The guys behind Shaun of the Dead stumble a bit with their buddy-cop comedy. Jindabyne is depressingly well done. And the Shins take to the road.
The April movie I was most looking forward to was Hot Fuzz. Now that I've seen it, I have to be honest: I was disappointed.
Hot Fuzz (Rogue Pictures)
Shaun of the Dead worked first and foremost as a great story. It was scary and funny and surprisingly touching and moving, but despite its sly spoofing of zombie and romantic-comedy conventions, it worked perfectly for its genre(s). Hot Fuzz is funny and clever and enjoyable, but to my mind it’s too much send-up and not enough great narrative. In a 90-minute romp, those problems don’t detract as much because the ride is quick enough, but here the long, overly complicated story doesn’t feed enough power to the humor’s engine, and instead the Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg team mostly wink at the buddy-cop clichés, which gets old when you like the actors more than the roles that they’re playing. Hot Fuzz is never better than when pushing the unspoken homoerotic love affair between male partners that Hollywood movies simply deny, and overall this is a fun, overlong comedy. But I worry that Shaun was a fluke as opposed to a sign of great things to come.
Jindabyne (Sony Pictures Classics)
When Robert Altman took a bunch of Raymond Carver short stories and transplanted them to Los Angeles, the complaint was that Carver's Pacific Northwest milieu couldn't be so easily forced into some other locale. Short Cuts proved the whiners wrong, and now Ray Lawrence goes even further, taking Carver's story about four fishermen and a dead woman all the way to Australia. Lawrence uses that central incident when the men find the corpse and decide to keep on fishing and expands upon it, making it the prism for discussions about sexism, racism, mortality, alcoholism, in-laws, depression, and what it feels like to be trapped in a terrible marriage. Jindabyne can be darkly funny, but it's mostly dreary and hard. Thank god Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney are so good; their warring married couple is so miserable that it takes great acting ability to keep you from walking out on them. Lawrence pushes too hard for his dramatic effects sometimes – enough with the disembodied a cappella chanting – but you have to admire how he takes one corpse and very methodically destroys an entire community with it. And Linney is just terrific. Her emotionally unstable woman is, ironically, the only person in the film with a conscience, and yet she never lets you forget that she's also the character most destroyed by what happens.
Red Road (Tartan)
Writer-director Andrea Arnold’s drama improves upon The Lives of Others’ precious symbolism by turning government surveillance into a flattened daily drudgery that’s as inescapable as commuter traffic or Shrek the Third. And with the help of actress Kate Dickie, she constructs a tense, sad thriller that spends a great amount of time setting up its lonely main character and hinting at the reasons for her interest in one of the men she sees on the televisions of her surveillance job. It all leads to one of the most startling sexual encounters in recent cinema – it’s a real knockout. But then Red Road starts explaining itself and you’re reminded that, while you love the idea of Dogme filmmaking, one of its biggest deficiencies is turning stunning drama into lame melodrama where everybody starts crying about their long-buried pain to other characters. Recommended for sure, but watch out for that soap-opera third act.
The Shins (Live at the Orpheum, Sunday, April 15)
Before this tour began, James Mercer promised a more dynamic live presence, something I hardly needed since the Chutes Too Narrow tour was absolutely stellar, taking their already strong melodic appeal and increasing the volume and urgency. This one wasn’t better but it was bigger. Mostly, I was impressed by how Mercer successfully fiddled with the older material: “Caring Is Creepy” became a folk ballad, “New Slang” a walk on the moon. And while I’m more convinced than ever that Chutes is album-of-the-decade material – my apologies to those sitting around me who had to hear me belt out the lyrics to “Kissing the Lipless” and “So Says I” – Mercer got me to reevaluate Wincing the Night Away, a good set of songs that doesn’t collectively bowl me over. Having the chance to hear many of its tracks live, I still think that if we lived in the vinyl era, most of us would just stick with its Side A. But I undervalued Wincing’s ability to reach beyond Mercer’s navel to gaze at the people around him, a sign of growth. Also a sign of growth: the brilliant segue from “Turn on Me” into Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” which hopefully points to Mercer’s musical ambitions and nocturnal anxieties and hopefully doesn’t mean he’s going to go concept-album on us the next time out.
Viva Voce (Live at the Orpheum, Sunday, April 15)
A married couple playing primitive two-piece rock & roll, Kevin and Anita Robinson are probably tired of fighting the White Stripes comparisons by this point. But with him on drums and her on guitar, they provided the necessary opening-act thunder: They kept your attention and didn’t overstay their welcome too terribly. From our 45-minute encounter, I deduced that Kevin’s a bit of a dork and Anita’s probably too good for him – musically, that is. Lyrics, I couldn’t say, but they go a long way with thrash and propulsion, a perfect counterpart to the Shins, who are all eloquence. Later checking their albums, I found a track title that sums them up nicely: “We Do Not Fuck Around.”
Clinic, Visitations (Domino Records)
They’re not getting any sunnier, but they’re not just doing the same old same old, either. Now that their buzz moment is over, this Liverpool quartet don’t worry about trying to change styles, and they don't get pissy about their lack of crossover success. Visitations is hardly a breakthrough, but it’s the kind of album that suggest the band’s longevity and its ability to keep mining its sound with endless energy. Very few of the songs stand out, but they don’t recede either – they’re antagonistic and spiky in their modest way.
Consumables is a regular overview of popular culture.