Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: HOLY MOTORS (2012), BORDER RUN (2013), and NOBODY WALKS (2012)

(France/Germany - 2012)

Spellbinding and tedious in equal measures, French auteur Leos Carax's practically impenetrable HOLY MOTORS is, in a word, difficult.  What you bring to it is a major factor in what you get from it, and the more you know about the history of French cinema, the more you can read into what's going on.  In following the mysterious Mr. Oscar (Carax regular Denis Lavant) on a series of nine "appointments" over the course of a very long day, Carax is apparently conducting an examination of "the death of cinema" in a world where technology runs rampant and everyone is "acting" all the time.  We never know the real "Mr. Oscar"--only the actor driven around Paris in a stretch limo by his dutiful assistant Celine (Edith Scob), donning makeup and disguises between appointments.  Mr. Oscar is alternately a homeless woman begging for change;  a banker;  a motion-capture performance artist supplying the moves of a CGI serpent;  the gnomish Mr. Merde, abducting fashion model Kay M (Eva Mendes); a father berating his teenage daughter; a dying old man; an assassin hired to kill his lookalike and then himself; a lonely, heartbroken man spending a few fleeting moments with a former love (Kylie Minogue) on the roof of an abandoned theater overlooking Paris.  There's even an intermission where Lavant leads an accordion jam session through a church.

"Anarchic" is a word frequently used to describe HOLY MOTORS and Carax's films in general (he's best known for 1991's THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE; HOLY MOTORS is his first feature in 13 years), but this may be his defining statement with its endless references to French cinema going back to the classics (at one point, Scob is seen donning the same mask she wore in Georges Franju's 1959 classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE) and all the way up to himself (Mr. Merde was a character played in Carax's segment of the 2008 anthology film TOKYO!).  At some point, you have to question whether Mr. Oscar is even a real person or if he's ever not playing a part (French screen legend Michel Piccoli has a brief role as what seems to be Mr. Oscar's employer).  During one "appointment," he's running behind schedule and has to leave, and the person to whom he's talking mentions she has another appointment as well.  Everyone is "acting."  Life--and everything--is one big performance.  Do we ever know our true selves?  Or is there such thing?  Or something like that.  HOLY MOTORS is intentionally vague and ambiguous and it can be a horse pill at times.  For every sequence as dazzling and stunning as the motion capture segment, there's one as meandering and plodding as Mr. Merde's, with the freakish troll showing off his monstrous, crooked erection to the mystified Kay M (Mendes does seem a little out of place here).  Combining elements of nearly every movie genre from film noir to old musicals to thrillers to gory horror, with Mr. Merde's introduction accompanied by Akira Ikufube's GODZILLA theme, HOLY MOTORS is both brilliant and maddeningly self-indulgent, demonstrating the best and worst tendencies of a genuine auteur:  it's both beautifully inspired and pompously smug.  Love it or hate it, there's never been another film like it, and Lavant is quite wonderful in about ten complex roles that require him to do just about anything you can ask from an actor.  (Unrated, 116 mins)

(US - 2013)

It's hard to believe it's been over 20 years since Sharon Stone secured her spot in film history with cinema's most famous leg-crossing in 1992's BASIC INSTINCT.  She'd been paying her dues and working her ass off for over a decade and she finally found fame at the age of 34, a relatively late bloomer by Hollywood standards.  And almost immediately, she became someone that people loved to hate and wanted to see fail, so much so that when she got an Oscar nomination just three years later for Martin Scorsese's CASINO, it was viewed as a "comeback."  Stone pops up in decent projects every now and again, most recently Jim Jarmusch's BROKEN FLOWERS (2005) or Nick Cassavetes' ALPHA DOG (2007), but she really hasn't been relevant since CASINO, and arguably was never an A-list box office draw at all, a point proven by 2006's truly sad and desperate BASIC INSTINCT 2.  She can be a fine actress and she's done excellent work (she's great in CASINO), but it's possible that she was doomed the moment she uncrossed her legs in that interrogation room in BASIC INSTINCT.

Stone's latest film is the straight-to-DVD thriller BORDER RUN and sorry to say, it's an almost complete embarrassment, and Stone, one of twelve credited producers, is a major reason why.  Stone is a bitch-on-wheels, right-wing TV reporter with a hardline stance on illegal immigration.  Her views change when her relief worker brother (Billy Zane) is kidnapped in Mexico.  When the INS and the government show no interest in Zane's disappearance, she heads down there herself and gets involved in a drug-and-human trafficking ring overseen by an overacting Giovanna Zacarias, who plays the part as a crazed, psycho lesbian prone to sticking her hand down a teenage captive's pants and declaring "She smells like a peach!" and is later seen stomping on a pregnant woman's stomach.  Zacarias' performance still pales in comparison to the hysterical, frothing-at-the-mouth work of Stone, who goes off the deep end after she's drugged and raped and starts to genuinely care for those trying to sneak into the US for their piece of the American dream (gee, who didn't see that coming?).  The film was shot under the title THE MULE, which actually gives away a late plot twist involving Zacarias and her cohorts pretending to be coyotes sneaking Mexicans over the border--it's all a cover for their smuggling operation and the drugs the illegals have unknowingly ingested while they were drugged.  Stone's look of gastrointestinal distress when the MARIA FULL OF GRACE pellets start to break is a sight to behold.  Not only is Stone's performance bad--her crutch seems to be to just start shrieking CASINO-style--but she's sporting a really hideous black Medusa fright wig and some very distractingly unflattering eyebrows that aren't doing her any favors in quieting her critics.  I like Sharon Stone and I think she's capable of great work in the right project with a director who can keep her contained (which Gabriela Tagliavini does not do here, most likely because she answers to producer Sharon Stone), but for whatever reason (she has been labeled "difficult"), Hollywood has all but abandoned her and she just seems lost with no idea where to turn.   She's 55, and despite the inexplicable ugly wig and bad makeup, she looks good and is still in great shape, and she even has a couple of topless shots here.  She should look at how the still-stunning Susan Sarandon has gracefully moved into character roles and is busier than ever in a ruthless business that historically casts 60-and-over actresses aside, and follow her example.  Though she's mostly culpable for it, Stone deserves better than BORDER RUN at this point in her career.  (R, 96 mins)

(US - 2012)

This low-key character piece was only on seven screens at its widest release despite being co-written by the much-hyped, divisive GIRLS creator/star Lena Dunham.  It's on the more commercial, JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME side of mumblecore and though it meanders into typical L.A. ennui, it's well-acted and offers some moments of squirming discomfort.  NYC visual artist Martine (Olivia Thirlby) arrives in L.A. to stay with Peter (John Krasinski), a movie/TV sound design specialist who's agreed to help her with sound effects on her latest short film project since his psychologist wife Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt) knows a friend of a friend of Martine's and got him to do the young artist a favor between assignments.  Peter develops a crush on Martine, which doesn't go unnoticed by Julie, who simply says "Don't embarrass me."  Martine also gets involved with Peter and Julie's young handyman David (Rhys Wakefield), who doesn't notice how much Julie's 16-year-old daughter Kolt (India Ennenga of TREME) by her has-been rocker ex-husband Leroy (Dylan McDermott), is interested in him.  Julie also has to deal with the advances of a leering screenwriter patient (Justin Kirk).  Obviously, none of this ends pleasantly.  Directed and co-written by Ry Russo-Young, NOBODY WALKS boasts some very good performances, particularly by DeWitt (best known as Rachel of RACHEL GETTING MARRIED), who has an icy, withering glare like few others, but it's pretty slight and doesn't have much to say beyond "marriage is complicated," which is actually said by someone at one point.  There's nothing wrong with NOBODY WALKS:  it's worth a watch, and at just 83 minutes, doesn't overstay its welcome, but it's the kind of film that you more or less forget as soon it's over. (R, 83 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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