Hank’s recommendations 02/26/13

hank_paperTHIS ONE SHOULD HAVE BEEN AN OSCAR CONTENDER

THE IMPOSTER — I read this story a year or two ago in the New York Times. The multi-festival award-winning documentary derived from that story, with archival footage, current interviews of the real people involved and effective dramatic re-enactments, was released just this month on DVD.

It’s about a 23 year old Frenchman who, in a phone call from a police station in Spain, convinces a grieving family in San Antonio, Texas, that he is their 13-year-old son who disappeared three years ago. Soon he is flown “home” for the long awaited, hope against hope reunion.

The film is also about investigation methods utilized (or not) by family members, the FBI and a canny, down home private detective named Charlie Parker whose independent take on the real identity of the claimant becomes as thrillingly arrived at as the outsider jazz music of his namesake. The detective’s revelatory theorizing even includes a HOMELAND spin on who the subject really might be.

The film starts out fascinatingly and gets better as it goes along, making a 90 degree turn into bigger and more disturbing lie. In effect, this is several movies in one.

There have been several fine films about imposters, including THE GREAT IMPOSTER (with Tony Curtis), Spielberg’s CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, and CATFISH, the documentary from a couple of years ago about an elaborate fake internet identify that lures a group of young college men across country for a surprise encounter with the family that concocted it.

This increasingly gripping documentary plays like the dark side of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

Hank’s Recommendations 01/22/13

hank_paperEND OF WATCH — This movie, the title of which suggests multiple meanings, offers some somber shading of the mainstays of the buddy-cop film. It offsets cliches with fine acting and, at times, riveting suspense.

Jake Gyllenhaal (JARHEAD, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, ZODIAC, OCTOBER SKY) and Michael Pena (TOWER HEIST, THE LINCOLN LAWYER, SHOOTER) show good jocular chemistry as they prowl their beat in the notouriously dangerous South Central district of L.A. On their watch they often watch themselves, playfully and sometimes clandestinely filming their encounters with felons, drug dealers, gang bangers, murderers—as well as those who simply need their help. The playfulness is no doubt compensation for their quite sober and sometimes life-saving professionalism. Whether the camera style is cinema verite or fixed, it doesn’t prevent us (or them) from keeping an out for what’s just around the corner. While not a path breaking film, we’re with these two characters all the way: this is an eminently watchable film.

In the wake (so to speak) of the scandal regarding Notre dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s fake online dead girlfriend, the movie (and subsequent terminology) CATFISH was often mentioned in the news. According to the New York Daily News, the term refers to enchanting someone through the Internet—reeling them in through an escalating torrent of emails and social media messages: in short, “catfishing” is engaging someone in a fake relationship online.

In the spirit of full, enlightened disclosure, here is my review of Catfish.

IMPERSONATION AND OBSESSION:

CATFISH — Web TV, a combination of computer and TV—internet surfing on your TV set—is all the talk these days, at least by manufacturers and programmers looking through rose-tinted glasses (some are no doubt 3-D) at the future embrace of this format. The idea of this combination has at least taken hold in some movies.

The movie Catfish is about a group of young men having fun social networking on Facebook—in this case establishing long distance “friendships” with a precocious twelve year old oil painting prodigy, her mother and much older beautiful sister. Photographs appear on the men’s computer screen, along with many paintings in the mail, and eventually a vicarious sexual relationship develops for one of the guys with the older sister. Until, that is, these computer-savvy guys happen to discover a couple of disturbing anomalies in the women’s ongoing “narrative.” And so they decide to take a cross-country trip to visit the family and see who they really are. It’s here that this combination of the web and TV takes on the gripping drama and suspense, the poignancy and scariness we might associate with many a good mainstream film, providing a cautionary tale for our time, and concluding in ways we don’t anticipate, no matter our filmic or computer savvy. This is an absorbing movie, not simply about Facebook (such as THE SOCIAL NETWORK), but actually utilizing its process on screen to dramatic effect. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is about Facebook. This absorbing movie uses its process as part of its impact.