Veteran director Volker Schlondorff delivers a crafty tale based on real events in “Diplomacy” (Angelika).
The picture, adapted from a small-scale play, is a speculative piece about the conversation with a Swedish diplomat that persuaded the German general in charge of Paris in August, 1944, to defy Hitler’s orders to destroy the city before it could fall into Allied hands.
Schlondorff opens up the story nicely with some outside scenes and archival inserts, and he draws excellent performances from stars Andre Dussollier and Niels Arestrup.
But it is the cunning script — essentially a long duet filled with reversals, revelations and surprises — that makes “Diplomacy” a treat, even though the outcome is never in doubt.
Far better is the Australian psycho-thriller “The Babadook” (Alamo Drafthouse and Texas Theatre), in which a grieving single mother and her six-year-old son are menaced by a ghoulish figure that emerges from the pages of a children’s pop-up book.
The question, however, is whether the so-called Mr. Babadook is an evil entity taking possession of them, or merely a manifestation of their own psychological disorder. The film is very stylishly made, exuding an atmosphere of genuine dread but avoiding the gore that so often goes with it nowadays. It also boasts extraordinary performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman as mother and child. This one is a sleeper that will probably keep you awake.
“Horrible Bosses 2”
Sequelitis rears its ugly head again with “Horrible Bosses 2” (wide release), a dimwitted comedy about three dullards (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) who aim to take vengeance on a crooked businessman by kidnapping his son (Chris Pine). He turns the tables on them by demanding the ransom for himself.
Pine brings some energy to the picture, and cameos by Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Aniston make for a smile or two.
But overall this is more frenetic than funny, with the trio of leads quickly growing tiresome, and as in so many comedies today, the level of vulgarity and profanity is unconscionably high. It is time this series was fired.
In the dully-titled horror movie “The Pyramid” (wide release), a father-daughter team of archaeologists goes for a trip into the three-sided structure they have discovered under the Egyptian sands, only to find that they should not have done so. It would not be fair to reveal what deadly menace awaits them inside, but rest assured it is as silly as one could possibly imagine and — given the execrable special effects — not at all scary.
The picture employs, very badly, the trite found-footage technique that has become the bane of the horror genre ever since “The Blair Witch Project.” It is time that device was history.
Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” (Angelika and Cinemark West Plano). The comedian wears heavy makeup and adopts a quietly menacing manner to play John E. du Pont, the eccentric millionaire who murdered Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996. Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) specializes in using real-life stories to get at deeper cultural currents. In this case, he employs the curious case of du Pont to muse on the dangers of inherited wealth, extreme patriotism and the cult of celebrity.
Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum match Carell beat for beat as Dave and his younger brother Mark, another medal winner whom du Pont befriended and supported financially.
“Foxcatcher” takes some liberties with the historical record, but as a slow-burning tale of dangerous obsession, it is rich with power and nuance.
Among the films you might look forward to over the rest of the month, some of the most notable are Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” with Christian Bale as Moses; Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon as a woman on a thousand-mile journey of self-discovery (both December 12); Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” (December 17); and “Annie,” an updating of the musical with Jamie Foxx.
Then for Christmas itself there is“The Imitation Game,” with Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who broke the German Enigma code; “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s biographical study of the late Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle; Tim Burton’s comedy-drama “Big Eyes,” about artist Margaret Keane and her conniving husband Walter; Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken,” about an Olympic runner’s courage during World War II; and “Into the Woods,” Rob Marshall’s Disneyfied adaptation of the fairy-tale-based Stephen Sondheim musical (all December 25).
There should be something in that bunch for everybody.