Recently Rated Movies #48

Dir: Stuart Gordon // 2005 [IFC]

Cinema 4 Rating: 7

Not that my rating can (or needs to) be bought by any means, but one can certainly earn an extra notch on that rating for their film by taking out Julia Stiles. I don't mean out on a date; I mean having her character (and thus
her maddeningly overrated acting) dispatched from the story altogether. Perhaps this isn't what the filmmakers meant by having what happens in Edmond happen to her, but it works for me. I hate to spoil anything for someone who hasn't seen it -- because it is entirely a worthwhile work to catch -- I just can't stand Julia Stiles that much. It's the one downside to The Bourne Ultimatum coming out this summer: knowing she will be in it. But lest you think I am harshing on Ms. Stiles, Denise Richards shows up briefly to show her not what bad acting can truly be, but to display what a total lack of acting talent is. Stiles doesn't know how lucky she has it. But don't let my disdain for two of Edmond's cast sway you from seeing it. This film should be seen.

I have to admit that this is one of the David Mamet plays that I have not read nor seen, but I dove into watching it eagerly for three reasons: Mamet, lead actor Filliam H. Muffman -- AAHH! -- damn that Stephen Colbert! -- William H. Macy, and the director. Does the fact that Stuart Gordon, the auteur of Lovecraftian wonderments like Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dagon, is directing a Mamet script throw you? Well, I've known of Gordon's theatrical career for quite a while, being a fan of Bleacher Bums back when it was on PBS eons ago. Gordon started Chicago's Organic Theatre, where Mamet had his first theatrical success with Gordon at the helm. You'd really be surprised just how deep Gordon's connections to some of the most famous actors and writers in theatre and film go; gathering some of this talent together and then summoning every ounce of his directorial skill to tackle Edmond, which appears to be a decidedly difficult and quite possibly controversial piece once it is seen, Gordon has produced perhaps his finest, most mature work to date.

This film, though, really belongs to Macy, and its a shame that his nervy portrayal of a henpecked businessman loser bursting out of his timidity in all the wrong ways was not nominated for any major awards, because its a doozy. He starts out looking like a self-made hero, finally taking the proverbial bull by the horns and getting his shit together. But then all the sewage within his system comes gushing forth from first his runaway mouth, doing damage to those to whom he initially seeks solace: whores and strippers. When a verbal assaults don't quell his growing hunger for comprehension in an non-listening world, Edmond breaks free in torrents of violent misunderstanding. It's not a huge leap to accept that Macy's Edmond is a very recognizably human movie monster run amok, and that this film really is a sort of horror film, even when most involved would probably swear it's not. Then again, it's not an uncommon thing in Hollywood anyway, the "it's not a horror film" defense. It's where the term "psychological thriller" came from. This film is "psychological" in the sheerest sense of the word, it thrills in a sick way, but its not a "psychological thriller". It's a horror film that still manages to discover notes of grace for its rampaging monster of the id. We should all be so lucky.

Der Untergang [Downfall]Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel // German, 2004 [DVD]
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

One of those Schindler's List-like things, where you recognize that greatness is unspooling before your eyes, and you know that you really should watch, but it's going to be a chore to behold. We're in Hitler's bunker as the Russians
are pouring through Berlin, and you know all along that a bullet will be eventually zipping its life-ceasing way through der Führer's skull by the film's end. Sure, many people don't mind watching a ton of Nazis bite it in increasingly nasty ways, but there is always humanity to be found in even the most misguided of mindsets. We get to watch Hitler (who is granted less of a super-villain bearing than he usually is on film, and much of this is due to a stellar Bruno Ganz, he of Wings of Desire) as a human. His misguided plans of world conquest, coupled with his startlingly poor management and dissipation of his once vast resources, cause him to slowly lose it even more than he already has by the start of the film -- and certainly that little fucker was a lost cause for most of his life -- but this is merely the background setting, and Hitler almost seems like a supporting character at times.

The true dramatic center of the film is on the fringe characters, particularly Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge (whose memoirs form part of the basis for the film). Many of these clerical operatives were common people simply doing their job, and are remaining patriotic to their state and their leader. Traudl is of this blank-minded ilk, but also remains sympathetic and even worshipful to her cruel leader even in the face of overwhelming knowledge as to his darkness and madness. (It also must be remembered that most in Germany -- not all, but many -- were largely unaware as to the eventual extent of the Nazi atrocities). Even when they might be aware of the horrors at hand, such as the military doctor who keeps administering aid even in the face of possible death or capture, there is still some form of very human nobility to be performed before the titular downfall. Some very rough scenes await the casual viewer -- be warned, the scene with the mother coolly putting her kids down for an unwaking night of sleep is not for the faint-hearted -- but then, most of this very long film is not for that type of personality. You need to be willing to deal with the lowest depths to which man can sink, and as in Letters From Iwo Jima, you need to accept that even the enemy have hearts, souls and dreams. Even if, as a direct result of their cruel and evil actions, they should possibly relinquish their rights to them.
Il Grande Silenzio [The Great Silence]Dir: Sergio Carbucci // Italian, 1968 [IFC]
Cinema 4 Rating: 7

A fascinating "Spaghetti Western" (which I actually find a deplorable term, given the wide range of quality inherent in the derisively named genre -- and also from the fact that I prefer lasagna), made all the more so for me, as I
had never even heard of it until I chanced upon it a couple of weekends ago. If I had not watched My Name is Nobody earlier in the day, I probably would not have watched this one. But I was still in the mood for a western, and the fact that Klaus Kinski was in the cast loomed large in my decision. This one keeps you guessing from start to finish; it offers a terrific hero named Silence (played with mute calm by the cast-at-the-last-minute Jean-Louis Trintignant, who supposedly took the part only if he didn't have to learn any lines -- it must be nice to be desperately needed like that), and an even more terrific and hissable villain played by Kinski, who as usual, employs his dark-rimmed "crazy" eyes and shock of blond hair to imbue his character of bounty hunter Loco with even more implications of sadistic evil than a normal mortal actor ever could. The film tells us this is based on some purportedly true Utah bounty hunter wars back in the Old West days (I am too tired as I write this to even bother checking on the veracity of the film's vow), but it really doesn't matter. The film is unique for its entirely snowbound location shooting, and also for its ending, which frankly shocked me (and kind of pissed me off when it happened, as I thought the flick was heading into eventual safer territory). But I have reconciled my brief anger, and for both the ending and the great Kinski, this is one I will be grabbing for my collection.


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