⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive content.
What makes a high-minded movie go bad? Screenplay? Casting? Direction? All of the above. This drama about the long mentor-and-pupil kinship between top book editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth imitating a Connecticut Yankee) and rising star novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law going all pretend Southern) is as thrilling as a drained tea bag. Much of the action shows Perkins drawing red pencils across Wolfe's famously wordy drafts, and you wish he had condensed the turgid film script. There are countless paragraphs of literary conversation and subplots about troubled relationships; F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and his schizo wife, Zelda (Vanessa Kirby), appear, as does Wolfe's affluent older lover Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), whose support he ditched after his own success arrived. Only Laura Linney as Perkins' wife gives her character a sense of emotional force. In his film directing debut, longtime London theater chieftain Michael Grandage doesn't seem to grasp the code of his new realm, which hits many targets best through visuals composed without a word of speech. He has his troupe act stiff and stagy and deliver their long declarations as if shouting up to the mezzanine. The performers give it their all, which is far too much. It ultimately leaves you cold, empty and aware of why stories about literary life make uninteresting movies.
The Last King
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence and a scene of sexuality. In subtitled Norwegian.
Here's Norwegian antiquity, political thriller plotting, battle brutality and lots of skiing soldiers, filmed on location around Lillehammer. Director Nils Gaup, who earned an Oscar nomination for the snowbound outdoor drama "The Pathfinder," now delivers a historical re-enactment from 1204. The illegitimate baby son of the late king is welcomed by his loyalists as the heir to the throne. Their rivals, evil, sneering Papists controlling half the war-torn land, want the child's little head. Guarded from attack by two skiers transporting him to safety over the wintry mountains, the little boy and his survival will set the course of the kingdom's history. It's an iconic tale for Norwegians and the inspiration of the annual Birkebeiner ski race, but a dud with scant dramatic zing or star quality. Jakob Oftebro and Pal Sverre Hagen, who co-starred in the excellent Oscar-nominated "Kon-Tiki," reunite here less successfully.