Crude du Freak: The Headless Amelia (Weekly Links)

ongbak

Kneel before Jaa

Movies I reviewed for the Herald this week.

The Headless Woman. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

If you like David Lynch-land, if you like a puzzle film, if you value mystery over explanations—we’ve got a movie for you.

“The Headless Woman” is a new film from Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, whose “La Cienaga” and “The Holy Girl” marked her as a distinctive talent. This one is like a Hitchcock movie watched through a smoked glass window. At the center of the movie, and usually at the center of the shot, is Veronica (Maria Onetto), an upper-class, middle-aged woman. Something happens to her, or she causes something to happen, while driving her car, early in the film.

We watch Veronica as she drops her cell phone while motoring along a sunny road. As she fumbles for it on the seat, the car suddenly jerks up and down, and we hear a thump.

As though she’s hit something.

But the nature of this impact—and of a possible head injury Veronica might have sustained in the moment—is not going to be spelled out. Instead, we watch her pass through the remainder of the movie, her behavior odd, apparently in a kind of concussed daze. Is it possible she hit a dog in the road? But what about the human body found nearby, a few days later? Can she remember what happened, or is she conveniently turning away from reality?

Martel has suggested that her films are metaphors for a generation of Argentineans who would prefer to forget the uncomfortable political past. If so, “The Headless Woman” fits the profile: not only does Veronica struggle with remembering, but the people around her seem to be helping her forget, as though closing ranks of privilege around her.

These tantalizing ideas are embedded in a movie that has a slow, dreamy rhythm. “The Headless Woman” doesn’t make anything easy for you, and at times its style is so oblique you might wonder whether you got conked in the noggin yourself. It’s not so much a whodunit as a wha’happened. Following out the clues makes for a challenging game—you’ll have to keep your head.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. “Fails on all counts.”

Amelia. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

When she vanished somewhere in the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart flew from heroine to myth. Her mysterious end turns out to be just about the only real draw to a new biopic, “Amelia.”

Hilary Swank, with her sincerity and her toothy smile, is apt casting for the Kansas-born aviatrix. But not much else feels right in this once-over-lightly account of a somewhat enigmatic life.

We begin around the time Earhart is engaged for a publicity stunt: she’ll ride along with a pilot and engineer for a transatlantic flight, becoming the first woman to fly across the ocean (albeit as a passenger, not a pilot). This 1928 episode (a year after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across) launches Earhart as a public figure, and also begins her relationship with publisher George Putnam, played by Richard Gere.

The depiction of this flight, as well as her 1932 solo transatlantic flight, are absorbing enough in the manner of a good documentary. Those were fascinating feats–a lot of people died trying to do similar things, and Earhart’s courage was real. “Amelia” also tries to make a case for Earhart as an unconventional feminist ahead of her time, although this comes in small doses.

An affair with Eugene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) is depicted, although there’s almost no hint of why these two got together while Amelia was married; it’s as though the filmmakers were so skittish about Earhart appearing less than completely sympathetic, they simply tried to breeze through these things as quickly as possible. Vidal’s son, Gore, is included in the story, although one senses that’s only because he would someday be the famous writer. Ditto the cameo by Eleanor Roosevelt (Cherry Jones), who is around to assure us of Earhart’s celebrity.

This film is directed by Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”), but it feels like a committee job. The overall blandness is best suited to a TV production, and at times the dialogue is woefully clumsy—even the voice of the newsreel reporter isn’t convincing.

Earhart’s final attempt at a round-the-world journey is decently staged, and its mysterious finish can’t help but intrigue. But this is mostly because of the facts of the event, not because of anything special “Amelia” has done to earn our interest. Almost any documentary account of Amelia Earhart’s life will be more engaging that this strangely unengaging movie.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning. “Jaa displays the fiendish focus of his idol, Bruce Lee.”

Crude. “Berlinger may need to return to this story.”

And don’t forget: next Thursday night brings a Rotten Halloween party, celebrating the zombie-Western comic book, complete with booze and a secret, freaked-out movie. Details here.

Movie Diary 10/21/2009

Amelia (Mira Nair, 2009). Sometimes all the ingredients are there and it doesn’t work out for the movie; and then sometimes the ingredients aren’t even there. (full review 10/23)

Crude (Joe Berlinger, 2009). The leavings of oil companies in Ecuador, and an endless lawsuit to set things right. Hard to make this kind of thing new, but Berlinger captures some interesting behind-the-scenes material. (full review 10/23)

I Know Where I’m Going! (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1945). Embarrassing how long it’d been since I’d watched this movie. Can’t let a lapse like that happen again. Also can’t believe I hadn’t seen the Criterion extras before, with home-movie footage of Powell’s hill-walking in Scotland and a charming documentary with the New Yorker‘s Nancy Franklin traveling to the town where exteriors were shot.