Men Who Stare at Fourth Kind Education (Weekly Links)

menwhostare

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.

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Movie Diary 10/27/2009

This is It (Kenny Ortega, 2009). Okay, better than anticipated. Dude may have been a freak, but at the end he had it together physically and creatively, and you can’t argue with his sense of theater. (full review 10/30)

The Horse Boy (Michel O. Scott, 2009). Doc about an autistic child, carried by his try-anything parents to the steppes of Mongolia. Raises a few questions about various kinds of responsibility in making a nonfiction film, but an interesting trip. (full review 11/6)

Skin (Anthony Fabian, 2009). Sophie Okonedo, with her refreshing quietness, plays a character from a bizarre true story of apartheid South Africa. She’ll get the Oscar push, which takes something away from a nicely-stated turn. (full review 11/6)

Act of God (Jennifer Baichwal, 2009). True tales of people hit by lightning, and the ways folks try to make sense of such random events. It’s got some gorgeous weather in it, and the different testimonials are tied together by Paul Auster’s memoir of being caught in a deadly lightning storm at age 14. (full review 10/30)