December 9, 2011. Couples. Movies Reviewed: Shame, Salsa Tel Aviv, Carnage
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Couples. I think you know that phenomenon – all these people you used to know as individuals who suddenly turn into half of a couple, beginning right about now. They are easily spotted, what with their matching Christmas sweaters and pompom-ed toques. Who start talking in the We form instead of the I? I’m sure you know some of these “couples”.
Well this week I’m reviewing three films — three case studies — that deal this strange anthropological phenomenon – couples – at various stage of their development, their habitat, their migratory patterns, and their means of reproduction. One where the a camera was placed inside a nest and all coupling was filmed in detail — and their state of coupling is continual, but short, efficient, and then it’s gone; another where a member of the species migrates from Mexico, and accidentally inhabits another couple’s nest; and a movie where a couple of couples initially peacefully coexist, but soon run the danger of tearing one other’s heads off.
Dir: Steve McQueen
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful, young-ish ad exec who lives in a swank New York apartment. He can pick up women without even trying, and seems to have an insatiable need to sleep with a different woman each night. His extremely douche-y boss (James Badge Dale) known for his awful old pick-up lines, takes him along as a wing-man to pick up bars using awful pick-up lines, but Brandon is always the one who gets the lucky. And if not, there’s always prostitutes or porn. The one thing he can’t have, though, is any commitment or responsibility – they’re an instant killer, and he’ll do anything to avoid them.
Well in comes his estranged and needy younger sister, Sissie (Carey Muligan), who totally messes up his desired (though shallow and meaningless) lifestyle when she moves into his shag-pad. Her presence unnerves him, and sends him on a increasingly desperate cycle of depravity in his relentless quest for sexual and emotional satisfaction. Will it lead to some (pardon the expression) climactic event? Although they seem to have some kind of ominous backstory from their childhood making them so screwed up, it’s their present-day lives that are crucial.
Shame is a disappointing movie. It seems to be a moralistic look at sexual depravity and its consequences, but where it doesn’t even seem all that depraved. None of the characters are very likeable. And while there’s almost constant full frontal (and back-al) nudity, it’s not very erotic, more detached, mechanical, cold. While aesthetically and visually it’s great, with its long takes, off-centre and partially obscured close-ups, and while it’s a generally watchable – I didn’t want to walk out or anything – it left me as cold as the characters seem to be, with an implied moral tsk-tsk about the consequences of sexual indulgences.
Dir: Jorge Weller
Yoni (Angel Bonani), a bumbling botany professor who acts like a young Cary Grant, meets an equally awkward novice nun, “Victoria” (Angelica Vale) at a Mexican airport. They end up sharing a hotel room when a flight is cancelled. Afterwards, they find themselves together again on a flight to Tel Aviv (he’s heading home, she abroad). A Spanish speaker, he helps her through customs. Later his uptight fiancée Dafna (who won’t even kiss him unless he’s sucking a mint) takes him to a Salsa studio where she takes dance lessons. There he meets Vicki who seems very familiar to him. The nun’s habit was just a disguise. She used it to sneak into the country and meet her macho, deadbeat, salsa-dancing boyfriend who left her behind in Mexico with their kid. Vicki/Victoria and Yoni end up in a series of increasingly suggestive situations. She knows about his fiancée, but he knows nothing about her life. Is a romance developing between Vicki and Yoni? Or will they each stick with their respective mates?
Salsa Tel Aviv is a light rom-com about culture-crossed relationships. It’s 90% Spanish, 10% Hebrew, with the main roles — and the director as well — originally from Latin America. Uruguayan-Israeli Bonani, a former model, looks the part, but seems to be just starting in his acting career. Vale, a telenovela superstar in Mexico, is right in her element, doing lots of physical comedy (usually sleepy, drunk, confused or tongue-tied) as well as a competent romantic lead. Nothing spectacular, nothing very original, just a cute, classic romantic comedy.
Dir: Roman Polanski
Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) invite Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) to have a talk. You see, their 12 year old sons got in a fight, with one of them hit the other with a stick, so they decide have a civil, community-minded discussion, outside of lawsuits and recriminations. They’re all educated, sophisticated and rich professionals in NY City.
Penelope is committed to resolving the issue; Nancy as well, but she’s feeling sick; Michael is taking the easy way out, avoiding confrontation; while Alan, a corporate lawyer, is barely there – spending most of his time sending messages and talking loudly into his cell. When caffeine and alcohol are added to the mix, things begin to degenerate. What starts as a nice talk (filled with mildly hidden feelings of antipathy) gradually unravels into a psychological cesspool of anger, spite, and bitterness. Like in Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, they can’t seem to leave that apartment – they seem psychologically trapped in their escalating fights.
This short film (79 minutes), a drawing-room comedy based on a one-act play by Yasmina Reza, is a very funny and acerbic look at how grown-ups act and what lies just beneath its surface. It doesn’t do much that a live play can’t, except maybe close-ups — It’s basically a filmed play — but who doesn’t want to see an entertaining play with four famous actors they like?
Shame is now playing, Salsa Tel Aviv is on for one show only this Sunday afternoon as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series at the Sheppard Cinema, check TJFF.com for details; and Polanski’s Carnage opens in two weeks — check your local listings.
Also opening this weekend: Paul Goodman Changed my Life, a new documentary about the influential counterculture figure of the 60’s — a bisexual, anarchist, writer, philosopher — starts tonight at the Royal; Brooklyn Boheme plays tonight at Toronto Underground cinema; and some really fun Japanese movies, including Linda Linda Linda about a highschool girls’ rock band, and Always: Sunset on 3rd St. 2, a nostalgic sequel to last year’s flic about the residents of a struggling postwar Tokyo neighbourhood are playing for free at the Royal this weekend, courtesy of Toronto’s Japan Foundation.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.