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Reviews for September 1st, 2010

The American

Directed by Anton Corbijn.

Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Jack (George Clooney), a hit man, spends a holiday in Sweden with Ingrid (Irina Bjorlund), but, while he calmly hikes with her, Swedish assassins hunt him down and nearly kill him before he escapes. He travels to Italy where he meets his boss, Pavel (Johan Leysen), who gives him a new mission which Jack says will be his very last one because he wants to retire. His mission is to build a weapon for Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), but his life still remains in danger when he retreats to Abruzzo, a small, mountainside town in Italy. He quickly befriends a local priest, Father Benedetto (Paulo Bonacelli) and develops a romance with a sexy prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). Meanwhile, a mysterious killer targets prostitutes for some reason. What purpose do those murders serve in the plot? The answer to that question, among others, becomes clear very gradually as the film progresses. Screenwriter Rowan Joffe provides so little background information about Jack that it makes it difficult to be emotionally invested in the events that transpire to him. Jack comes across as a laconic individual who’s bored of his job even though he’s skilled at it. The camera lingers on him for a while as he assembles the gun parts—and the bullets---with utter precision and patience. It takes a while thought for the palpable thrills to show up because, until then, there’s mostly exposition as Jack walks, often alone, around the town, sleeps with hookers and calls his boss every now and then to give him an update. George Clooney gives a decent performance mostly using his facial expressions to convey Jack’s loneliness, fear, sorrows and, in some cases, paranoia. Director Anton Corbijn knows how to establish a quietly foreboding or pensive, somber mood through camera angles, editing, music, lighting, color and pacing. The opening credits sequence as Jack drives through a tunnel is a rare visual feast. The slow pace gives The American a very European feel to it, but, more often than not, you’ll find yourself bored and wish that at least some kind interesting event will occur or that the pace would pick up a little more---a lengthy sex scene with Jack and Carla, for instance, could have easily been trimmed down. Also, with the exception of a few lines of dialogue from the priest, there’s not enough comic relief to enliven the film. The town of Abruzzo, with its cobblestone streets, turns out to be a far more interesting character than Jack himself, though. At a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes, The American is unconventionally slow-paced, low on palpable thrills and often dull despite its brilliant, exquisite cinematography. It ultimately suffers from excessive style over substance.
Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Focus Features.
Opens nationwide.

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My Dog Tuplip

Directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger.

Based on the novel by J.R. Ackerley. An elderly man, J.R. Ackerley (voice of Christopher Plummer), works as a writer and lives in London apartment with his beloved German shepherd, Tulip, which he had adopted when she was just one-year-and-a-half old. Her previous owners must have treated her like a slave, but he, on the other hand, treats her like a princess. He always regards Tulip as his loyal friend even though she does come with the extra baggage of having to clean up her excrement from all sorts of awkward places where she leaves those stinky gifts at. For instance, he once had to scrub the sidewalk in front of a grocery store where she did her business. Acklerley also spends his time drawing Tulip while she defecates because he’s fascinated by her meditative state as she lets go of her bowels. He feels more comfortable around Tulip than with his sister (voice of Lynn Redgrave) who competes with him for the dog’s loyalty. During the second half of the film, he struggles to find Tulip a male lover for her to make some puppies with---the attempted sex acts between her and other dogs are shown rather explicitly here which might make you cringe at times. There’s also a scene where Ackerley describes the difference between Tulip peeing for the sake of just peeing versus for the sole purpose of marking her territory. As you can probably realize by now, <>My Dog Tulip has lots of details that dramas about dogs and their owners rarely depict onscreen. Co-writer/directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger take Acklerley’s novel and bring out its honesty, poignancy, wit and twisted sense of humor that makes for a very bittersweet ride. On top of that, the hand-drawn animation gives a very warm and organic feel the film. If you’re a dog owner, you’ll be able to empathize with most of Ackerley’s sentiments and feel touched and even amused during the many voice-over narrations. It’s fascinating to watch the dynamics of the 14-year relationship between him and Tulip and how they affect each other’s lives throughout their symbiotic friendship. At a running time of 1 hour and 23 minutes, My Dog Tulip is a witty, honest and genuinely poignant tale filled with wisdom and humor. It’s unlike any dog movie you’ve ever seen before.
Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by New Yorker Films.
Opens at the Film Forum.

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