One thing to be said for The Darjeeling Limited, and it's no small thing, is that the film bears an individual stamp. A stamp as flat as a postage stamp, as emphatic as a rubber stamp. (Whap, whap.) Director Wes Anderson, a well-known commodity after Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, and The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, favors fastidiously balanced, nailed- down compositions, the figures pinned to a shallow background like butterfly specimens. Stressing their separateness, he has no intention to hinge his shots together into a smooth and seamless line, but instead slots them into place as if on disconnected planes, setting up a clumping rhythm of starts and stops, glazing the screen with the deadest of deadpans, and erecting an invisible wall (invulnerable even to the occasional unchar- acteristic zoom) between the filmmaker and his characters, freakishly feckless people, abject puppets manipulated by a man with little regard for human diversity and volition. The effect -- the unhumanness of these humanoids -- is often amusing and always distancing. The danger in the director's method is that it can be too distancing and therefore not amusing enough. Since he always clamps a tasteful mute on the audience's merriment, the standard laugh-meter is an unreliable measure.
If this outing seems a cut above all previous ones, it may be the benefit of a real, a tangible, a substantial background against which to display his specimens: three, thirty-something brothers who have not spoken to one another in the year since their father's funeral, now heading out together on a "spiritual journey" in a first-class sleeper car across India, with the ultimate aim of tracking down their mother (a no-show at the funeral) in a convent at the foot of the Himalayas. In other words, a typical Wes Anderson operation, bringing about the insecure bonding of misaligned oddballs, but in an atypical exotic setting, the better to draw out their oddness. Owen Wilson, a constant Anderson collaborator, reeks of insincerity -- his distinctive scent -- in the role that most demands its opposite, the role of the instigating trip planner, the conciliatory bonder, the self-styled peacemaker, reaching out after a failed suicide attempt, with a faceful of bandages still to show for it. (We trust it's just coincidence, not cause-and-effect, not prognostication, that the actor in real life tried suicide after his on-screen character tried it.) Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, another past Anderson collaborator, are far better-behaved puppets; and Bill Murray, almost as constant a collaborator as Wilson, pops up in a funny cameo, first thing out of the gate. India and Indians, meantime, are treated with a respect comparable to, if not superior to, Albert Brooks's treatment of them in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (while the central characters can offer no challenge to Brooks's), and the rich, saturated, radiantly warmed color from Anderson's regular cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, does full justice to the local palette. Musical accompaniment has been cunningly culled from the films of Satyajit Ray, for the most part, and James Ivory. There is a companion short film, Hotel Chevalier, a prologue of sorts, set in Paris and centered solely around the Schwartzman character. This, available for free on iTunes if you can be bothered to register online, is hardly essential, except to explain the blink-of-an-eye appearance of Natalie Portman in the feature film. The Anderson completist and the Portman torch-carrier will find it worth the effort.
We Own the Night spins the old story, with new operatic embellishment, of brothers on opposite sides of the law (Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix), plus a father firmly on the lawful side (Robert Duvall), and Russian drug dealers so ruthless and repugnant as to straighten out the bent brother. All pretty obvious and overstated, although a couple of big developments come sooner than might have been anticipated, and director James Gray (The Yards, also featuring Wahlberg, and Little Odessa, also featuring Russian mobsters) stages an exciting shootout on wheels in a low-visibility rainstorm. If this scene could be bodily transferred, let's say, to The Godfather, it would be celebrated as an immortal cinematic set piece. The Polish contemporary classical composer Wojciech Kilar, whenever there's a breather in the Eighties oldies, contributes some weighty, heavy-treading incidental music.
The Final Season is a square baseball movie, "based on a true story," about a small-town Iowa high school housing nineteen state baseball championships in its trophy case ("We grow ballplayers here like corn"), now facing consolidation into a larger school district, and entering its last year of independence under a wet-behind-the-ears rookie coach (and, for good measure, former girls' volleyball coach). They wouldn't be making a movie about it if they couldn't give you reason to cheer. They, and more specifically director David Mickey Evans, cannot quite give you reason to sweat, however. Sean Astin, who also executive-produced, plays the new coach with an air of classical composure.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age invites Cate Blanchett, or a bloodless marmoreal likeness of her, to resume her role from the nine-years-earlier Elizabeth, under the same director, Shekhar Kapur, for a collection of the Virgin Queen's greatest hits: Mary, Queen of Scots; Sir Walter Raleigh; and, in a madly cross-cutting climax, the Spanish Armada, dispatched by the subtitle-speaking Catholic fanatic, Philip II ("Elizabeth is darkness, I am light"). A histrionic history lesson and courtly soap opera (the pregnant handmaid, the secret wedding, the queen's cracked heart but not visage), ludicrous in its extravagance, good for a snicker but not for an education.
The Farrelly brothers' remake of The Heartbreak Kid, thirty-five years after the original, serves as a handy gauge of the decline of Western civilization. Apart from their substitution of bodily-function gags for social observation and verbal wit, the well-cast and well-constructed comedy about the man who strays on his honeymoon (as directed by Elaine May and as written by Neil Simon) has been badly recast -- Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman, Michelle Monaghan in place of Charles Grodin, Jeannie Berlin, Cybill Shepherd -- and ruinously reconstructed, so that we now have an unwieldy, drawn-out first act, an interminable and repetitious middle act, and a hasty, slapdash last act. The Farrellys have given the groom a mountain of "motivation" to stray, and given him the Perfect Woman to stray to, thus taking the sting out of the joke and exposing themselves as a couple of consummate clods.