Capone's Art-House Round-Up with COLD IN JULY, FILTH, THE DANCE OF REALITY and CHINESE PUZZLE!!!
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…
COLD IN JULY
Whenever I hear someone criticize any film for "tone" issues or for not being able to decide what type of film is wants to be, I start to pluck out my hair one strand at a time in frustration. Very often, a film that picks a single tone and never shifts from it is a fucking boring movie. And part of the fun of tonal shifts is that it makes things much less easy to predict. One of the most fascinating films I've seen so far in 2014 is director/co-writer Jim Mickle's COLD IN JULY, based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale. The film isn't afraid to go from domestic drama to violent thriller to comical commentary on the '80s to gripping story of fathers and sons, but it does so without being too jarring or confusing.
Set in 1989 Texas, the film stars a mulletted Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") as Richard Dane, a meek frame-store owner in a small town who accidentally shoots a man who has broken into his house in the middle of the night. Although he's considered a hero by those in the community and his wife (Vinessa Shaw), Dane is pretty shaken by the event, especially when the dead man's ex-con father, Ben (Sam Shepard) makes it fairly clear that he's got his sights set on Dane. But that's just where the film begins.
Very little about the shooting or the town is quite what it seems, and before long Dane, Ben and another sketchy character played quite effectively by Don Johnson are working together to bust up a nasty underground operation with horribly violent results. The reasons and means by which events escalate could all be traced back to Dane simply feeling like less than a man after the shooting, after a few in town find it hard to believe "someone like him" could kill someone else. Dane goes from being the town's most boring resident to being its most rattled and excitable. It's not that the shooting has unleashed a taste for blood in Richard, but he somehow wants to fix any wrong-doing it caused or revealed in the process.
Cold in July isn't a complicated story, but it deals with complex issues about manhood, family, and restitution in a seamlessly flowing style that Mickle has been perfecting over the course of his handful of films (STAKE LAND, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE) with his writing partner (and actor in the film) Nick Damici. While Shepard and Johnson have been making something of a return to the big screen in recent years, it's often been as either comic relief (mostly for Johnson) or just for the folksy vibe. But Mickle is well aware that he also has two true acting talents at his disposal, and he takes full advantage of their presence by giving them substantive, meaty roles that they dig into and blow out of the water. At times, COLD IN JULY is a nasty piece of work, but it's solidly made, defiantly acted and a perfect piece of subversive movie making.
If the name of author Irvine Welsh (TRAINSPOTTING) means anything to you, well, that still won't quite prepare you for how downright ugly and brutal the new film FILTH gets at times. And I mean that in the best possible way. Your tolerance may be tested, but I believe a great number of you will come out the other side of this story of the most awful, corrupt, vulgar cop in all of the UK, Bruce Robertson, with your wits still about you. Robertson (played by James McAvoy of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, and WANTED) seems to be well on his way to getting promoted in his department if he can keep from messing up, which seems unlikely since his lifestyle consists of a constant intake of drugs and alcohol, combined with other terrible habits that put him in the middle solving a murder while keeping tabs on others in his department in line for the same promotion. It turns out it's tough being a detective while you're constantly trying to undermine and sabotage your co-workers, who include the likes of Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots and Eddie Marsan.
FILTH does a remarkable job of putting us squarely inside Robertson's drug-addled mind, which frequently indulges in fits of paranoia and delusions (including one that has his absentee wife waiting for him back home). Before long, the crime itself seems superfluous and secondary to his mental state. And while I'm not saying you'll ever go so far as to like or feel sorry for Robertson, there are moments where the idea might cross your mind, right around the time he lets loose with a string of foul insults aimed at no one in particular. McAvoy hasn't truly cut loose like this since his earliest works in Scottish cinema, and it's good to see him not worried too much about how his newfound fame will be impacted by taking on a role this hateful.
FILTH is slightly exhausting to watch only because it never really lets up from its accelerated levels of depravity, but I found it a great deal of slimy fun, punctuated by some loopy performances, especially Jim Broadbent as Robertson's shrink, who may or may not be a real person. I also particularly liked the scenes between McAvoy and Poots, who balance each other nicely in terms of extremes. Writer-director Jon S. Baird (Cass) lights a substantial fire under his actors and doesn't spare us any of the gory details of Welsh's notorious novel, which I think is key to the film's success as a fever-dream narrative. If you're feeling like cinema (and the world) is playing it a bit too safe these days, FILTH should cure you of that belief almost instantly.
THE DANCE OF REALITY
I'm going to keep this short, because if you don't know well enough to see Alejandro Jodorowsky's name on a new film and just show up at the theater to be first in line to see it, well, I have very little left to say to you. Arguably his most personal, autobiographical and mesmerizingly emotional, THE DANCE OF REALITY is about the Jodorowsky family, with the writer-director's son, Brontis, playing Alejandro's father Jaime, living on the Chilean coastal town of Tocopilla, while the director pops in from time to time as himself observing his younger self—not judging but not as a bystander either.
After a 23-year hiatus, Jodorowsky delivers a work that examines what made his family function, filtering these ideas through the eyes of the filmmaker as a child (Jeremias Herskovits). The boy both loved and feared his father (who admired Joseph Stalin immensely), while he heard his lovely mother (Pamela Flores) speak in operatic tones. The film gives us some clues as to how the filmmaker sees the world in all its harshness and poetry, and populated by surreal characters and moments.
While all of Jodorowsky's films (EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN, SANTA SANGRE) have autobiographical elements to them, The Dance of Reality feels more accessible and direct in its approach to taking a serious look at the earliest memories of a person who grew up to make some of the most truly bewitching works in cinema. While the recently released documentary JODOROWSKY'S DUNE opened a window into how he would have approached pure science fiction many decades ago, THE DANCE OF REALITY is lovely and reflective and absurd and intimate. It's a film where a child can converse with a corpse, and it doesn't seem that strange or out of step with the real world. By taking this (slightly) more straight-forward approach to storytelling, Jodorowsky does what he does best: continues to surprise us while stimulating our minds.
I don't know how French writer-director Cédric Klapisch (WHEN THE CAT'S AWAY, FAMILY RESEMBLANCES) has done it, but he has once again assembled the cast from his previous films, 2002's L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE and 2005's RUSSIAN DOLLS, to continue the domestic dramas of a core group of characters that he's been following for nearly 15 years in CHINESE PUZZLE. Now all of his characters have or are about to have children, and all want to move to New York city to make a go of it. In the current timeline, mildly successful writer Xavier (Romain Duris) and his wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) break up, and soon she moves to New York from Paris, with Xavier in hot pursuit because he misses their two kids so much. But unlike Wendy, who immediately hooks up with a rich American (Peter Hermann), Xavier must begin the long and complicated process of becoming an American citizen so he can work and afford to stay in America.
Meanwhile, his best friend Isabelle (Cecile De France) is living with her lesbian lover Ju (Sandrine Holt), and they are trying to have a baby. Since Isabelle doesn't believe in anonymous donors, they enlist Xavier to help out while he crashes on their couch in search of money, a job and a place of his own. Not to be left out of the Big Apple experience, Xavier's ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) comes to New York on business (and later with her kids for vacation), and they end up in a very cramped bed together, because that's what single people do when they haven't had sex in a while.
At its core, CHINESE PUZZLE is a romantic comedy that deals with very real relationship issues and emotions. It's fun to watch this extremely talented, mostly European cast mingle with New Yorkers and even occasionally break out into English. A great deal of the film takes place in Chinatown (where Xavier finds a small apartment and a woman who will marry him so he can get his citizenship faster), so the European flavor is sprinkled with Chinese culture. It's a whimsical set of stories that have a bit more weight than a typical American comedy in this vein would. The film showcases a few New York locations that most films set in that city might not, and it makes the whole experience seem more authentic to foreigners living and working under these conditions.
Director Klapisch seems committed to making sure his characters end up better off by the end of these films than they are at the beginning, which isn't hard to do for some of them, but it makes for a little less suspense when it comes to the outcome of their lives. Still, after seeing these characters grow over the course of three films, we've started to get to know them, anticipate their paths, and be surprised when things don't quite turn out the way we think they will. With CHINESE PUZZLE, the series continues to be enjoyable, witty, sexy and capable of throwing us a curve ball every now and then. Here's hoping they keep making these every few years, because clearly there are more stories to tell.
-- Steve Prokopy
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