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Films I Neglected To Review: My Week With The Movies
by Peter Sobczynski

No, I still haven't seen that damn "Breaking Dawn" thing yet--between the holiday, the avalanche of screenings and my general discomfort with the notion of going to see it in a theater jammed with people who are actually excited at the notion of watching it, I just haven't been able to muster the nerve to check it out. That said, I promise that I will get to it at some point. Until that happens, here are some brief overviews of a few new movies that I didn't get a chance to go on at length about, one of which features one of the very best performances that you are likely to see this year.

"The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch" is a thriller that is so ridiculous and ungainly in every regard that its title is actually one of the less awkward things about it. This unspeakably stupid saga of corporate intrigue begins when the billionaire head of a multi-national corporation is murdered (in one of the silliest assassinations in screen history), the future of his company is thrown into upheaval when it is discovered that he has a secret adopted son (Tomer Sisley) who stands to inherit control of the firm, though there are any number of people ranging from garden-variety thugs to corporate rivals to the requisite clothing-optional minx with constantly shifting loyalties (Melanie Thierry) doing their best to prevent that from happening. Between the clumsy plotting reminiscent of the kind of books that people only read on airplanes to keep their minds off of the crash potential, the preponderance of hoary cliches (even going so far as to include an unironic moment of slow clapping following a surprising public announcement) and a deeply unlikable central character (even more so thanks to the irritating performance by Sisley , who appears to be the tragic end result of a monstrous French plot to clone Bradley Cooper), this is preposterous junk from start to finish and the fact that it became a huge hit in its native land when it was released there in 2008 (it has already spawned a sequel, co-starring Sharon Stone) only goes to prove that the French can make so-called thrillers just as brainless and derivative as they do in the U.S.

Ever since he switched career from working as a cop to being an actor, Dennis Farina has become one of the more reliably entertaining supporting actors on the scene today thanks to scene-stealing bits in films such as "Manhunter," "Get Shorty" and "Snatch" and In the Chicago-shot indie feature "The Last Rites of Joe May," he gets a rare chance to play a leading role in a film. In it, he plays an aging failure of a tough guy who emerges from the hospital after a long bout with pneumonia who discovers that he has lost what little street credibility he once had as well as his apartment. While trying to reestablish himself, he finds himself stepping in to rescue the single mother who has taken over his apartment from the fists of her abusive and borderline psychotic cop. Farina is good as always and it is a pleasure to see him in a rare lead performance for the first time since possibly the glory days of the transcendent series "Crime Story." However, the rest of writer-director Joe Maggio's film is little more than a blatant retread of "Sling Blade" that has nothing fresh to offer viewers except for the exceptionally strange sight of Gary Cole essaying the role of an underground kingpin by utilizing virtually the same performance he gave so memorably in "Office Space." The movie as a whole isn't so much bad as it is blah--the kind of thing that one might expect to encounter at a mid-level film festival or one of those cable stations that you don't remember ever actually subscribing to--but outside of residual affection for Farina, there really isn't much to see here.

Like "The Prince and the Showgirl," the 1957 film whose tumultuous production it chronicles, "My Week with Marilyn" is a film featuring B-level material elevated by the performances of its A-list actors. Based on two published diaries by Colin Clark (played here by Eddie Redmayne), the film recounts his adventures as working as a third assistant to actor/director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Barangh) on his screen adaptation of the Terrence Rattigan play "The Sleeping Prince" when what begins as a simple gofer gig turns into something much more when he unexpectedly becomes the friend and confidant to the project's real star, the one and only Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Under the constant pressure of stardom and the personality clash with Olivier over their working methods, she finds herself relying more and more on Colin and when husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) flees the hubbub, they become even closer. The basic material is not especially fascinating or revelatory--Colin is little more than a colorless dweeb at best who only serves to drag things down when the focus is on him--and director Simon Curtis handles it in a flat and pedestrian manner that betrays his television roots. However, as bland as the proceedings are for the most part, the film is still worth seeing because of the amazing performances on display. As the alternately haughtly and increasingly flustered Olivier, Kenneth Branagh turns in one of the funniest and most engaging turns of his career and Dame Judi Dench is equally impressive as Dame Sybil Thorndike, the acclaimed actress who tries to smooth things over between her two co-stars. However, even their considerable efforts are dwarfed by what Michelle Williams does here as Monroe in a performance that is just as good, if not better, as all of the advance hype has been suggesting. Playing any well-known personality, let alone one like Monroe who continue to loom large over the cultural firmament nearly a half-century after her death, is a daunting task for any actor--make one tiny slip or false move and the entire illusion will be destroyed in an instant--but Williams does here is more than just a mere impression; she gives a complex and multi-layered presentation of Monroe that deftly presents her as the glamorous superstar and the increasingly frazzled and unhappy young woman beginning to crumble from the combined pressures of that adulation and her own deep-seated psychological problems. This is a great performance from Williams, who has quietly become one of the strongest and most inventive American actresses working today, and it single-handedly elevates an otherwise ordinary film into something worth seeing.

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originally posted: 12/01/11 03:39:28
last updated: 12/01/11 06:21:04
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