STOKER, JACK THE GIANT KILLER



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When Michael Haneke, the acclaimed filmmaker of Amour and The White Ribbon, came to the U.S., he met with a producer who gave him a script to consider.  It was an action film of some sort, a WWII something or other, a story totally inappropriate to Haneke for anyone who knew anything about his films.  To paraphrase his reaction, he asked, Is this what Hollywood is?  A place where they just grab any old thing they have lying around in a drawer to give you that hasn’t been produced yet?
This is what I thought while watching the movie Stoker.  It’s directed by Chan-wook Park, the popular South Korean director of Oldboy and Thirst, and though I can’t say that’s how he got hired to direct this film, it certainly feels like some producer just had it lying around in his drawer and foisted it upon him. 
The film was written by Wentworth Miller (his first foray into screenwriting, but I guess he had to do something to pass the time while behind bars) with Erin Cressida Wilson (Fur, Secretary) given credit as a contributing writer.  In many ways, it’s basically one of those women in danger films that almost every actress made at one time or another in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, from Barbara Stanwyck to Joan Crawford to Katherine Hepburn (yes, even Hepburn made one).  As in those films, a psychopath or sociopath or psychotic sociopath or sociopathic psychotic worms their way into a household; anything from camp to high tension occurs (and usually both).  In this entry in the once popular subgenre, when the patriarch of a wealthy family dies, his brother suddenly shows up at his funeral and takes a rather creepy interest in his niece (the man is called Uncle Charlie for those who like film references and have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt).   Various bad things happen as a result.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the screenplay.  It certainly gets the job done.  At the same time, for someone of Park’s oeuvre, it’s rather routine.  No, I have to be honest here.  It’s very routine. No, that doesn’t quite do it.  It’s ridiculously and insultingly routine.  Is this really the best the U.S. can offer a filmmaker of Park’s stature?
To Park’s credit, he directs the hell out of the movie.  He fills it with odd angles and creepy sounds (there’s suppose to be some through line about the niece, India, being able to hear things other people can’t, though there never seemed to be a pay off for it).  There’re all sorts of overlaps and dissolves and plenty of visual metaphors (like a spider crawling up India’s leg and going between her thighs—subtle much?).   Park gives it the old Orson Welles try (who also had to constantly flaunt his directing in order to cover up lackluster material as in Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai).  And it must be said, Stoker is often an effective and even beautiful movie.
But it’s also one of these stories where people go missing and no one seems that concerned about what happened to them, unless it’s convenient for the plot.   Everyone who knows Charlie’s secret seems extremely worried about India, but not her mother, Evelyn, who in many ways is chopped liver by the time the movie is over.   The two both share the same house with Charlie, but it’s only India who anyone is concerned about (I thought sure the big revelation was going to be that Charlie was actually India’s real father, but no, this interest of Charlie’s for India was left a bit vague for me).   And the ending doesn’t really resolve anything or provide a satisfying emotional resolution.  In fact, by the time it was over, I was wondering whether a bit too much of it ended up on the cutting room floor.
The movie is nicely cast for the most part.  The actors do the best they can with the material.  Mia Wasikowski is India and she’s fine (she’s very good at sexual yearning and having an orgasm while playing the piano with her Uncle).  Nicole Kidman handles the material well in her roll as an escapee from a Tennessee William’s play.  The strongest acting comes from that remarkable down under discovery Jacki Weaver, and her performance here may make her one of the finest character actresses in films since Thelma Ritter.  Mathew (A Single Man, Matchpoint, Watchmen) Goode is Uncle Charlie; he’s lovely to look at, but his performance is a bit flat, like his American accent.
 I know I’ve been really hard on this film.  But I think it’s because Park deserves better.  The U.S. film industry has chewed up and spewed out many an artist over the years and I would hate to have the same thing happen to Park.  But Stoker is not a promising beginning for an American career.
I saw Jack the Giant Slayer.  Yes, I did.  It was at this nice theater I love to go to and there really wasn’t much else showing and a friend wanted to go for lack of a better movie out there to see, so we went.   It’s not a disaster.  If only it were; it would have been a lot more fun.  It’s actually, in certain ways, better written and acted and at times cleverer than Stoker.   It’s directed by Bryan Singer (are we ever going to have another movie like The Usual Suspects again), has four authors (yes, four), and stars Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Eddie Marsan and Ian McShane, with Stanley Tucci as the gay character who can’t be identified as gay because that would be offensive.   But one spends most of the time wondering why any of them actually wanted to do the film.  It’s one of those movies in which a woman claims to be raised by her mother to be a feminist, but the chief lesson she was taught is to marry for love.  It’s one of those movies meant for a family audience, but it has so many people being slaughtered, that it’s just kind of depressing.  It’s one of those movies where the good guys’ army is being massacred, but they never seem to run out of soldiers.  In the end, it’s just one of those movies, one of the worst things a movie can be.  

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS OSCAR 2012



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Continuing my analysis of the 2012 Oscar race, it’s time to look at the Best Supporting Actress category.  This category has one of the same issues as the Supporting Actor category: for every lead in a movie, there are numerous supporting roles.  At the same time, as usual, it does look like the group is getting narrowed down to six or seven.
This category does have two unique issues this year.  One is that, unlike the Supporting Actor category, career noms are rare in the female categories (there are exceptions, like Lauren Bacall, Sylvia Sydney and Ann Southern).  The nominees are on average much younger than their male counterparts.
The other issue I wrote about in my entry on Best Actress.  This is a weak year for women, so some actresses have to make a decision whether to push themselves in the lead or supporting.  In a normal year, actresses like Jessica Chastain and Helen Hunt, and even Helen Mirren maybe, might have gone for a supporting nom.  But this year, they may be feeling that they might be able to get a lead nom (Jessica Chastain has apparently decided to go for it).   Also, Helen Mirren definitely has a leading role and a good chance of being nominated.
Now the list:
Anne Hathaway to win for Les Miserables.  This is actually a difficult prediction to make since the movie hasn’t opened yet, so it’s an unknown quantity.  But the buzz is so…buzzardly, that it seems like for now, this is what is going to happen.   She’s also a lead actress taking a supporting role (Robin Williams, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Helen Hunt for The Sessions.  Pretty much a sure thing.  It’s an excellent performance that is really being pushed.  And the possibility of John Hawkes getting a Best Actor nom will only help her.
Sally Field for Lincoln.  Also pretty much a sure thing.  Like Hunt, it’s hard to see how this won’t happen.  It’s a strong performance in a movie that is doing better than people predicted and may, now that Argo has peaked perhaps too soon, actually win best picture.
Amy Adams for The Master.  As I’ve said before, the movie went over my head and I don’t really understand people’s ravings about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (I felt that it wasn’t their acting so much as their characters weren’t that well written).  But everybody seems to think this is a done deal.  But I suspect that the people behind the push for The Master may have to put some extra effort just to get the voters to see it since my impression was that it didn’t have that great a reception (except by critics, which may help turn the tide as the critics awards start dribbling in).
As for the other possibilities:
Maggie Smith for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  In many ways a surprise for me.  The movie kind of came and went.   But it’s Maggie Smith, who is one of the world’s finest actresses, and with the right push, they may be right.   There’s good buzz here.
Ann Dowd for Compliance.   I personally hope she makes it.  She’s great and it’s always fun when an unknown in a small movie makes the list (Melissa Leo in Frozen River and Richard Jenkins in the Visitor).  My friend says she may get the Jacki Weaver nomination (they are both character actors, older women, relatively unknown before their movies were released—Weaver got a nom for Animal Kingdom).   There is only one problem here and that is that Jacki Weaver may get the Jacki Weaver nomination.
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook.  A popular movie and Weaver is very good so she may be dragged along with the other nominees.  Poor Bradley Cooper if she does, because he will be the only major actor in the movie not to get a nom.
There are other names out there, but as of right now, no one that serious.
However, something should be said about Jessica Chastain.  For awhile, she was assumed to be running in the supporting category for Zero Dark Thirty, then she changed to lead.  One issue here is that the movie hasn’t been released, so it is an unknown quantity.  What most people were commenting on, though, is what part could she have in a film about the killing of Bin Laden that could be a lead?  This may be a bit chauvinistic an observation, but we are curious.  And it does seem, as far as I can tell, that the Golden Globes have put her in lead (and they make the determination before the voting commences).  So we shall see whether Chastain has talked herself out of a nom or not.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK



Before the start of Silver Linings Playbook (which I and my friends saw at the wonderful Vista Theatre), my friend leaned over to me and said, “I can’t wait.  One more Django Unchained preview and we’ve got the whole set”.
Silver Linings Playbook, writer/director David O. Russell’s new upbeat film about downbeat subject matter (an appropriately bipolar approach to the thematic elements here perhaps), was probably not best served by its previews which advertised a movie that came across as a lighthearted romp of a rom com filled with stock characters and a formulaic plot (I almost became as depressed as some of the characters on screen at the thought of having to watch it).  Even the title conjures up nightmares of Shirley Temple, Pollyanna and Little Orphan Annie.   Though I can’t say the actual movie manages to completely avoid these issues, at the same time, for a rom com, it’s not really that lighthearted or even that funny with scenes that cut a bit too close to reality to entice laughter; the characters are far more complex that you might think; and the formula, well, yes, that’s a harder one to defend, though it must be said that Russell does some clever stuff here to make the medicine go down.   
SLP (as it’s acronymically known) starts out a bit wobbly.   I think for me that was due to Bradley Cooper (in the lead role of bi-polar and deeply, emotionally unstable Pat) being the first actor thrust upon us.  Cooper acquits himself well enough in the role.  He’s definitely not bad and at times rather good.  At the same time, his matinee idol looks and a somewhat bland, slightly monotone reading of his lines was not a good sign.  And when he acts opposite other superior thespians in the film, this flaw got magnified just a tiny bit.  At the same time, as the story goes on, Cooper’s performance does grow on you, as does his character.  He becomes more and more like Tyrone Power, Susan Hayward and even Joan Crawford, actors who substituted natural talent with hard work to such a degree that at times one couldn’t really tell the difference.
The real standout here is Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany (as fragile as that glass, perhaps?), a remarkable actress who came to real prominence in her Oscar nominated role in Winter’s Bone (and then proved not only could she act, she could also make a ton of money in the soon to be franchise The Hunger Games).  She has something that most actors would die for, a pair of the most expressive eyes anyone could ever want, eyes that with a slight (very slight) flickering change of expression can careen from impudence, to pain, to fury, to wonderful comic timing (for some reason, this thought makes me think of the lines from Rebecca: “Most girls would give their eyes to see Monte!” “Wouldn’t that rather defeat the purpose?”).   And she has palpable chemistry with Cooper, which don’t hurt.
She’s backed by a well cast supporting set of players.  First, what is it about Boardwalk Empire anyway which seems to be the go to place now as the best television series to find the most talented fillers for smaller rolls (this time round Shea Whigham as Pat’s older brother).  But more to the point, Robert De Niro as Pat’s father (it’s been awhile since he’s had a role this worthy of his talents) scores as a man with his own pain, as well as OCD and anger management issues, while Jacki Weaver (the monstrous “And you’ve done some bad things sweetie, haven’t you?” matron in Animal Kingdom) uses a kewpie doll voice to match a face constantly filled with worry in the role of Pat’s mother.   In many ways, I think this is Russell’s real triumph here, the very accurate portrayal of people caught in the whirlwind of someone who is bi-polar, people who simply don’t know what to do, especially when the person who desperately needs help won’t help himself and even claims that he is fine and doesn’t need any help (and a sledgehammer wouldn’t convince him), people who can change from despair to euphoria and vice versa on the turn of a single line. 
The script does falter a bit after the half way point as Russell has to set up various plot points to force the ending.   This is where the formula charge has a certain validity.  The way everything works out, as well as how all the various plot points come together, is rather familiar and predictable with few surprises.  At the same time, Russell pulls some cleverness out of his hat here, especially in a scene in which everybody sets up a parlay bet, a scene so hysterically funny, so preposterous and ridiculous, you forget it’s covering up a formulaic turn in the plot and that in certain ways, it’s really not very believable.   
I also have a few other regrets here.  I strongly, and very pompously, suggest it would have been better if one of the best scenes, a montage of Tiffany and Pat dancing while in the background the haunting Girl From North County played in juxtaposition, probably came too early and would have worked a bit better closer to the finale.  And the final dance number is a bit disappointing since it was choreographed more by the editor than by dancer Mandy Moore (this is one of the downsides to the fall of the studio system—up until the 1950’s or ‘60’s, Lawrence and Cooper would have been rehearsing this scene for ages before the actual shooting so that it could done with only a few cuts—the difference in effect is a bit of a letdown). 
But at the same time Russell has created a deeply moving and often powerful movie here (one that, based on YouTube sensations staring the aforesaid director, makes one wonder whether part of the sensitivity here is due to some autobiographical element—but, of course, I really have no idea and would never venture to suggest such a possibility).  One can’t deny the effect the ending has on the audience.  It’s doubtful that few will leave disappointed. 

THE WOMEN: Predictions for Academy Award nominations and awards: Actress and Supporting Actress


As is the case for most of the categories, most of the noms have pretty much already been determined and there’s little that can be done to stop the runaway train, outside one of the potentials being arrested as a child murderer. Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Natalie Portman (The Black Swan) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) are in with the in crowd, Lawrence especially after her award for Breakthrough Performance from the National Board of Review. However, the fight for who will actually win is between Bening and Portman. I believe the award will go to Bening, because, as the cliché has it, it’s her time. Portman has many supporters, but she’s still new to the whole awards thingy and I believe the Academy will want to make her earn a few more dues before giving her a statuette.

The final two spots are a bit up for grabs. Nicole Kidman will probably be number four for the Rabbit Hole, the best and most interesting work she’s done in some time, even if the movie is just an excellent okay picture. The only hesitation here is that the movie has yet to open, plus an additional caveat listed below.

As for the last spot, it’s between Leslie Manville for Another Year and Tilda Swinton for I Am Love. I believe that most people have now forgotten about I Am Love, which means that if the Academy is looking for another art house nominee to add to Lawrence’s nom, they will probably go for Manville, a movie that hasn’t opened yet. Manville won the National Board of Review, which can’t hurt, and Mike Leigh, who directed the film, has a pretty good track record in getting his actors nominations. Which means, poor Tilda Swinton. I’m not sure why Swinton is being so overlooked. She won an Oscar, for God’s sake, yet she can’t get no respect for Julia last year, and this year, it looks like it’s a no go for I Am Love. It probably didn’t help that her movie wasn’t the Italian entry in the foreign language category. It would probably also help if her movies were released later in the year. What may make the final determination here is the end of year critics’ awards, which might turn the tide in someone’s favor.

Julianne Moore is also in the “can’t get no respect” situation as well. Last year she was overlooked for a nom for A Single Man for some ungodly reason. This year, she may be left out in the cold for The Kids Are All Right. There’s some talk of pushing her for Supporting Actress, which may be her only hope. Sally Hawkins has a chance of getting an apology nomination for Made in Dagenham after not getting a slot for Happy-Go-Lucky, but though some people like her latest film, it’s not really getting the buzz. The same for Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs; no one seems to really hate it, but no one is responding to it either. I think most people have forgotten that Secretariat has come out, which probably dooms Diane Lane (one of our most underrated actresses). Blue Valentine hasn’t opened yet, so it’s hard to say how Michelle Williams will do. She’s done an incredible job of making everyone forget she was ever in Dawson’s Creek, but I’m getting the feeling her chances will be hurt by the “do I really have to see one more film for Oscar consideration, and such a downer one at that” situation. At the same time, Weinstein is distributing the movie, and it’s never good to count a Weinstein movie out of the running. Noomi Rapace is also being touted for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but she seems to be getting lost in the shuffle; what actually may not have helped is the releasing of all three movies in one year—voters may wonder which one they’re supposed to nominate her for or even forget that the first one was even released this year.

However, there is one possibility of a huge monkey wrench: Helen Mirren in the Tempest. She’s liked; she’s playing a part written for a man (and written by Shakespeare); and it’s the sort of part that, if it takes movie goers by storm, could get her a last minute nomination. If it happens, this may spell doom for Nicole Kidman.

At this point, the Supporting Actress is the most suspense filled because there is no clear front runner. The most definite nominees as of now are Helena Bonham Carter (a lot of fun in The King’s Speech); Melissa Leo (for The Fighter, which hasn’t opened yet); Diane Weist (wonderful, simply wonderful, in the Rabbit Hole); and finally Jacki Weaver, who seems a sure shot at a nom because of her National Board of Review win for The Animal Kingdom. My friend Jerry in Chicago thinks it will go to Bonham Carter who will be swept up in the wins for The King’s Speech and because some might consider it her time. I’m going to go for Melissa Leo because I think the Academy has been dying to give her an award ever since Frozen River and since she is a character actress and not a lead, there may not be enough possibilities in the future; it may be now or never. Though Diane Weist is very moving in Rabbit Hole, the nom is all she’ll get. And as for Jacki Weaver, who quite possibly deserves it, well, let’s face it, it’s an Australian Film, and the Academy is loath to give an acting award, especially a supporting one, to a film made outside of the U.S., unless it’s England (the Commonwealth doesn’t count).

For the fifth nomination, many names are being tossed about, but the two who have the greatest chance are Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right, if she is pushed for the position, and Hailee Steinfeld, for the unreleased True Grit. Right now, I’d say Steinfeld has the momentum, but it does depend on who well received the movie is.

THE PLOT COAGULATES: The National Board of Review Awards and the Oscars 2010


The National Board of Review Awards came out, which means that the race for the Oscar has officially begun (the NBR is the New Hampshire of the Academy). This also means I’ll postpone my column on the Best Actress race just a tad to analyze what the NBR awards mean.

Actually, they don’t mean an awful lot. The NBR and the Oscars sometimes agree (No Country for Old Men; Slumdog Millionare) and sometimes don’t (The Hurt Locker when NBR chose Up in the Air). The NBR is actually seen as a bit more mainstream, being conservative in their awards (like the Republican center right), which makes it surprising they chose The Social Network over The King’s Speech. That could suggest some sort of zeitgeist change in what people who give awards look for in movies, but it just as probably doesn’t.

I still think The King’s Speech will win Best Picture and Colin Firth Actor (over NBR’s choice of Jessi Eisenberg for The Social Network), if for no other reason than that the Weinsteins don’t mean a hoot to the NBR. Actress should still go to Annette Bening (over NBR’s Leslie Manville for Another Year). At the same time, the honors here for Manville and Eisenberg do help them gain a firm foundation for a nomination, so it is significant in that way. This also supports David Fincher being one of the five directing nominees that will have to be culled from the top ten titles come Academy Award voting time.

However, there are two awards that, gremlin like, could be throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Best Supporting Actor went to Christian Bale for The Fighter. Bale is considered Geoffrey Rush’s main rival for the win and this will only keep Bale (a popular actor within the industry, even if he has a reputation for being difficult) in the mind’s eye. Best Supporting Actress is totally up in the air right now; NBR gave it (possibly very deservedly) to Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. I don’t think this will move Taylor any closer to winning; it just keeps the Supporting Actress waters very muddy.

Also significant is that The Social Network won best Adapted Screenplay. I wasn’t sure whether Aaron Sorkin’s script was considered original or adapted. Since it’s adapted, David Seidler, who wrote The King’s Speech, can start rehearsing what he’s going to say Oscar night when he wins for Original Screenplay since Sorkin was his main, if only, rival. The award for Original Screenplay went to Chris Sparling for Buried, which may help jump start his campaign for a nom, but I can’t see it winning over The King’s Speech.

Best Foreign Language film went to Of Gods and Men from France. The winner of this award for the Oscars can often be determined solely by the subject matter of the film. Of Gods and Men is about conflict between a Catholic Order and Fundamentalists: sounds like a winner to me.

The Town got an award for Best Ensemble which could help Jeremy Renner’s chances for a Supporting Actor nom. Jennifer Lawrence got the Breakthrough Performance award which should help cement her nom for Best Actress.

And, of course, what’s very interesting here is what didn’t make the top ten lists. The Black Swan, 127 Hours and The Kids Are All Right, all considered shoe ins for nominations, were conspicuous by their absence.

Isn’t this fun.

THE EVIL THAT MEN DO: Reviews of Animal Kingdom, The American and Mesrine, Part II: Public Enemy No. 1


Not long after seeing Animal Kingdom I was watching White Heat, the classic James Cagney film of 1949, the one where he is quoted as saying ‘[t]op of the word, ma” when he really says, “Made it, Ma. Top of the world”. Margaret Wycherly plays Ma, one of the great gangster villainesses in American cinema (for my friends who have no idea what I’m talking about, White Heat and Wycherly were both satirized in the third Naked Gun movie). But it’s doubtful that Wycherly holds a candle to Jacki Weaver as Janine Cody, the loving mother and grandmother who would regretfully, but very calmly and with all determination, have her grandson murdered if it meant preventing one of her sons from going to jail. The only scenes more chilling than that are the ones where she kisses her sons full on the lips a bit too deliberately, and then wipes them off, as if that would actually make the incestuous implication go away. It’s a fascinating study of pure evil, or actually the banality of evil, and Weaver plays it for all it’s worth.

The movie has a darkly comic opening in which Jacki’s grandson Joshua Cody, played by newcomer James Frecheville, watches a game show while he sits beside a woman who has passed out, or so it seems. It’s not long before some EMT’s arrive and it turns out that the woman is his mother and has actually OD’d, with Joshua able to answer all the EMT’s questions with the sort of detailed answers about a mother a teenager shouldn’t have to know. And to top it all off, as the EMT’s take his mother away, Joshua finds it almost impossible to stop watching the game show on TV. The rest of the movie is equally funny and depressing in the same doses. Joshua is picked up by his grandmother Janine and taken to live with his uncles, a group of bank thieves that are high on the list of a special police section who have taken to just killing their perps when they get frustrated at not being able to convict them the old fashion way. The family members themselves are the sort Ma Barker would have loved: a drug addict; a sociopath who has the hots for underaged girls; a third who starts falling apart the minute he ends up in jail; you know—Mama’s boys all. Joshua has no choice but to get in over his head until he has to take control in a final scene that is as devastating as it is surprising and makes a perfect bookend to the opening.

Animal Kingdom is one of the best movies of the year. The ensemble cast is first rate (though Guy Pearce seems to be around for no other reason than that he’s Guy Pearce and he’s from Australia). It’s one of those where no one is likeable, but everybody is fascinating. The script, by the director David Michod, is sharp and mesmerizing and the story coagulates with tension. One could question a late scene in which Joshua decides not to turn in a corrupt cop, but take matters into his own hands (he doesn’t really seem to have the brains, but maybe the family genes are finally kicking in). But that’s the sort of objection that makes my friends annoyed with me, so I’m not sure I’d worry too much about it.

I found The American both incredibly fascinating and incredibly boring at the same time; an odd response, perhaps, but apparently when I tell my friends that, many of them are in full agreement. The fascination comes from the strong, but intensely quiet, so quiet it sounds like a foghorn, mood created by the director Anton Corbijn, who also made the wonderful movie Control about singer Ian Curtis of Joy Division. The American proves that Corbijn can work equally well in color and black and white. The fascination is also helped by the setting, a smallish Italian town built on a hill that is full of twisting and turning streets, odd thoroughfares and more than enough dark corners to please any director of film noir. Much of the film does little more than follow lead George Clooney as Jack/Edward, a paid assassin, as he wanders the streets waiting for his fate to meet him at any moment around the next corner. There’s one incredible shot of the city from above showing a town that looks like one of those mazes that mice are put into when they are experimented upon. Not long ago, I got into Italian giallo films and one thing that struck me is that they all had these incredible settings that were characters in and of themselves, as if the location was found first and then a story was spun around it spiderlike. I’m not so sure that the same thing didn’t happen here.

The reason I found it incredibly boring is that I knew exactly what was going to happen ages before it happened. The screenplay by Rowan Jaffe has almost no plot turn that isn’t a cliché and no twist that hasn’t been telegraphed by Western Union, with only one jolting moment at the end that took me by surprise. The plot follows Clooney as he is ambushed while taking some time off from killing people. He flees to Rome while his boss tries to find out who is responsible for what happened. He is given an assignment (one of those last assignments that one only sees in movies), to help a beautiful young assassin by making a weapon for her that she is to use on her next gig. Now, if you can’t tell what happens from those three sentences, you have no one to blame but yourself. The whole spy versus spy conflict is straight out of the John Le Carre and Graham Greene school of burnt out secret agent men. In fact, one conversation Clooney has with a prostitute in which he tells her she doesn’t need to fake an orgasm is quite close to a conversation that Richard Gere gives a prostitute in the movie The Honorary Counsel, based on a Greene novel, down to the prostitute claiming she isn’t faking an orgasm, she really feels it (which in the world of Greene means that a woman is in love; Greene always had a touch of chauvinism about him).

One could also have doubts about the world view inherent in this story. It’s a world in which a mysterious organization that is never identified gets away with murder on a regular basis. No one knows who they are and none of them are ever caught. The police are no more than a siren heard in the background. In other words, it’s one of those paranoid government fantasies that one only sees in movies like Enemy of the State and Shooter, in which some black ops organization has omnipotent power, but still can’t keep the liberals out of office. It may work dramatically, but it’s a little hard to take it seriously, especially in a country that couldn’t kill Castro when it wanted.

But Jaffe is trying to do more than make a thriller. He also wants to explore the nature of redemption of the existence of God in a world that seems cold and heartless, and I’m all for that. Clooney is rather good at these moody blues introspective roles and his worn out good looks help carry things along. It ends with Clooney’s death, but with his soul, symbolized by a butterfly, wafting up to heaven. I have to be honest and say though I like the idea, I’m not convinced that Clooney’s character earned his salvation or his place above. He promises the prostitute to take her away with him, but surely that’s not quite equal to all the dead bodies he’s left in his path.

Mesrine, Part II: Public Enemy #1 is even better than Mesrine, Part I: Killer Instinct. To recap, Vincent Cassel plays Jacques Mesrine, the John Dillinger of France whose career of crime lasted into the 1960’s and like Dillinger, he managed to get a reputation of being a Robin Hood without ever giving to the poor. Again, Mesrine is all Cassel, a sociopath with delusions of romance, and who was famous for being charming. And Cassel is even more charming in this installment, in spite of the fact that he is forty pounds heavier, sometimes shaves part of his head to disguise himself and has a ridiculous sideburn/mustache/beard combo (though in his defense, so did everybody in those days). It also has some of the first part’s faults, like a plot that doesn’t seem to think it needs to set up characters or situations as it jumps and weaves from episode to episode with a certain anarchic structure. It does falter a bit toward the end as the chase scenes get a tad redundant and Mesrine tries to justify his sociopathology by claiming to be a revolutionary who only targets banks in order to bring the government down (and I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge in my pocket); there are actually times when you think the film’s creators (director Jean-Francois Richet, writers Abdel Raouf Dafri and Richet, and Cassel himself whose baby this is) might actually be buying it. The supporting case is fine, though none can equal Cassel’s bulldozing performance like Gerard Depardieu did in the first part. Even Mathieu Amalric, one of my favorite French actors, gets left behind in Cassel’s wake.