Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 15 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 15

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A DANGEROUS METHOD As part of his four-score from 2011, Michael Fassbender turns up in A Dangerous Method as Carl Jung, the Swiss doctor often deemed the father of modern psychology. Watching him tackle Jung as a cautious, conflicted man, it's hard to see the same person who was so brooding in Jane Eyre, so, uh, magnetic in X-Men: First Class, and so raw in Shame. Yes, there's a reason so many of us think Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender sounds a helluva lot better than, say, Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill. But I digress. A Dangerous Method, directed with uncharacteristic understatement by David Cronenberg, examines the linked destinies of three formidable individuals through roughly the first two decades of the 20th century. There's Jung, of course, initially coming into his own armed with theories that hadn't really been explored before (among them the idea of the collective unconscious). There's Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the penis-envy proponent who serves as Jung's mentor until their philosophies ultimately take them down divergent paths. Finally, there's the largely (and unjustly) forgotten Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who goes from being Jung's patient to his lover to, finally, a renowned psychologist in her own right. An intelligent movie about intelligent people, A Dangerous Method finds most of its verbal jousts in the capable hands of both Fassbender and Mortensen, the latter portraying Freud as an unbending stuffed shirt who nevertheless manages to maintain a touch of the impious about him. Less successful is Knightley: Jutting out her jaw to a frightening degree in the early scenes when Sabina is swallowed by her own hysterics — I was afraid the poor actress was going to dislocate the thing — she seems to have confused suffering with showboating, and while she becomes more believable as the film progresses, she never fully blends into the period setting as effectively as she did in Pride and Prejudice. For all its strengths (for starters, Howard Shore's score is exquisite), A Dangerous Method never becomes much more than a pleasant watch, with its studied formalism preventing viewers from ever truly connecting to these characters' situations. Just because the setting is clinical doesn't mean the film itself needs to follow suit. **1/2

THE DESCENDANTS The must-see George Clooney vehicle of 2011 — The Ides of March sure wasn't it — The Descendants might be set in Hawaii, but it's hardly a film defined by its postcard prettiness. Right at the start, director and co-writer Alexander Payne (adapting Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel) shows us a downtown as gritty as that of any sprawling metropolis, while George Clooney's character, Matt King, informs us that Hawaiians have the same miserable problems as those of us living in the contiguous United States. With all romantic notions dispelled, the movie gets down to business. Matt's having a rough time of it, with life coming at him hard from all directions. His wife has had a boating accident and now rests in a coma; to make matters worse, he later learns that she had been having an affair with a realtor (Matthew Lillard) and was possibly going to leave him. His daughters, rebellious teenager Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and socially awkward Scottie (Amara Miller), don't respect his authority. And as the family member legally entrusted with prime acreage that has belonged to the clan for generations, he must decide between selling it to capitalist opportunists and making himself and his relatives millionaires or holding onto it and winning the approval of those who would hate to see this beautiful land razed. Payne, who also was a guiding force behind Sideways, About Schmidt and Election, has made another terrific movie about recognizably flawed people and the decisions they make that either improve or irrevocably damage their lives. No situation is ever easily digestible in his complex films: Here, Matt doesn't know whether or not he should forgive his wife since she's in a coma, and his children, his father-in-law (Robert Forster) and Alexandra's boyfriend (Nick Krause) alternate between infuriating us and earning our sympathies. Marked by stellar performances (particularly by Clooney, Woodley and Judy Greer as the realtor's wife) and an incisive screenplay, The Descendants packs a real Hawaiian punch. ***1/2


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