Saturday, January 26, 2013

Henry's Invisible Arbitrage

     In today's round of DVD reviews we cover a Best Documentary Feature nominee, a disappointing quirky comedy, and a fantastic drama with a beloved actor's career best performance.  Might as well get to it...

  Arbitrage - Richard Gere has never been my favorite actor.  He's just always faded into the background a little bit for me.  Not in any sort of "Please, God, not the movie with Richard Gere" kind of way.  I was never turned away by his appearance in a film, but it didn't encourage me to watch it either.  Looking back at his filmography, I find four or five glaring examples of pictures that I would have expected myself to have seen, most shamefully I'm Not There and Days of Heaven.
     In most of my favorite Richard Gere films, it's his co-stars who have stuck with me long after the lights came up.  Pretty Woman is about Julia Roberts.  Primal Fear is about Edward Norton (boy howdy).  Chicago is about, well, damn near everybody but him.  So I wasn't really anticipating being as blown away by Arbitrage as many critics had been.  Sometimes I love being wrong.
     Arbitrage is a GREAT little movie, and for once, Gere's performance undeniably rules the day (and it's not like he didn't have any competition, more on that in a bit).  His performance as Robert Miller stands as one of the best that I have seen this year.  He's captivating, with great depth and nuance.  He is a man full of contradictions and conflict.  I have always found talk of Gere being "overdue" with the Academy to be a bit hyperbolic in the past, but I think they missed the train on this one.
    And then again...there is Susan Sarandan.  Susan was one of my first love affairs with an actress's career.  Thelma and Louise, The Witches of Eastwick, Dead Man Walking, Bull Durham...I could go on and on.  She was undeniably one of the most sought after and respected actresses in Hollywood through the seventies, eighties, and nineties.  The twenty-first century has shown something of a decline in the quality of rolls she has been offered (but never in her talent, her work on TV's Rescue Me has been some of the finest of her career).  I''m hoping that Cloud Atlas and now Arbitrage are precursors of her next big era as a movie star.  Here she is clearly the sort of fiery, vital, intelligent, strong, and yes, gorgeous lady of retirement age that the world has only come to know in this new century.
     The cast is actually a very strong ensemble, with Tim Roth and Nate Parker obvious stand outs.  And then again...there is Brit Marling.  Ms. Marling first caught my attention in Another Earth, then blew me away in Sound of My Voice, but I'd only really watched her act in that special little Brit Marling world that (as the screen writer) she could create in those two films.  Think of it as a melancholy suburb of Wes Anderson (Moonlight Kingdom, Royal Tennanbaums) world with sci-fi overtones and you'll sort of get what I mean.  I am happy to report that she can play a character in a more realistic setting quite adeptly, and holds her own well here.
     I've focused mostly on the actors partially to avoid saying too much about writer/director Nicholas Jarecki's marvelous script.  I'm still not sure whether you could say it had a happy ending or not, and that's as much as I'm giving you.  As a directing debut, this was absolutely outstanding.  5 of 5 stars.

  The Invisible War - In all honesty, I hadn't even made up my mind if I was going to watch this film until the Oscar nominations were announced.  I spent the first thirty minutes or so watching interview after interview with victims of rape within the military, feeling that it was all very sad, but that not much effort or creativity had been put into the formatting and compilation of the documentary itself.
     As the film continued, however, the women (and one man)'s stories began to draw me in more and more.  The film was actually quite skillfully plotted and edited together to slowly captivate the viewer in just this way.  The interwoven interviews approach to documentary film making has certainly been done a million times before, but at least it is done very well in The Invisible War.  By the film's end, I had been taken on a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and I think that most people would have the same experience.
     This is my first exposure to the work of director Kirby Dick (although I quite wanted to see This Film Is Not Yet Rated when it came out) and I was reasonably pleased.  You'll have to watch the picture to get the full story, but The Invisible War gets extra credit for actually changing the situation it was designed to illuminate in a direct manner.  4 of 5 stars.

  Jesus Henry Christ - Oh, boy...If Brit Marling world is like a melancholy, sci-fi suburb of Wes Anderson world, then Dennis Lee world is like a rundown part of Wes Anderson world that all the characters from Ace Ventura: Pet Detctive have moved into.  Weird indie sensibilities are intermarried poorly with bursts of bawdy comedy and uninspired chaos.
     Toni Collette is wasted here.  Young stars Jason Spevack and Samantha Weinstein do evince some potential talent, but the lack of quality inherent in the material is too much to transcend.  The child actors' performances were the only element that kept this film from being graded even more harshly.  2 of 5 stars.

Related posts:  Cloudy Connections (Cloud Atlas review), Another Young Project (Another Earth review), The Sound Hope Sparks (Sound of My Voice review)

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