Thursday, December 6, 2012

Capsule Reviews: The Day He Arrives, Bad 25, The Sessions

The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-soo, 2012)

Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives begins with a man walking down a street and taking a left. It ends with him returning to that street and going right. This mirroring movement captures the film, so reflective that even the lead actor’s name, Yoo Jun-sang, is spat back out as the character Yoo Seong-jun, an ex-filmmaker who returns to Seoul to catch up with friends, pitifully attempt to rekindle an old flame, and idly philosophize. Hong’s subtle but pristine compositions and varied repetitions tease out character beliefs, hypocrisies and longings as Seong-jun’s rants against the lies of fate that cinema propounds even as he chases a waitress solely for resembling his ex. The repetitions also cinematize the life he feels is so separate from the artifice of movies, the distorted sense of time starting over until Seong-jun “gets it right” recalling a more poetic Groundhog Day. But it’s that poetry that makes all the differences, making even Hong’s cheeky (sometimes outright funny) reflexive details so human that they work not only as critical observations but affecting conduits for the character’s own feelings. Grade: A

Bad 25 (Spike Lee, 2012)

Going into Bad 25, I had fears of the banal, uninsightful visual monographs VH1 used to do (still does?) for classic albums. Happily, Spike Lee is no slouch documentarian, and Bad 25 goes far beyond the usual fluff pieces in the detailed technical accounts for each song. But it is the other areas Lee must probe, the interviews with business managers and, especially, music video—excuse me, short film—directors that deepens the film. The doc is a map of a carefully orchestrated, cross-media campaign to take over the world using the 11 songs contained in the album’s grooves. Thriller, of course, was the more dynamite success, but it caught even MJ by surprise. With Bad, he, and the team of talented people he attracted to help him, were ready. The only objection: for a film that pointedly leaves out the tabloid traumas that would corrupt so much of Jackson’s legacy, Lee includes an unsettlingly exploitative montage of friends and collaborators tearfully remembering where they were when they heard the news back in 2009, a rapid tour through tears complete with zoom-ins to make sure the camera picks up the glistening drops sliding down cheeks. A host of interview subjects offer a wealth of personal anecdotes, technical information and retrospective appraisal, but sadly it is that montage that remains in the head as much as a desire to revisit Bad. Grade: B-

The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012)

There is such great potential in The Sessions, starting with its forthright admission that the disabled have sexual urges, too. Too often, disabled people get pitied into a kind of dehumanizing sanctity, one that especially weighs on Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) as a guilt-ridden Catholic. The film acknowledges the basic humanity of sex, and it even treats sex and nudity as mere facts of life. A shot resting casually on the exposed torsos of Mark and his sex surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt), shows veins in the actress’ breasts that feels more beautiful and unvarnished than Hollywood’s coy, idealized treatment of nudity. Yet one can almost watch the film deflate in real time, its warm comedy tipping into trivialization as the frank treatment of its subject turns sheepish and deflecting. Hawkes does not get to grow and reflect with O’Brien, and his defensive humor never falters as Mark’s time with Cheryl introduces him to the realities, not the punishing self-perceptions, of his body. Numerous “Sundance” touches riddle this picture, from William H. Macy’s awkward Hip Priest to Levin’s banal direction being put toward a wan approximation of visual poetry, but nothing sums up how The Sessions squanders its assets like its approach to male nudity. Cheryl holds up a mirror to Mark’s naked body so he can finally see the real him, to see how normal he really is, but fear of the MPAA trumps honesty. Likewise, the denouement trades the somber, resigned reflection of the essay that inspired the movie for a treacly conclusion that rebuilds the pedestal that, ever so briefly, this film seemed primed to destroy. Grade: C-

No comments:

Post a Comment