VIDEO ESSAYS: FINDING NEMO 3D — LIBERAL ARTS — ARBITRAGE — CLASSIC - THE BAD NEWS BEARS
Some not-so-fancy narrative mechanics set Richard Gere up as a one-percenter antihero in a movie that deplorably attempts to mitigate the evil that wealthy corruption loves to wield at every level of social injustice. With his feature film debut, writer-director Nicholas Jarecki seems to be pushing a right-wing agenda that portends all is fair in white-collar crime, regardless of its severity. Perhaps he imagines himself playing to a chorus of potential backers for his future films.
Gere’s Robert Miller is a filthy rich hedge fund manager who doesn’t play his cards nearly as close to his chest as he imagines. His daughter Brooke (Britt Marling) works for daddy at his firm as its chief accountant. So when the numbers don’t add up due to Robert’s shady bookkeeping regarding a missing $400 million, Brooke has some very pointed questions for the man she calls father. No matter, since Robert is desperately selling off the company to any high bidder willing to wash away his gigantic theft. “Arbitrage” presents a crash course in how such grand larceny gets buried in the passing of financial sector hands. You’ve heard of money laundering; this is embezzlement laundering, and you’re supposed to like it.
Robert has more pressing problems that arise from a nasty car accident that leaves his artistically inclined French mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta) dead in the passenger seat. Robert has been playing the age-old game of stringing Julie along by promising to leave his long-suffering wife — Ellen (Susan Sarandon). An impulsive decision to leave the scene of the crime leads Robert to call in a payphone favor from Jimmy (Nate Parker), the twentysomething African American son of Robert’s former chauffeur. It doesn’t take Tim Roth’s self-righteous police detective Michael Bryer long to implicate Jimmy in the felony. Fortunately for Robert, detective Bryer is positioned as a surrogate antagonist just as ethically challenged as he is.
“Arbitrage” is calibrated to have its audience rooting for Robert to get away with his sins — which include adultery, murder, and gross corporate theft. Even with Richard Gere pouring on the charm, the film can’t sustain the weight of his character’s calculated malevolence. If you’ve ever wondered about Gere’s “thin and unclear” qualities that John Wesley Harding sang so eloquently about, you can witness them on prime display here.
Jarecki paints himself into a corner when he attempts a protagonist-substitution that puts Jimmy in the hot seat. Then, instead of following through with the logic of the situation, the filmmaker lets himself — and Richard Gere’s waffling antagonist — off the hook with a cheap plot device that screams with pretentiousness. Nicholas Jarecki is not seasoned enough as a screenwriter to pull off such an ambitious piece of bait-and-switch. Jarecki’s claim to fame was as a co-screenwriter on the 2008-failed adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s “The Informers.” With no such novel-approved template to draw from here, the filmmaker is in over his head.
“Arbitrage” is a right-wing propaganda movie that favors the Bernie Madoffs of the world. It’s a film for Wall Street types to work up a light sweat over while pondering what they’d do if they were in Robert Miller’s situation. Republicans will love “Arbitrage.” It will make everyone else want to hiss.
Rated R. 100 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
Americans have a deathly fear of authority — especially of cops. Endless accounts of police brutality, wrongful arrests, and senseless murders committed by police officers on a seemingly daily basis across the nation, has tilled the soil for criminal opportunists of various stripes to commit their own twisted kinds of attacks against citizens unwilling or unable to stand up for themselves in the face of perceived legal authority.
Writer-director Craig Zobel’s tremendously suspenseful drama derives from one such instance of psychological and, consequently, physical abuse. The story is based on a real-life incident that occurred at a McDonald’s in Mt. Washington, Kentucky. The venue here is switched to a fictional “ChickWich” fast-food restaurant in rural Ohio. Under the guidance of their obsessive manager Sandra (Ann Dowd), a staff of young employees prepare for a busy Friday night rush. Teenaged Becky (Dreama Walker) chats with co-workers near her cash register station. A phone call from “Officer Daniels” (Pat Healy) alerts Sandra that the cop on the phone has with him a woman who accuses Becky of stealing money from her purse when she made a purchase just moments ago. Officer Daniels also claims to have Sandra’s regional ChickWich manager on the other line. Instead of checking the surveillance tapes to confirm the Officer’s allegation, Sandra is only to happy to comply with every instruction given her by the man on the other end of the phone. He compliments Sandra on her professionalism as he instructs her to search Becky’s clothes and purse, before requesting that she administer a strip search. One thing leads to another, and before you know it the situation escalates into a full-scale case of sexual abuse.
“Compliance” is a very uncomfortable movie. It makes us question our own readiness to allow strangers at airports to grope our nether regions through our clothes, or even to strip search us while we act like defenseless victims. The filmmakers do a marvelous job of commenting on America’s military state of “stop-and-frisk” procedures without preaching or ever hitting the queasy subject on the nose.
However troubling it is to realize that, in the past decade, there have been 70 such cases documented as the one we see here, it’s more upsetting to know that such abuses are being conducted in every airport and police station across the country. “Compliance” can be perceived as a dire call-to-action for Americans to stand up to authority and refuse to be violated. There’s no telling whether an evocative film such as this one is capable of achieving such a lofty goal, but you never know what will turn the screw on despicable public policies that inadvertently endorse, and encourage, the heinous behavior on display in “Compliance.”
Rated R. 90 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
The Skin I Live In (NYFF 2011)
Pedro Almodóvar proves himself an apt technician at sustaining suspense in the thriller genre. Antonio Banderas returns to work with Almodóvar for the first time in over 20-years, since his memorable performance "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!." The years have been kind to Banderas who brings his A-game to a deliciously diabolical role. Plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a mad scientist with plenty of method to his particular madness of creating an indestructible skin. His wife died in a car fire. His daughter committed suicide. He harbors vengeance. But why?
The Toledo-based doctor conducts experiments in the privacy of his luxurious mansion laboratory. Not even Dr. Frankenstein had it so good. His mother (Marisa Paredes) serves as his dutiful maid. Almodovar's meticulous attention to detail keeps you hypnotized. Every visual component is exact in color, placement, and scale. Naturally, the evil doctor is using a human being to live inside the hybrid-pig-DNA membrane he has perfected. His comely patient Vera (Elena Anaya) is confined to a large room. She wears a skin-tight body suit and practices yoga for hours on end. Dr. Ledgard secretly observes Vera through a large two-way mirror. Elena Anaya is an exquisite object of fetishistic delight for Almodovar to pour his patient camera over.
Based on Thierry Jonquet's novel "Mygale" "The Skin I Live In" is a haunting film that tips its hat to Alfred Hitchcock. There's a goodly dose of Georges Franju's 1960 French horror classic "Eyes Without a Face." Elliptical time shifts tell the story in a disjointed fashion that makes you want to see the film twice even as you're watching it. There's mystery here to savor as you would any great piece of cinematic art. Pedro Almodóvar has created a masterpiece. Plan on seeing it twice.
120 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
"Contagion's" PG-13 rating predicts the film's less than horrific nature (following an overpromising opening sequence). Director Steven Soderbergh inflects his beautifully photographed compositions with a slick techno pop score yet can't compensate for a script splintered into too many subplots. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns ("The Informant!") ignores fundamental rules about providing the audience with a clear protagonist. Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, and Kate Winslet each play intriguing characters who could conceivably lead the story; sadly, all get lost in the shuffle. Kate Winslet's Dr. Erin Mears is excellent. However, her part is cut woefully short. Most damning is the film’s refusal to meditate upon the gruesome reality of a widespread global pandemic that leaves millions of rotting corpses in its wake. Hopscotching between the cities of Chicago, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, the fragmented movie follows the outbreak of a virus called MEV-1 like a criminal attempting to avoid the scene of a crime. Jude Law's activist blogger Alan Krumwiede posts a homeopathic cure for the quick-spreading disease on his increasingly busy website. Family man Mitch Emhoff finds that he is immune to the virus after losing two family members to its insidious clutches. Damon's character is perhaps the film's most criminally squandered role, next to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it performance from the enormously talented Elliot Gould. Gould graciously fills a minor role as a research scientist whose subplot gets abandoned more so than every other. “Contagion” is an odd film for its vast supply of untapped potential. It’s surprising that a seasoned filmmaker like Steven Soderbergh would choose to work with such a poorly realized script. The ensemble performances are strong, and the film’s atmosphere is appropriately glum, but there’s nothing here to make you feel like you’ve had a meaningful cinematic experience. What a waste.
Rated PG-13. 105 mins. (C) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
A textbook exercise in the efficiency of barebones suspense, co-writer/director Fred Cavaye doesn't so much mask plot holes as ignore them outright. Such narrative sacrifice does little to diminish the film's pulse-quickening effect you'll experience during its hostage storyline. Erratically filmed on the streets of Paris to match its quick-tempo pacing, "Point Blank" uses every trick in the modern-day thriller lexicon to shock and surprise the viewer. An unseen motorcycle crashes into frame to dislodge the body of a wounded man running from his angry pursuers. We've seen this trick before but such violent surprise still knocks the wind out of you. Such are the hard angles of a MacGuffin-driven story about Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), a nurse trainee whose pregnant wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) is kidnapped by criminals trying to arrange a trade for their hospitalized cohort Hugo (Roschdy Zem). Samuel safely escorts Hugo out of the hospital to enable a complex series of fast-action chase sequences and double crosses by corrupt cops and crooks alike. At just 84 minutes long, "Point Blank" is an adrenaline fix for the popcorn inclined.
Rated R. 84 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
Echoes of "Cape Fear" reverberate across a withering suspense thriller that pales in comparison. "Stone" comes off as an open-handed cinematic insult. That Robert De Niro, who starred in Martin Scorsese's version of "Cape Fear," should endorse such a cheap knock-off is mildly upsetting at best. Jack (Robert De Niro) is a retiring prisoner evaluations officer. At home with his aging wife, Jack is a quiet family man. Jack thinks he's seen it all until he's approached by the sex-crazed girlfriend (Mila Jovovich) of a parole-eligible prisoner named Stone (Ed Norton). Stone is supposed to represent a sleazy low-down excuse for a man, who happens to be smarter than everyone else around. For the convicted arsonist Ed Norton takes on a hodgepodge of his past caricature creations, using a Southern drawl mixed with ghetto slang, to mark his territory. When you think of how unbelievably scary De Niro's oily ex-con was in "Cape Fear," Norton's thinly-written character-of-would-be-parallel-menace never stands a chance. Still, the actors aren't entirely to blame. Screenwriter Angus MacLachlan serves up a sophomore feature that falls into the pejorative stereotype of most under-polished second films. The genre jump, from dramatic chamber-piece ("Junebug") to gothic suspense thriller, is a river too wide for MacLachlan to cross. The writer never establishes the complex levels of spatial and thematic logic necessary to motivate his incomplete narrative.
Rated R. 88 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
"Kalamity" is the kind of low budget suspense thriller that gives indies a bad name. Without the anchoring effect that actor Nick Stahl has on the film, writer/director James M. Hausler would not have even a watchable movie. Billy (Nick Stahl) has recently broken up with his girlfriend Alice (Beau Garrett) when he returns to his hometown of Fairfax, Virginia to spend time with his poker-faced buddy Christian (Christopher M. Clark) and tightly-wound best friend Stanley (Jonathan Jackson). Stanley too has an ex-girlfriend skeleton in his recent past. When a local girl goes missing it seems possible that the misogynistic Stanley might have added an real skeleton to his closet of secrets. A symptom of putting an experienced actor like Nick Stahl in a fish-bowl indie movie like "Kalamity" is that it clearly exposes weaknesses in the other cast members. Christopher M. Clark's abysmal performance tarnishes every half-written scene he appears. As his misspelled title indicates, James M. Hausler is not ready for his close-up, or a feature film.
Rated R. 100 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)
Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho draws back a rubber band of suspense above a wrongfully imprisoned son before letting it snap back via the caring hand of his mother--brilliantly played by Kim Hye-ja. "Mother" premiered at the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival where the film's gathering storm of critical buzz began. "Mother" doesn't disappoint. Hye-ja is working as an herbalist and unlicensed acupuncturist when her mentally-disabled teenaged son Do-joon gets thrown in the pokey over the brutal murder of a local girl. Since the community is perfectly content with the verdict, Hye-ja is forced to take up the daunting task of solving the case herself. Believing the real murderer to be her son's pal Jin-tae, Hye-ja stalks her prey with patience and cunning. 2010 is turning out to be a great year for foreign mysteries, with fascinating offerings like "Mother," "The Red Riding Trilogy" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The mood of "Mother" is appropriately dark and brooding. This mother doesn’t take any prisoners.
Rated R. 128 mins. (B+) (Four Stars out of 5/no halves)
"Frozen" is a suspense thriller that's better than it deserves to be, but still not as good as it should be. Jason (Kevin Zegers) and Parker (Emma Bell) are a soon-to-be-engaged couple on a weekend ski trip with Jason's best-friend-since-childhood Lynch (Shawn Ashmore). The trio get stuck on a closing Sunday night ski-lift ride that leaves them hanging forty-five feet above the ground in the midst of a fierce snow storm and below freezing temperatures. It's a simple yet imaginative device that bumps and grinds with palpable suspense and campy horror. The dialogue hits snags of sophomoric screenwriting tics that put a buzz-kill on the otherwise gripping tension on display. Less-than-polished performances from its young actors, work inadvertently to the film's advantage because we witness fresh discoveries of character levels in an intrinsically heightened natural atmosphere. The film's brilliant opening sequence--a series of close-up shots of the ski-lift's cables and gears--goes a long way to expressing the Hitchcock-style that writer/director Adam Green aspires to achieve. If only he had matched his material's verbal and thematic expression to his poetic eye.
Rated R. 93 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)
The Honeymoon Killers (Classic Film Pick)
The naturalistic black-and-white noir compositions that writer/director Leonard Kastle captures in the only film of his career are augmented by a stark soundtrack punctuated with music by Gustav Mahler. Based on the real-life exploits of a pair of money-hungry serial killer lovers, the suspense follows Alabama-born nurse Martha (played with brooding hostility by Shirley Stoler) and her Elvis-haired Latin gigolo boyfriend Ray (Tony LoBianco). The couple pose as brother and sister while Ray conducts marriage proposals with unsuspecting widows that the couple eventually kill to take their life savings and life insurance. Made in 1969, "The Honeymoon Killers" presaged elements of David Lynch's filmic approach, and clearly informed John McNaughton's similarly-themed stomach-churner film "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Romantic dysfunction never looked so banal, brutal, and ugly. The real Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez were executed by electrocution on March 8, 1951.
Riffing on a Twilight Zone-themed morality tale, writer/director Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko") sets the table for a three-course meal of supernatural events but serves up an anemic narrative entree instead. Period costumes and set-designs place Richmond, Virginia couple Norma (Cameron Diaz) and her NASA scientist husband Arthur (James Marsden) in a mid '70s era of bad ties and polyester pants. Arthur and Norma receive a dubious opportunity to improve their financial status in the form of a surprise package containing a wooden box with a big red button on top. A promised visit from a horrifically disfigured but impeccably-dressed Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) explains that the couple will receive $1 million dollars if they choose to press the button that will cause the death of another human being that they do not know, somewhere else on the planet. Of course there would be no story if the couple didn't press the button, but the oddly related incidents that follow never add up to a cohesive story. Although based on a short story by television's "Twilight Zone" contributor Richard Matheson, "The Box" is an over-inflated mess that doesn't come up to snuff.
Rated PG-13. 115 mins. (D) (One Star)
Law Abiding Citizen
Director F. Gary Gray's ("Be Cool") disappointing urban suspense potboiler shares the same unsalted narrative soup as Spike Lee's bone-headed "Inside Man," albeit with a dash of horror copped from the "Saw" franchise. Philly detective Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) and his office are so busy negotiating with freshly jailed revenge killer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler)--he's out to teach the justice system a lesson--that they barely get around to researching his the extent of his professional background. Clyde was a top-secret engineer for the government whose wife and daughter were murdered before his eyes ten years earlier. Try as the filmmakers might to create a sympathetic character out of Foxx's oxymoronic rule-breaking-but-honest investigator, Nick's hypocrisy runs as deep as Clyde's--or is it "Clive"? There's some confusion about pronunciation of Clive's first and last names, and even more about an unintended disappearing pair of handcuffs that precedes a jail cell murder. This is one continuity mistake that really does kick the willing suspension of disbelief out the window. Gerard Butler's scene-chewing performance holds interest even as the story alternately melts and congeals like a mobile bowl of poorly mixed Jell-O. Come to think of it, "Inside Man" might have even been half a letter grade better than this flop from screenwriter Kurt Wimmer.
Rated R. 108 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Reservoir Dogs (Classic Film Pick)
In 1992 Quentin Tarantino did something that hadn't been done since 1986 with David Lynch's "Blue Velvet;" he reinvented cinema. A deft application of an originally voiced time-flipping narrative, Tarantino's "action" script is a filmic illusion that Hitchcock or Welles would applaud. The main conceit of Tarantino's bank heist story is that the film's "action" occurs after the heist, with well-constructed flashback sequences and monologues to impose an emotional undercurrent of back-story. Each of the six black-suited robbers is known to the others only by his color coded pseudonym. Eddie Bunker plays Mr. Blue, Tarantino is the chatty Mr. Brown, Harvey Keitel is Mr. White, and Steve Buscemi is Mr. Pink. Suffering from a belly gunshot wound sustained during the heist, Mr. Orange (perfectly played by Tim Roth) is an undercover cop sincerely befriended by Keitel's character. Left bleeding in the gang's where house, Mr. Orange witnesses the psychotic Mr. Blonde (manically played by Michael Madsen) torturing a young cop named Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) to the funky lyrical strains of "Stuck in the Middle With You (Stealers Wheel). Tarantino doesn't just sucker punch his unsuspecting audience in the solar plexus; he goes for the heart and groin as well. "Reservoir Dogs" is a flawlessly conceived concept film that's theatrical in nature, with a bit of Grand Guignol thrown in for dramatic effect. The film created a sub-genre of crime suspense copycats, of which Troy Duffy's "The Boondock Saints" (1999) is one of the most embarrassing examples. Over his career, Tarantino's films have proven everything that "Reservoir Dogs" seemed to promise and still achieves. Freshness.
In spite of its waning efforts toward fulfilling a challenging allegory about the treatment of immigrant aliens--in this case with interplanetary aliens--"District 9" settles into a gritty, spectacle filled, sci-fi movie that borrows liberally from films like "Robocop," "The Fly," "Alien Nation," and even "Cat People." In a smog-filled 2010, a couple of million alien refugees, derisively referred to as "prawns" for their resemblance to the tentacled crustaceans, have been stranded in Johannesburg, South Africa for the past 20-years, with their gigantic inoperable spaceship left permanently hovering in the sweltering sky. The aliens have been imprisoned inside an internment camp ghetto set up by a government military corporation called Multi-National United, where they live in dire poverty under constant harassment by a gang of vicious Nigerian thugs that sell them cans of cat food and slabs of meat. Interested primarily in capitalizing on the alien weaponry that humans are as yet unable to operate, MNU orchestrates a plan to relocate the aliens to District 10, and installs bureaucrat wonk Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to obtain alien signatures for the illegal eviction while searching for their unique weapons. Not entirely inept at his job, Wikus finds a hidden tube of precious fluid that causes him to undergo a DNA metamorphosis.
Produced by Peter Jackson (the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy), and directed by hotshot upstart Neill Blomkamp, "District 9" is a politically charged sci-fi thriller that makes "Terminator Salvation" pale by comparison. If only the screenwriters (Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell) had invested more energy in developing the film's humanist themes and anti-corporate satire, rather than milking action sequences and an overly sappy subplot with Wikus' wife, the movie could have achieved the literary punch they seemed to be going after.
(Sony) Rated R. 112 mins. (B+) (Four Stars)
Fifty Dead Men Walking
This explosive genre-buster about Ireland's '80s-era "troubles" centered in the town of Belfast, drills deep down into the true story of controversial IRA figure Martin McGartland (brilliantly played by Jim Sturges). McGartland worked as an undercover "tout" for the occupying British forces. The film's odd title refers roughly to the number of lives saved by McGartland's efforts, even though it meant eventually sending him on the run for the rest of his own life. Ben Kingsley delivers a thoroughly captivating performance as Fergus, a British Special Branch intelligence agent who mentors Martin through the ranks of the IRA, all the while undermining many of the organization's attempted attacks. Writer/director Kari Skogland ("Stone Angel") based the fast-paced film on Martin McGartland's biographical book of the same title and manages to balance the material's intrinsic political conflict and suspense while getting inside the conflicted psyches of its main characters. There's a great filmmaker at work here and plenty of impressive supporting performances from the likes of Natalie Press (as Martin's girlfriend Lara), Kevin Zegers (as Martin's best friend Sean), and Rose McGowan (as IRA femme fatal Grace).
Rated R. 118 mins. (A) (Five Stars)
A Perfect Getaway
David Twohy, the filmmaker responsible for the sci-fi cult favorite
"Pitch Black," creates a deconstructionist suspense thriller that plays
like a college screenwriting project gone awry. Geeky Cliff and spunky
Cydney (played by Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich) go on a dream
honeymoon in Honolulu where the island's lush beauty attracts them to a
mountainous hike only accessible on foot, or by helicopter, or kayak.
News of the brutal murder of a couple not unlike themselves makes Cliff
and Cydney suspicious of two other couples that they encounter along
the way. It would be cheating to go into any of the film's third act
surprises that pull the rug out from under everything that has gone on
before, but suffice it to say that the revelation of a seriously flawed
plot device serves merely to ramp up a predictable series of violent
set pieces. "A Perfect Getaway" is an example of an amateurish attempt
at reinventing a suspense formula that is rarely done right.
There just isn't much satisfaction in playing a game where the dealer is playing with a different deck of cards. It's a childish kind of filmmaking that Alfred Hitchcock would call irresponsible.
Rated R. 98 mins. (C) (Two Stars)
Director Morgan J. Freeman takes a plodding approach to stirring up suspense in what can only be called an adolescent knock-off of Rob Reiner's far superior 1990 thriller "Misery." Matt Long plays former high school football prodigy Mike, who makes the mistake of returning to his Pennsylvania hometown for Christmas with his new college girlfriend Elizabeth (played by Jessica Stroup). Mike's ex-girlfriend Selby (Mischa Barton) refuses to accept that Mike is no longer interested in her, and sets out to sabotage Elizabeth by getting her drunk on tequila on the night before she's due to meet Mike's family. A happy car accident for Selby puts Elizabeth in her private care while she (Selby) tries to jumpstart romance with Mike, who is led to believe that Elizabeth dumped him. Every plot point is written out in block letters, and the only suspense comes from feeling every minute drag by like an eternity. The acting and filmmaking are so marginal that you wish a camera person would jump out and announce that it's all just a dumb prank. Instead, it's just a dumb movie.
Not Yet Rated. 92 mins. (D) (One Star)
From the looks of her latest cinematic abomination, it seems Jennifer Lynch is doomed to forever be regarded as David Lynch’s untalented daughter. Her first film in 15 years, after the unwatchable “Boxing Helena,” is the kind of slapdash gore-fest you’d expect from Rob Zombie, although even he might take offense at the comparison. A violent serial-killer-murder-sequence shifts to a pair of overly affectionate FBI agents (played by Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond) arriving at a desert town police station to interview impudent local cops about a highway massacre that left one cop wounded and his partner dead. Alternating flashbacks show an abusive pair of cops (played by French Stewart and co-writer Kent Harper) shooting out tires on passing cars before playing good-cop-bad-cop with their prey, that necessarily includes a vacationing family with a little girl and a pair of drug addicts. There’s a big twist at the end, but not a bit of competent writing or filmmaking to be had. If you ever wondered how one movie could discredit a film festival’s programmer, “Surveillance” is it.
Rated R. 97 mins. (D-) (Zero Stars)
Bette Gordon's independently produced psychological thriller — written by Kathy Acker — is a stunning proto-feminist noir experiment set in the sex shops of 1983 Times Square. During Manhattan's economic downturn Christine (Sandy McLeod), a Midwest transplant, takes a job as a ticket booth clerk at a Times Square porn theatre called the "Variety."
Surprisingly, the sleazy urban atmosphere fires her erotic desires, and curiosities about the power of her own sexuality. Christine goes on a baseball game date at Yankee Stadium with Louie (Richard Davidson), a wealthy regular patron at the Variety. Louie has underworld connections. Christine secretly follows him after he's called away from their date. When she isn't stalking Louie, Christine tests the influence of her dirty imagination by speaking erotic fantasy monologues to her non-pulsed journalist boyfriend Mark (Will Patton).
Daring, raw, and in tune with the social crosscurrents of the period, "Variety" achieves a spectacular cumulative effect of short-circuiting preconceived notions of taboo sexual stereotypes via Christine's journey of discovery. It's a thriller that takes poetic liberties equal to the harmonic leaps of John Lurie's evocative musical score. The richness of narrative tone is equal to that of John Cassavetes’ work.
Watching “Vareity” for the first time, reminds us of why we adore cinema in the first place. The movie is troubling and dark. The film’s transgressive ambitions bear a raw fruit. The film is incredibly intimate. It is also an incredibly honest film. The movie gets under your skin. It challenges the viewer to become part of its heroine’s psyche in keeping with her discovery of her unconscious mind. Part psyco-sexual thriller, and part time-capsule-character-study, Bette Gordon’s creation is truly a rare movie that transcends time in its transgressive treatment of American culture. Genius.
Not Rated. 87 mins. (A) (Five Stars)
sweeping scope of social convergence is magnified to the tune of Three
Dog Night’s "Easy To Be Hard" that plays moments before the Zodiac
killer’s July 4, 1969 attack on a young couple in a lover’s lane
parking lot. The tragic event sets into motion director David Fincher’s
methodical adaptation of Robert Graysmith’s "first-person diaries"
about the search for the notorious "Zodiac" serial killer that
terrorized the Bay Area in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. With Alan
Pakula’s "All the President’s Men" as his guiding beacon of contagious
obsession, Fincher conducts the police procedural with masterful
economy that eloquently accumulates facts gathered by various police
departments and by two members of the San Francisco Chronicle’s
editorial staff. Towering performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, as staff
newspaper political cartoonist Robert Graysmith, and Mark Ruffalo as
famed homicide Inspector David Toschi, carry the film’s precise tension
to its gratifying but uncertain conclusion.
Rated R. 156 mins. (A) (Five Stars)
Director/co-writer Rupert Wyatt deconstructs the typical prison escape story form to dramatically successful effect with the help of a strong ensemble cast. Brian Cox gives a compact yet dynamic performance as Frank, a long-term British penitentiary prisoner motivated by the recent near death overdose of his 21-year-old daughter to plot an urgent escape with the help of four other prisoners. Lenny (Joseph Fiennes), Brodie (Liam Cunningham), Batista (Seu Jorge), and Lacey (Dominic Cooper) are the inmates whose particular skills come into play during the daring prison break. Wyatt jumpstarts the movie with the getaway already in progress, cutting between foreshadowing events, to create a lean storyline unfettered by any tempo-dulling exposition. Benjamin Wallfisch's and Lol Hammond's percussive musical score solidifies the ever expanding and contracting suspense that crescendos with a plot twist that gives the film's title its true meaning.
(IFC Films) Not Rated. 103 mins. (B+) (Four Stars)