Tag Archives: Before Midnight

HS’s 2013 Top 10. And a few we could have done without.

As you can see, there is some overlap with Mr. Keough’s list, best and worst. That is a good thing.

1. Nebraska — From the very first shot of an old man shuffling along the side of an urban highway – against the direction of the traffic – you know you’re seeing director Alexander Payne at the very height of his considerable cinematic mastery. The movie makes you want to say something about America, but I won’t.

2. A Touch of Sin ­— Zhangke Jia’s films till now have, broadly speaking, looked at the results of upheaval. Here he gets down to the upheaval itself, violent crime throughout China. Ultimately, it’s motive more than action that matters, but, boy, that action.

3. Welcome to Pine Hill — 2013’s other great movie about America. Keith Miller’s debut feature about a man brought up short just when he’s straightening out his life comes alive through Miller’s attentive technique, manifest in, among other things, editing dictated by emotion.

4. Her – Spike Jonez, traditionalist filmmaker? Certainly not in subject matter, but he has certainly absorbed the great historic lessons of American cinema. Combined with his very contemporary story, he’s come up with not just a fascinating movie, but a nearly unique one.

5. Beyond the Hills – Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mongiu continues to impress as one of the world’s leading filmmakers. Typically, this movie tackles big subjects (how do old and new types of knowledge co-exist in the contemporary world?; what is madness?) but does perfect justice to its story about the reunion of two grown orphan girls. Brilliant.

6. The Act of Killing – Joshua Oppenheimer undresses a monster’s psyche simply by offering to direct the creature in a movie about his crimes (during the Indonesian massacres of 1965). It’s as simple and as complex as that.

7. Leviathan — Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel carried some video cameras aboard a North Atlantic trawler, held them or bolted them down, and allowed the images to form themselves before the lens. But then, they also distorted the film’s clarity and color, making us work to really see what’s what. A paradoxical way of freeing an image from excessive authorial control, but it works.

8. Upstream Color — I think I got what Shane Carruth was trying to say here, but I just might have been affected by the same delusions as the movie’s characters. Original, engrossing, ingenious. What else do you need?

9. Byzantium — Neil Jordan’s best Gothic outing in quite some time asks us what are we looking at when we look at female vampires? And it answers.

10. Ernest and Celestine – A warm and charming, but never mawkish and just suspenseful enough tale of a country bear and a town mouse. Directors Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, and Stéphane Aubier adopt a water-color style complete with imprecise lines, a “mistake” that works wonderfully. This listing is for the French original. The English dubbed edition opens in the U.S. later this year.


I’ve never done a 10 Worst List and, as Ebenezer Scrooge once said, I’m too old to change. But there are movies which drive me crazy for different reasons.

No apparent adult supervision: 47 Ronin

Saying you are smart over and over again does not mean you are smart: Before Midnight

No, this is not a step forward: The Conjuring

No good outcome possible: R.I.P.D.

If you don’t know this by now, you will never, never, never know it: 12 Years a Slave

–Henry Sheehan

Big Brother and Don’t Bother: “Closed Circuit” and “Getaway”

Alfred Hitchcock would have loved today’s surveillance state and the ongoing war against terror, with the endless opportunities for exploring voyeurism, treachery, paranoia, and the predicament of innocent bystanders caught up in conspiracies beyond their control and comprehension. But in lieu of his genius, director John Crowley (“Boy A”) and screenwriter Steven Knight (whose screenplay for David Cronenberg’s 2007 masterpiece “Eastern Promises” was a lot better) and their “Closed Circuit” will have to do. And it looks positively Hitchcockian compared to that third rate video game that passes for a movie, “Getaway.”

Crowley’s fitfully engrossing but mostly routine espionage thriller shows promise at first, opening, as befits the title, with multiplying rows of closed circuit TV screens showing a busy London marketplace. Then there’s a flash and all goes dark. Those of us in Boston a few months after the Marathon bombing can only grit our teeth.

Over a hundred people are killed in the attack, and the authorities have in custody Farroukh Erdogan (Denis Moschitto), a Turkish immigrant whom they believe is the only surviving perpetrator.

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But after Erdogan’s court-appointed defense lawyer commits suicide by jumping off a roof (sure he did; this is a film in which the audience is always at least two moves ahead of the characters on screen), barrister Martin Rose (Eric Bana) is asked to take his place.

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One look at Rose’s unshaven, hung-over face, his suit looking like he’s had it on since the night before, and it’s clear he wasn’t picked for his legal-eagleness. As is disclosed through wispy flashbacks and exposition-heavy dialogue, he’s still recovering from a divorce and a messy custody battle for his teenaged son. And making matters worse, who should be his partner in the trial but Claudia Simmons-Howe (Rebecca Hall),

Film Review Closed Circuit

his ex-lover and the “other woman” in his marriage break-up? Well, the film needs a little spice as a diversion from its implausible, predictable plot.

Perhaps in order to mirror the multiple surveillance camera screens of the opening, a motif repeated throughout the film, Crowley favors parallel editing, intercutting bits of two or three or more simultaneous, ongoing events. Unfortunately, the resulting narrative unfolds as randomly as those closed circuit broadcasts. In it Rose and Simmons-Howe ignore not-so-subtle warnings and investigate inconsistencies in the official story.

To no one’s surprise but their own, they discover that nothing is what it seems – though it would appear from the get-go that Jim Broadbent’s bemusedly sinister Attorney General

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isn’t on the up-and-up. The usual suspect, MI-5, Britain’s equivalent of the CIA, is to blame. Cornered, a member of the agency whines, “You want the freedom to attack me but without me you wouldn’t have any freedom at all!”

That old story. A word about MI-5, at least as depicted in this film: what’s wrong with these guys? Maybe after watching Jason Bourne handle battalions of assassins with just his bare hands, a book of matches, and an aerosol can, we’ve gotten spoiled. Yet how is it that these agents can be foiled by a bureaucrat armed with a water glass, and a kid with a hair drier? Are they just incompetent, or too paralyzed by moral fine points to get the job done? Anyone who has watched the BBC TV series “MI-5” would expect better – this film would rank as one of its lesser episodes.

Nonetheless, when it comes to recent films about the inexorable intrusion of Big Brother into our lives, “Closed Circuit” runs circles around “Getaway,” a film that is quite content to run circles around itself. It’s Christmas in Sofia, Bulgaria, a city known apparently for its cheapness as a movie location and, judging from the film, its inept police force. Haggard, washed-up racecar driver Brent Magna (an anagram of “Bran Magnet,” among other things), played by a haggard Ethan Hawke, who will be washed up as a credible actor if he keeps taking on pictures like this one and “The Purge,” returns home from whatever work an American ex-race car driver does in Bulgaria, to find his house ransacked and his wife missing. A phone call from “the Voice” informs him that unless he performs certain dangerous, illegal, and uninspired assignments not only will his wife be killed, but he will keep pestering him with his nagging, hectoring phone calls.

First on the agenda is stealing an armored super muscle car, a Ford Shelby GT500 Super Snake to give credit to the product placement that may be the sole reason for the movie’s existence. This he accomplishes, but as collateral damage he takes on an unwanted passenger, “the Girl” (Selena Gomez).

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She proves to be the backseat driver from hell – the bickering of this pair recalls Hawke’s spats with Julie Delpy in “Before Midnight,”

gogo get spat

except with more property damage, small arms fire, explosions, and panic-stricken Bulgarian Christmas shoppers.

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“The Girl”  screams, asks dumb questions, and offers useless advice as Magna performs the tasks demanded by the Voice, which mostly consist of what seems a repeated, horribly shot and scattergun-edited loop of the same car chase in which Sofia police squad cars crash and roll over like latter-day Keystone Cops.

gogo 10 getaway-cop crash

Sadly, there is an explanation for this punishing, repetitive chaos. It lies in the identity of the foreign-accented Voice, who sounds a bit like the Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis ads (“Stay thirsty, my friend”).

gogo 10 most interesting

[SPOILER] Played by Jon Voight, he is apparently that other bête noir of paranoid conspiracy theories, the billionaire tycoon whose cupidity is mixed with a playful bit of sadism. So between the ruthless omniscience of the intelligence community and the inescapable omnipotence of the super-rich, we’re pretty much screwed. I just wish someone would make a decent movie about it.