Let me take a wild guess that more people have heard of Spider-Man than Götterdämmerung and that, further, more people have seen “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” on Broadway this year than Richard Wagner’s 15-hour long Ring Cycle at the Met. What do they have in common aside from the sounds of music? Both productions embraced avant-garde staging that includes flying actors and singers. A month from its Broadway debut, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” found one of its stars injured at the first preview, struck by a weighted rope backstage. She suffered a concussion. Several cast members were later injured by inadequate stage props.
To get the full emotional appeal of this movie it pays to have lived in Seattle during the turn of the century, since GRASSROOTS tells the true story of a race for a slot on the Seattle City Council. The picture looks highly improvised and consists almost exclusively of young people, since they appear to be the only ones with the time to work on a young candidate’s campaign.
During the concluding half of RED LIGHTS, a guy in the men’s room during an intermission break had just attended half of a theatrical performance about a man who claims supernatural powers: the ability to rise from the ground, to read minds, the whole shebang. He complained, “I hope the second act is better than the first.” Turns out the second part of Rodrigo Cortes’s movie has a lot more bells and whistles, exploding mirrors and a bullet and a vicious, gratuitous beating. But if the second half of the movie is better than the first, it could be that the barrier against exceeding its quality is low indeed. RED LIGHTS is a portentous, pretentious, muddled, exhausting pair of hours, with a performance by Robert De Niro as a psychic that is not short of embarrassing. The only character that seems rational therein is Sigourney Weaver’s, which could be why she dies off early on in the story.
Director Nancy Savoca knows from New York City. Her movie DIRT, released in 2003, deals with a maid from El Salvador under constant threat of deportation who wonders whether she should leave New York and return to her ancestral home. Now, Savoca focuses on two estranged sisters from New York, one, Lucy (Mira Sorvino) from the outer borough of the Bronx, the other, Jenny (Tammy Blanchard), from Union Square in Manhattan. They have an estranged mother (Patti LuPone), so obviously the movie is about estrangement—not only the physical kind but also the feeling that they are not leading authentic lives of their own.
Every schoolboy used to know that in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton, a drunken lawyer who never accomplished anything meritorious in his life, sacrificed himself to the guillotine to benefit Lucie, the unrequited love of his life, thereby allowing her to marry the aristocrat whose place he assumed on the final page of the novel. In FAREWELL, MY QUEEN, director Benoît, whose previous contribution, DEEP IN THE WOODS (a period piece about a French wanderer who pretends to be a deaf mute), now deals with a king and queen who might as well be deaf and blind. This being a French film (co-produced by Spain), nobody is mute, however. The entire story takes place over a period of three days in July of l789, when the infamous Bastille prison is stormed and members of the court at Versailles (except apparently the king) believe their lives hang by a thread. Escape is the only option, though the king delays too long and winds up, together with his sometimes Sapphic wife, a victim of the national razor.
Admit it: You’ve sometimes imagined what it would seem to be like someone else; to have Bill Gates’s money, President Obama’s prestige, Tom Cruise’s popularity, Brad Pitt’s looks, Angelina Jolie’s lips. But how often have you wished to actually BE someone else? There are precedents. in Daniel Vigne’s movie THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE , a man leaves his family and friends for the war and comes back a changed man, though he claims to be Martin Guerre. He is not. In Fred Schepisi’s film SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, a rich New York couple puts up a guest without fully believing that he is the person he is. Bart Layton now sends THE IMPOSTER our way, a hybrid between a documentary and a docudrama, about a young man who claims to be the lost child who disappeared forty months ago. Never mind that his hair color is different, his ears and height are not the same as the actual boy’s, his accent is off, he is seven years older than the son would be, and the eyes are brown rather than blue. The mother, sister, and others in the community seem to believe him to such an extent that when the FBI offers to give the lad a DNA test, the mother refuses, as if to say that she has doubts herself but is amply pleased to have this strange person in her home to replace the biological child, Nicholas Barclay of San Antonio, Texas.
Yorgos Lanthimos is in his element with ALPS. His previous work, DOGTOOTH (KYNODONTAS), takes root with a crazy father creating an insane world for his teen family, prohibiting their leaving the estate and teaching them only what he believes is important. For the teens, escape from fantasy into reality is a goal. By contrast, for some residents of ALPS, escape into fantasy and away from reality is the goal.
In an epic tale that fully deserves every one of its one hundred ninety-eight minutes, MARGARET, filmed in 2005, tells the story of an adolescent who is emotional to the point of neurosis, a neurosis that proceeds full flower when she observes the sudden, accidental death of a middle-aged woman. Performed heroically by Anna Paquin in her best role—one that finds her or her influence in just about every scene—MARGARET features writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s Shakespearean-like journey into a seminal event in the life of an impressionable seventeen-year-old.
Say what you want about New York’s being the world’s most exciting city, but let’s not be smug. Take a look at the beautifully photographed scenes of Laguna Beach and much of California’s Orange County in SAVAGES and you wonder why you ever thought the sedate activity of walking around Manhattan could compare. In Oliver Stone’s movie from the fast-tracked novel of the same name by Don Winslow, we see people living, really living the kind of life that requires big bucks. And if you’ve ever wondered what criminals do with their ill-gotten gains, drool over the spacious homes they own in that affluent stretch of land. For extra emphasis compare that way of life with that of the folks just over the border in Tijuana, Mexico, and you’ll know why half the world would like to live right here in the U.S.A.
In order to get their juices flowing, some writers retreat to rural areas like J.D. Salinger or, in the case of the really famous ones, to communities like the Hamptons. Others cannot stand peace and quiet and need the busyness of big cities, like Norman Mailer. Rob Reiner’s writer in THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (filmed in Greenwood Lake, New York, north of Manhattan) has just about given up. He finds a certain magic in Belle Isle independent of the beautiful lake, the peaceful summer ambiance. He gets his juices flowing by his relationship with a neighbor whose three daughters take him under the wing, as it were, while he in turn gives back at least as much to them.