Category Archives: Now Showing

THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED

Producer:  Malte Forssell, Felix Herngren, Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and Patrick Nebout
Director:  Felix Herngren
Writer:  Felixs Gerngren and Hans Ingemansson
Stars: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Winberg, Mia Skaringer, Jens Hulten, Biana Cruzeiro, Alan Ford, Sven Lonn, David Shakleton, Georg Nikoloff, Simon Sappenen, Manuel Dubra, Cory Peterson, Kerry Shale and Philip Rosch 
Studio: Music Box Films

B

“Life is like a box of dynamite. You never know when it’s going to explode.” These lines aren’t spoken in Felix Herngren’s “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” (original title “Hundraaringen som klev ut genom fonstret och forsvaan”), but they might well have been: the movie, based on a novel by Jonas Jonasson, is like a European version of “Forrest Gump” crossed with “The Ladykillers.” Droll and whimsical, for the most part it’s good fun, a modern take on the old Ealing template.

The titular geezer—physically reminiscent of Tim Conway’s little old man character from the Carol Burnett show—is Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), whom we meet as a near-centenarian living alone in a rustic cabin with his cat Molotov, a name that indicates his lifelong interest in explosives. When Molotov is killed by a fox, Karlsson responds by blowing the predator up, and is shipped off to a retirement home. On the very day the staff is preparing his hundredth birthday celebration, Karlsson slips through a window and buys a bus ticket to take him to freedom.

At the station, however, he’s accosted by a biker dude (Simon Seppanen) who demands that he look after an oversized suitcase while he uses the restroom. Allan waltzes off with it, of course, not realizing it contains a stash of drug money. Soon he’s being pursued not only by a long-suffering cop Hinken (Sven Lonn), who’s in the dark about the money but tasked with returning the guy to the home, but by various members of the biker gang whose leader Gaddan (Jens Hulten), stuck at home with an ankle bracelet on his leg, is being pressured by drug kingpin Pim (Alan Ford) to get him his money—or else.

Along the way Allan accumulates a virtual family of eccentric helpers: Julius (Iwar Wiklander), a retiree taken with the thought of getting a portion of the cash; Benny (David Wiberg), an aging student working on perpetual degrees because he can never make up his mind about which field to commit to; and Gunilla (Mia Skaringer), a feisty woman who just happens to be housing a circus elephant at her farm. All will become implicated in the accidental death or injury of nefarious pursuers that Allan unwittingly but blithely causes, but in the end the trouble proves to be worth it.

But that’s only half the story. As the chase proceeds, Allan punctuates it with reminiscences about his past that Herngren presents in period flashback, starting with his childhood fascination with dynamite and progressing through episodes that throw him into history-making contact with some of the twentieth century’s most famous or notorious people. He joins the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, only to save the life of General Franco. Later he helps Robert Oppenheimer solve the last problem obstructing completion of the Manhattan Project, and gets drunk with Harry Truman. Then it’s off to Moscow to meet with Stalin, though that earns him a stay in the Gulag, where his meeting with Herbert Einstein, Alfred’s idiot brother, leads to a catastrophe that causes the Soviet leader’s death. And finally he becomes a double agent for the CIA and the KGB, accidentally passing the Kremlin a misleading remark by Ronald Reagan that induces Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

What gives all the mayhem an amiable feel rather than making your jaw drop is the characterization of Karlsson as a perpetually childlike fellow who doesn’t realize the import of what he’s doing. True, that’s the rationale behind the picture’s queasiest sequence, when a crazy doctor in a mental institution concludes that young Allan is racially and mentally deficient and addresses the problem by sterilizing him. But once the plot moves past that point, one accepts Karlsson as a figure similar to Forrest Gump or Chance the Gardener, stumbling through life without a clue while the people around him read him as something other than he is, and try to use him for their own ends. And so he seems innocuous and likable even when he’s doing the most damage.

Apart from an occasional misstep, Herngren and his cast carry off the balancing act between agreeable farce and ghoulishness with considerable panache, with Gustafsson genially making his way through Allan’s many incarnations and Wiklander in particular adding spice as his more cunning compatriot. The technical crew complements their work with appropriate period detail in the flashbacks, and Matti Bye’s upbeat score adds a carnival-like tone to the proceedings.

As an inducement to American audiences, the distributor has tweaked the soundtrack for the US release, dubbing Allan’s frequent voiceovers into English while keeping the dialogue scenes in their original combination of languages, mostly Swedish but sometimes English and occasionally German, Spanish, French and Russian. Rest assured, however, that the film’s polyglot character (and the resultant need for subtitles on a fairly regular basis) won’t spoil your enjoyment overmuch.

PITCH PERFECT 2

Producer:  Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks and Max Handleman
Director: Elizabeth Banks 
Writer:  Kay Cannon
Stars:  Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt, Keegan-Michael Key, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Chrissie Fit, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Flula Borg, Shawn Carter Peterson, Katey Sagal, David Cross and Snoop Dogg
Studio: Universal Pictures

C-

The first “Pitch Perfect” was no great shakes, but though silly the “Glee”-ful musicomedy about a girls’ collegiate a capella group had a dumb affability that audiences appreciated. Its success made a sequel inevitable; a pity it couldn’t have been better than this.

As “Pitch 2” opens, the Barden Bellas—now led by Chloe (Brittany Snow)—are three-time national champions (a premise that stretches credulity, given their quality), chosen to appear at President Obama’s birthday bash at Lincoln Center (even more implausible). During their routine, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who’s for some reason being lowered from the rafters, slips off her perch and has a “wardrobe malfunction” of a particularly revealing kind that the media soon dub “Muffgate.” In reaction to the scandal, the college forbids them from recruiting new members and the national A Capella League strips them of their worldwide tour duties, handing the gig over to the arrogant, spit-and-polish German group Das Sound Machine headed by the Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) and Pieter (Flula Borg).

The disaster obviously sends Chloe, as well as teammates Amy, Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner) and newcomer Flo (Chrissie Fit), into a tizzy. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is none too happy about it either, though unlike her singing pals, who seem oblivious to actually preparing for life after graduation, she’s secretly arranged for an internship with a high-octane record producer (Keegan-Michael Key) and is anyway spending time with her beau from the Treblemakers, Jesse (Skylar Astin).

The Bellas are determined, of course, to win back their reputation in the only way left to them—beating the Germans in the World Championship at Copenhagen. Their efforts to rehearse, however, are undercut by Beca’s work at the record company, and by the efforts of Treblemaker Bumper (Adam DeVine) to court Fat Amy. Further trouble comes in the form of freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), whom despite the dean’s ban they welcome into their club as a legacy member (her mother being a legendary alumna played by Katey Sagal), and who seems intent on inserting original material into their routines. (She gets a suitor too, in Jesse’s pal Benji, played by Ben Platt.) Things go particularly badly at a rural retreat run by their old leader Aubrey (Anna Camp).

The major problem with “Pitch 2” is that the central narrative thread, involving the resurrection of the Bellas’ reputation, is poorly played out. Their “comeback” routines, in which various catastrophes occur (like Cynthia-Rose’s hair being set afire), aren’t just clumsy but unfunny, and so is the sequence set at Aubrey’s resort, where slapstick reigns. Especially bad is an unofficial a capella face-off staged by a creepy fan played by the equally creepy David Cross (and featuring some Green Bay Packer players as unlikely singers). And all the spoken material featuring the Germans is dreadful, like outtakes from a bad Sprockets sketch from SNL.

It certainly doesn’t help that neither Kendrick nor Wilson carries the movie the way they might be expected to do. Kendrick looks dour throughout—she looks as if the sequel was a contractual obligation she would have preferred to have passed on—while Wilson does her usual shtick, which this time around just falls flat: most of her muttered asides lack snap, and frankly seem as though they were separately shot and just edited into the mix later. As for Steinfeld, who’s obviously on hand to serve as the linchpin for any further sequels (the current crop of Bellas suddenly deciding to graduate at the close, though none is ever seen going to class or cracking a book), she’s basically a cipher.

Still, though the movie is vacuous at the core, there are occasional redeeming moments. Though his material isn’t first-rate, Key invigorates every scene he’s in, and a cameo featuring Snoop Dog is especially good (though it’s spoiled by a Kendrick-centered resolution). The commentary by returning “on air” oafs John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also directs, without distinction) has a few barbs (especially Higgins’ obliviously insensitive remarks) that are almost worthy of Christopher Guest. Platt’s nervous bumbling has some charm, and Fit’s darkly comic interjections about her Guatemalan upbringing hit the mark. And Wilson finally gets the chance to shine when she romances her would-be boyfriend with a lakeside rendition of “We Belong” late in the game—the awkward amateurishness of delivery is still there, but the idea is good enough to overcome it.

And, of course, there is the music, which, though occasionally underscored with instruments in violation of a capella rules, some viewers will enjoy. (Perhaps the best joke occurs at the very start, when a group does the Universal Pictures intro music in the style of the Swingle Singers.) The technical side of things is decently handled, with the cinematography (Jim, Denault) and production design (Toby Corbett) showing the effect of a larger budget than the original possessed.

But overall “Pitch Perfect 2” feels tired and off-key, a bungled attempt to recapture the modest charms of its overrated predecessor.