My picks for DVDs for the week are the box set The Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume 5 (Warner) and the magnificent double feature The Only Son/There Was a Father: Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu (Criterion), both reviewed elsewhere on the blog. Here are the rest of the week’s releases.
The title character of Chloe (Sony) is a beautiful, enigmatic young hooker (Amanda Seyfried, stepping out of her knock-out-next-door image) hired by a successful gynecologist (Julianne Moore) to test her husband’s (Liam Neeson) fidelityl. They are the model of the perfect couple on the outside but inside their magnificent home they exist in separate spaces, and director Atom Egoyan emphasizes the characters alone in open rooms and separated by levels and great, empty spaces. And whenever Neeson turns on the charm with a pretty younger woman (and there are many, Moore’s face tightens, gritting her teeth as she foresees her replacement. “Oh come on, I’m being friendly,” he responds to her complaint. She decides to test the lengths of his friendship.
It’s a loose remake of Anne Fontaine’s Nathalie (with Emmanuelle Beart in the seductress role, Fanny Ardant as the wife and Gerard Depardieu as the husband) reworked by Egoyan and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (who previously adapted Secretary) as a classic Egoyan tale of sexual disconnection, emotional frustration and communication at a distance. There’s also a dash of Fatal Attraction (with the obsession and danger, though no rabbit stew this time) and a healthy helping of soft-focus slo-mo erotica. Moore hires Seyfried at a hotel bar where she has seen her emerge with a client from her office window across the street (there is a lot of watching from a distance), but Egoyan plays the transaction like a seduction in itself, and continues the ambiguous emotional space with the assignment: Moore wants her to tell every erotic detail. When he declines Chloe’s first flirtation, Moore sends her out for another and Chloe delivers the goods she both desires and fears, and then continues to come around with more details. Given all of its mind games and sex games and seductions through storytelling, it’s surprisingly conventional, but until it tips its hand it is a compelling psychodrama with an elegantly sexy surface.
The commentary by Atom Egoyan, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and actress Amanda Seyfried (who is kind of left in the dust of their engaged discussions and observations) digs into the origins of the project, the significant changes made to their adaptation (which begin with the very first shot) and their interpretations of individual scenes, which leads to a perceptive observation by Egoyan about commentary tracks in general: “The one thing I object to about commentaries is that I don’t believe in the orthodoxy of them at all. I think a film like this is designed to be interpreted in any number of ways and what we are saying at this moment may not be what we would say at any other time.” “Absolutely,” agrees Erin Cressida Wilson. “By defining it we might kill. But that doesn’t mean we should stop talking.” The thoughtful 25-minute featurette “Introducing Chloe: The Making of Chloe Directed by Atom Egoyan” is a solid, in-depth piece with some nicely revealing behind-the-scenes footage (I especially like an on-set conversation between Neeson and Egoyan where Neeson suddenly grasps and voices the subtext). Also features two deleted scenes.
Greenberg (Universal) – Ben Stiller delivers the youngest curmudgeon in the movies to date as Roger Greenberg, a fortysomething guy recovering from a nervous breakdown and avoiding confronting the mid-life crisis he’s been tangling since his twenties, apparently. Noah Baumbach, directing from a story developed with his wife, Jenifer Jason Leigh, is a shrewd student of character and he’s especially astute at finding the vulnerability in the self-involved, who see everything as a reflection of themselves. Watching the social and family dynamics play out in his films reveals a whole life lived in these rhythms and traps, which is not always pleasant (this film features perhaps the most awkward and uncomfortable scene of bad sex ever put on screen) but certainly interesting.
Stiller and Baumbach don’t have Roger slip into cute expressions of his anxiety and emotional problems and social awkwardness, but even if he is far more than simply a collection of tics and regret and reflexive OCD impulses, it fails to get very far under the skin, perhaps because of the small universe of cast. The isolated, reclusive Greenberg simply doesn’t have enough people around to draw out the dimensions of his self-involved neurosis. It’s Greta Gerwig’s Florence, a sweetly and convincingly fumbling personal assistant who can organize any life but her own, who comes out as a fully formed human being, and Gerwig herself (once called the poster girl for the indie movement known as “mumblecore”) shows herself as a talent to watch for. Also co-stars Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Jason Leigh and former Gerwig co-star Mark Duplass.
There isn’t much to the supplements, which are limited to three very brief featurettes that are more promotional pieces than documentary shorts, none of them running over four minutes. The Blu-ray also features the usual interactive BD-Live functions, including social networking functions which are an odd fit with a film about disconnection. Perhaps it was meant ironically.
Terribly Happy (Oscilloscope) – A Copenhagen cop (Jakob Cedergren) with a rocky past is dumped (quite literally) into an isolated town with an eccentric population that knows everybody’s secrets and is content to simply watch the same cycles repeat themselves. “That’s not the way we do things around here,” is their answer to his attempt to arrest a shoplifter or stop a bully from beating his wife. There’s not much happy in this little slice of purgatory but there is plenty of terrible: a femme fatale, a bully of a drunk, a doctor of dubious ethics and a bog where inconvenient secrets are sent to die. Not quite a comedy but as darkly comic a crime drama as you’ll find, this offbeat modern noir (“based on actual events,” according to the credits, but then Fargo claimed the same thing) is a weirdly compelling portrait of a town that has its own sense of justice and pitiless equilibrium and director Henrik Ruben Genz maintains the unsettling mood perfectly. Think of it as the Danish equivalent of Blood Simple set in a town on the outskirts of David Lynch’s sensibility. The commentary by director Henrik Ruben Genz and producer Thomas Gammeltoft is in English and the balance of the supplements—a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and two comical (possible staged) TV interviews with Genz and author Erling Jepsen—are, like the film, in Danish with English subtitles. And Oscilliscope packages it in their trademark four-panel paperboard case with a brief essay by film historian Foster Hirsch.
Girl By the Lake (IFC) is an Italian mystery that plays a lot like a big screen version of a British TV mystery police procedural with amazing location photography. Tony Servilo is Inspector Giovanni Sanzio, an aging, low key, quietly dogged homicide detective sent to solve a murder in a small town in northwest Italy. The film, based on a novel by mystery novelist Karin Fossum won, 10 David di Donatella Awards (Italy’s equivalent of the Oscar), including Best Film and Best Actor (Toni Servillo). While the cinematography is handsome (cradled by forests and dramatically framed by the Dolomites, this town never looks anything less than magnificent) and the performances fine, the mystery itself is quite conventional and the film plays like pieces of the plot were left on the cutting room floor. Some of the clues pieced together in the third act seem to come from nowhere.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII (Shout! Factory) features four more of the worst movies ever made with a commentary of heckles: Joel Hodgson (later replaced by Mike Nelson) and bots on the Satellite of Love – Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Cam-bot – yuck it up while watching such forgettable cinematic disasters as The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961), a hilariously inept atomic monster mash that is almost too easy for these guys to lob cracks at. Also features imported Russian fantasy Jack Frost (1964), the explorers versus dinosaurs adventure Lost Continent (1951) and the Rocky Jones space adventure Crash of the Moons (1954). Four discs in a box set of four thinpak cases, with new introductions by Frank Conniff and Kevin Murphy, a featurettes on The Beast of Yucca Flats, original “wraps” from the Mystery Science Theater Hour and mini-posters of the cover art.
Gamera Vs. Barugon: Special Edition (Shout! Factory) – Everybody’s favorite rocket-propelled flying turtle returns from space for the sequel, where he smashes up a dam and then takes breather before returning to save the world from a monster with freeze-ray breath. Also known as “War of the Monsters” in it American release, the second Gamera film goes color and adds even more miniature effects, but more importantly it completes the transition of Gamera from threat to mankind to defender of the earth and hero to children everywhere. Features commentary by August Ragone and Jason Varney and galleries of stills and art, plus a booklet with a remembrance by human star Kojiro Hongo.
I also review The Greatest (E1) for MSN.
It’s a very busy week of releases: also new this week is The Bounty Hunter (Sony) with Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler, Middle of Nowhere (Image) with Susan Sarandon and Eva Amurra, Saint John Of Las Vegas (Vivendi) with Steve Buscemi and Sarah Silverman, the comedy Our Family Wedding (Fox), foreign films Diary of a Nymphomaniac (IFC) and Zift (IFC) and American indie romantic comedy My Year Without Sex (Strand).