The Tourist was ravaged by US critics when it opened stateside in December; Rolling Stone´s Peter Travers called it “the worst of the year, by a mile” when handing it the #1 slot in his worst of 2010 countdown. So, 90 minutes in, I was almost shocked to find myself thoroughly enjoying this refined but lighthearted, Hitchcock-influenced thriller, which explicitly recalls North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, among others.
But just before making a graceful exit, The Tourist collapses upon itself while delivering one of the most disappointing endings in recent memory. I´ll get to the finale later; it doesn´t completely kill the film, but it´s damn close.
The film opens with Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) meeting a contact in a Parisian café, under the watchful eye of Interpol and particularly Inspector John Acheson (Paul Bettany). You see, she´s the lover of Alexander Pearce, a notorious criminal who has gone into hiding (and purportedly gone under the knife to change his appearance) after stealing millions from a Russian gangster.
Elsie gets a note from Pearce telling her to board a train to Venice, find a man who might resemble Pearce, and dupe him into becoming a target of authorities and the mafia. On the train, she finds Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), a Wisconsin schoolteacher travelling Europe while mourning the death of his wife. He´s reading a paperback mystery. Perfect.
This is a reasonably engrossing premise, and the immediate results don´t disappoint, as Frank finds himself running across tiled Venetian rooftops and swimming in the canals. The supporting cast, including Steven Berkoff as the mobster and Timothy Dalton as an Interpol superior, play things loud and broad, but the stars shine at the center.
Jolie is glamorous, sophisticated, ravishing; she knows exactly what kind of material this is, and plays off it perfectly, though an English accent is only distracting. She has great chemistry with a weak-kneed Depp, who is dour and stone-faced in a performance that recalls his in The Ninth Gate. He´s received plenty of criticism here, but they´re all wrong – he´s perfect, too. Subtle and quiet to the point of being accused of sleepwalking through the film, his character, a real wrong man to Jolie´s larger-than-life, glittering femme fatale, is the heart of the movie, and Depp drives all the silliness along in a way a knowing wink-wink performance couldn´t have. At least until the end.
That ending, without getting into specifics: it´s so dumb and obvious we´ve already dismissed it before it unfolds onscreen, and it satisfies neither logically (it´s just so stupid) nor emotionally (all of the character work through rest of film is thrown right in the garbage). It´s a sleazy, tacky Joe Eszterhas ending on the back of a classy Hitchcockian script. It sucks.
The Tourist was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose previous film, The Lives of Others, was a masterpiece. This is not. It´s certainly handsomely mounted (the gorgeous Venice cinematography by John Seale helps), and mildly engrossing most of the way, but by the end it´s clear that the director has lost control of his material.
Like most contemporary idea-challenged Hollywood product, this is a remake; the original was the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer, which starred Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal and was written and directed by Jérôme Salle. Unseen by me, Variety´s Lisa Nesselson called it a “stylish, strictly-for-fun, lightweight thriller;” that description could also be applied here, though I´m wondering if the original shared that awful ending.
Why remake a little-seen 5-year-old picture that was not a critical, audience, or box office success? Beats me; “because it can be remade” is likely sufficient enough in today´s marketplace, but why three extraordinary talents at the top of their game felt the need to participate is truly puzzling. I note that a remake of The Lives of Others is also in the cards. Well played.
Tangled, Disney´s 50th animated feature, returns the company (like The Princess and the Frog did a year ago) to a more comfortable traditional fairy tale setting after years of, ahem, more ambitious storytelling. The source here is the Brothers Grimm tale of Rapunzel, the story of the long-haired girl in the tower (“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.”)
It´s a simple-enough tale, jazzed up with anthropomorphic animal characters, broad humor, and modern dialogue to accommodate contemporary audiences. It´s Disney´s best film in years, I think, but this modern mindset prevents it from approaching classic status (I had to check; recent Disney films have almost all reached a certain level of quality, but the last one that could truly be called great is probably 1994´s The Lion King).
Backstory for Tangled´s version of Rapunzel: a magic flower has given witch Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) eternal beauty, but it´s harvested to save a dying, and pregnant, queen. The witch is out for revenge, but when she discovers the hair of the queen´s daughter contains the same healing properties as the flower, she kidnaps the child, stores her in a tower in the forest, and raises her as her own daughter, forbidding her to venture to the outside world.
But into Rapunzel´s (Mandy Moore) world comes Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi), a dashing thief who has just made off with a crown jewel and decided to lie low in the isolated tower. Rapunzel hides his loot and offers him a deal: he´ll get it back if he takes her out into the real world to get a good look at the Chinese lanterns that the kingdom sends out every year on her birthday.
Now, there´s plenty that doesn´t quite work here: the human characters, particularly Flynn, are flat (two non-speaking animals – a horse named Maximus and a chameleon named Pascal – easily steal the show), the plot is light, the frequent songs unmemorable (but short enough not to distract), some of the more broad jokes groan-inducing. And the modern sensibilities, including a you-go-girl ‘tude, are frequently at odds with the story basics.
But there´s a lot of heart here, and the film wears it on its sleeve. The setup, with the stolen child and the isolated girl (who is, nevertheless, a tad better adjusted than Kaspar Hausar), has a lot of emotional pull, and the filmmakers know how to mine it for all it´s worth. A strong climax threatens to become a real weepie, but the film expectedly pulls back into more familiar territory.
Best of all, however, is the animation, which combines traditional hand-drawn techniques with a CGI environment; it´s fluid and frequently beautiful, and Disney´s biggest leap since Tarzan. The box office failure of The Princess and the Frog has likely sealed the fate of hand-drawn films from Disney, but it´s great to see them experimenting like this in the CGI realm; it´s as good (dare I say better?) that what we´ve come to expect from Pixar.
Note: Tangled is screening (in 3D and 2D) only in a Czech-dubbed version in most Prague cinemas, but you can catch it in English at CineStar Anděl (in 2D). The above review refers to the 2D version.
Bad movie lovers rejoice! Chain Letter is an out-and-out joke of a film, a risible piece of garbage so incompetent on every level of conception and execution that it just about turns into a riotous The Room-like laughfest if you´re in the right frame of mind. It´s a movie about (per IMDb) “a maniac [who] murders teens when they refuse to forward chain mail.” I can´t say I expected anything else.
So yeah, a group of highschoolers (lead by a dangerously over-tanned Nikki Reed) gets some chain e-mail telling them to forward it to 5 friends within 24 hours or die! They delete the chain mail, of course, and are subsequently stalked and brutally murdered by the Chain Man. Yes, the Chain Man, who wraps himself in chains to cover the chain tattoos on his body, sends out the chain mail and very possibly chain smokes while listening to Alice in Chains. He kills them with chains.
Don´t worry, Detective Crenshaw (Keith David) is on the case (sample dialogue: “I´m looking for the man who made this link.”) This sounds like a joke, and it is, but the film is dead serious and entirely clueless.
– Contemporary teens who speak like early-90s stereotypes (“my pops, yo”).
– Technology that dates the film, oh, about five years.
– Impossibly inept editing that frequently splices together sentences from different takes (and very possibly different lines!)
– Troma-level gore scenes, including a showstopper that splices in a H. G. Lewis-level mannequin head. We get: chain through the face, chain through the chest, blunt object (some kind of chain?) to the head, a boy strung up (by chains) and set on fire, a body sliced in two by a car engine, and a body dragged behind a car and pulled in two lengthwise.
– An AOL-like incoming email notification that “menacingly” repeats, ad naseum, “you´ve got chain mail!” Yes, really.
– The worst voice acting you´ll ever hear during a climatic phone call between Crenshaw and headquarters.
– After the deaths of multiple students, a teacher (Brad Dourif) tells his pupils “I know you´ve been through a lot, but remember – midterms are due on Monday.”
– A scene between Crenshaw and bug-eyed FBI profiler Wiggens (played by Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer) where they discuss the potential, and hilarious, motivations of the killer. Throughout the scene, Crenshaw´s PC features an empty Word document filled with 32-point gobbledygook.
Chain Letter is one of the very worst films I´ve ever seen, the ineptitude of the production only exceeded by the level of contempt the filmmakers hold for the audience. As the circle completes, however, the level of contempt the audience holds for the film can turn this into uproarious fun.
The movie grossed a cool $143,000 on 400+ screens in the US back in October, which seems to have justified a wide release in the Czech Republic. Meanwhile, Oscar nominees like Winter´s Bone and Rabbit Hole sit without a release date. Huzzah!
Also opening: Dark Country, which is screening in a 3D version in a few scattered cities around the Czech Republic. It’s listed as dubbed in most venues, but subtitled in Kopřivnice, Louny, Strakonice, and in Prague at Multikino Ládví. I’ve seen the 2D version (which was released on DVD stateside back in 2009) – it’s an interesting little Twilight Zone/Outer Limits noir riff, not always successful and stylistically questionable, but a fun ride if you can go along with it. Two-and-a-half stars.
And: catch Nevvinost, the latest from director Jan Hřebejk, with English subtitles at Kino Světozor.