out and falling apart: (center, right) Auteuil and Binoche
in Plain Sight
by Michael Haneke
Filmmaker Michael Haneke is a real son of a bitch.
This is meant as a compliment. His last film, The Piano
Teacher, was stunning, and featured a brilliant performance
by Isabelle Huppert; it also happened to be one of the creepiest
films of the last decade. Haneke was not interested in making
the title character, a borderline psychotic, sympathetic—but
he also wasn’t going to throw the audience a bone by giving
them a second character they could identify with. Huppert’s
piano teacher was all there was. Not even David Lynch has
anything on Haneke, primarily because the Austrian-born writer-director
is way ahead of the quirky American when it comes to realistic
Take his latest film, Caché. It’s an unnerving thriller
with a middle-class domestic setting, and keeps you at the
edge of your seat with each turn of the screw. The complex
story is made deeper, and more meaningful, with its nuanced
use of France’s tortured history with Algeria. And yet, when
the mystery is revealed in the last, long shot in the film—and
yes, you have to be patient and watch closely—the kick isn’t
in the revelation of “whodunit.” The shock is that we, the
audience, couldn’t see it coming from, oh, miles and miles
Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche play a happily married
couple (Georges and Anne) with a likeable, bushy-haired son
(Lester Makedonsky as Pierrot) and busy careers. Georges is
a public TV bookchat host; Anne’s in publishing. One day a
videocassette appears on their doorstep; it’s two hours of
a stationary shot of the front of their house. They accept
it as a prank, until more tapes of their daily lives arrive,
accompanied by violent, childlike drawings.
Not surprisingly, the pair start to unravel. It’s said you
never know someone until they go through a crisis, and Georges
and Anne make some very unhappy discoveries about each other.
Georges, it seems, is not only capable of telling lies, he’s
an unapologetic liar. (Auteuil emphasizes just how scarily
diffident Georges is.) Anne is also surprised to learn that
his reserves of human sympathy aren’t very extensive.
The cinematic style is appropriately austere, with one periodic,
showy flourish. Haneke repeatedly plays “gotcha” with the
audience by not letting on that what’s being shown on screen
is actually of one of the tapes, until Anne or Georges hit
the rewind button and the entire image scrunches up and goes
in reverse. It’s part of his misdirection—we’re scanning each
shot so closely that we’re not paying proper attention to
what’s really going on.
This makes Caché Hitchcockian in its intent, though
a little more like Brecht in its execution. While you may
feel like you’ve been had as you watch that last shot go on
and on, at least comfort yourself with the idea that you’ve
been had by one of the best.
by Wayne Kramer
Much as The Cooler was about dice, Running Scared—also
written and directed Wayne Kramer—is about a gun. Specifically,
a stainless steel .38 that’s used to kill a cop in the flashily
violent opening sequence. But whereas The Cooler was
about something—a walking, talking bad-luck streak played
with wit and warmth by William H. Macy—Running Scared
is just an appalling exercise in tough-guy moviemaking. The
film’s supposed heart of goodness (a subtext that was carried
through to a joyous conclusion in The Cooler) is just
a cheap excuse for Kramer’s gratuitous, blood-soaked wallow
in the sick underbelly of inner-city life.
While the gun is being stashed by Joey (Paul Walker), a bottom-rung
mobster in New Jersey, it is stolen by his son Nicky’s (Alex
Neuberger) best friend, neighbor boy Oleg (Cameron Bright),
who uses it to kill his abusive stepfather. If Joey doesn’t
retrieve the gun, which can implicate his fellow mobsters
in the cop killing, he will be iced. And so he sets out on
an insanely frenzied chase for the wayward gun, with his uncooperative
son in the passenger seat. Through an absurd chain of events,
the gun passes through the hands of a crack dealer, a hooker,
a janitor, a pimp, and eventually, Joey’s wife, Teresa (Vera
Farmiga). Along the way, it’s instrumental in all kinds of
sickening, horror-movie gore, most of it witnessed by either
Nicky or Oleg. Kramer’s use of the two boys to highlight the
film’s ruthless depravity is inexcusable.
It’s as if the director wants to up the ante on Reservoir
Dogs, Training Day, and Lord of War all
at once—and without a single reason for doing so. Certainly
the character of Joey isn’t a reason. He’s just a mindless
pawn in the merger between his mob boss and a Russian crimelord,
and he frightens his own son and dismays his decent wife,
who has no discernable motive for being married to him. But
because Joey’s got nerves of steel in the face of his stupidly
murderous cohorts, and because he draws the line at killing
kids, we’re supposed to root for him (an idea made even more
ludicrous by Walker’s cheesy Jersey accent). Meanwhile, a
crooked detective (Chazz Palminteri) complicates the chase
by trying to blackmail the mobsters about the cop killing.
Oh, and even seemingly innocent bystanders turn out to be
The jittery camera work, set against a boringly murky palette
of bruised blues and browns, makes Running Scared even
more of a chore to watch (especially in contrast to The
Cooler’s stylish snap), and the senseless twist ending
is a poor reward for sitting through it. This hugely disappointing
follow-up puts Kramer on a steep losing streak.
by Frank Passingham, Dave Borthwick and Jean Duval
I’ve said it before, but beware the film that boasts too many
screenwriters, or, in the case of Doogal, directors.
Perhaps one of the weirdest concoctions to claim the ticket
money of hard-working families in this generation, Doogal
is the tale of a candy-loving dog (voiced by Keenan Thompson)
who must join forces with Ermintrude the cow (Whoopi Goldberg),
Dylan the rabbit (Jimmy Fallon), and Brian the snail (William
H. Macy), to save the world from being iced over by an evil
spring named Zeebad (Jon Stewart). An evil spring?
A plucky snail? Who’s in love with a singing cow? With a script
that exists mainly to support, however slimly, a series of
fart jokes, and animation that seems more mechanical than
magical, Doogal could better be served up as part of
an anti-drug campaign, for surely the people who came up with
this entire concept must have been high on something.
The most favorable thing that can be said about Doogal
is, of course, a backhanded compliment: that Dame Judi Dench,
as the narrator, was not nominated by the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences for anything to do with this picture.
This is, indeed, a rare accomplishment.