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Capone's Art House Round-Up with Chan-wook Park's STOKER, A PLACE AT THE TABLE, Kiarostami's LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, and THE SWEENEY!!!

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…

In what is by far my favorite film of the week, STOKER would probably have been a bit of Southern Gothic, skin-crawling weirdness even without South Korean master director Chan-wood Park (OLDBOY, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, THIRST) at the helm. But thank the movie gods he has firmly imprinted this unstable bit of darkly humorous and often mysterious work from writer Wentworth Miller and "contributing writer" Eric Cressida Wilson.

I'm not inclined to say too much about the looping plot, but the film begins with Richard Stoker (scene only in flashback and played by Dermot Mulroney) dying in a car crash. His daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) is devastated and left strangely col by the experience, especially after her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) arrives on the scene to comfort the family. Although her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) knew him years earlier, India had no idea Charlie even existed prior to her father's funeral, and she becomes increasingly fixated on why that is. Also backing up the creepy story is India's Aunt Gwentolyn (Jacki Weaver) and a boy named Whip (Alden Ehrenreich).

Park injects dangerous levels of Vitamin B(izzare) into STOKER, an absolutely beautiful and haunting work that isn't happy until it's making you squirm in your seat. India and Charlie's relationship is the key to the film, and watching them dance around each other is a great treat. Wasikowska truly wipes the floor with everyone around her, bouncing from anger to confusion to depression to sensual, all within a single scene. And Goode has never played quite so captivatingly icky ever, at least not this well. The places this story goes may shock or simply fascinate you, but you will never stop guessing what's next and who will betray whom as Charlie's true intentions make themselves clearer. It's a magnificent combination of atmosphere and great storytelling. Park continues his winning streak of depicting awful behavior so beautifully with STOKER.

One in four children don't know where their next meal is coming from on a daily basis; the experts call this "food insecurity." That's a number that shouldn't sit well with you. So let's say the parents (or more likely single parent) of one of these children does get a little bit of money with which to buy food. What is available to them with the limited money they have to spend. Is it pricey organically grown or raised food? Of course not, it's chips, soda, candy and other nutrition-less items that cause children and adults to have health issues at younger and younger ages, which in turn causes additional money problems. It's a cycle that about 49 million U.S. citizens have been living with for years, and the new documentary A PLACE AT THE TABLE, directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, attempt to lay out the problem, its causes, and possible solutions.

I remember seeing a movie in the mid-1990s called HIDDEN IN AMERICA about poverty and the shame associated with it, starring Beau and Jeff Bridges, and A PLACE AT THE TABLE makes the case (actually Jeff Bridges himself makes the case) that that film could have just as easily been made today, since many Americans are too proud or embarrassed to ask for help. The film does a remarkable job not only discussing the connection between hunger, poverty and poor health, but it further connects the erosion of government aide programs to help those who don't quite qualify for food stamps, but still live well below the poverty line. One mother actually gets an office job and off food stamps, but that somehow makes her situation worse by not having that little extra money.

The film also rightfully spends a great deal of time praising the works of charities, especially church-related ones, that have picked up the lion's share of the responsibility of taking care of these people for whom ends are not meeting. A PLACE AT THE TABLE is one heartbreaking story after another, followed by a few causes for hope. One of the more interesting proponents of healthier but not necessarily more expensive school lunches is Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, who has taken an active role in this cause. If you hate the poor or somehow think they've earned their position in life, you probably won't respond to this exceptional, action-inspiring doc that should be required reading in schools across the nation.

If you come to LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, the latest work by the great Iranian director Abbas (TASTE OF CHERRY, THE WIND WILL CARRY US) Kiarostami, thinking you need to look for hidden meaning or the cinematic magic of his last film, CERTIFIED COPY, you may work your brain into overdrive. His new film is a straight-forward telling of a story of three people trying to find love—one because she's never had it, one because he misses what he once had, and one who is deeply afraid (rightfully so) that he isn't capable of experiencing it. I adore the fact that Kiarostami has taken to moving each new story he has to tell to a new setting, outside of Iran (CERTIFIED COPY was set in Tuscany; the new film is in Japan), because it feels like a type of discovery of both character and setting for us and the director.

Rin Takanachi plays a sociology student who is also an escort for extra money. She is sent to visit an elderly professor (Tadashi Okuno, a well-respected stage actor in Japan, starring in his first film at the age of 81), but he seems more interested in eating food and talking to the young woman than sex, and eventually the girl simply falls asleep in his bed. Meanwhile, we learn early on that she has a jealous boyfriend (Ryō Kase, bordering on psychotic), who doesn't know about her moonlight job, and is constantly questioning her whereabouts. In a strangely serene moment, when the professor is driving the girl around the next morning, the boyfriend and the professor have a long talk about what it is to love someone properly, and we actually start to think this young man is salvageable. But that feeling doesn't last long.

The title of the film is beautifully deliberate. None of the relationships in LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE can be classified as actual love, but an approximation or bastardization of it. The performances are across-the-board great, but I think I would have been just as impressed with this film is the boyfriend character had never been seen and only discussed. I'm not sure including him here made any difference to the plot, and it chews up a lot of time, especially a sequence in which he takes the old man to the garage he runs to replace a part in his car (scintillating stuff). Still, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE is a moving, beautiful work of a filmmaker still capable of giving us the gift of another way of looking at something we think we understand fully.

Sometimes a crime drama is just a crime drama, and sometimes a great cast elevates the material into something a little more. Based on the wildly popular '70s British television series, THE SWEENEY updates the timeframe to the present and casts the great Ray Winstone in the role as Jack Regan, the head of a division of the police force that has a little more leeway than the rest of the police. They kick down doors and ask questions later. Are we supposed to love their methods? Probably not, but it sure makes for riveting entertainment. The younger sidekick, George Carter, is played by Ben Drew (an occasional actor who is perhaps better known as the UK singer/rapper Plan B).

THE SWEENEY is at its best when the characters are talking, conspiring, and sometimes breaking the law themselves to get to the bad guys in the film, who are inherently forgettable. Regan is bedding co-worker Nancy Lewis (Hayley Atwell), who just happens to be married to an internal affairs investigator Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh), who loathes every ounce of Regan. It's fascinating watching Regan sometimes physically bite his tongue not to say something to Ivan when they argue. I also liked seeing "Homeland's" Damian Lewis as Regan's boss Frank Haskins. They have a couple of dicy conversations about skirting the law in order to capture a crime gang.

I've never seen a previous film by director and co-writer Nick Love (THE FIRM, OUTLAW), but there seems to be a fair amount of derision for what he brings to any movie. For one, I think his work on THE SWEENEY is pretty solid stuff. He keeps things moving, keeps his bad guys loathsome and his good guys just a little less so. But without this great group of performers, the film would without a doubt be a lesser thing. Let's give it up for the casting director, and hope that if they attempt to make a sequel to THE SWEENEY (which appears to be in the works), the filmmakers work a little more on the screenplay since they know the actors will more than pull their weight.

-- Steve Prokopy
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