No subtitles needed, nor subtext….

…yet lest I seem less than enthusiastic, let me be clear: Mike Judge’s Extract may be a little too this or a little too little of that, but I enjoyed the film as much as any comedy this year. Judge has a masterly sense of structure–the film is a well-oiled (if a little over-determined) farce machine, but played with the kind of subtle dialogue-driven character focus for which he doesn’t often get enough credit. Jason Bateman plays the newly-middle-aged owner of a chemical-flavoring company, finding himself at a loss in his relationship with wife Kristen Wiig and unexcited by his job. Mila Kunis’ temp (who we know to be a con artist) catches his eye, but he feels too guilty to do more than dream, until his bartender friend Dean (a shaggy, invested Ben Affleck) gives him a horse tranquilizer and a plan: get a gigolo to seduce your wife, then you can cheat with guiltfree abandon.

That summary seems so busy, so hyperbolic, and the film does get stuck in some obvious bits, almost a necessary by-product of what is at base a reliably conventional comic plot. There’s hints of other stories bubbling up: a read on the workspace that complements his cult hit but doesn’t develop too substantively here; some space opened up but never explored for the two very interesting women (and two strong actors). A shame–the film could have been perhaps great. Instead, it’s just really, really, really enjoyable. What makes it work is how Judge’s style–a kind of deadpan minimalism–so perfectly fuels that silly plot; instead of getting lost in leers and exaggerated tics (his side characters are usually at base cartoonish buffoons), the film takes its sweet time listening to these people talk, even the loonies, gives the actors room to evoke and emote. And if he wraps up with a lot of sentiment, he’s earned it–as well as mocking it, by a late-film plot development that is so blithely derisive that it underscores the empathy Judge creates for (most of) these characters.

Sherlock Holmes

I despair of Reynolds, writing reviews of obscure foreign language thrillers that probably cost the equivalent of a Starbucks latte to make when there is the latest big budget Guy Ritchie movie just begging to be reviewed. Is that how you spend the holiday season? What message are you sending Max? Christ was born, and subsequently crucified and resurrected, in order that we might spend Christmas Day huddled in an air-conditioned movie theater watching explosions.

What to say? Sherlock Holmes is nowhere near as bad as we have a right to expect given that Ritchie is involved. It is probably best not to take the plot too seriously, and some of the fight sequences go on too long and serve little purpose. But Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (as Doctor Watson) do good work here. There is a slight undercurrent of chaste homoeroticism as this pair act like a fussy old married couple. In truth, I can watch Downey in anything; he relies on deadpan humor and a perpetually quizzical expression. There is humor, some nice one-liners, a suitably grimy London, and — despite what the trailer would have you believe — Sherlock Holmes really does have remarkable powers of observation and deduction. If the movie makes any money, it is set up for the appearance of Professor Moriarty in the sequel. Oh, and just like the movies that Reynolds watches, it has subtitles. Go, celebrate the holiday season as God intended.

La Mujer Sin Cabeza/The Headless Woman

Lucrecia Martel’s oblique thriller (or “thriller”?) has made many critics swoon–not just end-of-year lists but leaping into decade round-ups, too. I kinda agree…. ‘though it is the kind of knotty, imagistic film that pushes against the viewers’ (or this one’s) desire for narrative even as Maria Onetto’s brilliant performance as the bourgeois Vero Lala suggests deep wells of story that keep sucking us back in. Continue reading La Mujer Sin Cabeza/The Headless Woman

Welcome to Nollywood

Jaime Meltzer’s documentary on the Nigerian film industry is not a whole slew of things I would love to see about the Nigerian film industry. It is, for instance, only glancingly attentive to the history of the industry (a few title cards letting us know that film production really began there a scant 20 years ago, ‘though the industry now accounts for an astonishing amount of very profitable product). It is inexplicably inattentive to the social and political landscape of Lagos, of Nigeria, even of Africa (‘though, again glancingly, there is some intriguing stuff about Liberia bubbling up in the account of one particular production). It is only an hour long, not nearly enough time to spend ….

Yet as a snapshot of a few filmmakers–exuberant, prolific, very (very, very, very) self-confident filmmakers–and their work on projects now, it’s a suggestive, rewarding little blast. Meltzer interviews three directors/producers, then starts more directly following two as they work on their latest productions. Along the way, you get a few intriguing details about the marketing of these films (30 or so films rushed to dvd or vcd each week, often within a month or so of shooting) and about viewing habits (a tendency to dismiss Hollywood blockbusters in favor of the local product, after years of dominance by Indian film)… and some snippets of the films themselves… and it’s just a fascinating glimpse of real extra-corporate filmmaking, of local production and consumption habits.

Perro Come Perro/Dog Eat Dog

This popped up as a new release yesterday but I don’t recall hearing much about it before–and the couple stray reviews kept comparing it to City of God or talking (often dismissively) about its ostensible status as a film deploying crime to get at some sociological vision of Colombia. Nah, it’s just a crime film. And I say that with real appreciation, a snap in my step, a gat in my britches — this was a fine surprise. Continue reading Perro Come Perro/Dog Eat Dog


this is the latest film by vishal bhardwaj, the director of the excellent maqbool (macbeth adapted to the bombay underworld) and the pretty good omkara (othello adapted to rural/small-town politics in u.p). those earlier films were more “serious”, not quite mainstream bollywood. kaminey, on the other hand, is pitched directly at the mainstream but is pretty damned good anyway. it stars shahid kapoor as a set of twins, one a petty criminal, one a do-gooder, whose lives get intertwined with corrupt cops and drug dealers (the bad brother) and corrupt, thuggish politicians (the good brother). a case of mistaken identity brings the two narratives into collision and mayhem ensues. it’s a stylish film–though there are a few unnecessary artsy flourishes, and the editing and cinematography are great. the performances are top-notch. particularly good are the two primary villains–amol gupte as bhope, the politician-thug; and tenzing nima (a newcomer) as tashi, a cool but ruthless druglord.
Continue reading kaminey

Baader Meinhof Complex

Not a great movie, but a great story. This film is a semi-fictional account of the decade of existence of the German Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader Meinhof Group after its two leaders. The account is fictional in that almost all the dialogue is imagined, but it is based on a well-regarded book written by one of the peripheral figures in the RAF who subsequently became disgruntled. The events and outcomes that it depicts are real. The film takes its time bringing its characters together, then rushes through the early 1970s when most of the RAF bombings and attacks took place, before slowing down to examine in detail the last two months in the lives of the RAF leaders, the kidnapping of Hans-Martin Schleyer and the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane (which eventually led to the rescue of the passengers at Mogadishu). Continue reading Baader Meinhof Complex

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Well, I think I’ve recovered adequately from this film to say a few words about it. First, the story (of which there is little). Terence McDonagh is with his partner, Stevie (played by Val Kilmer), in a flooded building in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. The two are standing safely above water, looking down on a criminal trapped behind a barred window, water up to his neck. And the water is rising fast. Stevie is a bad cop. He wants to watch the criminal drown. What makes Stevie bad is that Terence is just a little better. When Terence sees the criminal pray for his life and bless himself, Terence dives into the water. Doing the right thing kills his back. Continue reading Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Paper Heart

Touching, occasionally funny, but not terribly profound, this is Charlyne Yi’s exploration of love and relationships through interviews, puppets, and the semi-fictional depiction of her relationship with Michael Cera. Quirky, but not in a good way.