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Films I Neglected To Review: Hangars And Slash
by Peter Sobczynski

A failed piece of Oscar bait, an art-house satire on the art world and a slasher movie from across the pond are covered in this latest collection of capsule reviews of films that I didn’t have the time, energy or inclination to write about at length.

Not so much a film as it is the world’s dullest diorama brought to semi-life, “Amelia” is a prime example of what can go wrong when a group of talented people get together to make a movie solely in the hopes of earning a bunch of Oscar nominations. You would think that a biopic of the life and times of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart would provide the basis for a juicily entertaining film but in the hands of director Mira Nair, it has been transformed in a blandly stolid and depressingly straightforward work that pretty much could have been made shot-for-shot 50-odd years ago without any significant changes and the elements that are actually intriguing (such as the stuff involving Earhart and publisher husband George Putnam shamelessly milking her celebrity status through commercial endorsements as a way of earning money for her flights) are quickly dashed aside in favor of thoroughly uninteresting romantic misadventures. With Hilary Swank as Earhart (pretty much a dead ringer), Richard Gere as Putnam and Ewan McGregor as lover Gene Vidal (father of Gore), the film has a talented and game cast but even their contributions are a bit of a letdown--instead of giving us performances that convince us that they are playing flesh-and-blood people, they only offer up stilted turns that make it seem as they are portraying actors appearing in a second-rate biopic. To be fair, there is some stirring aerial cinematography on display courtesy of Stuart Dryburgh and the final scenes dealing with her infamous disappearance do develop a certain amount of tension but they can’t even help “Amelia” from crashing and burning in the draggiest manner possible.

Proving that cyber-bullying and gory slasher movies aren’t exclusively an American phenomenon, the new British horror film “Tormented” attempts to put a new accent on both with its tale of a school filled with cruel and hateful types who find themselves being bloodily bumped off one by one, seemingly by the reanimated corpse of a chunky, asthmatic nerd that they essentially hounded into committing suicide with the school’s not-entirely-mean head girl (the wonderfully named Tuppence Middleton) trying to get to the bottom of things. Of course, if you are looking for a serious analysis of contemporary school bullying and why it is allowed to go on even under the not-so-watchful eyes of parents and teachers, you should probably look elsewhere since this film is more concerned with taking its incredibly hateful characters (even the heroine is less than admirable in the way that she abandons her old friends to hang with the cool kids) and killing them off in the most gruesome ways imaginable--as Chekov never quite got around to saying, “If you introduce a malfunctioning art room paper cropper in the first act, it needs to go off in the third.” For genre buffs, the notion of seeing such familiar genre tropes in a relatively unusual setting may be of some interest and Tuppence Middleton brings an arresting presence to the proceedings that may remind some of current It girl Carey Mulligan. However, the combination of an uninteresting monster (though I like the gimmick of him still requiring an asthma inhaler even after death), seriously unlikable victims and an inconsistent tone that veers between seriousness and satire without succeeding at either eventually work against it and by the end, “Tormented” is such a listless take on a potentially interesting idea that it feels like its own remake.

“(Untitled)” is a satire focusing on the pretensions of the contemporary art world centering on two brothers on opposite ends of the popular spectrum-- Adrian (Adam Goldberg) is an experimental musician whose compositions (which include parts for kicked buckets, breaking glass and wads of paper in a trash can) are so outré that they make “Metal Machine Music” seem like Britney Spears by comparison and Josh (Eion Bailey) is a painter whose utterly anonymous works are hanging on the walls of banks and hotels throughout the country. When gallery owner Madeline (Marley Shelton), an ultra-hip type who is always searching for the big new thing and who finances her endeavors with the backroom sales of Josh’s works, takes a shine to Adrian’s music and commissions a piece for a wealthy collector (Zak Orth) who doesn’t know art but knows what looks good on his books, it drives Josh, who craves the critical respect that is possible only with his own exhibition, to threaten to sever ties with her unless she finally gives him a show. The idea of spoofing the pretentiousness of the New York art scene is definitely promising and for a while, co-writer/director Jonathan Parker (whose previous film was the little-seen but borderline brilliant “Bartleby”) hits the nail on the head with a number of wonderfully on-the-nose vignettes--one of the funniest involves a hip new conceptual artist (Ptolemy Slocum) traversing the entire gallery space looking for the best place to hang a new installation consisting entirely of a single thumbtack. The problem is that after a while, he runs out of things to say and, like so many other failed artists, begins repeating himself over and over to gradually diminishing returns. On the whole, the film isn’t that bad and those with an interest in the contemporary art scene are likely to derive a little more pleasure from it than I did but those who don’t know art but who know what they like are likely to come away from “(Untitled)” thinking “Gee, I could have done that.”

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originally posted: 11/06/09 21:23:01
last updated: 11/07/09 04:32:58
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