COSMOPOLIS


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.

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APPROPRIATE ADULT


A British two part TV drama–Samantha Morton plays the title role–a social worker who sits in on police interrogations of youths or mentally impaired adults. It’s a true story based on a frightening serial killer case from the 1980’s and it is riveting and devastating at times. Morton and Dominic West are memorable.

BATTLES BOTH BIG AND SMALL: Reviews of The Messenger and Red Cliff


The Messenger starts out a bit bumpy as it introduces two soldiers, played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, who seem to be solely defined by the fact that they are angry. Very angry. It seems to seep out of their bones. Add to that the deep misogyny of Harrelson’s character and I was a bit disheartened, fearful that that’s all I was in store for. But Foster’s character soon softens and becomes less angry as he comes into contact with heartbroken, grieving parents and especially after he comes into contact with the amazing Samantha Morton, a bit more Rubenesque than usual with some motherly, working class heft to her, an actress who can seem to do no wrong (England’s been producing a ton of these ladies lately, like Emily Mortimer, Emily Blunt, Emily Watson and Kelly McDonald, though I do think it would be nice if they got together first and came up with names that were easier to tell apart). The scenes of Foster and Harrelson breaking the news that a son, husband, relative has died while in the army, are heartbreaking and powerful. Steve Buscemi especially shines as a bitter father who screams in fury at the two soldiers, then later seeks them out to apologize. The whole movie, with a screenplay by Alessandro Camon and the director Oren Moverman, is heartbreaking and powerful. It does have some issues. Once Morton’s character disappears from the story and Foster and Harrelson are left alone to bond, the plot feels like it stops going anywhere and it’s a relief when both Buscemi and Morton return. There’s also a scene where Foster and Harrelson crash the wedding party of Foster’s ex-fiance and they make drunken fools of themselves; I didn’t know quite how I was supposed to feel and found myself squirming rather than emotionally involved. Foster’s character arc also seems a little unclear; he tells Morton he’s staying on (staying on to what; reenlisting or just staying on the detail with Harrelson—whichever one it is, it’s a bit unclear why he makes the choice). But all in all, this is a strong and touching story with a strong and touching screenplay by Alessandro Camon and director Oren Moverman.

Red Cliff, the latest John Woo opus, is magnificent, absolutely magnificent. Did I mention how magnificent it is? Well, if I didn’t, it’s magnificent. And marvelous. And wonderful. And splendid. It’s the sort of movie Roget’s Thesaurus was made for and it’s the best thing Woo’s done since he came to the U.S. where his over the top, ultra violent style counterpoised with extreme sentimentality didn’t seem to impress the studios and so he ended up doing hack work like Face Off and Mission: Impossible II. The only real drawback is that the Red Cliff I saw was only two hours and forty five minutes of the whole five hours and how I so want to see the whole complete work. As incredible as the film is, the version shown in the U.S. is a bit underwhelming when it comes to character, which is probably most of what was cut before it’s opening here, leaving only the intense and exhilarating battle scenes and the drama concerning how the enemies were going to defeat each other. The story, screenplay by John Woo, Khan Chan, Cheng Kuo and Heyu Sheng, details the conflict over the control of China during the Han Dynasty of the third century. And detail it Woo does. This is one of the few war movies in which every strategy, every move, every countermove, thrust and parry is clearly communicated. I knew exactly who was fighting whom, what was at stake and who was winning and why. And then there’s final conflict, in which whether a woman can seduce a man long enough for the wind to change is more suspenseful than any of the battle scenes. This is one of the finest movies of the year, perhaps the best directed, and it should not be missed. But to demonstrate the state of movies in the U.S., it should be noted that Red Cliff opened in L.A. not at the huge screen at Grauman’s Chinese nor at the Arclight Cinerama Dome. No, it opened at the smaller art house the Sunset V while Grauman’s opened Ninji Assasin, soon to be deemed a classic, I’m sure.