There’s not a lot happening in Spokane, so it always gives me an opportunity to catch up on movies. I usually try to see foreign films or independent films that are unlikely to make their way to Japan, which seems to have a very arbitrary means of selecting which movies get released, as well as when they might be released. Anyway, here are some capsule reviews of movies I rented while visiting my family:
The Cooler is a film that I heard a bit of buzz about and was inspired to see. Macy plays another “loser”-someone with luck so bad that he “cools” other gamblers who are winning. But it is a story of the redemptive power of love and a meditation on the mythology of luck. I thought it was well-executed and there were some fine performances as well: Macy, Alec Baldwin playing a tough, old school casino boss, and Maria Bella as the inspiration for Macy’s turnaround. There’s a cool extra called “Anatomy of a Scene”, a special series from the IFC (Independent Film Channel), which shows how the climatic scene was shot and they talk to the director, actors, light managers, wardrobe managers, and others. It was interesting and informative.
Maria Full Of Grace was released when I was in San Francisco for my friend Lee’s wedding, and after reading about the film I had wanted to see then, but didn’t have time. It has just recently been released on DVD, and it is a powerful film, that was made in South America and New York completely in Spanish. It humanizes the plight of drug mules from Columbia who live in desperate circumstances and are compelled to risk everything for the possibility of a better life. It also shows how complex the war on drugs is, it tends to be shades of gray, rather than black and white. For example, how it is usually the lowest people on the totem pole who get punished of the dealings of the big time players. It’s the kind of drug movie Steven Soderberg should have made instead of Traffic, if he had perhaps focused on the yellow filtered story in Mexico with Benicio Del Toro. The accompanying commentary by first time director/writer Joshua Marston is extremely interesting and enlightening about the process that lead to the completion of the film.
I have to say that I was disappointed in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes. It seemed like it might be an entertaining series of vignettes about caffeine and nicotine, but it seemed a bit thrown together with too much ad-libbing and not enough story. The Iggy Pop-Tom Waits scene that had so much promise on paper fizzled, the Jack White-Meg White conversation was pretentious and not funny, the scene with members of Wu Tang Klan and Bill Murray also failed to generate much humor either. The standout scene was done by Cate Blanchet, who played herself and a sort of never-do-well cousin visiting her in a hotel lobby. The following scene with Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan was also entertaining, but the rest of the scenes fell short. I wouldn’t recommend it. Lately I’ve been interested in seeing some movies by Wong Kar-Wai, so I finally picked up 1994's Chunking Express. It was two interlocking stories about love and loss shot in Hong Kong about 10 years ago and is the film debut of the lovely Faye Wong. I found it oddly compelling, despite the lack of significant dramatic action. It’s almost all mood and artifice. I’m looking forward to seeing some of his other older films, and his more recent films like In The Mood For Love and 2046.
I also saw two films by Mike Hodges, director of the excellent Get Carter. The first was, Croupier, a noirish sort of thriller about a writer/croupier who lives by a Hemingway-esque code of honor. It has a lot of atmosphere and is suspenseful with an unforseen twist at the end. Clive Owen was excellent in the film. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, a revenge film that is a bit reminiscent of Get Carter, however, it unfolds much more slowly, as Will Graham (Owen) comes closer to finding out who is responsible for the death of his brother, so that he can get his revenge. Like Croupier, there is a lot of atmosphere chewed along the way. It also has an excellent performance by Owen and is quite compelling.