Tag Archives: C-

BERLIN, I LOVE YOU

Producer: Claus Clausen and Edda Reiser
Director: Peter Chelsom, Dennis Gansel, Til Schweiger, Justin Franklin, Dani Levy, Stephanie Martin, Claus Clausen, Fernando Eimbcke, Dianna Agron, Massy Tadjedin and Josef Rusnak
Writer: David Vernon, Dennis Gansel, Neil LaBute, Justin Franklin, Dani Levy, Edda Reiser, Fernando Eimbcke, Massy Tadjedin, Claus Clausen and Rebecca Rahn
Stars: Jim Sturgess, Charlotte Le Bon, Sibel Kekilli, Iwan Rheon, Toni Garnn, Mickey Rourke, Nolan Funk, Laila Maria Witt, Alexander Black, Carol Schiler, Hannelore Elsner, Emily Beecham, Veronica Ferres, Lili Gattyan, Phoebe Nicolls, Jake Weber, Diego Luna, Michelangelo Fortuzzi, Luke Wilson, Dianna Agron, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Liam Gross, Rafaelle Cohen and Robert Stadlober
Studio: Saban Films

C-

The latest installment of Emmanuel Benbihy’s Cities of Love series, which has already dealt with Paris, New York and Rio, is set in Berlin, though with few exceptions the episodes could take place virtually anywhere. “Berlin, I Love You” lacks the sense of place that previous installments have highlighted. Unfortunately, it’s also without much charm.

The episodes, most of them from ten to twelve minutes long, come from a variety of directors, some working from their own scripts but many using ones penned by others. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to make any difference; even the best of them are mediocre, and quite a few positively poor.

After an animated collage depicting aspects of Berlin’s history, the film opens with a sketch directed by Josef Rusnak that introduces a street performance artist (Robert Stadlober) who mimics a statue of an angel, presumably channeling “Wings of Desire.” A young lady (Rafaëlle Cohen) takes up a spot beside him and begins singing, much to his annoyance, and he leaves. But the two find one another again, and the film periodically returns to their romantic journey until they commit to each other in the big finale that assembles the stars of other segments at an outdoor concert.

Probably the biggest stars represented are Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley, who appear as mother and daughter in Massy Tadjedin’s “Under Your Feet.” Knightley is a young woman who brings home a refugee child, whom Mirren, initially opposed to sheltering the boy, becomes attached to. Addressing Germany’s current immigration crisis is laudable, but why two British women should be at the center of things is puzzling.

The best-known of the writers involved in the project is most likely Neil LaBute, whose “Love Is In the Air” is directed by Til Schweiger. Mickey Rourke plays a man who picks up a much younger woman (Toni Garrn) in a bar and takes her back to his room, explaining how he regrets never having known his daughter—not in the Biblical sense, of course. Given LaBute’s characteristic concerns, the ending will come as no surprise, and the vignette could be set anywhere.

So could other episodes, like Peter Chelsom’s “Berlin Ride,” about how a talking car leads a young man (Jim Sturgess) to love, or Dianna Agron’s “Lucinda in Berlin,” with Luke Wilson as a burned-out movie director who’s renewed by meeting a pretty young puppeteer; both have the city in the title, but it doesn’t seem essential to either, although each shows off some of its sights. A car is also involved in Dennis Gansel’s “Embassy,” about a taxi driver drawn into the world of espionage when she picks up a passenger; it’s Hitchcock very light.

In another segment, Fernando Eimbcke’s “Sunday Morning,” a teen (Michelangelo Fortuzzi) meets a transgender woman (Diego Luna) on a bridge, and they talk until he asks her for a kiss. It’s pleasantly played but amounts to little. “Me Three,” by Stephanie Martin and Claus Clausen, centers on a group of women who meet in a Laundromat into which a piggish man stumbles; it morphs into one of the movie’s musical numbers, like the big closing concert.

“Berlin, I Love You” features some nice cinematography by Kokja Brandt, and one has to admire the work done by editor Peter R. Adam in trying to tie all the strands together into something resembling a coherent whole.

But the writing would have to be a lot sharper to make this a recommended stop on your cinematic itinerary.

DONNYBROOK

Producer: David Lancaster and Stephanie Wilcox
Director: Tim Sutton
Writer: Tim Sutton
Stars: Jamie Bell, Frank Grillo, Margaret Qualley, James Badgec Dale, Alex Washburn, Pat Healy, David Myers Gregory and Dara Tiller
Studio: IFC Films

C-

A grim, violent story about people who live not so much on the margins of society but virtually off the grid, Tim Sutton’s “Donnybrook,” adapted from a novel by Frank Bill, is titled after a free-style rustic rumble in a cage that promises a prize of $100,000 to the sole survivor. It’s also a tale of good against pure evil, presented as though it were a dark, iconic fable.

Though the location isn’t precisely specified, the film is set somewhere in the decaying heartland of America. We meet ex-Marine Jarhead Earl (Jamie Bell) as he’s being ferried down the river to the fight by an old coot who mumbles about how the world has changed, how criminality reigns, and how each man must make his own choices.

Earl, we see in flashback, is a desperate man. He’s just taken a beating from local drug-dealer Chainsaw Angus (Frank Grillo), who, along with his sister Delia (Margaret Qualley), has been selling opioids to Earl’s wife (Dara Tiller). And he needs money to support his young son Moses (Alex Washburn), whom he genuinely cares for. That’s why he’s willing to rob a local store to finance the Donnybrook entrance fee.

Meanwhile Angus and Delia have brutally killed one of their confederates in the trade (Pat Healy), sending stern Sheriff Donny Whalen (James Badge Dale) in pursuit of them. He’s far less concerned about Earl, whom he considers a basically solid fellow driven to crime to save his family.

The film becomes a back-and-forth journey as Sutton follows Earl and Angus on their separate routes to the fight; a showdown between them is inevitable, especially after Delia abandons her brother and joins up with Earl. One sympathizes with the sad, sullen Earl, of course, but it’s Grillo’s malevolent villain who burns up the screen as he proves himself a killing machine that seems unstoppable, as the sheriff—and some other characters–find out.

Inevitably the two face off in the cage, having disposed of the other contenders in relatively short order. But even if Earl manages to win, the cost of victory will be high.

Sutton presents this brutal tale as though it were the modern equivalent of a Greek tragedy, complete with a music score (by Phil Mossman) that uses sudden brassy fanfares for overwhelming emphasis. (The very opening comes across like a homage to “The Shining.”) Obviously it’s intended as a parable of the cruel reality of contemporary American society, with its divisions of class and economic opportunity, but it comes across instead like vicious, overblown pulp.

Still, you have to recognize that single-minded skill with which Sutton—abetted by David Ungaro’s starkly beautiful cinematography, Michael T. Perry’s grubby production design, and Scott Cummings’ brooding editing—has realized his unsparing vision.

Nor can one fault the performances. Bell has long since abandoned the boyish charm of “Billy Elliot” to develop a scruffy look that goes along with Earl’s despondency, and Grillo is the very image of macho nastiness, while Qualley captures Delia’s shifting moods and Washburn Moses’ innocence. Dale’s stoicism is also on target.

In the end, though, as was the case of Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace” before it, “Donnybrook” is so utterly nihilistic that it seems a pointless wallow in misery, however skillfully made.