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Wind-swept: Alicja Bachleda and Colin Farrell in Ondine.

Sappily Ever After

By Ann Morrow

Ondine

Directed by Neil Jordan

 

The catch of the day is rather unusual in Ondine, the latest from Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan. But that’s to be expected from the director of The Crying Game and Interview With the Vampire. For Ondine, one of his gentlest (and least compelling) efforts, Jordan blends village life in a remote part of County Cork with folklore as embodied by Ondine (Polish actress Alicja Bachleda), the lovely young woman who is raised from the ocean depths in a fishing net cast by Syracuse (Colin Farrell). Syracuse is a lonely fisherman living in a cottage by the sea, and to him, Ondine is a mysterious gift. Her strange accent and desire to remain unseen by anyone but him almost convince him that she is indeed a creature from a fairy tale, especially after she accompanies him on his fishing boat and sings a strangely hypnotic song that seems to be the reason for his lobster traps and nets being filled to capacity.

He tells his young daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), about his new friend as if he were telling her a story, and she informs him that Ondine is a selkie, a mythological creature that lives as a seal in the water but can live on land as a woman—but only for a limited amount of time. Annie spends much of her time in the hospital because of a failing kidney, and when she’s well enough, she lives with her hard-drinking mother (Dervla Kirwan). Having Ondine in the cottage enriches the storybook quality of Syracuse’s noncustodial relationship with his daughter.

In the film’s first half, the charm of Syracuse and Ondine falling in love (perfectly believable even without knowing that Bachleda and Farrell fell in love in real life), the rugged beauty of the Irish coast (picturesquely captured by the great Christopher Doyle), and a lovely score compensate for the wan script. The mystery of Ondine and her elusive background isn’t potent enough—there’s never any doubt that she’s human—and the film’s homage to the traditions of oral storytelling is diminished by repetition: Annie repeats her selkie knowledge so often that it becomes boring, and more repetition is added during Syracuse’s confessions to the village priest (Jordan regular Stephen Rea). Syracuse’s fear that his good luck and newfound love can’t possibly last is sloppily dramatized (and made worse by unnecessarily thick accents), and as the plot moves into more predictably modern events (a man from Ondine’s past prowls the docks looking for her) it becomes merely slow-moving instead of leisurely lyrical. By its disappointingly conventional conclusion, the early enchantment of Syracuse and Ondine getting to know one another is about as memorable as a TV perfume ad.

 

Out of the Past

The Square

Directed by Nash Edgarton

Despite its setting, The Square is in many respects a pretty traditional genre flick. Noir thrillers tend rather more to nighttime Los Angeles than to suburban Australia, but with so many other conventions satisfied, The Square is firmly in that category: Visually and symbolically, it’s got the low lighting and the rain; dramatically, it’s got a cast of shifty types, headed by conspiring lovers overmatched by circumstance; and philosophically, its got the essential “lie down with dogs” moral fatality.

Raymond Yale (David Roberts) is a respected and successful, if unsatisfied, construction manager. We know that he is unsatisfied because he is having an affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), a younger woman from what appears to be the wrong side of the tracks (or in this case, the wrong side of the river). Under pressure from Carla to raise money to fund an escape from his wife and Carla’s thuggish husband, Smithy (Anthony Hayes), Raymond has started accepting kickbacks on the job. This fund gathering is too slow a process for Carla, however. When she discovers that her husband is hiding a large stash of cash in a crawlspace in their house, she issues Raymond an ultimatum: He must prove his seriousness about the relationship by ripping off her husband.

The hapless and hangdog Raymond accepts, and from that decision the tragedy unfolds. It’s to the credit of the filmmakers, director Nash Edgerton and writers Joel Edgerton (the director’s brother) and Matthew Dabner, that The Square maintains both the sense of inevitability that makes an effective tragedy and the surprises that make for an effective thriller.

Though some critics have detected a Coen-esque quirk to the movie, I did not, at all. If the Edgertons were going for a kind of black comedy, they did not have the cast for it: Roberts and van der Boom are appropriate as desperate connivers in over their heads; they do not have the subtle comedic sense of the likes of Frances McDormand and Dan Hedaya in the Coens’ early noir, Blood Simple.

So, if you are looking for a deep character study, or a wry take on genre, The Square may leave you cold with its bleak and pessimistic treatment of its characters. If, however, the stylized and unforgiving judgments of traditional noir (or Elizabethan tragedy, for that matter) are your thing, The Square provides such without irony.

(On the other hand, the short film by the Edgertons that precedes the feature is a swift, brutal, blackly comic thrill of an altogether different, more Tarantino-esque type.)

—John Rodat

 

Dumbed Down

Grown Ups

Directed by Dennis Dugan

Grown Ups is a movie geared toward schlubs who proudly never got the point of flushing the toilet, let alone putting the seat down. Bodily fluids exist to titillate, or in the case of one character’s “48 month old” who still breast feeds, repulse. Women are bodacious hotties (Brooklyn Decker) until pregnancy and motherhood transforms them into domineering witches, or menopause renders them physically and sexually abhorrent. Some of this is to be expected in the kind of cinematic comedy one associates with Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan, but overall, it translates to a completely unenjoyable, even painful film-watching experience.

Sandler plays Lenny, now a hot Hollywood agent who was the nucleus of his championship middle-school basketball team. Upon the death of their beloved coach, the team reunites for a long weekend at a secluded lakehouse (no, Jason in his hockey mask is not lurking around, although you may wish he were). There’s car salesman Eric (Kevin James), stay-at-home dad Kurt (Chris Rock), forever immature Marcus (David Spade), and new-agey Rob (Rob Schneider), along with assorted wives, including Salma Hayak, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph and Joyce Van Patten. Despite Lenny’s well-known success, he prefers to downplay things to the point that he pretends the family’s do-it-all nanny (Di Quon) is an au pair studying for university exams. His unease is matched by that of most of the guys. It’s clear from the start that Eric is hiding something, and Kurt’s efforts at domestic bliss are belittled by his breadwinner wife Deanne (Rudolph) and her obnoxious mother, whose character exists solely to fuel jokes about farts, bunions and stereotypical old-black-woman behavior. Marcus seems happy to live from one one-night stand till the next, and Rob seems truly at peace with his holistic life style and much older wife (Van Patten), whose character exists solely to fuel jokes about the supposedly unappealing and asexual nature of older women.

The movie is nostalgic for a time when kids played outdoors with whatever was at hand, but The Sandlot was much better in doing that and providing a decent storyline. Once we’re past the well-publicized moment when James’ Eric experiences a very painful ride on a rope swing, there’s little else to laugh about. The guys are able to momentarily relive their glory days while continuing to pound on each other when least expected; the wives find new appreciation of their hubbies; and the kids find out that they can survive without their Wiis, DSes, cell phones and personal trainers. Strangely, the normally unwatchable Schneider is the only main character who warrants some empathy and seems capable of something beyond toilet humor. In the end, it seems like Sandler, maybe with a contract to uphold, decided to call a bunch of friends together to shoot hoops, and see what sort of movie fell out of it. I think simply watching them play basketball together, regardless of their capabilities, would have been preferable.

—Laura Leon


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