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Monthly Archives: November 2009
The Missing Person, playing at Sundance even as its star Michael Shannon earns an Oscar nomination for his work in Revolutionary Road, isn’t merely a clever, cool spin on the classic private eye story, but it also works as a private eye story. It showcases a lurching, hunched, quietly lived-in performance by Shannon but offers more than just that performance. It has the knowing, humane touches of Paul Auster’s brilliant urban fiction but still manages to rope in familiar crime genre characters like the rich widow, the collaborating cabbie, the wanted man, the ethical crimelord, the unethical businessman, the femme fatale and — most importantly — the sad-sack, mercenary-but-moral private eye.
John Rosow (Shannon) lives and works and drinks — and does a far better job of the last thing in that list than the first two — in a shabby office in Chicago. The phone rings. Get to the train station by 7, he’s told. Board the Zephyr Express from Chicago to L.A.; there’s a man to follow. An old friend in New York recommended him, and he’s got the job if he wants it: “Five hundred dollars a day, plus expenses … not including gin.” After Miss Charlie (Amy Ryan) gives him the dossier of background and some cash, Rosow shaves, puts on a brown suit, goes to the train and takes the job. Because that’s what a private eye does, as near as he can tell. And aside from the ringing phone being a cell, we could be in the ’30s or the ’40s or the ’50s with the train and the gin and the cash and the job. But, of course, we’re not.
Written and directed by Noah Buschel, The Missing Person looks and feels like yet another ironic spin on the private eye film; the ghost of Altman’s shaggy Chandler adaptation The Long Goodbye hovers over the film, as do thousands of classics in the genre. But as Rosow follows the mark, Harold Fullmer (played by character actor Frank Wood, whose indistinct familiarity adds to the role before he even speaks), Buschel pulls the rug out from under us; as The Missing Person drew to a close, I was not impressed by its clever irony, but rather (and saying little more for fear of revealing the film’s pleasures) by its real sincerity. Buschel knows how to make a joke and shoot a scene, but he also has something to say — about who we are and how we deal with grief, about the challenges of getting out of bed some mornings — and if there’s a villain in The Missing Person, it’s not necessarily a man with a gun in the doorway but instead a sense of the pain in the world.
As Rosow, Shannon is weirdly perfect — lurching, stumbling and wheezing his way down the mean streets, with flashes of insight behind his watery drunk eyes, somehow both harmless and threatening in his stiff retro brown suit. (Shannon manages to be both endearing and scary; you root for him even though he’s a grim and tragic slab of a man, like the prodigal Son of Frankenstein.)The film’s loaded with retro private eye lingo and classic crime tale visual touches — phrases like “on the lam” and “vamoose,” visions of cocktails and the sound of cocktail jazz — but as all the remembrance of things past adds up, it transforms from quirky-cool window dressing to quietly, affectingly help make the film’s point about how time passes, and how we do too.
Which is not to say that there’s not some cool conversation; when a new friend met in a bar (Margaret Colin) asks Rosow what he does for a living, he smiles: “I’m in the hide and seek business.” “That’s a game that kids play.” He fires back, cool and knowing: “Well, if you add some money to it, it’s for adults. …” And Rosow’s interactions with his employer’s right-hand woman (who, in classic noir fashion, may or may not know what the left hand is doing) Miss Charley (Ryan) start as lob-and-serve antagonism and wisecracks before turning into a very different game, and then the kind of game that isn’t a game at all. And many scenes, like Rosow getting braced by a Segway-straddling Santa Monica cop for the dual sins of jaywalking and “smoking on the promenade” are quietly pitched yet hilarious.
Shot on 16mm, The Missing Person has more than just an aesthetic of economy; Buschel, cinematographer Ryan Samul and editor Mollie Goldstein get nice shots and make nice scenes out of them, and the film’s washed-out look meshes superbly with its tired, been-around-a-bad-block feel. Big things happen in The Missing Person, or they have happened, but they’re never presented as big things; if classic film noir was about “the stuff dreams are made of,” then The Missing Person is about the stuff we have to deal with when we wake up every morning in the horrible, beautiful world, and I appreciated the mature themes and quiet moments twined into a genre better known for adolescent thrills and louder flash.
Then again, I’m just a critic; I just have to write about The Missing Person, not try and sell it or make money off it. Hopefully the combination of favorable reviews and Shannon’s new Oscar-nominee status will make it possible for a distributor to take a chance on making a profit with the film, but the mysteries of modern exhibition are beyond even the most talented detective, and the film’s avoidance of shouting and shooing and simplicity makes it a hard sell (and also makes it exactly the kind of thing I love to see on the big screen). The Missing Person isn’t about one man solving a mystery, even though it is; sit with it a while and enjoy the crime and charm it offers and you carefuly, expertly get pulled into hearing its quiet-but-firm point that everything is a mystery, and that some mysteries simply can’t be solved.
– from Cinematical.com
“… Cusack becomes our everyman, scrabbling together just enough advance notice of the impending disaster so he can get a head start on avoiding lava bombs, sudden chasms, ash clouds and any number of natural disasters coming at him from all sides; if they ever make a live-action adaptation of “Frogger,” Cusack’s now the No. 1 candidate for the title role, based on his swerving and dodging here. Emmerich’s entire filmography in recent years has been based in heroes outrunning things the laws of physics say they shouldn’t (fire, weather), so, in many ways, it’s good to know he’s in his wheelhouse here. The computer-generated PG-13 eve of destruction and distraction in “2012″ is spectacular, and the movie also has a wicked mean streak that leads to at least three or four moments of guilty, bleak laughter when it lands sucker punches by turning clichés to carnage. And the final revelation of the plan to save a handful of humanity, while silly-ish, is in fact less stupid than the very stupid thing I thought it was going to be, which may represent the film winding up as a warm experience by lightly vaulting my already-low expectations with one small skip.
I think I liked “2012″ more than I should have because I kept imagining it as a ’70s disaster movie, the kind where the cast members are featured on the poster, each in a small box, with Elliott Gould as Cusack’s everyman, Sidney Poitier as Ejiofor’s savior-scientist, Ernest Borgnine as Zlatko Buric’s bloated Russian plutocrat with a golden ticket for the escape pod, and Walter Matthau as Platt’s blunt bureaucrat. The cast are as adequate as they are irrelevant (though Platt’s clearly having a ball). The effects are as big as they are dumb. The violence and destruction are as complete as they are just-kidding PG-13 bloodless. I had enough disaster-nostalgia to make “2012″ pass as a bit of broad, goony, stupid fun. A lot of serious film lovers will decry “2012″ as a plotless, illogical, clichéd, demented popcorn flick (and that’s because it is), but this is that rare case where the apocalypse, at least in terms of big-budget blown-up spectacle movie-making, is hardly the end of the world.”
– from my MSN Movies Review
“The news that Wes Anderson, the custom-tailored arch auteur of urban awkwardness and fractured family in films like “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” would be adapting a stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s saga “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” sounded, at first, crazy … And yet, as any movie fan knows, that phrase is occasionally followed by the modifier ” … Crazy enough to work!” And it turns out that “Fantastic Mr. Fox ” is crazy enough to work, and smart enough to work, and works superbly. Anderson pulls off an impressive juggling act combining stop-motion whimsy, the frantic pace of a crime film (think “Ocean’s 11″ dipped in fur), dry-but-warm wit and rich and real comedy about family and wanting to be loved for who we are — plus the delight of stealing vast quantities of chicken, cider and squab. Cool, clever, crafty and delirious amounts of fun, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is full of brilliant visual invention and silly slapstick while also having hip humor and sly smarts — it’s pure movie-going joy and a rare kind of pleasure. I think there’s enough frantic activity and silly sight gags to keep kids entertained by “Fantastic Mr. Fox” but, bluntly, as I sat loving every meticulous, daffy moment of it, that was the last thing on my mind.
In the English countryside, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) was a devil-may-care food thief and man-about-glen, but a close scrape alongside the lovely Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) made him promise her he’d give up the life of crime. Now, he’s a father to his son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), dedicated husband and a columnist for the local paper … and he wants more. Mr. Fox decides to move the family into a new home and rob local industrial farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean (“One fat, one short, one lean,” as the sing-song music cue you’ll be humming for weeks explains), as he tries to keep Mrs. Fox in the dark and welcomes in his nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson), whose father is ill. Mr. Fox is going to be busy, even with odd opossum handyman Kylie (Wallace Wolodarksy) reluctantly recruited as his second-in-command …”
– from my MSN Movies Review
“There’s a couple of interesting things going on in The Fourth Kind — it’s trying to mess with our heads, suggesting that it’s a fictional version of real-life events that offer evidence of alien abductions around Nome, Alaska a few years ago, combining dramatizations (featuring actress Milla Jovovich and actor Will Patton) with “documentary footage” of the videotapes and audio recordings that depict the startling, supernatural secrets of these (entirely phony) events. There’s an intriguing idea here — the split-screen contrast between the “real” interviews and the re-enactment, the contrast between real life and the Hollywood version, the straight-faced suggestion that Nome was plagued by creepy space aliens going in and out of people’s houses as easily as Santa Claus and a lot more often — but The Fourth Kind is so clumsy and clunky and stiff it’s like watching someone attempt an intricate card trick while wearing oven mitts.
After a brief introduction where star Jovovich looks into the camera to introduce herself and explain the film’s device and warn s that “some of what you’re about to see … is extremely disturbing,” director Olatunde Osunsanmi interviews the “real” Dr. Abigail Tyler, who looks pale and shaken. We then see how Tyler, a psychiatrist, was trying to complete a sleep study she was doing alongside her recently-murdered husband; Abigail’s husband was stabbed while they lay in bed, and the killer’s yet to be found .. and all the participants in the sleep study, haunted by restless nights, tell of an owl who they’ve seen outside their window, or in their bedrooms, staring at them with implacable eyes … that isn’t an owl.”
– from my redblog Review