THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS (2014, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)
A head wound that looks like a vagina. Trickling blood dripping down from a hole in the wall. Phallic knife blades. Eyes. Freeze frames. Silence. Creaking wooden doors. An erect nipple. Cascading hair down a woman’s back. A drill in the ceiling. A voice. Red. Black. Green. Black. Red. White. Footsteps. Latex gloves. More blood.
Your typical Cattet/Forzani film is going to be like that — sights, sounds, dazzling style, loaded imagery, sex & violence intertwined, and a jumble of ideas. Their 2009 film AMER was a masterpiece of virtually dialogue-free cinematic viscera, a giallo homage that sweated life through every frame. And while it wasn’t perfect, at least it was controlled — STRANGE COLOR’s biggest flaw is that it has 5 times the number of ideas that AMER had, and tosses them all in a blender, spitting the juice out onto the screen. If you don’t like one digression, don’t worry — they’ll change it up in ten minutes. They make fun of their own apathy towards narrative early on, when the protagonist (a man who’s wife has mysteriously gone missing) asks a detective, who has just relayed a beautifully imagined anecdote, “What does this have to do with my wife?” Another bravura sequence involves suspense around a ceiling hole and what we can’t see but can slightly hear through it. And yet another is reminiscent of Chris Marker’s LA JETEE with its black-and-white photo montage.
I’m sure if I spent some time I could really figure out what exactly is going on here, but I do think the content is beside the point. This is work of formal dexterity, and while it can be frustrating, jumbled, and haphazard, there’s so much energy, sensuous sound design, and striking photography (not to mention super-cool ’70s music) that I once again tip my hat to two of the weirdest and most ambitious filmmakers around.
FRANK (2014, Lenny Abrahamson)
Describe this film to someone and they might suspect that it’s directed by Michel Gondry — after all, it’s about an avant garde rock band with a frontman who wears a giant fake head 100% of the time. Gondry does that kind of quirk really well, and even though it may have been unfair bias, I did spend a lot of the movie wishing he was behind the camera. Abrahamson and his writers (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) do offer up some nice visuals and a sharp sense of humor, especially in the early going, but once the film shifts to Austin, and the tone of the movie switches from comedy to pathos, it starts falling apart. My biggest problem is that, in an ALMOST FAMOUS-style narrative, we see this band through the eyes of wanna-be Jon, who isn’t a creative talent like his companions. And as the film morphs into a story more about Frank than Jon, we realize how much time was wasted on Jon that we could have spent learning who Frank is — and even if Frank’s ultimately enigmatic persona is part of the point, it still feels like a missed opportunity. Fassbender does a lot with a little, and Scoot McNairy once again brings the greatness, but Domhnall Gleeson is the same aw-shucks innocent he was in ABOUT TIME, made even more bland when put opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is overacting as if she’s in a different, more explosive movie. The music is strong, especially the closing number, and while I laughed enough to have had a fine time, FRANK still felt too slight by half.
LET’S BE COPS (2014, Luke Greenfield)
I can see someone getting more outraged by the existence of LET’S BE COPS than is warranted, and that’s for two reasons: first, the timing of this film’s release coinciding with the Ferguson horrors; and second, its casual misogyny and bigotry. The good news is that both of these objections require a movie with more on its mind, and instead we’re merely looking at flat, lifeless manure. The bad news is that the film still sucks.
A soon-to-be-forgotten used napkin of a late-summer comedy, this limping pile of failure doesn’t merit discussion alongside Ferguson because it isn’t really investigating the nature of real police work, the difference between the citizenry and its peacekeepers, or the problem of justice at large. In fact, it defiantly refuses to trouble your conscience at all. The script only musters up enough effort to deliver a couple of dusty platitudes about following your dreams, not running away, and taking responsibility. And as for the offhanded way it blatantly insults the intelligence of all female “characters” while tossing in some racist and homophobic jokes, the toothlessness of everything is so facile that you can’t even get upset. It would be like getting mad over a toddler taking a swing at you.
The slow-paced dripping sigh that is this movie is all the more strange coming from a pair of leads that not only crackle with great chemistry on their FOX sitcom NEW GIRL, but also have so many individual moments of improvisatory verbal or physical comedy (especially with Wayans on the lamentably defunct HAPPY ENDINGS). Here, these guys seem drained from too many weeks of TV shooting and are sleepwalking through a rote and senseless plot that isn’t even worthy of a SCOOBY DOO episode. Jake Johnson has one moment — literally one, that I counted — of inspired acting opposite Andy Garcia (!) that involves him only saying “Yes they aaaarrrreNO,” but its inexplicable existence only reminds us that Johnson is capable of far more than Greenfield’s malodorous burp of a film allows.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014, Matt Reeves)
A fairly big disappointment after its predecessor (I know that RISE benefitted from low expectations for most people, but I loved the trailer and did not expect it to suck; beyond that, it held up great on second viewing), and I’m pretty baffled by the praise this is getting. It’s a reductive screed about war, full of lectures and darkly filmed action moments, and with few interesting characters. In RISE, we got to see Caesar develop not only as a baby chimp who becomes an intelligent adult, but one with conflicted emotions who slowly turns into a leader. Here, he’s fully formed and only has one thing left to wrestle with: how much trust to put into humans. Franco and Lithgow (and even Pinto to a lesser extent) were more interesting people and grounded RISE until it exploded in its third act. Here, no interesting humans come near the screen. Clarke and Russell are wastes of space, and I can’t believe they had to pay Gary Oldman to play such a forgettable role. I still love Serkis’s performance skills, Toby Kebbel makes the most of a one-note role, and the special effects are perfectly fine — but Reeves can’t find a way to make any of the action rousing (after the Golden Gate Bridge awesomeness of RISE, the climax here is a total snoozeburger) and his grasp on the material reaches only as far as the cliched, predictable speeches can go.