New in Theaters: Beowulf & Grendel, Look Both Ways, and Nacho Libre
Beowulf & Grendel
dir. Sturla Gunnarsson
This limp, big-screen adaptation of everyone's favorite Anglo-Saxon epic, which screened at the Seattle International Film Festival last week and is (oddly) beginning its U.S. theatrical run in Seattle, opens with an abrupt and suspenseless chase. A loinclothed mountain man and his baby son are pursued across the icy heath by barbarous Nordic warriors. Dad is killed (penance for some unexplained transgression) and baby Grendel's hard grievance is born.
From the start, director Sturla Gunnarsson and screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins seem unsure of their path: Is this a traditional hero's tale or a cheeky update? An apologist retelling or a monstrous fantasy? They settle lamentably on "all of the above," and, by extension, say nothing at all. Heroic language like "Geats don't wield words where swords speak truer" is intercut with horrid—if frequently Anglo-Saxon derived—anachronisms ("This troll must be one tough prick!"). Meanwhile, Sarah Polley (as troll-humpin' witch Selma) has a Canadian drawl that is laughably distracting.
To humanize the demon Grendel (in pursuit of "the human dimension of the hero epic," according to Gunnarsson), he's been sympathetically recast as a child wronged—a made monster—and thus robbed of his mystery, dignity, and chill. Except, oh wait, he still has super-strength and an amphibious sea-hag for a mom, sending that made-monster thesis out the window. So he's one part monster, one part man, no parts terror, all parts pointless.
There's some mildly interesting Christ- versus-Odin tension ("My gods don't ask me to bow," says Hrothgar), several heaving Viking bosoms, and flocks of fuzzy-spotted ponies. Stellan Skarsgård is excellent, of course, as drunky King Hrothgar, and Beowulf, ably portrayed by Gerard Butler, is all hunky, grimy earnestness.
And if there's one thing the filmmakers did agree on, it's beards. There are beards everywhere in this movie! Old beards, crusty beards, braided beards, heroic beards—even the troll babies have beards (wispy blond ones!). But all the beards in the world (and it's got 'em all) can't save Beowulf & Grendel. Ultimately, the monumental Icelandic landscape steals the show, rendering these silly human dramas (and beards) inconsequential. LINDY WEST
Look Both Ways
dir. Sarah Watt
The transition from animation to live-action has always been problematic, with a history of fiercely creative visionaries such as Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton who are either unwilling or unable to commit to long-form coherence. (To paraphrase the great critic John Powers, any random 10-minute chunk of a Gilliam film feels like a masterpiece... until you realize that it's pretty much interchangeable with any other chunk.) Look Both Ways, the first feature from Australian animator Sarah Watt, proves to be a bit of a happy exception. Although a little clunky at times, overall it suggests a sensibility that nicely fills the given space.
Set over the course of a single weekend, Watt's script follows a frustrated artist (Justine Clarke) inclined to see the worst in every situation, no matter how outlandish. (The director's Bill Plympton–esque animated interludes, depicting everything from shark attacks to full-tilt railway catastrophes, are a riot.) Returning from the burial of her father, she witnesses a freak train-track incident, which does nothing to improve her outlook on life. In the immediate aftermath, she draws a photographer—recently diagnosed with testicular cancer—into her sunnily morbid orbit. As their relationship becomes more intense, it launches a ripple effect on the surrounding community.
Watt's quasi-oddball, honest-at-the-core approach feels slightly reminiscent of Miranda July, whose Me and You and Everyone We Know had the same vibe of a talented niche artist revving up and beginning to groove on the possibilities afforded by another medium. Much like the latter film, it likely won't appeal to all, but for those on the same wavering wavelength, it has a way of lodging firmly in the brainpan. In the final accounting, this arresting debut is a bit of a bummer, but not, you know, for the wrong reasons. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Jared Hess
Gosh! Rip off my frickin' movie why don't you, Jared Hess! This is pretty much the worst movie ever made. It's not as bad as my uncle's football video, but who does Jack Black think he is? Trying to top Napoleon Dynamite? I'm Jared Hess's star, not Nacho! He wants to be a star? He doesn't even have any skills! You know, like nunchuck skills, or bow-hunting skills, or computer-hacking skills... He can't do flipping anything right!
I mean, I guess it's an okay movie. It's pretty funny. And Jack Black looks flipping sweet in tights. Dang. Now that I think about it, it's pretty much my favorite movie ever. Nacho lives in this monastery, but really he wants to be a sweet wrestler so girls will want him. But they don't allow wrestling in the monastery. Ugh! Idiots! Wrestling is flipping sweet! If Nacho can become a wrestler and make money, he'll be able to afford better food for the monastery and all the orphans.
So Nacho makes a suit for himself. It's flipping sweet. He looks like a medieval warrior. The chicks will like it. Plus, he has a mustache. But once the monastery finds out what he's doing, they pretty much hate him—including Sister Encarnación, who's flipping hot. He should take her to the mall to get her some Glamour Shots for her birthday or something.
Anyway. This movie proves that if you try really hard, pretty much all of your wildest dreams will come true. Lucky! It's not as good as Jared Hess's last move, Napoleon Dynamite. That movie's pretty sweet. It's awesome. It's... it's incredible! But Nacho Libre is frickin' sweet, too. Heck yes, you should go see it! Vote for Nacho! NAPOLEON DYNAMITE