Contributing Writer: FS
David Cronenberg, who’s embraced the art of making intriguing if imperfect films from novels that most directors considered unsusceptible to adaptation (“Crash,” “Naked Lunch” and “Spider”), tackles another unlikely candidate with Don DeLillo’s 2003 “Cosmopolis” (Angelika), which is largely situated within the confines of a limousine inching its way through the streets of New York City over the course of a single day.
The book is essentially a rumination on the crisis of capitalism, exemplified in the personal and professional disintegration of a Wall Street Wunderkind who’s bet too heavily on currency fluctuations, and Cronenberg’s transformation of it is remarkably faithful. He virtually lifts from the page its highly mannered, cynical and often cryptic dialogue, which sounds even odder and archer when spoken. And he finds an uncannily appropriate visual style to mirror the crystalline prose DeLillo used to describe some extremely peculiar episodes.
He’s also chosen his cast carefully, with Robert Pattinson – of “Twilight” fame – here playing another sort of vampire, one who leeches money rather than blood. His dead-eyed, vacuous charm and quiet arrogance are a perfect fit for the role. And the supporting players have been selected with equal expertise.
The result is a mesmerizing film that shares a good deal of the quality of Cronenberg’s undisputed masterpiece, “Dead Ringers.” Like that film, it will deeply divide viewers into love-and-hate camps. But even those who dislike it won’t soon forget it.
The virtually Roman Catholic monopoly on exorcism movies is broken by “The Possessed” (wide release), which in effect alters the rite from Latin to Hebrew.
It’s the tale of a dybbuk box, a wooden device that in Jewish lore is designed to imprison demons that threaten to take over humans. One of them turns up at a garage sale and is bought by a newly divorced dad for his ten-year-old daughter. Soon she’s suffering the increasingly violent effects of being possessed by the entity inside it.
Eventually the son of a Hasidic rabbi agrees to undertake a ritual that will expel the malignant spirit (which actually shows up on an MRI – a good thing to know!) in an elaborate final-reel sequence that’s so messy the director, who elsewhere does generate some genuine suspense, descends to using that hoariest of devices, strobe lighting, to try to zap the audience.
And the moral of the movie? The only one that presents itself is to be careful what you buy at a garage sale. Or, in this case, at a theatre’s box office.
Most movies about Prohibition focus on urban bootleggers, but “Lawless” (wide release) centers on three backwoods Virginia brothers who run a major moonshine operation and foil the efforts of county bigwigs to take a big share of the spoils. In visual terms it’s an impressive piece of work, rich in period detail and beautifully photographed, with Jessica Chastain looking gorgeous as a transplant from Chicago.
But in narrative terms the picture is curiously languid, and most of the cast – including Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy as two of the brothers – disappoint, with LaBeouf looking like a kid playing dress-up in a high-school amateur hour and Hardy coming across as so stoic that he’s practically comatose. (Still, though he mumbles his lines, he’s intelligible here, which wasn’t the case in “The Dark Knight Rises.”)
The only person who shocks “Lawless” periodically to life is Guy Pearce, who’s so over-the-top as a repulsively flamboyant, effete but brutal Windy City deputy that he seems like someone from an entirely different (and more interesting) world. As a performance it may be corrupt, but it’s also fun to watch.
“Robot & Frank” (Magnolia) is one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, a wry futuristic comedy-drama that also manages to be a thoughtful rumination on the difficulty of growing old.
Frank Langella delivers a richly textured performance as a gruff, increasingly forgetful septuagenarian, living alone in a remote ramshackle house. His concerned son forces him to accept a robot butler who will clean the house and prepare healthful meals for him, and though initially resistant, Frank finds the automated aide preferable to going into a retirement home.
But he soon enlists the robot, amiably voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, in a nostalgia-laden crime. A onetime top-of-the-line cat burglar, he methodically plans a heist in which he and the mechanical marvel will rob the rich yuppie who’s automating the local library he so dearly loves. Naturally the scheme leads to trouble and a bittersweet ending.
Camaraderie between man and machine isn’t a new narrative notion, even if (as in “2001”) it hasn’t always worked out well. In “Robot & Frank,” however, it serves as the premise for a film both charming and poignant.