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Films I Neglected To Review: H-Eww-O
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Bay," "Holy Motors," "In Their Skin" and "Nobody Walks"--see if you can guess which one is the must-see masterpiece.

Even a cineaste with the most finely-tuned auteurist radar would be hard-pressed to identify "The Bay" as the work of Barry Levinson, the man behind the likes of "Diner," "Rain Man," "Wag the Dog" and a bunch of lesser titles that we shall not go into here. And yet, that is him at the helm of this low-budget eco-horror film that uses the found footage gimmick to chronicle the horror that devastated a small Maryland coastal town when waterborne parasites mutated as the result of a wide variety of pollutants begin decimating the populace over the course of one very long and very icky Fourth of July. Seen through the viewpoints of a rookie reporter, swamped medical and police personnel, CDC scientists trying to figure out a way to contain the outbreak and, of course, the videos of the victims as they go to their gruesome fates, the film tries to strike a balance between being a gross-out horror exercise and a plea for mankind to mend its ecological ways before it is too late.

As a horror film, it contains a few nifty ideas and barf-bag moments but isn't necessarily "scary" per se for the most part and as a warning, it is sincere enough, I suppose, but it grows a little too heavy-handed at times for its own good. Still, it is a better deployment of the found-footage conceit than most films of its ilk--aided immeasurably by the fact that it is being presented as a finished film instead of as a mysteriously assembled conglomeration of material--and the shift in scale and approach seems to have inspired something in Levinson because it is certainly more lively than most of his recent work. If you do go to see it--and I guess it has enough going for it to warrant at least a mild recommendation--just don't make any plans to have anything to do with water for the next several days.

The film maybe be titled "Holy Motors" but most people bearing witness to Leos Carax's first feature since 1999's "Pola X" are going to come away from it saying "Holy Shit!!" in response to its jaw-dropping audacity and refusal to conform to most tenets of contemporary narrative cinema. The film stars longtime Carax stand-in Denis Levant as a mysterious man named Mr. Oscar who, one fine morning, enters his limousine--a behemoth that makes the car in "Cosmopolis" seem like a hatchback and which has French film icon Edith Scob behind the wheel--and sets off to complete nine assignments for his mysterious employer that find him adopting a number of elaborate disguises and enacting different bizarre scenarios. In one, an extension of the short film that was Carax's contribution to the anthology film "Tokyo!," he embodies an ogre-like creature who busts up a fashion shoot at the famed Pere Lachaise cemetery and drags the ever-silent model (Eva Mendes) back underground with him for surprising reasons. (I would love to have a tape of Mendes' agent explaining this particular job offer to her.) In another, he unexpectedly meets up with another performer and old flame (Kylie Minogue) and their reunion takes on an unexpected musical form.

I have been a fan of all of Carax's previous efforts (if you haven't seen his 1992 masterpiece "The Lovers on the Bridge," you should go to Netflix and watch it right this very instant) and even I have to say that I am a bit baffled by what he has offered up this time around--other than perhaps serving as a metaphor for filmmaking and the acting process, there is no real story on display here and any attempt to link all the vignettes into a whole is the way that madness lies. That said, it is visually stunning and endlessly inventive and Carax attacks the material in such a heedless manner--he has been making features for more nearly 30 years and he still feels like a first-timer trying to capture everything for fear that he may never get a chance to do it again--that I was not only never bored for a second but I found myself wanting to watch it again as soon as it ended. If you were annoyed by the muddled metaphysics of the recent "Cloud Atlas" but still have a taste for seeing something way off the beaten path, do not miss this one under any circumstances.

If you have seen one vaguely unpleasant home-invasion thriller in which a family finds itself under siege from attackers for unknown reasons, then you have pretty much seen "In Their Skin." This time around, Selma Blair and Joshua Close (who also wrote the screenplay) play a Yuppie couple who have recently suffered a tragedy and who, along with their young son, retreat to their remote home in the country for a few days to get away with it all. The morning after they arrive, they meet their seemingly friendly neighbors (James D'Arcy and Rachel Miner) and invite them and their son to dinner that night and inevitably, things quickly go bad as the neighbors reveal that they are not exactly who they appear to be. Essentially, the film is just another 90-minute sample of physical and emotional torture and while director Jeremy Power Regimbal keeps things moving along in a reasonably slick and efficient manner--aided in no small part by the talented cast--but other than the specific twist involving the motives of the invaders and a very weird coda, this just feels like what "Funny Games" might have been like without the artistry or audacity that Michael Haneke brought to similar material. If you enjoy a heaping helping of cinematic sadism, you may get a kick out of "In Their Skin" but if you want to continue being invited to parties, you might want to keep that information to yourself.

Like "In Their Skin," "Nobody Walks" also features a well-to-do family torn asunder by the arrival of an invader with an unclear agenda--in this case, a pretentious-but-sexy filmmaker whose messes everyone up with the erotic vibes that she throws out without even noticing it. Olivia Thirlby plays the minx who travels from New York to Los Angeles to stay with the family of distant friends so that she can complete working on the sound for her latest work, an opus that, from the looks of it, would be summarily rejected from even the smallest underground film festival. Sure, she is all coy and arty and what not but before long, she is sleeping with the husband (John Krazinski) and his assistant, driving the therapist wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) into the arms of the pretentious actor (Justin Kirk) who is one of her patients and subconsciously inspiring the teenage daughter (India Ennnenga) into an ill-advised flirtation with her much-older Italian tutor. The whole thing plays like an abandoned subplot from an episode of "Girls" sans the humor or thoughtful insight into such narcissistic behavior on the part of its heroine and it is therefore surprising to discover that Lena Dunham, the creator of "Girls" herself, co-wrote the screenplay, presumably long before she hit her stride with the show and her 2010 film "Tiny Furniture." The cast is impressive as can be but without plausible characters or behaviors to depict, they are left to flounder about and director/co-writer Ry Russo-Young does nothing to help them. "Nobody Walks" is a top-to-bottom drag that is so aggravating in its self-absorption (not the characters' self-absorption, its own) and lack of real dramatic incident that after a while, you may find yourself wishing that the family from "In Their Skin" will show up for an unexpected pop-in and give everyone on the screen exactly what they so richly deserve.

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originally posted: 11/10/12 04:50:18
last updated: 11/10/12 04:52:18
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