There’s a little bit of Strangers on a Train thread in the plot for this, the latest Nicolas Cage potboiler. Guy Pearce isn’t exactly Bruno Antony with a shaved head, but he’s talking the same basic concept of murder-swapping. If only they’d stuck with the original title — The Hungry Rabbit Jumps.
Julie Delpy, director-star of 2 Days in New York, at the film’s after-party. Costar Chris Rock made it known he didn’t want his picture taken at the party…cool.
Set in the early ’90s, James Marsh‘s Shadow Dancer is a low-key LeCarre-esque thriller about a young IRA-allied mother (Andrea Riseborough) who’s nabbed by a British MI5 officer (Clive Owen) and told she’ll go to prison and lose her relationship with her young son unless she turns snitch and rats out her own. She reluctantly agrees, and you know (or can certainly guess) what probably happens from this point on.
Andrea Riseborough in James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer.
But you can’t know until you see it, of course, and I’m telling you the ending delivers jolts and eerie turns that I didn’t see coming.
Marsh (best known for the docs Project NIM and Man on Wire) plays everything down and subtle and subdued — the acting, the lighting, the colors. The grayish mood of Shadow Dancer recalls, welcomely, the BBC adaptations of John Le Carre‘s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People.
My only problem was that I missed at least 30% or 40% of the dialogue due to those damn impenetrable Irish accents. I understood Owen and his MI5 colleagues pretty well, but it was touch and go with Riseborough and her IRA brethren. I was able to catch an Irish word or two or a phrase now and then, but I was mostly in the dark. This has happened many, many times before (particularly with Paul Greengrass‘s Bloody Sunday). Films with significant Irish dialogue need to be subtitled — period.
I can’t wait to see Shadow Dancer again on Bluray, when the subtitles will presumably be added, at least as an option.
The passionately praised Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I finally saw last night at Park City’s MARC, is everything its admirers have said it is. It’s a poetic, organic, at times ecstatic capturing of a hallucinatory Louisiana neverland called the Bathtub, down in the delta lowlands and swarming with all manner of life and aromas, and a community of scrappy, hand-to-mouth fringe-dwellers, hunters, jungle-tribe survivors, animal-eaters and relentless alcohol-guzzlers who live there.
It’s something to sink into and take a bath in on any number of dream-like, atmospheric levels, and a film you can smell and taste and feel like few others I can think of.
Directed and co-written by Benh Zeitlin, Beasts is much more of a naturalistic object d’art than a narrative-driven drama, at least as most of us define that term. The emphasis is on sensual naturalism-wallowing — lush, grassy, muddy, oozy, leafy, stinky, primeval, non-hygenic, slithery, watery, ants up your ass — with a few story shards linked together like paper clips.
The narrative, as such, focuses on six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) and a third-act search for Hushpuppy’s mother.
Wallis is a hugely appealing young actress — beautiful, spirited, wide-eyed — and she pretty much carries the human-soul portions of the film. But Henry’s dad, who cares for Hushpuppy in his own callous and bullying way, is a brute and a drunk and mostly a drag to be around, and after the fifth or sixth scene in which he’s raging and yelling and guzzling booze, there’s a voice inside that starts saying “I don’t know how much more of this asshole I can take.”
Here comes the part of the review that the keepers of the precious Sundance flame are going to dislike. If you apply the classic Jim Hoberman “brief vacations” concept of a great film not only being a kind of “sacred text” but constituting a realm that a viewer would be happy to literally take up residence within, Beasts of the Southern Wild does not, for me, pass the test.
I’m sorry but after a while it began to feel too oozy and filthy and slimey and boozy. I don’t like hanging with people who drink all the time — alcoholism is boredom incarnate — and I don’t like walking around in oil-like, knee-deep mud and feeling bugs and snakes on my body as I sleep and running across the occasional alligator who’s looking to bite my leg off. I come from the suburbs of New Jersey, and I like taking hot showers and sipping wine in streetside cafes and sleeping on clean sheets and watching Blurays with my cats. And I hate snakes.
I not only didn’t want to live in the world of Beasts of the Southern Wild — a part of me wanted to escape after an hour or so. I wanted to walk or hitchhike to New Orleans, and catch a plane to Orlando and stay for a few days with Steve and Jackie Siegel, the stars of The Queen of Versailles. All right, scratch that…too extreme. But it made me think about clean roadside motels and rental cars and hot baths and power toothbrushes and all the comforts of home.
In short, I aesthetically respect and admire Beasts of the Southern Wild, but watching it almost turned me into a Republican. Until I left the theatre and went down to John Sloss‘s Cinetic Media party at Bing and I talked to some friends and started to feel like myself again.
Andrea Riseborough (W.E., Brighton Rock) delivers an unforgettable traumatized-Irish-lassie performance in James Marsh‘s Shadow Dancer, which screened tonight at the Eccles. The after-party happened at the Grey Goose lounge on Main Street. Thanks to Susan Norget for the invite, etc.
In 1981 I was that guy in this shot. Almost. It didn’t happen on a Fifth Avenue apartment balcony overlooking Central Park, but on an apartment building rooftop during a fairly wild party on a hot July night. I was wearing a suit and she was dishy and a little bit bombed, and she smelled like soap and flowers and had cigarette breath. We came close to forgetting ourselves. It all came back when I happened upon this DVD Beaver frame capture from the just-out Bluray of Woody Allen‘s Manhattan.
Here’s a larger version.
As much as I tell myself I’m Lee Marvin, the truth is that sometimes I’ll cave in to peer pressure and follow the crowd. And when I do that I’m usually a bit sorry. Which is to say not always. But today I am.
After seeing Ben Lewin‘s The Surrogate at 8:30 am, recording a special Oscar Nomination Announcement Oscar Poker with Sasha Stone and then tapping out a three-paragraph Surrogate review, I caught a 1 pm screening of Craig Zobel‘s Compliance. The plan after that was to go to Joe Berlinger‘s Under African Skies at 3 pm and then bail at the 75 minute mark so I could see Colin Trevorrow‘s Safety Not Guaranteed, which James Rocchi told me I should see.
But when I went into the press tent at 2:50 pm to show my pass I noticed that a huge crowd was waiting to see Bart Layton‘s The Imposter, and that almost no one was lined up to “the Berlinger,” as David Denby would put it. Did I shrug my shoulders and say “whatever, my path is set”? No — I figured the big crowd must know something I don’t so I bailed and went to The Imposter instead. And within 30 minutes I began to feel bored. (Angelina Jolie knew the returned kid wasn’t her kid in The Changeling, so why didn’t the San Antonio, Texas, family that lost their son recognize the same kind of fraud? I would have.)
And so I quit and went to a Mexican restaurant and did a little work, and then I tried too late to get into Safety Not Guaranteed — “Sorry, sir, but the theatre is full.” So the whole plan went down the tubes. At least I’ve used the spare time to do some filing.
I saw Ben Lewin‘s The Surrogate this morning, and yes, it’s a touching, thoughtful and comforting film about touching, needing, being open and the finding of fulfillment. It’s an emotionally erotic variation on the themes in My Left Foot, The Sea Inside and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with a little dash of Who’s Life Is It Anyway? thrown in. And John Hawkes will almost certainly get some awards action eight to ten months hence; ditto Helen Hunt.
The only thing the film (i.e., Lewin) lacks is a strong visual imagination. Any film about a paralyzed protagonist needs to somehow free itself from that immobility. It can’t just be a series of static interiors or the viewer will start to be hemmed in to some degree. I haven’t time to flesh this out as I need to be at screening…later.
“This is cheerful news for me and for the family of cinema in Iran, specially the nomination for the best original screenplay. It seems that although people speak different languages around the world but there is one common universal language which everyone understands — the language of cinema.” — Asghar Farhadi, director-writer-producer of A Separation, reacting to nominations for Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Original Screenplay.