Friday, January 4, 2013


(Canada/France - 2012)

Postmodernist literary icon Don DeLillo has always seemed like one of those authors whose novels are simply unfilmable, and David Cronenberg proves both that theory and that every great director has to have a worst film with the ill-advised and badly-executed COSMOPOLIS, based on DeLillo's 2003 novel.  Cronenberg hasn't shied away from difficult-to-film literary works before, and he succeeded with 1991's NAKED LUNCH, based on the William S. Burroughs novel.  The filmmaker is long past the point of needing to prove anything to anyone, but COSMOPOLIS just doesn't work.  In an admirable attempt to stretch, TWILIGHT's Robert Pattinson stars as 28-year-old Wall Street billionaire Eric Packer, whose fortune is about to be decimated by fluctuations in the Chinese yuan. Packer decides that today is the day he wants to travel across Manhattan to get a haircut, despite the protests of his security chief (Kevin Durand) that traffic is being tied up by a Presidential visit, anti-capitalist riots, and a funeral procession for a dead rap star, plus he's getting warnings from "The Complex" that there's been a "credible threat" issued against Packer.  Undeterred, Packer orders his security team to take him for a haircut in his ludicrously high-tech stretch limo, where most of the film takes place.  Over the course of the day-long ride, Packer picks up various advisors (Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire) for business meetings and philosophical discussions in the limo, hooks up with his art dealer (Juliette Binoche), picks up a doctor (Bob Bainborough) for his daily EKG and rectal exam, gets out of the limo for a quickie with one of his security detail (Patricia McKenzie), and to have lunch with his wife of less than a month (Sarah Gadon) who complains that she "smells sex" on him.  Meanwhile, Occupy-type protestors vandalize the limo and one (Mathieu Amalric) throws a pie in Packer's face before he gets half of a haircut (from veteran Canadian character actor George Touliatos!) and comes face to face with the disgruntled ex-employee (Paul Giamatti) who has vowed to kill him.

Cronenberg updates DeLillo's novel to a certain extent (in the book, Packer was part of the dot com bubble), by tying in the Occupy Wall Street movement and utilizing the yuan as opposed to the Japanese yen. I get what Cronenberg was going after here, with Pattinson's intentionally blank-slate performance illustrating Packer's fundamental disconnect from reality, from emotions, from the 99%, etc. and in dark-humored bits where he's listening to his chief of theory Morton's financial analytical babbling while not even noticing that the limo is being violently attacked by rioters.  But it's so ponderous, so tedious, and so heavy-handed that Cronenberg just never gets this off the ground.  And dialogue like "The glow of cybercapital is so radiant and seductive," "Money has lost its narrative quality, the way painting did once upon a time," and "My prostate is asymmetrical," works a lot better on the page than on the screen being spoken by actors playing characters.  Even the final-act appearance of Giamatti, cast radically against type as "Paul Giamatti," fails to generate any signs of life in this shockingly DOA misfire from Cronenberg.  If you're looking for a reason why there haven't been any other features made of DeLillo's novels, look no further than COSMOPOLIS.  Even with Pattinson's involvement, this still only played on 65 screens at its widest US release, grossing around $750,000.  As bad as this Arthouse Hell is, it would've been undeniably entertaining to watch it in a crowded theater filled with members of Team Edward and seeing how quickly it took for an angry mob of texting Twi-hards to like, totally complain to the manager because they like, paid to get in here and this is so not cool because they're like, talking, and he's got that old doctor dude's finger up his ass, and it's like, eeew!  (R, 109 mins)

(US - 2012)

Other than documentaries like WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE (2006) and director-for-hire gigs like 25TH HOUR (2002) and INSIDE MAN (2006), Spike Lee has lost a bit of his magic when it comes to smaller, personal indie films.  2004's SHE HATE ME didn't seem to be liked by anyone and got Lee the worst reviews of his career.  His latest, the low-budget, self-financed RED HOOK SUMMER, exhibits all the self-indulgent qualities that Lee keeps in check when he's working for a major studio.  The newest chapter in Lee's "Brooklyn Chronicles" series (which includes such films as 1989's DO THE RIGHT THING, 1994's CROOKLYN, and 1998's HE GOT GAME), RED HOOK SUMMER (which Lee scripted with MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA writer James McBride), has 13-year-old Flik (Jules Brown) being shipped off from a cushy Atlanta suburb to the Red Hook projects in Brooklyn to spend the summer with his fiery preacher grandfather Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters).  Flik isn't enthused about being there, especially when the Bishop makes it clear that he's using this time together to turn Flik to Jesus.  The fish-out-of-water teen also befriends the outgoing Chazz (Toni Lysaith) and has a run-in with gang member and aspiring rapper Box (Nate Parker).  Lee frequenly meanders and lets scenes drag on much longer than necessary, with a lot of screen time devoted to the drunken ramblings of Deacon Zee (Thomas Jefferson Byrd), who's never short on opinions about Wall Street and the bailout.  And when he isn't doing things like switching film stock for no reason other than because he can, Lee even finds time for a couple of awkward walk-ons as an aged, paunchy, gray-bearded Mookie, his character from DO THE RIGHT THING, and yes, he's still delivering pizzas for Sal's.  Really, Spike?  Come on.

The best thing about RED HOOK SUMMER is a powerhouse performance from Peters, best known for his work on the HBO series THE WIRE and TREME. There's a third act plot development that essentially forces Lee to turn the whole film over to Peters, and it's here that it finally finds some dramatic momentum, even if it creates a massive logic lapse as to why Flik's mom would send him to Red Hook. Too much time is spent with Flik and Chazz, and I know they're new to this and it's the first movie for each of them and it's kind of a dick move to take cheap shots at young, inexperienced performers and I'm sure they're nice kids, but Brown and Lysaith are absolutely terrible actors. I really don't think Lee could've done a worse job casting these two pivotal roles. Peters tries to carry young Brown along, but there's only so much he can do. If you're a fan of Peters' television work, then RED HOOK SUMMER is worth seeing for him. He's great but he's not enough to keep this from being one of Lee's least-interesting films, though it does have Peters' WIRE co-star Isiah Whitlock, Jr. stopping by long enough to drop a "Sheeeeeeeeeit!" (and he's credited as Isiah "Sheeeeeeet" Whitlock, Jr!). Otherwise, it's a sluggishly-paced horse pill that actually seems to last an entire summer. (R, 121 mins, also streaming on Netflix)
(US - 2012)
Equal parts Terrence Malick and Maurice Sendak, the critically-adored BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD stars a cast of non-professional actors led by six-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, who rises above the film's more frustrating elements to deliver a truly remarkable performance.  As terrific as she is, the film as a whole failed to connect, regardless of how well-intentioned it is.  Hushpuppy (Wallis) lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry, also excellent) in an impoverished, fictional area off the coast of Louisiana known as "The Bathtub" (inspired by the disappearing Isle de Jean Charles).  The Bathtub is on the wrong side of the levee, and as Hushpuppy's teacher Miss Bathsheba (Gina Montana) tells her, the ice caps are melting and The Bathtub will eventually cease to exist due to rising waters.  Hushpuppy has visions of rampaging aurachs frozen for centuries, now freed by the melted ice caps, in addition to having imaginary conversations with her absent mother and trying to care for the loving, but unstable and frequently abusive Wink after a Katrina-like storm destroys The Bathtub.  The residents of The Bathtub are the kinds of close-knit, insulated, and isolated types that have always been left behind by society.  Most are illiterate and live in uninhabitable shacks (Hushpuppy has her own home, an elevated trailer near her dad's rundown shack; and their boat is the detached bed of a pickup truck).  Director/co-writer Benh Zeitlin is to be commended for getting such a natural, unaffected performance out of a six-year-old novice (she's particularly devastating near the end, and it's Oscar-caliber work), but the film otherwise comes off like an NPR wet dream. (PG-13, 93 mins)


  1. "and yes, he's still delivering pizzas for Sal's. Really, Spike? Come on."

    Oh, jeez. I had not heard about that. Come on, indeed.

  2. Expecting something brilliant (and non-self indulgent) to come out of a self-financed Spike Lee movie in 2012 is like expecting a Public Enemy re-union album to be a modern masterpiece. Spike watches channel zero.