Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You Kill Me (2007)

Sir Ben Kingsley rocks. He's not underestimated. With each role, you see the character, not Ben Kingsley giving a turn. Does he make movies work that with a lesser actor would not? That's what happens with the dark comedy, You Kill Me.

Frank (Kingsley) is an excellent hit man. You learn that his alcoholism has been getting in the way of his work for some time. Getting drunk, falling asleep and missing assignments get him into trouble. His mafioso uncle Roman (Philip Baker Hall) and other members of the "family" in Buffalo, NY, conduct an intervention when Frank's most recent lapse costs his Polish family their corner in the Buffalo mafia. He's sent to San Francisco, where Dave (Bill Pullman) a family friend/operative can keep an eye on Frank to make sure he kicks the vodka and stays out of trouble. Nothing changes initially.

Dave gets Frank a job at a mortuary. Frank is resistant. Dave threatens to tell Roman. Frank acquiesces. Frank turns out to be a pretty good employee, adept at make-up and prepping lifeless faces for their wakes. He starts attending AA. There he meets Tom (Luke Wilson) who becomes Frank's sponsor. When Frank starts to believe in AA, he opens up to Tom first, then his group about what he does for a living. Here's where another actor may have crossed the line into ridiculous. The way Kingsley's Frank does it, you buy it and even the short-lived initial surprise of his cohorts is comedic.

Don't Tell Me...You're Gay? When Laurel's (Téa Leoni) step-father dies, she drops off his too-small bowling shoes (for the body) to the funeral home. She meets Frank. Frank is smitten and asks her out. They start dating. Soon, Frank outs himself to Laurel. She's okay with it because at least he hasn't confessed her worst fear...that he's gay. Leoni's Laurel is a delight. She's funny, sharp-tongued and hard-shelled. Their chemistry is real. Add Wilson's Tom and you have chemistry. I'd never have guessed these three would mesh, but they do. The movie progresses until things have gotten so jacked-up in Buffalo, that Frank returns to kick ass and take names (shouldn't it be take names and then kick ass? How do you know what asses to kick without names first?) But, what about Laurel? Will she stay in San Francisco pining away for Frank? This is *not* that movie. You could say it's a surprising romantic comedy with edge.

Director: John Dahl

Country: US

Genre: Dram-Com

Run time: 93 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Sunday, February 22, 2009

L'Enfer (1994)

We meet the happy couple, Nelly (Emmanuelle Béart) and Paul (François Cluzet), running a bustling hotel in rustic surroundings. The innocence before the stormThey have a young son and appear happy. When Paul starts suspecting his nubile wife of engaging in sexual indiscretion, their idyllic life starts crumbling. Nelly denies a tryst, but Paul grows more and more paranoid. Soon, he's following her into town to make sure she's indeed visiting her mother and not meeting up with a suitor. Paul starts drinking heavily and his paranoid delusions are so vivid, he believes them and is fueled by his intense jealousy. He visualizes Nelly engaging in sex with any hotel employee she interacts with. He becomes violent. Their successful hotel begins to suffer as employees are accused. Patrons are aghast at his erratic and violent behavior. Nelly reasons with him, hoping that by reassuring him of her devotion and love, this will pass. In time, she's living like a prisoner, no longer venturing into town in hopes of lessening his ire. But, soon, the situation escalates. The surreal ending scene is a nail biter. A few details are hard to swallow but in the end, you are demoralized with ideas about what Nelly should have done (gotten far away from Paul) and not done (agreed to stay with him one more night).

Director Chabrol brilliantly moves the movie through Paul's descent into madness. Nelly's frustration, fear and loss for how to help her husband are believable. She's somewhat in denial, despite Paul's escalating violence. Yet, because she so badly wants things back the way they were, it's conceivable she'd stay, even when to the viewer, her life is clearly in danger. The most disturbing scenes occur in dark, confined spaces; Chabrol places us in these uncomfortable spaces with the couple, on the brink of implosion. The hotel is a terrific setting for tension--the many rooms, the grounds with so much happening and all the folks on holiday, with their own stories, opinions and judgements on observing the breakdown of a marriage.

Director: Claude Chabrol

Country: France

Genre: Drama

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Wackness (2008)

Don't read this review. Go see The Wackness instead. Then, read this review. Post your own review in the comments section. If you read this first, I'll warn you...many spoiler alerts follow.

It's 1994, New York City. Pot dealer and self-designated loser Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) has just graduated from high school. It's a hot, sticky summer. He's going to college in the fall. He wants to remedy his virginity situation. He loves music. His parents constantly fight. He barters pot for therapy with psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley) while nursing his crush on Squire's step-daughter, Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby). Peck and Kingsley shine! Not sure who is better but they're an awesome duo.

Dr. Squires, in the midst of a failing relationship and a mid-life crisis advises Luke creatively. Through their friendship, both men grow and learn about themselves and life.Cool kid I love the two worlds, so open to one another. Real struggles, real feeling.

New York City is its own character in the Wackness. You explore the city alongside the hurting characters. You sense the humid heat, take in the acrid scents, enjoy the sights as you stroll through the park with Luke on his pot deliveries. The movie is a sensory masterpiece. It opens with the lush soft focus of dusk on a clear, sunny day; melancholic and so beautiful, you don't want the sun to take siesta. The softness contrasts against the vivid colors. These, in turn, highlight the innovative shots, angles and special effects. This is the type of movie that inspires me to make a film.

Musically, the film delivers just as it does visually. Hip-hop and beat-thumping tunes accompany the film. You float along with the sound waves of the dope soundtrack.

These talented actors bring the feelings to life. See it. Feel it. Be prepared for it. Don't miss the experience. Loss of innocence and heartbreak never felt so good.

Director: Jonathan Levine

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 100 minutes

Scale: 6!

Monday, February 16, 2009

L'Emploi du temps (Time Out) (2001)

Fess up, Daddy! You immediately learn something isn't right in Vincent's (Aurélien Recoing) life. He's on the cell in contact with his wife Muriel (Karin Viard) about his day's meetings but he's waking up in a car in a green field, not in a hotel, as he's led her to believe. Vincent's been sacked from his job but he's kept the news from Muriel, his two kids and his parents.

Not satisfied with this, he spins involved tales about his new job, the good he's generating in his position. He secures a substantial loan from his father to rent an apartment in Switzerland since the job is based there. He swindles friends into a "deal" that he promises will yield huge returns on their investments. He spends much time on the cell with the wife, telling her the made-up stories of conflicts with co-workers, meetings he never attended and what he's up to. The wild card is his ex-co-worker, the one that knows his secret. He's even offered to help Vincent find a new job but Vincent has become addicted to the lies and living the double life.

The movie delves into the roles we lead in life: mother, father, bread winner, head of household. The significance of Vincent refusing to admit to his family but more to himself that he didn't have a job were enormous. He complicates his life by all the lies and it that has to be a much more difficult existence than dealing with failing the societal norms. Or is it?

The movie felt too long. When it all unravels, I was ready. Perhaps that had more to do with the discomfort and anxiety watching Vincent living this life for the 135 minutes of compressed time living that life would generate.

Director: Laurent Cantet

Country: France

Genre: Drama

Run time: 135 minutes

Scale: 3.5