Quick Takes on Current Films
If you were in the south of France for the past few months, these are some of the movies that came, and went, before you had a chance to catch them at the cinema.
MY BROTHER THE DEVIL-- A Muslim-made, Muslim-starring gangsta pic from Hackney (London), an area of poor blacks and poor but kind of observant Muslims, most women in hijab, etc., where the action was so mottled with violent and ugly language, we thought that would be the sum of it, but no: The script drags in a "terrorist" charge against the (very handsome) older brother, which turns out to be just a cover for the guy being the equivalent of the worst of the worst: a "homo." Gang turpitude, violence and all with a British overlay:a whole lot of hard to understand argot and underclass slang mixed with Arabic snatches and brotherly rivalry. Male posturing, and badly titled, the filmmakers probably won't make much unless they redo the thing with subtitles. Even then, it's a wee pocket of male-hormone rageaholism, i'n'it?
HITCHCOCK -- This isn't the sort of movie Hitchcock would have made, but the spare screenplay and excellent performances do honor to its subject. Delightful, acerbic scriptified Hitch, lovely and acerbic Helen Mirren, swanny ScarJo, and an entertaining hark back to the 50s, with the nerve-jangling creation of Psycho. Hitchcock is a love story about one of the most influential filmmakers of the last century, Alfred Hitchcock, and his wife and partner, Alma Reville. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg, James D'Arcy, Michael Wincott, Richard Portnow, and Kurtwood Smith. Fun, literary, snarky.
HITLER'S CHILDREN -- How do the descendants of top Nazi officials deal with the legacies of their notorious families? This fascinating film introduces us to the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews of infamous Nazis as they discuss how they cope with having a last name and heritage that raises images of murder and genocide, and the scars that their parentage has left them.
CHASING ICE -- If you missed its stint in NYC theaters, Chasing Ice follows photographer James Balog's quest to depict "climate change." His photos of receding glaciers are stunning, and the 3-year endeavor was apparently quite the adventure. Mucho propagandizing for the warmist alarmists, which is by no means settled science, despite the heavy-going cherry-picked photographic onslaughts pushed by the picture. A male picture, demanding rugged hardies to emplace and retrieve the cameras recording modifications in the topography.
SPRING BREAKERS -- A film you would have liked for the first 20 minutes, if you are 16 years old, and a boy. Spring Breakers is a film full of ridiculously overdone Florida college people on break, with lots of topless drunk girls, drugging and beer bongs, rubbery buttocks, and silliness. Then with the advent of druglord and rapper James Franco -- a mouthful of steel teeth, ugly dreds and multiple tats -- it gets much darker and more ridiculous, as girls we assume are normal college attendees behave bizarrely, cruelly and viciously, mostly under Franco's ministrations. Apparently Korine does this with all his paper-thin but booty-ample lensers, trying for Meaning, but achieving some less than even Russ Meyer, the paterfamilias of this genre. Redundancy, reiteration and shooting, much violence and cursing throughout.
Basically the same movie Harmony Korine makes all the time -- near-cult obsessionism, getting lots of young girls to go nearly disinhibited, and no redeeming value from start to finish.
RUST AND BONE -- a film that does not pander to an audience looking for a quick nod or laugh, handles a topic few are able to see in the normal range of humdrum existence. Award-winning Marion Cotillard, who made Piaf such an unbearably piercing subject a few years ago, is an orca trainer who suffers an attack from one of these huge B/W seagoing mammals. Her efforts to stabilize herself under new conditions of disability are always watch-worthy, as are her efforts to establish romantic linkages with a man's man, a bouncer/fighter who has little use for women beyond the horizontal, are never less than compelling. Though a svelte specimen a la Cotillard could hardly acclimate to her handicapped status as swiftly as this French film portrays. Another gloss-over of the hardships of life when it dishes out unfairness.
ARGO -- Best Picture 2012
Points to Ben Affleck, director and actor, in his based on a true story of exfiltrating hostages in the critical Teheran hostage crisis of 1979. His direction keeps up the tension of whether six Americans can be whisked out under the eagle surveillance of the deadly Iranians. Affleck, in the role of the CIA exfil pro Tony Mendez, is cooler, less affect-filled than he has been in some of his films -- many of which earned raspberries from the snarky film community. And in light of the rumored dish that Affleck is perhaps up for Massachusetts office, his oeuvre gains more gravitas in brief retrospect. Argo is spot on. The ripped-from-the-headlines rescue mission gains much from the recent release of ex-Marine Hammar from inexcusable Mexican incarceration and bed-chain , the saga of UBL's discovery and couldn't-be-nicer visit to the fishes, and other recent hostage tales regrettably all too common in the headlines this past couple of years. It is taut, workmanlike, and quietly spattered with clever witticisms delivered by the snarky likes of curmudgeonly operative Alan Arkin and military honcho John Goodman. Newcomer writer Chris Terrio offers up some much-needed grin-worthies with such lines as "It's standing room only for beheading s in the square" (not so funny that it isn't, and wasn't, uncomfortably true), and "Exfiltrations are like abortions. You don't want to need one; but when you do, you don't want to do it yourself." Even weeks after viewing Argo, you appreciate its buildup and non-fussy casting, actors who don't call attention to themselves out of the ensemble working toward getting out alive. One of the year's best.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -- Best Actress 2012, Jennifer Lawrence
Although it is manipulative as to storyline (inauthentic, unlikely, and just a minim short of utter nonsense), characterizations (ridiculous, after the time-honored Hollywood tradition of impossibly gorgeous humdrum characters trying to pretend they have game-changing flaws the size of Mt. Olympus) and resolution (you knew it from the moment you saw the names on the marquee who would end up with whom), many will enjoy this rom-com meet-cute little calorie-chipwich.
CALIFORNIA SOLO -- A small but affecting film featuring the underappreciated Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle, playing Lachlan MacAldonich, living hand to mouth as a farm overseer on the outskirts of his one-time active rock-star guitar-playing life. He stands to be deported from his tough-tiger hardscrabble existence under the seemingly random legislation of a trivial DUI and a less than magisterial small-drug arrest for grass. Affecting, not a career up for moviegoers, but a strong addition to the Carlyle canon. A chunk of a downer, but an affecting portrait of a musician down on his luck.
WAGNER & ME -- Welkommen to the world of music's possibly most controversial composer. Actor (and director of this very fine documentary/picaresque 'commentataria') Stephen Fry happens to be Jewish, thus all-too-aware of the problematic adhesion of his lifelong enthusiasm for Richard Wagner's problematic views but sublime oeuvre. Meticulously retracing Wagner's life through his fatal flaws and anti-Semitic clarion, Fry explores the world's (and Wagner's most notorious 'devotee' in the Reich) fascination with Wagner and while confronting the composer's troubling legacy also frees the viewer to enter into a pact of "yes, but" admiration if not for the composer, then for his magnificent compositions, and how they came to be in the musical pantheon. The early question one holds up at first sitting down to this 90-minute musical feast, "Can Fry disentangle this swelling and magnificent music millions love from its poisonous links with the monster Hitler who also adored it?" is answered by the closing credits.
SKYFALL -- Marking 50 years of James Bond, the latest actioner invests the venerable series with the right dollops of legacy and novelty. Vigorous, scenic, rugged adventure with a robustly fit Bond in Daniel Craig. Stars Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Helen McCrory, Ben Whishaw, Santi Scinelli, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Ola Rapace.
ANY DAY NOW -- Serves to remind those who care about tolerance and equality how far we've come, and maybe how far we have left. Set in 1979, it's the story of a same-sex couple who fight 'bigotry' in the form of legal bias to withhold custody of an abandoned teenage boy with Down Syndrome who unexpectedly comes into their lives. Gentle humor, buoyant manic energy and passably vibrant vocals by actor Alan Cumming, queening it up for a change, along with really awful 1980s clothing styles. For the most part, Any Day Now navigates between melodrama and "Mr. Mom"-style comedy. But while the 'comedy' is tame, the film as a whole is soon swamped by its own outrage and Weltschmerz. As Rudy's boyfriend Paul, Garret Dillahunt gives you splinters, he's so wooden, but his stiffness works for his role, a closeted lawyer who heads the couple's battle for legal guardianship of young, fat Marco (Isaac Leyva). A well-meaning film, but the direction (Travis Fine, who wrote the script with George Arthur Bloom) is too leaden. A more lighthearted air would possibly better serve its message. The film's title suggests wry ironic hindsight: We've come a long way, but we're not there. Any Day Now could do with a little more of that astringent humor, a little less sap.
THE MYSTICAL LAWS -- (Original title: Shinpi no hô) In the way of all Japanese animation, the film is charming, and occasionally exciting to view as a clinical exercise in animation. The director means well. The trouble is that the mystical/religious ideas propounded in a cultic story are naïve in the extreme, and the audience for such an animated Christological anime is... small. Certainly it's not for children, who won't get any of the imagery and dominance over other believers or nonbelievers. And it is not for sophisticated adults, for whom this is tough sledding and little reward. There may be a teen window, between 11 and 13, for whom the story has some fascination. But I doubt such teens exist in the U.S. In Japanese.