J. EDGAR. J. Edgar Hoover was a singular figure in 20th Century American history. In his near half-century tenure as director of the FBI, he grew the organization from a nearly impotent fledgling department into the crime-bustin' juggernaut it is today. He modernized criminal investigation, introducing databases, forensic detection and a host of other monumental advancements. He also ushered in an era of scrutiny, invasion and paranoia that has finally come to fruition.
Clint Eastwood, working from a script by Dustin Lance Black (Milk), examines Hoover's life from early boyhood to his death in 1972. In a distracting series of flashbacks and -forwards we watch Hoover grow into a megalomaniacal anti-Communist. Constantly seeking to elevate his own profile, he amasses voluminous secret files on public figures to use as leverage against them. In private he is devastatingly repressed, forced by his upbringing and social expectations to bury major aspects of his personality. In so doing he creates a substantial void in his emotional life, distancing himself from some of the crucial stuff of human existence.
As Hoover, Leonardo DiCaprio is mostly convincing, but he's too familiar a face to completely disappear into a role like this. Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts give strong supporting performances as Clyde Tolson (associate director of the FBI) and Helen Gandy (Hoover's steadfast secretary). These two believed in Hoover devoutly, despite constant ethical conflicts and a lack of emotional reciprocity. The trio's strange and fascinating triangle frames the movie, but Eastwood's approach is somewhat oblique. He presents the relationships with a sort of journalistic objectivity, which keeps the characters at a distance.
The script's requirement to age characters so dramatically creates another problem: thick, jowly makeup. Hammer's, especially, looks like a liver-spotted rubber mask.
J. Edgar is not a success overall, mainly for its awkward structure and noncommittal narrative stance. Aesthetically, though, it's a knockout (save for that makeup). The production design, costuming and cinematography are spot-on, creating a lush, atmospheric backdrop. It's a beautiful stage, but the action never quite enlivens it. R. 138m. At the Broadway.
IMMORTALS. I went into Immortals with myriad misconceptions. From an early priest-burning through a mallet-castration and too many decapitations to count, I found myself bristling again at the MPAA for its hypocritical rating system. Then I realized *Immortals* is rated R and felt foolish.
I also got frustrated that whoever directed it was so blatantly ripping off Tarsem Singh (The Cell). Then I realized Singh directed it and felt even more foolish. I should probably start watching more TV.
Those tandem revelations are a good thumbnail sketch of Immortals. Like all of Singh's work it is visually striking, maybe too much so. It is spectacular -- and spectacularly violent. But without a compelling story the spectacle feels hollow. To wit: It's ancient Greece, and the gods, having defeated and imprisoned their nemeses the Titans thousands of years earlier, have attracted the fury of Heraklion king Hyperion (Mickey Rourke). Because the gods allowed the death of his family, Hyperion intends to bring war to them, freeing the Titans and cutting a bloody swath through Hellenic society in the process. The only human who can stop him is Theseus (Henry Cavill), bastard son of a rape victim, who Zeus (Luke Evans) has been secretly training for the job.
There's a lot of business about a mystical bow and a virgin oracle, and plenty of nastily arcane torture devices. It's all very artfully staged and photographed. There are a couple of genuinely stirring moments, and the fight scenes are often amazing. But in the end, I never felt invested enough to care beyond waiting for the next battle. R. 110m. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway and Mill Creek, 2D only at the Minor and Fortuna.
JACK AND JILL. I expected to come out of Jack and Jill guns blazing, brimming with epithets and pithy bitching. But I didn't, exactly; which is not to say I fell in love with it. It's just another Adam Sandler movie directed by Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy and countless others). Here he plays twins. What do we expect? It's not like these guys are gonna spontaneously come out with a Tree of Life or something.
By that rationale it seems unfair, if not impossible, to really criticize their work. And maybe that's their stroke of genius. They've figured out what the majority of people want from the movie experience, and they have repeatedly serviced that desire, apparently having a lot of fun and obviously making a fortune in the process.
So, yeah, I should hate Jack and Jill, but I don't. It's competently put together, even if the humor is obvious and Sandler's Jill is endlessly grating. Some of the gags work, and it's fun to see Al Pacino make fun of himself. I'll leave it to someone else to dissect it. My real beef is with a culture that trains itself not to want anything more personal or complex than Sandler in drag doing fart jokes for 91 minutes. PG. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
-- John J. Bennett
ANONYMOUS. Shakespeare was thrust upon us all in our youth and drilled deeply into our brains as perhaps the greatest playwright of all time. For such a prominent figure, though, we know relatively little about him. Historians and scholars have scoured records for any evidence they can find, and the results have been thin: We know when he was born (1564) and when he died (1616), but the time in between is hazy. This has led some literary scholars to doubt the authenticity of Shakespeare as The Bard. They theorize that his name was used to publish the plays of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Anonymous takes a stab at Hollywoodizing this theory with dark zeal, seeking to convince the audience that a) Shakespeare was a fall guy and b) history is open to interpretation.
Despite an amazing cast and fabulous, period-appropriate costumes and sets, the film failed to impress me. Like any Shakespeare fan, I delighted in the witty allusions to his works, and I appreciated the classically literary presentations of tragedy and comedy. However, the glaring historical inaccuracies weakened the film, making the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare's identity seem as tragically flawed as the typical Shakespearean leading man.
It's baffling, really. Screenwriter John Orloff obviously took great care to capture all the details of the Oxfordian theory, yet he failed to put it into the proper historical context. Perhaps the fault belongs to director Roland Emmerich. Judging by his work with 10,000 B.C., he has a clear distaste for accuracy. The time line of Anonymous is skewed by the presence of playwrights before Shakespeare's time and by a loose interpretation of the Elizabethan Empire, complete with abortions, adultery and incest (huzzah!). The film is a Catch-22: Aimed at an audience with a curiosity and appreciation for Shakespeare, it's awash with errors only these same people will notice. It's like being lured in by candy, then given only carrots. PG13. 130m. At the Broadway.
-- Devan King
Friday night at the Arcata Theatre Lounge, Ampt Skate Shop presents the premiere of In Ampt We Trust, a locally produced skate flick featuring grinds at the McKinleyville Skate Park, wipeouts on HSU stairs and pretty scenery of the North Coast. Admission is $5 with all proceeds benefiting the Arcata Phase 2 skatepark project. All ages. Doors at 7 p.m., movie at 8 p.m. Thursday will bring Jim Carrey as the title character in 2000's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. PG. 6 p.m.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1. Calling all Twi-hards! The fourth (and we assume penultimate) film in the series finds Bella (Kristen Stewart) preggers from vampire Edward's (Robert Pattinson) seed, which raises some icky biological concerns. Meanwhile, Jacob (Taylor Lautner) remains a moody, unrequited werewolf. Howl! PG13. 117m. At every theater except the Garberville.
HAPPY FEET TWO. Through the magic of computers, Emperor penguins sing and dance -- again! This sequel to the hit 2006 original brings back the vocal stylings of Elijah Wood and Robin Williams as penguins, and reels in Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as Will and Bill the krill for a 3D Antarctic adventure. PG. 100m. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna, 2D only at the Minor.
A VERY HAROLD AND KUMAR CHRISTMAS. Yuletide hijinks brought to you by illegal narcotics, claymated genitalia and Neil Patrick Harris. R. 90m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
IN TIME. In a world where you stop aging at 25 and immortality can be bought, Justin Timberlake looks good. Rated PG-13. 110m. At the Broadway.
PUSS IN BOOTS. Three Shrek movies plus this solo outing. Five lives left, kitty. PG. 90m. In 3D and 2D at the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
REAL STEEL. Boxing robots. PG-13. 127m. At the Garberville.
TOWER HEIST. Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy are avenging 99 percenters, and a Central Park skyscraper is America. Plus jokes. PG13. 105m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.