Movie Reviews of COLD COMES THE NIGHT and THE BEST OFFER by Howard Casner

Cold Comes the Night is a movie genre that is often described as: it does absolutely nothing, but does it very well—except that in this case, it only does it fairly well.  As usual for this sort of movie, it’s a thriller and revolves around a woman who runs a sleazy motel that a local police officer uses for his pimp trade.   She has a daughter who social services is threatening to take away (which is hard to argue with), so when a mob bagman who is going blind comes through and his driver is killed by a prostitute he attacks, the mother sees a way out of her circumstances.


The movie is buoyed by a rather clever and in many ways well written screenplay by Osgood Perkins, Nick Simon and the director Tze Chun, full of nail biting twists and turns and a few unexpected surprises.  It also has a strong, empathetic performance by Alice Eve in the lead and a rather effective one in Logan Marshall-Green as the more than somewhat sociopathic cop.


Unfortunately, it also has Bryan Cranston in the roll of the bagman Topo (an unfortunate name since it makes me think of Ed Sullivan and the mouse that would show up on occasion), and this part really doesn’t work as well as it needs to.  Since Topo is not developed fully enough to become a character in his own right, he and his fading eyesight end up being nothing more than mere plot devices, which doesn’t work to the advantage of the movie as a whole. But even more unfortunate, the character is also Russian in background, and whenever Cranston speaks, well, sorry to say, all I could think was “moose and squirrel”.



The Best Offer is also a thriller of sorts, a con game/heist film about a germ phobic and highly superstitious auctioneer who has, over the years, unethically, and probably illegally as well, collected a series of classical portraits of women at bargain basement prices in comparison to their real worth.  He then is hired to appraise and sell the contents of a mansion inhabited by an agoraphobic woman.


Though all the main actors are non-Italian and they all speak English, the film won the David di Donatello award for best picture (sort of the Italian Oscars) over such movies as Reality, though I’m not sure how.  It has its moments, and though it has all the right ingredients, it never quite comes together in a satisfactory manner.


The story is divided into three parts.  The first sets up the personality of the quirksome, to say the least, auctioneer Virgil Oldman, played rather effetely by Geoffrey Unsworth.  It also dramatizes how he pulls off his cons (which are very clever, one must give it up to him) and how he comes to accept the job offer by the agoraphobic Claire (Sylvia Hoeks).  This part is on the nose, obvious, with acting that is a bit too arch (Unsworth plays Virgil as if he were the Scarlet Pimpernel) and dialog a bit more than expositional.  At the same time, it does draw you in as you want to know exactly what the con aimed at the auctioneer is that’s surely to take place.


The second part focuses on the growing love between Virgil and Claire, with the Cupidic help of a repairman that Virgil uses in fixing antiques (Jim Sturgess).  This is a tough bit of beef jerky to get through.  First, it’s really rather difficult to have an emotional stake in whether Virgil finally finds true love and loses his virginity since he is a con man and not that pleasant a person.   But the love story itself just never catches fire.  And it takes forever for it not to.  The forward momentum just stops dead here.


But there is the third part, which is a roller coaster ride of bitter revelation and emotional devastation as Virgil finds out just what has been done to him.  Though we all saw it coming, we still feel for him, even though, in many ways, he hasn’t earned it.


The screenplay and direction are by Giuseppe Tornatore, who also gave us Cinema Paradiso.   While he does little with the first two parts, the third is a thrilling bit of editing, acting and writing.  But unfortunately, it’s a bit too little too late.


Also starring Donald Sutherland with an unsteady accent as Virgil’s partner in crime.

Movie Review of CLOUD ATLAS by Howard Casner

Cloud Atlas the movie stars Frank Griebe and John Toll as the Cinematographers; Huge Bateup and Uli Hanisch as the Production Designers; Rebecca Alleway and Peter Walpole as the Set Designers; Kym Barett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud as the Costume Designers; and a cast of thousands when it comes to Makeup and Art Direction.  There are also some actors involved, but they’re all pretty much chopped liver by the time the credits roll.


The movie, for those not on twitter and facebook, contains six story lines set in six different periods of time, including the future as well as the future future.  The basic themes seem to be that we’re all connected; everything that happens is cause and effect; and that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Kansas can cause a tsunami in Japan.  Except it’s not really.


In fact, as the movie jumps from time period to time period and story to story (as a friend of a friend said, it’s the perfect movie for those with ADD), no one character or event in one time period has any affect on any character or event in another time period.   Or if they did, the writers (those V for Vendetta/Matrix welding Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, as well as Tom, Run Lola Run, Twyker, all of whom also directed) did a very good job of keeping it to themselves.   True, there are overlaps.  A book from one period, letters from another, a piece of middle brow music that people go gaga over for some unclear reason, all end up in another era.  But that’s not a connection.  That’s a coincidence.  And of the extremely forced variety.   Coincidence and connection are not the same thing, no matter how much new age mumbo jumbo you want to throw at it.  Or if it is, the filmmakers have a totally different understanding of butterflies and tsunamis that I do (which is more than quite possible).


In the end, there’s only one reason to have made this movie and that is the opportunity to do a tour de force thingy by creating six difference films in six different styles (Bladerunner, Brideshead Revisited/Merchant-Ivory, a 1970’s crime drama cum social ills action movie, etc.), all using the same set of actors.  And if the filmmakers had pulled that off, what an amazing film it would have been.


But alas, the only section that really hits its mark is the Bladerunner type story about replicants in a futuristic New Seoul.  This story has the best acting (Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae in the leads); it hits its emotional mark of doomed lovers on the run (a 22nd Century take on They Live By Night); and the visual aspects of this section meld well and don’t overpower the human (well, replicant, but let’s not be petty) element.  For the other sections, the filmmakers can’t seem to get the styles or rhythms quite right with the story set further in the future almost impossible to follow.


And then there’s the acting.  The biggest names are Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Hallie Berry.  Sarandon isn’t given much to do.  Hallie Berry comes across well enough, especially in the 1970’s action film; all in all, her roles don’t require a great range (and there seem to be little difference in her ambitious investigative reporter and futuristic alien).  But (to paraphrase Pauline Kael in talking about Norma Shearer) oh, that Hanks.  Perhaps because he is so recognizable no matter what thickness of make up and prosthetics are slathered on, he felt the need to overplay every role to really remind people that he really isn’t who you think he is—but the further he tried to get away from himself, the closer he got.


The best performers come from the younger generation, like Sturgess and Bae as well as Ben Whishaw, the perpetually pouting English actor with the big hair.  They seem a bit more comfortable playing their wide range of roles (though the make up for Bae lets her down in the anti-slavery tract section).  And Hugo Weaving is a hoot in his Nurse Diesel/Ratchett turn, this time named Nurse Noakes.


In the end, Cloud Atlas is ambitious and often overpowering to look at.  But in execution, to be cruel and ruthlessly honest, it comes across more as the perfect choice for bad movie night where everyone can yell out comments as the scenes go by.  One suggestion: in the 1970’s film, when Hanks, coiffed in the typical top and sideburns of the day, and Berry go outside and Berry asks if it’s okay to smoke and Hanks says, I’m cool—yell out, not with that hairstyle, you’re not.