ends with a bang, and then another bang: 2012.
by Roland Emmerich
of the world in Roland Emmerich’s latest doomsday disaster
movie, 2012, is even less convincing than it was four
years ago in The Day After Tomorrow, which at least
had the dubious distinction of being topical: In it, the Earth
is destroyed by massive sheets of ice caused by global warming.
For 2012 (the title is taken from the Mayan Long Count
calendar and its supposed prediction of an apocalypse occurring
on Dec. 21, 2012), the cataclysm is produced by neutrinos
emanating from the sun that warm the Earth’s core to destructive
is so eager to unleash its admittedly spectacular special
effects that it dispenses with most of the pseudo- scientific
mumbo jumbo that made a joke out of The Day After Tomorrow—and
most of the end-of-the-world movies that made waves in the
late 1990s. Little known factoids about neutrinos couldn’t
be expected to raise the same kind of sociopolitical ruckus
as global warming, and Mayan astronomy (comprising about two
or three sentences of dialogue) is only meant to add a dash
of mysticism to 2012’s blandly amateurish banter between
are a lot of experts: Emmerich and his co-writer, Harold Kloser,
have attempted a Babel and Crash-style narrative
that connects characters across the globe. The flimsiest connection
is between Jackson Curtis (John Cusack), a failed novelist,
and a Russian mobster (Zlatko Buric) buying up government
influence. But hey, Curtis’ novel was read favorably by Adrian
(Chiwetel Ejiofor), a scientist who tries to warn the White
House that plate tectonics is considerably more dangerous
than the wrong china at a state dinner. Adrian’s contact is
the chief of staff (Oliver Platt), an eco-cynic who is in
on a secret project. As minimal as it is, the screenplay manages
to give away the secret well in advance of any build-up in
there’s time for suspense. As soon as the characters’ social
and emotional connections are established, California begins
to erupt. Jackson picks up his two kids from his ex-wife (Amanda
Peet) and takes them to Yellowstone where he meets a crackpot
conspiracy-theorist hermit pirate-radio operator (an amusing
Woody Harrelson) who also notices the park’s geological aberrations.
Jackson races to get his kids home while the entire infrastructure
of Los Angeles is torn apart by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
there, plot is just something that happens in snatches while
the continents skid and collide and send St. Peter’s Basilica
crashing dome-first into oblivion. Before you know it, the
Himalayas are peak-deep in oceanic disturbances. The destruction
is impressively rendered, and Cusack does an admirable job
of interacting with characters whose roles are even more cookie-cutter
than his own. Danny Glover is in Morgan Freeman’s Deep
Impact role as the wise and stoical American president;
Thandie Newton is mere decoration as the president’s daughter
and Adrian’s love interest; and eventually (the film is over
two-and-a-half hours), Tibetan peasants will meet up with
the Russian mobster’s bimbo—and none of it matters because
the arctic poles are upside down, and the jaw-dropping CGI
makes it look like the last, best thrill ride on Earth.
by Cédric Klapisch
some serious stones to name your movie after a city. Robert
Altman got away with it in Nashville, because he could
focus his sprawling black comedy on the music industry and
the political ennui of the 1970s. Wolfgang Peterson got away
with it in Troy, through sheer, massive CGI overkill
and by casting the biggest movie star in the world (Brad Pitt).
The more subtle Cédric Klapisch gets away with Paris,
because he’s not trying to make any grandiose statement beyond,
“Go on, schmuck, live life to the fullest.”
doesn’t mean that the slightly sprawling Paris is more
than mildly interesting or more than fitfully entertaining.
Because it isn’t.
smartest move is not tying all the characters together neatly;
most are just peripherally in each others’ orbits. At the
center of this disorganized universe is Pierre (Romain Duris),
a 30-something ex-dancer with a terminally bad ticker: No
heart transplant, he dies. His social-worker, single-mom sister
(Juliette Binoche) and her three kids move in, both to take
care of him and cheer him up. It mostly works, on both counts.
are a half-dozen other principle characters, including an
emotionally desperate, middle-aged professor (Fabrice Luchini);
the hot young thing he fixates on (Mèlanie Laurant, giving
more-or-less the same diffident performance she gave as Shoshana
in Inglourious Basterds); and his always flummoxed
middle-class architect brother (François Cluzet). There are
some hearty French workers who get way too much of the filmmakers’
benefit of the doubt for their earthy, life-affirming joie
de vivre; there’s an illegal immigrant trying to make
his way to Paris from Cameroon; and there are some high-society
babes looking for a little lower-class action in one of the
films’ less defensible sequences.
nice that most of these characters are sour or grumpy most
of the time; that’s life. It’s just that the filmmakers only
bother to make a few of these characters worth our interest.
Paris, the city, however, always holds our interest, photographed
beautifully in muted colors, and in widescreen.
magical, effective part of the film is the opening-credit
sequence. As the camera prowls around the City of Lights,
and we see flash-forwards of what we’ll later realize were
scenes to come, the credits pile up on top of each other,
each white line fading slowly as another appears. It’s a nice
suggestion of the fading mark each of us leaves behind in
this world, as time eventually erases us utterly. Alas, nothing
that follows is as poetic or to the point.
by Richard Curtis
with simply fab music, Pirate Radio is the cinematic
equivalent of lolling at the beach, inhaling Coppertone fumes
while toe tapping to your big sister’s transistor radio. For
those of us of a certain age, the sounds of the Kinks, the
Who, and Hendrix pounding out aural magic is nostalgia at
its best, being that that nostalgia is tinged with suspense
over what next might come out of the DJ’s playlist. As with
records, however, there’s the flip side to Pirate Radio,
this one being that the narrative and its ill-formed characters
combine to serve no greater purpose than the throw-away B-side
to a Top 10 hit.
a waste—a waste of a great soundtrack and cast. Pirate
Radio, directed by Richard Curtis, details the magical
times had by a group of DJs who broadcast rock & roll
from a ship in the North Sea, at a time when the venerable
BBC controlled radio content in Great Britain. Needless to
say, rock was not deemed necessary to morally uplift and inform
the postwar population. Curtis floods his film with everyday
people bopping to the pirate station, and thrilling to the
off-color antics of its storied DJs. The ship itself is perhaps
more of a character than any of the individuals, serving as
domicile, workplace and overall boys’ club for a variety of
shaggings and shenanigans.
fail, the music takes a backseat to furtive couplings between
the DJs and their occasional female guests, including a bristling
cameo by January Jones as a duplicitous American bride. There
is one woman on board, but she, a lesbian, serves mainly to
underscore the fact that the guys were getting three squares
a day. Pirate Radio’s depiction of women is not much
more evolved than the views of a 12-year-old boy. Philip Seymour
Hoffman plays an American expatriate, “living for the music,
man,” which basically means that he’s willing to risk near-death
rather than go off-air. Rhys Ifans works a Brian Jones riff,
but behind the mod glasses and feathered hats, what’s he about?
Tom Sturridge plays a prep-school dropout bent on losing his
virginity, and, at times, figuring out which DJ could be his
daddy. Mom (Emma Thompson) isn’t saying, being too busy during
a brief ship visit doing her Mrs. Robinson impersonation.
Bill Nighy, as always, provides incomparable support as the
Hugh Hefner-type ship owner, but why exactly is he footing
the bill? A number of other DJs amble amiably about, distinguishable
mostly by their sartorial choices.
Radio’s intended great dramatic moment is hammy and overwrought.
A subplot involving monomaniacal bureaucrats (Kenneth Branagh
having a field day) trying to stop the evil of “the music”
offers a lot of funny moments, but the longed-for confrontation
between youthful anarchy and entrenched bureaucracy never
happens. The DJs get teary-eyed realizing that these are the
best days of their lives, but what did they expect? Apparently,
it’s all about the music, but we never really get what that
music means to any of them—unless it’s just a backdrop to
another shag. The movie’s coda points out that where once
there were no rock stations, now there are, like, hundreds
of thousands; of course, I’m sitting there thinking, “But
where are the ones that are going off the proscribed playlists???”
As if in answer to that plea, the movie ends with the credits
rolling alongside a wide variety of album covers of the past
40 years; the breadth of style included, and the emotional
power the seeing those images provokes—that’s what the music
the button! Press the button! (l-r) Marsden and Diaz
in The Box.
by Richard Kelly
(Cameron Diaz) and her rocket-scientist husband (James Marsden),
are having a run of bad luck when a mysterious man with a
disfigured face (Frank Langella) presents them with a wooden
box and an unusual offer: If they press the button inside
the box, they will receive $1 million, but someone, somewhere—who
they don’t know—will die. Spooky!
like premise enough for a conventional morality play, right?
Based on the Richard Matheson short story “Button, Button,”
The Box starts out as more-or-less just that: In one
agonizing scene, Marsden and Diaz toss a bunch of hamhanded
existentialist queries (“What is it to really know someone?”)
back and forth as the mystery box sits in the foreground.
Of course it’s all foreplay for the inevitable button-pushing,
without which this wouldn’t be much of a film.
Richmond, Va., in December 1976, which allows for the plot
to incorporate the Viking 1 Mars lander, The Box begins
as a charmingly slow-moving, mildly stylized throwback shot
with long, panning camera movements and a hint of sepia-tone
for effect. Perhaps due to the hammy dialogue, and Diaz’ earnest
attempt at a mid-Atlantic accent, this first hour plays like
one of Matheson’s Twilight Zone episodes—it’s no surprise,
then, that “Button, Button” was adapted for that series in
Richard Kelly does a game job of trying to stretch the rather
slight source material beyond its stated capacity. But The
Box precipitously descends into gobbledygook as soon as
the button is pressed—coincidentally where Matheson’s story
leaves off. The first hour is innocuous; the second hour is
a fourth-rate X-Files episode.
his most popular film, Donnie Darko, got by on an overarching
surreality—a clever way of saying the film is borderline incomprehensible—Kelly’s
latest work reveals him to be a big-idea hack in the vein
of M. Night Shyamalan. There’s no suspense to be found, just
a series of obvious twists and a lot of needless foreshadowing.
On that: Foreshadowing is a common and sometimes crucial element
of storytelling, but at no point in The Box does it
serve the story. Rather, it softens the impact of later events.
The “internal memo” about Langella’s character, which runs
at the film’s open, takes the buzz out of the entire first
of the film’s conceptual shortfalls could be ignored if it
weren’t for the modern trappings. When the musical soundtrack
(by members of indie-rock band the Arcade Fire) first makes
itself apparent, around the time Langella’s first appearance,
it’s well-timed and suitably creepy. But then it never
goes away. And the visual effects are nicely underplayed,
mostly limited to a half-dozen bloody noses, until it’s all
blown in one suspicion-confirming, maddeningly awful CGI sequence.