Saturday, October 27, 2012

2 Days in New York

Julie Delpy's disappointing sequel to 2 Days in Paris finds its French heroine Marion in a happy relationship with Mingus (Chris Rock). They each have a child by an ex (in Marion's case, it is from her boyfriend in 2 Days in Paris). But their relationship is almost destroyed when Marion's father, exhibitionist sister, and her sister's boyfriend (also a distant ex) visit.

The acting is good. There area a few humorous cameos. Delpy is an appealing presence, and Rock is inherently clever. There is some touching commentary on the subtle ways in which Marion's family deals with the recent loss of her mother. Mingus has an amusing relationship with a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, the film mostly goes for tired stereotypes and predictable gags. The French visitors are mostly pro-Obama, but they make some awkward racial comments. The men leer at the women in a large yoga class. Mingus is sometimes baffled by the French arguments. This cultural clash was already explored more humorously and thoroughly in the previous film, so these moments feel like a rehash.

Other parts are surreal and creative, but often more bizarre than funny. One can't blame Delpy for experimenting. Hopefully her next film will be more fulfilling.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Shaun of the Dead

Edgar Wright's cult classic Shaun of the Dead follows the titular Shaun (Simon Pegg), a nice salesman who feels as though his life is going nowhere. His girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is disappointed in his lack of ambition. Shaun's best friend Ed (Nick Frost) epitomizes this arrested development. Ed's simian humor (he literally imitates gorillas) amuses Shaun to no end, but leaves their other roommate, Shaun's girlfriend, and her judgmental roommates Diane and Dylan (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran) cold.

In the midst of his personal problems, Shaun finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Is this his chance to find his inner strength and get his life together? That is, if he survives?

This comedy has amusing and surreal moments of silliness and satire, but its humor isn't for everyone. For those whose funny bone it doesn't strike, the film's strength comes from its metaphors. Shaun feels stuck in his routines, held back and a little dead inside--not unlike a zombie. In fact, the drones populating the city of London already resemble the living dead. Shaun is so oblivious to his fellow humans and the world around him, he hardly realizes an epidemic is upon them.

Our hero's journey from overlooked "loser" to courageous leader is also satisfying. He finds himself torn between the well-intended but prepubescent friend of his youth and his girlfriend's affections. This is as much a relationship film as it is a horror movie.

There are some bloody moments, though. Horror and horror-spoof fans will enjoy watching the nonplussed Shaun and his best mate battle zombies. Others might find the film diverting but not particularly memorable. Many might connect to a man in his thirties who is trying to find himself--zombie infestation or no.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Citizen Gangster

Citizen Gangster follows real-life figure Edwin Boyd (Scott Speedman) as he transitions from bus driver to theatrical bank robber. A World War II veteran, Edwin struggles to support his wife Doreen (Kelly Reilly) and two children, and dreams of being an actor. One day, he dons makeup and robs a bank at gunpoint. He realizes that, aided by his athletic abilities, this is easy money. Not to mention, he gains the thrill of attention he's always wanted.

In spite of his short-lived joy, the film's bleak colors convey Edwin's depressing, increasingly desperate situation. Unfortunately, the audience never quite connects the rather passive, mild mannered man to his wilder counterpart. The movie also depicts the robberies as more surreal, bemusing, and exciting than harmful, perhaps in order to convey how the media romanticized Boyd's crimes.

The story touches on Edwin's relationship with his father (Brian Cox), a retired policeman, but their complex history is not fully explored. Partway through the film, Kevin Durand brightens the screen as fellow bank robber and veteran Lenny Jackson. Unlike his mostly forgettable criminal friends, Lenny shows believable volatility and unexpected heart. Though not one to be messed with, he latches onto Edwin like a brother. The genuine bond between Edwin and Lenny is one of the most successful aspects of the film.

Their descent into living above the law is not glamorized. Boyd's relationship with his wife is increasingly strained, and the affect his actions have on his family is painful to watch. Still, though well made, the biopic Citizen Gangster never becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The 24th Day

The 24th Day follows two men who meet at a bar. One follows the other home, ready for a night of fun, but the other has different ideas. James Marsden plays Dan, a confident movie executive. Scott Speedman is Tom, who is a cook. Directed by and based on a play by Tony Piccirillo, the script wavers between genuinely interesting and over-the-top, as the relationship between Dan and Tom is alternately believable and unrealistic.

The acting is not bad, but it is rather overshadowed by the soap-opera-level production values. Awkward editing, dramatic music, and cryptic flashbacks yank the viewer out of the genuinely tense apartment scenes. The most interesting aspect of the film is the interaction between Dan and Tom. Their characters bring up questions about class differences, honesty, guilt, and denial. And AIDS, and responsibility, and sexual orientation. Dan can be remarkably calm and sassy, while the sad Tom is so obviously unbalanced one wonders why Dan sticks around at first. While this is ultimately a rather poor movie, one has to admire it for trying.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Moth Diaries

Based a novel by Rachel Klein, Mary Harron's The Moth Diaries never reaches its potential. The plot follows Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) to an all-girls boarding school. She feels that she is turning over a new leaf two years after the suicide of her father, a respected poet. Her bosom buddy Lucie (Sarah Gadon) considers herself boring, but Rebecca sees Lucie as the light at the end of her tunnel. Unfortunately, the enigmatic Ernessa (Lily Cole) arrives, driving a wedge between the two.

A lot is going on here. As their English teacher Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman) schools them on Dracula and homoerotic vampire stories, one can't help but remember that Lucy was Dracula's doomed victim. Is Ernessa metaphorically sucking the life out of Lucie? Is Ernessa literally a vampire? Or is this all in Rebecca's troubled mind? Why do Ernessa and Rebecca share so many similarities? Why does Ernessa tempt Rebecca with thoughts of suicide? Why is Mr. Davies, who admires Rebecca's late father, so interested in the sixteen-year-old Rebecca? Why is Rebecca afraid of sex--is it fear of adolescence, lesbianism, or something more sinister?

These are all intriguing questions, but none are resolved. Instead of lending an unsettling ambiguity to the story, this reduces the movie's emotional impact. Perhaps the biggest problem is the film's tone. Though there is some lovely imagery, the editing, music, and cinematography feel more like a generic teen flick than a haunting psychological thriller. The three main actresses have an ethereal beauty and do their best with what they have. Yet most of the cast lack gravitas. Then again, the fault may lie more with the movie's atmosphere than its actors.

Bolger is especially effective in her emotional scenes but doesn't hint at her potential insanity. Cole is the most effective of the girls as the elegant Ernessa. Her imposing height offsets her sweet, childlike face. She is the mysterious friend who plays the piano, speaks German, and writes poetry more beautifully than anyone else. Speedman is fine as Davies, but one wonders why the school's first male professor is young, attractive, and prone to discussing the power of female sexuality.

This was a great opportunity for a resonant and dark coming-of-age story. In spite of a few otherworldly moments, The Moth Diaries doesn't satisfyingly tie up any of its loose ends, leaving the viewer more confused than haunted.