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Films I NeglectedTo Review: ''I'm Just On My Way Up To Clavius.''
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Always at the Carlyle," "Beast," "Dark Places" and "Pope Francis: A Man of His Word" as well as a few thoughts on a little thing called "2001: A Space Odyssey."

With the exceptions of ''The Rocky Horror Picture Show'' and ''Dazed and Confused'' (and there were extenuating circumstances in both of those cases), I have probably seen Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece ''2001: A Space Odyssey'' more times in a theater than any other movie and each new opportunity to look at it afresh inspires a genuine sense of excitement and anticipation. While it may not be my favorite Kubrick movie (that title goes to ''The Shining''), it is by far the boldest and most daring work in a filmography filled with bold and daring works--a film with the audacious non-narrative approach of an experimental film produced on a epic scale with then-groundbreaking visual effects that are more dazzling after the passing of a half-century than any of the current state-of-the-art FX orgies that you or I could name. Hell, even the aspects that used to be criticized back in the day by detractors--the chilly performances by the lead actors, the lack of any conventional narrative structure or resolution, the way that the human characters seemed to take a back seat to the technology surrounding them at all times--now look more inspired and more prescient with every passing year. (The performances by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood as the two humans manning the mysterious voyage of the spaceship Discovery and William Sylvester as the government official charged with keeping a lid on the most astounding discovery in the history of mankind are really quite good.) As for the most famous sequences--the docking of the ship in the space station to the tune of ''The Blue Danube,'' the extended set piece in which Dullea is forced to outwit and shut down HAL, the ship's omnipresent computer intelligence, after it goes on a seemingly inexplicable killing spree and, of course, the climactic sound-and-light show that hurtles viewers through the cosmos and into the infinite--they are still as amazing to watch as ever.

To mark its 50th anniversary, ''2001'' is returning to theaters for an exclusive 70MM run in a version prepared under the supervision of Christopher Nolan. Instead of goosing it up with a fancy new restoration, Nolan has gone the opposite path by offering up a so-called ''unrestored'' version, with prints struck directly from the original camera negative, that promises viewers the opportunity to experience the film exactly as viewers did when it first opened in 1968. While I am more than willing to embrace any opportunity to see ''2001'' on the big screen and in 70MM, I confess to having a couple of issues with this particular edition. For one thing, the whole notion of it being presented exactly as it was back in the day is not entirely true--viewers will not be getting the seventeen minutes of footage that Kubrick deleted almost immediately after it premiered and they will certainly not be seeing it in the curved-screen glory of Cinerama either. For another, while I can understand the retro appeal of such an approach--Nolan has likened it to listening to an old LP over a digital download--one has to wonder what a legendary perfectionist like Kubrick might have felt over the idea of his film going out in a version that not only contains the imperfections found on the negative but fetishizes them to boot. Frankly, the whole endeavor seems like a ploy to use Nolan's name and reputation to promote the film to younger viewers who may not have much of a working knowledge of Kubrick or his work. And yet, while I would prefer to see a beautifully restored version any day of the week, ''2001'' remains absolutely essential viewing--one of the landmark works of art produced in the 20th century--and if you are anywhere even remotely near to a theater where it is playing, you owe it to yourself to go and see it. Furthermore, if you are a pair of spectacular young girls named Mamie and Freyja, you need to start relentlessly pestering your mother to take you to see it--you will be glad that you did.

Having already trained his fawning cameras on such storied New York institutions as Bergdorf's (''Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's'') and Tiffany's (''Crazy About Tiffany's''), it is probably not surprising that documentarian Matthew Miele would eventually get around to making the legendary Carlyle Hotel, the favorite home-away-from-home for several generations of celebrities, models, politicians, royalty, jet-setters and other moneyed types who adore the place's old school charms and discreet staff and are willing to pay seemingly insane rates for the privilege of staying there. Like Miele's other films, ''Always at the Carlyle'' is basically the cinematic equivalent of a not-especially-hard-hitting Vanity Fair article in which a huge roster of famous faces (including George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Sofia Coppola, Naomi Campbell, Jeff Goldblum, Condeleeza Rice, Paul Shaffer and, perhaps inevitably, Wes Anderson) wax ecstatic about the place (possibly in exchange for a discount rate on their next stay) while members of the staff talk about the history of the place and some of the famous people who have stayed there over the years. The hotel is amazing and the looks that we get of it throughout, with astonishments on display in practically every corner, are enough to make one consider forgoing that college tuition or life-saving surgery in order to pool together enough money to spend a night there. There are also nice clips of shows at the famous cabaret inside where Bobby Short used to headline and where even Woody Allen has taken the stage from time to time. However, watching celebrities fawning at length about a hotel where most people could not even afford to purchase a drink at the bar does get a little tedious after a while and those hoping for some dirt will be sad to discover that the staff members interviewed remain mum on the things that have gone on behind those walls. (The closest thing to a sordid moment comes from a glimpse of a photo of Michael Jackson entering the hotel with a group of kids that is positively chilling.) ''Always at the Carlyle'' is basically an extended infomercial for the hotel and if that is all you are looking for, it should pass 90 minutes in a reasonably painless manner. Those looking for something a bit more substantial are advised to head to Netflix and check out ''A Very Murray Christmas,'' a Coppola-directed holiday special featuring Bill Murray (who naturally turns up her for a moment) and an array of famous faces (including Clooney) that shows off the retro glamour of the place in a far more effective and entertaining manner.

For anyone feeling nostalgic for the kind of thrillers that Hollywood cranked out in the late 80s and early 90s, the new British import ''Beast'' will no doubt come across as the answer to their prayers. Jessie Buckley stars as Moll, a shy 27-year-old woman from a remote community who still lives at home with a family that either takes her for granted or, in the case of her monstrous mother, domineers her at every turn. After running away from her own birthday party after it is undercut by her sister using the occasion to announce her engagement, Moll meets mysterious bad boy Pascal (Johnny Flynn) and it is love at first sight. When her family disapproves of him, Moll finally gets the nerve to cut ties with them and move in with Pascal. There is one slight hitch, of course. It seems that a killer has been stalking the area and while Pascal was once considered a suspect, there was not enough evidence to prove he had anything to do with it. When new evidence does come to light, he is arrested and Moll, who stands by him, finds herself further ostracized from both her family and the community at large. Nevertheless, she eventually has to come to terms with both the very real possibility that the love of her life is a killer and some dark secrets of her own.

The best thing about the film by far is the powerful lead performance by Buckley, a British stage and television actress who was unfamiliar to me before seeing her here. As written, the role is ordinary enough--the wallflower who blooms under the touch of a seductive but potentially dangerous type in bold and unexpected ways--but she manages to cut through all the cliches to create a character who is as sympathetic and endearing as can be in her long-gestating rebellion while at the same time presenting unnerving undercurrents that suggest that she may indeed be a little more dangerous than she lets on. Her presence is fairly mesmerizing and whenever she is on the screen, she grabs your attention and refuses to let go. That is a good thing because the rest of the film is, at best, just okay. Writer-director Michael Pearce has elected to apply a slow-burn approach to the material that is intriguing enough in the early going but becomes a little draggy as things go on before concluding with an ending that will inspire more shrugs than anything else. Still, Buckley's performance is so good and strong that she makes sitting through ''Beast'' worth the effort.

For reasons that currently elude me, I never got around to seeing ''The Snowman,'' a European-based murder mystery that proved to be one of last year’s biggest critical and commercial disasters despite the number of top names who worked on it on both sides of the camera. That said, I have the sneaky suspicion that I have seen its spiritual sequel in the form of ''Dark Crimes,'' a would-be thriller that is as bad as it is baffling and believe me, it is pretty baffling. In one of the weirder casting choices in recent memory, Jim Carrey plays Tadek, a recently demoted Polish police detective on the verge of retirement who becomes obsessed with solving a cold case involving the brutal murder of a businessman following a visit to an ultra-kinky underground sex club that was investigated and left unsolved by a corrupt former colleague who is now the chief of police. His investigation leads him to Kozlow (Martin Csokas), a pretentious author of brutally sadistic novels whose latest unpublished work contains passages that perfectly mirror the details of the crime that have been kept under wraps. Of course, Tadek cannot quite prove that Kozlow did it and is forced to let him go but he then begins a pursuit that both threatens his already tenuous relationship with his own wife and daughter and leads him to Kozlow’s girlfriend, junkie sex worker Kasia (Charlotte Gainsbourg, who also appeared in ''The Snowman'') before arriving at a conclusion that is mysterious in the sense that he somehow managed to overlook the obvious for so long that practically everyone watching it will have figured it out long before he does.

You might assume that the failures of ''Dark Places'' can be traced back to the inexplicable decision to cast Jim Carrey as an angst-ridden Polish cop in a film bleak enough to make ''Seven'' look like ''Yellow Submarine'' by comparison. Actually, his presence is not the problem at all--although there are a couple of moments where his attempts to express his character’s anguish (chiefly a sex scene with Gainsbourg and his discovery of a particular dead body) are so over-the-top that they inspire unintentional laughter, he certainly throws himself fully into this completely serious role and reminds viewers that he is perfectly capable of handling such parts, though he is not yet able to make material this awful somehow work in his hands. Unfortunately, outside of his efforts and the final scene involving Gainsbourg's character--which is perhaps the only portion of the film that genuinely works and is the only thing that justifies her otherwise wasted presence--nothing else about the film clicks. The story--which is based, apparently very loosely, on a true story that was later recounted in a New Yorker article--is little more than a collection of cliches put together in the most lifeless manner imaginable, there is not a single character that is remotely worth showing any interest in them and the whole thing is needlessly ugly and not just because of the content--this is a film so colorless throughout that it is the one that should have been called ''Fifty Shades of Grey.'' ''Dark Places'' is a film so morose an unsatisfying that it hardly needs a review--what it needs is a prescription.

Although I am not Catholic and have any number of problems with the religion as a whole, I nevertheless do feel a good deal of admiration for its spiritual leader, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a.k.a. Pope Francis. I like the way that he has renounced the lavish trappings that have long been attached to the papacy and his willingness to directly speak out on subjects like climate change, poverty and income inequality while reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised suggest that he is someone who is genuinely interested in trying to use his position to make the world a better and more equitable place regardless of how many feathers he ruffles along the way. Unfortunately, ruffling feathers is the last thing that filmmaker Wim Wenders evidently had in mind with his documentary ''Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.'' Given an unprecedented amount of access to the pope, Wenders has elected to take the hagiographic route as he follows his subject around the world as he spreads his word around to locations as far-flung as the sites of natural disasters, prisons and even the U.N., where he speaks about the dangers of climate change and global warning. These scenes are interesting enough in the way that they show the immense power and charisma that the man has but when it comes to the series of one-on-one interviews between the filmmaker and his subject, it comes up short as Wenders refuses to press Francis on any of the more controversial positions held by the Church or to even push him to go any deeper with the answers that he does give. Instead, he elects to gild the papal lily even further by adding in a number of brief sequences evoking the life of St. Francis of Assisi, whom Francis took his name from, to further illustrate his innate goodness. Slickly made but fairly inconsequential, ''Pope Francis: A Man of His Word'' is a documentary that is ultimately not quite worthy of its subject and makes you wonder what might have happened if it had been put in the hands of a filmmaker willing to push and challenge Pope Francis a little more than Wenders does--imagine this film in the hands of Werner Herzog or Errol Morris and the mind boggles at the thought of what might have been.

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originally posted: 05/18/18 11:50:30
last updated: 05/18/18 22:27:15
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