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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Short Reviews

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday December 10, 05:33 pm

Going Nowhere, Slowly

Every Thing Will Be Fine
Broadway
Dec. 20-23
1.5 out of 5

German director Wim Wenders has been riding high on the strength of his documentary output: Pina (2011) and The Salt of the Earth (2014) earned him his second and third Academy Award nominations. But instead of pushing forward in a field he is obviously dominant in, Wenders decided to return to fiction alongside wannabe intellectual James Franco (probably salivating at the idea of working with the Wings of Desire guy.)

The result of this ill-advised collaboration is Every Thing Will Be Fine (not “Everything”. It’s a plot point), a meandering, poorly written drama that wastes the talents of Rachel McAdams and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and verbalizes every thought, no matter how banal.

Franco is Tomas, an author of moderate success enduring a writer’s block and a crisis in his relationship with Sara (McAdams). Tomas has fear of commitment, see, and as tolerant and sweet as his partner is, he is not sold on the idea of sharing his life with a gorgeous, understanding woman.

It all changes, for the worse, when an accident links him to a family in northern Quebec for perpetuity. Suddenly, Tomas finds a new source of material within himself. But the bodies he leaves behind, literally and figuratively, are bound to haunt him.

The synopsis I just provided is actually more promising than the movie. The characters change or grow very little and the action jumps ahead in time without building towards anything. Ninety minutes in, probably realizing there’s no end in sight for this pointless story, Wenders comes up with a thriller angle as half-baked as everything that preceded it.

The dialogue is pitiful. In fact, outside of the accident, the best moments of Every Thing Will Be Fine are the silent ones — historically, Wenders’ strong suit. He’s done decent work in English in the past (Paris, Texas). Scriptwriter Bjørn Olaf Johannessen, though, hasn’t. And he seems not to have developed an ear for English yet.

Then there is James Franco. Spectacularly unaware of his limitations, Franco insists on doing roles he is ill-suited for (Howl, True Story, Oz the Great and Powerful). Here, instead of troubled and grief-stricken, he just looks sleepy. Franco is at his best when playing himself in Seth Rogen movies. It’s a small niche, but at least it’s an honest living. 


Silverman Lining

I Smile Back
Broadway Theatre
Dec. 10; 14-16
2.5 out of 5

It shouldn’t come as a surprise Sarah Silverman has dramatic chops. She has shown substantial range in Wreck-It Ralph, Masters of Sex and Sarah Polley’s directorial effort Take This Waltz. Silverman goes full dark in I Smile Back, a harrowing journey through the daily life of a depressed woman.

A character study that all but dismisses the notion of plot, the film revolves around Laney (Silverman), a stay-at-home mother of two. Unbeknownst to her husband (Josh Charles, The Good Wife), Laney has stopped taking her antidepressants and is now self-medicating with cocaine, alcohol and casual sex. The small indignities of everyday life push her further into despair, and her eldest kid seems to be internalizing Laney’s turmoil.

I Smile Backhas many problems, but acting is not one of them. Outside of Silverman’s strong (if hardly groundbreaking) performance, Charles is stellar as the put-upon husband whose desire to be supportive wanes with every setback. Also worth mentioning is Chris Sarandon, who reminds us why he won praises once upon a time, namely in Dog Day Afternoon in 1975.

Despite the cast’s efforts to inhabit these characters, they’re poorly served by humdrum dialogue. I Smile Back goes out of its way to depict self-destructive behavior (Silverman is game for all of it), but fails to provide any insight into what makes Laney tick. In fact, director Adam Salky simplifies the problem, and is happy with wallowing in the protagonist’s misery.

 

Even though the film chooses the more obvious route at every corner and looks like an after-school special, Sarah Silverman manages to keep us watching. She will be acknowledged for her acting talent eventually, just not for this.


Victor Frankenstein: Not Terrible

Victor Frankenstein
Cineplex Odeon
3 out of 5

The classic monsters of yore don’t cut it anymore. It has been a while since Dracula, the Mummy or the Wolfman have scared anyone, and efforts to revive them have fallen flat, as recently as the CGI-bore Dracula Unbound.

In theory, Victor Frankenstein — an adaptation more interested in the mad doctor than the creature — shouldn’t work at all. There is no corner of Mary Shelley’s classic left to be explored (remember I, Frankenstein from 2014? Me neither). But Victor is drenched in camp and features appropriately over-the-top turns by Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy. In short, it’s fun.

The story is told from Igor’s perspective. A hunchback treated as a de facto slave at the circus, Igor (Radcliffe, looking like the Cure’s Robert Smith) is rescued by the manic Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy). Turns out the young outcast has a knack for human anatomy and is exactly the kind of assistant the mad doctor needs to conquer death.

Despite his appreciation for his saviour, though, Igor can’t help but feel unease over Frankenstein’s ethics — actually the lack of them.

The cast is appropriately one note: McAvoy is as intense as Radcliffe is submissive. Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is perfectly opaque as the zealous policeman on their trail, and Charles Dance does his disapproving father thing. The dialogue is deliciously broad. Upon discovering Igor’s skills, Victor exclaims: “You’re not a clown! You’re a physician!” Kind of a reverse Ben Carson.

 

While origin stories are often a drag until the big reveal takes place, the setup is the best part of Victor Frankenstein. Edited within an inch of its life, the film has no fillers and some of the action scenes work nicely (the monster, however, is a bit of a letdown). Once in a while the perfunctory discussion about life without soul pops up, but fizzles quickly. Who wants to talk theology when you can have a mindless monkey causing havoc? 

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