Tuesday, September 18, 2007

2007 catch-up

I was on vacation last week, watching various movies and TV shows and sleeping odd hours, and one of the things I did was start trying to catch up on notable 2007 movies that passed me by for one reason or another, in anticipation of the inevitable awards-giving and list-writing mania that comes toward the end of the year. It's an impossible task, of course, but this is a start.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesal, Angela Goethals, Kate Lang Johnson, dir. Scott Glosserman)
Okay, so maybe in the overall critical community this wasn't a particularly notable release, but it was a relative sensation among horror fans, and I am always looking for a good risk-taking horror movie. Sadly, this is just the same tired meta-humor that's plagued horror for the last decade, taken to an annoyingly useless extreme. It's a mockumentary set in a world in which slasher-movie villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers are real, and the title character aspires to follow in their footsteps. A naive film crew follows him around as he plans his massacre, gleefully deconstructing genre tropes as they apply to his "profession." But these familiar elements only make sense as motivations for filmmakers; as motivations for serial killers, they are entirely nonsensical and counterintuitive. Thus this movie is sort of smart about horror movies (although its insights are a tad obvious), but completely dumb about how its characters might actually act. Then the last half-hour just abandons the mockumentary concept and becomes the same kind of predictable slasher movie it's been sending up, and it's not particularly scary since we've just been told in detail what's about to happen. I loved this meta trend when Wes Craven kickstarted it with New Nightmare and Scream, but now I'm just looking for a horror movie that prizes scariness over self-awareness.

My Best Friend (Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet, dir. Patrice Leconte)
I've become a big fan of French director Leconte thanks to his last two movies that made it to the U.S., Intimate Strangers and The Man on the Train, although I haven't seen much of his earlier work (I did watch The Widow of St. Pierre a while back). This movie has been described as a more mainstream, predictable effort from Leconte, and indeed it does have a lot of elements of stupid Hollywood buddy comedies. It's thankfully a little subtler than something starring Ben Stiller might be, but it's still got plenty of cringe-inducing moments and a pretty paint-by-numbers plot. At the same time, it does explore some of the same themes as the two Leconte films that won me over recently, primarily the way that two strangers of seemingly opposite temperaments can come together via odd circumstances and form a surprisingly strong bond. And Leconte is good at portraying the relationship of the mismatched main characters convincingly, which almost makes up for all the contrivances.

Red Road (Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Martin Compston, dir. Andrea Arnold)
It was interesting seeing this movie right on the heels of The Brave One, since it deals with similar subject matter in a much more interesting, honest and complex way. That's not to say that the actions of this film's lead character are easy to understand or even completely realistic, but they do flow naturally from how Arnold establishes her as a person, and resonate emotionally even if they aren't entirely logical. Dickie gives a wonderful performance with a minimum of dialogue, conveying her character's anguish and detachment following the tragedy she's endured (the nature of which is unclear through most of the film). It's a slow, methodical build, but it's never not interesting, and in the end its long takes and longer silences say far more about grief than a bunch of vigilante nonsense ever could.

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