Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Preview series: Headshot and The Other Son

Well, usually CineCaché is a preview series, but while Headshot was a good match for it, that film's release window came and went ridiculously fast: From what I can tell, it had a NYC/LA theatrical release on 28 September and was out on video on 2 October. Not much time for a preview or booking there, which is kind of disappointing; it's a good movie and one where, when I missed it at Fantasia, I consoled myself that it was almost certain to get a release in Boston anyway. clearly, not the case.

Both it and The Other Son fall into the same category: Pretty good movies that won't knock your socks off but do the job they set out to do well enough to be worth a recommendation. The biggest issue with them is that my reaction (and the in-theater discussion) afterwards dwelt quite a bit on what they didn't do.

When writing, I try not to do that; it's a pretty strong rule with me that you should review the movie you see, not the one you wanted to see or thought you were going to see. It's not fair and doesn't tell the reader anything really useful. I couldn't help doing it for Headshot, though: I wanted that upside-down action scene, especially since the next person who happens upon the idea of having someone's vision inverted like this (which I think I once read is a very rare but not unheard of thing - though I think the context was more about how the brain is generally able to rewire itself to flip the image back in most cases) is likely not going to be as talented as Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and probably won't have a cinematographer up to the challenge, either; it was a wasted opportunity.

Similarly, there was a lot of talk after The Other Son about how it apparently was originally planned to have a different ending (SPOILERS! - probably a bomb going off; I half-guess that it would have been at older brother Bilal's hands - !SRELIOPS), and much of the talk was about this hypothetical darker ending versus the oen the movie had.

I seldom speak much in these conversations (preferring to let my thoughts ferment for a few days before writing them down, apparently), but... Who cares? For that other ending to be satisfying or fitting, the movie's content would likely have had to change throughout, enough to make it a very different movie. That might have been a better movie, or a worse one, but nobody was making an argument that this particular story was heading in a dark direction and thus the finale was a cop-out. It just seemed like a frustratingly faux-sophisticated assumption that a generally positive resolution is a "fairy tale" ending, and the moer negative one is "realistic".

That's a heck of a sad way to look at the world, I think, but even if it weren't... I figure it's one thing to say that an ending feels like a break from the rest of the film's momentum and that that's a flaw, and quite another to wish it was some other specific thing. One's looking at something concrete, the other is comparing it to something that only exists in your head.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché, Blu-ray)

Headshot has a nifty enough visual gimmick at its center that one has to wonder why the filmmakers don't lean on it a bit more. Sure, even without the main character's unique visual impairment, this would be a quite enjoyable thriller, but it's got the chance to be quite the memorable one and only seizes that opportunity intermittently.

A few years ago, Tul (Nopporn Chaiyanam) was a rising star on the Bangkok police force; intelligent, fearless, and above reproach. As the film opens, though, he's a vigilante; he and partner Torpong (Apisit Opasaimlikit, aka rapper "JoeyBoy") gun down those that the law can't touch at the direction of the mysterious Dr. Suang (Krerkkiat Punpiputt). The last mission leaves him with a bullet in his head, and he wakes from a three-month coma with his vision inverted (up is down and vice versa). Always a reluctant killer, he soon finds this is the sort of business few retire from, winding up on the run with Rin (Sirin Horwang), the hostage he takes while fleeing for the country.

Screenwriter/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang made a splash in boutique houses with Last Life in the Universe, a gorgeous picture that takes a simple-sounding crime story and creates something grander, and everything he's done since has been compared to that, fairly or unfairly. Headshot stays much closer to its pulp roots; dishing out bounteous servings of sex, violence, and betrayal without particularly looking to transcend the genre. Sure, Ratanaruang (via Tul) may wax somewhat philosophical toward the end, but that's not completely out of character for a hard-boiled crime story. Still, it's more likely to delight the audience on the basis of suddenly realizing what was going on in the background of a specific earlier scene than what it has to say about the world at large.

Full review at EFC.

Le fils de l'Autre (aka The Other Son)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

My half-a-lifetime-ago high school French tells me that the title of this movie doesn't quite translate to "The Other Son", but to "The Son of the Other", and that does turn out to be a fairly important distinction. As a simple switched-at-birth story, The Other Son is all right, but it's the matters of cultural identity that make for interesting questions.

Tel Aviv resident Joseph Silberg (Jules Sitruk) is about to turn eighteen and start his military service, but the physical turns up something odd - his blood type is A-negative while both mother Orith (Emmanuelle Devos) and father Alon (Pascal Elbé) are A-positive, a genetic impossibility. It turns out that on the night Jo was born, the hospital in Haifa was locked down against a potential Scud attack, and in the confusion the Silbergs' baby was switched with that of Leila and Said Al-Bezaaz (Areen Omari and Khalifa Natour), a Palesinian couple now living in the West Bank. Though the families initially intend to keep this secret from Jo and Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi), Joseph's sudden ineligibility for military service demands an explanation.

This sort of mix-up affects a lot of people, and the somewhat circuitous path co-writer and director Lorraine Levy takes to show this is perhaps kind of unusual: The film starts out focused on Jo, then spends a fair amount of time with his parents before introducing the Al-Bezaazes and then takes a little bit longer before finally bringing Yacine home from school in Paris. Doing it this way does tend to establish the Silbergs' perspective (and by extension, that of Israel) as the default, but does also let the audience get to know the entire cast in small enough groups that the other side doesn't feel sold short. And while the shifts in perspective during the first act are noticeable, it doesn't drag out to the point where Yacine seems to be held back.

Full review at EFC.

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