Max Payne, Nights in Rodanthe, The Other Boleyn Girl

Max Payne, Nights in Rodanthe, The Other Boleyn Girl

Max Payne
Rating:

Directed by John Moore. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Chris O’Donnell, Donal Logue, Amaury Nolasco, Kate Burton, Olga Kurylenko. Written by Beau Thorne, based on the video game created by  Sam Lake (Remedy Entertainment and 3-D Realms Entertainment).


A stylish and occasionally rousing video game adaptation, John Moore´s Max Payne is surprisingly effective most of the way but ultimately falls prey to genre clichés and lapses of logic. I don´t know if video game fans have ever been truly satisfied by a motion picture adaptation – an interactive experience that you can spend hundreds of hours immersed in doesn´t make for an easy transition to a cinematic genre spearheaded by the likes of Uwe Boll – but Max Payne comes closer than most.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular character, a New York cop working as a file clerk in a cold case unit: three years after the murder of his wife and child, he´s still trying to track down those responsible. He runs into Natasha Sax (Olga Kurylenko) while looking for leads; when Natasha is promptly murdered after leaving his place, Max is left to deal with internal affairs agents and Natasha´s sister Mona (Mila Kunis), some kind of Russian Mafioso. After determining that those responsible for Natasha´s murder and the murder of Max´s family are one in the same, Max and Mona team up, and after navigating through a needlessly complicated conspiracy, focus their attention on the evil mega-corporation that used to employ Max´s wife. It´s a good thing that this isn´t a mystery, ‘cause, well, isn´t that the first place he shoulda looked?

No, Max Payne is mostly an action movie, and it does what it does and does it (mostly) well. The style here is lifted from Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez´ Sin City, with bits and pieces culled from other influential films; while lacking originality, the film is always visually interesting, creating a noirish NYC where it´s always snowing and the flakes are as big as your eye. The film also makes use of frequent slow-motion effects, which are the best of their kind in this post-Matrix bullet-time world, employed to elevate tension and show us things we couldn´t usually see, instead of just showing us something ‘cool´; I was reminded of that old National Geographic program with the exploding apples and ultra slo-mo water droplets, where every tiny movement revealed something new and interesting.

Ultimately, though, there´s too much exposition here, about genre conventions that need little explanation, including an addictive super soldier serum that turns people into raving lunatics, and the inside workings of the evil mega-corp, whose evil needs no further explanation after the casting of Beau Bridges and Chris O´Donnell (who seems to have morphed into Jason Bateman) as employees.

Wahlberg is fine as our B-movie hero; Kunis, however, feels out of place. I wish she had switched roles with Kurylenko, as feisty and energetic in her limited screen time here as she was in last year´s Hitman (also based on a video game). Amaury Nolasco is effectively menacing as the (mostly) silent killer Lupino.

Film is director Moore´s most accomplished work, although that isn´t saying much. It´s a shade or two above Xavier Gens´ Hitman and on the same level as something like Constantine; though that film was seen as a disappointment respective to its comic-book genre, Max Payne is one of the better films in its own disreputable genre. But there´s no shortage of artistry and imagination in the video game industry, and there´s no reason why the right games shouldn´t make great movies; early failures and predilection to hand over rights to filmmakers like Boll and Paul W. S. Anderson has landed the genre squarely in purgatory. 

***


 

Nights in Rodanthe
Rating:

Directed by George C. Wolfe. Starring Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis, Becky Ann Baker, Scott Glenn, Linda Molloy, Pablo Schreiber, Mae Whitman, Charlie Tahan, Carolyn McCormick, James Franco. Written by Ann Peacock and John Romano, from the novel by Nicholas Sparks.

An expectedly weepy tearjerker, George C. Wolfe´s Nights in Rodanthe breaks no new ground but should please lonely hearts and fans of the star duo. There´s a whole subgenre of romantic tearjerkers popularized (but not started) in the late 60´s/early 70´s with films like Love Story and Sweet November (itself remade in 2001) that have held true throughout the years, and yet I cannot recall a single one that has received widely positive reviews. Cynics have despised the manipulative nature of these movies, and Nights in Rodanthe is no different, but genre fans should be satisfied – just make sure to bring a tissue or three (boxes).

Diane Lane stars as Adrienne Willis, divorced mother of two who is given an unexpected surprise when her ex-husband (Christopher Meloni) comes to pick up the kids: he wants to get back together. Adrienne has other plans for the immediate future – she´s promised to play innkeeper in lieu of her friend, who´s taking a vacation. There´s only one guest at the North Carolina beachfront inn, Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), who has come to the small town to make amends. A deceased patient´s husband (Scott Glenn) has written to him, looking for some kind of resolution, even though he has also filed a lawsuit against the doctor. Paul and Adrienne share some intimate moments, and while a violent storm kicks up they start to heal each other´s wounds.

Gere and Lane are good but especially good together; they share a warm, familiar chemistry, and the film is at its finest when they´re sharing the screen. This is their third film together, following The Cotton Club and Unfaithful. James Franco, playing Paul´s estranged son, has a touching scene with Lane towards the end.

In his first feature film, director Wolfe handles things capably; though the script breaks absolutely no new ground, it´s never as manipulative as I´m used to from these pictures. Cinematography is excellent throughout, with some gorgeous location work on North Carolina beaches.

One major quibble: an awful ‘Hollywood moment´ final scene that tries to go out with a bang instead of the quiet, introspective ending that the film really needs.

****


 

The Other Boleyn Girl
Rating:

Directed by Justin Chadwick. Starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Eric Bana, Jim Sturgess, Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Morrissey, Benedict Cumberbatch, Oliver Coleman, Ana Torrent, Eddie Redmayne. Written by Peter Morgan, from the novel by Philippa Gregory.

A dreary and historically dubious costume drama, The Other Boleyn Girl was given a pass by most critics when it opened in the US this spring. I wonder why: the film is about as bad as these things can get, dull and listless, populated by rote one-dimensional characters, content to slog through its sketchy version of history rather than engage us emotionally. We should feel something at the end when Anne Boleyn gets her head chopped off (I hope I´m not spoiling this for any readers); but no, the film has done such a wonderful job with her character that we simply don´t care one way or the other.

Natalie Portman stars as Anne Boleyn, with Scarlett Johansson playing her sister Mary. The titular Boleyn girl could be either of them, as the film never sufficiently tells either of their stories. Instead, welcome to 16th Century politics and bed-hopping: King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) desperately seeks a male heir to the throne, and wife Katharine is unable to provide one; looking to gain power and influence for himself and his family sleazy Duke of Norfolk sends nieces Anne and Mary into the fire when the King visits the family residence. Mary makes such an impression on the King that he invites her to court to become his mistress; this sparks a rivalry between the two sisters that reaches an apex when Anne seduces the King while Mary is in bed carrying his child.

Second half of the film is a hurried and harried run through of the rise and fall of Anne; a sorry comparison to Charles Jarrott´s Anne of the Thousand Days. All the characters here are one-dimensional, but Mary was the only sympathetic one; once the film tosses her aside, it´s an unwatchable mess as Portman´s bitchy Anne and Bana´s sex-crazed King spew their vitriol across the screen. Intimate scenes between Bana and Johansson and Portman are uncomfortable to watch, complete with a truly repellent PG-13 rape scene.

The acting is all fine, which is surprising as you might expect these Hollywood names to flounder in this British historical drama; they´re not good enough, however, to overcome a horribly weak script and make us care about these characters. Bad writing is less distracting in the supporting roles, and Kristin Scott Thomas and Mark Rylance steal the film whenever they´re on the screen, which is mostly confined to the first half of the movie. They play the Boleyn girl´s parents, who are led by the Duke of Norfolk into prostituting their daughters for political gain.

Production is mostly handsome but occasionally cheap-looking; some overhead shots and vistas reek of CGI.

****

Also opening: Saw V (showtimes | IMDb), the latest in the Jigsaw puzzle horror franchise. I´d love to review the film, if only I weren´t thrown out of the press screening an hour into the film by the distributor, Hollywood Classic Entertainment. The reason? I “wasn´t their list”. Of course, that wasn´t a problem when they checked my name at the door, crossed my name off their list, and let me watch the first hour of the film. My verdict: this was some kind of misguided attempt at retaliation for my review of the last film they distributed, the aptly-titled Disaster Movie.


Jason Pirodsky

Hailing from Syracuse, New York, Jason Pirodsky made his way to Prague via Miami and has stuck around, for better and worse, since 2004. A member of the Online Film Critics Society (www.ofcs.org), some of his favorite movies include O Lucky Man!, El Topo, Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Hellzapoppin'. Follow him on Twitter for some (slightly) more concise reviews.

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