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Capone's Art-House Round Up with Edward Burns' NEWLYWEDS, Roman Polanski's CARNAGE, and the Charlotte Rampling doc THE LOOK!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

For reasons I can't exactly explain, I'm always rooting for writer-director-actor Edward Burns (THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN; SHE'S THE ONE) every time he puts out a new film that typically takes a crack and peeling back the layers of the relationships between men and men, women and women, and of course, men and women. His latest New York story, NEWLYWEDS, is one of his best in recent memory because it tackles the subject of marriage with a surprising and refreshing maturity and insightfulness that Burns has only hinted at previously. In the past, a lot of Burns' relationship films seem to be a balancing act between humor and drama, but NEWLYWEDS, while still funny at times, is clearly aiming to be more authentic in its exploration of the central couple Buzzy (Burns) and wife Katie (Caitlin FitzGerald), both of whom have been married before and are attempting to take what they learned the first time around and construct a relationship that will keep their bond fresh and fun.

Initially the plan is to spend as little time together as possible by structuring their work schedules so that they're almost never home at the same time, therefore making the time they do spend together special. Katie's bitter sister and her frustrated husband, who have been married for nearly 20 years, seem to be the template for how spending too much time together can destroy what used to be a loving marriage, so Buzzy and Katie are swinging in the other direction. But then Buzzy's half-sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) arrives at their doorstep more or less unannounced from Los Angeles and turns their world upside down with her emotionally unstable behavior that results in her hooking up with random men, including Katie's ex-husband.

Burns relies a great deal of each of his characters talking directly to the camera in a sort of confessional style, and it's a hit-or-miss device that seems to take the place of conversation between the characters to the point where they seem to be telling the unseen "person behind the camera" more than they're telling each other. It's not that the characters aren't capable of communicating; they just don't do so with each other. But I'll admit, I wasn't as annoyed by the breaking-the-fourth-wall practice mostly because the strength of the actors. Overall, NEWLYWEDS is an enjoyable, often perceptive indie film that succeeds at its modest goal of peering behind the curtain of modern marriage and finding what makes it work or fail.

NEWLYWEDS is available On Demand, and gets its theatrical premiere today for a weeklong engagement at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Writer-director-star Edward Burns will do post-screening Q&As after the following shows: Friday, Jan. 13 at 6pm (moderated by me) & 8:15pm, and Saturday, Jan. 14 at 5:15pm & 8pm (moderated by Adam Kempenaar, co-host of the podcast Filmspotting, on which I occasionally guest host, including this week's show.

We all love self-righteous white people, don't we? I especially love the ones with too much money in their bank accounts, too much time on their hands, but not enough time for their kids. Of course that never stops them from telling others exactly how their kids are defective and in need of repair. Welcome to the world of CARNAGE, based on the play "God of Carnage" from writer Yasmina Reza (who also wrote the film's screenplay), an 80-minute, one-room, real-time story of two married couples meeting in of the couple's apartments to knock out what is to be done about their respective pesky kids who got into a fight that injured one of the boy's eyes.

For the most part, this is an exercise in watch steam build up into not one but several bursts of heat and rage. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play liberals Penelope and Michael, who own the apartment and whose son was the victim, while Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) are the richer of the two pairs, whose son is proclaimed a maniac by his father. As a lawyer, Alan is glued to his phone during the course of the story, in the middle of crisis with a client, while his wife is a bundle of nerves who even projectile vomits during one scene. Penelope and Michael seem a little more in sync at the beginning, but before long their marital difficulties spill into the evening's events. The couples fight over everything, including child rearing, politics, money, values and the ultimate blame for the kids' fight. They keep getting stuck on reparations, assigning blame, and the appropriate punishment for fighting.

For about the first half of CARNAGE, I was right there with it, loving the verbal four-way fencing match carefully orchestrated and choreographed by director Roman Polanski. But there came a point where Nancy and Alan attempt to leave for maybe the third time, where my mind went numb and my ears turned every voice into white noise. After doublechecking with my doctor that I didn't have rabies, I realized that the film had simply worn me down. The women come off as only slightly less grating than the men. I was especially mesmerized by Kate Winslet's work here as someone who clearly wants to be a peacemaker, but can't control herself when she feels slighted or marginalized. I've never seen Foster quite as... fussy and domesticated as she is here, but in the end I felt for her the most. She wants something resembling justice for her son, which seems unreasonable but I'm guessing most parents feel this way.

Probably most miscast is Reilly as a male pig trapped in the bottom of a sweet-natured liberal. Waltz's character seems to take great pride in peeling back the layers of Michael's persona until he's revealed as the true bastard that he is. Overall, the acting and the writing in CARNAGE is too good to outright dismiss, but even with such a brief running time, it wore me out in ways I don't think it's designed to. I think we're supposed to be shocked, but other than the vomit scene, I really wasn't. Perhaps what killed my interest by the end of the story was that I didn't care how or if things wrapped up. But I will never get tired of watching three of my favorite Oscar-winning and one Oscar-nominated actor in a film by an Oscar-winning director. If you're into viewing a pure acting exercise, CARNAGE will probably make you very happy; it made me about half happy, or slap happy—somewhere in there.

I'm not sure I want all of my celebrity biographies done in the same fashion as director Angelina Maccarone's THE LOOK examines the career of Charlotte Rampling, but for some reason this impressionistic take on the standard actor documentary works for its subject. Rampling is a deep thinker, and I think her film choices (for the most part) prove that. So rather than simply interview the actress, Maccarone puts her in settings with some of her closest friends and family (including author-director Paul Auster, photographer Peter Lindbergh and artist Juergen Teller) and simply have them talk on various subjects, such as age, exposure, beauty, resonance, taboo, desire, demons, death and love.

The director uses clips from some of Rampling's better-know and most controversial movies to illustrate the points being discussed, and the result feels like an endless, late-night conversation over bottles of wine with a fascinating and talents woman. And what clips! THE DAMNED, THE NIGHT PORTER, STARDUST MEMORIES, SWIMMING POOL, GEORGY GIRL, HEADING SOUTH, THE VERDICT, UNDER THE SAND, and MAX MON AMOUR are all represented here.

Rampling's intelligence seeps into every frame of THE LOOK, but I never got the sense that she was unaware that the camera was always on her even when she was supposed to be relaxed and kicking back with her grown children or opening up what sound like private conversations to the director. But it's still wonderful to hear her discuss what it is exactly that made her considered a great beauty when she was younger or how nothing in her sexual life was considered taboo, unlike many of her films. She has a clear sense of her place in the film world, and is very honest about where her career went (and didn't) as she got older. Disappointingly, there's no mention of ZARDOZ or ORCA anywhere in this movie—perhaps on the director's cut DVD.

I'm not sure if casual fans of Rampling will find this profile quite as gripping as die-hard admirers, but there is something about her philosophies on life, love and death that are worth hearing, even if you've never seen a single one of her films. Film lovers are going to devour this, however, and that's what matters; there's quite a lot to love here.

-- Steve Prokopy
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