What happened here? The Green Hornet takes popular and enduring source material (the beloved 30s/40s radio serial and 60s TV show, which introduced Bruce Lee to US audiences), an artistically relevant director (Michel Gondry, of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame), a talented cast (including slimmed-down star Seth Rogen, and last year´s Supporting Actor Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz), and about $130 million dollars, throws it all into a blender, and churns out a heaping mess of a film that just about sinks to the level of A-Team or Transformers 2 incoherence.
The warning signs were there: a January release date (bumped from a competitive summer), post-production 3D conversion, loose adaptation of the material (this is, before anything else, a Green Hornet parody), and a divergent creative team that seems to be pulling the picture in different directions. That includes director Gondry and co-writer and star Rogen, who seem to have different ideas about where to take the material. Cinematographer John Scwartzmann (who shot Michael Bay´s earlier films), editor Michael Tronick (he edited Tony Scott´s earlier work), production designer Owen Paterson (The Matrix series), and an all-too-obvious heavy studio hand only complicate matters.
The Green Hornet is Britt Reid, portrayed here by Rogen as a spoiled rich kid party animal, a male version of Paris Hilton. Rogen lost 30 pounds and beefed up for the role, but as written and portrayed, this is the same goofy, lazy, drug-addled and otherwise inadequate Rogen we´ve come to know from Judd Apatow films; a stronger satiric point could have been made if Reid better fit Rogen´s former physical appearance.
As is, this Britt Reid is one of the most unpleasant and unsympathetic action heroes to ever grace the screen. He´s Tony Stark minus the wit, intelligence, or inventiveness; all he has is money, arrogance, and an inflated sense of self-worth. The one big fault of the movie is that it never takes this thoroughly unlikable character to task for his faults; while it´s plausible as parody, we keep waiting for this smug idiot to get his ass handed to him, or to come to some kind of self-realization, and it just never happens. The character is presented as fault-ridden from the beginning, and he´s exactly the same by the very end.
Instead, the heart of the film belongs to sidekick Kato (Jay Chou), who builds all the indestructible cars and cool guns, and makes quick work of all the villains in combat scenes. He´s a far more interesting character, and while the film frequently seems to realize this, it relentlessly sticks to Rogen´s Reid. After the death of his father (Tom Wilkinson), Reid teams with Kato to fight crime, for some reason. The plan: they´ll pretend to be criminals, work their way up the ladder to drug lord Chudnofsky (Waltz), and, uh, report his crimes in The Daily Sentinel? Something like that.
Cameron Diaz, given nothing to do here, plays Reid´s secretary; Edward James Olmos is the newspaper editor who worked for his father; David Harbour the friendly district attorney. James Franco shows up uncredited for an amusing scene at the very beginning with Waltz, who makes for a surprisingly bland villain despite giving roughly the same performance that won him an Oscar in Inglourious Basterds.
There´s a few neat action scenes here (a hand-to-hand fight sequence between Rogen and Chou, competently shot by Gondry, is the highlight), long stretches of dialogue, a copy&paste plot, plenty of explosions and vehicular damage, and the battle of good versus evil, which has never felt as arbitrary as it does here. This is vapid, empty-headed entertainment where only the germ of good ideas remains, a major disappointment and a paycheck movie for all involved, except Rogen, who is working very hard to make himself so unlikable.
In select cinemas, The Green Hornet is also in 3D: dull, dim, and mostly hazy post-production conversion 3D that ranks slightly above The Last Airbender as the worst I´ve seen. A major distraction.
At the very beginning of Dominic Sena´s Season of the Witch, three women are hanged and then drowned for suspected witchery; presuming that isn´t enough, the local priest drags their bodies out of the river and prepares to burn them. And then – wouldn´t you know it – one of them pops back to life as a demonic witch, presented here as a super-powered amalgamation of horror/fantasy baddie clichés.
OK, so there really were witches. Season of the Witch might seem to legitimize the medieval witch hunting, or hey, taken a step further, the witch hunting in contemporary US politics. It might be offensive if it were intelligent enough to grasp the message it´s conveying, but one thing I cannot accuse the film of is intelligence; no, it´s just an excuse to throw cheap CGI at us, any underlying theme purely unintentional.
The film opens with some brightly-lit battle scenes as Templar Knights Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) slaughter thousands in the name of God and the church before having a crisis of conscience. Each 10-second, PG-13 battle comes with handy “Seige of ” labels; otherwise, you´d swear they only changed the lens filter and CGI backdrop.
After that, we´re plunged into a world of (literal) darkness as our now-deserter heroes agree to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to a group of monks in an isolated monastery in order to, ahem, cure the Black Plague. The remainder of the film is so underlit – an effort, I presume, to hide some particularly shoddy CGI work – that we frequently cannot make out what is going on.
Along for the ride are Priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), Knight Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), a choir boy aiming to be knighted (Robert Sheehan) and, no joke, Hagamar the Swindler (Stephen Graham). I recall an episode of The Simpsons that featured Homer the Thief and Zohar the Adulterer; here, they try to pass it along with a straight face. Foy is quite good as the imprisoned girl, but the rest of cast doesn’t have much of anything to do.
That includes Perlman, who has more screen time here than usual but nothing to show for it outside a series of lame one-liners, and Cage, who just sits around stone-faced, muttering in a low gravelly voice. I kept waiting for the traditional Nic Cage wigout scene, which never comes; he raises his voice above a whisper precisely once during the entire film. Few actors have his kind of film-to-film range, from batshit crazy (most recently in a brilliant Bad Lieutenant performance) to here, where he´s so impossibly boring you want to leap into the screen and shake some life into him.
The film only rarely comes to life, but for all the wrong reasons, during a rickety bridge sequence that blatantly cribs from Clouzot´s Wages of Fear (and Sorcerer, it´s underrated remake, and hell, all those other movies with rickety bridge sequences), or a laughable CGI wolf attack sequence (one by one the wolves become “wolfier,” as if they were shapeshifting from wolf into “wolf” – this must be seen to be believed), or the goofy-as-all-hell apocalyptic climax, which attempts to right all the wrongs of the rest of the movie.
Season of the Witch is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it bad enough to entertain on the level of a Wicker Man, which a noteworthy 5% on the Tomatometer might lead you to believe. It´s dull and dreary and a definitive mediocrity, an 80-minute Nic Cage medieval epic that I daresay you know what you´re getting into when you walk into the theater.
Mike Leigh lends a steady hand and a careful eye and ear to Another Year, a tone-perfect, life-affirming film that ranks among his best work and evokes the gentle spirit of Yasujiro Ozu. It´s a quiet, disarmingly “normal” film filled with characters we seem to already know, and situations that seem to arise naturally rather than manufactured by a screenwriter, dictated by the characters´ lives, shaped by their personalities.
The film is separated into four segments: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. This timeline alone gives you some idea of where the film is headed. Leigh takes a different stylistic approach to each season, altering his color palette and the composition of shots; his characters also follow seasonal cues. I was often reminded of the use of seasons in Ozu´s films (Late Spring, Early Summer, etc.), and Kim Ki-Duk´s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.
Spring introduces us to therapist Gerri (Ruth Sheen), her geologist husband Tom (Jim Broadbent), their attorney son Joe (Oliver Maltman), and family friend Mary (Leslie Manville). Gerri, Tom, and Joe are remarkably calm and collected; they´re happy, throughout the film. Mary, on the other hand, who smokes and drinks heavily and wants to buy a car in order to give herself freedom, is up and down along with the seasons; by the time Winter comes around, we fear the worst.
Other characters show up and seem to accentuate the seasons: Tom´s overweight, hard-drinking friend Ken (Peter Wight), his frail, mourning older brother Ronnie (David Bradley), Ronnie´s confrontational son Carl (Martin Savage).
We´re only given a snapshot of each season: a brief weekend visit, where characters meet, eat, drink, and talk. Not much seems to happen. But we watch carefully, and with a bird´s-eye-view, we carefully examine these characters, what they think of each other, their position in life, in society. By the end, we´ve watched life carry them through another year.
Leigh´s films are sometimes divisive (I had some issues with his previous, the appropriately-titled Happy Go-Lucky, and the treatment of its main character), and he poses a lot of questions without giving any easy answers. Tom and Gerri are good people, yet they seem to watch their friends (Mary, Ken) destroy themselves without attempting to interject. Leigh allows Tom and Gerri, and Joe and his eventual girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez), to be happy, while we watch the other characters struggle in life; have they achieved happiness? Have they been rewarded? Or are they just naturally content?
What a joy it is to watch a film filled (mostly) with characters who behave like adults, calm and collected, people who we feel comfortable sitting around and listening to. There´s a charm, and humor, at work here that feels incredibly natural. We´re even willing to accept Mary and Ken – warts and all – as old friends.
Most of the attention for the film has fallen to Manville, who gives a showy, tic-filled performance as the emotional Mary, with a face that can always be read like a book; she´s fine in the role (and a final, lingering shot gives the character extra weight), but the rest of the cast is at least equally good. Widescreen cinematography by Leigh´s usual cinematographer, Dick Pope, beautifully captures these characters, with frequent use of close-ups. Music by Gary Yershon perfectly suits the material.
Also: the opening of Another Year marks the start of this year’s Projekt 100, a yearly cinema event that introduces a handful of current and classic international films to local independent cinemas. This year’s Projekt 100 including Andrzej Wajda’s Tatarak, Borys Lankosz’s Rewers, Gustav Machatý´s Erotikon (1929), and Pierre Étaix’s Le grand amour (1969). In addition to Another Year, the only other English-language film presented is The Good Heart, which I reviewed last week.