Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Amateur": Deadpan humor fills intriguing plot

Standard-Examiner staff

The landscape of the American cinema is littered with enormously talented people you've never heard of. Hal Hartley is a writer-director you probably don’t know, and that’s too bad. His previous films, “Trust,” “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Simple Men,” are gems savored by the select few who saw them play in art houses or festivals or, possibly, who rented them by accident at the video store.

Now comes Hartley’s latest, “Amateur,” and he’s lost none of his edge or his talent for finding humor in the oddest places.

“Amateur” stars frequent Hartley collaborator Martin Donovan as a man who awakens in a New York City alley, injured and suffering amnesia. He wanders into a cafe, his head bleeding, and is rescued by a former nun, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert). She takes him home, and together they set about trying to find out just who he is.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Get Shorty"

Probably my favorite author is Elmore Leonard. I love his work. So when a respectful adaptation of his fantastic “Get Shorty” was made, it was time for a celebration. I had fun with the writing style on this one.
“Get Shorty” one of this year’s best

Standard-Examiner staff

There’s this guy, name’s Chili Palmer. Works as a shylock for a Miami outfit -- you know, mob.

So, he’s a debt collector, right? Gets sent to L.A., supposed to find a movie producer owes this Vegas casino a wad of green. But when Chili gets to L.A., he falls in with the producer, Harry Zimm. They decide to make a movie together. The movie’s about Chili’s trip to L.A., only Harry doesn’t know about that just yet.

Chili's makin’ it up as he goes.

This is the movie, called “Get Shorty.” It’s based on the Elmore Leonard novel. Leonard’s books have been made into movies before. Or should I say ruined by the movies before? Watch Burt Reynolds’ “Stick,” and you’ll know what I mean.

“Get Shorty” was made by guys who liked the book. Respected the book. Its tough-guy dialogue, its humor, its grit. In Leonard’s books, the characters talk like this. In short sentences. No wasted words.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

“Pure Formality” a nice surprise; “Paradiso” director turns to intrigue

“A Pure Formality” has one of the best surprise endings I’ve seen in years. I have heard people say they saw it coming, but I don’t believe them.

The film is the latest from Italian writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore, who has charmed American audiences with “Cinema Paradiso” and “Everybody’s Fine.” While those two films depended upon his ability to create bittersweet evocations of nostalgia, “A Pure Formality” sets aside the sweetness, retains plenty of bitterness and cranks up the intrigue.

The film opens with a famous author, Onoff (Gerard Depardieu), running through a raging downpour.The police stop him, take him into custody and transport him to the local police station. The building is a ramshackle affair, with an incessantly leaking roof and big, drafty rooms filled with books stacked hither and yon.

Finally, the Inspector (Roman Polanski) arrives to begin an interrogation. A body has been found nearby, beaten so badly the authorities cannot identify it. The Inspector asks Onoff where he’s been, and what he’s been doing.