Tag Archives: C

THE SONATA

Producers: Sergey Selyanov, Genny Goudard, Daniel Goroshko, Alexander Skladchirov, Rodolphe Sanze,  Laurent Fumeron, Fabrice Smadja, Julian Loeffler, Aija Bercina and Alise Gelze   Director: Andrew Desmond   Screenplay: Andrew Desmond and Arthur Morin   Cast: Freya Tingley, Simon Abkarian, James Faulkner, Rutger Hauer, Catherine Schaub-Abkarian and Matt Barber   Distributor: Screen Media Films

Grade:  C

Stylish but slow and not very scary, Andrew Desmond’s cerebral horror film is based on the idea that music doesn’t so much soothe the savage beast as invite him to invade the human realm—the beast in this case being The Beast, aka Satan. 

“The Sonata” begins with a rather gimmicky but clever opening sequence, filmed by cinematographer Janis Eglitis from the point of view of composer Richard Marlowe (Rutger Hauer), as finishes a manuscript, glimpses himself in a mirror, walks away holding a candle, grabs a container of gasoline, douses himself with it, and then sets himself ablaze. 

Marlowe’s heir is his daughter Rose Fisher (Freya Tingley), a celebrated young concert violinist who was abandoned by her father as a child and has been estranged from him ever since; she hasn’t even told her manager Charles (Simon Abkarian) who her father is.  Now, however, she makes her way to Marlowe’s rural French estate to claim what’s hers. 

She finds, after talking with the housekeeper (Catherine Schaub-Abkarian) that Marlowe was a reclusive man, disliked by his neighbors, who, among other things, suspected him of playing a role in the disappearance of some local children.  She also discovers the manuscript of Marlowe’s final composition, a violin sonata that switches from style to style and is annotated with some very peculiar signs.

Recognizing the value of the piece, Charles arrives to investigate it and becomes obsessed with decoding its mysterious passages.  Conferring with musicologist Victor Ferdinand (James Faulkner), he learns that the peculiar annotations are related to a secret society that believed that dark powers could be invoked with music that follows a designated form, and that the sonata appears to embody the requisite pattern. 

The rest of the film consists of interplay between Rose and Charles as he obsessively puzzles over the decrypting of the manuscript and insists that she is her father’s chosen vessel to perform the piece and fulfill its malevolent purpose.  The last act brings revelations about the lengths to which Marlowe went to achieve his wicked ambitions and what the playing of the sonata finally unleashes.

“The Sonata” is a handsome-looking film; production designer Audrius Dumikas uses Latvian locations to excellent effect, and cinematographer Janis Eglitis gives everything a lustrous glow.  The cast is fine as well, though some will be disappointed that Hauer’s contributions are so brief.  And Alexis Maingaud provides a score, including the bits we hear of Marlowe’s sonata, that’s very impressive.

Unhappily, while all of that makes for a film that’s easy to watch, it doesn’t make for a very frightening experience.  “The Sonata” mostly lumbers along at a moderate pace that’s meant to create tension, but because the narrative trajectory holds few surprises, it fails to do so; the fault lies with Desmond’s ultra-sedate approach and the correspondingly lethargic editing by J.P. Ferré. Giuseppe Tartini famously composed a violin sonata that he claimed was inspired by a dream in which the devil played for him.  It came to be known as “The Devil’s Trill.”  If you’ll excuse the pun, what Desmond is aiming for here is not a trill but a thriller, but his languid execution saps it of the energy it needs to be truly unnerving.    

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith and Doug Belgrad   Directors: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah   Screenplay: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan   Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Paola Núñez, Jacob Scipio, Kate Del Castillo, Nicky Jam, DJ Khaled, Theresa Randle and Bianca Bethune   Distributor: Sony Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Grade:  C-

The sequel to the original 1995 “Bad Boys” was long in coming: “Bad Boys II” didn’t show up until 2003 (and it was so true to the titular adjective, one wished it never had).  It’s taken nearly seventeen years for a third installment, and the time was not well spent: “Bad Boys For Life” is endlessly awful, a throwback that should have been thrown away.

The premise is that long-time partners Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are still cruising the streets of Miami in their muscle car, sending their short-tempered captain (Joe Pantoliano) into paroxysms with their rule-breaking ways.  (If the setup reminds you of innumerable buddy movies of the seventies and eighties, let alone tons of TV series from the time, your memory is working fine.)

But Marcus, a first-time grandpa, wants to retire and help raise the new baby, while Mike has no desire to change his routine, intent on continuing his street-wise swaggering indefinitely.  Marcus does exit the force, but, as the saying goes, he’s forced reluctantly back into the game when Mike is targeted by a would-be assassin, and makes a recovery (one depicted as remarkably quick and easy) from what certainly seems should have been a fatal assault.

The question is who’s responsible, and why.  The answer has been telegraphed from the very start, when we’re shown Isabel (Kate del Castillo), the bloodthirsty widow of a Mexican drug lord, escaping from prison in an extraordinarily nasty scene, and encouraging her son Armando (Jacob Scipio) to take vengeance on Lowrey not just by attacking him, but making him suffer by first killing everybody involved in her late husband’s downfall. 

That leads to a string of big set-pieces, including a frantic chase involving cars, motorcycles and helicopters, and a series of bloody killings (including one of a major character) before Mike and Marcus travel to Mexico to take on the dastardly duo in a finale that turns into a literal conflagration, with Mike coming to terms with his past and Marcus kvetching all the way.  It closes, however, with a big revelation about family secrets that might just remind you of that in the last of Smith’s other recent action extravaganza, “Gemini Man” (if you were unlucky enough to see that Ang Lee bomb). 

Along the way the duo pick up a team of Miami cohorts, a special ops team called AMMO headed by Rita (Paola Núñez), who has a past with Lowrey (and she’s not the only one), and including svelte sharpshooter Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), beefy computer wizard Dorn (Alexander Ludwig) and cocky know-it-all Rafe (Charles Melton).  They all make it south of the border for the finale, too.    

The directing duties of “Bad Boys for Life” have passed from Michael Bay (who must make do with a cameo here) to the Moroccan-born Belgian duo of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, billed as Adil and Bilall, but the basic approach remains the same.  They offer up tons of action, shot by Robrecht Heyvaert and edited by Dan Lebental and Peter McNulty in the hyperkinetic style that’s obligatory nowadays and accompanied by an overbearing score from Lorne Balfe.

But they also leave plenty of room for banter between the two stars, which is meant to be explosively funny but comes off as pretty lame, with Lawrence in particular struggling to wring laughs out of lines that wouldn’t even merit inclusion in a stand-up routine (which is what he often seems to be attempting); he also has to try to sell multiple instances of his trying to stifle throwing up at the sight of blood, which seems an odd reaction from a guy who must have seen beaucoup violence during decades on the streets.  (A conversation between the two on their plane ride to Mexico, which sends their fellow passengers into fright at the mention of guns and mayhem, is cringe-inducing.)  Presumably all the gabbing is intended to humanize the characters, but there’s entirely too much of it, especially in the first hour (which frankly tends to crawl along) since it’s mostly composed of stock back-and-forth repartee. 

Perhaps one has to give Smith and Lawrence credit for trying to pull off this old-fashioned blarney  at all, but the fact of the matter is that their reunion doesn’t engender as much affection as impatience, and when the suggestion of a sequel comes at the close, it seems more like a threat.  Enough, already.

As for Adil and Bilall, they’re reportedly also attached to direct another installment of the old “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise with Eddie Murphy.  The last movie in that series came out in 1994, which means that when the new one appears, more than a quarter-century will have elapsed.  Can you smell the mothballs?