Archive for September, 2013

Precision Shot

Posted: September 21, 2013 in movie reviews

Blue Caprice **** (out of five)

blue-caprice-poster-620x918Astonishingly assured for a debut feature – or for any feature – Alexandre Moors’ meditation on the relationship between “Washington Sniper” duo John Muhammad and Lee Malvo leading up to their 2002 killing spree is mature, sophisticated, artful, intelligent and profound. It would also be a moving and sweet depiction of the growing bond between a father and his adopted son if it weren’t actually about mass murder.

John, an ex-soldier, met Lee, abandoned by his mother, in Antigua, brought him to the United States, and over the course of some time educated him into becoming the shooter for the attacks. The movie follows that whole dysfunctional relationship, hewing to the known facts (Lee has opened up a lot about what happened since his incarceration) and fashioning a hugely believable portrait of two essentially good people breaking very, very bad.607672_005

Moors never panders to his audience and never condescends to them. The picture is neither sensationalistic nor sentimental; it deals with the killing spree remarkably discreetly and tastefully. Moors edited the film himself, with Gordon Grinberg, and that work is astonishing; he lets us fill in many, many moments, cutting surprisingly from intriguing moment to intriguing moment, never giving us what we expect. It’s as though, when some Hollywood studio was done with the actors, locations and cameras for the day, Moors came and shot the other scenes, the ones a studio wouldn’t bother with, and thereby fashioned a much fresher film. He tells this remarkable, tragic story in glimpses, stolen moments, and incredible images (the cinematographer is Brian O’Carroll).

The acting is top-notch across the board. Isaiah Washington is brilliant as the complex and troubled John; Tequan Richmond is totally convincing as Lee – and it’s a hard role – and there’s fantastic character support from the ever-reliable Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams, and, in a one-scene role, Leo Fitzpatrick. The soundtrack (Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson) is perfect and the script (R.F.I. Porto) tight as a drum (it’s all over in ninety-three minutes). Everything works. Highly recommended.

Top Secrets

Posted: September 8, 2013 in movie reviews

The Gatekeepers **** (out of five)

20130301_gatekeepers_poster_91Dror Moreh’s documentary is remarkable not for stylistic innovation but for the very fact it exists. Dror interviews six subjects: Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri and Avraham Shalom. These men happen to be the surviving heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli Secret Service Agency. Their revelations are jaw dropping.

Quite such revelations from such a full complement of like types has never before been committed to screen or page. Errol Morris’ The Fog of War  was a feature-length, in-depth and, at least seemingly, no-holds barred interview with Robert McNamara, and there have certainly been political documentaries that have extensively interviewed all manner of insiders, but these men ran one of the most secretive organizations on Earth, and are open and honest in talking about authorizing killings in custody, targeted assassinations, and the never-ending conflict between Shin Bet and the roster of Israel’s Prime Ministers. These are state secrets, out in the open, and some of them will not only confirm your worst fears, they may intensify them.01

Moreh uses archival footage, photographs, targeted assassination video (similar to that of the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” footage), original footage of existing facilities, and a remarkable technique that imagines contemporary footage by modeling three dimensional images from photographs, and all these techniques are effective, but none are as powerful as simply watching these men, all possessed of fascinating, war-torn faces, as they unburden themselves of the many killings they’ve authorized. A layman’s knowledge of the history of Israel will certainly help to contextualize this mind-boggling series of admissions, confessions and interpretations, but even if you’ve never heard of Shin Bet, you’ll be floored by learning just how the world actually works.

Paranoia *1/2 (out of five)

Paranoia_PosterExcruciating dialogue is only the tip of the iceberg of this film’s dunderheadedness, but it’s the sin that keeps on giving throughout the way too many 108 painful minutes it takes to get through it. When the words aren’t just corny, clichéd and labored, they’re so ludicrously expositional it’s embarrassing. Essentially a film about a cell phone, director Robert Luketic tries to hide the incredibly low stakes by using the corniest of all cinematic tricks, and literally awful music, relentlessly, to negative effect. Helicopter shots of the Manhattan skyline have rarely been so banal.paranoiatr

Adam (Liam Hemsworth) is an ambitious tech kid who gets trained in the art of corporate espionage by tech titan Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) to go steal the secrets of a phone from rival Jock Goddard (Harrison Ford, slumming for cash and a light shooting schedule). A lot of gleaming surfaces, expensive suits and bad guys in black leather jackets ensue.

maxresdefaultFor a movie that shows an Apple product about every ten minutes, the film’s setting of the two most powerful cell phone companies in Manhattan rather than Silicone Valley (or at least San Francisco) is bizarre – and not in a good way, but a dumb way – but there are worse technical issues. For a film that revels in the phraseology of technology, it’s already relentlessly dated, or simply ignorant beyond belief. When Adam tries to show Emma Jennings (the truly beautiful but truly awful Amber Heard) that he’s smarter than she thinks by correcting Goddard that she went to Yale rather than Princeton, Emma, supposedly a genius corporate prodigy of the tech sector, says, “How’d you know I went to Yale?” Adam replies,  “Ur… Facebook, I guess,” while Goddard, supposedly a Steve Jobs type, stands around like a goofy idiot. Later Emma wonders, to Adam, why “You know everything about me but I know nothing about you?” She went to Yale, and works on the top floor of one of the biggest tech firms in the world, but hasn’t heard of Google. Yeah, it’s that bad.paranoia-is-harrison-fords-worst-reviewed-movie-yet

Indeed, if you have ever used a computer for anything more than word processing and email you’ll find the tech talk laughable. This is a film that considers showing a file being copied, or a close up of a phone with the words “Incoming Call”, the very height of suspense. It treats its audience with disdain, like idiot children. When it tries to up the ante with more serious shenanigans than simply corporate espionage – when people start getting hurt or killed – it only gets more stupid.

Gary Oldman phones in a dreadful imitation of an actual Gary Oldman performance, but even worse is Richard Dreyfuss as Adam’s (unintentional) parody of a working class Dad, sputtering, trying on different “New Yawk” accents from scene to scene, scoping out his visiting nurse’s ass (even though she comes weekly) and, at one point, dressing as Quint from Jaws, as though he’s finally getting to play the cooler role in Jaws thirty-five years after Robert Shaw’s death. If this is the kind of dreck these aging titans must take, perhaps they should retire with dignity. I can’t imagine they watched this obvious, simplistic, completely suspense-less “thriller” with anything less than embarrassment. It’s terrible.