Right after Sundance I decided to try one of our nearby film festivals, to catch some local premieres and a few titles I missed in Park City!
The Samaritan – 1 out of 10
I was really looking forward to seeing a new Samuel L. Jackson movie. I know he sometimes works just for the paycheck but I thought maybe a smaller movie would be something he really cared about. No, The Samaritan is just generic crime con movie, only a little more amateurish. Foley (Jackson) gets out of prison and his former grifting partner’s son tries to force him back into the grift. There’s just no energy as this plot goes through the motion, and the actors who aren’t Jackson or Tom Wilkinson (as the mark) just try to sound mysterious or seductive. The one bold twist in the story is not really dealt with. The movie just uses it to forward the generic plot. You’ll give up long before I did, but believe me, it gets even stupider. There are select moments of Jackson being badass and screaming, but when it finally gets to the grift, it’s such a stupid grift and it’s still boring.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – 7 out of 10
Lasse Hallström is back to form with this quirky dramedy. I mean, not back to Gilbert Grape level but a redemption from Casanova or The Shipping News. Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is asked to find a way to populate the Sheikh of Yemen’s river with salmon. The doctor and the film make it pretty clear this is a laughable waste of resources, but it makes government hierarchy working out the fishery details entertaining. The Sheikh talks about fishing in metaphors, so it’s A River Runs Through The Middle East. He seems sincere for such a self-indulgent plan. There’s some romance between Jones and Harriet (Emily Blunt) who has a boyfriend MIA in the war. So it touches on significant drama but keeps it light. Filming salmon must have been tough though. I mean, getting them to swim upstream on cue… I better not hear that was CGI.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – 2 out of 10
Now this is the sort of crazy art film I want to see at a festival. However, it’s so experimental it really only works for about 30 minutes. 90 minutes is too much. Terrence Nance made a short film about his relationship with Namik Miller. Now he’s expanding the short into a feature by adding artistic embellishments in between segments of the short. Now I love breaking the fourth wall, having the narrator speak in a sort of ‘70s instructional video tone. There’s animation, interview and absolutely no story. It’s fascinating, and easy to drift off especially in the exhaustion of festivals. Nance and Miller are bohemian artists rambling about love, and for all the explanation, I don’t know these people at all by the end of the movie. They include a Q&A for the short film in the main film. That’s some kind of meta, or is it just WTF? There’s no room for this in a casual cinema at all. I mean, it can only play to art film crowds and even for them it’s a stretch. There were eight walkouts in a sparsely filled theater of 20 in Santa Barbara. I can’t imagine the reaction at Sundance but I sort of wish I’d known about it last week.
Detachment – 8 out of 10
Tony Kaye interests me not only because American History X is such a good movie, but because it’s not even the movie he wanted it to be! So now he’s really not Hollywood and Detachment is a bold drama about the school system full of avant-garde style that actually kind of works. Substitute teacher Henry Barthes (Adrien Brody) has the perfect way to deal with violent students acting out, or just obnoxious brats. He’s patient and knows those kids lack self-awareness, and you’ll meet people like that at every age. Damn, that’s deep. In other areas of life, Barthes speaks firmly, and it’s also effective. Right attitude for the right situation. Other teachers like Mr. Seaboldt (James Caan) are more irreverent but also awesome. Caan is like a pimp, not in a molesting the students kind of way, because he doesn’t, but in a seen it all and knows what their future is kind of way. Kaye breaks traditional narrative but it’s easy to follow. Cutaways to documentary style interviews in character, and chalkboard animated interstitials are pretty basic. Random inserts of naked old women are just art film forcing you to confront things that are irrelevant but the whole movie’s about confronting things so it works. Characters speak directly into the camera, both in the interviews and the story. They get too close to the camera, so it’s not just a first person perspective; it’s an art film motif to make you uncomfortable. The interactions with the student are brilliant all around, just the essence of juicy drama. Lucy Liu and Christina Hendricks get juicy scenes too. Even dealing with the parents makes you fear for our future.