Serenity

Release: Friday, January 25, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Steven Knight

Directed by: Steven Knight

This won’t be an exact science, but I don’t plan to see a movie worse than Serenity the rest of this year. Someone deliver me from the temptation to go on an excessive rant here.

From the writer/director of the brilliantly ergonomic thriller Locke (2014) comes Serenity, a vehicle built for the swaggering, whisky-drankin’ Matthew McConaughey but one that ends up taking almost all the wind out of his sails. This is a really bad movie, a tale of two disparate yet equally dissatisfying halves — the first lulling the audience into a false sense of SERENITY before the second damn well confounds with some seriously clumsy and surprisingly amateurish attempts at high concept fantasy (think The Truman Show relocated to a sun-kissed island). If you’ve never heard of this movie before, it isn’t your fault. Aviron, the film’s distributor, had such little faith in it they decided to go ahead and cancel pretty much all publicity for the picture, a move that angered stars McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, who felt they had been misled in the marketing tactics. Good for them for standing behind their work, but bad for them . . . because of the work they’re standing behind.

The movie takes place on a tropical isle called Plymouth, where Baker Dill (a haggard-looking McConaughey) ekes out an existence as a commercial tuna fisherman who takes his wealthy but obnoxious clientele out to sea for a little hookin’. Onshore he tends to his daily routine with all the enthusiasm of a dead fish, hitting the bars for whisky and the bed with Diane Lane for extra cash, because gas is expensive. And we need gas to take tourists out. (Oh, and she has a lost cat running around that she implores Baker to find — spot the icky symbolism boys and girls!) What keeps Baker goin’ — other than the sweaty sex — is his endless obsession with catching the massive tuna he’s been, I guess, haunted by for years. The crusade to catch has become so epic he’s branded the thing Justice. (And again with the symbolism!)

The first half is a character-building slog through Moby Dick-ian cliché, with Baker’s single-minded pursuit getting in the way of good customer relations — he threatens with a knife during a dispute over who gets to reel Justice in, only for it to escape again. Word gets out around Plymouth very easily and some of the other locals believe Baker’s lost his nerve, as well as his mind. There are threats of calling in a doctor to evaluate him. Baker just believes it is bad luck, which he attributes to his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou), who has struggled to get over the death of his wife.

Things become a bit more lively when, out of the black of the night, comes Anne Hathaway’s sultry Karen. She’s Baker’s ex-wife, though she keeps referring to him as John. She has a proposal for “John” that will benefit both of them. Having remarried when he went off to war, she now wants desperately to be rid of the violently abusive jagoff Frank (a pretty cringe-y Jason Clarke) has turned out to be and tells Baker-John she will pay him $10 million in cash if he takes him out on his boat and throws him overboard for the sharks.

That sets up a fairly compelling moral dilemma in practice but one that seems dopey in writing — does he pursue the big fish or help his wife? The biggest impetus for choosing Option 2 is Baker’s obligation to save his child from enduring an embittered life, irrevocably altered by a broken home. It won’t be the multitude of scars Karen has endured through those years that compels him but rather an opportunity to do right by his son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh). Through what appear to be flashbacks we see Patrick confined to his bedroom and locked into a video game that he recodes, trying to escape the misery of his home life. We come to appreciate how close the father and son bond once was, but it turns out they have an even deeper connection, more along the lines of telepathy.

Act Two. Oh goodness, here we go, into the Bermuda Triangle. I am all for ambitious, high-concept, twisty-turvy plots. When they convincingly pull the rug out from under us we get things like The Matrix and Shutter Island. But when the twist isn’t executed well or the entire concept is fundamentally screwy we wind up with the confusing mess that is Serenity, an increasingly heavy-handed allegory involving fate versus free will, decency versus immorality — elements that are initially introduced via obvious Biblical references (the Serenity Prayer is all but spelled out in dialogue) before a thoroughly strange meeting with a suited gentleman (Jeremy Strong) one evening further shakes things up. As it turns out Baker may not be as in control of his life — if it is even a life he leads — as it initially appears, and there are “rules” of a vaguely defined “game” he may have to break if he is to succeed in his endeavor.

I could go into further detail regarding what that game is but what is the point? Those details make even less sense in writing than they do in the film. Let’s leave it at this: the McConaissance is officially over. A few more movies like this and I feel like it’s back to square one again. Serenity is so undercooked and haphazardly constructed it is as if a child wrote it, maybe that kid from Florida is behind it all. Count your blessings if you do not understand that reference.

All aboard the S.S. WTF!

Recommendation: Serenity uses a sexy cast as bait to lure unsuspecting audiences into a plot that becomes infuriatingly nebulous to the point of being unintentionally funny. But this isn’t the kind of so-bad-it’s-good film that can be tossed back with some beers. This is the kind of nonsensical, pretentious claptrap that kills careers. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Grand Seduction

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Release: Friday, May 30, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

The theater where I went to see this film didn’t serve nearly the appropriate amount of my favorite lager. They also failed to carry appropriate beer-drinking mugs. So, making do with what I had, I found myself toasting the events on screen with a luke-warm plastic cup filled with a swill of Coors Light.

The Grand Seduction is one of those films whose infectious spirit is so great you won’t notice yer actively participatin’ in the singin’ an’ drinkin’ an’ dancin’ ’til yer bein’ forcefully removed from the theater because of the racket ya be causin’.

Unfortunately, the above wasn’t an anecdote; at no point in my moviegoing career have I ever been escorted from a cineplex. (Have any of you?) Point is, there’s little you can really do to avoid being seduced by this eccentric little film. Its hooks will be in deep thanks to charming performances delivered across the board. Spearheaded by the great bearded Brendan Gleeson — whose Irish heritage will likely have you confused about where this film is supposed to be set on more than one occasion — the cast’s efforts certainly help overshadow a story that is largely lacking in originality or plausibility.

The French film La grande séduction debuted at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival to such a warm reception that an English language version was immediately suggested; it’s popularity all but demanded it. After several setbacks including directors dropping in and out of the project, the current film finally was fleshed out with an appropriately eclectic talent pool in Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Liane Balaban, and Mark Critch.

In a brisk hour and forty minutes we are stolen away to the remote harbor of Tickle Head, a place so insignificant Newfoundland barely even wants it. It’s an extreme northern locale whose downtrodden appearance and sparse human population is frequently mined for comedy, often very successfully. But the movie lies within Gleeson’s Murray French, a man whose joviality belies a spirit slowly crushed by lifelong hardship. When the town mayor abandons his post for better job prospects on the mainland, Murray starts spinning a web of lies in order to make Tickle Head a more attractive place for the young Dr. Paul Lewis (Kitsch).

Why, pray, does this little outcropping home to barely more than 100 need a good-looking, wealthy townie for a doctor?

Well it’s all a part of the deal Murray’s trying to secure with a major oil conglomerate that has tentative plans to bring a factory to the area. The good people of Tickle Head sure could use the work. Instantly Murray sets about fabricating a number of stories and overhauling the community to the doctor’s liking — he even requires everyone to embrace the sport of cricket, and suppress their passions for a real sport, like hockey. Finding a scene this year that’s more intrinsically hilarious than watching a group of disoriented old men in white and pink linen attempt to master this obscure skill by the edge of a sun-dappled cliff is going to be a real challenge.

As Murray continues to stage his grand seduction for the doctor, who continues to struggle with being away from his wife and familiar surroundings, the lies become more significant, eventually posing something of a moral conflict for Murray and they start to spiral out of control. It’s a tipping point for the credibility of the script, as well, unfortunately. How much of this are we really meant to take seriously? At times the silliness swells to a point where its understandable that the entire production need not be taken seriously, though this is not entirely the case. There are a few moments of genuine human drama peppered throughout this farce, though it’s easier to take The Grand Seduction at face value as a straight comedy.

Despite it’s tendency to venture into cliche territory, this adaptation has a huge heart. Good luck not cracking a smile, at the very least. And remember, for a film like this its always a good idea to bring a frosty mug from home. The people of Tickle Head openly invite you into their homes, and it would be rude not to bring offerings. Just sneak them into the theater in your pockets or something.

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3-5Recommendation: I recommend this film with the simple assumption that you enjoy laughing at movies, and laughing at a lot of different things. Humor runs the gamut from rib-tickling slapstick to dialogue that’s at once self-aware and self-depricating. A film based in such a remote location usually always feels like a “refreshing” experience, and this certainly proves to be a byproduct of watching this one. Although it’s a fictional place, Tickle Head feels as real as any small community you’ve ever traveled through or spent time in. Come get to know these people, they’d love to meet you. And I almost guarantee you won’t regret meeting them.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Who here has a case of creeping Athlete’s Foot. . .? Frank?!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com