Audiences won't stare fondly at 'Goats'

To buy a ticket for a movie titled "The Men Who Stare at Goats" requires a leap of faith on the part of the audience.

Men — staring at goats? Might this be satire? A long running parody? Edgy humor delivered at the point of a knife? George Clooney, of course, has excellent comedic timing. Not to mention that he draws from a deep well of good will extended to him by audiences who have seen his suave, Cary Grant persona glide across the screen in countless roles, one of his best being "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Good satire, however, is a tough nut to crack. It requires solid writing and a sense of the delicate balance between humor and sarcasm. It can be a slippery slope, the danger being that both can slip into crude slapstick and funny can instantly become silly or heavy-handed caricature.

Which is where "Men Who Stare at Goats" finds itself. It's a Cuisinart movie: Throw a lot of strange subplots and flashbacks into the blender, hit puree, and voila! — a mushy, uninteresting tale that is loosely a road trip going nowhere emerges. Well, it does go somewhere, Iraq ultimately, after the military, during the early '70s, has been derided for, we're told, creating a New Earth Army (with New Age psychics) based on the belief that flower power is far more effective than firepower. And so on.

While the film does have its comedic moments, they are few and far between. And it's not short on talent with Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey in starring roles. All too quickly, however, their portrayals flatten as the plot ricochets from pillar to post and then into realms of the absurd.

Bottom line: Given the choice of staring at goats or spending 93 minutes staring at this movie, goats win, hands down.

Coco Before Chanel

Coco Chanel created a worldwide brand to include haute couture, perfume and simple black dresses. She resided at the apex of a fashion pyramid, her sense of style and elegance unassailable for decades.

Born in 1883 as Gabrielle Chanel and raised by nuns in an orphanage, she managed to overcome the prevailing cultural zeitgeist of the time that dictated that women must be linked, as a mistress or a wife, to a man if they were to survive. Unattached women, regardless of their intelligence or abilities if they were without income, found themselves adrift and at the mercy of harsh economic forces.

The film "Coco Before Chanel" follows Chanel from her very early years to that defining moment when a long line of elegantly dressed women walk down a long staircase wearing her designs as those in attendance applaud.

While Chanel's rags-to-riches story may be of interest to those following fashion, a more general audience will find her story only mildly compelling.

To be sure, Audrey Tatou is perfectly cast as Chanel, the ingenue, and later as the very individualistic woman who would morph into a hugely successful designer. And Benoit Poelvoorde is remarkable as Etienne Balsan, rich, prone to decadent largess, and the man who takes Chanel into his home — a sprawling horse farm just outside of Paris.

The most interesting and complex aspects of Chanel's story reside with the emergence of her creative vision — from the tentative design of women's hats, clothing and later high fashion. Unfortunately, that period of her life is taken up far too close to the end of the film.

Just when Chanel begins to explore her passion for style and her completely revolutionary view of women's fashion, the film ends.

For reasons that are not obvious, the filmmakers spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on her relationship with Etienne and later Arthur Capel, portrayed by Alessandro Nivola, an English industrialist. These are two men with whom she was involved, though neither lends much heat to the story.

For Chanel, the heat was in her keen eye for innovation and design. She was an artist, but her art is given short shrift; it should have been the essence of "Coco Before Chanel."

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