Sunday, January 27, 2013

70's Bonanza: Play It As It Lays

Tuesday Weld is just beautiful... and that beauty makes it all the more heartbreaking in the way she stumbles through her days in Frank Perry's dark deconstruction of a Hollywood starlet's psyche. Released in 1972 (and never available on DVD, although the Sundance channel once had it in its rotation about 6 years ago), "Play It As It Lays" is a fragmented and very loose character study as Maria (Weld) has her marriage to hotshot director Carter Lang (Adam Roarke) dissolve early in the film. She then faces an abortion, whose sounds and images are replayed like bad nightmares throughout the remainder of the film. Her best friend, a producer played tremendously by Anthony Perkins, is there for long walks on the beach and drunken conversations, but he can barely stand his own insufferable existence and eventually, Maria has nothing better to do than hang around the desert set of her ex-husband's new film and shoot live ammo with the stunt coordinator. Yes, "Play It As It Lays" borders on the misanthropic side, to say the least, all held together by a swooning visual style that heightens the smog across Los Angeles and plays like a feminist version of a later Brett Easton Ellis novel. Even the shadowy chauffer who leads her to her bayside abortion is more worried about the gas mileage of her corvette than her state of well being.

Based on a short story by Joan Didion and with a screenplay by Didion and John Gregory Dunne, "Play It As It Lays" makes for a startling double feature of mid-life crisis when paired with director Perry's previous film "The Swimmer". In that film, Burt Lancaster is on an almost mythological adventure as he's trying to swim home through the backyard pools of his neighbors, getting caught up in their waifish lifestyles and obviously running from something himself. Also not available on DVD, "The Swimmer" is an amazing film for 1968 whose message is oblique yet somewhat disturbing. In "Play It As It Lays", Tuesday Weld reaches a state of emotional and physical paralysis at one point which prompts Anthony Perkins to remark her state of "catatonia" is not pretty. Like Lancaster, Maria is a stunted individual suffering through the empty Southern California lifestyle. But what makes her story more damaging is the fact she does hold out some hope for a brighter future as her young daughter is confined to a children's home for unspecified reasons. In her fractured voice over that frames part of the film, no answer is given for this although we know she deeply cares for her daughter as it seems to be the only part of her life that means something, held out in her mind like an oasis from the shit of SoCal.

As stated here many times, filmmaker Frank Perry is such an under rated talent, equally depressing that his very adult films are rarely available on home video distribution, "The Swimmer" and "Play It As It Lays" being front and center. By the time Tuesday Weld, hair messy and eyes wide, stares straight into the camera and answers her off-screen director to break the wall between film and confessional in the final scene of "Play It As It Lays" attests, there are beautiful disasters still waiting to be discovered.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

RetroGrade: The Best Non-2012 Films I Saw In 2012

10. The Night of the Generals (1967), directed by Anatole Litvak

Anatole Litvak's delirious mix up of revisionist history, detective pulp thriller and Nazi hunting is one terrific ride, largely ignored by pretty much everyone. It is available on DVD, so do yourself a favor and catch up with this epic gem.

9. Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976), directed by Peter Yates

Terrific, fast paced comedy-drama starring Harvey Keitel, Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch as Los Angleles ambulance drivers. Immensely funny in parts, disturbing in others (see the performance of Larry Hagman), Peter Yates' film turns on a dime and jams so much into this energetic farce.

8. The Seventh Cross (1944), directed by Fred Zinneman

A great film of two halves. The first part is a tense and dirty road movie in which an escaped Jewish prisoner (Spencer Tracy) desperately tries to seek refuge from his Nazi captors. Once under roof, the film plays out like a film noir as old friends could become betrayers and every shadow looms with danger. Directed by Fred Zinneman, its an unheralded classic.

7. Sky Riders (1976), directed by Douglas Hickox
Terrorism. Susannah York kidnapped. James Coburn. Hang gliding. Need I say more for pure, unadulterated 1970's bliss? In all seriousness, Douglas Hickox's "Sky Riders" (aka "Assault On the Hidden Fortress", which is a pretty kick ass name in and of itself) is great fun... an actioner that never takes itself too seriously and dispenses with deep characterizations and motives and focuses on it's loopy, Saturday afternoon serial style.

6. The Last Sunset (1961), directed by Robert Aldrich

An interior western and a superior one. All the regular genre tropes are there: a cattle drive, outlaw and sheriff, open vistas…. But the real tension in Aldrich’s understated masterpiece is the simmering tension boiling between all involved. Kirk Douglas is an outlaw on the run when he finds his way to the cabin of an old flame (Dorothy Malone), immediately hooks up with her and her husband’s cattle drive, and then finds the sheriff chasing him (Rock Hudson) join the fray as well in order to serve the existing warrant on him the minute they cross the Texas border. Throw in a 17 year old daughter (Carol Lynly) who develops a crush on Douglas, and “The Last Sunset” turns into a chamber drama under the sun with every principal character hiding an ulterior motive. The way in which Aldrich moves the chess pieces around the board is hugely satisfying, and it all culminates in an extremely moving testament to the individual lost amidst the lawlessness of the Old West and his quiet redemption.  Viewed while catching up with the entire career of filmmaker Robert Aldrich.

5. The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), directed by Ermanno Olmi

On paper, Ermanno Olmi's three hour epic sounds like a snoozer- the lives of three families who live and work on a large tract of land and their daily activities. What we get is a nuanced, intricate and brave depiction that never falters and continually creates passion out of the mundane.

4. Onimasa, A Japanese Godfather (1983), directed by Hideo Gosha

Hideo Gosha's epic rendering of a young girls' introduction into the home of a yakuza mobster. Spanning some thirty years, "Onimasa" feels like a precursor to so many later films. Moving, violent, unexpected... it's simply one of the best films of its time.

3. The Pornagrophers (1966), directed by Shohei Imamura

I know I've seen Imamura's "The Pornographers" before, but upon a re-watch in 2012, it struck me as something revelatory and new. Also known as the dissolution of a family through windows and doors, and, in my opinion, Imamura’s first great film. Ogata (Shoichi Ozawa) makes a living filming porn movies on the side. He cares for his wife (Sumiko Sakamoto) and is perversely attracted to his 16 year old daughter. His son, in between stealing money from him and passively avoiding any conflict in the house, barely exists. Not only does Ogata have to worry about a possible curse from his wife’s dead husband (in the form of an omniscient fish), but the local yakuza when they find out about his profitable smut business. While this premise sounds promisingly tawdry, Imamura wisely avoids slipping into a ‘pinku’ film. Whether observing an office business party or the filming of a very uncomfortable sex scene between a mentally challenged girl and an older man, Imamura’s camera is perched carefully outside the action, creating an even more meta-movie experience than the film’s opening where three men are watching the same movie we are. We are truly observers in this bracing idea of a film. For 1966, “The Pornographers” is a richly textured, envelope-pushing masterwork.

2. State of Siege (1972), directed by Costas-Gavras

"State of Siege", directed by Costa-Gavras, has alot in common with the 70's films of Francesco Rosi.... films that are right in my wheelhouse with their dry, intelligent depiction of the vagaries of big government mixed up with corruption, terrorism and bureaucratic mess. Like "The Mattei Affair" or especially "Lucky Luciano", Costa-Gavras' film takes one incident- the kidnapping of a high ranking government official- and spins a narrative from several angles, viewpoints and moral conviction. And because the film opens with a startling discovery, the prime motivation is not in telling the story with a resolution, but in the high--wire act that both sides of the law navigate across. Released in 1973, gaining no real fanfare and relatively lost in home video distribution (my copy is a Region 4 disc from Spain), "State of Siege" is an amazing and angry film.

1. That Day, On the Beach (1983), directed by Edward Yang

Even though director Edward Yang already had one short film under his belt (a portion of the omnibus "In Our Time" in 1983), nothing would quite compare to the ambition and brilliance of his debut feature length film "That Day, On the Beach" one year later. Sprawling and intimately epic, "That Day, On the Beach" has quickly become my very favorite Yang film... and considering his brief but magnificent output, that's saying alot. With a running time of two hours and 45 minutes, "That Day, On the Beach" takes its time in telling a story in flashback (and even flashback within the flashback) of the reunion between old friends JiaLi (Syvlia Chang) and Qin Qin (Terry Hu). Qin is a successful pianist in town for a show when she decides to reach out to her old friend. In casual conversation, JiaLi tells of her struggle after the two friends parted after high school and her subsequent relationship with Daiwei (David Mao) and their turbulent affairs together. To complicate matters, Qin Qin was once in love with JiaLi's brother, and this is the reason she initially wanted to reunite with her. Still, "That Day, On the Beach" is Sylvia Chang's story, seamlessly shifting from past to present as she tells her story to her old friend, including the strange disappearance of her husband and the tender bonds between the family she once left behind.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Moments of 2012

In conjunction with my favorite films of the year list, I offer up some moments out of 2012 films that made an indelible impression on me. Older online buddies will recognize this as a recurring event. This list is a collection of film dialogue, gestures, camera movements, moods or looks and ideas within a given scene. This list is inspired by Roger Ebert's list of movie moments as well as the once great (now defunct) yearly wrap up in Film Comment. Possible spoilers so beware!

1. Gina Carana slipping off her heels before a fight. “Haywire”

2. John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) standing to fight with his dog Woola as a horde of alien warriors encroaches upon them in “John Carter of Mars”

3.“oh shit… our donkey’s in the ditch” Texan poetry in “Bernie”

4. Penny (Kiera Knightely) and Dodge (Steve Carell) looking into each other’s eyes as the world crumbles around them… probably the finest scene in film this year “Seeking A Friend For the End of the World”

5. In a long tracking shot, a group of men hide behind trucks and vehicles underneath a highway overpass and engage in a confusing shoot-out- and then a burning tire rolls by….. The excitement of Gerardo Naranjo’s “Miss Bala”

6. In “Beasts of the Southern Wild”- in what feels like an improvised moment- a man (Dwight Henry) looks at the camera and says “I got this”

7. In a jail cell, a man and woman sit with their backs to each other and talk “Seeking A Friend For the End of the World”

8. In a wordless, dreamy sequence lit only by candlelight, the expression on each man’s weary face as they look up at the beautiful girl serving them drinks…. A brief, melancholy respite from the doldrums of searching for a murdered body in “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia”

9. “Polisse” and the disco dance of a group of cops at play

10. The small hesitation of the hunter (Willem DaFoe), his gun slightly lowered, and the almost welcoming head bob of the Tasmanian tiger he’s been hunting. “The Hunter”

11. At a house party, the gently protracted long shot as Monica Bellucci dances with various partners….. Yet another glorious musical interlude in the work of Philippe Garrel in “A Burning Hot Summer”

12. Against a sunset backdrop, Christopher Walken talks into a tape recorder and weaves a story about a homicidal priest and his few final last thoughts…. While intentionally self deprecating for most of its running time, “Seven Psychopaths” turns genuinely moving

13. The way Pete (Paul Rudd) begins to walk into the kitchen, and sees his wife (Leslie Mann) and father (Albert Brooks) talking.... then slowly backs out of the room.  "This Is 40"
14. The stuttering and stammering of Mark Duplass with “what did you, how did you, what did you, what are you doing here?” as Emily Blunt crashes a drunken hangover in a cabin…. “Your Sister’s Sister”

15. A man walking up the pier, the camera seamlessly going in and out of focus on him, then a yacht, back to him as if the two images are inextricably linked in “The Master”

16. In “The Day He Arrives”, a group of people stumble into the cold morning waiting for a cab and the way one of them leans forward to hold his balance. The drunken state we’ve all experienced in a patient long take

17. “Jack Reacher” and the very 70’s car chase

18. “I wanna do heroin and listen to Radiohead!” Patton Oswalt in “Seeking A Friend For the End of the World”

19. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) meeting “The Master” and a series of questions where the camera holds on is face for an uncomfortable amount of time, then tears begin to fall and he fights them back

20. The sound of fists pummeling a sheet of ice.   "Rust and Bone"

21. Inside a wooden bridge, two dark shadows fight and the sounds of a knife ripping open skin... probably one of the more boldly staged  final fights I've ever seen in "Lawless" where foreground and background are blurred into one another

22. A slow motion death.... a simply breathtaking puzzle of images and sounds as Garret Dillahunt meets his end.  "Looper"

23. A hand fan, fluttering at the speed of running horses, and then the scream that erupts from Anna (Keira Knightley) as her lover is tossed from his horse.... and the crowd turns to face her.  "Anna Karenina"

24. In "Rust and Bone", a woman (Marion Cotillard) walks up to a glass of blue water that fills the screen and summons a whale with a gentle tap on the glass and then forgives it.

25. The reverberating sound of a car bomb... one of the most realistic sounding explosions I've ever heard. "Zero Dark Thirty"

26. The performance of Lola Creton in "Goodbye First Love" and the way she carefully puts a straw hat back onto her head after years of leaving one like it behind

27. After being asked if Django should be taken into the house, the way Don Johnson replies "no!" to Christoph Waltz   "Django Unchained"

28. The droning music of "The Turin Horse". I'm still not a Bela Tarr convert, but the music made his final film all the more haunting and disturbing

29. In Sam Mendes' "Skyfall", a gunfight at the top of a glass building that ranks as the best Bond set piece in years

30. A boy suddenly falling from a tree and then the impending silence.  "The Kid With a Bike"

31. When asked "where to", the complete look of utter cluelessness and relief on Mya's face in "Zero Dark Thirty"

32. A volleyball game in the Vatican courtyard.  "We Have a Pope"

33. The tracking shot, partly underwater as a man swims for his life and then a giraffe swims the opposite direction in "Life of Pi"

34. Making small talk with a neighboring hotel resident and the sense of normalcy, for a fleeting moment, for "Barbara" (Nina Hoss)

35. The close up on Philip Seymour Hoffman's face as a bike disappears into the desert and he screms "Freddie!"   "The Master"

Friday, January 18, 2013

Faves of 2012

15. Once Upon a Time In Anatolia- Slow moving but hypnotic, this is probably the longest film (2 hours and 37 minutes) that's ever dealt with what is 30 second fodder in most other 'crime' movies. A group of policeman and a doctor scour the countryside in search of a body when the killer can't exactly remember where he buried it. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a master of composition and lighting here, none more so stunning than one sequence drained in candlelight and each man noticing the beautiful young girl's face behind it. Pure magic. The film's themes about masculinity and past sorrow are also resounding.

14. Cloud Atlas- Hugely ambitious, “Cloud Atlas” stumbles and fumbles a bit, yet by the end of its almost three hour running time, I was largely moved by its multi-narrative tension and star-crossed human connections. This is a film that one has to let go of their inhibitions (namely Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in bad prosthetics and almost infant like speech) and allow the overall tone and mood to take hold. And that it does, ably controlled by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tywker.

13. The Grey- After nearly 12 months, Joe Carnahan’s moody and atmospheric survival thriller still resonates. What’s most interesting about “The Grey”, besides its unilateral approach to non-commercial expectations in a commercial release, is its open-to-interpretation narrative and denouement. The wolves, designed solely as glaring eyes in the darkness and CGI rendering, may be real or they could all be paranoid projections of the mind by the sick and genuinely disaffected survivors. Like “Narc”, Carnahan seems fascinated by memories of loss and regret and their powerful impact on strong men. “The Grey” would make for a perfect double feature with his previous film. But besides all that lofty praise, “The Grey” is an excellent genre film, owned by Neeson’s steely performance and a sound editing team that creates a scary atmosphere of blistering winds, off-screen howls and crushing metal that linger long after the film is over.

12. Perfect Sense- David Mackinzie’s utterly terrifying and ruminative apocalypse film was barely released this year. Such a shame, as it’s a terrific example of low-fi ingenuity with a strong cast led by Eva Green and Ewan McGregor falling in love as the world tears apart around them. Set against the musical interludes of the great Max Richter, “Perfect Sense” is an astounding film that feels like something Stanley Kubrick would have made in his younger days.

11. Beasts of the Southern Wild- It starts out with a trance-like fervor, endlessly following a group of poverty ridden people living on the outskirts of the levee in Louisiana, and then turns powerfully raw and lyrical. A terrific debut for director Benh Zeitlin that feels a bit like warmed over David Gordon Green, but eventually finds its own magical footing.

10. Kill List- Ben Wheatley's cocktail mix of a film tries its hand at three different genres, each one more terrifying and disturbing than the next, and establishes him as a great talent to watch. The less one knows about this film, the better.

9. Rampart- Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” is a blazing, hard edged character study that features a tremendous performance by Woody Harrelson doing his best “Bad Lieutenant” impersonation. With a script by the legendary James Ellroy, “Rampart” takes place in a very specific time and place- 1999 Los Angeles, hot summer in the middle of the LAPD corruption scandal. As his sophomore film, writer/director Moverman has crafted a film that feels at once organic and kinetic. There’s a scene early on, around the dinner table, that feels so perfectly acted as Harrelson bounces around in flirtation with each ex-wife and then a back-and-forth with his teenage daughters, it would be easy to tag the film as improvised. But, with the pedigree of Ellroy and other scenes that give Harrelson long, stately (and filthy) monologues, the script firmly proves a foundation to a narrative that is otherwise rambling, but only in the best sense.

8. Killer Joe- William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" is an aggressive white-trash film noir that consistently shifts its point of view between its characters, creating a bizarre and almost over-the-top narrative that accelerates as its progresses to its shattering finale. And did I mention it's brutally funny... as well as just brutal?

7. Rust and Bone- A complex and formally ravishing portrait of two damaged people coming together to make one is yet another audacious effort from French filmmaker Jacques Audiard. Marion Cotillard is stunning and Audiard’s fluent camera captures so many fleeting emotions at the edges of the frame that “Rust and Bone” magnificently outstretches its somewhat clich├ęd narrative to become an engulfing emotional experience. Nothing is more moving than the final phone call between Cotillard and Schoenaerts or the way Cotillard summons a whale against the glass and forgives it.

6. Oslo, August 31- Joachem Trier's sophomore film is spectacular for the way in which it takes an ordinary subject and weaves a devastating tale. It's also a very personal film. It's not long into the film that Trier adds voice overs of unnamed people recalling the various pleasurable memories of growing up in Oslo, Norway. It feels like an old fashioned novel as memories marry against the image of a bustling but quaint cityscape. And into this city ventures recovering addict Anders (Anders Lie). We desperately pull for Anders to come out unscathed from his inner demons. He's not a bad person.... he's just incredibly confused and damaged. “Oslo August 31” documents this struggle with aching reality.

5. Looper- If "Brick" was a modern film noir diluted through the emo tendencies of teenagers and "The Brothers Bloom" was a 1930's caper film, highlighted by bubblegum aesthetics and an almost child-like attention to puppy love, "Looper" is darker, easily borrowing from both the sci-fi dystopia genre and western. And it has a lot on its mind, eventually turning into a dynamic examination of violence, revenge and that sticky scenario known as time travel. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Emily Blunt are fantastic, and the film itself turns on a dime mid-way through to reveal a deeper current… one that posits its true genre assertions into murky emotional waters and makes us care for everyone across several dimensions of time and space.

4. Anna Karenina- Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” faces a tough challenge: creating something vibrant and refreshing out of a dusty classic Russian novel without trivialization. It does this magnificently. “Anna Karenina” is a highly imaginative interpretation and a cinematic treat. This is a visualization where the carnal affection of love-at-first-sight between two people dancing is symbolized as they weave across a dance floor against motionless couples around them…. where a torn letter tossed into the air morphs into a snowstorm and one door opens up into the backdrop of another like a star gate transporting the actors through time and space. Or where an ornate hand fan melts into the sound of thumping horse hoofs. Basically, I was riveted from start to finish. Wright has crafted a kinetic film and one that feels superbly connected to the emotions and longueurs of its source novel while opening up the parameters of its antiquated narrative in progressive, thrilling ways.

3. Moonrise Kingdom- At this point in Wes Anderson’s career, his visual style, eccentric characterizations and pop song interludes could be lamentable. And yet, his seventh film entitled “Moonrise Kingdom” excels in all of this, creating a pop color world of infectious young love and cinematic dreaminess. Call it his tweener version of “Pierrot le Fou”… or maybe it’s just my auteur-like appreciation ala Andrew Sarris firmly rooted in place. Yes, writer-director Anderson is infatuated with awkward and unrequited teenager love (see “Rushmore”) but he maintains the pulse on the dour aspects of love as well, none more so touching than the short conversation Murray and McDormand share in bed one night, looking up through their ceiling’s skylight. Perfect production design and camera placement aside, “Moonrise Kingdom” is attuned to all the shaggy, imperfect vagaries of love.

2. Zero Dark Thirty- A crackling military procedural with a terrific performance by Jessica Chastain, Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" is a carefully modulated piece that intelligently deconstructs the great manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain deserves the Oscar for her outstanding performance, exuding an array of emotions in her eyes behind a relatively steely posture.

1. The Master- Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has made the father-son relationship complex a recurring theme in many of his films, whether subjugated within his multi-storyline narrative ("Magnolia") or tangentially within genre ("Hard Eight", "Boogie Nights"), but his latest film, "The Master" may be his most pointed and raw effort yet. From the first time stunted, angry seaman Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and learned doctor Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) meet, the overtures of the father-son relationship are overt and tense in the way Dodd says "alright..." in that fatherly tone of a man sitting behind a large desk, patiently accepting his sulking son's presence either good or bad. And from there, "The Master" gels into a sublime series of scenes where father and prodigal son connect, disconnect, argue, love and work through repressed emotions caused by post-war stress. “The Master” is a towering, oblique and stunning masterpiece.

Honorable mentions: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Snow White and the Hunstmen, Seeking A Friend For the End of the World, Barbara, Jack Reacher, Trishna

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Last Few Films I've Seen, December edition

1. 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)- Finally tracked down a copy of the final episode of Fritz Lang's Mabuse trilogy and it didn't disappoint. The idea of a hotel being the epicenter for a crazy criminal, completely under electronic surveillance control, looks ahead to terrific paranoid efforts like "The Anderson Tapes", "Red Road" or Wenders "End of Violence". As usual, Fritz Lang is about 40 years ahead of everyone else.

2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)- A crackling procedural that tirelessly documents the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, expertly crafted by Bigelow and propulsive from start to finish. Jessica Chastain deserves the Oscar for her outstanding performance, exuding an array of emotions in her eyes behind a relatively steely posture. One of the very best films of the year.

3. Red Hook Summer (2012)- Self indulgent and almost unwatchable, framed by Spike Lee's tiring penchant for fish eye lenses and broad performances.

4. The Impossible (2012)- J.A. Bayona helms this survival story with panache and some striking cinematography (including depicting the tsunami itself and Naomi Watts' struggle for survival with harrowing precision) yet the film hits one too many emotionally manipulative moments. The most egregious moment comes when a pivotal reunion occurs right in front of a school bus full of native children.

5. The Invisible War (2012)- This documentary would make for a very confusing double bill with "Zero Dark Thirty". The documentary genre is becoming a journalistic search for buried truths hidden right in front of our eyes, and this is an especially compelling and infuriating one.

6. The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)- On paper, Ermanno Olmi's three hour epic sounds like a snoozer- the lives of three families who live and work on a large tract of land and their daily activities. What we get is a nuanced, intricate and brave depiction that never falters and continually creates passion out of the mundane.

7. Your Sister's Sister (2012)- Oh Emily Blunt how I love you. And how I hate you for falling in love with a slacker jackass like Mark Duplass in this film. Other than that, Lynn Shelton's tale of a treacherous love triangle starts out promising (with a piercing memorial service over drinks), dovetails a bit when the emotional static kicks in, then ends on a relatively sweet (and ambiguous) note.

8. Turn Me On, Dammit (2011)- Bad, really bad. I honestly couldn't even finish it.

9. The Day He Arrives (2012)- Hong Sang Soo is especially prolific. This his first of two films that got released this year is a bit of a headscratcher as an ex-film director returns to an old friend, visits his ex-girlfriend, then spends the rest of his days meeting a girl who looks just like his girlfriend as the film charts the various ways this new found relationship might progress. On the surface level, it feels superficial. But on reflection, the film grew on me and it became a sort of Fellini-esque tale about stalled adulthood.

Friday, January 04, 2013

The Current Cinema 15

Rust and Bone

Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” is a complex and formally ravishing portrait of two damaged people coming together to make one. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, as the couple, each deal with staggering personal blows in their life and form an unlikely (and even unsentimental) bond. As with his previous film “A Prophet”, Audiard has crafted another masterpiece…. his fluttering camera capturing so many fleeting emotions at the edges of the frame and involving us wholly into a story whose corners and turns elicit gasps of exhilaration and surprise. Nothing is more moving than the final phone call between Cotillard and Schoenaerts or the way Cotillard summons a whale against the glass and forgives it.


I suppose the legend for the New New German Cinema wave was Florian von Donnersmarck’s “The Lives of Others” in 2006.… a film that turned the Cold war thriller on its ear through paranoia and devout understanding of its devious times. I nominate director Christian Petzold as the new carrier of the flag. His noir tinged “Jerichow” from a few years back is an understated gem and his latest effort, “Barbara” is not far behind. Call it an interior Stasi-thriller. Giving a fiercely quiet performance, Nina Hoss is terrific as the titular character, a nurse exiled to the country provinces for unnamed reasons. She’s constantly monitored by cars parked across the street and shuns the warm advances of her doctor co-worker (Ronald Zehrfeld). Petzold’s drama is one to be heard and seen. The omniscient wind as Barbara rides her bike…. the clack of her heels as she walks the corridors of the hospital…. and the sound of approaching cars outside her window spell both disaster and anticipation. Little is said in “Barbara”, but much is inferred and Hoss gives a full bodied performance through her steely eyes and stiffened posture. Plans of escape of made, sympathy is shown for patients, but overall, “Barbara” is a damning examination of a very particular place and time.

Django Unchained

I complain about this every time, but I continue to give Tarantino a chance to redeem himself with me. Sadly, “Django Unchianed” doesn’t satisfy. Yet another empty pastiche of genre (this time the spaghetti western, that, oddly, doesn’t even feel like a spaghetti western despite its mimicked Ennio Morricone soundtrack and presence of Franco Nero himself), Tarantino’s films are so far inside his own head, he doesn’t even know when too long is too much. Carrying on for close to three hours, featuring protracted conversations that drain the energy out of any established momentum, and charmless performances, “Django Unchained” revels in exaggerated bloodshed and farcical humor to a much less degree even for Tarantino’s usual self reflexive cinema.

Jack Reacher

Before even seeing “Jack Reacher”, I had two different people tell me that Tom Cruise just didn’t fit their idealized vision of the novel’s lean and mean protagonist. Being a neophyte to the Jack Reacher universe, this didn’t bother me at all. What I found was a lean and mean film itself. Scripted and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who hit all the right notes over a decade ago with “Way of the Gun”, again crafts an exacting, intelligent film. McQuarrie’s affinity for the more muscular tropes of the genre (specifically the western standoff) carry over into “Jack Reacher” as well. For once there’s a final shootout that understands the logistics of its inhabitants and a very 1970’s car chase that succeeds in sound editing over crash-bang musical cues. All in all, “Jack Reacher” feels like a very different action film, one that respects its audience instead of pandering to the lowest common denominator. McQuarrie is a very exciting talent and “Jack Reacher” is an immense surprise.