The Art of the Steal @ Slant

Over at Slant Magazine, I reviewed the DVD release of Don Argott’s often fascinating The Art of the Steal, an angry cousin of sorts to Bansky’s fantastic Exit Through the Gift Shop.

The long history behind the Barnes Collection of Modern and Post-Impressionist art is a dynamic one, and not without deeply tragic implications.

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Salt (Noyce, 2010)

Salt runs, punches, and shoots in a consistently relentless volley of movement, pummeling down a predictable narrative corridor of Cold War paranoia and Nuclear annihilation. As the titular C.I.A. agent who may or may not be a Russian mole, Angelina Jolie puts every ounce of physical exertion into her character’s often bombastic fits of chaotic prowess. Actress and character solidify together early during an impressive acrobatic running jump kick, then never evolve past the surface throughout the countless proceeding action scenes. If not anything complex, Salt must have been a good workout for one Hollywood’s leading actresses.

Directed by Aussie Philip Noyce (Dead Calm, The Quiet American) Salt jumps out of the gate with a North Korean prologue highlighting the stakes of the game. Captured by the military during an operation, Salt survives a brutal interrogation in the depths of a nasty torture chamber. The scene is born from any James Bond movie, and only exists to introduce doubt into the mind of the viewer regarding Salt’s alliances. Jump two years later, and Salt looks right at home in D.C., chatting it up with her boss Ted Winter (Liev Schrieber) and living happily ever after with her German boyfriend Mike (August Diehl). When an old school Russian spy named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) strolls into Langley and outs Salt as a Russian spy, the film never stops playing cat and mouse, jettisoning Salt into the outer layers of counterintelligence, political assassinations, and Russian sleeper agents.

Salt attempts to be part 1970’s conspiracy thriller, part Bourne globe trot. And Jolie does her best to sustain the film’s physical demands; careening off walls, scaling skyscrapers, and wielding machine guns as if she was born with one in her hand. But Salt suffers from painfully dull pacing that lacks tangible danger. Unlike the great urban ambush sequence in Clear and Present Danger or the assault on Jack Ryan’s beach house in Patriot Games, Noyce constructs Salt without any fresh kinetics, relying on plodding and lazy payoffs to fulfill each scene. It makes Salt quickly turn from interesting action subversion to moot convention among Hollywood’s genre fare landscape.

Not surprisingly, the panicked America in Salt could have been ripped from sensationalist headlines in the 1980’s, especially considering the recent upswing of post-Soviet fear both in the news and in mainstream movies. Yet Noyce doesn’t see any worth in slowing down to reveal the complexities of the political or social situations at work. In this regard Salt is a shoot first, never ask questions later style of assassin, a deadly worker bee who could go on forever hunting and maiming for whichever country soots its fancy. And with sequels on the horizon, it looks like Salt will have plenty of international boogiemen to steamroll through in the years to come. Certainly a good thing for Jolie’s gym bill, but not so much for savvy genre-hounds craving innovative material.

Inception, Wild Grass, I Am Love @ InRO

Over at In Review Online, I dug myself into a bit of a hole with tough reviewing choices, picking a trifecta of beguiling, complex, and strange works that each demand multiple viewings.

It took two screenings to come to grips with Inception, but the film remains a fascinating and dynamic piece of Hollywood filmmaking that in terms of ambition, probably won’t be matched all year. On the Art Film front, I entered Alain Resnais’ enigmatic dream world in Wild Grass and Luca Guadagnino’s luminous emotional architecture in I Am Love, both difficult visions in their own right.

– Also at InRO, check out this piece about upcoming mainstream and film festival films (2010) in a feature called “You Can’t Stop What’s Coming.” I wrote the blurbs on Malick’s Tree of Life, the Coens’ True Grit, Eastwood’s Hereafter, Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, Carpenter’s The Ward, and Chung’s Lucky Life. It’s a nice cheat sheet for you cinephiles anticipating the rest of the year.

A Town Called Panic, Most Dangerous Man in America @ Slant

Alright, it’s catch up time here at Match Cuts. Forgive the long layover, but a host of reviews and non-film jobs have taken my attention elsewhere. I plan on posting original material here on Soldonz’s Life During Wartime, Dolan’s I Killed My Mother, Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, Demme’s Manchurian Candidate, and Assayas’ Late August, Early September, hopefully sooner than later.

But first, this week at Slant Magazine I reviewed the DVD releases of the wonderfully zany and inventive animated film A Town Called Panic and the disappointing, very conventional documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Each has interesting moments, but only one fulfills their true potential as a work of art.

Breillat Retrospective @ InRO

Over at In Review Online, I participated heavily in the “Catherine Breillat Directrospective” helmed by our fearless leader Sam C. Mac.

I contributed essays on 36 Fillette (1989), Brief Crossing (2001), Fat Girl (2001) and Bluebeard (2009), and in the process completely engulfed myself in the sexually charged universe of Ms. Breillat.

All of the wonderfully written essays can be found underneath the thought-provoking Introduction by one of our many excellent editors, Ranylt Richildis, so please check out the whole retrospective. We put a lot of time and hard work into this beast, and in our minds it was worth every minute.

Green Zone (Greengrass, 2010)

Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone orders a problematic opening mission – remember a world convinced Bush Administration politics were transparent and tactile. It all seems horrifically absurd now, some seven years after WMD’s, Saddam, and a loaded little word called insurgency. But Greengrass’ disturbing and self-serious reminder of the corruption, manipulation, and treason perpetrated during those early moments in Operation Iraqi Freedom eludes inconsequence by staying brilliantly on task. Greengrass frames the great deception of our country around the convincing patriotism and singular desperation of Sgt. Roy Miller (Matt Damon), an old-school military believer pushed off reservation by his burning need to uncover not just the truth, but the reasons behind the lies. And for every step forward, Miller’s fragmented and bloody quest through the dark alleys and cramped interiors of a fiery Baghdad takes two steps back. Continue reading

Interview: Brett Haley, dir. THE NEW YEAR

– Despite a devastating technical malfunction that nearly upended the whole interview, I was able to speak with Mr. Haley at length about his superb debut feature, THE NEW YEAR. I want to thank Mr. Haley for his generous, time, insight, and patience.

GLENN HEATH JR.: In terms of debut films, THE NEW YEAR stands out because it avoids making a first impression through genre and sensationalism. Instead, it’s about the nuanced transition of a very special woman. Why was this theme so important to you when presenting your first film?

BRETT HALEY: I think it was really important to me to avoid narrative cliché and stereotype, so I didn’t necessarily start off avoiding genre. I just set out to tell a very specific story that I was passionate about. For whatever reason, this story about a girl who’s stuck but destined for so much more, was really important to me. Elizabeth Kennedy, my co-writer and I were just trying to be honest to that character.

GHJ: Can you talk about the genesis about coming up with the idea and writing the script and what you were trying to achieve with it as a character study?

BH: I got the idea from a train ride. I was working on THE ROAD at the time and I was on a train from New York City to Philadelphia and I saw this bowling alley out the window in the middle of nowhere. And this idea just struck me about this girl who works at a bowling alley, who works the shoes and has never bowled before and her first time she rolls a 300, a perfect game. And then I thought of the bowling center in my hometown Pensacola FL, Cordova Lanes, and I thought about shooting it at home. That brought me to the idea of a girl coming back home, and then that gave me the idea of her father having cancer. So it all hit me at once. I called Elizabeth about the idea and she started writing, she wrote the first 10 pgs, then we went back and forth like that on the whole script. Continue reading