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To Begin With

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart is pretty much the whole show. His Bad Blake, given name to be held back for the gravestone, is an over-the-hill and down-on-his-luck C&W singer still living the life of a C&W song, four marriages behind him, long lonely drives and cheap motels and cheaper women in front of him, a chain smoker and a hard-at-it alcoholic (preferred poison, fictitious McClure’s bourbon) on a free fall to the unseen bottom and, on impact, the uncertain bounce-back to redemption. As one of his lyrics neatly sums it up: “I used to be somebody, now I’m somebody else.” The film — a first by actor-turned-director Scott Cooper, more precisely and typically actor-turned-actor’s-director — surrounds the central character with a set of circumstances rather than a string of incidents. The bowling-alley venue at the start tells an untold tale (seated at the bar, facing the camera with the lanes behind him, Bridges could almost be back in The Big Lebowski, minus the White Russian), and the showbiz stereotype depends on the details for revitalization: an unbuckled belt and unzipped fly for driving the long hauls and a handy gallon water jug to avoid rest stops along the way.

The actor’s singing voice amounts to a dull blade that has a hard time cutting through the expert arrangements by T Bone Burnett, who with the late Stephen Bruton co-wrote the original songs in the crying-in-your-beer genre. But then too, the actor’s speaking voice, a low rumble through a mouthful of marbles, has a hard enough time cutting through thin air, as if he could use a hit of oxygen before and after each utterance. To outward appearances, he’s approximately one-third Kris Kristofferson (the constipated voice and the wheezy wince to produce it) and two-thirds Waylon Jennings (the greasy stringy hair, the bedraggled beard, the shades, the leather vest, the paunch), in no part original but in every part authentic. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the single-mom reporter who provides motivation for Bad to get better (“I’m Bad, and I’m an alcoholic”), and Colin Farrell is the ponytailed one-time protégé who has passed him by and can now offer a hand-up, and Robert Duvall is the friendly neighborhood barkeep who brings with him the ghost of his down-and-out alcoholic country singer in Tender Mercies. (Oscar voters, take a hint.) But these likewise are mere circumstances rather than characters in their own right, mere appurtenances, mere accoutrements of Bridges, little more than his belt buckle and water bottle, cigarettes and whisky. It’s his show, and it’s a generous one.

Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt is a cut-above teen comedy whose nerdy hero is an anachronistic Sinatra fan, aspiring novelist, voracious reader, condemned virgin. When he stumbles on a prospective soul mate who seems his equal in youthful pretension — a Francophile who loves Gainsbourg and Breathless, but who can also correct him on his misidentification of the Japanese director of his “favorite” film, Tokyo Story — he develops an anarchic alter ego, François Dillinger, outfitted with cigarettes, dark shadows under his eyes, a pencil mustache, and a mile-wide cruel streak, to counsel him in his courtship. An even bigger question than how long till Michael Cera, twenty-one, can no longer get away with playing teenagers is the question of when his on-screen persona, a/k/a his shtick, will lose its freshness and find fatigue. The answer to both questions, somewhat surprisingly, is not yet.

His insecurity and interiority are built to last, and his diffident, apologetic, unexpectant way with a funny line (agreeing to a hike: “Like John Muir, I enter the wilderness armed with nothing more than my journal and a childlike sense of wonder”) is long on charm. In addition to which, the alter ego, the devil over his shoulder and in his ear, with whom he both divides and shares screen time, gives him a refreshing new persona, new shtick. It affords an opportunity to stretch himself without the obligation of credibility. The prospective soul mate is played by newcomer Portia Doubleday, natural possessor of a newcomer’s freshness, quite apart from her captivating name. But the puppet interludes, to preserve their own freshness, are banking on your not having seen the last Michael Cera film, the indie Paper Heart. (Its co-star, creative force, and puppet designer, Charlyne Yi, gets a polite acknowledgment in the closing credits.) The humor in general tends toward overstatement even when it’s funny — the girl’s evangelical parents occupy an enlarged double-decker trailer with a “Rock of Ages” doorbell and a sixty-four-pipe organ in the parlor — and it doesn’t take much to push it overboard into unfunny vehicular demolition, surreptitious pot recipes, farcical cross-dressing. Then again, neither does it take much for a teen comedy to be a cut above.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus presents a Terry Gilliam exercise in excess, as dense, as heavy, as torpifying as a Christmas fruitcake. (Or as Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Brothers Grimm.) The muffled narrative, revolving around an immortal travelling showman, his magic-mirror portal to the realm of imagination, and his deal with the Devil, gets overpowered by the relentless production: the desolate stark smoky post-apocalyptic real world and the digitalized escape-scapes, a bit of Oz, a bit of Wonderland, a bit of Middle-Earth, a bit of Maxfield Parrish crossed with Salvador Dali. Just to make the weird weirder, all of it’s apt to be shot in bulbous wide angles. Nearly two years after his death in mid-shoot, this presumably will be Heath Ledger’s final screen appearance, a supporting role (given deceitful top billing) resourcefully completed by a tag team of Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, each of whom, uniformly dressed and groomed, appears more engaged in the role. In the last analysis it deposits a spot of tarnish, a smudge of dullness, on the Ledger legend.

Leap Year, directed by Anand Tucker, seems to exist solely to fill the monthly rom-com quota. In it, a New York control freak gets it into her head to join her boyfriend of four years on a business trip to Dublin, planning to take advantage of the local leap-year custom of “ladies’ privilege” in proposals of marriage. Instead she gets rerouted to Wales by bad weather, thence by boat to Dingle (somehow) on the far side of the island; and under the spell of Celtic magic and of a devil-may-care pub owner and sometime cab driver, she discovers her inner romantic. It’s a standard formula, the predestined lovers butting heads till locking lips, with the standard ton of pop songs on the soundtrack, and it lives or dies entirely on the charms of its stars: Amy Adams, whose charms are well known and on full display, and the manneristically elongated Matthew Goode (body by El Greco), whose charms are her match. He could well have a future in this sort of thing, as opposed to the Single Man sort of thing, if (a) he wants it and (b) Gerard Butler is busy. For the present, he and she bring the mechanism precariously to life.

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Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart is pretty much the whole show. His Bad Blake, given name to be held back for the gravestone, is an over-the-hill and down-on-his-luck C&W singer still living the life of a C&W song, four marriages behind him, long lonely drives and cheap motels and cheaper women in front of him, a chain smoker and a hard-at-it alcoholic (preferred poison, fictitious McClure’s bourbon) on a free fall to the unseen bottom and, on impact, the uncertain bounce-back to redemption. As one of his lyrics neatly sums it up: “I used to be somebody, now I’m somebody else.” The film — a first by actor-turned-director Scott Cooper, more precisely and typically actor-turned-actor’s-director — surrounds the central character with a set of circumstances rather than a string of incidents. The bowling-alley venue at the start tells an untold tale (seated at the bar, facing the camera with the lanes behind him, Bridges could almost be back in The Big Lebowski, minus the White Russian), and the showbiz stereotype depends on the details for revitalization: an unbuckled belt and unzipped fly for driving the long hauls and a handy gallon water jug to avoid rest stops along the way.

The actor’s singing voice amounts to a dull blade that has a hard time cutting through the expert arrangements by T Bone Burnett, who with the late Stephen Bruton co-wrote the original songs in the crying-in-your-beer genre. But then too, the actor’s speaking voice, a low rumble through a mouthful of marbles, has a hard enough time cutting through thin air, as if he could use a hit of oxygen before and after each utterance. To outward appearances, he’s approximately one-third Kris Kristofferson (the constipated voice and the wheezy wince to produce it) and two-thirds Waylon Jennings (the greasy stringy hair, the bedraggled beard, the shades, the leather vest, the paunch), in no part original but in every part authentic. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the single-mom reporter who provides motivation for Bad to get better (“I’m Bad, and I’m an alcoholic”), and Colin Farrell is the ponytailed one-time protégé who has passed him by and can now offer a hand-up, and Robert Duvall is the friendly neighborhood barkeep who brings with him the ghost of his down-and-out alcoholic country singer in Tender Mercies. (Oscar voters, take a hint.) But these likewise are mere circumstances rather than characters in their own right, mere appurtenances, mere accoutrements of Bridges, little more than his belt buckle and water bottle, cigarettes and whisky. It’s his show, and it’s a generous one.

Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt is a cut-above teen comedy whose nerdy hero is an anachronistic Sinatra fan, aspiring novelist, voracious reader, condemned virgin. When he stumbles on a prospective soul mate who seems his equal in youthful pretension — a Francophile who loves Gainsbourg and Breathless, but who can also correct him on his misidentification of the Japanese director of his “favorite” film, Tokyo Story — he develops an anarchic alter ego, François Dillinger, outfitted with cigarettes, dark shadows under his eyes, a pencil mustache, and a mile-wide cruel streak, to counsel him in his courtship. An even bigger question than how long till Michael Cera, twenty-one, can no longer get away with playing teenagers is the question of when his on-screen persona, a/k/a his shtick, will lose its freshness and find fatigue. The answer to both questions, somewhat surprisingly, is not yet.

His insecurity and interiority are built to last, and his diffident, apologetic, unexpectant way with a funny line (agreeing to a hike: “Like John Muir, I enter the wilderness armed with nothing more than my journal and a childlike sense of wonder”) is long on charm. In addition to which, the alter ego, the devil over his shoulder and in his ear, with whom he both divides and shares screen time, gives him a refreshing new persona, new shtick. It affords an opportunity to stretch himself without the obligation of credibility. The prospective soul mate is played by newcomer Portia Doubleday, natural possessor of a newcomer’s freshness, quite apart from her captivating name. But the puppet interludes, to preserve their own freshness, are banking on your not having seen the last Michael Cera film, the indie Paper Heart. (Its co-star, creative force, and puppet designer, Charlyne Yi, gets a polite acknowledgment in the closing credits.) The humor in general tends toward overstatement even when it’s funny — the girl’s evangelical parents occupy an enlarged double-decker trailer with a “Rock of Ages” doorbell and a sixty-four-pipe organ in the parlor — and it doesn’t take much to push it overboard into unfunny vehicular demolition, surreptitious pot recipes, farcical cross-dressing. Then again, neither does it take much for a teen comedy to be a cut above.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus presents a Terry Gilliam exercise in excess, as dense, as heavy, as torpifying as a Christmas fruitcake. (Or as Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Brothers Grimm.) The muffled narrative, revolving around an immortal travelling showman, his magic-mirror portal to the realm of imagination, and his deal with the Devil, gets overpowered by the relentless production: the desolate stark smoky post-apocalyptic real world and the digitalized escape-scapes, a bit of Oz, a bit of Wonderland, a bit of Middle-Earth, a bit of Maxfield Parrish crossed with Salvador Dali. Just to make the weird weirder, all of it’s apt to be shot in bulbous wide angles. Nearly two years after his death in mid-shoot, this presumably will be Heath Ledger’s final screen appearance, a supporting role (given deceitful top billing) resourcefully completed by a tag team of Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, each of whom, uniformly dressed and groomed, appears more engaged in the role. In the last analysis it deposits a spot of tarnish, a smudge of dullness, on the Ledger legend.

Leap Year, directed by Anand Tucker, seems to exist solely to fill the monthly rom-com quota. In it, a New York control freak gets it into her head to join her boyfriend of four years on a business trip to Dublin, planning to take advantage of the local leap-year custom of “ladies’ privilege” in proposals of marriage. Instead she gets rerouted to Wales by bad weather, thence by boat to Dingle (somehow) on the far side of the island; and under the spell of Celtic magic and of a devil-may-care pub owner and sometime cab driver, she discovers her inner romantic. It’s a standard formula, the predestined lovers butting heads till locking lips, with the standard ton of pop songs on the soundtrack, and it lives or dies entirely on the charms of its stars: Amy Adams, whose charms are well known and on full display, and the manneristically elongated Matthew Goode (body by El Greco), whose charms are her match. He could well have a future in this sort of thing, as opposed to the Single Man sort of thing, if (a) he wants it and (b) Gerard Butler is busy. For the present, he and she bring the mechanism precariously to life.

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