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Movie Reviews: New Releases for April 29

Memory, Hatching, Firebird and more


Liam Neeson in Memory - OPEN ROAD FILMS
  • Open Road Films
  • Liam Neeson in Memory
Firebird **1/2
It’s understandable given this story’s real-life provenance that it would focus on one side of its romantic triangle, but it feels like there’s something missing as the other two sides end up playing second fiddle. Based on the memoir by actor Sergey Fetisov, it casts Tom Prior (who co-wrote the script with director Peeter Rebane) as Sergey, who’s nearing the end of his required Soviet military service at an Estonian air force base in 1977. When Lt. Roman Medveyev (Oleg Zagorodnii) arrives, the two begin a romantic relationship—an illegal act which could threaten not just their careers, but their freedom. Complicating their relationship further is Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), the base secretary and Sergey's close friend who falls for Roman, and some of the best material here involves her unwitting role as beard after a KGB officer (Margus Prangel) begins to suspect Roman’s predilections. But the emphasis is always on Sergey’s journey, which involves his post-military enrollment in drama school, and a reunion between the two secret lovers. It’s classic star-cross’d material—Romeo & Juliet gets a name-check, in case it’s unclear—filled with furtive glances and sly hand touches, and of course it’s a tragedy that this love was a crime. These particular characters, however, lack enough spark to carry the story whenever the woman who both separates them and connects them is out of the picture. Available April 29 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Hatching ***1/2
Screw “elevated horror”—like all interesting horror since the term was invented, it has been a way to uncover unsettling truths about human experience, provided you’re paying attention. Director Hanna Bergholm and Ilja Rautsi give us the tale of Tinja (Jani Volanen), an adolescent Finnish girl dealing with the high expectations of her lifestyle-blogger mom (Siiri Solalinna). One night, Tinja discovers a strange egg in the woods, and nurtures it until it hatches into … well, something. The particulars of that something get weirder as the movie progresses, in a way that slowly unfolds its central metaphor while also providing good old horror visceral satisfaction. It’s a story about wanting a mother who will love you even if you’re less than perfect, and trying to manifest that into the world. It’s a story with a canny ability to find a representation of eating disorders with a body-horror kick, and the wisdom to understand that the surest way for a girl to make her dad uncomfortable enough to leave her alone is to let him think you’ve started your period. The character design of Tinja’s hatchling is a terrific piece of practical effects work, and there’s plenty of material that makes this a solid monster movie. And, like so much thoughtful horror that came before it, Hatching takes its time before making it clear who the real monster in its story is. Available April 29 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)

Inland Empire **1/2
“I don't know what’s happened first ... and it’s kind of laid a mindfuck on me.” Thus Laura Dern’s Nikki/Susan/whoever emphatically distills the David Lynch template of unreliable chronology, shifting identity, voyeurism, artifice and batshit symbolism in his 2006 feature, currently getting a re-release. And while there’s stuff here—as is the case with every Lynch film for me—that’s utterly indelible, I just. Do not. Get it. This opaque, surreal vision somehow makes earlier Lynch films look like high-concept pitches. Splitting the film enigmatically between Hollywood actress Nikki (Dern) and her character Susan, Lynch winds through favored aesthetic and thematic territory: Madonna/whore dualities; tension-packed soliloquies; bone-dry humor. As in most Lynch-directed projects, individual moments of sound design and jolting images can tingle every hair on your body. But those moments here are spread over three hours—much of it shot in up-your-nostril close-ups, and all of it shot on consumer-grade-of-15-years-ago digital video that looks like avant-garde ass. Even if you don’t know what it all “means,” it’s certainly not boring, not with Dern’s improbably committed performance. It does, however, feel like a lot of work to put in for a less potent spin on Mulholland Drive. Available April 29 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)

Marvelous and the Black Hole **1/2
There’s earnestness aplenty in writer/director Kate Tsang’s comedy-drama, but earnestness isn’t always enough to give a predictable plot dynamic a real emotional kick. Sammy (Miya Cech) is a teenager whose mourning over her mother has turned outward into vandalism and anger. While forced by her father (Leonardo Nam) to take a summer school class, Sammy meets Margot (Rhea Pearlman), a children’s magician, and becomes an at-first-reluctant student. The dynamic feels most reminiscent of The Karate Kid—teen in search of a replacement for an absent parent figure takes lessons from a lonely older mentor, whose own family tragedy is connected to a big historical event—but that’s no inherent problem, considering how well that dynamic can work. The bigger problem is that Tsang doesn’t guide Cech towards a performance that really picks between rage and simple teenage petulance; it feels like a mistake to introduce slapstick comedic elements and fanciful animated marginalia if this is supposed to be about genuine grief. Pearlman and Cech have a few charming moments together, but on the way to exactly the climactic scene you should be able to predict at about the 15-minute mark, the movie never finds a psychological hook more profound than “well-intentioned diversion.” Available April 29 at Park City Film Series. (NR)

Memory **
Liam Neeson has spent a lot of time over the past 15 years playing barely-distinguishable variations on his “very particular set of skills” taciturn badass; this remake of a 2003 Belgian film tweaks the formula a bit, but in a way that jumbles the narrative. Here he plays Alex Lewis, a professional assassin who tries to get out of the game when his worsening dementia affects his work. But he’s forced into a job he doesn’t want—killing a teenage girl with information about a sex trafficking ring—and which brings him into conflict with FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce). The narrative ultimately is as much about Serra as it is about Lewis, and about a few other characters besides, including a Mexican agent (Harold Torres) working with Serra, plus the wealthy philanthropist (Monica Bellucci) facilitating a cover-up. Turf battles between the Feds and local Texas cops keep forcing the story into something about money manipulating the system, which isn’t exactly new ground for crime dramas. It works best when it’s actually concerned with character moments, whether that’s Serra’s growing sense of impotence, or Lewis trying to find some redemption before he loses his faculties entirely. There’s more compelling material in watching people wrestle with their weaknesses than in a standard-issue shoot-’em-up. Available April 29 in theaters. (R)