Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fall RoundUp Number 2

Continuing to catch up through the year.... Another batch of film capsules. At least one more to come this week - I've left out a number of the most "important" films I've seen this fall - figuring I can find a bit more to say about some of them... Anyway: here's another bunch of movies seen this fall...

Silver Linings Playbook - 7/15 - all very well made but so desperate! guy gets out of rehab, goes home, his father is just as bad as he is, OCD, obsessed with the Eagles - our hero was in the nervous hospital because he beat up his wife's lover, but is still obsessed with his wife. Meets a girl, sister of a friend, as fucked up as he is - she starts stalking him - eventually offers to help him get to the wife if he dances with her in a contest... etc. Then end up in love. Hooray. Hard to say why it's so irritating, though mostly - it's just noisy and desperate - a kind of endless hysteria until the end when it goes all gooey. Kind of like Dark Horse with a happy ending and - on speed instead of barbiturates. Not sure if that is praise or damnation. It also reminded me, especially the beginning, of Oslo: August 31 - that's not so good. It's not a good thing when the comedy leaves you more depressed than a film you know going in is going to end in suicide. (Sorry for the spoiler there, but Oslo is based on a 50 year old film and an 80 year old novel, so there you go.)

My Worst Nightmare - 9/15 - rather irritating French comedy about an uptight gallery owner with a lazy son and a lousy home life - she runs afoul a man, a sometime handyman, whose son is a bit of a genius, and a great friend of her son. Doesn't take long before the handyman is renovating the flat and hanging around with her live in lover - who promptly takes up with a tree hugger, leaving the woman and handyman to do whatever mismatched pairs are supposed to do in French comedies.... Cultures clash, but both of them, Patrice the apparently Belgian ne'er-do-well and Agathe the snobby Parisian, have a taste for drink and tend to bond by getting falling down drunk... and so on. It ends well, I guess, though it grinds along getting there. Truth is, it's mostly just 4 horrible people (Francois and Julie - the hippy - are no better) irritating one another and us, except that one of them is Isabelle Huppert, and she is Isabelle Huppert. She's worth all 9 of those points; nothing else in the film is worth seeing.

The Sessions - 9/15 - John Hawkes as a writer paralyzed with polio - he can't control his muscles, but he can feel things - so he can have sex. He is a virgin at 38, and after some talk hires a sex surrogate to teach him how. 6 sessions. Inevitably things get emotionally out of hand, so they break it off - but he meets a volunteer at a hospital and all is well. The film is amusing, Hawkes is magnificent, Helen Hunt gets naked, the thing ends sentimentally, there's fun to be had counting the Deadwood alum, and William H. Macy turns up as a hippy priest - it isn't terrible, though it's not much of anything, really...

Argo - 10/15 - When the US embassy was taken in Tehran, 6 of the employees escaped, and were hidden by the Canadian embassy. There they stayed for a couple months, but things were getting tough, so the US plans to get them out. The plan they came up with was to pretend to make a movie - Argo. They set it all up running, so that Ben Affleck's character could go in as location scout and get them out. He does this - funny stuff setting it up (the thing was quite elaborate - including story boards by Jack Kirby himself), then he goes. He gets the permissions, he has to take them on a scouting trip to a marketplace - where they are photographed and threatened, but they get out - but then the mission is canceled. But he insists on continuing. And they escape at the last possible second. All told - it is a first rate thriller, witty and well constructed and written - a nice mainstream film, as good a mainstream film as I have seen this year. Some nice story twists - one guy, who thinks he's smarter than the rest - he talks them into running - then when they are leaving, he tries to talk them into staying - but at the airport, he saves their bacon - he speaks Farsi, so gives a story about the film, about why he dreamed of shooting in Iran, he makes it all make sense. Nice twist. Now, as it happens, a lot of the suspense in Iran turns out to have been invented - but it's very interesting suspense, and seems to turn the film into Argo the film in the film, more than the reality - which isn't all bad...

Alps - 10/15 - Giorgios Lanthimos' follow up to Dogtooth.... a group of people substitute for the recently deceased, ostensibly to help them with the grieving process, though most of their assignments turn rather nasty at some point. They take a while to get intense - the actual replacements seem rather benign at first - reading to a blind woman; taking swims in the ocean, talking about diabetes to a man who owns a lighting shop, etc. Meanwhile, a tennis playing teenager is killed in a car accident, and one of the women in the Alps group, a doctor, impersonates her on her own, without telling the others. About that time, the other stories start coming apart (the blind woman catches her husband and friend in bed; the women with diabetes is obliged to let her lover lick her pussy, etc.) - and the doctor is caught, though by that time she has gone well beyond her role - taking the girl's boyfriend home, etc. So she is replaced, by someone else in the group, and she ends up breaking into the house, then, after she's chased out, hanging around outside the family's door, trying to get in - like a ghost - a fairly clear but of symbolism... It plays like a rather more surreal version of some of Atom Egoyan's films, with live action role playing instead of video, maybe - similar themes - faulty grieving, compulsive repetition of trauma and so on.... This is not quite so brilliant as Dogtooth, but Lanthimos is clearly a filmmaker to watch.

How to Survive a Plague - 11/15 - story of Act Up - particularly the treatment group, which later became Treatment Activist Group (TAG) - the film starts in 1987 and continues on, concentrating on the fight for drugs and treatments. A fascinating film. Fascinating people, who hold it together. It is a strange story - the way, in 1993 or so, they all thought they were going to die, sooner, not later - and then, in 1996 or so - they were saved. Quite a few of the people in the film did die, in fact - but the ones who made it to the late 90s made to to the present. A haunting tale. The film also makes it clear how they made it happen - how crucial they were, their tenacity, working, endlessly to get treatments. Not that doctors and scientists weren't working to get drugs and treatments - but that there were hosts of barriers between their work and the people who needed it, and Act-up and TAG were instrumental in getting past those barriers. A very nice film.

Keep The Lights On - 11/15 - autobiographical film from Ira Sachs: a Danish filmmaker meets a lawyer at Random House through a phone sex line - they meet, they fuck, they hit it off, and before long they move in together. But the lawyer is a crackhead - and over time, his drug addiction and erratic behavior ruins the relationship - though we also see some of the passive aggressive behavior of the filmmaker. Film covers 9 years, 1998-2007 - nice subtle charting of the times - from phones to cel phones to blackberries, to ipods. Sachs has long established a fine sense of the dynamics of bad love, and continues that here.

Looper - 10/15 - We're back to the beginning of fall here.... a mash up of Terminator, 12 Monkeys and the like - loopers are people in 2044 who kill others sent back in time from 30 years in the future - the criminals of the future are the only ones with time travel ability, so they send their victims back in time to be disposed of. Anyway - one of the loopers (Paul Dano) sees himself come back - singing a song he recognized - "closing his loop" (the looper kills his future self, and gets a big payoff and gets to live 30 years on the proceeds)... But this guy hesitates - lets the man go - he runs, but mentions the "rainmaker" - a future villain, killing all the loopers, etc. All right - so Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Dano's friend - but he sells him out.... Then his future self comes back - without a mask... he too escapes, or - does, then doesn't - then we follow him through the future to when he is sent back. But he has spent those 30 years becoming Bruce Willis - tough and professional, a real gangster and gunman - so when he goes back, he isn't so easy to kill. So - all right - Bruce WIllis is on the loose in 2044, and everyone is trying to kill him, including Gordon-Levitt, who wants to live to become Bruce Willis, I guess it is.... But Bruce has his own mission - to find the Rainmaker before he becomes the rainmaker! And JGL finds a woman on a farm with a kid who has telekinetic powers - all this is no more than halfway into the film, and by this time it's clear enough who's who in 2074 and just a matter of seeing how they get there... or don't, if that's what they don't do. Anyway - in the end, someone does the Right Thing and thus negates all the Bad Things, or something like that. It's nonsense the second you think about it - but it's all pretty well done on the way. Though it does bog down some, once the Terminator plot kicks in.

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