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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with Cronenberg's COSMOPOLIS, ROBOT & FRANK, THE IMPOSTER, and CHICKEN WITH PLUMS!!!

Published at: Aug. 24, 2012, 4:15 p.m. CST

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…


COSMOPOLIS
I'll admit, my knowledge of the written works of Don DeLillo is limited, but from what limited exposure I've had to the man's work, I can still with great confidence tell you that David Cronenberg's adaptation of COSMOPOLIS captures the loopy philosophical edges of DeLillo's prose with a great deal of accuracy, with is both a gift and a curse.

The gift portion of the program comes from some of the great actors who get to work this material with skill and precision. To hear the likes of Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, and Samantha Morton recite this dialogue is a real treat. They paint dark portraits of a broken world (or perhaps it's a world actively braking before our eyes); they discuss greed, suffering, violence, and, of course, death while New York City is lost in a sea of those protesting against Wall Street in the near future.

The centerpiece of COSMOPOLIS is 28-year-old financial wizard Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), who is coasting through this riotous world in his stretch limo going to get a haircut at his favorite barber. The story is Packer's Odyssey--as he creeps through traffic and the throng of people, he opens his door to familiar faces, including his fiancee, his lover, and other business and personal associates, each of whom has a story to tell.

COSMOPOLIS is clearly a story that is close to Cronenberg's heart, mindset, and worldview. The biggest problem with the movie is that despite this being Pattinson's best work ever, he still had a certain amount of trouble selling us on this material, or even convincing us he knows what he's talking about. Pattinson does paranoid pretty convincingly, and the look on his face when he realizes that certain death threats against him are quite real is fascinating. But other times, he performs like he has no sense of the gravity of his own words. I like that he's working out of his comfort zone, but this might be a little too far out. Still, there are enough great performances within COSMOPOLIS to one keep one engaged, and if you don't mind a dense, complex (though never confusing) plot, you'll probably make it through unscathed.


ROBOT & FRANK
God, I loved this movie. Imagine a perfectly great science-fiction film you could take your grandparents to see, but you're going to love it too. Welcome to ROBOT & FRANK, from first-time feature director Jake Schreier and writer Christopher D. Ford, the story of a elderly gentleman named Frank (the remarkable Frank Langella) who is in the early stages of losing his memory. Although the film is set in the near future, Frank's home is still very much a thing of the past (or present, for us), and technology is not a thing that interests him. Frank's kids (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) are selfish and don't feel like taking care of him or even visiting very often, so his son buys him a helper robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard), which not only keeps Frank on a regular schedule but interacts with him regularly to do memory exercises and other activities to keep him active, both mentally and physically.

Frank's not-so-secret past life was that of an expert jewel thief, and once he realizes that the robot can be taught certain skills (like casing a joint or helping pick a lock), Frank suddenly become very interested in having it around. What's fascinating about the relationship between man and machine is that Frank is constantly attributing human traits to the faceless robot, and the robot keeps having to remind Frank that it is not human, which of course makes it seem all the more human.

Frank also has a great love of books, and continues to go to one of the last remaining libraries around him (run by librarian Susan Sarandon), which is in danger of becoming more of a museum than place to get books. There, Langella and Sarandon's flirty scenes are wonderful and heartbreaking.

Naturally, the police come looking for Frank about a string of recent thefts in the area, and they even threaten to rip out the robot's memory and scan it for evidence. The theme of memory is a recurring one in ROBOT & FRANK, and it's kind of great how both Frank's failing memory and the robot's perfect, downloadable memory could both get them into trouble. The film is smart, sweet, and is yet another wonderful example of how a sci-fi story can be told without millions of dollars in special effects. In fact, it's the extraordinary performances that carry the day. Langella reveals so much about his character's troubled past, and that while his kids may be little shits toward him, he essentially pushed them away most of their lives by risking the family with his criminal activity (his wife actually left him years earlier). It's tough for me to imagine someone not really liking ROBOT & FRANK, but you're welcome to try (and fail).


THE IMPOSTER
Much like the still-in-release documentary SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, the new film from director Bart Layton, THE IMPOSTER, is a movie built around a mystery that is extremely tough to discuss without giving away much of what makes it so special and the story so incredible. I'll tell you what I can and feel is safe, but I can't say much.

A 13-year-old boy went missing in Texas in 1994. The family and local law enforcement went looking for him to no avail. More than three years later, a young man claiming to be the missing boy was found in Spain, the victim of human trafficking and torture. His story was graphic and awful, but his family was so happy to see him that he seemed to heal quickly from the mental and physical scars. But something isn't quite right about him, including his accent, his eye color, and several other things that one private investigator notices just from watching him on TV. The fact that this person is probably not the son isn't a secret (the title kind of gives that away), but there is so much more to this story once his real identity is discovered that you can never predict where this very real story is headed.

THE IMPOSTER is beautifully shot (including a few re-enactments), impeccably researched and pieced together, and one of the most tense experiences I've had in a documentary in quite some time. It's a film about motivation, professional and amateur liars, and perception. And just when you think you've got things figured out, everything goes to hell. It's a fantastic ride and one of my favorite documentaries of the year so far. By all means, check this one out.


CHICKEN WITH PLUMS
Despite its slightly off-putting title, this mostly French production comes from the talented filmmaking team Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, who made the great animated adaptation of Satrapi's graphic novel PERSEPOLIS. Also an adapted graphic novel, CHICKEN WITH PLUMS is a work that takes place in Teheran circa 1958, when talented violinist Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) had his instrument destroyed and decided he was ready to die when he found it impossible to replace. He takes to his bed and simply waits for death to come. Cheery, I know, but the film is actually a beautiful and darkly funny work that has Nasser remembering his life leading up to this point as well as receiving visions of his young children's lives after he dies.

We discover that, as a younger man, Nasser was in love with Irane (Golshifteh Farahani), a woman from a better class of family than he. The two were madly in love, but they are forced to call off wedding plans when her father intervened. Instead he married Faringuisse (Maria de Medeiros from PULP FICTION), whom he never really loved, but he knew that she loved him deeply, and that was enough. Nasser's fame grew over the years, at first inspired by great love and later by a need for money to support his growing family. As he lays ready to die, Death (Edouard Baer) comes to visit him, and shows him startling visions of his children grown up (and played by Chiara Mastroianni and Christian Friedel), but even that doesn't snap him out of his stupor.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS oning to animation and other stylized expressive means. The visuals alone are worth spending the money to see this wholly original work. Maybe more than any other actor working today from any country in any language, Amalric plays depressive with so much conviction, it makes you uncomfortable. Here, he overplays it slightly and quite deliberately, just enough to emphasize the heightened, fable-like nature of the story. You will not likely see another film quite this original or spirited this year.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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Readers Talkback

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  • Aug. 24, 2012, 4:31 p.m. CST

    First!

    by Brooks

    Oh, and I did not read any of this.

  • Aug. 24, 2012, 4:34 p.m. CST

    Well, so much for art films.

    by Smerdyakov

  • Aug. 24, 2012, 5:01 p.m. CST

    Just came back from ROBOT & FRANK

    by Logan_1973

    Outstanding film. The world needs to see this movie and really appreciate how great Langella really is.

  • Aug. 24, 2012, 6:05 p.m. CST

    COSMOPOLIS was okay. Excited for ROBOT & FRANK and THE IMPOSTER

    by ObserverEternal

    Going to see ROBOT & FRANK tonight followed by a director Q&A. THE IMPOSTER tomorrow morning. COSMOPOLIS was disappointing for me, but I have a feeling it's because I had such different expectations going into with only the ad campaign to go by (and not knowing much about DeLillo or his work).

  • Aug. 24, 2012, 7 p.m. CST

    The Imposter

    by Kavalier

    That is an interesting documentary. Definitely the less you know about it, the better. I knew about the story but my girlfriend had no idea until it started. Even with knowing the story, I was glued to the screen the entire time. And, it keeps getting better as the whole puzzle takes shape. Too bad about Cosmopolis, I am not a fan of Twilight, but I was kinda hoping that he would've taken a better turn as an actor with something different.

  • Aug. 24, 2012, 8:02 p.m. CST

    I would like to see...

    by ozjthomas

    fuckit, just get me tickets for them all! =)

  • Aug. 24, 2012, 9:09 p.m. CST

    These are great!

    by tyler_turden

    Robot & Frank is soo fucking good. Same goes for The Imposter. My take: http://thecrat.com/movie-reviews/miff-2012-reviews-day-six/ and http://thecrat.com/movie-reviews/miff-2012-reviews-of-the-imposter-and-god-bless-america/

  • Aug. 25, 2012, 7:16 a.m. CST

    Langella never really made it as a movie star.

    by Smerdyakov

    He was always a little too creepy.

  • Nov. 22, 2012, 6:16 a.m. CST

    test

    by CreepyThinMan