Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
Robert Redford´s Lions for Lambs brings together a rare trio of headliners (the director flanked by Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep), and the stars deliver with gusto; supporting cast also delivers, especially newcomer Andrew Garfield. What doesn´t deliver, however, is a gung-ho, dialogue-heavy script by Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) that paints in broad strokes and leads nowhere except to underline a political viewpoint. Still, the stars make the film engaging enough to have fun with, even if it doesn´t have the lasting effect the director had likely hoped for.
We follow three separate storylines, connected thematically and with the thinnest of plot devices: Young Senator Jasper Irving (Cruise) meets with a reporter (Streep), slyly manipulating the facts while giving her an exclusive about a new strategy in Afghanistan; idealistic professor Dr. Malley (Redford) discusses the future with a talented but apathetic student (Garfield); and two of Malley´s former students, Arian (Derek Luke) and Ernest (Michael Peña) are stranded on an Afghan mountain after their helicopter is ambushed. The Cruise/Streep segment is easily the best of the bunch, with both stars in top form; Cruise is as magnetic as ever as the slimy Irving – so good, in fact, that he´s even likable as the Senator, and almost has us believing his tripe, despite scribe Carnahan´s attempts to paint the character as a simplistic villain. Overall, the movie is basically a filmed stage play, and while interesting at that, it´s not Mamet; though there are some terrific lines interspersed (“oh, I´ve got the ulcers – the question is whether or not they´re bleeding”) the majority of the dialogue simply lacks the inventiveness needed to make the film a memorable experience. It´s compelling enough while you´re in the cinema, even if director Redford has turned in his most cinematically dull feature to date. One wonders how this timely and highly political film will age over the next few decades.
Awful mess concerning the journey of young Romulus Augustus (Thomas Sangster), heir to the Roman throne who flees the city as the Roman Empire begins to crumble, with the aid of General Aurelius (Colin Firth) and mystical Ambrosinus (Ben Kingsley). As they head to Britain in search of supporters, tired birth-of-King-Arthur references begin to flourish. Notable for the casting of Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai, embarrassingly out of place as a Xena clone (her on-screen romance with Firth´s Aurelius is hampered as explicit displays of intimacy is a no-no in India; too bad they don´t feel the same way about starring in cinematic waste like this). Director Lefler is a TV veteran who´s most notable work includes Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess; and yeah, it shows. If only the film starred a tongue-in-cheek Kevin Sorbo or Lucy Lawless, we might have some fun here; instead, we get a cavalcade of respectable actors who seem to be taking things entirely too seriously. Most critics have given this one a pass – it´s not out-and-out, in-your-face offensively bad – but the pure banality (nary an emotion, and even unintentional comedy is rare) wore me down as the film plodded on; if it were any worse, it would only be better. Purported 67 million USD budget is a laugh; not a fraction of that appears on the screen, as the production values scream “made-for-TV”.
Also opening: Michael James Rowland´s Lucky Miles (showtimes | IMDb), an Australian comedy that follows three abandoned immigrants lost in the outback desert. Film was well-received at this years´ Karlovy Vary Film Fest.
And: Giuseppe Tornatore´s La Sconosciuta (The Unknown; showtimes | IMDb), the latest film from the director of Cinema Paradiso and The Legend of 1900, and Italy’s official submission for Best Foreign Film at next year´s Academy Awards. Screening in Italian with Czech subtitles at Villages Cinemas Anděl.
And: the new Czech comedy Poslední plavky (The Last Swimsuit; showtimes), from director Michal Krajnák, and starring Petr Čtvrtníček, Josef Polášek, Boris Hybner, Hynek Chmelař, Jiří Lábus, and Jiří Mádl. Film is (currently) only screening in a Czech version, without subtitles.