Men Who Stare at Fourth Kind Education (Weekly Links)


Clooney and Spacey, still staring

Movies I reviewed for The Herald this week (reviews of The Box and 35 Shots of Rum tomorrow):

A Christmas Carol. “The most prominent special effect is still Jim Carrey.”

The Men Who Stare at Goats. “A groovy approach to waging war.”

An Education. “The blend of a female perspective with Hornby’s boy-centric sensibility is just exactly right.”

The Fourth Kind. “A clever marketing campaign in search of a movie.”

The Horse Boy. “The line between intimacy and ‘too much information.'”

Skin. “The most engaging aspect of the movie is Sophie Okonedo’s performance.”

35 Shots of Rum (Dead link; review below.)

By Robert Horton


A delicate family bond, between father and daughter, is explored in “35 Shots of Rum,” a lyrical new film by the French filmmaker Claire Denis. It takes a while to figure out what’s happening in this movie, but once you do, it’s rewarding. If a film can be both enigmatic and fully emotional, this is it.

Lionel, the father, is a train operator, and a gently formidable figure. He’s played by Alex Descas, who looks like something chiseled out of wood, albeit with a short-cropped gray beard. His grown daughter Jo (Mati Diop) is living with him in a high-rise building outside Paris. From their first scene together, we sense that the time has come for Jo to move out on her own, something her father nudges her toward. But she’s reluctant.

What happens after that? Well, a series of scenes that float along as though on the surface of water. The film is a mood study on the subject of separation.    Jo has a sort-of boyfriend (Gregoire Colin), but he’s not quite the man her father is, and their relationship is vaguely defined. We see a long sequence in which one of Lionel’s co-workers has his retirement party, another kind of separation. This introduces the title idea: Lionel has vowed to one day drink 35 shots of rum, an act reserved for a particular kind of celebration.

It’s never mentioned that most of the characters are black. That’s taken for granted within this fairly ordinary, middle-class world, but it lends an air of displacement to the story (at one point father and daughter travel to a picturebook town in Germany, where Jo’s white mother came from). There’s a long, mesmerizing sequence in which Jo and her boyfriend go out with Lionel and his ex-girlfriend (Nicole Dogue) and get sidetracked in a bar at night. The ex is clearly still hung up on Lionel, and she feels the lash when he calmly begins to dance with the pretty manager of the bar.

As she so often does, Claire Denis does not use dialogue to convey the progress of that scene, but atmosphere, incredible faces, and music—the latter handled both by pop songs and the lovely score by Tindersticks. That’s the world of Denis, whose dreamy films include “Beau Travail” and “Nenette and Boni.” The new one is her best in ten years, and while it offers a few movie-watching challenges for the linear-minded, it creates an uncanny mood. Some movies feel distinctly like grown-up affairs; this is one of them.

Plus: from the Movietone News project at Parallax View, a vintage 1980 review of The Wanderers.

Movie Diary 8/10/2009

The Phantom Light (Michael Powell, 1935). So many of ’em are born directors. You watch this thing, silly script, goofy premise, unusual cast, low budget – but Michael Powell is a film director, and it just moves like a snake. Among other things, the timing is superb throughout. (It’s about a “haunted” lighthouse on the coast of Wales.)

lostpatrol2The Lost Patrol (John Ford, 1934). A WWI platoon at a Mesopotamian oasis, getting picked off by an eeriely unseen enemy. The haunted quality is real, and Karloff is in wild form. Too much Max Steiner music this time out, however.

The Upturned Glass (Lawrence Huntington, 1947). Odd one produced by and starring James Mason, about a medical professor essentially bragging about his own very serious misdeed. Too many holes in the plot, but it certainly has an all-the-way ending.

Bad Girl (Frank Borzage, 1931). So far not my favorite Borzage from this period, but a sweet-natured portrait of regular folks getting by, hoping in their lives to move a few stories up in the tenement building before they die. Sally Eilers and James Dunn are an interesting couple.

An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009). I’ve seen three of Lone Scherfig’s movies (the others are unattainable and Danish) and she has yet to take a wrong step: Italian for Beginners is her Dogma fling and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is a completely delightful English-language debut. Easy to point out her gift with actors, but just about everything else is right, too.

Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki, 2009). He keeps at it, this Miyazaki fellow is going to get good. This is right up there with his best. (full review 8/14)