DISCONNECT, ARTHUR NEWMAN and THE ICEMAN



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Disconnect, the new techno-thriller from writer Andrew Stern and director Henry Alex Rubin, spends half its time preaching the horrors of modern computer technology and all the evils it can spawn, and then seems to change its mind and spend the other half telling us how that very same technology (and the evil it spawns) can bring estranged people together and save our souls by revealing who we really are.  One might think that the filmmakers were going for irony, but I have to be honest and say I think irony was the last thing in play here.  For me, the driving force of the film was pandering to the audience with filmmakers taking a typical middlebrow approach to art: confront the audience with something important and even horrendous, but only to the degree that it doesn’t upset them too much and affect the box office. 
Disconnect has several through lines in which people are linked in a sort of La Ronde relationship—one person in one story is connected in some way to a person in another.  It never comes full circle, so it doesn’t quite fit the structure of Schnitzler’s legendary opus, but it is the cleverest aspect of the film and perhaps the only satisfactory irony to be found: we’re all disconnected due to the internet, yet we end up being even more connected than we thought. 
The movie is ambitious and sincere, but never quite has the emotional impact it is aiming for.  One reason for this is that for a thriller, Stern and Rubin aren’t able to really generate that many, well, thrills.   There’s a lot of conflict, but precious little tension and it seems to take its time going anywhere.  There could be several reasons for this.  None of the various stories are all that original and their plot lines have few surprises; every turn is signaled well before it happens and the resolutions are rather ho-hum with a touch of LOL along for the ride (they all climax in a set of slow motion, Matrix like intercut sequences that were probably suppose to emphasize the tragedy of it all, but instead only doubled the over the top feeling that was already there).  
In addition, each through line has enough going for it to be a whole movie unto itself; but by squeezing each plotline into the length of basically a half hour TV episode, it tended to also squeeze out all the suspense (I couldn’t help but think of what Alfred Hitchcock or Claude Chabrol could have done with just one of the stories).   Finally, the whole thing just felt a bit too manipulated, never quite real, with characters that seemed more driven by the plot than the plot being driven by the characters; the result is that the more empathy the filmmakers tried to create for their characters, the less there was.
The acting is solid, but save for a couple of exceptions (Alexander Skarsgard as a victim of identity theft and Michael Nyqvist as someone who may or may not have stolen that identity), no one really rises above the limitations of the screenplay.   Hope Davis is wasted in a minor role (and for some reason is given the thankless and perplexing task of not understanding why her husband, played by Jason Bateman, might actually want to find out why his son tried to kill himself).   Everyone seems to wear their emotions on their sleeves.  Subtle is not a word that might be used to describe the film.
In Sam Shepard’s great play The Curse of the Starving Class, there is a conversation that goes something like this: one character wants to move in order to get away from their present environment, but another character responds by saying, “…but we’ll still be the same people”.  I couldn’t help but think of this when I saw Arthur Newman, a film about a man who creates a new identity for himself (yes, Virginia, Arthur’s last name is not the most subtle of choices here). 
Colin Firth plays the title character, a Babbit in a grey, flannel suit (well, since he works for Fed Ex, brown khaki pants, but you get my drift).  Arthur is a rather boring character, to be both blunt and kind.  And when he’s fired from his place of employment, he decides to reboot his life.  Unfortunately for him, and the audience, the new Arthur is as boring and uninteresting as his previous incarnation.  To make matters worse, Firth uses a bland American accent that’s even more tedious than his personality.
Things pick up a bit when he meets Emily Blunt (as things are wont to do when one meets Emily Blunt), who plays a character who has identity issues of her own, issues compounded by a game she talks Arthur into playing in which they break into people’s homes, wear their victims’ clothes, eat their victims’ food, drink their wine and have sex in their beds. 
In the end, screenwriter Becky Johnston and director Dante Ariola show great empathy for their characters, but the movie never really comes together.  I suspect that this is because there are so many through lines going on (Arthur wanting to be a golf pro; Blunt’s issues; their sex games; Arthur’s failed relationship with his son), that the filmmakers can’t seem to find a way to weave them all together in a satisfactory whole.
The Iceman, the new crime drama by writers Ariel Vromen (who also directed) and Morgan Land, is a movie where Ray Liotta finally meets someone even more psychopathic than he is and where Winona Ryder, David Schwimmer and Chris Evans try to earn street cred by playing against type (for the record, Evans comes out best).   There’s nothing really wrong with the movie.  It gets the job done and I was never bored.  Michael Shannon does very well in the title role.  But in the end, it doesn’t come close to plumbing the existential depths of the television series Dexter and falls into the “if you’ve seen one contract killer movie, you’ve seen them all”.   
Tell me what you think.

filM noIrSERY LOVES COMPANY: Reviews of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans, The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and The Missing Person


The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is the ultimate revenge fantasy. No, not the story in the movie, but the movie itself. After having been used badly by Harvey Weinstein (to put it mildly and so the rumors go), Troy Duffy (the writer/ director of both Boondock Saints films) basically told Harvey to go fuck himself. Out of the ashes that he found himself in, Troy, the phoenix, managed to make a film (the first Saints) that became a cult favorite and has now managed to write the sequel. Which means that he has basically told Harvey to go fuck himself twice and gotten away with it (or so the rumors go). I can’t say that The Boondock Saints I or II is my cup of tea, but I found a certain fascination in watching both of them. The writing is clever in both, but perhaps even more so in the sequel. There are some wonderful set pieces where Julie Benz, playing an FBI agent, reconstructs events leading up to the crime scene. And overall, there is something exciting about Duffy’s approach to storytelling structure. But for me, from a directing standpoint, everything was a bit too much, from the accents to the acting to the way everything was directed in a very frenetic, in your face manner. It’s as if Duffy was trying to out Tarrentino Tarrentino, which he might have a chance in doing as a writer, but so far, doesn’t show any real signs of being able to do it as a director. There is also something intriguuing about Duffy’s moral theology by way of the Catholic church (it’s certainly brave of him; very few writers, at least in the U.S., would be so open about it). At the same time, there’s something deeply disturbing about the dénouement where the Catholic Church is set up as the ultimate arbiter of good and evil, a sort of modern day Inquisition (and we all know how well that went over the last time that happened). What might be really interesting is getting get Duffy and Dan Brown in the same room and letting them duke it out; what a match that might be.

As surrealistic as Boondocks II, but much more level headed in approach to directing (if such a thing can be believed), is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. I call it whack. Whatever else it may be, this film by director Werner Herzog and the screenwriter William Finkelstein is definitely whack. Nicholas Cage plays a New Orleans police detective who rescues a criminal during Katrina and injures his back, causing him to become a drug addict. And whatever else you can say about Cage, he goes there, he really goes there. Wearing one shoulder higher than the other as if he were playing Richard III, eyes growing increasingly darker and skin constantly paler, he eventually begins to resemble Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s version of Nosferatu. Cage doesn’t just stop at nothing to play this character, his character also stops at nothing to solve a homicide of a family that got caught up in a drug war. There are three basic plots going on here: the homicide; Cage’s problems with drug addiction and a gambling debt; and his relationships with his recovering alcoholic father, his step-mother (who only drinks beer, so isn’t an alcoholic) and his drug addicted prostitute girlfriend. Though I lost some of the plot strands here and there on the homicide investigation, all the stories had me on the edge of my seat. And while Finkelstein’s film noir plot, full of fun and clever twists and turns, goes on its gleeful way, Herzog throws it all into a somewhat surrealistic pot and stirs frantically; somehow the two styles not just work together, they complement each other. It has been well cast, not just in the leads, but in the smaller roles where such people as Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Shawn Hatosy (what a great face), and Jennifer Coolidge (in probably her greatest performance, playing against type as Cage’s step mother) show up (an excellent primer on how to cast supporting roles, in fact). The city is overcast and depressing, even when it’s sunny, and it’s filled with alligators and iguanas even when they aren’t really there (you have to see the movie). There is no real moral to the story, except perhaps that life does not come equipped with morals. In fact, every time you think Finkelstein is going to wrap things up in a typical Hollywood character arc way, he sabotages it and takes you down a different path. Is the movie any good? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t care, that I had a great time and that it is definitely whack.

The Missing Person is more a throwback to the olden days of film noir, with a boozing, alcoholic PI caught up in a web of intrigue with lots of twist and turns. The mood is the strongest aspect of this film and it alone almost holds your interest in and of itself (most of the scenes take place at night or in dark, shadowy rooms—the cinematography is from the Gordon Willis school of The Godfather—and even the daylight scenes seem a bit dark even when it isn’t). But the story never quite holds together. Michael Shannon plays the PI, a self-destructive wino with a tragic past (and it is tragic, the revelation revolving around 9/11 is very moving). He is hired through a friend to trail someone on a train from New York to L.A., but is not told the whole story (are private eyes ever told the whole story). He ends up being used as all self-destructive, boozing PI’s with a tragic past are. Shannon’s character is a puzzlement. At times he’s rather brilliant at what he does. At other times, he seems like the biggest idiot in the business, but more at the convenience of the writer (Noah Buschel, who also directed) than because this dichotomy is an organic part of his personality. Much of the story doesn’t make a lot of sense; people don’t always act as logically as they should; and the ending is more head scratching than satisfying. But there is something oddly intriguing about it at the same time.