Movie Of The Day:
Stuck (dir. Stuart Gordon): Now we’re talkin’. I’ve seen better movies at this festival—very few of them, however—but none have left me feeling as exhilarated as Gordon’s savagely funny black comedy, which traffics in B-movie grime without a whiff of Grindhouse-style self-consciousness. The hook is a doozy, ripped from a tabloid headline that sounds like urban legend. Back in 2003, a woman from Ft. Worth was involved in a hit-and-run incident in which she hit a homeless man with her car and left him to die in her garage for two days with his head lodged in the windshield. This might sound like the makings of a lurid psychodrama, but Gordon (whose career includes the cult favorite Re-Animator and the underrated David Mamet adaptation Edmond) lets his imagination run wild and extends an already juicy premise into even pulpier territory.
Donning cornrows for a certain white-trash edge, Mena Suvari stars as a nurse whose compassion apparently ends at a nursing home, where she’s vying for a big promotion. On a Friday night, she goes out partying with her friends, takes a hit or two of ecstasy, drinks her weight in martinis, and heads stumbling out to her car. Meanwhile, a homeless man, played by the superb character actor Stephen Rea (familiar from Neil Jordan films like The Crying Game and The End Of The Affair), lumbers his way to a mission shelter after getting booted from a park bench. When their paths literally collide, Suvari doesn’t know how to react; she ponders calling for help (and assures him repeatedly that help is on the way), but she doesn’t want to get in any trouble. So she leaves him in her garage and tries to go about her business.
The callousness and casual disregard for human life displayed by Suvari and several other characters, major and minor, reminded me strongly of Larry Clark’s Bully, though Gordon’s film is much more purposeful. Though it takes a little time to find its groove—the hilarious opening credits sequence notwithstanding—Stuck picks up a lot of comic momentum once the situation gets more desperate and absurd. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembered this story vividly from a few years ago, because it’s a particularly ripe example of dumb self-interest and moral and intellectual vacuity. Gordon converts this true story into a vicious satire on man’s inhumanity to man, all while holding the requisite tension of a drive-in-ready horror/thriller. Too bad there’s no place a movie like Stuck in American theaters these days, since it’s too impolite for the arthouse and too low-budget for the multiplex. But I’m pleased that intelligent trash artists like Gordon keep plugging away regardless. (A-)
I’m Not There (dir. Todd Haynes): How much you respond to Haynes’ experimental Bob Dylan biopic—which covers the different phases of his life and career by casting six actors as Dylan (with Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw joining more eccentric choices like Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin as a pint-sized black Dylan who claims to be Woody Guthrie, and Richard Gere as historical forebear Billy The Kid)—may directly relate to how highly Dylan ranks in your personal pantheon. I confess to admiring Haynes’ eccentric creation more than loving it, though I can easily see how others might find it brilliant. Dylan remains one of the slipperiest figures in pop history; accomplished as it was, Martin Scorsese’s recent Dylan documentary No Direction Home failed to pin him down, and it had 210 minutes to do it. Haynes’ movie smartly sidesteps any attempt to explain the Dylan enigma; on the contrary, the film embraces it, collapsing multiple timelines into a 135-minute soup that I found both intriguingly and frustratingly allusive/elusive. It’s kind of ironic that the Weinsteins, who gave Haynes such a hard time over the glam-rock pageantry of Velvet Goldmine, have hooked up with him again to distribute this considerably more difficult film. Could it be the beginning of a beautiful friendship? (B)
Death Defying Acts (dir. Gillian Armstrong): For a decade or two, starting with 1979’s My Brilliant Career, Armstrong directed some of the most reliably intelligent (and often female-centered) dramas to come out of Australia, including Starstruck, Mrs. Soffel, and my favorite, High Tide. Lately, she’s been losing herself in well-appointed but dull prestige pictures like Oscar & Lucinda and Charlotte Gray, and I’m sad to report that her latest period piece, about the relationship between Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) and a Scottish psychic (Catherine Zeta-Jones), isn’t a return to form. Though it moves along agreeably enough—save for some terrible bits of voiceover narration (“he could break the chains around his body, but not the chains around his heart,” or something to that effect)—the film functions limply as biopic and romance, and sputters to a close. When Noel and I met up for Stuck tonight and asked each other what we had seen earlier today, Noel had to flip back through his notes to remember he’d even seen it. (C)
Redacted (dir. Brian De Palma): De Palma’s attempt to reconfigure Casualties Of War into an explicit, New Media-inspired provocation on the Iraq War sounds like a better idea than it turns out to be. De Palma has been speaking out about the squeamishness of mainstream media, both in denying people images of the real horrors of war and being complicit with the federal government in glossing over stories of U.S. atrocities. De Palma’s film tries to mimic the information leak of Internet sources, but beyond a few inflammatory references (including IED explosions and beheadings on terrorist websites), the HD-video style (shot through a first-person camera, a la Diary Of The Dead) is flat and the drama as stridently performed as a high-school play. Much like Casualties, Redacted doesn’t bother attacking the rationale behind a specific war so much as the appalling realities of how these wars are fought. It’s also the rare film to imply that our military corps is loaded with racist, illiterate rednecks whose actions on the ground are often far from heroic. I salute De Palma for having the stones to say such things. I just wish he’d said them more eloquently. (C)