Mini Reviews (October 2007)
Whisper, Open Window, The Mad Fox, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
Whisper (October 2/07)
Whisper has the misfortune of arriving on the tail-end of the recent demonic-kid craze, following the lackluster Omen remake and George Ratliff's creepy Joshua. Familiarity proves to be the least of Whisper's problems, however, as the movie - saddled with an egregiously slow pace and an almost overwhelming vibe of claustrophobia - remains curiously uninvolving for the duration of its running time (the performances are effective, at least). Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies star as Max and Roxanne, a financially-strapped couple who agree to participate in the kidnapping of a wealthy young boy (Blake Woodruff's David) - though it's not long before the pair discover that little David isn't quite as innocent as he appears (particularly as he starts playing his captors against each other and saying things like "you couldn't kill me; you don't have it in you!") It's an intriguing premise that's increasingly squandered as the movie progresses, with the initial vibe of creepiness slowly-but-surely replaced by one of overt silliness (the overblown finale certainly doesn't help matters). And while Holloway is essentially playing a variation on his Lost character - ie the thug-with-a-heart-of-gold type - the actor proves to be a charismatic and engaging leading man (Joel Edgerton and Michael Rooker offer strong support as Max and Roxanne's doomed cohorts). The bottom line is that although Whisper generally remains a cut above the majority of its straight-to-video brethren (ie it's not terrible, exactly), it's ultimately not difficult to see why the movie is forgoing a theatrical release.
While there are certainly plenty of components within Open Window worth admiring - Robin Tunney's superb performance, for one - the film is ultimately undone by writer/director Mia Goldman's reliance on elements of an increasingly overwrought and flat-out silly nature. Tunney stars as Izzy, a photographer whose relationship with her fiancee (Joel Edgerton's Peter) is severely tested after she's violently raped by a nameless stranger (Matt Keeslar). There's little doubt that, armed with such a premise, one would expect Open Window to primarily come off as a searing, emotionally draining drama - which it sporadically does, admittedly (particularly in sequences revolving around Izzy's efforts at coping with what happened to her). The creeping inclusion of several less-than-enthralling subplots and characters effectively undermines the the film's various strengths, with the casting of Cybill Shepherd as Izzy's self-absorbed, controlling mother surely the most apt example of this. The strangely aimless third act - coupled with Izzy's increasingly irrational behavior - ensures that the movie finally feels like a short that's unnaturally been expanded to feature length (a fake break-up? Really?), which is too bad considering the strength of Tunney's work here.
The Mad Fox (October 25/07)
Though filmmaker Tomu Uchida has certainly infused The Mad Fox with a vivid and thoroughly original visual sensibility, the director's disdain for conventional elements ultimately transforms the movie into a meaningless, utterly inscrutable piece of work. Yoshikata Yoda's mind-bogglingly off-the-wall screenplay certainly plays a key role in the film's downfall, as the scripter fails to include any components designed to draw the viewer in and subsequently hold their interest (ie compelling characters, an interesting story, etc, etc). The movie, which is so over-the-top it's almost campy, boasts a storyline that evidently requires around a dozen viewings before it becomes coherent, although - far as I can tell - it has something to do with an ancient fortune teller who unwittingly participates in a murder and eventually falls in love with a fox disguised as his dead girlfriend. The Mad Fox is initially kind of entertaining in a trashy, soap opera-esque sort of way, with the broad performances and laughably on-the-nose bits of dialogue certainly cementing this feeling. But there reaches a point at which the movie just goes off the rails in terms of strangeness; Uchida throws anything even resembling logic out the window and begins offering up increasingly oddball elements - including musical numbers and animated sequences - before the entire thing transforms into a filmed play (literally!) that even Max Fischer would find overwrought. One ultimately can't help but wonder if The Mad Fox is indicative of Uchida's other efforts, as the film is nothing short of a total mess (a handsome-looking mess, admittedly, but a mess nonetheless).
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (October 31/07)
A typically bleak and slow-paced kitchen-sink drama, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days follows a college student as she helps a pregnant friend prepare for (and undergo) an illegal abortion in late '80s Romania. Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu has infused the proceedings with a deliberate, exceedingly low-key sensibility that admittedly suits the material quite well, though his penchant for capturing the minute details of his subjects' lives eventually lends the movie a decidedly oppressive quality. Mungiu's use of long, unbroken takes in which nothing of much importance happens only exacerbates this feeling, with an interminable shot at a family dinner certainly the most obvious example of this. And yet there's no denying that the film sporadically packs a fairly substantial punch; the authenticity that's been hard-wired into 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days certainly ensures that there's something strangely fascinating about the whole thing, albeit in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way. It's also worth noting that the movie is often more successful as a look at life within a communist country, as Mungiu offers up a vivid portrayal of Romania's crumbling infrastructure (ie everything seems to be a struggle, from renting a hotel room to buying a pack of cigarettes). Ultimately, there's no getting around the feeling that the film's shocking subject matter is meant to sustain it - as it's clear that, despite its various positive attributes, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days probably would've worked better as a short.