Cosmopolis is a “where to begin” film…where to begin…yes, where to begin.  Well, I suppose that in the end all one can do is be as honest as possible and say, as much as it saddens me since it was written and directed by idiosyncratic and ambitious filmmaker David Cronenberg, that Cosmopolis is…terrible, just terrible, a misfire from beginning to end, with almost no redeeming value whatsoever.   At the same time, I could never take my eyes off the screen.  Was it because I was hoping that it would all turn into something, anything?  Was it because I was watching a train wreck in slow motion?  Was it because I was in shock over the idea that so much talent had been put to use for a movie that was so obviously not working and no one seems to know it?  I don’t know.  But I just couldn’t look away.

The story revolves around twenty-eight year old billionaire Eric Packer who decides to take his state of the art limo (if state of the art means a vehicle normally used in futuristic sci-fi films) to get a haircut, an Odyssey like journey made more difficult by the city being confronted by Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and a visit from the president.   The movie probably gets off to a weak start by leaving out a key event, an opening scene where the audience is informed that Packer is hemorrhaging all his money, a scene which would give context to almost all of his actions, especially his primary one of wanting to get a short back and sides (rather, we have to read between the lines to get this, rarely the best choice in a screenplay).   Instead, we are told there may be a threat on Packer’s life, something that gives the story no context at all.  

At the same time, it’s doubtful that such a scene would have ultimately helped much since the movie is mostly a series of pax de deuxs in which people have intellectual conversations in highly stylized language that makes anything anyone says sounds like they’re speaking Klingon.   The rest of it revolves around Packer having sex (with an art dealer fuck buddy; one of his body guards; and his doctor who gives him a prostrate exam that nearly gives him an orgasm).  Oh, yes, he also occasionally runs into his wife where he spends time asking her when they are going to have sex again.  And the majority of it happens in the back of his four wheeled penteconter which crawls at such a snail’s pace, it looks like it’s going backwards at times (Ulysses got home in less time than it takes Packer to get to his barbershop). 

My hats are off to all of the actors—well, most of them.  Filled with such stellar performers as Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton and Paul Giamatti, they’re so devoted to their characters, they actually had me convinced at times they new what their lines meant, though I still question whether they did.

But then there’s Robert Pattinson, who plays the callow Packer.  Where to begin.  Yes, where to begin.  First, in full disclosure, I have never been able to get through a Twilight film.  I even consider it one of those movies whose damage is far greater than anyone suspects.  Because of the franchise’s success, we are going to be burdened with film after film in which the leads are given to Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who just don’t have the heft or ability to carry them off (I call it the Love Story curse).   Pattinson mumbles through most of his lines (it worked for Marlon Brando, but not so much here), never once convincing in his role.  Though it’s easy to understand why he was cast as a vampire in those other films (every time you look at his mouth, you swear he has fangs for teeth), his casting here may be a bit more puzzling.

In the end, the best performance is given by the limo Packer rides in.  It’s a sleek black number (at least on the inside—so slimming, you know), with a leather throne, couch, computers, television, fully stocked and fully lit bars, and a urinal.  It slowly gets covered by graffiti and dented up along the way, which means it also has the most fully developed character arc as well.

COMPLEX SITUATIONS: Reviews of the Baader Meinhof Complex and Paris

This will continue my love affair with foreign films with reviews of two more movies, The Baader Meinhof Complex and Paris.

The Baader Meinhof Complex is the last movie I needed to see in order to fill in the best foreign language film nominees for the 2008 Oscars. TMBC (as I affectionately call it) is an exciting and exhilarating movie that you can’t stop watching. Whatever else you might say about it, you can’t say it’s boring. But at the same time, though based on a true story, once I was through watching it, I had more questions than answers. As the credits took to the screen, I realized I still wasn’t sure who the Complex was or what they were trying to do, or more accurately, what their short terms goals were in trying to achieve their long term goals. Because of this, the most engaging character was Horst Herold, the head of the German police force, the man brought in to bring them down (portrayed by the great Bruno Ganz who also played Adolf Hitler in Downfall—coincidence or conspiracy, you be the judge). Herold didn’t just want to arrest the Complex, he wanted to get rid of the root causes of their existence. Since no one else agreed with him, today with have this film. One does feel for Harold. After all, if the screenwriters Bernd Eichinger and Uli Edel (who also directed) couldn’t help us understand what it was all about, it’s a bit hard to believe that Herold could fare much better. At times it feels like a final round of Wheel of Fortune in which the audience has been given the most commonly used letters and vowels, but must now guess a few more and hope to get enough to figure out the final phrase. The best known here of the actors in the U.S. is probably Moritz (Run, Lola, Run; The Experiment; The Walker—the last as Woody Harrelson’s lover) Bleibtreu. He plays the racist, chauvinistic Andreas Baader as if he were the schoolyard bully who thought he was entitled to everyone’s lunch money and couldn’t understand why everyone else didn’t agree with him. He’s very good. All the actors are. In the end, you can’t help but wonder whether the whole thing worked better for a German audience who may have been better able to fill in the blanks more easily that someone in the U.S., in the same way we might be able to fill in the blanks about a movie about the Kent State shootings. But whatever the movie’s faults, it is highly entertaining.

Paris is a series of several different stories about people living in Paris that sort of, kind of, but never really, and certainly never convincingly, interlock. The most successful of the several story lines is the one with Romain Duris, he of the odd chest hair and the perpetual sneer that even a goatee can’t fully hide. Duris is one of the finest young French actors today, the male Audrey Tautou (I call him that because he is an ingénue and is in every other French film these days—he’s even played a young Moliere while Tautou has played a young Coco Chanel). Duris plays a dancer with a Follies Bergere looking type show who develops a heart condition that will kill him if he’s unable to get a transplant. Juliette Binoche, one of the more amazing French actors, plays his sister who moves in with her children in order to take care of them (it’s wonderful seeing these two together). The other stories, with some of the more recognizable French characters actors these days, all have their moments, but are never as interesting or dramatically satisfying as the one with Duris (who achieves true pathos in his final scene). The others also all wear out their welcome long before they should; they keep on going and going like the Energizer Bunny and become just as annoying. The screenplay, by the director Cedric Klapisch, known for the much more enjoyable While the Cat’s Away and L’auberge espagnol, often feels like a movie based on a book of short stories which the screenwriter is desperately trying to weave together into a satisfying whole (can you say Short Cuts). But it never completely works.