Friday, November 30, 2012

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)

Like so many modern movie titles, Lincoln is only one word, and as with so many other titles, this offers an oversimplified, even misleading idea of what the actual film contains. Though Steven Spielberg roped in perhaps the most noteworthy white elephant actor of our time, Daniel Day-Lewis, to portray the 16th president, Lincoln concerns the man only elliptically. He appears chiefly as a do-gooder who relies on Machiavellian practices, one of which is the use of others to do his dirty work. And though the film concentrates on the passage of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln’s most celebrated achievement and undoubtedly an act of great good, Lincoln reveals that the path to that moment was rough and dirty, indeed.

That filth can be seen in the film’s first shots, the only ones of the movie to take place on a battlefield, or at least the only one to do so during a battle rather than the still aftermath. In a few gruesomely intimate but stably mounted shots, Spielberg manages to top the false realism of Saving Private Ryan for sheer visceral repulsion. Unionists and Rebs have moved too close for musket fire, resorting to bayonet stabs, fistfights, even drowning foes in the rising rainwaters in trenches. It is brute savagery at its most chaotic and meaningless, and it hangs over the rest of the film as Lincoln alternately uses and is hindered by war developments in his quest to get slavery abolished. And as the footage is revealed to be the memories of black soldiers relating the battle to Lincoln, the pride they express in getting back at Confederates massacring all captured black soldiers hints at the tangle of racial strife that will only be compounded by the amendment, not solved by it.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

With Heaven's Gate currently in the grips of revisionist appraisal (to which I may soon add my own voice once my disc ships with some pre-orders next month), I thought I might use my latest Criminally Underrated piece for Spectrum Culture to address the Heaven's Gate of comedy, Elaine May's Ishtar. I have seen three of May's four features, and all of them show off such an immense comic talent that her marginalization and retirement from directing trigger a retrospective outrage. Ishtar is not as focused as either The Heartbreak Kid or Mikey and Nicky, yet its propulsion outward of all the lacerating, insular insights of those films turns the personal and social into the geopolitical, and her broad parody of Hope/Crosby pictures emerges one of the great satires of the Reagan era. Idiotically self-absorbed man-children looking to hit big in another land do not look or behavior too differently from the CIA agents who mold those other lands to US interests, and the description I saw somewhere comparing this movie to the symphony of political inanity Burn After Reading feels especially apt.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Romancing in Thin Air (Johnnie To, 2012)

By virtue of their outlandish style, Johnnie To’s films often broach the postmodern and Brechtian even at their most straightforward; think the opening gunfight of Exiled, in which the sight of a door being suspended and even pushed back and forth in midair is both a source of hilarious cognitive dissonance and the oddly logical climax of the sequence. Romancing in Thin Air, though, features the director at his most nuanced and subtle, stylistically grounding the film so that the many flourishes become not par for the course but formal means of breaking down distinctions between art and life.

If the film ultimately erodes such barriers, however, it opens with a clear delineation of reality from artifice. With HDTVs now offering a home cinema experience even for news shows, To pointedly uses analog, full-frame TVs to show actor Michael Lau (Louis Koo) winning Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards and proposing to his actress girlfriend, Yuan Yuan (Yuanyuan Gao), then being stood up on his wedding day when her first love (a coal miner) turns up out of the blue and wins her back. The farcical turn of events plays out in a constricted frame on old, standard-definition video quality, marking it as something false. But then, what To shows is gossip, the world of celebrity, which belongs neither to the real world outside privileged circles nor to the art that is corrupted by it. But even this aesthetically separated realm is complicated when Michael, driven to alcoholism and ruin, is expelled from the television into the world, the final indignity of the fallen star.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Capsule Reviews: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life Without Principle, On the Road

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, uses memories of Katrina as fodder for a sub-magical-realist burst of half-stylized poverty porn. Zeitlin aims for inoffensiveness by casting the severe limitations the poor face—no access to healthcare, poor education, the laughably weak safety net—as fantastical positives. This is a film where witch doctors brew medicine in jars, where everyone looks freshly rubbed down in dirt to achieve just the right look of want, and where only the truly worthy both refuse to evacuate from a coming storm and violently reject any attempts by outside bodies to help them. Young Quevenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry give performances entirely too good and revelatory for such heinous rot, but even their raw and honest work is undone by the falsity of what they are meant to invoke. Like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the film approaches a serious, national trauma and filters it through the eyes of a child. And like that other disaster, it does not use this perspective to grapple with the scope of tragedy but to infantilize it. Grade: D-

Monday, November 26, 2012

Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

Joe Wright's previous literary adaptations have been awkward affairs, defined by a perennially miscast Kiera Knightley and an ostentatious visual style that overpowered whatever sense of respect with which he attempted to treat Austen and McEwan. The same is true of The Soloist, which tries to take mental illness seriously but aestheticizes it to such an extreme degree that the whole movie beatifies paranoid schizophrenia. Last year's Hanna worked better than his first three features precisely because the stakes of the material were lower, allowing the director to indulge himself even more and revealing that his prior films actually exhibited some form of restraint.

Anna Karenina reunites the director with his leading lady and, more broadly speaking, canonical adaptations. But it resembles the director of Hanna more than the maker of Atonement, at last jettisoning Wright's lip-service reverence for his source novels to fully bend a great work of literature to his own ends. If over-direction marred his earlier works, Wright here gives in fully to his id, making over-direction its raison d’être. If that means the director gives less precedence to the book being adapted, it marks no change from his earlier films save that Wright is finally being honest with people. By dropping the pretense, the most over-directed work by the most notorious over-director currently working stands clearly as his best work to date.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Capsule Reviews: Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, 2012)

Anticipating the ire of their many detractors, Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim build their feature-length Billion Dollar Movie on a joke that plays on them inexplicably receiving money from major corporate interests to do their thing in the mainstream. The creative duo's audacity has often eclipsed the actual content of their 11-minute episodes on Adult Swim, making the prospect of a 95-minute feature daunting. Surprise, surprise, this is amazingly focused, with something approaching a plot and everything. Because a relatively stable foundation grounds the film, Tim and Eric's usual diversions manage to pack more punch for letting the nuances of their weirdness shine through. Every technical hiccup, awkward insert shot and flat line of dialogue delivered just a second too late creates a sense of discomfort like a low-frequency sound. I cannot explain why I find that effect hilarious, but then, the sight of John C. Reilly hacking up a lung as a Dickensian, wolf-raised orphan or Ray Wise presiding over a grotesque sort of body cleanse need no justification. Grade: B-

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Generation P (Victor Ginzburg, 2012)

Generation P starts strong as an amusing take on Russia's post-perestroika marketing boon, where communism is made capitalist to sell Western goods to a civilization weaned on propaganda. When it tries to become an ad-centric Brazil, though, it falls apart, filled with half-baked ideas that are never expounded upon and ambitious but hollow images that do not even work for their own sake, much less a broader satiric point. Its first half is great fun, but the rest feels like a letdown.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

Leos Carax's Holy Motors, one of the standout releases of the year, reminds me another great recent picture, Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film. Panahi's (not a) film concerns a reaction to literal censorship, imposed by a theocratic dictatorship afraid of anything that might challenge their complete mental hold on the people. The barriers placed in front of Panahi's creativity are tangible: a prison sentence, an effective lifetime ban from filmmaking. Carax's work, on the other hand, comes after a 13-year dry spell between features, broken only by the occasional short. It is a reaction censorship figurative, not literal, with abstract obstacles of budget concerns and esoterica placed between the director and his drive.

Of course, the two are not equal, but then, Carax's response to the studio mothballing trades Panahi's open rage and sorrow for more muted, sarcastic cynicism. Of course, Carax also enjoys a place of privilege and thus channels his own frustrations into an elegy for all of cinema. Panahi declared his own work was not a film because of its format (and also, in fairness, a jab at authorities), but Holy Motors quivers with fears that, with the advent of digital and other new technology, no one will ever truly make a film again. This has the effect of inverting the usual dynamic of one of the director's films, in which escapist, pure cinema is grounded by a consideration of the consequences of breaking from society or form. Here, the invigorating reveries intrude upon the somber reflection, and if Panahi's un-film emerged as one of the great defenses of the artform's worth, so too does this latest in the calls for the Death of Cinema contradictorily energize the medium even as it pulls ever closer to its supposed death.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Top 10 Martin Scorsese Films

With Martin Scorsese celebrating his 70th birthday today, what better time than to count down 10 of the greatest achievements of one of America's greatest directors? Unlike his contemporaries, Scorsese has enjoyed a typically stable level of quality over the course of his entire career, not flaming out like a Cimino or Coppola nor exploding beyond his initial, intimate scale the way Spielberg and Lucas did. A consummate craftsman, Scorsese continues to employ technical mastery on a level that up-and-comers can only imitate, and often through contradictorily old-fashioned means. Think the tangible recreations of Gangs of New York, or the lush Technicolor throwbacks of The Aviator or Shutter Island. And when presented with new technology, as with digital and 3D, the director looks not merely to replicate the feel of film but to explore how these technical aspects can influence new directions in storytelling.

Not content merely to provide the world with his own string of great and memorable films, Scorsese has devoted much of his life to the preservation of the movies that inspired him, keeping them alive to motivate the next generation of movie brats. It can be difficult to whittle down his impressive filmography, filled not only with features but documentaries, concert films, shorts, even music videos and advertisements. These 10, however, distill the best of my all-time favorite director.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dionysus in '69 (Brian De Palma, 1970)

I never got around to this in my De Palma retrospective, so when Spectrum Culture decided to do one of its own, I knew I had to cover it. The results are...middling, like so many early De Palma efforts, though as a concentrated experiment in sustained split-screen usage it remains an intriguing work. De Palma's highly cinematic techniques ironically enhance the theatricality of the filmed performance, though soon he would be employing the methods for even more lavishly stylized effect. Nothing more than a curio, perhaps, but De Palma has made far worse.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr & Ágnes Hranitzky, 2012)

The contemporary prevalence of apocalyptic films reaches its apex with The Turin Horse. It contains the various dualities that have marked this recent spate of subject matter: ascetic and deeply aesthetic, primally raw and analogously mannered, ending the world with a bang (or at least a howl) and a whimper. If it is to be Béla Tarr's final film, it is a disturbingly appropriate one for an artist whose stately, enigmatic corpus comprises some of the most quietly yet profoundly horrific films in all of cinema. It is a film so bleak that musical collaborator Mihaly Vig's ominous cues almost offer relief despite their sinister tones, for at least they suggest that music of some sort still exists within this whiting-out world.

The title refers to the infamous, apocryphal story of Friedrich Nietzsche going mad at the sight of a horse being flogged, a tale related to the audience by a narrator. The speaker goes into some more detail of Nietzsche, though the specificity slips on other things, say, the name of the abusive cabman, now lost to time as only his occupation was needed to make the legend. "Of the horse," the narrator admits at the end of his introduction, "we know nothing." Tarr then opens on a horse, though it is not meant to be the one from Turin. Nor even is it a stand-in for the suffering beast; instead, one could argue that the film that follows could possibly be what Nietzsche saw in his collapsed mind after his final rush of incomprehensible letters and his final words, spoken 10 years before his actual death. But the closest Tarr's film (which credits editor Ágnes Hranitzky as co-director in keeping with his last few works) comes to Nietzsche is in its depiction of a world beyond, well, everything, not just good and evil.

The Comedy (Rick Alverson, 2012)

I've been more fascinated than consistently entertained by the likes of Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim and Gregg Turkington (a.k.a. Neil Hamburger), yet their performances in The Comedy seem almost a scathing rebuke of their own style even as they push it to new, rewarding limits. Heidecker in particular is incredible as a man who pours a bit of Rupert Pupkin into mumblecore heroes, amplifying that sociopath's incapacity for humor into a disgusting reliance on irony just to interact (and avoid interaction) with others. It is a harrowing film, though it also lives up to its title, wringing pained laughs out of its most nightmarish scenarios. One of my favorites of the year.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki, 2012)

To pinpoint the moment Arbitrage ceases to be plausible is to assume it ever established any kind of suspension of disbelief at all. And when Richard Gere fails from the start to make his billionaire hedge fund manager, Robert Miller, look remotely in his element with business talk, the commentary Nicholas Jarecki wishes to tie to his evil money-handler does not work. Hell, Gere's utter ineptness is but one of several early giveaways of the lack of care paid to the film. Unconvincing as a hedge fund guru, Gere is equally out of place with his family, with whom he has an unironically loving relationship yet looks like a total stranger around them. Perhaps that can be explained by his affair with an Italian artist, who enjoys the financial support of her lover yet lives in a flat that looks like an IKEA showroom.

Like the privileged child of a 1990s movie, the mistress throws a fit when Miller gets caught in a meeting and misses her important exhibition. After she gesticulates for a bit, the two head out and Miller passes out briefly at the wheel, leading to an absurdly oversized single-vehicle accident that leaves the woman dead and Miller terrified. Or maybe just extremely annoyed. Hard to say. Jarecki uses this involuntary manslaughter as a fatuous analogy. The man covers up his company's books to keep up appearances as the great hedge fund scheme implodes with exponentially increasing speed, and now he has to cover up his physical crime. This is an obvious, and common, method of tying more abstract, technically legal financial chicanery to that which people universally consider a violation of the law, and ostensibly it should make Miller seem doubly a villain.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Capsule Reviews: Lockout, Fixed Bayonets!

Lockout (James Mather, Stephen St. Leger, 2012)

Filmed in oxidized green-grays, Lockout has an agreeably dingy look to it, something both exacerbated and subverted by the directorial style built on top of it. Wearing its "Like Escape from New York, but in space!" pitch on its sleeve, Lockout wrings a great deal of immaculately sloppy fun out of its well-worn material. Guy Pearce shines as Snow, a framed CIA agent whose trip to prison turns into a recruitment to save the president's daughter, taken hostage during a humanitarian trip to this cryogenic space jail gone horribly awry. Speaking solely in Plissken-esque, macabre quips, Pearce has a ball on his own. But that's nothing compared to his double act with Maggie Grace as the naïve but sharp daughter; Andreas brought up It Happened One Night and now I can't not think of that. I was hooked from its literally punchy opening.

Fixed Bayonets! (Samuel Fuller, 1951)

Released hot on the heels of Fuller's other 1951 Korean War film, the geographically compressed The Steel Helmet, Fixed Bayonets! expands the field of battle but retains its compatriot's focused character study. Its surveyed platoon, abandoned to cover the rear in the dead of bitter winter, lose themselves to psychological contemplation as the cold threatens them as much as the encroaching Chinese. Lest you think that the voiceovers turn the film into some kind of reverie, however, Fuller here nails down the pulp-prose-poetry visual style that would make him such a distinct filmmaker. Indeed, Fixed Bayonets! offers a host of striking, idiosyncratic shots and tics that say more than even the bluntest dialogue.

The tremble of the camera when a mortar round explodes, both prefiguring the rise of shaky cam visceral "realism" and transcending its inherent thrill ride with more static, observational framing. The almost religious procession of the rest of the regiment (complete with Gregorian-esque chant) as they leave their comrades behind. The cacophony of Chinese bugles calling troops to arms but also containing the mournful last notes of "Taps" to further rattle the Americans. The amusing, fraternal scene of the men in a circle rubbing their frostbitten feet together until one of the sergeant's good-natured ribbing turns to horror when he realizes the cold, numbed foot he grabbed is his own.* Most gripping is the scene of Corporal Denno going to save the other sergeant stranded in a minefield, his own cowardly desire not to have to lead in the man's stead ironically compelling him to bravery. Fuller wrings tension out of a series of close-ups of Denno's boots, twinkling with melted snow as if the shoes themselves are sweating in nervousness as he takes each ginger step forward. It's all gorgeous and harrowing, as aesthetically thrilling as it is morally grounded in the complexities of respect and regret for its characters.

*As Gene Evans' sergeant tells the others, "Only three things you gotta worry about the infantry: your rifle and your two feet." As the grandson of a vet whose feet never fully recovered from winters in Korea, this tossed-off line carried a lot of weight and understanding.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Vamps (Amy Heckerling, 2012)

A lightweight vampire parody that mercifully pokes at the deeper lore rather than just taking potshots at Twilight, Vamps starts rough and ends an unexpected delight. Using the true age of Alicia Silverstone's vampire to make fun of her being behind the times, Amy Heckerling also mocks the faded relevance of their previous, iconic collaboration, Clueless. That gives the goofy jokes more (forgive me) bite, and it eventually leads to an emotional breakthrough for its characters that hints at some of the same care that marked Heckerling's best film.

My full review is up now at Spectrum Culture.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969)

In time for Skyfall's release Friday, I looked back at possibly the best entry of the franchise, the unfairly maligned and forgotten On Her Majesty's Secret Service. When I watched these films as a kid, I did not respond much to this entry, by that point so used to Connery and Moore that I did not pay attention to this usurper. Yet no film in the franchise has grown so much in my estimation, and returning to it now after several years, I was struck by the beauty of its cinematography, the visceral impact of its editing and how both of these enhance the story to the point that its infamous ending, for all its cruel abruptness, naturally flows from the rest. One of a precious few installments in the franchise that can stand proudly on its own.

My full piece is up now at Spectrum Culture.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Detention (Joseph Kahn, 2012)

Joseph Kahn's Detention is a film so scatterbrained that it cannot even begin before getting distracted, introducing a secondary character before moving onto the protagonist. Kahn links the two with mirroring shot setups and mise-en-scene. The first is Taylor Fisher, the most popular girl at Grizzly Lake High School. Her room is lit as if reflected off her perfect, bleached smile, and she rises out of bed fresh-faced and with perfect hair. Turning the word "bitch" into an inspirational acronym, Taylor Fisher rattles off a set of offensively vacuous rules by which to live life as she sporadically swears at her family and rejects all the boys who call her after she hooked up with them for homework help or just on a whim.

The other girl, Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), exists at the opposite end of the spectrum, socially and, as Kahn twists the same basic shot setups, aesthetically. Where the sun seems to rise with Taylor, Riley groggily rolls out of bed, having passed out with a plate of ketchup-soaked French fries that now soil her clothes. Her posters promote vegetarianism  a cause she takes to less out of belief than to have something that keeps her separate from most others. Her dialogue matches The only thing that truly links them is the casual prescription drug abuse of both. Well, that and the ax-wielding, costumed killer that comes for them both. The killer gets Taylor easily, abruptly cutting short her "arc" before it begins. As for Riley, the killer is just one of many horrors she must face over the course of the feature, none so daunting as regular high school life.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Viewing Log: October 2012

Theatrical Screenings

Argo: Solid, if uneven, thriller. Affleck both growing and stagnating as a director.
The Birds: Second, big-screen viewing made all the difference. One of Hitch's purest works.
Killer Joe: Friedkin, working with Tracy Letts' words, is operating at the top of his game.
Lawrence of Arabia: Fathom Events never pulled off a live event this good. A masterpiece that can only be fully appreciated on a big screen.
Looper: Above-average sci-fi movie with fine performances and showy, but never wowing, direction. Already fading from the mind; perhaps my younger self is changing our fate as we speak.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925): The scale of the sets is jaw-dropping, and the mixture of longing and animalism in Lon Chaney's eyes adds levels of danger and savagery foreign to those (like me) raised on the the musical version. Seen live with an organ accompaniment. Heaven.


Butter: Lame, condescending satire confirms every notion of Hollywood's elitism held by those it seeks to lampoon.
Nobody Walks: Ugh. Just, no thanks.
The Revisionaries: Compelling, occasionally sidetracked documentary about the creep of politics into every aspect of life, and whether that's inevitable.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning: Just about a masterpiece of the action genre. Simultaneously purifies the genre down to its essence and shatters it.
Vamps: Delightful, touching film grows out of too-cute anachronistic jokes. Full review forthcoming.

New Viewings

Cactus River: One of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's several new shorts. Enigmatic even by his standards. Still mulling over its evocative, fluid imagery.
Death and the Maiden: Polanski said this was his hardest movie to film, and even though he later made a film more directly about his WWII experiences, it's not hard to see why he said that of this movie.
Detective: Godard goes New Wave for old times' sake, has a ball.
The Devil's Rejects: A great movie, and that is not a statement I expected to make during its first 20 minutes.
Dionysus in '69: Full review coming later this month. Spotty but fascinating early experiment for De Palma.
Frantic: It's never not enjoyable to watch Roman Polanski put a character through the ringer, especially when it makes a deadpan, unresponsive actor like Harrison Ford LOSE it.
Hard Target: Oh, John, and Jean. Let's just move on, shall we?
The Heartbreak Kid (2007): Almost as good as the original. No, really, I talk about both here.
King Lear (1987): New favorite Godard. I need a rewatch and some research before I can write my review.
Knife in the Water: Roman Polanski lived and breathed cinema even from the start.
Macbeth (1971): Brilliantly, brutally pared down take on Shakespeare's play. Makes you wonder why anyone would go to all that grotesque trouble to be king.
Marnie: Like The Birds, this is Hitch at his most "come at me, bro."
A Perfect Getaway: One of the best Hollywood thrillers of the last few years. Just grand.
Pola X: Carax stripped down and dolled up. Successfully subsumes his stylistic flourishes into a more static no less less overwhelming upheaval. This is a master, people.
Red Line 7000: The brutal machinery spinning underneath Hawks' oeuvre. The usual Hawksian group is made sluggish and ultimately asphyxiated by the car fumes. A raw variant of Only Angels Have Wings' abstract on the precariousness of the director's usual characters.
The Tenant: Polanski's self-martyring, and self-lacerating, Apartment Trilogy capper. One of his finest.
They All Laughed: One of the best films of the '80s.
Unfaithfully Yours: Does for screwball what Monsieur Verdoux did for slapstick. As black as black comedy gets. I'm really coming to adore Preston Sturges, even if I still don't lose my stuff for The Lady Eve or Sullivan's Travels.
We Own the Night: James Gray is a modern treasure and he should be treated better.
What's Up, Doc?: "I'm a doctor." "Of what?" "Music." "Can you fix a hi-fi?" "No." "Then shut up."
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?: Frank Tashlin, where have you been all my life?

Repeat Viewings

Death Proof: A deconstructive masterpiece. Until Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino's best.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The same suffocating darkness that makes it such a daring kid's movie also lures me more than its saccharine qualities. Felt better about this viewing (on the new, excellent Blu-Ray) than I did for any other, including when I watched this as a child.
I'm Not There: One of two major opinion reversals I had with a rewatch this month. Helps, may even be essential, that I know now enough about Dylan to follow along.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Its racism still offends, but the audacity of its technical craft rates it among the director's finest aesthetic achievements. So torn, though I'm much more positive and appreciative of what it does well than in this old review.

Magic Mike: Stand by this rave from earlier in the year.
Prince of Darkness: See this review? Ignore every last word of it. I was wrong: this is one of Carpenter's best directed, most focused works of pure, unnerving dread. Honestly don't know how I missed the mark so badly on it the first time, but it's never to late to set things right. Possible new review may be forthcoming.
Young Frankenstein: Honestly, if you don't like this, there's the door.

Total Films Seen in 2012: 346
New to Me Films: 239
Theatrical Viewings: 34

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Capsule Reviews: A Perfect Getaway, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Marnie

A Perfect Getaway (David Twohy, 2009)

David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway is a lean, juicy thriller with a twist so good that not even an hour's worth of teasing it saps its effect. "Nothing bad ever happens in Hawaii, right?" says one character during the film's placid opening, though even then his voice betrays doubt, and Twohy's sweeping panoramas of lush forests and beaches communicate remoteness and isolation as much as postcard-ready beauty. Steady long takes let the murmurs of a double murder on a neighboring island sink into the frame visually, casting shadows on its small but dynamic cast of newlyweds and lovers who come to fear for their safety. The actors do their part too, with Steve Zahn's nervously darting eyes suggesting first humorous discomfort, then mounting dread, and Milla Jovovich getting the best opportunity outside one of her husband's films to show off her enigmatic poker face reactions. Perhaps best of all is Timothy Olyphant, almost endearingly arrogant as a "man in full" (as his girlfriend calls him) When the other shoe drops, Twohy's stately, patient direction obviously shifts into a higher gear, but this only shows off other facets of his skill. A chase through the forest is subtly propelled further by comic-panel-like screenwipes that elide over a few steps to give the sequence even more momentum. The final showdown manages to consolidate even the characters' relationships into its tense payoff. (A sidenote: stick with the streamlined theatrical version over the director's cut, which adds most of its extra time to a key flashback, nice and nasty in the original version but overlong in extended form).