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May 11, 2006

New releases: The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Mission: Impossible III, Interkosmos, Mountain Patrol: Kekexili, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

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This week: capsules for The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, M:I III, The Proposition, Interkosmos, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, and Mountain Patrol: Kekexili.


The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (****) Lazarescu, Dante Remus Lazarescu, wakes with a bellyache. Or is it something at his temples? Or the cheap liquor that makes the close, dusty, newspaper-piled place with a trio of sleepy, bedraggled cats underfoot, a tolerable home for the 63-year-old man whose family has moved far away? Or simple disorientation? thedeathofmrlazaresc572398.jpgCristi Puiu’s brilliant comedy is 152 minutes of deceptively low-key shaggy-dogginess that earns the now-disfavored encomium of “humanist.” As Mr. Lazarescu descends into a nightlong nightmare of Bucharest’s health care, Puiu’s influences shine; the conversational ease of Rohmer is matched by simple allegory-making like Kieslowski. (Puiu says this is the first of six parables, and based on “Love thy neighbor”). There’s much more here than the common comparison to the rigorous documentary style of Frederick Wiseman. Mr. Lazarescu wears a soiled, striped shirt like a soccer ref, or a prisoner. And “Yes, I drink, like any other man,” he tells one of the many faces that peer into his, accusing him of being a beat-down old drunk. (He responds always with disgruntled melancholy.) Life and its complications persist all around, in the byplay and frustration and sarcasm and hope of the various health-care not-providers. This is a movie about life and death and breath and gallows humor, and there’s a bit of Mike Leigh favorite Timothy Spall to the long-suffering of Ion Fiscuteanu’s wonderful performance. One nurse is Mr. Lazarescu’s escort, ferrying him to the dawn that may not come. But many of the other healthcare workers are impatient women, at first resembling a flight of noble, curative female angels, but exhaustion and a refusal to be patronized leads them all to forget their role. But the sudden ending is wondrous and mysterious: the word “handsome” has seldom been as sweet and sincere-sounding. 153m.

Mission: Impossible III (**) “There's a point where bold becomes stupid,” a character burbles in Mission: Impossible III’s quippy script, but there’s also a point that movies become television. Clocking in at a painless 125 minutes (with credits), teevee auteur J. J. Abrams (Regarding Henry, “Alias,” “Lost”), collaborating with The Island screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, takes the reins of Paramount/Cruise/Wagner’s decamillion dollar franchise and makes safe, loud, television-scaled thrills while adding an uncommon amount of girlie stuff (such as casting “Felicity”’s Keri Russell as a trainee mentored by Cruise and some sweetie-pie romantic stuff). cruise-monaghan1304867.jpgCompetent but close-up heavy—big screen doesn’t have to mean bigger close-ups, J.—M:I-3, or however you’re supposed to acronym it, is classy junk food, but in such tight confines, you sense less the topography of action setpieces than Keri Russell’s hair, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer’s lips, Cruise’s asexual, cashmere-clad catalog-model asexual steeliness and Ving Rhames’ velvet-voiced black-sidekick-ness. (There are far too many long-lens swish-pans and slam-zooms, too.) Okay, is this witty, if someone’s described as being “like a goddamn invisible man. Wells, not Ellison, if you want to be cute again… Please don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions"? (Sounds glib to me.) The overlapping double-triple-crosses involve topical intrigues: there’s a pretty serious example of the “extraordinary rendition” of an apparent terrorist and a lot of the damage, collateral and otherwise, in Germany, Virginia, Rome and Shanghai, are big bad terrorist daydreams with a soupcon of fem-jeop. One strange image: a plume of black smoke over Vatican City, ordinarily signaling that a pope has not been chosen yet, of a detonated Lamborghini. And yes, Cruise does have a scene where he dons a mask to attain the identity of someone else. Why would he stop now? Michael Giacchino’s (The Incredibles) score is good, seeming at a couple of moments to partake simultaneously of Lalo Schifrin and Vince Guaraldi’s music for “Peanuts.” (Schifrin’s theme is reinterpreted under the opening credits by Kanye West.) With Michelle Monaghan, Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Maggie Q and her long legs, a very funny Simon Pegg, and, oh, in the role of an omniscient mega-terrorist, someone who looks a lot like Philip Seymour Hoffman, if Philip Seymour Hoffman couldn’t be bothered to give a performance. Somehow this icy impersonator muffs even the line, “I’m gonna make her bleed and cry and call out your name.” 125m.

Interkosmos (***1/2) Chicagoan Jim Finn’s first feature film, Interkosmos, which opened the New York Underground Film Festival, is the sort of no-budget experimental lark that shouldn’t work at all, but it’s a lovely thing indeed, a weird original, of 16mm faux-documentary-cum-musical about an apocryphal 1970s Soviet program to train and indoctrinate non-socialist cosmonauts. interkosmos230567.jpgUnexpected poetry seeps from its willful anachronism. The human figurines in the imaginatively mocked-up footage are convincing physical types sent through routines of a strange utopia that never was. The lovely, low-key score by Jim Becker and Colleen Burke includes several wonderfully goofy musical numbers. Minimalist yet expressive, it’s a real original. Among the eruptions of lilting peculiarity is an underwater battle between slight, great-eyed Nandini Khaund (as the first female Indian cosmonaut) and a large, bright, coiling snake. With Goran Milos, Dean Dematteis, Ruediger Van, Den Boom, Bettina Richards, an animated East German guinea pig, and Finn. 71m.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (***) Seventy-five-year-old Joan Plowright, widow of Laurence Olivier, ireland3087.jpgis the solid center of Dan Ireland’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, in which an elderly widow who moves to London to shabby digs and soon finds herself attended by both a man her owan age (Robert Lang) and one who is much younger (Rupert Friend), who aims to be a writer. (Chat ensues.) Seattle International Film Festival co-founder Ireland’s filmmaking career has zagged more than zigged since his 1996 directorial debut, The Whole Wide World, which was a fine period vehicle for performances by Renee Zellweger and Vincent D’Onofrio. (His 1999 The Velocity of Gary is one of the saddest misfires I’ve ever sat through.) His 2002 Passionada, a middle-aged romance about a besorrowed Portuguese woman, suggests the direction he’s chosen to go here: observant miniaturism. There are sentimental passages, Brief Encounter is invoked, there are a few low jokes, and there are budgetary constraints to this $750,000 feature that lead to distracting confusions of era in manners and ambitions—while modern-day, it’s based on a novel by the late Elizabeth Taylor, written in the 1971 and set in the 1950s. But there are also lingering, trenchant moments that neatly illustrate the varieties of loneliness. It’s also resolutely a film about growing contentedly old. With Anna Massey, Zoe Tapper, Claire Higgins. 108m.

Mountain Patrol: Kekexili (2004, ***1/2) Like a an Anthony Mann Western for both its vast haunting vistas and its elegiac ambiguity, kekexili-134u87.jpgwriter-director Lu Chuan's Mountain Patrol: Kekexili (2004) is a chase thriller that follows a photojournalist on a couple of weeks of traveling with a band of volunteer wardens charged with preventing antelope poaching in the remote reaches of mountainous Tibet, three miles above sea level. Man and nature are equally severe in this telling: morally gripping, quietly contemplative, this is sorrowful, iconic, even masterful filmmaking. (The quicksand scene gave me a couple of bad dreams.) Shot by Cao Yu. In Mandarin and Tibetan. 95m.

Posted by Ray Pride at May 11, 2006 05:52 PM

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