For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
Remember in the days after 9/11 when media reports and overly sensitive people asked/moaned, “Will we ever be able to laugh again?”
Well, of course, we could, did and have. And not to downplay the horrible, horrible, horrible tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 — not to mention the earlier Murrah Building bombing on our own turf — but with nearly a decade past, not only are we still laughing, but we’ve grown to the point of having an actual terrorist comedy, in the uproarious “Four Lions.”
The rightfully acclaimed film — named Best First Feature for director/co-writer Chris Morris by the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle — screens 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 5:30 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch.
The title refers to a group of young, fresh-outta-training Jihadists who plot an act of terrorism on British soil. There’s nothing funny about that, except that they are stunningly incompetent. From failed disguises to accidental explosions, they prove practically incapable of executing the simplest move. And it’s all done with a script — seemingly improvised, but more likely just that needle-sharp — loaded with smart, impeccable timing.
Morris’ film has the feel of a documentary, and reminds one of last year’s similarly scoped and structured “In the Loop,” except all around stronger, funnier and better. This is not poking fun at the Muslim religion, but its minute fraction of extremists (akin to Christianity’s abortion-doc bombers/shooters) who embrace misinterpretation on their road to martyrdom.
However rollicking, “Four Lions” has an unexpected heart to it, and a bittersweet end that’s not out of character for the piece. Bonus points: It might actually make you feel more at ease about the world around you. Fear not that you may not recognize anyone in the cast — save maybe Benedict Cumberbatch of BBC/PBS’ recent, splendid “Sherlock” series reboot — because its laughs are so well-placed, so powerful, they emerge as the true star. —Rod Lott