A DANGEROUS METHOD. It may seem strange for director David Cronenberg to follow the blood-drenched noir of A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) with a fictionalized drama about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. But upon further analysis (pun intended) it makes a lot of sense. After all, Cronenberg has built a career exploring the psychology of sex and death.
While A Dangerous Method lacks some of his trademarks -- ultra-violence in his recent work, gross-out science in early stuff like Videodrome and The Fly -- it still bears his unmistakable touch. The cinematography and set design are gorgeous and meticulous; the camera moves are slow and deliberate; and the brutality of the human psyche takes center stage.
The story centers around Jung (Michael Fassbender) and the long-term relationship he establishes with an especially disturbed patient named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), whom he treats with Freud's then-explosively controversial talk-therapy method. As the therapy progresses -- along with their sexual relationship -- Spielrein pursues a psychiatric career of her own. She also becomes the catalyst for a growing rift between Jung and his mentor/surrogate father, Freud (Viggo Mortensen).
Cronenberg always demands specific performances from his cast. Fassbender and Mortensen are models of pacing and restraint. At first I wasn't so sure about Knightley's performance; her early scenes, with their slavering, jaw-jutting madness, seemed a little over the top. But she soon convinced me, and ultimately her portrayal of a hyper-intelligent woman transcending mental illness carries the film. R. 99m. Ends Thursday at the Broadway.
THE DESCENDANTS is a well-observed, expertly crafted movie about love, infidelity and loss, but I'm not sure it adds anything new to the discussion.
Alexander Payne has made a name for himself as one of contemporary American cinema's auteurs. I won't say this reputation is unearned, exactly, but something about his movies doesn't hit home with me. His ability to draw out great performances from actors is formidable, and his sense of story is strong. For whatever reason, though, I don't find his voice all that distinct or powerful. I love Election (1999), but I lost the thread somewhere around Sideways (2004).
The Descendants is about Matt King (George Clooney), a Hawaiian attorney whose family lineage goes back to King Kamehameha. With his wife in a coma following a speedboat accident, King learns that she'd been having an affair. His teenage daughter is a bit of a train wreck, and he has a hard time relating to his 10-year-old. Plus, he's the sole trustee of his family's estate, a vast tract of undeveloped land on the island of Kauai, and he's responsible for the dispensation of this valuable land. He's a nice guy with way too much on his plate.
The performances across the board are excellent, and Clooney is especially good. I have to credit Payne for making Hawaii a character without overemphasizing it. If I put my cynicism aside for a minute, I have to admit The Descendants is entirely successful at what it sets out to do. R. 115m. At the Minor and Fortuna.
--John J. Bennett
THE GREY. Based on Joe Carnahan's previous films (including Smokin' Aces and The A-Team), The Grey comes with a promise of extreme action, fast-paced destruction and glitzy explosions.
Though no less excitingly destructive than Carnahan's previous films, The Grey has an artistic edge not seen in his work for quite some time. Shot with a superfluous wash, the visual tone is faded and, well, grey. This symbolism is unnecessary, as are most of the other techniques Carnahan uses.
The hand-held camerawork stands out as the only artistic touch that works. The rest (foreshadowing, flashbacks, interior monologue, etc.) come across as thin and bothersome. What's to foreshadow? We're fully aware of every character's impending doom. As for the flashbacks and interior monologue, their only redeeming quality (slight as it is) is hearing Liam Neeson's voice.
His character, a brooding giant named Ottway, is pushed to the edge of suicide by the morbidity of his job (killing wolves for oil companies) and the harsh Alaskan climate. Following a predictable plane crash, Ottway must lead the survivors through the wilderness to safety. Largely ignoring such risks as frostbite, hypothermia and snow blindness, the film focuses on the threat posed by bloodthirsty wolves. Which is fun while it lasts: There's nothing quite like watching people get offed, one by one.
So Carnahan's decision to replace peril with earnest drama is unfortunate. When it comes to survival films, always go with loss of a limb over flashbacks of a lost loved one. R. 117m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
MAN ON A LEDGE. It's hard to tell whether Sam Worthington is a terrible actor because of his constant efforts to cover up his Australian accent, or whether those efforts fail because he's a terrible actor. Bland as white rice, Worthington (Avatar, Terminator Salvation) can't evoke even the slightest emotion, which is distracting even in a good film. With a lesser one such as Man on a Ledge, it's impossible to ignore.
The storyline of the wrongly accused cop who takes drastic action to clear his name has been done time and time again. This must have occurred to screenwriter, Pablo F. Fenjves, who tosses in a second storyline to make a cop's revenge story and a heist film in one!
Both storylines are blatantly predictable, despite attempts at plot twists and sex appeal. The oddly pieced-together supporting cast includes Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell and a skeletal Ed Harris. Harris brings his customary intensity as the antagonist, but it's rather pointless when you don't care about the person he is antagonizing.
Other roles are pure stereotypes: two sarcastic cops, a reporter with no ethics (a bland cameo from Kyra Sedgwick), and a sexy and sassy amateur jewel thief (complete with ridiculously tight clothing and perfect makeup, despite the circumstances). The lack of originality makes this already weak movie completely pointless. PG13. 102m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.
IRON LADY. Perennial Oscar nominee Meryl Streep stars as Reagan-era British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in this biopic from Mama Mia! Director Phyllida Lloyd. PG13. 105m. At the Minor.
BIG MIRACLE. A Greenpeace volunteer (Drew Barrymore) and a small-town newspaper reporter (The Office's John Krasinski) are ex-sweethearts who must rally an unlikely coalition of Inuits, oil company execs and Russian and American soldiers to free a family of gray whales. Ooh, I hope it works out! PG. 123m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK. With Harry Potter now a graduate of Hogwarts, Daniel Radcliffe graduates to the role of a pale, widowed lawyer who travels to a remote coastal village in England where a vengeful ghost is terrorizing the townsfolk. PG13. 95m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
CHRONICLE. Behold, a newspaper that loses $1 million a week -- wait, wrong Chronicle. This, another found-footage-style teen thriller, follows three high school students as they grapple with the great responsibility of their newfound superpowers. PG13. 83m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
Let's play Six Degrees of Johnny Depp: Launched to fame by 21 Jump Street, the doe-eyed dreamboat had his pick of starring film roles. His first choice, 1990's Cry-Baby, skewered his teen idol status and revealed Depp's mischievous streak. He played a crooning '50s greaser in John Waters' campy musical, which comes to the Arcata Theatre Lounge Friday evening at 8.
A couple years back, Depp starred in the John Dillinger biopic Public Enemies alongside Billy Crudup, who (stay with me here) voiced a character in the English-dubbed version of Princess Mononoke. That 1997 masterpiece from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki plays at the ATL Saturday evening at 8.
Depp delivered one of his finest performances as the title character in Ed Wood (1994), Tim Burton's love letter to the godfather of gloriously crappy movies. Hey, look! Next week's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night at the ATL features two Wood, er, classics -- 1959's confounding Night of the Ghouls and 1953's cross-dressing melodrama Glen or Glenda.
THE ARTIST. This mostly silent, black-and-white homage to cinema's mostly silent, black-and-white early years has now been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including most of the biggies (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actress). PG13. 103m. At the Minor and the Broadway.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 3D. Remember the animated Disney version from 1991? Yeah, this is that movie. Only now it's in 3D so you need glasses and more dollars. 90m. At the Broadway.
CONTRABAND. Mark Wahlberg was a good drug smuggler. But he quit. His brother-in-law is a lousy drug smuggler in trouble. Cue relapse. R. 110m. At the Broadway.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE. Would-be tearjerker about a young boy trying to maintain a connection to his dad, who died in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, proved successful as Oscar bait (with a Best Picture nod), but it fails on almost every other level.
HAYWIRE. Mixed martial artist Gina Carrano stars as a Jason Bourne-like ass-kicker in this artful espionage thriller from director Steven Soderbergh. Costarring Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas and Michael Fassbender R. 93m. At the Broadway.
HUGO. Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret returns to local theaters boasting 11 Academy Award nominations. PG. 127m. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -- GHOST PROTOCOL. Tom Cruise returns as Secret Agent Ethan Hunt, theme music kicks in, stunts ensue. PG13. 133m. At the Garberville.
ONE FOR THE MONEY. Worst-movie-of-the-year candidate (it's rocking a 3 percent on RottenTomatoes.com) stars Katherine Heigl as a bail bond agent charged with hauling in her high school ex. PG13. 106m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
RED TAILS. The dogfight action scenes rule, but otherwise this is an uneven and simplistic account of the Tuskegee Airmen. PG13. 125m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
UNDERWORLD AWAKENING. Kate Bekinsale squeezes into a leather catsuit to do battle with vampires and werewolves. Everyone loses. R. 88m. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway and Mill Creek, 3D only at the Fortuna.
WAR HORSE. Steven Spielberg shows restraint and masterful filmmaking in this story of friendship between a boy and horse during World War I. PG13. 146m. At the Broadway.