cassavetes artistically simpatico in 1974, when the two helmed "women's pictures" independent of each other's counsel. It was the beginning of women's lib, and Warner hoped to corner the market via Ellen Burstyn and her pet project Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, while it would seem that with his brilliant A Woman Under the Influence, Cassavetes just wanted to say something hopeful about marriage to counter the prevailing propaganda. Both pictures were demonized in certain feminist circles for yoking their heroines to knights in tarnished armour, but in the case of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, they were preaching to the compromised.
*/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras B- starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo Del Toro, based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien directed by Peter Jackson
by Walter Chaw During the first ten minutes of the first day of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (hereafter Hobbit 3), Smaug dies. I don't intend this to be a spoiler, because, you know, the book's been around for almost as long as this movie runs, and Rankin & Bass already adapted it (somehow squeezing Tolkien's slim volume into one 77-minute animated flick)--but if you don't read and live under a rock: the dragon dies. This acts as prologue. A better prologue would recap what the hell happened in the first two Hobbits; I appear to have scrubbed them completely from the ol' memory bank in a heroic act of self-defense. This prologue, by the way, is the key moment in the book, meaning that although the CGI fireworks never let up, the rest of Hobbit 3 is the decline in action to the conclusion.
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE ****/**** Image B Sound A- Extras A starring Laura Linney, Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline written and directed by Noah Baumbach
THE WEATHER MAN ½*/**** starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Michael Rispoli screenplay by Steven Conrad directed by Gore Verbinski
by Walter Chaw The title refers to a New York Museum of Natural History diorama called "Clash of the Titans" that proposes what a tussle between a sperm whale and a giant squid would look like--and it functions as the final, stirring tableaux of a 16mm film self-consciously shot in the manner of early Jim Jarmusch or Spike Lee joints. But The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach's fourth film as writer-director, has inspired more conversation about the degree to which it does or does not tell the story of his own childhood--more specifically, the divorce of his parents, novelist Jonathan Baumbach and former VILLAGE VOICE film critic Georgia Brown--than about the self-reflexive canniness of the filmmaking itself.
***½/**** Image A Sound A+ starring Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch screenplay by Wolfgang Petersen, based on the novel by Lothar G. Buchheim directed by Wolfgang Petersen
by Walter Chaw The curious mental state of German submariners in the waning days of the second World War is reflected in the general malaise of the United States in the weeks following September Eleventh and the hours preceding our unpopular pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Caught in the maddening doldrums between one act of unimaginable violence and its inevitable aftershocks, America's implacable disquiet is one part anticipation of the inevitable, multiple parts cynicism, and, for a large portion of the population, a dollop of distinct lack of faith in the motives and competency of our leadership. A closer examination of the similarities pithy but perhaps unfruitful, sufficed to say that revisiting Wolfgang Petersen's masterpiece Das Boot (in its Director's Cut form) at this suspended moment in time is not only rewarding as great cinema can be, but also current and amazingly poignant.
by Bill Chambers Inexplicable, tone-deaf Looney Tunes pairings are legion in post-Termite Terrace revivals of the brand, but rare is the Golden Age head-scratcher quite like The High and the Flighty, an otherwise pro forma Foghorn Leghorn cartoon guest starring...Daffy Duck? Introduced joyfully bouncing a ball towards a mysterious "rope limit" that turns out to be the reach of the leash holding Barnyard Dog in check, Foghorn starts another war with his canine nemesis that travelling salesman Daffy Duck espies and decides to capitalize on by selling both parties his wares from the Ace Novelty Company, double agent-style. Once Foghorn and Barnyard realize that Daffy's exploited their conflict to line his pockets, they turn the tables on him. It's really that simple. There's a reason Daffy works for Ace and not Acme--because his products work, more or less; that's something, I guess, and as usual Foghorn Leghorn, thanks to Mel Blanc and writer Tedd Pierce, is immanently quotable ("We have been flimflammed!"), though his relative size is even more all-over-the-place than usual. But Daffy Duck is an insuperably odd presence here, with Pierce and director Robert McKimson seemingly recognizing Daffy's inherent dissonance in this milieu by casting him in a generic huckster role that suppresses his persona--they've only tailor-fitted the comeuppance gag for him, which consequently feels mean-spirited--yet cannot eclipse his iconic baggage. Punning the name of John Wayne's proto-Airport sudser The High and the Mighty, the title doesn't make much sense, either. Available on:Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Vol. 2 [Blu-ray](Running Time: 6:39)
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED **/**** starring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin, Laryssa Lauret screenplay by Liev Schreiber, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer directed by Liev Schreiber
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE ****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt screenplay by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke directed by David Cronenberg
by Walter Chaw A year after a glut of films about the past being wilfully stifled by the present, find Liev Schreiber's Everything is Illuminated and David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, literal calls to awake following the nightmare of the night before--or, better, avenues through which we might recognize that suppressing a collective shadow mainly serves to nourish it until it explodes, monstrous, back into our consciousness. The one is based on an Anthony Burgess-like book of great linguistic imagination by Jonathan Safran Foer, the other a spare graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke--and just the obliqueness of the respective source materials speaks to the primacy of their message: "Everything is illuminated by the past." The keystone line in Schreiber's picture, this serves as a mission statement of sorts for both films, locating in the middle of this first decade of the new millennium something that feels like a weary acceptance that not only are we products of our trauma and misdeeds, but also that our trauma and misdeeds are beyond redress and completely inescapable. To parse the best line in Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, it's the karmic payment plan: buy now, pay forever.
Finally opening this weekend in limited U.S. release are two films Walter Chaw and I, respectively, loved on the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (Canada: March 27) and Ethan Hawke's Seymour: An Introduction (Canada: next week, March 20). Don't miss them.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris and Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly & Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 **/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C- starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris directed by Sean Anders
by Bill Chambers The Farrelly Brothers' Dumb and Dumber To opens with Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas emerging from twenty years of catatonia. As the trailers were eager to give away, he's just been playing an elaborate hoax on best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), but still: point taken. To put things in perspective, more time elapsed between Dumb and Dumber and its sequel than did between The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III, and the popular form--along with the popular taste in--movie comedy has changed significantly in the interim. This is the Rip Van Winkle of franchises, squarely un-hip no matter how evergreen is its scatological humour; the filmmakers, ultimately to their credit, value tonal continuity with Dumb & Dumber over blending in. With a plot revolving around a McGuffin that felt rickety when the first one did it in 1994, the picture embraces the quaint charms of the old school to ironically novel effect.
Im Toten Winkel - Hitlers Sekretärin ***½/**** directed by André Heller & Othmar Schmiderer
by Bill Chambers A significant source of Blind Spot. Hitler's Secretary's power is the au naturel form it takes. There are no re-enactments, there are no such visual cues as photographs or stock footage; there isn't even any underscore--only the talking head of Traudl Junge, who, with her rotating cluster of sweaters and ascots, is the film's aesthetic. Directors André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer (Heller interviewed, Schmiderer shot) either believe Junge to be so compelling a presence as to challenge the need for newsreel aids, or fundamentally appreciate that they risked depersonalizing Junge's fresh, intimate perspective by going the History Channel route. I only skimmed the press notes (which are rather regrettably written: "Like Adolf Hitler, [Heller and Schmiderer] were also born and raised in Austria," begins an introduction to the filmmakers) to keep from cheapening Blind Spot's enigmatic approach--that ambivalence--for myself: The film casts a spell as fragile as that of an ILM spectacle.
Also opening this weekend in limited release is a trio of movies Walter Chaw reviewed on the festival circuit: '71, Everly, and The Duke of Burgundy, which has finally come to Toronto. Meanwhile, I covered Maps to the Stars at TIFF '14; it makes its U.S. theatrical bow today.
by Walter Chaw Unsentimental and terrifying and set against lovely, John Constable-esque watercolour backgrounds, Martin Rosen's adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down arose in that extended lull between Disney's heyday and its late-Eighties resurrection. (This period also saw, in addition to Rosen's film of Adams's The Plague Dogs, Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn and Ralph Bakshi's most productive period, which included 1978's The Lord of the Rings.) Watership Down points to the dwindled potential for American animation to evolve into what anime has become: a mature medium for artistic expression of serious issues. A shame that this flawed piece is possibly the pinnacle of animation's ambition on these shores, Richard Linklater's Waking Life notwithstanding.
*½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B starring Paul Walker, Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Kimbrough screenplay by Clay Tarver & JJ Abrams directed by John Dahl
by Walter Chaw John Dahl's latest foray into knock-off B-movie territory is Joy Ride, a film that indulges an awkward dedication to hiding the face of its villain (which results in the biggest cheat of the film at its conclusion), presents predictably misogynistic victimizations for both of its female characters (followed by weak-wristed salvations), and demands an ironclad suspension of disbelief that the bad guy is omniscient, omnipresent, and only ruthless when there isn't a long speech to be made. The joyless Joy Ride is a leaden collection of cheap thriller clichés redolent with the flop-sweat stench of stale desperation and clumsy sleight-of-hand, a stultifying series of promising set-ups with threadbare pay-offs. The film drives home its cautionary message against childishness with an increasing immaturity--it's the equivalent of burying a toddler up to the neck for throwing a tantrum, and though it will predictably (and fairly) be compared against The Hitcher and Duel, the most telling stolen moment in Joy Ride is a cornfield intrigue that substitutes the evil crop duster from North by Northwest for a rumbling semi tractor-trailer that somehow locates its prey in the dead of night amongst concealing stalks.