twilight: Angelina Jolie in Changeling.
by Clint Eastwood
Steeped in shades of muted grays and browns, highlighted by
the bleakest sunlight this side of Albany in March, the 1928
Los Angeles of Clint Eastwood’s Changeling seems bereft
of hope or potential. This is fitting, as, like Mystic
River, this movie deals with the loss of innocence and
the sometime inadequacy of justice. Eastwood quickly sets
up the particulars: Single mother Christine Collins (Angelina
Jolie), a supervisor for Pacific Telephone & Telegraph,
is devoted to her 9-year-old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith).
When the lad goes missing, and the LAPD tries to convince
her that another child is, in fact, her son, Christine takes
the gloves off, fighting the powers that be in a desperate
bid to try to save Walter while there’s still a chance. But
in trying to force the hand of LAPD Chief James “Two Guns”
Davis (Colm Feore), Christine is hit hard with the cold realities
of police brutality and a system in which women who don’t
play nice get thrown—or, in a rare humorous moment, “escorted”—to
the mental hospital.
which is based on a true story, is at times moving, occasionally
haunting, and almost entirely frustrating. This may be due
to the fact that all concerned seem focused on a primary goal
of netting Jolie an Academy Award. Hardly a scene goes by
without a stark closeup of Jolie’s famous facial planes, crumpled
in grief or defiantly stoic. Indeed, this is old-school movie
acting, the kind of storytelling that gets its mojo from expressive
faces, a la Garbo or Crawford. This should not imply that
Jolie does nothing but make faces, because she does give a
controlled performance that occasionally veers into real poignancy,
such as when Christine breaks down when the imposter Walter
impishly tells her, “Goodnight, Mommy.” “I want my son!” she
shrieks, pounding her heart as if to stun it into renewed
wholeness; the audience can’t help but feel the depth of her
loss and frustration. The problem here isn’t so much Jolie’s
performance as it is the fact that Christine, as scripted
by J. Michael Stracyznski, is nothing more than attributes
such as valiant and determined. In short, for all she’s going
through, she’s thoroughly dull.
The search for a missing child, the runaround a frantic mother
gets, the idea of a deeper conspiracy, all of this begs for
a taut approach that enhances the inherent suspense of the
plot details. Strangely, for so talented a storyteller, Eastwood
lets the movie get away from him, diving headlong into subplots
that don’t so much add to the labyrinthine mystery as they
do the running time. Christine’s time in the mental ward riffs
on The Snake Pit and Cuckoo’s Nest. One can
almost hear the character making a mental to-do list, “Note
to self: Take time to save women unjustly incarcerated by
The Man.” Later in the movie, chunks of time are squandered
ping-ponging between two courtrooms, one a case involving
a serial killer (a chilling Jason Butler Harner) and the other
a series of hearings on police corruption. Instead of adding
to the story, both serve to prop up the already saintlike
qualities of Christine, as if such were necessary.
Ironically, the best thing about Changeling is yet
another story thread, this one infinitely more interesting
and almost worthy of its own script. LAPD Detective Lester
Yberra (Michael Kelly) takes on the mundane task of bringing
in a Canadian youth reported to be living on a ranch in Wineville
(now Mira Loma). The dust-covered shacks and wire chicken
coops of the ranch lend an austerely sinister note to the
movie, the only hint of danger and suspense that exists. In
these scenes alone do we get the full sense of evil residing
among us. Yberra’s decisions when it comes to listening to
the boy’s tale, a modern-day horror story, and his actions
taken despite orders from the top, make one wonder what makes
him tick, and what happened to him afterward. Strangely, these
are not considerations that come into mind with Christine.
Perhaps this is because Kelly, unlike Jolie, masterfully underplays
his role, making us think about the measure of this no-fuss
lawman. Perhaps it’s because, in the all-out effort to direct
Jolie to Oscar gold, Eastwood let Kelly do his own thing.
Whatever it was, be thankful for it, because it alone gives
Changeling its occasional glimmer of beauty.
by Guy Ritchie
From the opening shot, you know that the junkie with the giant
crack bong, rock star Johnny Quid (Jamie Campbell Bower),
is going to be trouble. There are other certainties to be
gleaned from the slick opening of RocknRolla: The up-from-the-gutter,
middle-age gang boss Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson) isn’t as smart
as he thinks he is; luck will eventually fail the smooth,
corrupt accountant Stella (Thandie Newton); crooks One Two
(Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) will be put through
hell, but probably end up all right; and narrator Archie (Mark
Strong) will get the last word.
Writer-director Guy Ritchie slows down the usual frenetic
pace for his latest sardonic, violent excursion into the London
underworld. All the familiar elements are present—low-level
hoods, vicious crime bosses, members of the thrill-seeking
upper class, corrupt Russians—but deployed with less flash
than usual. It’s a familiar Ritchie-esque tale of greed and
cunning tripped up by the vagaries of chance, with the gods
doling out brutally cold cosmic justice. This time around,
however, it’s all made more vivid by having fewer characters
played by better actors.
The plot is very much grounded in contemporary London, which,
before the current world economic unpleasantness, was a place
of rampant growth. Wilkinson’s gangster is a fixer, easing
the path of developers by buying off city planners and politicians.
His—and not a few others’—downfall is set in motion when he
makes a deal with a Russian oligarch. The film spins this
high-level corruption off into every nook and cranny of British
society, setting off a couple of delicious subplots and layering
in some tart social criticism.
One of the pleasures of RocknRolla is the smart, stylized
dialogue, which necessarily stands out in a criminal milieu
beset by crushing stupidity. For every philosophical, rich
junkie like rock star Johnny Quid, there are a dozen doped-out
losers wreaking havoc with their every dumb move. For every
“honest” gangster like One Two or Mumbles, there are many
more backstabbing thugs and Russian war criminals doing dirty
work for dirtier oligarchs.
There isn’t much honor among these thieves, but what there
is is best embodied by Mark Strong’s Archie. As the Lebanese
spy boss, Strong stole the recent Body of Lies from
Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe; his Brit gangster here
similarly dominates. Archie’s moral code is compromised, but,
the film suggests, it may be the best this rotten old world
can hope for.
Haunting of Molly Hartley
by Mickey Liddell
The only scary movie at the multi plexes for Halloween weekend
(disregarding the horror-porn retread Saw V) was The
Haunting of Molly Hartley, a bland pastiche that’s trick,
not treat. The trick is that it isn’t about Halloween, as
advertised, and it’s definitely not haunting. It’s not even
coherent; a mishmash of religion, medical science, and satanic
conspiracy, it lazily invokes the atmospheres of other scary
movies (from Rosemary’s Baby to The Exorcism of
Emily Rose) without creating a narrative of its own.
A product from producer-turned-director Mickey Liddell, Molly
Hartley opens with a flashback to the 1970s. A young couple
in a spooky barn are interrupted by the girl’s father, a religious
zealot who threatens to kill her before crashing his truck.
Fast-forward to the present: Molly (Haley Bennett) suffers
from headaches and nosebleeds, and is driven to her new high
school by her worried father (Jake Weber). Within a few days,
she is befriended by a Bible thumper, a bitchy punk girl,
and the school’s handsome party boy, Joe (Chace Crawford).
But Molly’s promising start at popularity is marred by hallucinations
of being attacked by her mother, who is committed to a mental
institution nearby. The supposed suspense comes from not knowing
whether Molly is actually hallucinating, or if the visitations
from her mother are real.
The story is so inoffensive that it shies from mentioning
anything about Satan, even as it tries to develop paranoia
about the intentions of the school psychologist, too-good-to-be-true
Joe, and the school’s Jesus freaks. Bennett seems merely dazed
rather than frightened as Molly, and Weber (the only cast
member who can act) can’t do much with his role as an overprotective
father who wimps out whenever he’s needed. At several junctions,
the low-budget production seems to have snipped some footage
to save money on special effects, or owing to an inability
to create atmospheric camera work. Or maybe it was edited
for a PG-13 rating. In any case, Liddell shouldn’t have bothered:
This haunting is too tame even for tweens.