Thursday, April 1, 2010

Film Round-Up for April

In this edition of the Film Round-Up, two excellent foreign movies and two mediocre American movies. Hooray for Hollywood? Um, not this time around.

These reviews originally appeared in the April issue of "ICON," and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Terribly Happy(Dir: Henrik Ruben Genz). Starring: Jakob Cedergren, Lene Maria Christensen, Kim Bodnia, Lars Brygmann, Anders Hove. A lonely and troubled policeman (Cedergren) is transferred from Copenhagen to serve as the marshal in a small town in the middle of nowhere, a seemingly low-impact arrangement. Things are nice and boring until he meets the sultry wife (Christensen) of the town bully (Bodnia), who is feared by everyone. In trying to help the distressed woman and her child, the officer pulls himself deeper into a murderous and corrupt series of events that reveals more about the town than he cares to know. The film starts off slowly, as director/writer Genz builds atmosphere and lays down background. But around the halfway point, the movie takes off like a rocket and doesn't look back, becoming a darkly comic and moody noir in the vein of Fargo and Mulholland Drive that equals those films' intelligence and verve. Bodnia is terrific as the loutish husband who is more devious than he appears. [R] ****

Who Do You Love (Dir: Jerry Zaks). Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Chi McBride, Jon Abrahams, David Oyelowo, Marika Dominczyk, Megalyn Ann Echikunwoke. Biopic covers the early years of Chess Records—the legendary label that introduced the world to Muddy Waters, Etta James, and Bo Diddley—and the man behind the success: plucky, tough-talking Leonard Chess (Nivola), who went from running a Chicago junkyard with his kid brother (Abrahams) to presiding over a hit machine. The transition didn’t come without struggles for Leonard, whose philandering ways and obsession with getting ahead in the music industry nearly destroyed his family. Nice tribute to an overlooked cultural moment—Chess introduced a load of black music to white America in the 1950s and 1960s—gets sidetracked by Nivola's flimsy performance and a sloppy, inattentive script whose insistence on being sunny diminishes any dramatic impact. Only the bouncy soundtrack and terrific performances by McBride (as Willie Dixon, Leonard's mentor) and Oyelowo (as Waters) save the film. [NR] **

Repo Men (Dir: Miguel Sapochnik). Starring: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten. In the not-too-distant future, artificial organs can be purchased like a home or a car thanks to the good folks at The Union. However, if you're late with a payment, your liver or pancreas will be repossessed. Remy (Law, again downplaying his looks) is one of the best "repo men" in the business, until he's forced to get a replacement heart that keeps him alive but gives him a conscience. With his work suffering, Remy can't pay the bills, forcing him to flee from his thuggish partner and best friend (Whitaker). Sapochnik's decision to make Repo Men into a ridiculously violent affair (e.g., organ removal as foreplay, Law fending off bad guys with a hammer and hacksaw) is at odds with the film's satirical bent, which is basically used as filler before the next mauling. Too much time is spent establishing a tone, ensuring that you never feel involved in what's happening onscreen. The sultry Braga is wasted as Law's useless love interest/partner in unearthing the truth. [R] **

Delta (Dir: Kornél Mundruczó). Starring: Felix Lajko, Orsolya Toth, Lili Monori, Sándor Gáspár. A young man (Lajko), long-estranged from his working class family, returns to his Romania home to find two new additions—his mother's jerky lover (Gáspár) and a joyless sister (Toth) that he's never met. With no place to stay, the man buys a load of timber and constructs a massive house in a delta along the Danube River, which becomes a haven for the girl. However, the siblings' increasingly close relationship and the massive structure create bitter feelings in their family and the town. Minimalist in just about ever way: Writer Yvette Buro's dialogue is skimpy, and director Mundruczó withholds information; even the camerawork seems content not to intrude. The approach actually produces an uneasy, compelling character study that forces you to pay attention and piece together the harsh reality—and the dangerous sanctuary—hovering over the two protagonists. Delta shows that good things happen when a filmmaker has faith in the intelligence of his audience. [NR] ****

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