MOVIES ON BIG SCREENS – November 20, 2009

Once again, too many new releases to see in one weekend, so allow me to point you in the direction of just a few, if I may:

The Sun (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Italy/Switzerland/France, 110 minutes) — Richard Lorber (Lorber Films) deserves a medal for rescuing this brilliant 2005 film from obscurity and bringing it to American theaters. Sokurov concludes his trilogy about famous historical figures reaching a monumental crossroads (it was Hitler in Moloch and Lenin in Taurus) with this eerie, dreamlike glimpse into Emperor Hirohito’s final days of power in WWII. What struck me most about The Sun wasn’t the apocalyptic atmosphere or even Issey Ogata’s great performance. It was the unexpected undercurrent of humor that only enhanced the quietly overwhelming air of sadness and loss. I imagine Sokurov’s warm and tender treatment of Hirohito will offend some, but for me, it’s a lovely requiem for a figure who understands that the time has come to join his fellow countrymen back on ordinary ground.

Defamation (Yoav Shamir, Israel, 91 minutes) — Winner of a special jury mention at last week’s CPH:DOX (in the Amnesty Award category), Yoav Shamir’s film addresses a complicated subject with humor and honesty. Pamela Cohn wrote about the film when it screened at Tribeca, saying this: Defamation is a fascinating, infuriating and, ultimately, depressing treatise on Judaism, politics and the multi-layered relationship that America has with Israel. It is also vital and timely. If you want to understand something about this relationship between modern middle-class American Jewry and the current (sorry) state of the Jewish Homeland, you should see this film. Take your children, and your children’s children, with you when you do. Read the rest of that review here.

The Missing Person (Noah Buschel, USA, 94 minutes) — Though it might sound strange, the movie The Missing Person most reminds me of—more than any of the noir films it superficially resembles—is Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. On paper, it sounds like a horrible idea, mixing the tragedy of September 11th with the spicy noir genre, but Buschel shows a respect for both sources that adds up to something genuine and sincere. It also helps that he cast Michael Shannon as John Rosow, the down-on-his-luck private dick who finds himself caught up in a mystery that has deeper consequences every step of the way. The Missing Person is one of the more daringly original American narrative features of 2009.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA, 122 minutes) — Call me a party pooper, but this movie feels like Herzog is starting to downgrade his Ecstatic Truth into Lackadaisical Farce. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of unhinged lunacy from Nicolas Cage, but at two hours, there’s just way too much downtime. Messy can be good, but here it feels lazy. Coupled with the soon-to-be-released My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, I worry that Herzog is on his way to inheriting Clint Eastwood’s mantle of a legendary director who is exalted every step of the way. Whereas My Son My Son plays like Herzog’s loopy spin on a Lifetime movie, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans comes across as his riff on a straight-to-Cinemax-2 cop drama.

— Michael Tully

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