+ "The Weather Man": We know this isn’t kosher, but we loved/feared Gore Verbinski‘s "The Ring," more so than the Japanese original. We dunno if it was his intent, but Verbinski managed to make a horror movie so sparse and strange it was almost expressionist. Kept us up for days. He’s a very interesting, if scattered, commercial director (Remember when he sprayed fake tanner on Gene Hackman and had him pretend to be ethnic in "The Mexican"? What the hell was that?), one who jumped right in to the mainstream (see "Mousehunt") without splashing around in the indie…pond (it’s too early in the day to extend metaphors) first. Our point is, clearly he’s gotten the urge for an indie moment, and here we are. Nicolas Cage faces stylish mid-life angst.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Roger Ebert argues:
One of the trade papers calls it "one of the biggest downers to emerge from a major studio in recent memory — an overbearingly glum look at a Chicago celebrity combing through the emotional wreckage of his life." But surely that is a description of the movie, not a criticism of it. Must movies not be depressing? Must major studios not release them if they are? Another trade paper faults the movie for being released by Paramount, when it "probably should have been made by Paramount Classics. For this is a Sundance film gussied up with studio production values and big stars."
I find this reasoning baffling. Are major stars not allowed to appear in offbeat character studies? Is it wrong for a "Sundance film" to have "studio production values?"
He likes the film. Salon‘s Stephanie Zacharek does too â€” to an extent. As she puts it: "[Y]ou don’t have to be a middle-aged man (or even just middle-aged, or a man) to sympathize with [Cage’s David] Spritz — although even just writing that phrase somehow, inexplicably, makes me want to kick him." She finds that the Spritz’s mid-life sad sackeries, while well done, get wearying very quickly. And both Slate‘s David Edelstein and the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis point out that "The Weather Man" is one in a long line of male existential crisis movies. It works for Edelstein (who calls it "a fine movie, beautifully acted, but it isn’t easy to love â€” or to watch") far more than it does for La Manohla, who bemoans that "the film’s most promising idea, which glimmers faintly only to be pusillanimously extinguished, is that David’s pursuit of the beautiful house and beautiful wife, to invoke an old Talking Heads song, has left him wondering how he got here."
+ "Three…Extremes": The hipper and slightly more international of your two Halloween gorefest options opening today, both of which, as J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader points out, fall solidly under the banner of the nouveau exploitation film (our favorite "Saw II" quote goes to the LA Weekly‘s Christopher Orr, who muses that "’Saw II’ distinguishes itself from its forebear chiefly in the depth of its unpleasantness: It contains enough slashing, screaming, mutilating, bludgeoning, burning and bleeding to make the earlier film seem, in retrospect, like a drawing-room comedy. If there’s a ‘Saw III,’ it will doubtless feature nuns and orphans being slowly pushed through a hand-cranked meat grinder."). "Three…Extremes" is an anthology film, featuring a trinity of 30-40 minute shorts from two of the current big names in edgy Asian film (Japan’s Takashi Miike and Korea’s Park Chan-wook) and the less well-known, artier Hong Kong director Fruit Chan. As with all anthology films, the result is, by critical consensus, an uneven thing. Jones likes the Park segment, "Cut" (which, he points out, does have almost the same premise as "Saw II") so much he doesn’t even address the other two. Roger Ebert, who sees the film as horror for grown ups (finally), declares Miike’s "Box" the "most complex of all," though he also seems to like Chan’s "Dumplings," for all that he ponders how many people will walk out of the theater when the figure out the premise. Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice also hearts "Dumplings," which he says "may be the most viciously conceived piece of social satire the continent’s seen since ‘Tetsuo’"; he’s pleased with the film as a testament to the renewed strength of the short form film. And Dana Stevens at the New York Times, in a short review, sums the film up as a relatively tame sampler of Asian extreme cinema: she also prefers "Dumplings."
Our old NYAFF review is here; we’d advise you to see the film if only for "Dumplings," which also happens to have Chris Doyle as DP, making it something equally lovely and horrific, as well as dark, dark, dark. Here’s hoping Chan’s full-length version of "Dumplings" finds a US distributor soon, if it hasn’t already.
+ "Paradise Now": Hany Abu-Assad‘s suicide bomber opus is only opening in New York and L.A. today, so reviews are limited thus far (we’re painfully curious as to how the film will play). Good things as yet: J. Hoberman at the Village Voice calls it "[c]ontrived but chilling," liking it overall while acknowledging:
A Palestinian-Dutch-German- French co-pro, "Paradise Now" was also
workshopped at Sundance, and as has been pointed out, it has certain
Amerindie characteristics â€” including a carefully worked-out backstory
and a number of didactic scenes in which the action grinds to a halt to
allow for the expression of varied points of view.
It all works for the New York Times‘ Stephen Holden, who says that "[p]olitics aside, the movie is a superior thriller whose shrewdly inserted plot twists and emotional wrinkles are calculated to put your heart in your throat and keep it there."
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Armond White at the New York Press adores the film, calling it an emotional rich, complex, humanist work that is also intensely cinematic (he points out a segment in which the characters try to discuss their lives in terms of movie genres: "Is there a genre as boring as life?" asks the unhappy main character).