Sunday, October 31, 2010

Catfish

Catfish is a curious documentary about a long-distance online relationship that takes a couple of bizarre turns before the big reveal -- which was telegraphed from the first frame but was for me surprising all the same. And that's the puzzlement. Why was the second half of this film so riveting and haunting?

Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost filmed Schulman's brother Yaniv's eight-month courtship of the mysterious Megan and follow him to her home in Michigan after Yaniv (Nev) begins to suspect she's not who she claims and wants to see for himself. Well, of course she's not but it's who she really is
that's the core of this unsettling movie.

Those of us who spend a lot of time on Facebook might feel a special sympathy for the battered souls drifting about in cyberspace who occasionally bump into each other -- for better and for worse -- and hope we are not counted
among those poor saps who find comfort in the virtual. Others might find it tempting to wag their fingers and cluck their tongues disapprovingly at the folks at the center of this drama: "See? That's what you get!" To do so would be to miss the point altogether, I think.

Some have questioned whether this documentary was staged, at least in part. Perhaps. But to me that's not reason enough to dismiss the picture's message(s) about authenticity, connectedness and the undeniable human need to be and feel loved.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hereafter

I believe Clint Eastwood's enduring legacy as a director will be a catalog of films that are, collectively, a tribute to human decency in spite of human frailty. Eastwood appears to be drawn to stories about damaged people caught up in circumstances of their own contrivance or those created by nature or fate.

And so we... have Hereafter, which appears to be Eastwood's treatment of that imponderable question, "What's Next?" ~ and all three reasons for human misery are on display. Matt Damon, the co-star with Morgan Freeman of Eastwood's Invictus (2009), is George Lonegan, a psychic who has been gifted with the ability to speak to the dearly departed by touching the hands of a survivor.

This curse, as Lonegan calls it, has made it difficult for him to form lasting relationships and so he is resigned to a life of lonely bachelorhood until ... . The script by Peter Morgan. who wrote Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland, also features the stories of a French journalist (the beautiful Cecile de France [is that her real name?]) and a London school boy (played by the twins Frankie and George McLaren), both of whom have had close encounters with death -- the journalist during a tsunami (the creation of which is an impressive cinematic feat) and the boy as he watches his twin die after being hit by truck.

Eastwood and Morgan bring the three characters together in a final reel that is teary (an Eastwood signature move) and ultimately uplifting (ditto). The question "What's Next" is not answered but, in the end, that's really not the point of the film, which is actually to get viewers to ask ourselves "What About Now?"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Like Dandelion Dust

Jon Gunn's Like Dandelion Dust is a quietly, cunningly affecting film about the battle between birth and adoptive parents over a 6-year-old boy. Both sets of parents -- Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper as the "birthers" and Cole Hauser and Kate Levering as the adopters who've been the only parents the boy has known ~ are raggedly desperate because of their personal weakness but supremely loving of the boy, Joey, played by Maxwell Perry Cotton. Gunn directs both Sorvino and Pepper, the decidedly lower-middle class couple who are victims of their own poor choices, in deeply moving performances that are played almost entirely on their faces. Hauser and Levering ~ whose wealth sets them apart but not altogether positively from the birth parents ~ are also wonderful in this refreshingly intimate and memorable film.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Red (2010)

Is Robert Schwentke's Red enjoyable? Well, yes and no. Everywhere you turn there are the wrinkled though not unattractive faces of Hollywood stars shaking off their age to do some ridiculously contrived bit of super-spy action to get the oldsters in the audience, among whom I proudly counted myself, to guffaw and applaud in appreciation. Take that you whipper-snappers! It's all explosive fun. Bruce Willis -- at 55 he's only three years my senior-- leads a cast of cinema legends (Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss) in a secret agent parody based on a DC comics series about retired covert assets who strap on their semi's to take on the bad guys, which, according to Tinsel Town's liberal establishment is the vice president of the United States and his private contractor handlers. Most of it is played for laughs, though I wish, for once, they wouldn't sacrifice the black guy to remind us of how noble we are.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Let Me In

The chilling "Let Me In" is as much about everyday childhood predation as it is about the mythic variety represented in smarter vampire lore. This wonderfully enigmatic film, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), focuses on the relationship between the eternal tween Abby, played with preternatural intelligence by Chloe Moretz (the true star of Kick Ass) and the tortured and disaffected Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who formed a mesmerizing duo with Viggo Mortensen in The Road). Though Reeves, who also wrote the screenplay, stages a few startlingly bloody feeding scenes the real horror for many who see this film will surely be the torture the delicate and lonely Owen endures at the hand of a child bully as sadistic as any I've seen. Kudos to young Dylan Minnette for this truly frightening performance. Let Me In is disturbing in many, many ways and very few of them have to do with the undead.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Social Network

The first five minutes of David Fincher's The Social Network, scripted by the inestimable Aaron Sorkin, is quite likely the best and briefest exposition of a central character I have seen in film in quite awhile -- if ever. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, the Harvard student who co-founds Facebook, ripping off c...lassmates and friends along the way. The scene takes place in a bar where Zuckerberg is having a beer with his "girlfriend," Boston University student Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). By the end of the scene, he's insulted and demeaned the young woman eight ways to Sunday and is so blind and deaf to his own callousness that he is mystified and pissed off by her dropping him like a sack of potatoes. Later he trashes her on his blog, which sets him on the path to worldwide notoriety and disdain. I've enjoyed Eisenberg's work -- Adventureland, Zombieland and The Squid and the Whale -- and his performance as the accidental sociopath Zuckerberg is remarkable.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...