At the Movies: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Haywire, Pariah, Shame

Lots to cover this week — and I didn’t even get to see the new “Underworld” movie  or the WWII fighter pilot movie — so let’s get right to it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Of all the 9/11-inspired movies I’ve seen, and there have been many, this one is probably the strangest. I don’t know what to make of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” other than it features an impressive performance by young Thomas Horn.

Based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, it tells the story of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a 9-year-old whose father Thomas (Tom Hanks) died in the World Trade Center disaster. A clever but fragile boy, Oskar is having a hard time adjusting to his father’s death.

One day Oskar discovers a key among his dad’s belongings and is convinced that it is part of some elaborate puzzle that Thomas left for him. Oskar believes if he can only find the lock that fits the key, it will unlock a final message from his father.

He doesn’t tell his mother (Sandra Bullock) what he’s up to and begins scouring the city for clues. Along the way he’s aided by a mysterious mute man (Max von Sydow) who is renting a room from Oskar’s grandmother (Zoe Caldwell).

I found this film intriguing but strangely lacking in something. Despite a terrific performance by the central character, the film didn’t resonate with me emotionally. And the whole plot relies on far too many unlikely coincidences for my tastes. Worth seeing, but not at full price.

Haywire

I know nothing about the world of Mixed Martial Arts, so the name Gina Carano means nothing to me. But after seeing her at work in “Haywire,” I would like to know more.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Haywire” is a stylish, sometimes sluggish, sometimes violent, action adventure. The story is fairly conventional but the way it’s told is not.

Carano stars as Mallory, a top black ops agent who works for a private contractor named Kenneth (Ewan McGregor). When her boss betrays her and orders her death, Mallory goes looking for payback.

Like I said, this basic story has been done hundreds of times, but it’s the acting talent and the execution that make “Haywire” a fun ride. Soderbergh has assembled an unconventional ensemble that includes Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender and Bill Paxton. Carano holds her own with these veteran talents and is a compelling onscreen presence.

And man, can she fight. The fight scenes are brutal and powerful. It’s unusual to see a woman take that kind of punishment in a no-holds-barred brawl with a man, but Mallory gives as good as she gets. Better yet, the fight scenes are shot in a straightforward style where you can see and feel each blow, unlike the shaky-cam method that has ruined many modern action films.

Be warned that this is not a conventional action film. The pace is slow and deliberate at times, there are long stretches without dialogue and all the double-dealing isn’t spelled out until the very end so you may feel lost as you’re going along.

Pariah

And now for something completely different. “Pariah” is a moving coming-of-age tale about a teenager coming to grips with her sexual identity while dealing with parents who can’t deal with each other let alone their daughter’s lifestyle choice.

Adepero Oduye stars as Alike, a young woman living with parents Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell) and younger sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse). Dad works nights and is rarely around and rarely backs his wife in her child-rearing decisions. And that’s just one area where the marriage is in trouble.

Alike sneaks out for late night excursions with her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker). It’s no secret that Laura is a lesbian but Alike is still trying to keep her orientation a secret — at least from her parents. Everyone, including the parents, suspects the truth but Audrey and Arthur don’t want to confront it.

Writer/director Dee Rees has crafted a powerful family drama with strong performances.

Shame

When is a porno not a porno? Apparently when it’s an Oscar-bait drama called “Shame.”

Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a hollow man who seeks to fill the hole in his life with sex. Cheap, meaningless sex. He’s addicted to sex and who would have thought a movie about a sex addict could be so slow, dull and plodding?

Brandon’s troubled sister (Carey Mulligan) shows up on his doorstep to complicate his shallow existence. There’s a hint that they’re both screwed up due to childhood trauma, but it’s never explained. Because that would require  adding some depth to this story.

Do you get the impression this movie didn’t work for me? It didn’t.  Directed by Steve McQueen (not the one you’re thinking of), “Shame” features a good performance by Fassbender but not good enough that it’s worth sitting through this tired film.

If you need a Michael Fassbender fix this weekend, go see “Haywire.”

 

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