For Your Information: Star Ratings Out Of Five (★★★★★) Stars

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Woman In Black


3/5

For long stretches of The Woman In Black, a period ghost story starring Daniel Radcliffe, the hero tiptoes warily around a baroque, decrepit manor on the English moors. The sequences are wordless set pieces of old-fashioned, haunted-house horror, where tension is pressurized like the gaseous content of a shook up soda can and then released with some on-cue jump-scare or disturbing image. Most of the time, nothing scary is actually happening, but each payoff is carefully timed with a jolting crescendo of musical accompaniment. Constructed as if from a blueprint, The Woman In Black does manage to spook you, but with its calculated sound design and tried-and-true clich├ęs, it makes you very aware of exactly why it’s working.

The film’s showcase haunt is a gothic estate isolated on a sandy peninsula far from the nearest town—the population of which shudder at the mere utterance of its name: Eel Marsh House. Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps is the cash-strapped young father who journeys into the foggy abyss—despite the warnings of the town’s people—to finish some paperwork and get the abandoned plot ready for auction. Of course, the place is not really empty. It’s inhabited by the titular ghoul, a peeved femme in a mourner’s gown and vale who terrorizes squatters and townies as retribution for some perfunctory past injustice.

As you can tell from a mere synopsis, The Woman In Black is pretty by-the-book; in fact, it’s so much so that it becomes a lesson in effectual but witless fright filmmaking. To raise the creepy-factor, the woman’s victims—all children—make up an army of cadaverous minions. A child’s bedroom at the top of the stairs wouldn’t be complete without a rocking chair that rocks itself. The floors and walls are littered with demonic figurines courtesy of the Hollywood Evil Toy Co.

Radcliffe, in his first post-Potter leading role, still looks like something of a child himself, despite an attempt at grizzled facial hair and muttonchops—although, it does work in his favor. Cherubic and sweetly intoned, Kibbs comes off as appropriately vulnerable where another actor might have played him with too much manly aplomb. For subtext, Radcliff steals a chapter from DiCaprio’s book and plays Kibbs as a haunted widower. Memories of his wedding day prompt his ethereal bride (the woman in white) to cameo as an angel in this hellish playground.

At times, the movie can be effectively chilling and atmospheric. It also makes clever use of framing. You may just catch a glimpse of something sinister in the corner of the screen. Shooting for the kind of moody thriller that patiently toys with its audience, director James Watkins gets you excited not by what you saw, but what you thought you saw. Although, The Woman In Black never adds up to much more than momentary goose bumps. Mostly, it’s a diverting and well-produced haunted-house throwback that scares you despite the fact you’ve seen it a hundred times before.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chronicle


4/5

The found-footage methodology has always been more of a gimmick than an artistically motivated aesthetic. The Blair Witch Project tried to fool the audience into believing what they were watching was real. Paranormal Activity took your average home videos and gave them a disturbing supernatural twist. Two examples from last year—Apollo 18 and The Devil Inside—were purely monetary endeavors, cashing in on a visual style that’s already proven cheap to produce and highly profitable.

Chronicle was made in a documentary style, appears to be shot completely through diegetic handheld cameras, and is, like a predictable Hollywood hybrid, about three teenagers who get superpowers. It is something of an anomaly. Consider: other than the mawkish and lame-brained Nicholas Sparks’ book adaptations, found-footage and superhero movies are the nightwalkers of Hollywood studio output. Blair Witch meets X-Men? Chronicle is like a double-sellout. But amazingly, through it all, the film actually has something vital to say, and says it in a style that, however gimmicky, feels at no point superfluous.

Central to Chronicle is Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), an alienated Seattle teen who decides, for whatever reason, to start bringing a camera around with him wherever he goes. The first minutes of the film are like a documentary you might see on A&E. Andrew is picked on at school, eats lunch alone on the stadium bleachers, and even his more popular but arrogant cousin Matt (Alex Russell) thinks he’s weird. Worse than that, his mother is in the final stages of hospice from an undetermined illness—probably cancer—and his father is dealing with the stress by slapping him around.

Andrew is a volcano about to erupt, an isolated and dejected adolescent whose camera has become a buffer to protect his sensitive soul from the unfeeling world. He’s one of those observant people that prefer to view life from afar as opposed to participating in it. His decision to chronicle his existence seems like the last desperate act of an introvert collapsing into himself—his viewfinder peering in by looking out.

Chronicle never stays in one place for too long, however. After being persuaded to go to a warehouse rave out in the woods, where Andrew instantly feels out-of-place, Matt and the class over-achiever, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), lead him to an underground catacomb where a mysterious glowing rock formation (maybe a product of radioactive spillage… maybe aliens) sits below the earth and proceeds to give them all nose bleeds. The next day they’re floating LEGOS with their minds, freaking out Walmart patrons by sending them running after their shopping carts, and, not too long later, soaring through the clouds with the power to levitate their own bodies.

From that point on, there are innumerable clever and topical things about Chronicle. Matt’s got a crush on the cute blonde blogger Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) who carries around her own camera. While they meet cute, they film each other, and the movie cuts between their points of view, reinventing the shot-reverse-shot like I’ve never seen. When the boys fuss around with their newfound powers, they’re like school kids playing with firecrackers, and the way they react to the camera recalls the last YouTube video you saw where a bunch of punks put Mentos in a Coke bottle, shook it up, and watched it explode. They laugh and cheer and go wild. For a while, Chronicle is comedic and fun loving, whimsical even, a teenager’s superpower fantasy reeking with verisimilitude.

Directed with wit and kinetic flow by Josh Trank (it was written by Trank and Max Landis), the film is never afraid to turn considerably darker at a moment’s notice. The story still revolves around Andrew, who finally has control over something for the very first time in his life. When he learns the finesse to float his camera up over his head, it no longer becomes his lens, but a separate entity. When he starts talking to it like it’s another person, he could be crying out to us, the audience, or simply addressing his new best friend and accomplice: a piece of high-tech machinery.

Stan Lee’s paragon for the angst-ridden-teen-with-superpowers concept is still the standard, but Stephen King’s Carrie added a new dimension by turning it into a revenge-driven horror show. Will Andrew channel his power for good? Or will he unleash it at the Prom with the fury of a thousand hate-filled webcasters?

It’s only in the final city-demolishing showdown that the movie loses a little bit of its perceptive edge. We’re no longer inside the tech-crazed mind of the deranged American teenager; we’re watching a Hancock-like action sequence that’s impressive on a technical level, but forgets the golden rule: Characters come first. (Although there is an inspired moment where one of the guys surrounds his hovering self with floating camera phones, and, for the first time in the movie, the scene cuts to every possible angle, visually confirming that he’s finally the center of attention.) It’s fair to say the film stumbles on the follow through. But, other than that, Chronicle is not merely entertaining. It transcends its found-footage and superhero roots to become something so artistically considerable, that even though it’s a Hollywood attempt to sell out twice over, it somehow lifts off into the upper stratosphere instead.

The Adventures of Tintin


3/5

War Horse found the legendary Steven Spielberg digging through the wartime footlocker that served him so well in such epics as Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. The Adventures of Tintin, which was released on practically the same day, highlights a completely different, but equally traditional Spielberg.

In the same groove as Raiders of the Lost Ark, a saga inspired rather lovingly by matinee serials of the 1940’s and 50’s, the basis for this Spielberg film is an actual comic strip—The Adventures of Tintin, an adventure series first published in Belgium in 1929. It’s about a plucky reporter and his sidekick pooch, Snowy, who trot the globe looking for the ultimate scoop, and despite its 80 or so years of universal popularity, it hasn’t made much of a splash this side of the Atlantic.

The animated film adaptation in question is a collaborative effort from Spielberg and Middle Earth maestro Peter Jackson (supposedly he’ll be directing the next installment, if they make one). Because the two share a well-documented aspiration to keep the cinema tech-rev train in motion, Tintin is a Motion-Capture 3-D extravaganza. So, as you might expect, the film is wonderful to look at, but its Saturday-morning-cartoon storyline has the wow-factor of a room full of animators on computers.

The film opens at a European flea market where Tintin (played and voiced by Jamie Bell) is sitting for a caricaturist’s portrait. Before we see his face, we see the artist’s interpretation and, in a cute a little homage, it’s the dot-eyed, pointy-nosed cartoon character so famous internationally. “That doesn’t look like me,” a voice says as the boy, now with far more fleshed-out features and hazel-green eyes, wheels around. Spielberg always had a knack for introducing his characters in clever ways.

At the same market, Tintin buys a model ship that, unbeknownst to him, hides one of three secret maps, combined they lead to a massive undersea treasure. That would explain why the sinister Mr. Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is willing to kidnap Tintin and Snowy just to get to it. On the massive frigate where Tintin is now captive, a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) gets usurped by his crew and has no choice but to ally with our junior journalist. The two escape and go searching for the sunken treasure.

In 100 minutes of high-pulsed narrative, Spielberg stages at least one tour-de-force exemplification of Mo-Cap 3-D capabilities. An unbroken four minute long-take depicts a prolonged chase scene through a Moroccan shantytown, in which the characters ride on motorcycles, swing from clotheslines, and jump from rooftops and windows in an epic scramble to procure the valuable treasure maps. The torn brown scraps float three dimensionally just out of the characters’ grasps throughout the entire sequence. The scene exhibits the essence of the 3-D experience, compelling the audience to stretch out their arms from their seats and become a part of the scene, just like Tintin, as the documents flutter freely around the theater.

Even on an off day, Spielberg has the potential to deliver such wonder. Though based on a classic Tintin issue from the 30’s, this film incarnation still lacks a certain something—the story and the characters just don’t generate much excitement. The script (by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish) doesn’t have a particularly clever or original bone in its body. At times, the movie recalls Raiders at its swashbuckling best, but the titular adventurer is like a preschooler’s Indiana Jones, his prize is hardly the Ark of the Covenant but (eye-roll) some anonymous treasure, and his nemeses are not nearly as fun as disgruntled Nazis. Spielberg once made movies that delightfully swept you up into their flights of fancy. If his state-of-the-art technical toys are more immersive than ever before, how come Tintin never really gets off the ground?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Dangerous Method


4/5

If movies about exploding heads, human houseflies and evil twins can be smart, intellectual even, than David Cronenberg made a name for himself in the 80’s with the most psychologically perceptive and artistically adroit monster movies since James Whale. His films were schlock, but they were Ivy League schlock. These days, Cronenberg has moved into making more “adult” oriented films, like A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises, but he hasn’t left the high-mindedness behind, even if the gross-outs are in much shorter supply.

A Dangerous Method, a talky but brilliantly acted and fascinatingly dense historical drama, chronicles the birth of modern psychology in the friendship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, as they dawdle through beautiful Austrian gardens and courtyards around the turn of the century—or correspond via letters excogitating on the future of their craft.

For his fourth outstanding performance of 2011, Michael Fassbender plays Jung as a famous headshrinker who’s really a closet neurotic, wrestling night and day with the unexplainable facets of his embryonic art. Freud (Viggo Mortenson in a pitch-perfect performance of laidback, cigar-smoking cool and scarily persuasive rhetoric) claims all neurosis can be explained through sexual repression. But then how does Jung cope with the dreams and intuitions that disquiet him, as they always seem to foreshadow what’s to come?

Jung’s latest patient, Sabina (Keira Knightley), a tormented young Slav with memories of fatherly abuse that transmogrified into uncontrollable sexual excitement, seems to make Freud’s case. Whenever the thought of physical punishment enters her brain, the girl whips her backbone up and down like a convulsion and juts her lower jawbone out past her upper teeth in the manner of a prehistoric Neanderthal. We can only assume that she’s subduing waves of traumatically charged orgasms. Consequently, Knightley’s performance is not nearly as even-keeled as those of her compatriots, but when her character interrupts fits of sobbing mania with pleasant laughter it is quite chilling.

Anyway, Jung is able to get her out of the loony bin and into school, but soon after he takes her on as a mistress, perhaps as an experiment to test if satiating her hunger will remedy her affliction or possibly to destroy his own sexual constraints. “Why must we repress our most basic natural instincts?” he ponders. His prim and proper bride (the lovely and delicate Sarah Gadon) bears his children, but is hardly the vixen he craves. A depressed lothario (Vincent Cassel) checks in at the hospital and inspires Jung to follow his libido. The experience leaves the bespectacled therapist twisted and confused; it threatens his friendship with Freud, who champions credibility over discovery; and, when Sabina becomes a psychoanalyst herself, an unexpected role reversal makes its way into the picture.

For context, A Dangerous Method plays out around the dawn of “talking cures”—an idea that emphasizes conversing through a person’s problem to help them overcome it. Up until the therapist revolution, most mentally ill people were thrown into asylums and dunked into ice baths till they stopped screaming. The most interesting aspect of the film is the way it traces the relationship between Freud and Jung—the two fathers of modern psychology—who couldn’t come to terms with their radically different approaches to the same method. Freud was pragmatic and rational, while Jung was idealistic and toiled with mysticism. Freud liked to warn his associates, “Forget any hope of curing your patients.” But Jung was, maybe foolishly, out to cure the incurable.

Cronenberg has grown into a masterfully controlled and disciplined filmmaker whose style is engrossing and effective without ever being pretentious or ostentatious. Using deep focus compositions, the director stages the conventional therapy shot of the patient close up in the foreground, facing away from the doctor looming behind. It’s a common trope of cinematic psychoanalysis, from Spellbound to There’s Something About Mary, but Cronenberg gives it metaphorical meaning, implying the ironic introversion of such a discourse. The edges of the frame are often blurred. The camera stays relatively still, unless motivated to track along side of one of Freud and Jung’s deceptively calm and focused outside strolls. The addictive score by Howard Shore pits passionate violins against the monotonous rhythm of a base, suggesting a battle between eroticism and repression, rationality and fancy.

A Dangerous Method educes from its real-life historical subjects a most disconcerting insight: that even an expert of the human mind like Jung couldn’t take sanity for granted. By the end of the film it’s 1914, and Jung’s expression of an ominous dream in which Europe runs red with blood evinces the uncanny and unpredictable nature and capacity of the human psyche—something that even Freud’s slips and phallic symbols could never hope to explain. Haunting and beautifully acted, the film, in its final moments, stares ahead into a world and a future no man will ever truly understand.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Albert Nobbs


2/5

In Albert Nobbs, a classy but curiously loveless period drama, Glenn Close plays a woman disguised as a man, as was necessary to work at a Dublin hotel in the late 19th century. Dressed up in a monkey-suit, garbed in a bowler hat and yielding a curly handled umbrella, Close’s diminutive butler looked to me like a waxy-skinned, blue-eyed Charlie Chaplin. The actress even waddled with the charming squirt’s duck-like titubation.

The similarities aren’t exclusively physical. Like Chaplin’s famous alter ego, the Little Tramp, Albert often meanders into pleasant fantasy. After 20 years of loyal service and frugal financing, he can finally open the tobacco shop he’s always dreamt about. In his reveries—sequences lit to glow with a sense of fireside warmth—the place has two counters and a lovely backroom lounge. Trouble is: he needs someone to help him run the place. One night, Albert befriends a housepainter named Hubert Page (Janet McTeer) once the man accidentally discovers what Albert’s hiding under his coat and tie. Fortunately, Hubert’s also a woman masquerading as a gent, and later Albert’s shocked to learn that despite that, Hubert has somehow found a pretty wife to welcome him home.

This inspires the spacey butler to seek out his own blushing bride. However, the pickings at the hotel are rather slim. He decides to pursue Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a cute if promiscuous maid, basically because she’s the only one around. Helen’s got a hotheaded new beau, the off-the-street handyman John (Aaron Johnson), an illiterate brute with his dreams of his own—namely American dreams. To help bankroll the voyage, he convinces Helen to milk money and gifts out of the lonely Albert with false sentiment.

Though versatile (you may recognize him as the nerdy crime-fighter from Kick-Ass or the guy who played John Lennon in Nowhere Boy), Johnson comes off as a pussycat of an Irish bruiser, with neither the sexual puissance to entrap Helen nor the villainous malice needed to be threatening. Wasikowska, with her yellow locks and childlike features, is inherently likable as Helen, even if she does reluctantly go along with the ruse. Albert Nobbs is really a passion project for Glenn Close, who played the character on stage, co-wrote the screenplay with George Martin and the theme song, “Lay Your Head Down”, with Sinead O’Conner. Close plays Albert as timid, vulnerable, and confused, all the sympathetic traits of a small child; he’s such a delicate, light presence you could practically see through him.

That would all be okay, if not for the fact that Albert’s affection is as counterfeit as Helen’s. He’s not looking for a soul mate—he’s looking for an assistant, someone to sweep the floor and put out inventory. (Maybe that’s what love was during Victorian times, I couldn’t say). Under the surface, he needs a wife to help cement his identity—he’s lived so long with a lie that he’s lost all sense self-hood.

Though made with elegance and a keen feel for the time and place, Albert Nobbs grows into a cynical and strangely heartless affair. The problem remains with Albert; he makes for a disengaging and bewildering protagonist whose motivations feel entirely self-serving. Stories about love beyond gender barriers often elicit the purest and most heartfelt relationships, because they’re not just about sex, but connection. Albert Nobbs does not qualify, for its connections are phony ones. Close can channel Chaplin’s looks and mannerisms all she wants, but she’ll never capture his romantic spirit with such an avaricious heart.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Iron Lady



2/5

After The Queen and The King’s Speech raked in Oscar gold, why wouldn’t Meryl Streep want to play former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? It all but guarantees award consideration (as if being Meryl Streep wasn’t enough). The Iron Lady, a Thatcher biopic that focuses far more on style than substance, has the same British-prestige surfaces of those other films, but none of their depth of character.

The Queen, in contrast, was about how Princess Diana’s death marked the transition of the monarchy into the modern world, spearheaded by the working relationship between Elizabeth and Tony Blair. The Iron Lady, unfortunately, can’t find the right angle from which to approach the story of Margaret Thatcher. Without proper focus or direction, the movie settles for a go-go-go constant-montage of people, places and events. By the time the dust settles, nothing has soaked in and all is forgotten.

Bow-backed and pockmarked, aging and senile, Maggie Thatcher (Streep) stews in her London flat reminiscing about her political career. In a stroke of grade-school psychology, Maggie’s late husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) hovers over her shoulder like some hallucinatory specter, haunting her with melancholic anamneses. Moments in the present—she accidentally signs her maiden name, Roberts, on her autobiography—bring forth flashbacks that comprise the plot of the film.

Her humble beginnings as a strong-willed grocer’s daughter (Thatcher’s played young by Alexandra Roach, an actress a bit too doe-eyed and passive to capture the titan’s austerity) give way to Parliamentary membership. By the time she’s elected Prime Minister, the country’s facing down tough economic times, worker’s protests, the dying embers of The Cold War, and a spike in IRA violence (she herself barely escaped a bombing at the Brighton Hotel).

Streep, breezing through another “Oscar worthy” role, does manage to imbue in Thatcher a combination of wisdom and stubbornness. While Thatcher stressed acting with intellect over emotion (“Nobody thinks anymore; they only feel”), she remains controversial for her handling of a 1981 hunger strike in which ten IRA prisoners were left to starve before she finally agreed to negotiate.

That’s why the Soviets gave her the titular appellation. She had a kind of immovability. Yet the makers of The Iron Lady (director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Abi Morgan) skim over their subject’s more fascinating complexities with Cliff’s Notes precision; they should be diving head first into the moral grey areas. The main focus of the film is how Maggie’s gender hindered her in a traditionally male institution. Even that theme is handled with lead-weight subtly: an overhead shot of one of Thatcher’s famous pastel hats swimming in a sea of drab brown fedoras is as sumptuous as it is overt.

The film’s crippling lack of revelations is covered up by superfluous technical flourishes: fancy transitions, out-of-sync dialogue sequences, and overused archival footage. They’re meant to give the movie some much-needed pulse, but it’s just desperate vanity, really. Thatcher’s life story is certainly one worth telling, but The Iron Lady’s shiny statue is a hollow shell.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close


2/5

It’s extremely hard (and incredibly difficult) to make a film about the 9/11 tragedies that doesn’t feel like exploitation. The wounds it caused in the American ethos are still only healing, and the best film made yet about that fateful day, Paul Greengrass’ little seen, but brilliant 2005 picture United 93, didn’t poke at those wounds; instead, it took the big cultural repercussions and traumatic imagery out of the equation, and just told the amazing story of the impromptu heroism displayed by the people unlucky enough to be on that plane on that day.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, Stephan Daldry’s tear-geyser of a drama about a boy who loses his father in the World Trade Center, doesn’t have that kind of barebones, gut-shot simplicity. Its most ambitious and underhanded trick is to boil down our collective post-9/11 confusions, depressions and anxieties into the innocence of a lonely ten-year-old—and then feed them back to us like the concentrated, bitter elixir of our decade’s old agonies.

Those involved in the production (including Gump screenwriter Eric Roth) probably had the best intentions, hoping that their film would serve as some kind of remedy when it actually comes off as a strategically designed placebo of sugary sentiment. To be fair, the film does begin with the most haunting opening few minutes I’ve seen all year. Against a cloudless blue sky, we see what looks like a businessman free falling through the air, but we only see him in obscure fragments and out-of-focus close-ups. A brown leather shoe, a suit coat rippling in the wind, a limb or a torso rotating loosely, serenely: We’re never given the complete image and we never see his face, but we have a good idea what we’re watching, even if it’s not explicitly stated.

The sequence is chilling because of its dreamlike ambiguity; those few minutes are about the extent of Daldry’s grace in Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close. It’s one year after “the worst day”, and Oscar (Thomas Horn), a quizzical and neurotic prepubescent New Yorker, is still coping with his father’s demise. We meet his dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks), in flashbacks and see that their sweet rapport revolved around a treasure hunt game called Reconnaissance Expedition. Hanks is often considered the quintessential modern everyman and he inherently captures Thomas’ essential ordinariness. Furthermore, his relationship with his anxious and possibly Asperger’s son is heartwarming in its patience and understanding.

The editing by Clair Simpson does an effective job of telling the story non-linearly. We witness the events surrounding Thomas’ death only in sporadic memories: Oscar slowly, obliviously saunters home after his school’s early release to find the several frantic messages Thomas left on his home answering machine while trapped inside the burning tower. The trajectory of the plot, however, involves Oscar’s citywide inquiry into the owner of a key he finds in his late father’s closet. It’s in a small yellow envelope marked with the name Black, so Oscar, recalling the adventures he once enjoyed with his dad, sets out on a journey to visit every Black in New York City in an effort to find the lock that fits the key.

Oscar is hoping that the endeavor will bring him closer to his deceased father, but it really brings him closer to the people of New York—the nameless millions that share his sadness. There’s the couple struggling to save their marriage (played by Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright) and then there’s the mute tenant across the street (Max Von Sydow) with the mysterious past. Instead of talking, he writes all his thoughts down in a little notebook.

Daldry, the expert string-puller who gave us Billy Elliot and The Reader, appreciates the power of a big emotional payoff. If applied correctly—like the Swan Lake performance at the end of Billy Elliot—it can make the difference between a good film and a great one. In Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, Daldry, foolishly, piles on several, one on top of the next. They’re all so manipulatively gushy and ultimate that the movie starts to drag and, worse, it starts to feel like the Weepy equivalent of Transformers—an extended emotional climax that numbs your feelings more effectively than it moves them.

Moreover, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close insists on returning to that terrible day over and over. Daldry rests on the tragedy instead of moving passed it. Now that I’m on the subject: Why does this movie need to be about 9/11 in the first place? Can’t it be about a boy grieving his father’s death from any other cause, and discovering that he lives in a city where everyone is grieving, together? If people want to make that 9/11 connection themselves, let them, but don’t hammer them with images of collapsing towers and falling bodies.

The story of a young boy coping with death and loss and confusion should always have been dramatic enough, especially with performances as lovely as the ones in this movie. Thomas Horn, with sky blue eyes, a malleable mop of sandy brown hair and a boyish, high-pitched voice, gives an emotionally dexterous and extensive performance that displays range far beyond his years. Max Von Sydow, in an absolutely silent role, conveys a long life of heartbreak and regret with the softest and subtlest facial ticks and mannerisms. Oh! Sandra Bullock’s in this movie, too, as Oscar’s perpetually absent mother, who never thinks to put her despondent and flagellating son into therapy. No need. Just let him wander the New York streets alone, instead.

By the time Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close reaches its cheap and unearned catharsis, you might think you were touched. But don’t be fooled. This is charlatanic human drama, a study in audience manipulation, really. Daldry’s movie is as emotionally unhinged and out-of-control as its characters.