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.
At this year’s Golden Globes, when Paul Giamatti won Best Performance by
an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy for “Barney’s
Version,” you, too, may have asked, “What the hell is ‘Barney’s
Playing 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday as part of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s “New Jewish Cinema” program, it’s a Canadian film based on Mordecai Richler’s 1997 novel, detailing the entire adulthood of Barney Panofsky (Giamatti, “Win Win”), who, despite being wildly successful as a soap-opera producer, fails spectacularly in his personal life. It takes him three marriages to get it right, and even then, he manages to screw it up.
“You wear your heart on your sleeve, Barney,” says his first wife (Rachelle Lefevre, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”). “Put it away. It’s disgusting.”
For most of the time, the film is so amiable that audiences are apt to overlook its faults, primarily of trying to tell so much story that it ends up saying so little. Giamatti is likable, even when Barney is not; his failures are played comically, especially when Dustin Hoffman shows up as his filterless father, and the middle stretch that details Barney’s second marriage to a spoiled Jewish princess (Minnie Driver, “Conviction”). Their union is doomed from the start, considering that at their reception, Barney meets the woman of his dreams (a splendid Rosamund Pike, “Made in Dagenham”) and asks her to run away with him.
An otherwise enjoyable movie does an about-face for its final 30 minutes (of an overlong 134), suddenly cranking its notch to “melodrama” and milking the theatrics as it were a Lifetime disease-of-the-week premiere. At that point, director Richard J. Lewis ditches the humor and subtlety, losing a firm grip he never regains. —Rod Lott