Wednesday, March 17, 2010

a slew, a slew, of mini reviews

Taking a cue from Arbogast, here we go...

There are a few intriguing ideas in Soopum Sohn's debut feature Fetish, aka Make Yourself At Home - the awkwardness of its Korean heroine's attempts to adjust to her new life with a Korean-American husband (and his draconianly old school mother) offers a powerful setting for an outsider story. But as the film lapses into thriller territory, it maintains a too-quiet pace, with its barely-present characters not seeming to really grasp their situation. One is reminded of ORPHAN, which registered its threat's motivations much more clearly and played more knowingly on its audience's fears. Sohn's film fails to build empathy for its characters or any kind of suspense. Which for a thriller are, you know, kind of necessary.

Unsurprisingly, an atmosphere of intensifying paranoia is much more expertly maintained in The Ghost Writer. A suspenseful mise-en-scene is Roman Polanski's natural habitat, after all, and the film is filled with any number of eerie scenes confronting its own outsider protagonist (Ewan McGregor) with quietly bizarre characters, settings, and schemes. Though its plot is diminished by its too conventional climax (with a superb performance by Pierce Brosnan sacrificed to score points with Tony Blair parallels), the images of the title character groping through a fog-shrouded nightmare are what linger.

Drawing inspiration from Ozu's Late Spring, Claire Denis in 35 Shots of Rum crafts a moving portrait of a father and daughter who can't quite let one another go. Where Ozu's evolving family dynamics spoke to tectonic shifts in Japanese society, Denis takes a more interioristic approach to her characters, letting their tiniest nuances speak volumes to their relationships with one another. The major events that would serve as climaxes in other films barely register here; Denis finds the real roots of the drama in the quiet moments where our emotions ultimately manifest, specifcally an after-midnight bar scene, where our heroes' hearts, hopes and fears rise, fall, and dance to the Commodores' "Night Shift" (a track your proprietor has been waiting decades to see deployed as powerfully as it is here). And the final shot is a heartbreaker.

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