Everywhere you look this week, there's magic at the movies. On the one hand, children are vanishing into the fantasy world of Narnia. On the other, adults are vanishing into the fantasy world of either being or being with Angelina Jolie and/or Johnny Depp. Decisions, decisions...
Johnny Depp goes on vacation in Venice, only to run into Angelina Jolie and her web of deceit and espionage. Eric D. Snider had a problem with at least half of that equation, though: "The whole point of Frank is that he's an average, ordinary guy -- the one thing Johnny Depp is not good at playing. Misfits, oddballs, kooks, nuts, drunken pirates, tea-party-attending hat enthusiasts, sure. Regular guys, no. We have Jolie playing to her strengths (enigmatic beauty, vaguely sensual dialogue, some light gunplay) while Depp must play against his. It is a bad idea."
Sean O'Connell of ReelRave registered similar disappointment, calling it "one of those sleight-of-hand games where things make less sense once the story has revealed all of its tricks."
'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'
Two of the four Pevensie siblings are back in this third installment of the fantasy franchise, which only left yours truly marginally thrilled: "An early skermish with slave traders is marginally exciting, a quest to retrieve seven swords from seven lords feels far more routine, an encounter with invisible gnomes attempting an amusing amount of vocal intimidation brings welcome levity, while a climactic battle against a nasty sea serpent proves more thrilling than expected, if not more thrilling than any other showdown in the series to date... However, the arrival of Aslan this time marks the clunkiest semi-sermon [yet]..."
Over at Slant Magazine, Simon Abrams wrote that "no matter how old the Pevensies get, their fairy-tale friends will forever mark them as children trying vainly to prove themselves in a world they made. Nothing is really sacrificed and everything is still just make-believe."
Burnt-out boxer Mark Wahlberg and his half-brother (Christian Bale) do the true-life underdog thing, and Jenni Miller was mostly impressed by the end result: "Everyone loves a comeback story, especially in Oscar season, and that of the American boxer, a working class guy with busted knuckles and bruised cheekbones, is a classic. What makes David O. Russell's 'The Fighter' stand out -- or at least stand shoulder to shoulder -- with other boxing movies is its real-life subject, "Irish" Micky Ward, and its incredibly strong cast..."
Katey Rich of Cinema Blend felt the film "isn't quite as successful as it could have been, but relying as it does on its characters and the stupendous actors who embody most of them, it works quite well in overcoming its flaws."
Julie Taymor brings her typically striking directorial flair to William Shakespeare's classic play. This time, though, Jenni was considerably less impressed: "However appealing the idea of seeing [star Helen] Mirren do a subversive Shakespeare might be, it lacks a certain zing that makes it necessary. I expected it to be more charged, more experimental, more than either just a happenstance of Taymor and Mirren wanting to work together or more than a parlor trick"
Alonso Duralde of HitFix said, "There are worse ways than to spend two hours listening to Mirren and [Alfred] Molina and [Russell] Brand and Tom Conti dig into this ferocious iambic pentameter, but given the possibilities of this project, 'The Tempest' comes loaded with thunder but yields precious little precipitation."
'And Everything is Going Fine'
Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh was good friends with performance artist Spalding Gray before he took his own life in 2004. Now, Soderbergh has gone through countless interviews and filmed monologues to assemble this tribute to the man, which will be available on VOD starting December 22.
Monika Bartyzel felt the unconventional documentary was "something much more powerful -- something we're rarely awarded with after death. Instead of a comprehensive look completely removed from the subject, where one has to wade through nostalgia and filtered opinions, we're given Gray himself -- his feel, his verve, his liveliness. It's a gift to have so much first-person accounts to sift through, to feel Gray as filtered through Gray, not those who surround him."
The A.V. Club's Nathan Rabin felt similarly: "Soderbergh's loving, shattering valentine to his late friend and collaborator has an inherently tragic arc, but it's ultimately a celebration of Gray's irrepressible lust for life and bottomless curiosity about the strange and beautiful world around him."