FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN
(US - 2011)
I've defended Ryan Reynolds in the past, and continue to do so here. FIREFLIES is probably his best work as an actor, but again, his performance is one of many things severely compromised in this mangled version. Returning home to attend the college graduation of his stay-at-home mom (Roberts), Reynolds is immediately greeted with tragedy when she's killed in a car accident. What follows is sort-of a pruned-down TREE OF LIFE (minus dinosaur interludes) as Reynolds remembers his often-traumatic childhood with the loving Roberts (seen mostly in these flashbacks) and his cruel, demanding college prof father (Willem Dafoe), and how it's shaped him as an adult. For about an hour, this is a well-acted, compelling drama, but at some point, it's obvious that a chunk of story has been cut out because there's a woefully underdeveloped subplot involving Reynolds' young cousin and his guilt over the car accident (the speeding Dafoe swerved to avoid hitting him, and drove into a tree, and Roberts wasn't wearing her seat belt), and everyone's suddenly upset with Reynolds, blaming him for all the turmoil with still-abusive Dafoe. There's no consistency in many of these later scenes. Dafoe has a total meltdown at the dinner table, but everyone's pissed at Reynolds two scenes later. This is a case where there's chunks and pieces of a really good film, but it's just been cut down to the bone as it plows through the story, leaving entire subplots in the dust, racing to an abrupt conclusion that rings completely false. The characters at the end of this film have almost no connection to what they were in the preceding 80-odd minutes. I guess that's an inherent risk when 25% of the film has been cut, seemingly at random. A fine cast gets lost in the shuffle: Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hayden Panettiere, George Newbern, and Ioan Gruffudd. (R, 89 mins).
THERE BE DRAGONS
(Spain/US - 2011)
No one in this film is properly cast, but the worst is Bentley, especially when he's in old-age makeup. Joffe even manages to embarrass the great Derek Jacobi, ill-used in a two-scene cameo as Josemaria's father's kindly boss, Honorio. Derek Jacobi can do almost anything, except play a Spanish candy shop owner named Honorio, getting a deathbed visit from Josemaria, where Jacobi gasps, "Do you remember the chocolate bean?" I don't even think Joffe knew what film he wanted to make: a reverent hagiography of Josemaria Escriva (who died in 1975 and was canonized in 2002) or an overbaked telenovela involving fictional characters who have little to do with the Escriva plot. Also with Charles Dance, Olga Kurylenko, Jordi Molla, Ana Torrent, Golshifteh Farahani, and Geraldine Chaplin, THERE BE DRAGONS is all over the place and can't overcome so much crucial miscasting and lack of focus on Joffe's part. It's a dull, endless, meandering misfire, and the wait for Roland Joffe's triumphant comeback stumbles into its 25th year. (PG-13, 122 mins)