What I Peeped: Day Four

April 7, 2008 at 5:40 am 1 comment

Actually, the white hero is half-gypsy

Exodus (Penny Woolcock, UK): Look, I like Children of Men as much as the next grumpy optimist, but I also recognize how easily it could have descended into shrill, incoherent histrionics. Case in point: Penny Woolcock’s lavish dystopian fantasia, which doesn’t just share with Men the presence of its preggers savior Clare-Hope Ashitey. The premise is that a right-wing prime minister fearmongers enough that he gets the okay to lock away the “undesirables” – the poor, the drug-addled, the immigrants, et al. – in a cordoned-off shantytown called, subtly, Dreamland. But that’s not the end of it: as the title suggests, this is an update of the Exodus story, screened just in time for the demise of The Ten Commandments star Charlton Heston. And so, said PM – a hissable fascist with a yuppie pony tail and a Sontagian white streak through his hair – is named Pharaoh, his half-gypsy orphan son is named Moses and the plague of locusts is (wait for it) a computer virus! For its first hour and change Exodus is too busy plugging in modern day analogues and lathering up quite the overly topical hissyfit. Finally, with a half hour left it takes a trenchant direction, reimagining the plagues as acts of terrorism that claim innocent lives. Where is Woolcock going with this? Alas, nowhere, as the film limps to an expressionistic capper that smacks of running straight into a creative brick wall.

I Can't Believe It's Not Dakota Fanning!

Phoebe in Wonderland (Daniel Barnz, USA): Excepting Pan’s Labyrinth, nobody seems to care much about films about little girls (see also: Alfonso Cuarón’s A Little Princess, and much else besides). So let’s hope that whichever distributor nabs Daniel Barnz’s acute dramedy about a nine-year old with Tourette Syndrome knows not to let it slip, sans fanfare, onto iTunes. Elle Fanning, younger sis to Dakota, gives a kiddie performance for the ages as the daughter of a pair of writers (Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman) who winds up cast in a school production of Alice in Wonderland put on by eerily placid drama teacher Patricia Clarkson. (Campbell Scott rounds out the game cast as her uptight principal.) Barnz never condescends to Fanning’s psychologically troubled character, and doesn’t even drop the Tourette word till the last couple minutes, instead showing things from her increasingly disjointed perspective. But he just as confidently switches to the adult world, dealing with Huffman’s feelings of frustration when it comes to handling her as-yet-undiagnosed daughter. And lest this rave make it sound deadly serious, it’s in fact wildly hilarious. That’s how accomplished it is.

Tony Leung, aka the Coolest Actor in the Known World

Confession of Pain (Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, Hong Kong): The Infernal Affairs duo try again. Looks like it’s worked: the team behind The Departed are already cobbling together another Lau & Mak remake, with or without Marty Scorseez. Hopefully first order of business is a major streamlining; sure, it was the last screening of the day, but this thing is just way too goddamned byzantine. (Thanks to the couple behind me for loudly explaining the plot to eachother. Seriously: ‘preciate it.) Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro, previously the two male leads of Chungking Express, play detectives anguishing over a triple murder that has claimed the former’s father-in-law. Lau and Mak’s major twist – to reveal not fifteen minutes in that Leung done it – is, needless to say, one ballsy screenwriterly move. Alas, balls doesn’t necessarily equal brilliance, and Pain too often feels like it’s spinning its wheels until Leung’s raison d’etre is unveiled. And despite much bashing in of heads, it never achieves the operatics of Affairs, even going so far as to orchestrate a less unnerving ending than would seem appropriate. But hey, whoever said remakes were bad?

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Entry filed under: Reviews.

Picks, Pans, All That – Day Four: Sunday, April 6 Picks, Pans, All That – Day Five: Monday, April 7

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