zaterdag 29 november 2014

The Two Faces of January (2013)

Dir: Hossein Amini - Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan, David Warshofsky, Karayianni Margaux, Yigit Ozscener, James Sobol Kelly

A thriller based on the novel of the same title by Patricia Highsmith; the title refers to the Roman God Janus, the double-faced God of transitions and new beginnings, who gave his name to the month of January, the beginning of the new year. The title also refers to the characters played by Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, who are both con man, not showing their real face to others.

Highsmith is best known for providing Hitchcock with the source material for “Strangers on a Train” and creating the character of Ripley, the young man with a talent for deceit and murder. Ripley is a rather unlikely Highsmith hero in the sense that he is successful in what he’s doing: most of her ‘heroes’ are people who almost accidentally get into trouble and then take all the wrong decisions, making things worse with every next step they take. Even if it’s not one of her very best novels, The Two Faces of January it's a genuine Highsmith, dark, sinister and disturbing. 

The story’s set in the first half of the 60s. Isaac plays a young American, working as tourist guide in Athens, who’s fascinated by middle-aged, well-to-do businessman Mortenson, because the man reminds him of his recently deceased father (but is much easier to talk to). In reality Mortenson is a con man who duped dozens of customers; when he’s tracked down by a private detective he accidently kills the man. Isaac, who is a small-time crook himself, decides to give Mortenson some assistance in escaping the country, but things are complicated by the fact that he feels attracted to Mortenson’s much younger wife (Kirsten Dunst) ...

The script follows the novel by and large but some minor changes have been made; in the novel the emphasis is less on the woman but far more on this strange relationship of the two men, who feel attracted to each other while hating each other at the same time. In the 60s (when the novel was also written) Freud was omnipresent, of course. The changes are minor, but because of them the ending, which rings true in the book, feels out of place here. 

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Dir: Woody Allen - Cast: Woody Allen, Judy Davis, Kristie Alley, Richard Benjamin, Bob Balaban, Billy Crystal, Elisabeth Shue, Tobey McGuire, Paul Giamatti, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Robin Williams

A great comedy drama, along with Husbands and Wives (1992) Woody’s finest movie from the 90s. Woody is Harry Brown, a sex-obsessed author who lived through three marriages and numerous affairs. So far things seemed to go his way: he went to psychiatrists (six different ones) while others went nuts (including that one psychiatrist who became his wife), but now it’s pay-back time:  his real-life friends and lovers as well as the characters he created are trying to seek redress. Worst of all: his latest flame, a young admirer, has left him for a friend ...

Once again Woody gets the very best out of a great ensemble cast. Virtually everybody is in great form, but kudos go to Kristie Alley (as the psychiatrist/wife going nuts) and Elisabeth Shue (as the young lover who abandons him). There are also nice cameos by Demi Moore and the late Robin Williams (as a man who’s - literally - out of focus!). According to some, the character of Harry Brown was based on Philip Roth, not on Woody himself.

# Some notes on the title:
I don’t know if Woody has really studied Derrida, he’ll probably know him from popularized articles on his work, but the film does  illustrate the idea of deconstruction in relation to truth (in this case the truth behind Harry Brown’s character and work): peeling off layer after layer without ever getting to the core (which doesn’t exist: truth is compared to an onion, you can peel off ring after ring, but will never get to the onion itself, since the peeled off rings are part of it, like the peeled off layers are part of the truth; in other words: like the onion, the truth is hiding itself)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2014)

The first part of the trilogy ended with Smaug the dragon opening one eye, but it takes more than 100 minutes before we get to see him in this sequel, the ‘extra’ part created to turn the planned diptych into a triptych. If you ask me, they had better stuck to the original plans. This second entry feels too much like an entr’acte to be fully successful; it's still enjoyable, but it's hard to escape this feeling of redundancy and déja vu. The first half is needlessly drawn-out, offering far too many Orcs, those stupid creatures that are killed by the dozens and never manage to kill one of the dwarves or elves. Suckers. You wonder why anybody’s afraid of them.

But okay, the film grossed more than $950 million worldwide and no-one wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, right? Money makes the dwarves go round, and round. And yes, there’s some good news too: the character of Tauriel, the Robina Hood of the Elves, created for the series to fill a few narrative gaps, is both sexy and fun, and Lake Town, a sort of dreamland version of Bangkok, is an almost unbelievable creation by the SFX/CGI-department. Thanks to the dragon the story picks up in the last 45 minutes, but then, all of a sudden, it all ends with the enormous cliffhanger of Smaug flying out to wreak havoc on Lake Town. I understand the film makers wanted to be sure that people buy a ticket for the third installment, but this type of anti-climactic endings feel like cheating.