a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Midgets, bleeding elephant trunks, armless mothers and me

Because last week's PW issue included only this as far as shameless plugs go, I wasn't too keen on swinging by, especially since I'm still, as it were, blog-blocked. But this week, I have no such excuse. Reviews of The Syrian Bride and The Beauty Academy of Kabul await you, as does, as ever, Rep, which features the source of the elements that so tidily make up the subject title (and accompanying picture): Alejandro Jodorowsky's so, so whack Santa Sangre.

What this plug bouillabaisse doesn't include is a capsule of Down in the Valley, David Jacobson's possibly insane Ed Norton vehicle. Why do I mention this? Only because a tiny mix-up led to me accidentally dashing off a capsule, only to find out that doing so was, well, an accident. (My brilliant colleague Sean Burns wound up writing it as a lead after Brian Grazer and co. decided to only show Da Code That Fictitiously Reveals Catholicism is Bullshit not to snooty American film critics but, rather, to the far more welcoming Cannes crowd.) Anyway, no harm done; when I said "dashed," I meant I churned the review out in record time. Besides, what are blogs for than posting, um, stuff you wrote? Here, then, is the review as it was when I turned it in. The grade, by the way, would be a B+. (At least Burnsy and I agree on Poseidon...almost.) With no more ado:

"Thanks to a third-act switcheroo that’s been less misunderstood than glibly simplified by detractors, David Jacobson’s assured Down in the Valley -- in which modern-day cowboy Edward Norton starts romancing San Fernando teen Evan Rachel Wood, much to the increasingly harried disapproval of prison guard dad David Morse -- has been classified as a “Boyfriend From Hell” pic, putting it in the company of fare as The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female and the ilk. But why stop classifying there? Valley certainly doesn’t. Westerns, ‘50s rebel movies and serial killer biopics can also be detected in Valley’s DNA, with Jacobson -- who last made the surprisingly terrific Dahmer -- mashing them up into something unpredictable, unique and, best of all, hard to pin down.

"In fact, it takes well into the second act to even intuit that any of these movie types will come within a multiplex of Valley, not the least because Jacobson and company are too busy caught up in some of the most palpable delirium this side of last year’s Tropical Malady. Discovered at a gas station, sweetly dopey Norton -- who calls himself a “cowpoke” and refers to his motel room as his “spread” -- accepts a ride from genuinely curious Wood to go to the beach, to which he claims to have never been. A remarkably un-remarked-upon cross-generational romance quickly blooms, and for awhile it’s just the two of them and their cordoned-off paradise, getting high on swoony romanticism. (Let’s just say a sequence where they take Ecstasy comes this close to becoming too wonderful.)

"That questions as to whether he’s benign or not don’t spring to mind till almost the halfway mark owes as much to Jacobson’s smoothly evolving screenplay as to Norton’s delicate, note-perfect performance, which alternately suggests a soothing presence and a man perhaps dangerously in awe of his own self-perpetuating myth. Once the bubble pops and the movie heads into territory nearly unrecognizable from the opening, it’s tempting to think Jacobson, much like his protagonist, has gone off the deep end, no less because his movie kind of has. But while Valley constantly threatens to become less interesting (a quickie explanation of Norton’s psychosis feels thrown in by nervous distributors), its explorations of masculinity and patriarchy only become more intriguing. Thanks to Norton and an equally brilliant Morse, this may be the only “[Blank] From Hell” movie where it’s possible the “[Blank]” is a less contaminating force than the ostensible hero."

I neglected to mention The Talented Culkin, who, as noted elsewhere, is quite fawesome. Sorry 'bout that; space reasons, ya know?

Btw: Motherfucker's at Cannes.


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