MOVIES: 'Albert Nobbs,' 'Joyful Noise' & 'Haywire'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
Glenn Close delivers a splendid performance in this cinematic adaptation of a short story by Irish novelist George Moore. Set in 19th century Dublin, the heartbreaking Victorian drama chronicles the courage of woman who, for 30 years, took the identity of a man in order to gain respectable work at Morrison's, an opulent, yet intimate hotel.
Shy Albert Nobbs (Close) is a butler, quiet and attentive to the needs of the elegant, privileged guests (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Brendan Gleeson). A proper servant, Nobbs is always unobtrusive and impeccably attired, living in a solitary upstairs room, where he secretly stashes his earnings under the floorboards. His dream is to save enough money to buy a tobacco shop.
But one night, the proprietress, Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins), informs Nobbs that he will have to share his tiny room -- and bed -- with a laconic, chain-smoking housepainter, Hubert Page, who will be working at the hotel. Before the night is over, Nobbs is stunned to discover that Page (Janet McTeer) is not only a woman-disguised-as-a-man but that he/she is also living with a woman (Bronaugh Gallagher) to whom he/she is, ostensibly, married.
Back in 1982, Close won an Obie for portraying Nobbs in Simone Benmussa's off-Broadway stage production and she co-wrote the movie script with Gabriella Prekop and John Banville. This has been Close's passionate project for 29 years, which is why she entrusted helming to femme-centric Colombian Rodrigo Garcia (son of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez), who previously directed her in "Nine Lives" (2005) and "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her" (2000).
Problem is: It's far too difficult to believe that either Glenn Close or Janet McTeer could pass as men for more than a cursory glance.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Albert Nobbs" is a subtle, sensitive 6, creating a fascinating, if far-fetched, façade.
Blame it on the Fox Television series, "Glee." With the success of the lives-of-the-members-of-the-choir theme, intercut with catchy songs, there were bound to be imitators like this. So instead of progressive, "Glee"-type social/cultural issues, there's a small town in Georgia church choir trying to get to a national singing competition in Los Angeles.
After their beloved choirmaster, Bernard Sparrow (a cameo by Kris Kristofferson), suffers a fatal heart attack during the annual Joyful Noise showcase, members of the Pacashau Sacred Divinity Choir are stunned when Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) appoints Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) to succeed Bernie. Particularly upset is his wealthy widow, G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), who expected to inherit her late husband's position.
Strong-willed, spiritual Hill is a stubborn gospel traditionalist, espousing conservative Christian values and snapping, "Don't you bring all that Mariah/Christmas mess in here!" when her 16 year-old daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), riffs during rehearsal. In contrast, spunky G.G. wants to shake things up by injecting more contemporary pop culture into the choral music. Meanwhile, G.G.'s rambunctious, rebellious grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) has a hankering for songbird Olivia and volunteers to give piano lessons to Vi's self-absorbed, Asperger's-afflicted teenage son, Walter (Dexter Darden).
Since he made his directorial debut with "Camp" (2003) about a performing arts summer camp, followed by "Bandslam" (2009), 52-year-old actor-turned-writer/director Todd Graff is treading familiar turf. And his campy dialogue can be barbed, like Dolly's quip, "God didn't make plastic surgeons so they would starve ..." (and a jab at Queen Latifah) "My doctor does good liposuction too!"
On the plus side, there's lots of exuberant singing, including hits by Paul McCartney ("Maybe I'm Amazed"), Michael Jackson ("Man in the Mirror"), Chris Brown ("Forever"), Sly and the Family Stone ("I Want to Take You Higher"), Usher ("Yeah") and Stevie Wonder ("Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours"), among others.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Joyful Noise" is an obviously flimsy 5, consisting of familiar hallelujah gospels glued together by caricaturist Southern-fried performances and an overwrought, formulaic story.
As the story goes, when director Steven Soderbergh was watching "American Gladiators" on television one evening, during a bout of women's mixed martial-arts fighting, he was so impressed by 29-year-old, raven-haired Gina Carano that he decided to develop a grim revenge thriller with screenwriter Lem Dobbs ("The Limey), casting Carano as a globetrotting lethal operative.
Introduced in a prologue at a rural roadside diner in snowy upstate New York where she has a confrontation with Aaron (Channing Tatum), another hired assassin, Mallory Kane (Carano) is a freelance black-ops who seeks vengeance when she realizes that those whom she has trusted have double-crossed her, placing her life in jeopardy. Working for a shadowy, private sector agency run by her nerdy ex-boyfriend, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), she's sought after by a high-placed government operative named Coblenz (Michael Douglas).
A specialist in international intrigue, Mallory's previous covert assignment -- to rescue a kidnapped Chinese dissident held hostage in Barcelona -- went terribly wrong, as she relates to Scott (Michael Angarano), whose car she's hijacked. Revealed in a flashback, that fiasco is somehow connected with a brawl in a Dublin hotel, where Mallory and a suspicious client, Kenneth (Michael Fassbender), decimate the furniture. So now, Mallory Kane is paranoid. Basically, the only person she trusts is her ex-Marine-turned-fiction writer dad (Bill Paxton) living in New Mexico.
Although she has yet to develop her acting talent, certainly tough, strong Gina Carano's physical presence puts her in a kick-ass warrior category with Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill") and Angelina Jolie ("Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "Salt"). Instead of emoting, Carano excels in an inordinate number of action-packed street/alley chase sequences in which Soderbergh stylishly photographs her sprinting from many angles. Soderbergh has done this before, like when he cast porn star Sasha Grey as a New York call girl in "The Girlfriend Experience." Yet it's too bad there's not even a shred of humor.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Haywire" is a fierce, ferocious 5, filled with relentless, kinetic, if senseless, violent mayhem.