The Tourist is about as difficult to get through as spotting the vowels in the name of its director. Florian Henckel von Donnersmark was last seen receiving a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2007 for The Lives of Others which was about a couple living in East Berlin who were being monitored by the police of the German Democratic Republic. Its positive reception made way for the assumption that Donnersmark would continue to populate the USA with films of seemingly otherworldly and underrepresented themes. But his current project is saddening in its superficiality and total implausibility.
The film’s only real upside is its stars: two of our most prized Americans. Johnny Depp plays Frank Tupelo a math teacher from Wisconsin who travels to Europe after his wife leaves him presumably because of his weakness and simplicity. While en route to Venice he meets Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) who situates herself in his company after she receives a letter from her criminal lover Alexander Pearce (who stole some billions from a very wealthy Russian and the British government) with instructions to find someone on a train who looks like him and make the police believe that he is the real Alexander Pearce to throw the authorities and the Russians off his track. Elise picks Frank and after they are photographed kissing each other on the balcony of Elise’s hotel everyone begins to believe Frank is the real Pearce and so begins the chase.
While Donnersmark could not have picked two better looking people to film roaming around Venice his lack of faith in the audience is obvious. Every aspect of the characters is hammed up again and again as if Donnersmark felt burdened with the task of making us see his vision. Doubtful that we’re capable of getting to where he wants us he has crafted a movie completely devoid of subtlety. Elise’s strength and superiority over Frank are portrayed by close-ups and repeated instances of men burping up their lungs upon seeing her (as if her beauty is in any way subjective?). And in case we forgot that Frank is the victim in this story -- even though he’s been tricked chased and shot at - Donnersmark still felt the need to pin him with a lame electronic cigarette to puff on. Frank and Elise somehow manage to lack mystery even though we get very few factual details about each of them.
Nothing extraordinary comes to us in the way of the film’s structural elements either. There is very little of the action that The Tourist’s marketing led us to believe and the dialog is often painful. The plot itself is almost shockingly unbelievable especially when we’re asked to believe that Elise falls in love with Frank after a combination of kissing him once and her disclosed habit of swooning over men she only spent an hour with (yes that was on her CV).
The Tourist is rather empty and cosmetic. It’s worth seeing if you’re a superfan of Jolie or Depp but don’t expect to walk out of the theater with anything more than the stub you came in with.
In the tradition of a classic Disney-esque animated fairy tale The Tale of Despereaux based on the award winning children’s classic by Kate DiCamillo is about a mouse named Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) with Dumbo-sized ears and an oversized heart. His home the Kingdom of Dor was once a happy place but now due to unexpected events it has been shrouded by doom and gloom. Not for Despereaux! The fearless rodent doesn’t adhere to the usual mouse-like criteria but instead yearns for adventure especially after he starts reading fables from the castle library. He also bonds with Princess Pea (Emma Watson) who is sad and lonely her kingdom is in such disarray. Despereaux looks at her as a damsel in distress and wants to help. Unfortunately these are all serious no-nos in Mouseworld and so Despereaux is banished him to live in the dungeon with the evil Rats where he meets an agreeable rat Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) who is also different from his kind. Roscuro wants to right some past wrongs but is spurned by the princess. Needless to say things do indeed go awry and Despereaux must summon all his courage and bravery to save the day. Some of the best ensemble casts in movies are being assembled for animated features these days and The Tale of Despereaux is a prime example. Broderick is ideal as the dignified and ultimately courageous little mouse. Hoffman -- in his second ‘toon turn of the year (Kung Fu Panda) -- proves again as the soup-loving Roscuro he has a real future as an animated character. Harry Potter’s Watson has the perfunctory English princess role but plays it with compassion while Tracey Ullman as maid-cum-wannabe princess Mig doesn’t go for the laughs but portrays Mig as a hopeful outcast looking for a fairy tale ending to her humdrum life. A whole set of other wonderful vocal talents in Despereaux include Kevin Kline Frank Langella Richard Jenkins Stanley Tucci William H. Macy Robbie Coltrane and Christopher Lloyd. And to top it off with just the right touch of whimsy is the lilting narration of Sigourney Weaver whose comforting voice will assure the youngest kids in the audience that things in Dor aren’t quite as dire as they appear. Co-directors Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen invest into this gorgeous-looking film all the care that went into the art of DiCamillo’s beautiful book. In fact unlike many other recent animated features Despereaux is distinctly old-fashioned despite all the CGI. The look of the movie is definitely inspired by older more traditional Disney-style fairy tale classics. Gary Ross’ (Seabiscuit) fine screenplay is reverential to the book and doesn’t back away from the darker aspects of the story which despite its G rating might be a little on the scary side for the very young ones. For everyone else The Tale of Despereaux is most likely this season’s must-see movie event for the entire family.
Oscar buzz continues at the box office this weekend as a few of the year's most highly touted films open in both wide and limited release.
Tom Hanks and company lead the way in the prison drama "The Green Mile," based on the popular series by Stephen King and directed by Frank Darabont. Five years ago, Darabont came to prominence with another prison-bound tale by King called "The Shawshank Redemption." That movie, which frequently tops lists of the most popular films of all time, garnered seven Academy Award nominations.
Other Oscar hopefuls include the limited releases "Cradle Will Rock" and "The Cider House Rules." "Cradle," directed by Tim Robbins and featuring an all-star cast, details the events of New York City's art scene in the 1930s. "Cider," directed by "What's Eating Gilbert Grape's" Lasse Hallstrom, is a quirky, coming-of-age love story adapted from John Irving's book. It stars up-and-comers Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron.
Those in the mood for lighter fare (especially fans of the Adam Sandler/Chris Farley set) should be delighted by the release of "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo." Rob Schneider, another "Saturday Night Live" alum and frequent co-star in the Sandler films, gets his chance to play dumb as a pool cleaner turned first-class male hustler.
Smaller films vying for attention in limited engagements are "Diamonds," a road movie about family relationships co-starring Kirk Douglas and Dan Aykroyd; "Miss Julie," a sexy affair starring "Deep Blue Sea's" Saffron Burrows and directed by "Leaving Las Vegas'" Mike Figgis; and "Wallowitch & Ross," a documentary covering the careers of entertainers John Wallowitch and Bertram Ross.
The following is a complete list of all the week's releases.
Friday, Dec. 10, 1999
"Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" (Buena Vista) -- Rob Schneider stars as Deuce Bigalow, a down-on-his-luck guy who cleans fish tanks for a living. While fish-sitting for a debonair, world-class male escort, he mistakenly answers the business phone and becomes "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo."
"The Green Mile" (Warner Bros.) -- Set during the Great Depression, Michael Clarke Duncan plays a Death Row inmate in a Southern prison who possesses the unusual gift of healing. Tom Hanks co-stars as the penitentiary guard who, upon discovering the inmate's miraculous power and gentle nature, begins to question the man's guilt.
"Cradle Will Rock" (Buena Vista) -- Based on true events in the cultural and art scenes of 1930s New York City, this film follows various cultural workers -- including Mexican artist Diego Rivera, theater director Orson Welles and propagandist Margherita Sarfatti -- as they defend their artistic expressions in the face of political paranoia and government censorship. John Cusack, Bill Murray and Susan Sarandon co-star.
"The Cider House Rules" (Miramax) -- Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and adapted from John Irving's best-selling novel, this coming-of-age story casts Tobey Maguire as a young man who has spent his entire youth in an orphanage. Hungry for experience, he sets out to explore the world outside. Charlize Theron and Michael Caine co-star.
"Diamonds" (Miramax) -- In an effort to bond with estranged son Dan Aykroyd, former prizefighter Kirk Douglas takes his son and grandson on a road trip to Reno in search of 13 stolen diamonds, stashed away years ago. The quest for the hidden gems affords the men a lesson in fatherhood, reconciliation and the price of growing older. Lauren Bacall co-stars.
"Miss Julie" (MGM) -- Director Mike Figgis returns with a tale of sexual seduction and class conflict set at a wealthy estate. Saffron Burrows stars as an affluent count's sexually wanton daughter who begins an ambivalent and destructive affair with an opportunistic servant, played by Peter Mullan. By the end of the night, the illicit liaison pushes the emotionally unbalanced heroine toward a certain self-destructive act.
"Jerome" (Phaedra) -- Drew Pillsbury plays a man who abandons everything he knows -- his wife, his son, his job -- and heads across the desert to Jerome, Ariz., to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. Despite his determination, the hapless dreamer gets sidetracked when an iconoclastic female drifter, played by Wendie Malick, crosses his path.
"Wallowitch & Ross: This Moment" (First Run) -- Written and directed by Richard Morris, this moving portrait details the career and partnership of entertainers John Wallowitch and Bertram Ross. The documentary recounts from the beginning when Ross was a principal dancer for Martha Graham and Wallowitch was a gifted Juilliard student. Their initial meeting in New York paved the way for an enduring collaboration and a lasting romance.
"Sweet and Lowdown" (Sony Pictures Classics) -- In Woody Allen's latest, Sean Penn plays musician Emmet Ray, a self-proclaimed jazz guitar genius of the 1920s and 1930s. The bigger-than-life portrait follows the eccentric personality through his notorious career as he clashes with lovers, friends, enemies and gangsters in New York City. John Waters and Uma Thurman co-star.
"42 Up" (First Run) -- In 1964, filmmaker Michael Apted began his marathon documentary series about the lives of a group of 7-year-old kids in England, each from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds. Since then, the director has continued to chronicle the ups and downs of his subjects at 7-year intervals. The sixth installment is the latest update on these people at the crossroad of the big 42.
"Tumbleweeds" (Fine Line) -- Leaving an abusive boyfriend behind, single mother Janet McTeer and daughter Kimberly J. Brown head for the sunny suburbs of San Diego to start anew. Once again, McTeer swiftly enters into a destructive relationship and is tempted to look for an easy way out. However, her headstrong daughter, tired of her rootless existence, refuses to abandon her newly established life.