Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Please Give

Please Give” is one of those smart comedy-dramas about neurotic New Yorkers that aren’t nearly as prevalent as people like to think. It stars Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt as a husband-and-wife team who make a living buying then selling the furniture of the recently deceased. They get caught up in the lives of a dysfunctional family consisting of an ailing Ann Guilbert, and her self-sabotaging grand-daughters, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet, having bought the old lady’s apartment, since it’s next door to theirs, with a view to taking it over once she goes; indeed, the scene where they discuss this in her presence is creepily funny, especially when the acerbic Guilbert matter-of-factly joins in. The focus is on Keener’s liberal guilt, which tends to shade into maudlin self-indulgence at the expense of her own family relationships, which is, I guess, the point. It is written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, whose “Walking and Talking” and “Lovely and Amazing” I’ve previously enjoyed. The balance between comedy and drama is well-judged (perhaps more so than in much of Woody Allen’s more recent work, which sometimes soft-pedals on emotional pain), and the performances are spot-on – Sarah Steele as the couple’s teenage daughter is engaging and annoying in equal measure, and Peet seems to relish being the bitch. The film does appear to exist in a universe where Rebecca Hall has trouble finding a boyfriend, though, but that’s the only unintentional false note.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Bad Lieutenant

Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant – Port Of Call: New Orleans” is not quite as unhinged as Abel Ferrara’s 1992 neo-noir classic, featuring as it did a legendarily committed performance from Harvey Keitel in the title role. It is, however, in its understated way, still pretty barking mad. While the original is a none-more-dark tale of twisted redemption, the 2010 version starts with Nicolas Cage’s central character, Terence McDonagh, suffering an injury in the course of an act of selflessness which then propels him into a world of constant pain and consequent mind-mangling drug-abuse; this, in combination with a gambling addiction, steers him steadily towards the dark side, personified by drug-lord Big Fate (Xzibit). Herzog is not the flashiest of directors, and the decrepit post-Katrina exteriors and seedy interiors seem to suit his impassive style, as does the plot, which is a fairly basic police procedural, on which he manages to stamp his trademark deadpan humour (iguanas, dancing souls, etc). Cage has a whale of a time, managing to remain credibly human amidst the derangement, and leaves a remarkable supporting cast (e.g. Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Jennifer Coolidge) somewhat in the shade; although Eva Mendes and Brad Dourif are as compelling as ever, and screenwriter William Finkelstein manages to bag himself a juicy bad-guy role. Perhaps one might have expected a German art-house director to take a dim view of the “Hollywood” ending, but since the original pretty much trashed the idea, Herzog has chosen to go for a comedy stampede towards a “happy” resolution, which is somehow in keeping with the psychotic tone of the narrative. Apparently Abel Ferrara has expressed the wish that those involved in the project should “die in Hell”. He should take a chill pill. Just the one, though.