4 hours ago
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Monday, January 01, 2007
 MAN ON THE BRINK: Hey--New Wave undercover cop drama! Infernal Affairs twenty years ago! Or one half of Infernal Affairs--poor Ah Chui, an undermotivated cop mysteriously picked for undercover duty. (Mysteriously because I found it mysterious that they picked a guy who was shown thinking about quitting the force in a previous scene, and let an old lady get away in the opening scene because he felt bad for her. Wouldn't you want somebody completely committed to police work for your undercover guy?) He doesn't turn out to be a particularly good thug, either--he's not quite brutal enough--but just being with the thugs begins to turn him rotten. He drives his girlfriend away as he gets more casually violent, and then he's fired from the force when he organizes a hit on his ex's new lover's jewelry store and is left a thug in name and in deed. That's just the one-sentence summary, there's a bunch of twists and turns, plus some unfortunate moments of bad comedy and errant sentiment. But overall this is an unusually character-driven film, not an exercise in plot one-upmanship or style like a lot of Hong Kong crime movies. Ah Chui isn't a bastard, but he isn't noble either; he's kind of a cop everyman who gets his girl and eventually his life stolen from him because he's forced to walk between two worlds (there's your title) and in the process of falling between the two and staggering back to his feet he gets run down to nothing. In the end he gets beaten to death by a bunch of vindictive apartment-dwellers after a botched raid, his final words something like "Is this a heroic death?" And the final freeze-frame is a friend of his screaming in rage at his friend's death--a raw ending for a generally raw film, aforementioned tonal lapses aside. A lot of the New Wave was powered by raw anger, wasn't it?
 TRAGEDY OF A RIDICUlOUS MAN: Mild Bertolucci movie about the owner of a failing cheese factory (Ugo Tognazzi) whose son gets kidnapped. Or does he? Doubt begins to creep in about whether the son staged the whole thing to finance his leftist buddies, and when there's a rumor that the son has been killed that's doubtful too. All the owner knows is--if his son is dead, he can reinvest the ransom money back in his factory. His wife (Anouk Aimee--and Bertolucci loves the Anouk Aimee closeup) is of course constantly erring on the side of hope and constantly has to prod her husband into following the ransomer's wisher. And there's two of his son's friends who may be part of the kidnappers, or may be acting in his son's best interests--who can say? Bertolucci makes sure everyone's motivations are muddled or opaque (with the possible exception of Anouk Aimee, who--if she wanted anything other than her son's safe return--I didn't see it) and so when the son turns up alive in the end we have no clarification about the particulars of his kidnapping. All we know is that Ugo Tognazzi's character is one confused, passive-agressive dude. And that's what we're left with, Tognazzi running from the camera like he evaded thinking hard about anything throughout the movie (he's the ridiculous man of the title.) Like I said--it's a mild film about a mild little man that you'll enjoy but not especially rave about. It's, like, the safe artistic foreign movie retired people see at the local arthouse matinee.