This Week's New Releases
dir. Danny Boyle
Nifty sprinting zombies aside, the neatest trick of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was how it went absolutely all out with its convictions, injecting energy and unexpected grace notes into a moribund genre. Sunshine, Boyle's largest-scale film since the disastrous The Beach, tries a similar trick with another moldy premise—space mission goes wrong—with equally stunning results. It's a trip and a half.
Alex Garland's script posits a future that might make Al Gore reach for the Zantac: With earth on the brink of icy extinction, a spaceship tows a city-sized bomb to the sun in hopes of a quick jumpstart. The premise may not be entirely original (see, or rather don't, Chuck Heston in 1990's Solar Crisis for further evidence), but it proves to be fertile ground for serious claustrophobia and some unexpected philosophical avenues, as the dwindling astronauts (including dreamy scientist Cillian Murphy, serene botanist Michelle Yeoh, and Chris Evans, winningly countercast as the most sensible member of the crew) come increasingly close to their ultimate destiny.
Boyle handles the flashy set pieces and overall downbeat melancholy with equal aplomb (when talking with the director recently, he happily copped to being a fan of John Carpenter's Dark Star, which did cosmic cabin fever better than anybody). Still, for all of Sunshine's considerable lean, B-movie virtuosity, the most impressive part (and what's made the film stick in my head for nearly two months now) comes when the narrative jumps the rails in the third act, with results both quick-cut frenzied and downright lyrical. The term "visionary" gets batted around a lot when it comes to the sci-fi genre, but in its final, blazing moments, Boyle's dazzling, triphoppy space opera comes closer than most. ANDREW WRIGHT
Talk to Me
dir. Kasi Lemmons
The mystery is this: Why is Talk to Me not a great movie? It has an interesting story (how an ex-convict became a popular radio DJ); it's set in the mid-'60s (the most exciting period in America's political history); it has two of the five best black actors in the world (Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor); and it's directed by the second most important black female director in all of cinema (Kasi Lemmons—number one is, of course, Julie Dash). All of the right ingredients were there to make this movie work—and for its first 30 minutes it really looks like something big is going to happen. But the moment the second act starts, things slow down and never pick up again. The majority of Talk to Me is a flatline: neither bad nor good, neither boring nor interesting, neither brilliant nor dull. We see Petey Greene (Cheadle) leave prison and get a job on a DC radio station managed by an educated black man, Dewey Hughes (Ejiofor). We see his spectacular rise to fame, and his long fall to misery and obscurity. But somehow we are never drawn into the life of Greene, into his love affairs, friendships, betrayals, hopes, and failures. It's not the actor's fault (as in his films, Cheadle masters his character), and it may not be the fault of the director (Lemmons is talented; her film Eve's Bayou is almost as rich and thick as Charles Burnett's To Sleep with Anger). My guess is the fault lies with the writing and the cinematography; both are merely functional. The writing gets this and that point across, and the cinematography is stiff and steady. With a better script, and more life in the camera, Talk to Me might have become the movie everybody is talking about. CHARLES MUDEDE
My Best Friend
dir. Patrice Leconte
You know that certain kind of foreign film? The one that just sort of sits there amiably and gets called stuff like "heartwarming" and "delightful" on the poster? The type where the trailer features a lot of shots of people looking tentatively over their shoulder and then smiling, while Loreena McKennitt warbles on the soundtrack? You know, the sort of thing that, no offense intended, your mom would like?
The recent SIFF entry My Best Friend fits snugly in the category above. Which would be perfectly fine and all, except for the fact that it happens to be directed by Patrice Leconte, the filmmaker whose previous work—movies like The Man on the Train and The Girl on the Bridge—displayed a sly, zingy grasp of inner life. Despite a promising black-comedic concept and the presence of the dependably wonderful Daniel Auteuil, that inner dimension just ain't happening here.
Auteuil plays a stuffy antique dealer whose foundations are shaken when his business partner refuses to believe that he has an actual friend in the world. Faced with the loss of a valuable Greek vase unless he can produce a devoted buddy within the week, he turns to a gabby, quiz-show-obsessed cab driver (Dany Boon) for tips. You can guess where it goes from here. (Seriously, you really can.) I'd go into more detail, but, to be honest, this movie carried me to such a state of ennui that, god help me, I couldn't help but wish that a giant transforming robot would come in and shake the place up. In recent interviews, Leconte has indicated a general weariness with filmmaking, stating that he perhaps only has a few more films to go before retirement. No disrespect to the man, but here's hoping he keeps this one off of the final tally. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Scott Hicks
Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a fancy New York chef, rules her kitchen with fury and efficient passion. I know you know the type: No time for romance! I've got far too much inane rhapsodizing to do! I'd love to not be a bitch, but I've got to go steal a deep breath in the walk-in freezer, and then whip up my next horrible quail metaphor. "I wish there was a cookbook for life, you know?"
Cookbook for life? Try a recipe for disaster (ho ho!) when Kate's sister kicks the bucket, leaving Kate in possession of a sassy baby-child named Zoe (Abigail Breslin). And for dessert it's mayhem brûlée (ta-daaah!) when Kate's new sous-chef turns out to be not just wacky (he likes opera), but also a hunk who's great with kids! Spoiler: They fall in love and stuff. Whatever.
Zeta-Jones is too impossibly beautiful to be anything other than a movie star's wife. I don't dislike her; I just don't believe a word she says. She glides around like some kind of alien jaguar, as if at any moment she might climb a tree and, like, start eating a toucan or something. In outer space. A space toucan. What was I talking about again?
Oh, right. Most of No Reservations (adapted from the 2001 German film Mostly Martha) is dated and boring—therapy jokes, quirky kids, sensual food clichés, fish sticks. The fun part is watching Aaron Eckhart (as Nick, the aforementioned wacky sous-chef) crack Kate and Zoe's prickly, defensive shells. I used to be anti-Eckhart (just too much face, you know?), but shit, that dude is charming. I don't care if he's wearing Crocs and kooky pants and doing something incredibly corny with saffron sauce. I also don't care if he reminds me how similar kissing is to eating another person's face. Crack my shell, Eckhart! Crack it! LINDY WEST
The Trials of Darryl Hunt
dir. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
Deborah Sykes was a 26-year-old copyeditor at North Carolina's Winston-Salem Sentinel in the summer of 1984, and one Monday morning she didn't come to work. It wasn't like her to be late. The editor of the Sentinel sent some staffers to look for her. They found her car just blocks away from the office and, later that afternoon, her body. She'd been raped and stabbed to death.
Earlier in the day, police had received a call from a pay phone. The caller identified himself as Sammy Mitchell and said that he'd seen a black man and a white woman together in the area where Sykes's body was found. A shy, smiling, 19-year-old black kid named Darryl Hunt became a suspect because he was friends with a local minor convict named Sammy Mitchell, although, crucially, the person who made that pay phone call wasn't Sammy Mitchell at all—it was some guy making up a name off the top of his head. When the saliva and pubic hair found on Sykes's body didn't match Hunt, police offered him $12,000 to say that his friend Sammy Mitchell committed the crime. Hunt refused. Authorities told Hunt that if he didn't say what they wanted him to say, they were going to pursue the death penalty against him. Hunt still refused.
So they went after him. There was no physical evidence linking Hunt to the crime. The only witnesses were an ex–Ku Klux Klansman and a white hotel employee who chose Hunt in a lineup months after another picture of Hunt appeared in newspapers. The jury—all but one of them white—convicted Hunt and sent him to jail for life. What I've just summarized is only the first 20 minutes of The Trials of Darryl Hunt, and only the very beginning of Hunt's 20-year legal nightmare, an unbelievable theater of disgust involving smug white lawyers, lots of Christian racists, ignored DNA evidence, witnesses who'd been intimidated out of coming forward, gullible TV news reporters, the North Carolina and United States Supreme Courts, and, at the end of it all, the actual killer. Every American should see this movie. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
dir. Steve Buscemi
In this remake of one of murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's final films, Steve Buscemi stars as the ridiculously named Pierre Peders, a journalist in the midst of a career combustion. Reduced to penning a puff piece on rising ingenue Katya (Sienna Miller), Pierre arrives for their sit-down in full disgruntled mode, his extensive ego raging at the reduction of his journalistic importance. Katya is equally bruised, which makes for a long night of bickering, boozing, irrational chatter, and extorted secrets. Plus a little making out for good measure.
Directing his third film, Buscemi uses only a handful of locations in Interview, which helps to induce a sense of claustrophobia. The conversation—which is pretty much all the film has to offer—has a nice rhythm, and often feels entirely natural. What humor there is—including a smart running gag about the world's most annoying ring tone—swings in from unexpected places, as Pierre and Katya chatter incessantly about just about everything but their honest feelings. And for a while, surprisingly, the entire mess works.
But as the night stretches on with little to offer but unfinished arguments and two supremely unlikable main characters, interest can't help but wane. Both Miller and Buscemi deliver decent performances, but so much of Interview is simply watching two assholes bicker that the ideas the film aims to tackle—combat between interviewers and subjects, between men and women, between the beautiful and the muskratty—are overburdened by the unpleasantness of watching, and listening, to the two leads. Even a pseudo-twist ending falls flat due to sheer exhaustion. When you come to despise the only faces you're given to watch, it's hard to keep caring. BRADLEY STEINBACHER