Sunday Film Roundup (5/15/2016)


We now consider a few of the most recent films I’ve seen.  I should have started doing this a while ago.

Appaloosa (2008)

Director:  Ed Harris

Critics keep talking about the death of the Western, but yet they keep getting made.  And people keep watching them.  This solid entry from director Ed Harris is an old-school Western, and the focus is on the fraternal bond between the two main characters (played by Ed Harris and the always-likeable Viggo Mortensen).

The plot:  a corrupt businessman (Jeremy Irons) shoots two lawmen.  The town council of Appaloosa bring in a couple of hard-asses to make things right.  As you can expect, a battle of wits ensues between the two and Irons.  There is a moderately interesting subplot about an opportunistic widow (Renee Zellweger).  The scenery is good, the action is better, and the story ultimately satisfies.  The volcanic Ed Harris always looks like he’s ready to blow his top at any moment, but that’s part of his appeal.  Viggo Mortensen totes around an 8-gauge shotgun and squints at everyone to let them know he means business.  And he does.

This is not a timeless classic, but when the cast is this good, it’s hard to complain too much.  What carries the film is the cast of A-listers:  Mortensen, Harris, Zellweger, and Irons.  Even a scraggly Lance Henriksen makes an appearance.  Harris, who also wrote the script, carries off the whole project with confidence.  Deduct two points, though, for that terrible theme music.

Oculus (2013)

Director:  Mike Flanagan

This one should have been called “Dorkulus.”  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  it is not easy to do a good supernatural horror film.  This movie proves it.

The plot is promising at first.  An ancient mirror seems to have the evil power to wreak destruction and mayhem on anyone who owns it.  A brother and sister, victimized by the demonic mirror as kids, buy it again and are determined to destroy it.  But the sinister mirror has other plans.

And then one things just go off the rails.  Director Flanagan falls back on the flimsiest, lamest trick in the director’s book:  the whole “is it real, or is it a hallucination?” game.  So instead of making the effort to build real suspense or tension, he goes for the cheap gross-out, the pathetic “is it real or is it not?” game, and layers of absurd plot devices.

The mirror hypnotizes the two…or does it?  The flashbacks are unnecessary and further clutter the plot with loose ends that never tie up.  It all adds up to a lot of nothing, and the ending falls as flat as a week-old bottle of seltzer water.

There is one positive here, and that is the female lead played by Scottish model and actress Karen Gillan.  The only thing that hypnotized me about this film was watching her long, beautiful red hair swish from side to side.  I hope she never cuts it.  The evil mirror may have been immune to Ms. Gillan’s charms, but this viewer was not.


Time Out (2001)

Director:  Laurent Cantet

This is an absolutely brilliant film, and a must-see.  It is both a penetrating character study, and at the same time a meditation on alienation and loss.  The plot:  corporate man Vincent loses his job.  Unable to bring himself to tell his family and friends, he instead wanders around the countryside, pretending to be employed at various places.

What first sounds vaguely amusing eventually becomes disturbing.  Our discomfort and unease grow steadily as we see the lengths to which Vincent will go to create this alternate reality for himself.  Perhaps it’s all so convincing because, deep down, we see a bit of ourselves in him.  Director Cantet somehow uses the metaphor of job loss (and since 2001, the year of the film’s release, this theme has taken on a much more compelling resonance) to make statements about human relations and social bonds that assume a cosmic importance.

This is also a masterpiece of cinematography.  The soundtrack, the surreal settings, and the dialogue all contribute to making the viewer feel like he is in the middle of a dream (or nightmare).  Not one false note is heard in this symphony of emotion.  Timely, unforgettable, and mandatory viewing.


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