Friday, September 17, 2010

A "Guys and Dolls" Tribute

After Danny Kaye and Robert Preston, it’s Guys and Dolls’ turn! Enjoy... and forgive.

Lyrics | Bobbie, Walter - Guys and Dolls lyrics

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Winter's Bone (2010, Granik)

Rating: ***

Not necessarily the chunk of social realism most reviewers would lead you to expect, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone (2010) is actually a hybrid of sorts. Part mythical quest, part neo-Ozark-noir, it’s as engaging as it is generic. The story concerns a 17-year-old Ree’s search for her no-good father in order to keep the house she shares with her ailing mother and underage siblings. Her determination, good sense and resourcefulness are what carries the movie. Like Sam Spade, she engages in a string of ominous conversations under a heavy sky, taking no cues from the weather gods signaling “Caution!”, as they’re always are in noir.

As well-structured and affecting as it is, there’s a sensationalist streak in Winter’s Bone that I found myself objecting to. When the horrific (and fairly gratuitous) dénouement finally arrives – complete with a nightly boat trip, chainsaw-wielding and severed limbs left and right (pun intended) – one may question the purity of filmmakers’ intent. The film is as eager to cash in on a Deliverance (1972)-like dread as it is determined to make a social statement. With its fair share of clumsy, soap-operatic dialogue (“Please, help me this one time!”, cries Dee to her spaced-out mom), Winter’s Bone steers dangerously close to being a comic strip.

The redeeming factor lies in Lawrence’s riveting performance as Ree (as well as some first-rate support she gets all around). Perky, taciturn, focused and clearheaded, she emulates Michelle Williams’ Wendy and Lucy (2008) coup so successfully I wouldn’t be surprised if she had received a call from the Dardennes after Winter’s Bone opened. She measures up against Rosetta beautifully.

[The movie will play as part of the American Film Festival in Wrocław]

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers (2010, Rutili)

Rating: **

Paranormal activity is a matter of fact in All My Friends are Funeral Singers (2010) – to the extent that parts of it pose as a video shot by one of the ghosts (take that, Oren Peli). Tim Rutili’s whimsical first feature focuses on a psychic reader Zel (Angela Bettis), quietly plying her trade in a house she shares with a posse of spirits. All clad in white, they’re seen only by Zel and the audience. Occasionally rebellious against what they call imprisonment, the gang seems rather bored most of the time. They dabble in music, they shoot a video documentary, play trivia games, and discuss their post-mortem, though never shown, sex lives (and their earthly lives, as well). “I hung myself by my something blue”, says the corpse-bride in a deadpan voice, thus establishing the movie’s droll (but only partly amusing) tone.

Set in the homely purgatory presided over by the taciturn Zel – who, significantly, seals off her bedroom by sprinkling salt on the threshold, thus making at least her alcove ghost-free – the movie never really dwells on its protagonist’s feelings towards her situation or, for that matter, on that situation itself (it comes as a surprise that Zel has a boyfriend, who remains a cipher till the end).

The second half of the movie depicts the ghostly rebellion and divulges a rather unsettling secret that helps to make sense of the story – but it does so in spasms of superimposed, badly color-timed images and with virtually no attempt at building suspense. It’s a measure of the movie’s unimaginativeness that the only way the spirits mark their dissent is by making clamor with chains and sticks. The way they’re portrayed, even Rick Moranis wouldn’t have any trouble busting them for good.

Angela Bettis’ sensible performance – often hindered by awkward camera angles, as in the scene in which she channels her client’s dead husband’s voice – ultimately saves the movie. Her half-puzzled, half-purposeful demeanor, as well as her uncanny resemblance to Rachel Weisz, sustain our interest and help to swallow the final “lights-out” metaphor despite its trite, Castenada-fueled banality.

[The movie will be shown at the American Film Festival in Wrocław]