At the Movies: ‘The Tourist,’ ‘Narnia 3,’ ‘Black Swan,’ ‘Tiny Furniture’

It looks like we’re making up for last week’s slack-off. The theme for this week is “style over substance.”

The Tourist

Angelina Jolie. Johnny Depp. Venice. Beautiful people in beautiful clothes in a beautiful setting. What more could you want?

A decent story, maybe? Well, you can’t have everything.

Jolie stars as Elise Clifton-Ward, lover of fugitive Alexander Pearce. Pearce is wanted by Scotland Yard agent Acheson (Paul Bettany) and mobster Ivan Demidov (Steven Berkoff) but he’s an elusive figure. Scotland Yard doesn’t even know what he looks like.

Acheson’s men have been keeping a close eye on Elise in the hopes she will lead them to Alexander. When Alexander sends Elise a note telling her to board a train and pretend some stranger is him, she picks an American math teacher on holiday named Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp).

Naturally, Frank has no problem going along with this mysterious, beautiful woman who invites him to spend the night in her luxurious hotel suite. Which puts him right in the middle of the kind of mess tourists won’t find in any Rick Steves’ travel guide.

“The Tourist” is very nice to look at but pretty insubstantial. What little action there is comes across weakly and the tale’s twists and turns just become more and more absurd as they pile up.

But the Italian Chamber of Commerce should be very happy with how Venice is portrayed. It’s beautifully shot and the leads also look exquisite. It’s worth seeing on a big screen just for the visuals.

Did it work for me? Tough call. I don’t regret seeing it. It’s a light, harmless romp with pretty people in pretty places. If you’re a fan of Depp and Jolie it’s probably worth your time, but this is not Depp’s finest hour.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The third film based on C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” series has all the strong production values of the earlier films but it’s the lesser of the three films so far.

The youngest of the Pevensie quartet — Lucy and Edmund (Georgie Henley and  Skandar Keynes) — are once again whisked off to the magical land of Narnia. This time accompanied by their tiresome cousin Eustace (Will Poulter).

They arrive in the middle of the sea but are quickly rescued by the crew of the Dawn Treader, lead by none other than their old pal Caspian (Ben Barnes), the current ruler of Narnia.

Long story short: There’s a green mist that troubling the kingdom and in order to stop it Caspian and crew must bring together the 7 swords of Aslan to make it all better.  Long or short, that’s not much of a story and so there’s a lot of scenes with a chattering mouse.

Along with an insubstantial plot, there are two other factors that make “Dawn Treader” the lesser of the “Narnia” films. 1) Not enough Aslan (Liam Neeson), the Lion King of Narnia; and 2) Not enough Susan and Peter (Anna Popplewell and William Moseley). When the three best characters are reduced to cameos — and you’re replacing them with another annoying child — that’s a problem.

On the plus side, the special effects and sets are first-rate. The dragon and the sea monster are well done. Not sure if that’s enough to recommend it.

Did it work for me? I don’t care if Susan and Peter are too old to visit Narnia, I want them back.

Black Swan

I don’t know enough about ballet to know if performing “Swan Lake” will drive you insane, but I guess stranger things have happened.

In a performance that will likely earn her an Oscar nod, Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, an anxiety-riddled ballerina who finally gets her shot at the spotlight when she’s cast as the lead in “Swan Lake.” Her sleazy director (Vincent Cassel) isn’t sure she can pull off the dual role he has in mind. While she has the technical expertise to play the White Swan, she lacks the fire and passion to play the Black Swan.

To further complicate matters, a new talent in the company (Mila Kunis) may be trying to steal Nina’s role from her.

Director Darren Aronofsky puts Nina — and the audience — through an emotional grinder as the young ballerina struggles, and begins to collapse, under pressures both real and imagined. The film boasts impressive choreography, elegant costumes, some intriguing scenes and a stellar performance by Portman.

However…the whole “descent into madness” thing loses its impact after a while. You can only play the — Something Bad Happens/It’s Just a Hallucination — card once or twice before it’s no longer effective. By the end of the film I was losing interest in Nina’s plight because it kept whiplashing back and forth.

Did it work for me? Another tough call. It’s both compelling and exasperating. Overall the good outweighed the bad. I may change my mind a year from now.

Tiny Furniture

Here’s another in the seemingly endless parade of independent films about quirky, unlikable characters living uninspired lives who parade across the stage for a couple of hours and then the credits roll.

They keep making them so somebody must like them. I have a feeling it’s mostly film critics.

“Tiny Furniture” is a family affair. Lena Dunham writes, directs and stars as Aura. Her mother Laurie Simmons plays her mother Siri. Her sister Grace Dunham plays her sister Nadine. I’m sure it’s very autobiographical — that doesn’t mean it’s very good.

Aura has just finished college and has come home to her mother’s loft/studio in SoHo. Mother is a photographer/artist who takes pictures of tiny furniture. I guess you can make a living at that in New York.

Aura’s emotionally distant mother doesn’t seem to care that she’s home and sister isn’t crazy about it either. She gets a job at a restaurant, she hangs out with an old friend, she tries to hook up with some obnoxious guy who is a minor Internet celebrity, she tries to hook up with a guy at the restaurant, uh, she does some other stuff, the end.

“Tiny Furniture” is tedious and lifeless and maybe that’s what life is like for the SoHo art crowd, but I don’t want to watch a movie about it. None of the characters are likable — sometimes my sympathy was with Aura but then she’d do something stupid or mean showing that she was no better than the other losers.

Did it work for me? This one is not a close call. No.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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