Well, it’s been a busy week and half for me, but I did manage to see two films in the meantime (hopefully I will have time to see Irreversible
and The Hulk
this weekend), so here are my short takes on the two films, in the order that I saw them:
(d. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)
An interesting, metaphysically tinged Spanish thriller (though large parts of it are in English, and one of it’s stars is Max Von Sydow) which imagines a world where luck is less an ephemeral belief or statistical probability, and more a commodity that can literally be won or lost. However, in this world, a surfeit of luck is, ironically, not all it’s cracked up to be; as one person’s luck goes up, others, usually surrounding loved ones, goes down, often with horrible results. The luckier you are, the more you seem to syphon luck away from others, almost vampirically (a metaphor perhaps aided by the fact that when one person who possesses more luck touches one who has less, the later is “jinxed” and loses all of their luck to the former; when Sam takes away his protégé Frederico’s luck, there’s almost an erotic charge to the event): Tomas survives a plain crash that kills everyone else on board; Federico survived an earthquake that killed his entire family; Sara’s husband and young daughter were killed in a car crash, which spared her; while Sam (Max Von Sydow) the so-called “luckiest man in the world,” was a Jew, and the last survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. Devoid of all real contact with other people, the luckiest seem to exist in a gray zone, with only empty material comforts. Sam lives in a decadent casino, filled with people, but the casino is in the middle of nowhere, and Sam himself, seems to exist in the shadows and neon lights of the casino’s underground labyrinth of hallways and chambers, forever alone. Despair and survivor’s guilt hangs over many of the character’s heads, especially the two characters in the film that are posited as the “luckiest” of all, Sam and Sara (Luck is also visualized throughout the film, by such visual metaphors as forks in the road, or narratively by the emphasis on gambling and actuarial science).
Since luck is presented in the film as some sort of commodity, a secret subculture of gamblers has grown up around it. Taking place in back rooms and alleyways, the lucky participate in bizarre games where skill is no consequence, and luck is all that matters (characters sit in a room with treacled hair, and then a insect is released, whoever it lands upon is the winner; later, characters run full speed through a forest while wearing blindfolds, the last one standing being the winner). Though the players pay at first for riches, the truly professional players play for one thing, the luck of others, represented by a picture of a person, hoping to get a shot at the ultimate game: going to the casino in Uranca to play against Sam (of course the game is Russian Roulette, though in this version, five of the six chambers of the revolver are filled with bullets). It’s this underground syndicate that fuels the plot. Tomas is a bank robber who survives a plane crash; he’s recruited by Frederico, who, having lost his own luck to Sam, has become something of a manager to other players (his earlier find killed himself running blindfolded across a busy highway as a test of his luck). Tomas, having escaped police custody with the help of Frederico, is being pursued by the policewoman Sara, who in turn, is guided through the underworld of the lucky by an ex-matador who lost his house to Tomas and Frederico. Frederico believes that Tomas is a contender for the luckiest man in the world, and gambles a picture of his beloved Ana without the increasingly cocky Tomas’s knowledge. However, he then proceeds to lose his next contest to the ex-matador, who is given his own shot at Sam (when he loses his game of Russian Roulette, Ana loses too, she’s accidentally shot by her police escort in a freak accident). When Tomas’s learns of Frederico’s duplicity, they go to Uranca to play Sam, even though Tomas is a loser; Sam agrees to play Tomas because he has never met a person who plays out of love. Sara follows Tomas to Uranca, which participates a showdown between the two “luckiest” individuals, a blood bath ensues which liberates Sam from his burden, and which allows Sara to assuage her guilt by replaying the key event of her life as she is about to die. Tomas escapes, by default, the “luckiest” person in the world, but he is literally cast out, as he ends the film wandering alone in the desert.
(d. Ron Shelton)
I really like the films of Ron Shelton, and since I missed his earlier 2003 film, Dark Blue
, I wasn’t going to miss this one (especially since it was playing at the downtown theater for $3 a pop). A mismatched buddy-cop movie starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett, as well as pretty interesting cast of character actors: Bruce Greenwood, Keith David, Lena Olin, Lolita Davidovich, Lou Diamond Phillips, Martin Landau, Master P, Dwight Yoakam (who once again proves he can play bad really good), Gladys Knight, and Isaiah Washington. The plot (which is about the investigation of the onstage murder of a rap group by a Suge Knight-esque rap mogul who employs crooked LAPD officers as security) is more or less of an excuse for a series of scenes featuring Shelton’s trademark colorful characters interacting in a series of often funny vignettes. Harrison Ford is the gruff experienced cop, who, with three ex-wives and two kids to put through college has turned to real estate to make some money (most of the movie he’s trying to unload a hideously kitschy neo-classical house on Mt. Olympus, or brokering a deal between a down on his luck movie producer, played by Martin Landau, and a rising young nightclub owner looking for class, played by Master P; Hartnett is the rookie cop who has aspirations of acting in the movies, and who is also a part time yoga instructor (basically to meet women). Also, his father, also a cop, was killed in the line of duty.
I found the film to be very funny, though not Bull Durham
funny. It’s refreshingly cynical, as police corruption is pretty much taken for granted, and the hero’s real estate dealings seem inappropriate, at best. Ford turns in one of his best performances in a long time, and he’s well served by Shelton, who continues to excel at the depiction of adult sexuality (Ford is seeing a radio psychic named Ruby, played by Lena Olin), creating, perhaps 2003’s most indelible movie image: Harrison Ford getting down with Lena Olin while wearing aviator sunglasses and eating a donut. It’s both quite funny and sexy. Lena Olin has always turned my crank, especially now after her stint on Alias
; Ford, on the other hand, seems to have lost his spark in many of his recent roles, just look at his recent romantic comedies like Six Days, Seven Nights
, or his recent, and rather boring, action roles. I think you’ve got to credit Shelton for bringing out the playful side of Harrison Ford.