Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Wednesday, November 30, 2011) (108)

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a movie by Lynne Ramsey based on a novel by Lionel Schriver. I haven't read the book, and that might have been a problem for my appreciation and understanding of the emotional and psychological narrative of the film. Boiled down to it's core, the movie is about a cold, clinical woman, Eva (Tilda Swinton), for whom motherhood is probably a bit of a stretch. When she and her husband, Franklin (John C. Reilly), have a son, Kevin, and move to the suburbs, she has a tremendous difficulty connecting with the child.

It seems that baby Kevin is very willful and very hard to control. Eva spends her days with the baby constantly trying to engage and connect with him, but to no avail. At a point she thinks (we think) he might be autistic, though the doctors say he's totally healthy. As he grows up to be a young child, he becomes more and more willful and self-possessed, being a total terror for his mother and an angel for his father. The story continues to unwind as we see Eva struggle more and more with her son with whom she doesn't connect.

This is basically an update of The Bad Seed (which is a fun, but terrible film), or any of the dozens of books and films that continued that idea (Orphan, Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child). With all of those works, there's always a question of "nature vs. nurture". Is it that the kid is just rotten to his core and a hopeless case or is he a product of his cold upbringing? Ramsey deals with that dilemma here, though I don't think there is anything more than that chestnut.

It is a very beautiful film to watch. Ramsey does a masterful job creating an incredibly cold tone to the story and atmosphere. The modern suburban house the family moves into has few decorations and is mostly white and angular. The camera doesn't move much and, when it does, it is very slow, so everything feels restrained and uncomfortable. Ramsey does use lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of red in the film. Clearly this is a visual clue into the the bloodiness the boy (or the mother) has in him, but it's a bit too obtuse for me. Still, there are some lovely images that come out of this icy setting with bolts of passionate color.

Ramsey also seems very interested with sound effects, soundtrack and score. Scenes transition with sound effects that lead us from one moment to another, frequently featuring uncomfortable sounds like scratching and sirens. I think this is an interesting way of creating a world in our minds of unexpectedness and discomfort that never lets us rest in the back of our seats. (I was very disappointed with one scene involving a guinea pig where Ramsey pulled her punches and didn't use the aural as well as she could have. Alas.)

I think the biggest problem for me is that I had trouble understanding the psychology of Eva, which, I would imagine, is better spelled out in the book. I worry that Ramsey and co-adapter Rory Kinnear are very familiar with the anguish of Eva from the novel, but just didn't put much of it on screen, or simply used a shorthand for big swaths of background. It's clear that Eva is a cold person, but not clear why or how she transfers that to her son. Considering this would normally be thought of as a "psychodrama," without the psychological aspect shining through more clearly, it really is just reduced to a campy melodrama (not that there's anything wrong with melodrama - they're just less psychologically engaging for the audience... by design).

Ramsey is clearly a talented director, though I would be interested to see her direct this film with a different script. I appreciate the offensive and brutal sense of humor peppered throughout the work, such as Kevin eating a lychee right after his sister is fitted with a glass eye or him barely flinching and then staring at his mother after she accidentally walks in on him while he's masturbating. This is a good movie buried in a tired story. I don't really need to see another Bad Seed and that's really all that this movie is. It's a very pretty and clever version of the story, but it's not much more than that story.

Stars: 2 of 4

Friday, November 25, 2011

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Friday, November 25, 2011) (107)

What is there to say about Twilight Part 4 Part 1? It's a movie about vampyres who fuck teens, but only after their married in special Mormon ways. Then it's about how those teens get preggers with monster babies (hello, Rosemary!) who eat them from the inside out. Then there are some werewolves who want to kill the vampyre family because they're really a cult (they are!) and broke the hymen of that teeny girl. Then the teen girl gets all rexy and gray-green-toned. Then one of the wolves decides to fight his brother dawgs because he really likes skinny girls, even tho she's a fang-banger.

Somewhere in there there's a lot of really bad acting. I don't know what you call what K-Stew, R-Patz and Tay-Lau are doing onscreen, but it's ain't acting. They each have reach the bottom of their tanks and are just saying words and looking sweaty. I hope none of them is still doing that stuff in ten years.

Bill Condon has a great inside joke in one scene where people are watching the Bride of Frankenstein, which is a film directed by James Whale, a homosexual and the subject of a biopic he made a few years ago. That split-second moment was the best part of this movie.

Stars: 1 of 4

My Week with Marilyn (Friday, November 25, 2011) (106)

My Week with Marilyn is about the 1956 shoot of the film The Prince and the Showgirl with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). While in London during the shoot she meets the story's narrator Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who is an assistant director trying to break into the film industry. The two work on the film for several weeks and develop a friendship as she proves to be a fish out of water in London with actors who are not movie stars. She brings with her an acting coach, her husband Arthur Miller and her manager who try to help her at every moment not freak out.

At some point the stress gets to be too much and she panics. The only person who can help her is Colin, who proceeds to have a week-long romantic interlude with her, despite her husband and management team's wishes.

This is a movie about falling in love with actors and actresses and falling in love with movies. This is a nice little idea - that we fall for celebrities who don't really know us and can't ever love us back and that the relationships they have with us is as fabricated as the characters they play onscreen.

Clearly the biggest performance here is Williams as Marilyn - and she does a very good impersonation of her. The problem that I had is that the character is so annoying that it's hard to like her at all. She's such a moron at all times and totally unable to even pretend to act. It's clear that Marilyn was a movie star because she knew how to play to the camera, but it's infuriating to watch her here barely able to chew gum and walk at the same time. It's impossible to align with her, and I think that hurts the dynamic of the film. If we can't fall in love with this Marilyn the way Colin does, there is no magic. Branagh actually does a great job as the pompous and irritated Olivier, though he's not getting much attention for his performance.

This is an OK movie, but is not brilliant. I love movies about movies (though this one is in London, not Hollywood) and this is a decent one, but not as wonderful as some from the past.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Dangerous Method (Thursday, November 24, 2011) (105)

David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method tells the story of Carl Jung's early relationship with Sigmund Freud, from around 1904 until 1914. These are the early days of psychoanalysis when many of the Freudian methods that we take for granted were being established. Jung (Michael Fassbender) is a psychologist working in a hospital in Zurich. He has read all of Freud's writings and has started employing his "talking cure". Once they meet, Freud (Viggo Mortensen) expresses to Jung that he could be the "gentile savior" of psychoanalysis, putting a protestant face on the method that is largely practiced by Jews.

One of Jung's patients, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), has massive troubles with her sexuality and sanity. Over time Jung heals her through talking therapy and she begins to fall in love with him, or at least she becomes erotically interested in him. They have an affair, which is totally unsanctioned by the medical world and by his strict protestant background. The two doctors come into conflict over Jung's handing of the affair and what it means for his place in Freud's world.

I think this is a very well-made film (Cronenberg really doesn't make bad movies), but it's a bit cold in its tone and uninteresting beyond the depiction of obscure history. The parts of the story that deal with the two doctors' diverging beliefs is hard to establish as Jung had not yet written much of what he would become known for by this point in history. In other words, Jung is just a doctor trying to practice Freudian psychology, he could be anyone really. The film seems to be presented as an "either/or" between the two philosophies, but only Freud's ideas are presented.

The thematic structure seems to fall apart further when you engage in the father-son story. Clearly there are the suggestions of a Freudian Oedipal relationship going on (that Jung wants to bring down his father... though not to sleep with the mother, per se, rather to take control of the movement and establish himself as king). This is only briefly interesting, though, as any analysis of the film from this point of view underlines the relevance and durability of Freud's ideas. The conflict in the film is resolved entirely by analyzing it. A snake that eats its own tail.

Fassbender gives another great performance here, as a stiff and tortured Swiss man, dealing with more emotional issues that he seems ill-suited to deal with. Knightley's performance is good, but a bit showy. I guess it's easy to say playing a crazy person is easy, but it's really hard to do it convincingly. I think her performance is more affectation than virtuosity.

I actually like this film, but there's something in it that's missing for me. It seems like it's trying to be more than merely a historical drama, but I don't know what that "more" is. I want it to like it more, but in the end, it leaves me a bit cold. I wonder what Freud would say about that...

Stars: 3 of 4

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In Time (Tuesday, November 22, 2011) (104)

In Time is a dystopian sci-fi movie that is totally silly and terrible, but actually really fun and very close to being interesting. The film is a straight-up Marxist polemic about a future world (of downtown LA) where all money has been turned into time. In this world, humans are genetically modified to live until they're 25 and then stop aging. At this point, a digital clock on their arm (genetically built into them, you see) turns on and begins to tick off one year, after which they're supposed to die.

This being a hellscape, it's not so simple, though, as one can work and earn more time (as one would earn more money) and the "rich" of this world are able to buy and sell time, as if it was money. Ersatz "billionaires" live wonderful lives, and, because they don't age past 25 and have unlimited resources (time), they lead totally different lives in another "zone" from the poors. Of course they're all hot. (This is complicated.)

At some point, Justin Timberlake gets sick of always being poor, that is, close to being dead, and he is given a century by a rich guy who is sick of living anymore. JT goes into the world of the rich looking only to see how they live, but once he gets there, he finds that he's not trusted and not wanted.

The idea of the film is actually pretty clever, and I totally give writer/director Andrew Niccol credit for making such a blatant and angry Marxist film (it fits in very well with the current Occupy Wall Street movement). Still, the dialogue is totally laughable throughout the film, either totally banal or filled with every "time" and "clock" pun you can imagine ("I'm gonna clean your clock" - literally; "your time is up"). Also, the acting by JT and Amanda Seyfried is really terrible and hard to take seriously. It feels as over-the-top as Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, but it's played as totally serious.

The art direction and costumes are really wonderful here, probably some of the best art direction and production design of any film this year (Gattica looked great too, by the way). Everything is 1960s-70s futuristic. The cars are either '60s Lincoln Continental sedans or '60s Dodge Chargers (or some such Mopar car) but always painted matte black. There is something wonderful about how part of the nightmare of this world is that they went back in time for their future. It's a very clever thing and looks amazing. In spite of this, though, it's a goofy movie that's much more unintentionally funny than serious.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Weekend (Tuesday, November 22, 2011) (103)

Weekend is a wonderful little movie about two guys who meet in a bar and have a weekend of falling in love before one of them has to leave town. It has the romance and sad nostalgia of a Noel Coward story (the bittersweetness of Brief Encounter comes to mind, though neither guy is cheating on anyone) and the freshness, sexual frankness and energy of a mumblecore movie.

This film is written and directed by Andrew Haigh, who has previous worked as an editor on big-budget fare and made one gay documentary, and shows lots of skills in terms of overall look, interesting point-of-view shots and an intense intimacy in the lives of the two guys. I think there are moments when the very slow pace of the film hurts the overall storytelling and perhaps less would be more there. That is, I understand that time, for the two guys, seems to slow down to a standstill because they're so in love, but standstills don't work well for holding audience interest.

The film is really about opposites and unusual juxtapositions. The main guy, Russell, played beautifully by Tom Cullen, is still in the closet and leads a very conservative lifestyle, while Glen, played by Chris New, is out and loves going to clubs and doesn't seem to work. Of course, the biggest "opposite" is that this is a movie that would otherwise be about a man and a woman, but here it's two men. It is a wonderful thing, thematically and theoretically, that this is not really a movie about two gay men being "normal" or "fitting in as a couple in society". This is just a movie about two lovers being lovers, who happen to be men.

This is a good movie and I look forward to other films by Haigh, who clearly knows how to direct.

Stars: 3 of 4

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Margin Call (Saturday, November 19, 2011) (102)

I'm not sure you heard, but a few years ago, there were a bunch of banks that sorta fell apart because they were over-leveraged and had too much risk for their asset base. Well, the good news is that if you somehow missed that story, Margin Call is a movie about one such bank and all the good people who work there who didn't mean to cause any harm to people and were really doing their best to stop the damage before it got out of hand.

This is an ensemble piece about the risk management department of a bank, where one of their analysts discovers that the firm is massively over-leveraged and that by the next morning could collapse the whole international banking sector. From late one afternoon until the early morning the next day, the banker people work to stem the tide of destruction that is coming.

As with most ensemble pieces, this is much more about the fact that a certain actor is in the film at all than that he or she actually does a good job acting. Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker and Mary McDonell are just a few of the (small) stars who deliver totally pedestrian performances here. One actor who does a really great job is Zachary Quinto, who plays the young buck analyst who puts all the numbers together. He's cocky about what he knows, but humbled by the size of his revelation. He has one great scene where he's speaking to the chairman of the bank about his C.V. and his background.

I really hate ensemble movies and I also hate movies about recent events. I think we're way too close to the economic troubles of 2008-9 to have anything worthwhile to say about it. I also think such a story functions as shorthand for real storytelling, allowing very average stuff to be presented, rather than something more critical or thematically significant. Still, this movie is really not bad. It's a good movie with a clever, if precious, script and not too much room for grandstanding acting.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Artist (Friday, November 18, 2011) (101)

The Artist is a silent movie about silent movies. It's totally charming and has a lot in it for cinefiles who love silent movies. It is set in 1928 Hollywood and follows the fictitious George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent leading man from the era of great silent stars. He finds that once 1929 comes around and studios begin to experiment with talkies, he is not able to make movies anymore because he doesn't translate well to sound pictures. His life is turned upside down as he gets a divorce, has to sell all his belongings and move out of his gorgeous mansion and into a modest flat.

Meanwhile, as his star is falling, that of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is rising. She had a small part in one of Valentin's last silent pictures and fell madly in love with him then. As she climbs the ladder of success in Hollywood in talkies, she never forgets him and always keeps an eye out to make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble.

This is all a very sweet story of romantic love and all that, but the really great thing that I liked is that it's a silent movie about silent movies. It's very clever and very funny - but smart funny, not just silly funny. There's a very clever nightmare scene, where Valentin worries about literally not being able to speak in a sound world. There's a wonderful sequence on a beautiful staircase that feels like it was pulled right out of a Murnau film. There's also a lot of very clever use of music and print color, where some of the reels seem to have a yellow or blue tone to them, just as old reels of silent films sometimes have. There's a very clever use of Bernard Hermann's score for Vertigo, at a particular moment when the idea of image and possession is very important.

Overall this is a very good movie with lots of good stuff in it. It would not surprise me if it gets lots of Oscar nominations and wins (for direction, acting, costumes and picture, just to name a few). Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood and this is a great one for that. My only real issue with it is that it's a bit too sweet at times and relies on our desire to "fall in love", more than any particularly effective storytelling... that said, it is a very good movie.

Stars: 3.5 of 4

The Descendants (Friday, November 18, 2011) (100)

Alexander Payne's newest film, The Descendants, has a lot going on in a pretty modest little movie. George Clooney plays the father of young girls, one is 10 and the other is 17, and his wife is in a coma in the hospital after a massive head injury. They live in Honolulu and seem like pretty normal, nice people. As Clooney is reeling from his wife's situation, he finds out that she had been cheating on him for a few months. Meanwhile, his family owns a significant amount of land in a trust that they're being forced to sell and he is the final decision-maker about whom to sell the land to. At some point Clooney and his daughters, along with the older daughter's stoner boyfriend, go to find the man his wife was cheating with, only to discover there might be some ramifications of that affair in the land deal.

The central motif of the film is family, and that makes me really sleepy because that's a dumb thing to make a movie about.There are a bunch of tangents to the story and it's much too complicated for what it needs to be. I think there is probably a pretty decent movie that could be reformed from the skeleton of this one just about the wife being in a coma, having had an affair; there is no need for the land deal part or the daughter's dumb boyfriend part.

If the script for the film, by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, were cleaner and better, this could ultimately be a good movie. It's very small and really doesn't have the materials to be more than just good. Probably the most remarkable thing about it is that Clooney really looks like a normal middle-aged dad in this, not the gorgeous movie star that he has become over the past decade or so. I give lots of credit to Clooney, Payne and the costume designer, Wendy Chuck, who really transform him and make him seem totally normal, desexualized and not at all hot.

Stars: 2.5 of 3

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Melancholia (Sunday, November 13, 2011) (99)

The opening of Lars von Trier's Melancholia is a wonderfully rich and sumptuous 20-minute sequence that shows the whole of the film en bref with Wagner's Tristan and Isolde pumped loudly behind the pictures. We see Kirsten Dunst getting married, then going crazy, then snow falling as Charlotte Gainsbourg runs with her small son (at least he's not falling out a window while she fucks Willem Dafoe in the shower this time!) and then a planet comes and hits the Earth destroying everything. That's basically the whole story in a nutshell and the rest of the two hours are a more-detailed, less interesting look at those bits.

It seems Kiki is getting married to Alexander Skarsgard and at her wedding, everyone is walking on eggshells knowing she's mentally rocky. Alexander's best friend and Kiki's boss is Stellan Skarsgard (isn't that nice- father and son are playing best buddies together!), her dad is John Hurt, who finally looks as old as he is, her brother-in-law is the humorless Kiefer Sutherland and the wedding planner is Udo Kier. (Together that's only one American there.) I dunno - at some point Kiki ruins her own wedding by insulting Stellan and then goes into a deep depression. Then it turns out that there's a rogue planet flying through the universe toward Earth. Kiki is pretty calm about it, but her family is less so and they all try to figure out what to do before the end of the world.

This is a very pretty film - particularly the 20-minute overture - but not really that interesting or compelling. There's an alienating baroqueness to LVT's style that's aesthetically unusual, but ultimately cold. This is really a melodrama pretending to be a psychodrama. In the end, Kiki is a type (a depressed person) and Gainsbourg is a type (a controlling sister) and Kiefer is a type (super controlling husband/brother-in-law) and the story is rather incidental.

LVT does use Tristan and Isolde very well here, though it's a really pretty bit of music. Kiki has one great moment, when she's telling off Stellan, but mostly she's just acting dour, which I don't think is very interesting. I guess her performance is exactly what the movie it: one great moment with a lot of other stuff also.

Stars: 2 of 4

Friday, November 11, 2011

J. Edgar (Friday, November 11, 2011) (98)

It's really not clear to me why Clint Eastwood made the movie J. Edgar. The film seems to be totally uninterested in getting into the mind of the FBI boss and seems to be particularly prudish with some of the sweatier details of Hoover's life, like how he had a "male life-partner" for thirty-some years.

The biopic shows Hoover (Leo Dicaprio) as an old man dictating his memoirs to a series of typists. He looks back at his rise through the Justice Department to become the head of the FBI. It goes into great detail about some of the bigger events in his career, such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder, his obsession with Communism and his secret files of political and social leaders of the age. It is very clear from the film that Hoover and his deputy, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), are lovers of some sort, though there are several scenes of aborted non-sex, leaving us wondering what their relationship really was. This is, of course, absurd that two gay men would live together (in separate residences in Washington) for so long and never have sex. Though I have to wonder what the point is in making a movie about a mysterious man that doesn't try to figure him out more. All in all it feels very disinterested in Hoover as a persona.

Clearly part of the problem has to do with the cumbersome script, by Dustin Lance Black, though Clint's direction is equally inelegant. On top of this, the makeup looks silly on Dicaprio and Hammer when they get older, and it's problematic that they speak like the young people they are now when they get older (yes, voices age like skin ages). This feels like a movie that has no point and no insights into its subject. It's pretty dull and not very well made.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

Into the Abyss (Friday, November 11, 2011) (97)

Into the Abyss is Werner Herzog's second documentary of 2011 - and it's his second-best documentary of the year as well. Well, that's being very generous: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D is one of the best films of the year and one of Herzog's best documentaries, while Into the Abyss is clearly a passion piece that is really not wonderful.

Herzog examines a murder that happened in suburban Houston in 2001 that was apparently committed by two young men, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. The two were arrested shortly after they killed a woman in her home while trying to steal her car and then killing her son and one of his friends after. They were both convicted for the murders, although only Perry got a death sentence. Part of the film looks at the murder, walking through some of the scenes of the crime with the sheriff, and part of the film is an interview with the two killers, who claim they're not guilty.

There is no real structure to the story, even though there are a handful of inter-titles that pop up now and again to transition from one sequence another (eg: The Crime, The Trial, The Execution, etc.). This mostly feels like a really shoddy version of Errol Morris' brilliant The Thin Blue Line, about another Texas murder. It's clear that Herzog hates the death penalty, though unclear why he's examining this case, where the guy on death row seems pretty darn guilty. That is, his case might be more effective if he was examining a wrongfully convicted man (as Morris did). On top of this, there is a ton of useless back story for each man, including extensive interviews with a woman who met Burkett after he was already in jail and then married him as well as Burkett's father, who is also serving a life sentence for a different murder. It's just a really muddy story and only works if you're already anti-death penalty and just want to hear some sermonizing.

This is a big disappointment for me, as I think Herzog is one of the smartest, greatest filmmakers working today (in documentary and narrative cinema). He does have some wonderful insights at moments in this film, but they're frequently on top of second- and third-level stories that don't really matter to the main thrust of the picture. This is a very missable movie.

Stars: 1.5 of 4

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (Saturday, November 5., 2011) (96)

The good news is that this movie is exactly what it should be and exactly what you'd want it to be. It's totally stupid, pretty fun, simple enough in story and has all the pot and sex jokes you could imagine. The bad news is that it's not much more than that... but why should it be? The general story has Harold and Kumar estranged from one another at the start of the film after they seem to have moved in two different directions. Harold has become a suburban square, living a wonderful yuppie life with a serious banking job and a new dorky best friend. Kumar has recently broken up with his long-time girlfriend and is now smoking weed full time. When Kumar gets a misdelivered package for Harold at his apartment, he goes to return it and hijinks ensue. There's a thing with Harold's father-in-law, amazingly played by Danny Trejo, a thing with having sex with a virgin girl who is the daughter of a Russian mobster and a thing with Neil Patrick Harris, NPH, who is now "out" - but only as a way to get more sex from women who now trust him more. It's all very silly and fun. The 3D is used well here, as an homage to B-movies of the '50s and '60s, where stuff comes flying at you in the audience for no particular reason aside from getting you to say, "woah - cool". I love this franchise, and though this film is not as amazing as the original, it's still very much worth it, if you want to see it.

Stars: 2.5 of 4

Friday, November 4, 2011

Crime after Crime (Friday, November 4, 2011) (95)

This is a very good documentary about the legal battles of Deborah Peagler, a woman convicted of killing her boyfriend in the early 1980s after he had abused her and her daughter for years. She should have only served six or so years in prison but because of several bad and illegal decisions of the Los Angeles County D.A.'s office, she served 27 years. The story shows her with her two pro bono lawyers digging up information on how her case was mishandled and then how the DA took some particularly shameful decisions in the appeal process in order to save face and advance a political career. The format is very direct and easy to follow chronologically. Peagler's story screams for a Hollywoodified narrative adaptation, along the lines of Erin Brokovich ("They're called tits, Ed.") or Conviction. I'm sure that movie won't be as good as this one.

Stars: 3 of 4

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Anonymous (Tuesday, November 1, 2011) (94)

This is a rather fun movie about the back-story behind the true identity of William Shakespeare, who was not the humble man from Stratford-upon-Avon, as we have all learned over the years, but a nobleman with dreams of political influences and an undying love for poetry and playwriting. All this from Roland Emmerich, the man who put a necklace made of ears around Dolph Lundgren's neck in Universal Soldier. The film is told elegantly, as a play within a play (get it?) and shows many classic moments from Shakespeare's works play out in the real life of the suggested author, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. The film makes a compelling case for de Vere being the true author, but there are clearly lots of ways the viewer's feelings are swayed by information given or withheld. The William Shakespeare in the film is a medium-talent actor, illiterate and completely incapable of creating anything of substance. It all fits together a bit too neatly and raises as many questions as it answers. The story is a bit muddied by parallel narratives on the political level and the artistic/authorship level, creating dozens of characters with the same facial hair and similar noble names. It all gets a bit confusing, though, is generally enjoyable. There are lovely cameos by great Shakespearean stage actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance and a very clever framing sequence. I find myself asking why it really matters who the real Shakespeare was - it's rather missing the point. Besides, if what the film is arguing is true, I really don't care because mythologizing artists, to say nothing of writers using pen names, goes back as long as there have been artists and this is nothing special.

Stars: 2.5 of 4