The LiC movie-going weekend finally got out of first gear. Here’s hoping the trend continues for the remainder of the year. I’m tired of the winter movie dead season. There has been some good arthouse stuff and I’ve enjoyed some of the studio product, but mostly it’s been more uninspiring than usual.
This weekend started off with a screening of the upcoming Il Divo, the true story of controversial and complicated Mafia-linked Italian politician Giulio Andreotti. Well played by Toni Servillo (Gomorrah), Andreotti remains enigmatic throughout the film – writer/director Paolo Sorrentino seems content to display his many contradictory facets rather than getting at the root of them – but the morass of politics, religion and crime that are the cornerstones of power in Italy are brought to striking light. This is a very stylish film, fluidly photographed and veering from bursts of pop music to classical, but the style is never overbearing. It’s definitely a good film, and an entertaining one, but I haven’t yet decided if it’s great. Hopefully I’ll figure it out before it opens in New York on April 24th.
Next I finally sat down to have a look at Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in Duplicity. It’s not nearly as smart or sexy or sparkly as it thinks it is and it really was begging to be directed by Steven Soderbergh (writer/director Tony Gilroy originally wrote it with Soderbergh in mind), but like Gilroy’s Michael Clayton before it, it’s clearly aimed at adults and it mostly hits the mark. It gets maximum mileage out of Clive Owen who finally seems to be coming into the handsome and charming mainstream leading man people have been projecting for him at least since Croupier. Paul Giamatti is also fun as you’d expect. The twisty plot doesn’t really hold up under much scrutiny (and is made to seem more complicated by plenty of time shifting as the plan is formed and executed simultaneously with back and forth editing), but the thing that makes it work in the end is that the core of the story turns out to be more than the ins and outs of the somewhat unsatisfying caper itself. What that is doesn’t really come as a surprise, but I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll say no more. It’s a fun if unremarkable film and recommended for fans of the cast and the genre.
Next up was this week’s new release Observe and Report. I’m told it’s being compared to Taxi Driver, which is a pretty significant insult to the Scorsese classic. The new film directed by Jody Hill and starring Seth Rogen has little on its mind besides some tepid mall culture satire. The biggest laugh in the film is at the expense of the audience who shows up expecting a comedy. It’s a dark and violent film, but empty and unrewarding. Much of the audience I saw it with seemed to get a charge out of it (when they weren’t texting), but I suspect these are the same people who like to watch the early rounds of American Idol as the talentless and delusional are trotted out to make us all feel better about ourselves. Seth Rogen’s bent mall cop provides a similar function.
Redeeming the weekend was Ramin Bahrani’s terrific Goodbye Solo. The whisp of a story (Bahrani as usual is more interested in observing his characters carry on about their daily business than he is in an overarching plot) is carried along almost completely by the engaging performance of first time Senegalese actor Souléymane Sy Savané in the lead role. Playing a cab driver in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he easily transcends the stereotype of the big-hearted foreigner. Instead, his otherness serves to shine a light on things we take for granted about American society. Goodbye Solo is easily the highlight of the weekend and is recommended for those who don’t mind their films heavy on character and light on plot. In the growing Bahrani canon, I’d rank it above Man Push Cart, but below Chop Shop.
That’s all for me this weekend. How about you?