Friday, October 05, 2012

Coming Soon (or Now Playing): Preview screenings of The Oranges and Keep the Lights On

Ah, fall, when the film preview programs start. Both Talk Cinema and CineCaché (in its previous incarnation as the "Sunday Eye-Opener") used to run at the same time, and they operate in a similar manner - introduction, movie that will open soon in the boutique houses, discussion. Talk Cinema goes with higher-profile films and the discussion tends to be more moderated (depending on which local critic is on stage, it can be more about his/her opinions than the audience going back and forth); CineCaché often digs a little deeper and has a much more informal interaction.

The first Talk Cinema and second CineCaché of the season (I missed the first a couple weeks ago) were both kind of middling experiences. The movies themselves were both pretty close to average in one direction or another, where you can't exactly call them bad or point out crippling mistakes, but which are fairly forgettable. Believe it or not, boutique films can be mediocrities despite the cultivated image as something the smart folks appreciate and the masses hate, and that's the case with both The Oranges and Keep the Lights On; some good work but little spark.

The post-film discussions were a little muted, too. I didn't get any Horrible Photography, but director Ira Sachs was present, and I don't know about you, but that makes me a bit uncomfortable when the movie isn't well-above average. The director who realizes and admits that his movie isn't all he wants it to be is rare (for instance, Michael Biehn admitting The Victim's failings at Fantasia this year), so while you can get some insight into the inspiration and process, it puts a real chill on "I kind of thought the movie was boring".

In some ways, the Talk Cinema discussion was just as weird; the guy leading the discussion spent a lot of time talking about how he spent a lot of the movie's first half confused and weirded out over who was which character's kid, and a few members of the audience agreed. The argument appeared to be that Alia Shawkat is more likely to be the daughter of Oliver Platt and Alison Janney than Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener, and I'm not sure I buy that - I think if Shawkat was placed next to Keener as much as Laurie, it's not such a big deal - but even aside from that, this is a movie with the most definitive narration you can imagine at the beginning. Were you guys just not paying attention or what?

Anyway, kind of a weird couple of screenings. The Oranges opened at Kendall Square today, and Keep the Lights On opens there next week; the next CineCaché is Headshot on the 15th (I'm excited and hoping for 35mm because I missed it at Fantasia and Thai films always look fantastic), and the next Talk Cinema on the 21st has not yet been named.

The Oranges

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 September 2012 in Coolidge Corner #2 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

The Oranges isn't bad as "stripping the sheen from suburbia" movies go. It's just kind of lazy, apparently satisfied enough with the number of jokes that get a chuckle to let a talented cast coast as things amble on toward a soft ending. Those who dislike it will probably disdain it for its premise, while most will likely just forget it quickly enough.

After all, the characters at the center seem standard enough in two families that live across the street from each other in West Orange, New Jersey (or is it East Orange? doesn't matter). David Walling (Hugh Laurie) and Terry Ostroff (Oliver Platt) are best friends, and have been for a long time; David's wife Paige (Catherine Keener) and Terry's wife Carol (Alison Janney) are close as well. Daughters Vanessa (Alia Shawkat) and Nine (Leighton Meester) were too, until high school. Nina has been living on the west coast for a while, but a bad breakup sends her home for Thanksgiving, and her mother Carol is eager to set her up with Toby Walling (Adam Brody). And while Toby's nice and all, it's his father that winds up connecting with Nina.

Give a lot of credit to Hugh Laurie and Leighton Meester - this is a particularly discomfiting May-December romance, and it would be easy for these two characters to come off as nothing but selfish or oblivious to others' feelings. They are, of course, but Laurie and Meester also play the characters with enough overlapping areas of charm and self-awareness that the audience can believe that this guy and that girl are going to see something in each other rather than it being a cynical matter of the universe throwing a pretty blonde half his age at a guy whose marriage is on the rocks. Hugh Laurie, especially, manages to takes the moments meant to show that David is old and smart enough to know better and still come out not looking like an ogre.

Full review at EFC.

Keep the Lights On

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 October 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché, video)

Keep the Lights On is the sort of semi-autobiographical movie that just goes to show that one's real-life drama, even if translated to the screen without a hitch, is not necessarily compelling for others. Director Ira Sachs goes for honesty here, and does well by it, but perhaps could have added something else to the mix.

The Sachs surrogate is Erik Rothman (Thure Lindhardt), a documentary filmmaker originally from Denmark but living and working in Manhattan. As the film starts, it's 1998, and a lonely Erik meets Paul Lucy (Zachary Booth) on a phone sex line. Erik is lonely despite being close with his sister Karen (Paprika Steen) and collaborator Claire (Julianne Nicholsonn), so he and Paul are soon together, but Paul's issues with secrecy and addiction will put a strain on the relationship.

Not enough of a strain to actually end it, though, though so Erik and the audience are in for ten years of ups and downs, and if you've ever had a friend who was in an extended bad relationship, this is kind of like that. It's not always in a crisis, but the problems aren't improving, so it just runs in a loop that may be a sort of agony for the ones involved but is mostly frustrating for those on the outside looking in. That's where Keep the Lights On spends most of its time - Paul's an addict, Erik's immature, and periodic two year jumps don't show much in the way of change.

Full review at EFC.

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