Don we now our gay apparel, indeed. This year’s holiday releases are more flaming than the Wham! “Last Christmas” video. It’s not just Sherlock Holmes, where Robert Downey Jr.’s flirtation with Jude Law has already frightened Michael Medved back into his groundhog hole. Colin Firth is starring in a Christopher Isherwood adaptation directed by Tom Ford. The director of Chicago has gussied up another chorus line of divas. Pedro Almodóvar is back with Penélope Cruz. Meryl Streep is doing the “old, but still fabulous” routine. Emily Blunt plays a queen. The only movie guaranteed not to appeal to gay audiences is Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which is guaranteed not to appeal to anybody but exceptionally stupid families.
THE GAME’S AFOOT (DO YOU LIKE MY JACKET?): Jude Law (left) and Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes.
Do you want to have fun? Do you want a good time? Well then, lads, pop on down to Baker Street, where Guy Ritchie has established an elementary school. His Sherlock Holmes isn’t so much a revisionist edition as a dumbing down and thickening up. Gone is the sleuth’s cocaine habit, replaced with a hooligan’s penchant for boozing (“You do know what you’re drinking is meant for eye surgery?” deduces Watson), a filthy flat and a farting bulldog. That Holmes—he’s just a regular bloke!
When he’s not displaying his six-pack for some bare-knuckle fisticuffs, Robert Downey Jr. plays the detective as a fop savant; with his ornamental cravat and acerbic gibes, he’s more Oscar Wilde than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Oddly, this clotheshound of the Baskervilles trades in his deerstalker for leather—a terrible sartorial decision.) Ritchie’s most intriguing idea is to construe Holmes’ powers of observation as a form of ADHD, upping the background noises on the soundtrack mix while Downey’s eyes dart about dining rooms and laboratories.
The rest is formula. Jude Law is the smitten sidekick, a mustache-twitching Dr. Watson. Rachel McAdams is the girl, a master thief whose mastery of anything appears debatable. Mark Strong is the villain, a Masonic alchemist who wants to re-colonize America. Holmes’ investigation reveals a lot of pentagrams and boiled frogs and what have you. The movie’s only distinction is a gruesome tone for a PG-13 release—a buzzsaw bisecting pig carcasses is a typical grace note. In short, it’s a remake of the Hughes brothers’ Jack the Ripper picture From Hell, without the conviction of its own paranoia. Should you see Avatar instead? No shit, Sherlock. PG-13. AARON MESH. Opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, Bridgeport, Cinetopia, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Sandy, St. Johns Twin Cinema-Pub, Tigard and Wilsonville.
Federico Fellini’s 8½ is synonymous with the ’60s arthouse: The totemic title evokes the kind of skinny-tied Continental despair and svelte existentialist hepness with which Godard and Antonioni and Fellini, et al., first charmed (and sometimes taunted) the turtleneck set. If I had to index that fertile decade with a single scene, I would choose the opening dream sequence from Fellini’s masterpiece, wherein Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido Anselmi floats Christ-like above a traffic jam and lifts into the heavens before falling back down to earth and into waking awareness. Rob Marshall was smart to omit this iconic image from his musical adaptation of 8½. There’s already more than enough drooling imitation in Nine, and the last thing Marshall’s sputtering spectacle needs is a literal recapitulation of its failure to take flight.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the creatively spent and spiritually bereft filmmaker Guido Contini, whose latest project is nearing production without a screenplay or even a workable idea. Beset by a harem of women both real and imagined, Guido attempts to disappear into himself, only to find yet another tormenting mother and/or whore stroking his shoulder and/or subconscious, which isn’t as bad as you’d think, considering the constituent parts of Guido’s oh-so-Catholic girl trouble: Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Fergie, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren all take turns getting their licks in.
With expressive sets suffused with dreamy menace by Guido’s panicked and distracted mind, 8½ is pretty well lubricated for a smooth insertion of song and dance. But Nine is far too timid with its source material. Avoiding the considerably more dangerous but possibly more rewarding tack of spinning indelible scenes into strange new shapes, Marshall quarantines the musical numbers in carelessly blocked, Chicago-style duds that interrupt the drama with all the subtlety and grace of a bedazzled seizure. You get two films for the price of one—a remake of a perfect film and a loud Broadway production—but neither works. Sliced and diced into vague flashes of color and light, the musical interludes feature the aforementioned parade of buxom vessels cooing sweet nothings and raunchy promises, while Daniel Day-Lewis croons in a mangled accent reminiscent of Jason Segal’s vampire puppet in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In a way, Marshall’s misguided strategy pays off: 8½ makes it through unsullied, and Fellini walks away brushing Nine’s dust from his jacket. PG-13. CHRIS STAMM. Opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Bridgeport, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Lloyd Center and Movies on TV.
No, it isn’t. It’s more lifestyle porn from Nancy Meyers for Women Who Wear Purple, with Meryl Streep making the entitlement sound poignant. “The truth is,” she tells her architect, “I have two sinks in my bathroom, and sometimes the other sink makes me lonely.” Streep delivers this line with an affecting catch in her voice—it’s the movie’s single best delivery—and it’s enough to make you want to hug the screen. Until you remember that this is a woman complaining about being able to afford a double sink. I don’t know how she manages to get up every morning.
Streep plays her role—a divorcée hooking up with chubby ex-hubby Alec Baldwin—as girlish, even coquettish. Her age wouldn’t be an issue if the movie didn’t treat it as such a novelty. I could have lived without a scene of Streep and her girlfriends drinking wine and talking about vaginoplasties. Is it possible for a movie to be sexually explicit and sexually adventurous without ever being sexually honest? This one tries: After Baldwin and Streep first return to the coital bed, he grabs her crotch and declares, “Home sweet home!” Classy. Baldwin is a wild-haired cartoon of beefy priapism, while Steve Martin plays shy as the architect, and is dignified in a way no one else here manages. Eventually everybody smokes a doobie. It’s just like 1967! Except we’re all really fucking wealthy!
As in any Nancy Meyers picture (Something’s Gotta Give, Baby Boom), the actors are unimpeachable and the production values are spiffy, but it is probably impossible for viewers in their late 20s to watch this movie in these times and not feel a surge of homicidal generational rage. The movie’s subtext—maybe it’s even the text—is rich, selfish boomers continuing to ruin their children’s lives with inconsiderate, infantile behavior. Streep tells her weeping kids she understands how seeing their parents re-dabbling in free love might be traumatizing, “but I did this for me.” Well, that’s a shocker. It’s not complicated at all: It’s just you justifying doing whatever you want, again. R. AARON MESH. Opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, Bridgeport, Cinetopia, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Moreland, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Sandy, Tigard and Wilsonville..
A Single Man
It doesn’t have a whole lot of story. It’s tedious at times, and it has a bad ending. That said, A Single Man is one of the most striking and remarkable films of the year.
First-time director Tom Ford (of Gucci design fame) does such inspired work with sound, light and color that conflict and character are halfway accomplished before Colin Firth even opens his mouth. This only intensifies Firth’s spectacular performance as George, an English professor in Los Angeles (based on the Christopher Isherwood novel’s protagonist based on Christopher Isherwood), who is struggling with heartbreak over the loss of his lover during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Firth, who has finally been given a chance to do something other than stutter through British comedies, draws the viewer into a day in his life, remembering his partner (Matthew Goode), drawing the interest of a student (About a Boy’s Nicholas Hoult) and visiting his fellow expat friend Charley (Julianne Moore).
There’s not a lot George does besides mourn—in his repressed environs, there’s not a lot that he can do—which leaves Ford and Firth with a character study. George touts the existential proposition that it is nearly impossible for one human to connect to another, yet Ford’s filmmaking tests that theory. Through the movie’s use of a gorgeous score is by Abel Korzeniowski and hypersensitized flashbacks, the audience can connect to George and understand his yearning. Some critics have berated Ford for his emphasis on art direction, not recognizing that his flourishes are being put to dramatic use, not merely displays for aesthetic pleasure. Memories of past lovers are so strong, why shouldn’t they be filmed in the most luxurious palettes? It’s a literal way to assign value to feelings that can’t always be expressed in words. George and Charley are some seriously lonely people, but Ford makes their loneliness honest to the point of beauty. The penultimate scene of the film betrays what the breathtaking opening promises, but inspired filmmaking has a way of making you forgive flaws, even if they’re glaring. Despite the pitfalls, A Single Man is a film to be felt, and admired. R. ALI ROTHSCHILD. Opens Friday at Fox Tower.
GENTLEMEN PREFER PENÉLOPE: Cruz dons a wig for Broken Embraces.
A blind screenwriter and his young assistant pass a Red Cross plasma-drive poster, and it gives them an idea for a movie: a thriller about ethical vampires who work in a blood bank. These vampires don’t bite people, the writers agree.
“But they like sex, right?” asks the older man.
“Sure,” says his collaborator.
This scene is only a brief digression in Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, but it’s a doozy of a diversion—it suggests that the great Spaniard has seen Twilight, which is funny enough in itself, and offers a cipher for the director’s canon. The only thing Almodóvar’s characters like more than sex is melodrama. Broken Embraces doesn’t bust out of the director’s telenovela conventions, but that’s part of its appeal: It’s a brisk walking tour of the Almodóvar grounds. In a flashback structure, Lluís Homar plays the hero—a director with the rather Hitchcockian name of Harry Caine—before and after his fateful blinding. He’s fortunate to have the use of his sight in the part of the picture where Penélope Cruz plays his lover and performs her perennial topless scene. She then vomits, which slightly ruins the tableau—and confirms the movie’s slyness.
Broken Embraces is a film of giddy, slightly hyperbolic surfaces. Cruz dines beneath a giant portrait of fruit. She wears wigs that make her look like Audrey Hepburn, then Marilyn Monroe. Her teardrops fall on ripe red tomatoes. This last image comes as she performs a scene at the direction of Harry Caine: “Now, think of all the times you’ve made gazpacho for Ivan, and how he enjoyed it.” I don’t know that any of the movie’s ripe emotions can be taken any more seriously than these soup-inspired tears. I don’t know that it matters. Whatever its nutritional value, Broken Embraces is rich and creamy. R. AARON MESH. Opens Friday at Fox Tower.
The Young Victoria
“Look at that demure little head,” a catty dowager in the Royal Court says of Emily Blunt’s queen-to-be. “And all of us wondering what’s inside it.” Quebecois director Jean-Marc Vallée’s first English-language feature is distinguished from most princess movies—live-action or Disney franchises—by being most interested in the workings of its heroine’s mind.
Blunt, who has forged a career out of being the best thing in dreadful indie movies, rightly decides to play Princess Victoria as a reticent girl who still confuses stubbornness and strength. The movie doesn’t make the same mistake: It avoids the histrionic palace intrigue of the Elizabeth movies and treats the brinksmanship in the court of William IV (an amusingly hootered Jim Broadbent) as a parlor game. A dastardly adviser (Mark Strong) makes portentous threats about Victoria being “a china doll walking over a precipice,” but she’ll have none of that: “Then I must smash!” she proclaims, sounding like a regal Bruce Banner.
Once Victoria ascends to the throne, Vallée is savvy to use the political tug of war between Prince Albert and Lord Melbourne (Rupert Friend and Paul Bettany, respectively) as a Trojan horse to sneak in a love story. Bettany, who has forged a career out of being the best thing in dull costume dramas, is enjoyably cynical, while Friend actually makes the “he’s a good listener” trait sexy. Victoria makes several missteps—a repeated love theme sung by Sinéad O’Connor sounds exactly like Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy”—but I found myself unexpectedly moved by this ever-so-practical romance. PG. AARON MESH. Opens Friday at Fox Tower.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Following their inexplicably successful ‘07 reboot, fuzzy little nutsacks Alvin, Simon and Theodore return with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. And there is no adjective—“eye-gougingly horrendous” or otherwise—that will stop kids from dragging parents to the multiplex.
This time around, rodent paterfamilias Dave Seville is hospitalized early on (lucky for Jason Lee, who phones in his screams of “Alllllvin!” from a hospital bed), leaving his underachieving nephew (Chuck dweeb Zachary Levi) to care for the little rapscallions. Having conquered the record industry, the chipmunks set out to subdue high school—where the jocks are out to take the pipsqueaks down a peg and prepubescent girls lust for rodents. (Let’s not think about this.) Meanwhile, sinister record exec David Cross exploits the Chipettes, singing female chipmunks who dance like strippers. Along the way, we’re treated to high-pitched versions of hits by Beyoncé, the Kinks, and Dead or Alive.
Had The Squeakquel settled for what it is—nostalgia aping a 1980s cartoon that itself was nostalgia humping a ’50s novelty act—the film would have been a lifeless little distraction, but its characters just keep getting in the way. Alvin is a backstabbing power grabber, Simon’s a know-it-all, and Theodore’s a wuss. Their female counterparts fare no better. By the time the ’Munks/’Ettes supergroup forms, the flick’s a rotten acorn. When all is said and done, The Squeakquel will have a solid box-office run before becoming an at-home baby sitter on DVD, and baby boomers’ nostalgia will continue to be violated on a yearly basis by unlikeable CGI clones. PG. AP KRYZA. Opens Wednesday at Broadway, Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, Bridgeport, Cinetopia, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Hilltop, Movies on TV, Oak Grove, Sandy, Tigard and Wilsonville.