Mamet's latest is a disappointment. Even though its treads familiar ground, the con-game and hermetic universe of shady double crosses doesn't quite survive this time, namely because it takes place in the world of ju-jitsu mixed martial arts. Chiwetel Ejiofor does his best as the stoic moral centerpiece, but it's hard to take Mamet seriously, especially after a clunky ending and several character twists that just don't make any sense. Tim Allen is ushered out this time as the older comedic actor attempting to transform his humorous image by turning mysterious (a role previously employed to greater perfection and achievement by Steve Martin in Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner") but he's left with very little to do and embodies a confusing motive to the multi-ensemble merry go round. I really wanted to like this one. It's definitely no "Spartan".
Luckily, a Danish film that's not related to the dogma aesthetic. Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, "Adam's Apples" is an absurdest comedy with a mean spirit and a black heart and definitely not for all tastes. Mads Mikkelsen is Ivan, a preacher at a remote church who takes in paroled convicts for rehabilitation stints. He finally meets his match with Neo Nazi Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), who quietly usurps Ivan's peaceful existence by rattling fellow ex-convicts at the church and instilling the belief that God doesn't like anybody. This films goes places that's hard to watch, but it (amazingly) generates acrid laughs. This is a film that ultimately has lots of faith in human beings, but it takes its sweet time in developing Adam as a malevolent force who, upon entering his room quickly tears a cross off the wall and replaces the worn out cross stain with a picture of Hitler. Later in the film, when Adam decides to read the Bible left in his room by Ivan, he does so by tossing the book on the floor four times and seeing it open up to the Book of Job all 4 times. Reminiscent of the religious absurdities in some of Bunuel's films, Jensen strikes a harrowing tone throughout "Adam's Apples". I'm looking forward to seeing more of Jensen's work. And the ending to this film is near perfect.
Tom McCarthy's "The Visitor" is an apt title in more ways than one. The lead character Walter, played to winning perfection by Richard Jenkins, is basically a visitor in his own life. Bored with teaching, unable to connect with his colleagues, and suffering through piano lessons in a naive way to stay attached to his departed wife, he travels to New York for a teacher's conference to find a Syrian man and Senegalese woman living in his sparsely visited apartment. That simple misunderstanding leads Walter to become an observer not only to their culture, but wrapped up in an immigration issue that gives his life a much needed spark. It's so nice to see great supporting actor Jenkins wrestle with a starring role. After turning in strong performances in a host of films like "North Country" (in which he deserved a supporting actor nom that year) and "The Man Who Wasn't There", he does it again here but on the LEAD actor scale, embodying Walter with nuance and a less-is-more attitude that cuts right through the screen. I wasn't a fan of McCarthy's previous film, "The Station Agent", which felt quirky and forced, but with "The Visitor", he's created a film full of life, redemption and subtle human interaction.
Youth Without Youth
Was it worth waiting over a dozen years for Coppola's latest? Not in my book. Relentlessly muddled and inherently preoccupied for capturing lush and beautiful images, in doing so Coppola has drained the life from the film. Tim Roth plays an elder scholar whose struck by lightning, finds a fountain of youth, becomes the target for experimental Nazi practices during World war 2, falls in love with the same girl twice, seeks some type of 'original' language and develops a split personality disorder that Coppola chooses to film like Brian DePalma in "Raising Cain". And even though there's all this plot going on, "Youth Without Youth" still feels turgid at 124 minutes.
The balance between good French horror films and bad is a razor-thin surface. What makes "Inside" or even the psychological horror masterpieces of Gaspar Noe so compelling is their underlying motivation to tell some kind of story or visualize some type of allegory. Xavier Gens' newest addition, "Frontier(s)" does neither. It's a nauseating, gory flick that sends 4 vulgar and obnoxiously shallow criminals fleeing Paris with a bag full of money. They stop at an inn run by former Nazi's (wow what is it about the Nazi theme in these reviewed films today?) who turn the tables on the criminals and begin to hack them up because, well you know, its what retired Nazis do. Gens is obviously a fan of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" with a little bit of the "The Descent" thrown in for good measure, but "Frontier(s)" first mistake is trying to create sympathy for such woefully repellent characters. It doesn't even matter that 1 of the criminals is a pregnant female. I couldn't care less who lives and who dies. Outside of horrible character development, the direction is just as shabby. Cue the jerky, sped-up handheld camera whenever the shit hits the fan, scream every line of dialogue and yell "run" every 3 seconds and that's supposed to substitute for tension? Avoid this at all costs. Gens should not be allowed behind a camera again.
And after this one, I don't even have the heart to pan "Diary of the Dead". I've seen enough crap over the past week.