Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New on DVD/Blu-ray: CERTIFIED COPY (2010); BEYOND (2012); CONTRABAND (2012)

(France/Italy/Belgium, 2010; US release 2011)

Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami's first film outside his homeland garnered much critical acclaim and has been released by Criterion, but I'm not feeling the magic. In Italy, an antique shop owner (Juliette Binoche) attends a lecture given by British art historian James (opera singer William Shimell, in a role originally intended for Robert De Niro).  Much to her surprise, he agrees to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon with her before catching his train that evening.  They drive to a small village and discuss art, culture, philosophy, and life, and when a cafe server mistakes James for her husband at about the 50-minute point, they decide to roll with it.  For the remaining hour of the film, they role-play as a couple celebrating 15 years of marriage.  So, much like their art talk of the value of "real" vs "copy," we're meant to question which of these halves is accurate:  are they strangers spending the day together or are they a married couple at a crossroads, and the first half was role-playing?   If there are any answers, Kiarostami's not interested in them.  Instead we get a lot of facile symbolism involving mirrors, windows, and reflective surfaces (oooh..."real" vs "copy"...the duality!).  Binoche's character has a young son who exits the film early on--is this their son and is he even real?  Looking back, no one other than James seems to see him or acknowledge him. Are she and James a couple who drifted apart after an overwhelming tragedy?  Who knows?   They pontificate on art, emotions, meaning, memory, reality, but assuming for a moment that they really are strangers, are we to believe that a world-renowned figure like James would play along with this woman who would seem to grow increasingly unhinged over the afternoon?   This drew a lot of comparisons to BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET, but honestly, as bizarre as the "they're strangers" side of it is, it wouldn't take much tweaking to turn it into a riff on MISERY.  And hey, I know if I had a chance to spend an afternoon with one of my favorite writers, I'd expect them to indulge me and role play so I can work through my psychological hang-ups and foibles.  CERTIFIED COPY is pompous, pretentious bullshit.  (Unrated, running time: endless)

(US, 2012)

It's nice to see Jon Voight in a lead role again, but aside from his presence, there's not much to recommend about the bland, boring BEYOND.  A kidnapping thriller with supernatural overtones, BEYOND casts Voight as a veteran Alaska detective who's the go-to guy for missing children cases.  Nearing retirement (of course), this sort-of Abduction Whisperer is called in to help find the police chief's (Dermot Mulroney) missing niece (Dharbi Jens).  Voight suspects everyone, including the squabbling parents (Teri Polo, Ben Crowley), the babysitter (Skyler Shaye), and even a famous TV psychic (Julian Morris) who claims to have visions of the missing girl.  The paranormal angle is just a dead-end distraction and the final revelation straight out of an uninspired LAW & ORDER episode.  Director Josef Rusnak (who made the underrated 1999 sci-fi film THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, but lately has been doing stuff like the dreadful IT'S ALIVE remake) establishes an impressively cold, barren look throughout the film with wide open interiors and the snowy terrain of Alaska and gets an appropriately grizzled, grouchy performance from Voight, who's still got it at 73, but as a thriller, BEYOND is a pretty stale affair.  (PG-13, 90 mins)

(US/UK/Iceland, 2012)

Icelandic actor/director Baltasar Kormakur starred in Oskar Jonasson's 2008 thriller REYKJAVIK-ROTTERDAM and steps behind the camera for this remake.  Mark Wahlberg takes over Kormakur's role, bringing his finest "say hi to your mother for me" schtick to his role as a now-legit ex-smuggler brought back into the game for One Last Job.  Now running his own New Orleans security company, Wahlberg is forced to bail out his loser brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) who botched a drug run and is on the hook for $700,000 to dirtbag drug lord/Cajun meth-head Giovanni Ribisi.  Ribisi, totally over the top, has no problem making overt threats to Wahlberg's wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids, so she takes them to stay with Wahlberg's best friend (Ben Foster), who really can't be trusted, since he's played by Ben Foster.  Wahlberg and some pals get work on a container ship captained by J.K. Simmons (cast radically against type as "J.K. Simmons") in order to smuggle in some counterfeit bills from Panama, but there wouldn't be a movie if the plan didn't turn to shit.  Before long, the plot involves a psychotic Panamanian crime kingpin (Diego Luna), bricks of cocaine, a priceless Jackson Pollock painting, and Ribisi threatening to shoot Wahlberg's kid at his Little League game.  Plausibility isn't CONTRABAND's strong suit, but it's sufficiently entertaining.  Kormakur thankfully avoids annoying trends like shaky-cam and in the latter part of the film, with the help of Clinton Shorter's synthy score, he actually gets a very Michael Mann vibe going before a wrap-up that's just far too conveniently neat and tidy.  Diverting while you're watching it but forgettable soon after, CONTRABAND will have a long life on cable but isn't anything special, though it's highly recommended for fans of Giovanni Ribisi scenery chewing. (R, 110 mins)

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