Albert Nobbs


Glenn Close shows off her dapper side.

Glenn Close shows off her dapper side.

(2011) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson, Janet McTeer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Pauline Collins, Brenda Fricker, James Greene, Antonia Campbell Hughes, Phyllida Law, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Bronagh Gallagher, Rhys Burke, Laura Kinsella, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Mark Williams, Kenneth Collard, Judy Donovan. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

Woman Power

It is never easy being a woman (or so I surmise) but it was much harder in the 19th century than it is now. Opportunities for women back then were essentially limited to the husbands they could catch; if you happened to live in Ireland those opportunities were fewer still.

Albert Nobbs (Close) works as a waiter at a Dublin hotel just before the turn of the 20th century. Quietly efficient, he is appreciated for his efficiency, his unobtrusive service and of course his discretion. Even the hotel’s hypocritical owner, Mrs. Baker (Collins) feels kindly disposed towards him.

Albert hides a secret; beneath the starched high collar no Adam’s apple can be found; beneath the starched white shirt are a pair of womanly breasts rightly bound; beneath his perfectly pressed trousers no male member resides. He is a woman masquerading as a man, and successfully. Albert lives in quiet solitude in his small mean room in the employee quarters of the hotel. Beneath a board he hoards all the tips he’s received over a 15 year career. He is very close to his goal of 600 pounds; enough to buy a tobacconist’s shop where he’ll find the true independence he’s been longing for and when he makes enough money, selling the business and retiring to a seaside community.

His life is well-ordered and impeccably run; he knows what each guest needs before his guest knows it is needed. Albert rarely smiles because that would be out of place. That’s not to say that he has no friends although acquaintances would be the better word; the boisterous Dr. Holloran (Gleeson) and the tart-y chambermaid Helen (Wasikowska) socialize with him but don’t really know him. Nobody really does and Albert prefers it that way. Easier to keep his secret.

The hotel is a bit of faded glory and needs some sprucing up. The penurious Mrs. Baker realizes that in order to keep her customers she’ll need to do some maintenance and she hires Mr. Hubert Page (McTeer) to paint the hotel. It will be a fairly long job and so Mr. Page is made to bunk with Mr. Nobbs which doesn’t make Albert very happy. To his shock however, he discovers that he and Mr. Page have something in common – their gender.

Hubert has even gone so far as to marry Catherine (Gallagher), a truly winsome woman who not only knows Hubert’s secret but approves. Catherine is a dressmaker who keeps the two of them afloat when Hubert’s work dries up (in a manner of speaking). They make a fine team.

After Hubert’s job is completed, a new handyman is hired, Joe Mackin (Johnson). There’s not much good to say about Joe; he’s a drunk who can get violent when in his cups, he’s abusive particularly towards women and while devilishly handsome he isn’t particularly a go-getter. Of course Helen falls for him immediately.

Shortly after that a typhoid epidemic sweeps through Dublin, drying up business for the hotel and necessitating some changes. Hubert’s situation has convinced Albert that a good woman will be needed to help run his shop and he decides Helen would be perfect for that position. Not knowing that she is with someone, Albert tries courting her in a stiff and fumbling way. Joe finds out about it and encourages Helen to lead him on so that he might supply her with expensive gifts that he can sell and book passage for them both to America. The naive Albert doesn’t realize what’s going on. In such conditions, can he find his dream and even if he does, is that a sure way to happiness?

The undercurrents here are of sexual politics. The story began life as a novella by Irish author George Moore called The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs which may be found in his collection Celibate Lives if you’re interested in reading it. I get the sense that Nobbs makes a better man than most men which could well be a droll commentary on the state of manhood by Moore although I couldn’t swear to that explanation. I find it kind of comforting to think so however.

Close, who has championed this film for more than a decade, is one of the few actresses who can pull off the role without making a burlesque of it. She has the lower register vocally to make the illusion seem real and so complete is it that during a scene when she and McTeer dress up as women for a stroll along the beach, you almost could believe that they are a couple of men in drag, so awkward are they in the clothing of their own gender.

McTeer, who like Close was nominated for an Oscar in 2012 (making it the first time in Oscar history that two women pretending to be men were nominated for the same film), also makes the illusion seem real and while less time is spent on Hubert than on Albert, McTeer makes the role memorable and the relationships between Hubert and Catherine as well as Hubert and Albert believable.

There has been grumbling from some quarters that the film is a snide rip on the sexual politics of lesbians but I can only conclude that those making such claims haven’t seen the film. Neither Hubert nor Albert (whose real name we never discover) are sexually attracted to women and despite Albert’s pursuit Helen for matrimony, it’s more of a business arrangement for him. In fact, the whole masquerading as men thing is much more of an economic necessity for both of them rather than a conscious lifestyle choice. They’re just doing what they need to in order to survive.

While the pacing is a bit slow and the stiff dialogue and demeanor of the period may be excruciating for the impatient Generation Right Freaking Now, it’s still a movie well worth seeking out.

WHY RENT THIS: Oscar-worthy performance by Close. Wasikowska is lustrous.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit stilted and slow.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality, brief nudity and some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Close originated the role in a stage play based on the Moore novella. She won an Obie for her stage portrayal and lobbied for more than a decade to make a film out of it, which she eventually co-produced, co-wrote and received an Oscar nomination for her starring role.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While commentary tracks are generally de rigueur on most major home video releases, the one here by Close and Garcia is extraordinary, with Close going into enough detail into the source material and how it differs from the film, casting and character backgrounds and into great detail in the making of the film. It’s one of the best I’ve heard yet.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.6M on a $7.5M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Served the King of England

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Million Dollar Arm

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Haywire


Haywire

Gina Carano finds that Michael Fassbender makes a nice stool.

(2012) Action (Relativity) Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Michael Angarano, Mathieu Kassovitz, Eddie J. Fernandez, Aaron Cohen, Maximo Arciniega. Directed by Steven Soderbergh

 

Trust is a hard thing to come by and shouldn’t be given lightly. However at some point you have to at least hope that those in the same boat as you are going to watch your back. Sometimes though the people in that boat might have differing agendas.

Mallory Kane (Carano) is an operative working for a private security agency, the kind that takes care of things that government agencies can’t or won’t. After a hostage rescue in Barcelona doesn’t go quite according to plan, Kane and her fellow team member Aaron (Tatum) hook up before going their separate ways.

Mallory’s boss Kenneth (McGregor) next assigns her to a quick job as eye candy to MI-6 agent Paul (Fassbender) in Dublin as they pursue a French asset named Studer (Kassovitz). In a barn on the Frenchman’s estate, Mallory finds the hostage she rescued with a bullet in his brain. That raises her suspicions. When Paul turns against her and tries to kill her in their hotel room, that makes her downright paranoid.

She now has to escape her own operatives and law enforcement as she tries to get to the bottom of things as to why she was double crossed. She’ll have to discover who was behind it – Kenneth, the government official who employed him (Douglas), the diplomat (Banderas) who isn’t all he appears to be and the only person she can trust is her father (Paxton).

Stephen Soderbergh has done action movies before (The Limey) although he is best known for the Oceans 11 series. He makes a noble effort here but it falls a bit short of the mark. The problem here lies mostly in the writing. For one thing, there is no real suspense; most of the betrayals and double crosses you see coming. They’re not just telegraphed, they’re on digital video on demand.

Also, I found the pacing kind of uneven. The movie jerks along like it has sugar in the carburetor. There’s a scene of action, then a flashback, then exposition, then more action…there isn’t the kind of flow that makes a movie like this work. There’s also a distinct but odd lack of energy, like the cast and crew didn’t eat their Wheaties or something. It’s extremely laid back.

There are some good performances here. Carano, a MMF superstar, carries the load here and she shows a great deal of potential. She has one romantic encounter with Tatum and she looks like she felt awkward doing it but otherwise she handles herself well, not to mention she’s very attractive. Some female reviewers have expressed some satisfaction at watching her kick the asses of every other guy in this movie, but badass women are no stranger to Hollywood – maybe those reviewers should watch a couple of Pam Grier movies for future reference. Carano, a trained professional, is an excellent ass-kicker it must be said.

There’s lots of action for those who are into that, from car chases to occasional gun fights. I do like that Mallory works for an independent contractor and not a shadowy government agency, that is more in line with modern sensibilities. However, the pros and the cons of this film break just about even. I’m leaning towards a very slight not recommended, but I could be pushed either way.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of action. Carano is easy on the eyes.

REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is kind of choppy. The plot is kind of predictable. Lacks passion – felt more like a payday than a movie.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots and lots of violence. Then lots more.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gina Carano’s voice was digitally altered to make it deeper sounding after the studio decided her voice was too-feminine sounding for the role.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100. The reviews are good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Mechanic

EUROPEAN LOCATION LOVERS: Won’t be loving this. Most of the location shots could have been filmed anywhere. You never get a sense of place in this movie.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Girl on the Train

Perrier’s Bounty


Perrier's Bounty

Murphy, Whittaker and Broadbent stroll away from yet another catastrophe.

(2009) Gangster Comedy (IFC) Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Jodie Whittaker, Gabriel Byrne (voice), Liam Cunningham, Michael McElhatton, Domhnall Gleeson, Ned Dennehy, Patrick McCabe, Glenn Speers, Natalie Britton. Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon

Sometimes, you’re left in an impossible situation; one in which, either through your own ineptitude or through no fault of your own there is no good outcome. There are times when the lesser of two evils is to go medieval on somebody’s ass.

Michael McCrae (Murphy) is a small-time hood in Dublin who owes a thousand Euros to Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson), a big-time hood. He has sent a couple of thugs to inform young McCrae that they will return in four hours to collect – and if he doesn’t have the cash, they will break a leg. Four hours later they’ll break another leg. And so on and so forth until every limb is broken and all that’s left is to shoot him dead. Perrier doesn’t mess around, obviously.

At first McCrae seeks to get the amount from another loan shark known only as The Mull (Cunningham) but when that falls through, McCrae is left to the mercy of the thugs. He is saved when his neighbor Brenda (Whittaker) whom McCrae has had a crush on for ages, accidentally shoots one of the thugs.

This pisses Perrier off no end; he regards it as nothing less than a challenge to his authority. He authorizes a bounty on the head of the two of ten thousand Euros. Now McCrae are on the run along with McCrae’s dad Jim (Broadbent) who has had a premonition that he’s going to die the next time he falls asleep. With every hood in Dublin gunning for them, fleeing town seems to be the only option but that won’t be easy either.

For more than a decade gangster movies have made a resurgence in the UK and really for my money they are the best in the world at making them (although the Chinese have made some pretty intense gangster movies as well). This is not one that’s going to be at the top of the list, but neither is it going to be at the bottom either.

Murphy is a likable enough sort and he has the acting chops to go a lot farther in Hollywood than he has to date. He lacks that one vehicle to lift him over the top and make him a viable property over here; even appearances in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies haven’t done it for him yet.

Brendan Gleeson is as rough and tumble as they come and he’s done several turns as a bad guy, particularly in In Bruges (although audiences may know him best as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films). He’s one of the best character actors in the business and lends a certain amount of cachet to any film he participates in. His Darren Perrier is quite an S.O.B. but Gleeson keeps him from becoming a standard paint-by-numbers villain by making him interesting and quirky.

Most of the rest of the mostly Irish cast (with the exception of Broadbent who is English and also one of the finest character actors in the world) aren’t well known in the States, although Whittaker, who plays Brenda with some spunk and verve should be and could be eventually (although she’s English too – hmmm). Still, there are solid performances all around and the movie is the better for it.

The main problem is that there isn’t anything that particularly stands out from other gangster movies. The idiom requires a hook of some kind; a lead character without a name, a shootout in a medieval town, a language spoken only by a few in the UK, a missing parcel. Something that is more than just trying to get away from the bad guys – although the movie isn’t boring by a long shot either.

The script is well-written and the dialogue is clever, so the movie is smart in its own right. It just doesn’t take any chances, which is a shame because it could have used a few risks. Still, it has a great cast and any movie with Murphy, Broadbent and Gleeson in it is worth watching.

WHY RENT THIS: Gleeson, Broadbent and Murphy are always wonderful and Whittaker does a terrific job as well.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not really very groundbreaking when it comes to gangster flicks.

FAMILY VALUES: There is an awful lot of violence (which you’d expect in an Irish gangster flick), a whole lot of swearing (which you’d also expect in an Irish gangster flick) and a smattering of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fitzgibbon is currently completing his next film, based on the novel Death of a Superhero.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $167,938 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this probably lost a few bucks.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Rio

Intermission


 

Intermission
Colin Farrell unmasked.

(2003) Crime Comedy (IFC/MGM) Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney, Shirley Henderson, Bryan F. O’Byrne, Deirdre O’Kane, Kelly Macdonald, Neili Conroy, David Wilmot, John Rogan, Kerry Condon, Owen Roe, Tom Farrelly, Michael McElhatton, Ger Ryan. Directed by John Crowley

Some movies are referred to as “slices of life,” and that can be a two-edged sword. For one, most of us go to the movies to escape life. Seeing a slice of someone else’s can serve to remind us of the things we went to the movies to escape from in the first place. Still, when done right, slice of life movies can give you a great deal of insight into the things that are happening in your own life, and a little wisdom never hurts in that regard.

The movie opens with a charming young man named Lehiff (Farrell) flirting with a young convenience store clerk (Condon) in Dublin. However, things take a shocking turn and Lehiff winds up being chased by the police. Meanwhile, on a nearby bus, a dissatisfied grocery clerk named John (Murphy) commiserates with a dissatisfied bus driver named Mick (O’Byrne) and John’s equally dissatisfied co-worker and friend named Oscar (Wilmot). John has just broken up with his gorgeous girlfriend Deirdre (Macdonald) and Oscar is having no luck with the ladies at all.

Deirdre responds by getting into an affair with Sam (McElhatton), a married banker. Sam’s wife Noeleen (O’Kane) is devastated. John, Oscar and Deirdre wind up at a pub where older folks hang out; Oscar and Deirdre wind up hooking up. In the meantime, Deirdre’s sister Sally (Henderson), who has a noticeable mustache, lashes out at nearly everyone who crosses her path despite the best efforts of their mum (Ryan). When Deirdre brings her new boyfriend home to meet the family, Sally can’t hide her contempt. At last, when Sam is about to leave, she stops him. “You stay right there, I’ll go – there’s a stench of adultery in here.”

Lehiff, who is mates with both John and Mick, manages to convince the two of them to aid him in a kidnapping and bank robbery involving Sam, which of course John is more than happy to participate in. However, police detective Jerry Lynch (Meaney), a man with a Celtic soul if ever there was one, is trolling the mean streets of Dublin to bring hoodlums to justice. So what if his car gets stolen during a drug bust? Lynch is as tough as nails, and he doesn’t like scumbags like Lehiff much. As all these stories are getting told, it is inevitable that these lives are going to collide.

This is a comedy that is so dark that you find yourself laughing and cringing simultaneously at times. Crowley has assembled a tremendous cast and they respond with solid performances that vie with one another for your attention. In fact, some of the performances are so good they create a little bit of a problem; you get so interested in the storyline of that particular character that you find yourself getting annoyed when another character’s storyline takes over. In fact, it is interesting to note that Ferrell, clearly the biggest star of the bunch, is not missed when he’s offscreen. Murphy gets the lion’s share of the screen time. While he’s done a couple of high-profile villain roles (in Batman Returns and Red Eye) he might be remembered best as the hero in 28 Days Later; those who liked him in that part will not be unsatisfied with his performance here. Meaney, best known here as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek, is gruff and rough around the edges, and while he’s a bit on the hypermale side, he’s still charming enough to make the character fascinating.

Frankly, the women are given fairly short shrift here (although Henderson is marvelous as the nasty-tempered Sally), but I found O’Kane’s performance as Noeleen to be a cut above most of the rest. As a middle-aged woman who has the rug cut out from under her when her husband takes up with a younger, prettier woman, she finds herself exploring her own sexuality and it is to our surprise (and no doubt, hers) that she turns out to be fairly aggressive in the bedroom.

There are several running jokes throughout. Although most will remember the constant conceit of John and cohorts putting brown steak sauce into their tea (sounds terribly revolting), I was particularly fond of the vile little boy in a red jacket, whose only function here is to periodically come onscreen and do terrible things to the main characters.

One of the things I liked the most about the movie was it’s setting. This is not the city center of Dublin, but rather its outskirts and you get a real feel for how people live there. Da Queen, who spent some time in Dublin in her youth (on a student exchange program), looked for landmarks she could recognize but at last realized that she was far more interested in the story and its characters and kind of gave up on the landmark search.

Lest we forget, let me tell you about the soundtrack. There are a number of Irish institutions who contribute songs, including U2 and Clannad, but also Farrell himself sings a credible version of the Bobby Fuller classic “I Fought the Law.” There are a number of other wonderful tracks, including songs by Magnetic Fields, Spandau Ballet, Ron Sexsmith, Turin Brakes and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals.

This is one of those movies you sometimes rent on a lark and are pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know much about Intermission before I rented it, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Now I feel compelled to turn others onto this very enjoyable movie. If you’re looking to take a chance on a movie you’re not familiar with, this is a movie worth seeking out.

WHY RENT THIS: Enjoyable performances from Meaney, O’Kane and Murphy and an awesome soundtrack. An interesting slice of life from the outskirts of Dublin.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Farrell’s character is a little bit underdeveloped.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of sexuality and a lot of crude language. Some mature teenagers might find this enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want kids younger than that watching this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film directing debut of Crowley.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.9M on a $5M production budget. The movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hereafter

Leap Year


Leap Year

Amy Adams is absolutely flummoxed that Matthew Goode has never seen a brass bed before.

(Universal) Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, John Lithgow, Adam Scott, Kaitlin Olson, Noel O’Donovan, Tony Rohr, Pat Laffan, Alan Devlin, Ian McElhinney, Dominique McElligott, Mark O’Regan, Maggie McCarthy. Directed by Anand Tucker

In life we sometimes find ourselves on a journey from point A to point B. There are times when the destination isn’t the main thing; the trip itself is what defines us.

Anna Brady (Adams) is a driven, focused woman with a firm grasp of what she wants out of life. She has a marvelous eye for detail which serves her well in her profession as an apartment presenter – someone who is hired by realtors to take empty apartments and dress them with furniture and things to give the space as appealing a look as possible.

She has been going with her boyfriend Jeremy (Scott) for four years. He’s a cardiologist who, like Anna, is married to his job and lives with his nose in his Blackberry. The two have decided to try to get an apartment in Boston’s most prestigious building, the spots for which are like gold and guarded with zealous self-righteousness by the building’s board. After their interview with the board, Jeremy tells Anna that he has something he needs to give her at dinner; Anna’s friend Libby (Olson) had spied him coming out of a posh Boston jewelry store. Is this, at last, the night that Jeremy pops the question?

Of course not. She is instead, presented with diamond earrings, marking one of the few times in history a woman is depressed about receiving diamond earrings from her handsome, cardiologist boyfriend. After that, he’s off to a convention in Dublin – or is that a symposium? Convention seems like a rather gauche term for a gathering of cardiologists.

Anna’s drunken ne’er-do-well dad Jack (Lithgow) offhandedly lets drop that in Ireland it is permissible for women to propose to men on Leap Day (February 29) which, as it just so happens, is just a few days hence. Anna boards a plane meant to take her to Dublin. Will she, at last, make it to the Irish capital and propose to her feet-dragging boyfriend?

Of course not. Bad weather diverts the plane to Cardiff, where the same bad weather shuts down the ferry service as well. The closest Anna can get to Dublin is a small village called Dingle, which has a single pub owned by Declan (Goode) who, as Anna finds out when she makes a call, is also the village taxi service. He is at first not willing to drive her to Dublin which he seems to bear some resentment towards, but when a local reminds Declan his kitchen is about to be repossessed and he needs to raise 1,000 Euros within a week, he relents since Anna is offering 500 for the ride. At last, is Anna on her way to Dublin?

Of course not. Stubborn cows, early trains, and bad breaks (or is that bad brakes?) conspire against Anna as the 29th creeps closer and closer. Declan and Anna initially get along about as well as the IRA and the British Army, but soon enough they begin to warm up to each other. Will Anna make it to Dublin in time to propose to her boyfriend…and is he the one she ought to be proposing to?

Writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont are well-known “script fixers” in Hollywood and this is their first original script. I say original and yet there is nothing particularly original about it. This is standard romantic comedy fare following typical Hollywood romantic comedy formula; boy meets girl, boy and girl can’t stand each other, boy and girl fall for each other, boy and girl are separated by circumstance or misunderstanding, boy and girl finally realize they need each other and wind up together in the final reel.

The problem here is that there are no surprises. Everything follows the formula down to the letter, never deviating an inch. While Adams is one of the most charming and likable actresses working today, she is given a script which doesn’t utilize her natural abilities much. She comes off as fussy and prissy; it is a tribute to her abilities as an actress that she remains likable in a role which essentially isn’t. Goode is given the standard Irish rogue’s role and does what he can with it, but comes off bland. It isn’t his best work ever, and the movie might well have used it.

The cinematography is simply gorgeous. The movie’s producers wisely chose to shoot in locations not traditionally used in Hollywood, which prove a gorgeous backdrop to the romance. The movie is worth seeing just for the scenery alone. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t measure up to the backdrop.

There are few genuine laughs here and plenty of stock Irish and romantic comedy characters, enough that you have to wonder if the script was not so much written as assembled. There is some charm here, enough that you won’t feel like you have completely wasted your time but this is a movie suffering from a sore excess of Hollywood cliché. The state of romantic comedies in Hollywood is pretty sad; most of them, like Leap Year, follow the stock formula religiously and on those rare occasions where there is some deviation, it is cause for celebration. These days, romantic comedies rely on the likability, charm and chemistry of the leads and if that isn’t there, it’s pretty disastrous. This isn’t quite a catastrophe, but it isn’t a triumph either.

REASONS TO GO: Amy Adams is such a charmer that even with sub-par material she still shines. The area the filmmakers used to film is rarely seen on movie screens and is simply breathtaking.

REASONS TO STAY: Another romantic comedy with a stale, cliché script. There are no real surprises and not a lot of laughs.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of mild sensuality and a bit of foul language, but suitable for teens and mature tweens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the village of Dingle is ostensibly on the Eastern shore of Ireland, the Aran Islands where those segments were shot are actually off of the Emerald Isle’s West Coast.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the Irish vistas look best on a big screen but overall if this isn’t the kind of film that appeals to you there is no reason not to wait til the DVD or cable release.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: What Just Happened