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Juno Temple

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The Mad and the Sinful.

A few other trailers that popped up via Comic-Con ’14…

Reborn as Tom Hardy, Australia’s most notable post-apocalyptic survivor looks to need a hand or three from Charlize Theron in the first trailer for George Miller’s long-anticipated Mad Max: Fury Road, also with Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Zoe Kravitz. Eh, ok…looks like The Road Warrior with better production values.

Meanwhile, the survivors of the enjoyable first film look to go all Smokin’ Aces on Powers Boothe in a new red-band trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, with Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Jaime King, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Dennis Haysbert, Martin Csoskas, Christopher Lloyd, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, and Lady Gaga. Not particularly inclined to throw any more money at Frank Miller, but the first one was good fun.

Update: One more: Julianne Moore and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman briefly discuss the political ramifications of one Katniss Everdeen in the most recent teaser for Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. I, with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Gwendoline Christie, and Natalie Dormer. Alrighty then – Not bad, but I thought the two recent addresses by President Snow were savvier (and creepier) marketing.

A Costume, A Kent, and a Carrie?

Another update for DC’s Big Three: Adrianne Palicki is now filming in the full Wonder Woman garb for David E. Kelly’s new TV reboot. (The costume looks better than their first attempt.) Kevin Costner now appears to be officially in Zack Snyder’s Superman as Pa Kent. (One presumes he didn’t see Sucker Punch before closing the deal.) And, while confirming Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Alberto Falcone, Variety says Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is looking to cast Juno Temple as “a street-smart Gotham girl.” Is that code for Robin?

It Never Rains (in Southern California).

Noah Baumbach’s surprisingly entertaining Greenberg begins with a long, sun-drenched appreciation of the luminous Greta Gerwig, about as languid and loving a tribute a director has paid an actress since Pam Grier’s “Across 110th St.” entrance in Jackie Brown. And, if that isn’t a weird enough beginning to a film by the notoriously misanthropic Baumbach, Gerwig’s character, Florence Marr, is quickly established as a kind, sweet, and unassuming soul — which, if you’ve seen any other Baumbach movie, makes you feel as if you’re about to watch a small child skip through a mine field. In other words, one quickly gets the sense that this is all gonna end very badly.

The mine field soon to enter this particular tale is the titular Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a caustic OCD burnout, mental case, and semi-professional carpenter who’s come all the way out to LA from New York to wreak havoc on both his old friends and his brother’s milieu. (Florence happens to be his brother’s personal assistant.) We’ll get to Roger in a bit. But one of the reasons I found the film surprisingly entertaining is that it manages to sidestep so many of the Bouncing Betties I expected would derail the flick for me from jump street. For one, we’ve basically seen this exact same story — “hurt people hurt people,” as Florence puts it at one point — before from Baumbach, both in his magnum opus, The Squid and the Whale, and particularly in the considerably less-successful Margot at the Wedding.

For another, Greenberg makes no secret of relying on two of my least-favorite movie tropes going. One, the goofy hipster man-child who refuses to grow up and expects the universe to cater to his whims and idiosyncrasies. Probably done best in Knocked Up, the Apatowish “Omega male” — so coined by Slate‘s Jessica Grose — has been ubiquitous in recent years, as The New Yorker‘s David Denby noted back in 2007. And, truth be told, Greenberg the movie is at its most aggravating when it revels in the character’s man-child tics, a la Jack Black’s doofus husband in Margot, such as Roger obsessively applying Chapstick or writing strongly-worded irate customer letters to various corporate conglomerates.

The second irritating trope in play here is one I’ve complained about several times before, from Sideways to A Single Man. And that’s the very cinematic notion that an irascible, ornery, and/or depressed protagonist will invariably meet a smart, beautiful, and long-suffering significant other who really just wants to save him from himself — in this case, Gerwig’s Florence — and he will soon thereafter fall ass-backwards into a relationship he has absolutely no business being in. Um, no. Life doesn’t work that way, nor should it really. And every time Florence, 25, and Greenberg, 41, start falling backwards towards each other here, you kinda want to scream at her to get the heck out of Dodge and find a guy who isn’t, y’know, certifiably bugnuts crazy.

So why does Greenberg work anyway? For several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it, like all of Baumbach’s films, feels exceedingly well-observed. As a writer, Baumbach has a particularly good ear for dialogue, and gets how a conversation can bring people together or, by tortured increments, spin disastrously out of control. (See, for example, Greenberg’s varied ruminations with his old bandmate Ivan (Rhys Ifans, as good as I’ve ever seen him) or his star-crossed date with his long-ago ex-girlfriend Beth (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach’s real-life wife.) And, unlike in Squid, with Billy Baldwin’s “philistine” tennis coach, or Margot, with its slew of one-note unneighborly rednecks, this attention to character detail, and even a sense of magnanimity, applies to every person in the film.

Greenberg also benefits from quality performances across the board. I’ve already mentioned Gerwig, who’s an exceptionally low-key, honest, and appealing presence here. (She’s sort of the anti-Scarlett Johansson, an actress who, to my mind, seems to radiate self-entitlement and condescension in most every role.) But Stiller too is quite surprising here. Yes, Roger Greenberg can sometimes seem a collection of very Stillerish tics — the whiny letters and all that. But Stiller sells the character regardless. He doesn’t wink at the audience or let himself off the hook, even when Roger is being totally insufferable (which is basically most of the time.) If I thought the on-and-off love story here should have ended up a lot more off than on by the final reel, it’s a testament to how unlikable and uncompromising Stiller and Baumbach made their central character.

And, who knows? My failure to buy into the love story here probably speaks worse of me than it does of the movie. Sure, Florence ends up stepping on a few nasty mines over the course of this story as expected (one major one, in fact, happens before we even meet her.) But the very fact that Baumbach ends Greenberg on an ambiguous, even hopeful note suggests that maybe one of the more talented misanthropes in Hollywood right now learned a thing or two from the too-bleak Margot, and is getting a little less curmudgeonly in his middle age. And, hey, if he can change, maybe we all can change.

For Whom the Corona Clacks.

When I first saw the trailer for Joe Wright’s version of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I figured I’d probably give it a pass — It had that staid period piece look to it that screams inert Oscar bait (see also The English Patient), and seemed far too dry and conventional to do justice to Ian McEwan’s powerful, absorbing novel. But, having sat through it several more times, I got Dario Marianelli’s pensive piano-and-typewriter score stuck in my head, and when the reviews came back significantly better than I expected (and, indeed, the film garnered 7 Globe nominations this morning), I figured I’d give it a go. And the verdict…well, it comes out somewhere in-between. Atonement is solid enough entertainment of the Merchant-Ivory sort, and it features break-out performances by The Last King of Scotland‘s James McAvoy (that whooshing sound you hear is all of Ewan MacGregor’s old scripts getting remailed) and newcomer Romola Garai. But, although occasionally you can see director Joe Wright try to stick his head under the water, the movie sadly just skims along the surface of McEwan’s book. And as an adaptation of said book, it must be considered a failure.

Now, admittedly, there’s a pretty tough degree of difficulty here. I hesitate to think any book is inherently unfilmable — just this month we’ve had two excellent adaptations in No Country for Old Men and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — but McEwan’s dense tome, with its rich inner worlds, abrupt shifts in time, and philosophical musings on the power and moral dangers of writing and imagination, comes pretty darn close. Regardless, Atonement the film never plumbs the depths that McEwan’s novel does, a fact that unfortunately becomes more and more unmistakable as the movie progresses. By the end, all the crisp British diction and sweeping long-takes can’t disguise the fact that Atonement, however pretty, never captures the book’s mordant pulse.

To the story: Atonement begins at an edenic English manor on one of the hottest days of 1935, where an ambitious, headstrong 12-year-old girl named Briony Tallis (Saoirse Roman, a find) has just completed her first full-length play, The Trials of Arabella. (Like many aspiring writers, myself included, Ms. Tallis just loves her some descriptive adjectives.) Young Briony is unsuccessfully trying to convince her bored cousins, visiting on account of a hush-hush impending divorce, to take her magnum opus seriously, when she sees something unexpected. Outside her window, Robbie the housekeeper’s son (McAvoy) appears to be ogling Briony’s soaking wet, nearly-naked sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) with amusement and maybe even something darker…what’s the word? As Briony tries to piece it together, we discover Cecilia and Robbie are Oxford classmates, although (by Cecilia’s design as well as by class distinctions) they travel in rather different circles. Yet, something flickers between them, and Robbie, while mustering up the nerve to express his affection, types out several different drafts of a love note in his nearby cottage…one of which, composed as a bit of a joke, gets right to the point. (It uses the c-word, and alone gives the film an R-rating. Gasp!) Well, you can then guess which version of the letter mistakenly gets delivered, and by Briony no less, who takes it upon herself to examine it first. Her pre-adolescent confusion mounting, Briony is now seriously distressed by Robbie, on whom she once had a barely understood crush. And when further events that hot summer evening eventually take a turn towards tragedy, she — knowing full well now that he’s a sex maniac — mounts a false accusation against him, one that changes irrevocably the lives of Robbie, Cecilia — and Briony — forever.

Wright’s Atonement does alright by most of this, the first act of McEwan’s book. He cleverly uses the Rashomon device of showing us the same scene several times, and always from Briony’s limited perspective first. But, while Roman seems a gifted and composed actress for her age, the film never really gets across the crucially important fact about Briony: her constant flights of fancy. (It’s not my movie, of course, but I kept thinking what Atonement needed here is something like what Peter Jackson does in Heavenly Creatures, a brief dramatization of her inner fantasy world.) This becomes a constant problem in the film, particularly as it moves on to the fields of Dunkirk and the hospitals of London just before the Blitz — the movie never does a particularly good job of getting into its characters’ heads. As a result, it shows us what happens in the book, but it barely conveys why these events are important or meaningful for our story.

One of the most egregious example of this is an extremely long shot of the chaos at Dunkirk, rivaling the similar extended takes in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men last year: Wounded and dog-tired, Robbie and his two soldier mates wander around the beach, seeing all manner of wartime horror and tomfoolery. But, as it lingers on and on, the shot feels more and more like a stunt, completely dissociated from the tale we’ve theoretically been following. I guess it’d probably play great in a WWII epic that’s actually about Dunkirk, but the important action at that moment for our story is happening within Robbie. Perhaps Wright was trying to make a similar point about film with that exasperating stunt-take as McEwan ultimately does about writing…but, if so, I missed it. (There are other, subtler moments where he comes closer, tho’ — I quite liked Nurse Briony’s red curtain (stage) entrance to her conversation with the French soldier.)

This inherent flaw of Wright’s Atonement — its inability to depict the characters’ interior lives — reaches its nadir in the final moments of the film, when it almost completely botches the final reveal. I won’t give away what happens here, other than to say that, as Matt Zoller Seitz points out, what was a quietly devastating confession to the reader in the book now — because it is voiced in public — instead plays like a tacked-on mea culpa that offers a twist-ending, a saccharine moral, and a few moments of cinema apotheosis, all wrapped up in a Hollywood bow. (Again, not my movie, but having this reveal explained in voiceover over images of the character’s last, lonely days, a la TLJ in No Country, would’ve made a lot more sense.) In a way, Atonement makes exactly the same misstep as Weitz’s Golden Compass: The very last images of the movie are pitched right at the Titanic demographic (and I don’t mean that as a sneer — I loved Titanic.) But they completely sidestep the inherent darkness of McEwan’s ending, and even let the character in question off the hook. Atonement, in McEwan’s world, was never so neat, or easy to come by.

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