Movie Reviews: Filth and Wisdom, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, Splinter 

Also, Fear(s) of the Dark, The Other End of the Line and more

Wednesday, Oct 29 2008

ABLE DANGER Though it knocks along with the steady heartbeat pace of a thriller and is painted in the languid, low-contrast shadows of a noir, Paul Krik’s feature debut is neither and both. Mixing genres, stereotypes and bug-eyed conspiracy theories, Able Danger satisfies its own aesthetic demands but has trouble with its bigger concern: tying the noir look to its attendant narrative traditions in the service of some artistic (rather than merely referential) effect. Thomas Flynn (Adam Nee) runs the Vox Pop café in deepest hipster Brooklyn, and either too much coffee or too few customers have led him to pen a book claiming that Mohamed Atta was a government patsy. The publicity for his book draws in a mysterious Eurobabe (Elina Löwensohn), who claims she has proof of CIA involvement in 9/11. Bodies begin dropping around her almost immediately — the first being that of Thomas’ friend — and a torrent of G-men, Germans, Arabs, Tasers, text messages, tech nerds and messenger bags is unleashed. Able Danger’s various generic elements and ambitions, while successful on their own, resist melding into a successful pastiche; perhaps the invocation of September 11 for the vaguely satirical purpose of tweaking conspiracy crap proves too preoccupying for such a winking, albeit well-made, film. (Grande 4-Plex) (Michelle Orange)

EDEN LAKE Gleefully demonizing both the British “chav” working-class and the horror genre’s usual target audience of mid-teen males, Eden Lake pits a well-to-do, soon-to-be-married couple (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender) against a gang of obnoxious, bicycle-riding 14-year-olds. It’s the epitomical rule of these films: Never, ever get confrontational with disagreeable people. We know that if you’re out with your girl by a quiet lake, and your peace is disturbed by a group of hormonally charged young jerks, you’ll be tempted to assert yourself, but seriously: Don’t. Just leave. Of course, then there’d be no movie. Writer-director James Watkins, who previously co-wrote the UK suspense flick My Little Eye, expertly plays on the viewer’s fears and prejudices — who among us hasn’t secretly wanted to smack the shit out of some wannabe-macho, prepubescent bully? But you’ll likely feel queasy afterwards, upon realizing that the movie has you rooting for these lower-income kids to die at the hands of the disempowered yuppies. As a thriller, Eden Lake absolutely works, but feel-good entertainment it isn’t. Don’t bring a date. (Fairfax) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO FEAR(S) OF THE DARK While some may snicker at “graphic novel” as a term for comic books that take themselves too seriously, the French analogue — bande dessinée (or “drawn strip”) — denotes a medium sophisticated enough to be hailed the ninth art. Embracing the cult spirit of 1981’s sci-fantasy omnibus Heavy Metal (coincidentally adapted from a magazine with French roots), this animated Franco-horror anthology is hardly child’s play but a classy interpretation of the eerie dreads hiding in the minds of 10 international graphic artists. Though multidirector projects are patchy by definition, Fear(s) of the Dark hits with an all-star batting average. The best of the lot is Charles Burns’ segment — a crisp, creepy, Cronenberg-ian homage to EC Horror about a virginal science nerd (voiced by the late Guillaume Depardieu) who falls prey to a bombshell with an entomological revelation. While Burns works in high-contrast monochrome, Richard McGuire and Michael Pirus utilize it even more beautifully in their inescapable haunted-house tale, a chestnut rendered lyrical and abstract through wordless storytelling and a white-on-black canvas. Samurai ghosts, 18th-century demon dogs and a childhood remembrance also figure into the film, each entertaining if not particularly scary, while the single sore thumb plays like an innocuous Agnès Varda parody. (Nuart) (Aaron Hillis)

click to enlarge MARIE CAILLOU - Fear(s) of the Dark
  • Marie Caillou
  • Fear(s) of the Dark

FILTH & WISDOM A splashy Berlin Film Festival premiere may not have been the ideal launch strategy for this modestly scaled first feature co-­written and directed by Madonna, which arrives in the U.S. having been torn limb from celluloid limb by Euro critics. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo — included in the press notes — in which the Material Girl says that while she has “always been inspired by the films of Goddard [sic], Visconti, Pasolini and Fellini,” she expects it will be some time before she’s able to “make something that comes close to their genius.” Genius isn’t the strong suit of Filth & Wisdom, but there’s an undeniably funky charm and abiding can-do spirit to this loosely knit portrait of three London flatmates trying to make their way in the world. Ukranian-born singer-songwriter A.K. (played with enormous charisma by Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hutz) pounds the music-biz pavement while holding down a day job as a male dominatrix. Meanwhile, dancer Holly (Holly Weston) turns to stripping in a seedy “gentlemen’s club” when ballet no longer pays the bills, and pharmacist Juliette (Vicky McClure) endures leering stares from her married boss while saving up to work as a nurse in Africa. The not-unwise show-biz moral here is that to get what you want out of life, you have to get your hands dirty. Message to the director: Don’t quit your day job just yet, but in the category of multidisciplinary artists moonlighting as filmmakers, I’ll take you over Julian Schnabel any day. (Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)

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