Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2012) and STORAGE 24 (2013)

(Italy/France/Ireland - 2011; 2012 US release)

The Weinstein Company acquired this eccentric, glacially slow-moving road film from IL DIVO director Paolo Sorrentino and sat on it for over a year before sneaking it onto 15 screens in the US last fall.  It's certain to attain at least some minor cult status thanks to Sean Penn in perhaps the strangest role of his career as a reclusive, aging, Robert Smith-lookalike goth rocker named Cheyenne.  Living in Dublin with his firefighter wife Jane (Frances McDormand), Cheyenne, who still dresses the part despite having not performed or recorded in 20 years, is forced to travel home to America upon hearing that his estranged father has died.  Once back in NYC, Cheyenne is reminded of his Jewish heritage and learns from aging, foul-mouthed Nazi hunter Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch) that his father (whose letters are read in voiceover by an uncredited Fritz Weaver) devoted his life to tracking down a Nazi officer who tortured him at Auschwitz and is now living somewhere in the US.  Cheyenne, haunted by his own demons--he quit writing "depressed songs for depressed kids" and withdrew from public life when two teenaged Irish fans committed suicide after listening to his music--and permitted by his wealth and celebrity to remain a child in many ways, believes he's finally found his true purpose when he decides to finish his father's work and locate the Nazi war criminal.

Sorrentino's film functions as an homage to road films past, particularly the work of Wim Wenders, a point driven home by the presence of PARIS, TEXAS star Harry Dean Stanton as a chatty old-timer who claims to have invented the wheeled suitcase.  Cheyenne becomes quite the detective on his quest down the back roads of America, awkwardly meeting a retired teacher (Joyce Van Patten) who was once married to the alleged Nazi, which leads him to the man's granddaughter (Kerry Condon), a widowed waitress with a young son.  Filming in Dublin, NYC, New Mexico, Utah, and Michigan, Sorrentino does a nice job of capturing the peculiar sounds and rhythms of rural America, and commendably doesn't go for cheap, fish-out-of-water laughs, with the mumbling, vaguely effeminate Cheyenne often finding accepting, kindred spirits among these misfit souls who live off the beaten path.  This is an enigmatic and sometimes frustrating film that leaves several vital pieces of the puzzle open to interpretation, particularly Cheyenne's friendship with Mary (Eve Hewson, daughter of U2's Bono), a Dublin teenager with a delusional mother who hasn't been right since Mary's brother mysteriously vanished, but if you give it chance, it has its rewards, especially with some frequently arresting visuals and Penn's performance, while initially affected, off-putting, and feeling a bit like a stunt, gradually finds its place after a scene where he dumps all of his emotional baggage on old friend David Byrne (playing himself), whose Talking Heads song gives the film its title.  The US theatrical cut was shortened by seven minutes from Sorrentino's original version, completely removing Shea Whigham's appearance as a fast-talking businessman and the explanation of how Cheyenne is suddenly driving a pickup truck on his journey (Whigham apparently asked him to drive it cross-country for him).  THIS MUST BE THE PLACE isn't an easy film to like and anyone who assumes from a cursory glance that it'll be a Cure-inspired goth-rock CRAZY HEART will bail in record time, but road flick nerds and Penn completists will certainly want to give it a look. (R, 111 mins)

(India/UK - 2012; 2013 US release)

Uninspired at best and dreadful at worst, STORAGE 24 feels clumsily torn between being a horror movie and a Noel Clarke vanity project.  British TV star Clarke, who wrote and co-directed the moderately entertaining Tarantino/Guy Ritchie knockoff, is still trying to mount some kind of Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright breakthrough in the US market, with little success thus far.  Clarke co-produced, co-wrote, and stars in STORAGE 24, which starts its cribbing with a set-up straight out of SUPER 8 as a military cargo plane crashes near Hyde Park in central London.  As the military closes in, the area is locked down and a group of people in a 24-hour storage facility (very) slowly discover that they've got company in the form of a rampaging alien that looks an awful lot like PREDATOR minus the rasta braids.  But before any of that, director Johannes Roberts overindulges Clarke, who seems like he wanted to write a boring breakup drama intermittently interrupted by gory alien kills.  Far too much time is spent on Charlie (Clarke) bellyaching to his best buddy Mark (Colin O'Donoghue) about getting dumped by Shelley (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), who's also at the storage facility and, it turns out, has been secretly seeing Mark for months.  Even when the alien starts offing people one-by-one and the film just starts to blatantly copy other, better movies (mostly ALIEN and ALIENS, but also PREDATOR, DISTRICT 9, and ATTACK THE BLOCK just to name a few), with the alien dragging people up through the ceiling tiles, people crawling through air shafts, John Carpenter-esque score, etc. without any sense of style, fun, humor or homage, Charlie is still fixating on why things didn't work out.  Ploddingly-paced with a dull cast and shoddy CGI gore effects, STORAGE 24 accomplishes nothing other than reminding you of past films that you'd be better off rewatching instead.  (R, 87 mins)

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