Home Movies: Israeli film The Debt, Mozart’s Sister, Tiny Furniture and some horror thingies

February 15, 2012

For the past year or so, my Home Movies column has oscillated between this site and the physical newspaper. Well, in the interest of giving your monkey more work, this week we have two editions of Home Movies, this one on the web and another in the newspaper. I don’t know if that’ll be the case every week (actually, I know it won’t) but that’s what we’re doing this week.

The Debt (Not rated, 113 minutes) — The 2007 Israeli film that was remade (not too badly) last years as a star vehicle for Helen Mirren, is a bit rougher and somewhat tougher (and quite a bit less expensive) than its Hollywood counterpart, though the plot remains the same: In 1964, three young Mossad agents capture the “Surgeon of Birkenau,” a monstrous Nazi war criminal, who escapes before being brought to trial. Rather than admit failure, the operatives concict a cover story, and become national heroes. And then, in 1997, the supposedly dead war criminal resurfaces. Some might prefer it to the remake — I’d call it a push. Grade: 87

The Devil’s Rock (Not rated, 83 minutes ) — New Zealand horror film set against the Normandy invasion has two Allied commandos uncovering a secret occult lair where the Nazis are hiding a deadly secret weapon — a she-demon! Actually director Paul Campion is considered a great special effects guy, and if this kind of deliberately trashy film is in your wheelhouse, it’s a pretty good one. Grade: 86

Metal Shifters (PG-13, 87 minutes) — Another pleasantly cheesy Syfy cable flick (formerly known as Iron Invader), that shouldn’t worry Michael Bay, but does feature a very entertaining “Behind the Scenes” feature that suggests stars Kavan Smith and Nicole De Boer wwre actually taking the whole project seriously. Unless, they’re piuttiung us on. Still, it’s hard to dislike this benign, silly movie. Grade: 83

Mozart’s Sister (Not Rated, 120 minutes) — A well-realized, imaginative speculation based on the early life of Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart (played by Marie Féret, daughter of director Rene Féret), the older (by five years) sister of the famous Wolfgang (David Moreau). Nannerl was a musical prodigy in her own right, but her performances were curtailed and her musical education suppressed when her younger brother emerged as a talent. An excellent film that should have seen wider theatrical distribution in the U.S. Grade: 88

Tiny Furniture (Not Rated, 99 minutes) — For cultural and economic reasons, American adolescence now extends into one’s early 30s (and sometimes longer). It is hardly their fault that a lot of professions require you to spend years in pursuit of credentials in order to file papers and check facts. I see underemployed talented young people all the time — some of them can’t hide the hunger in their eyes as they wait for my generation to pull over and let them pass.
Aura — the character played by Lena Dunham in Tiny Furniture, a film she also wrote and directed, which premiered at the Little Rock Film Festival back in 2010 — is typical of this sort of young person. She’s 23 years old, and fresh out of Oberlin with a degree in film theory and a YouTube video that has attracted 357 hits. She has come home to Tribeca, to live with her family — her artist mother Siri (Laurie Simmons, Dunham’s real-life artist mother) and her more glamorous younger sister (Grace Dunham, in fact the writer-director-star’s younger sister).
Siri has achieved a level of fame roughly equivalent with that of Simmons, who along with Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, are key members of the so-called “Pictures Generation” of artists who came of age in the 1970s. Like Simmons, one of Sira’s frequent subjects is doll house furniture.
And so we might assume — I did — that Tiny Furniture is a sort of autobiographical essay about negotiating the limbo of one’s 20s. Or to put it another way, that Dunham is live-blogging her journey. As such, Tiny Furniture is the sort of film that can safely be described as “interesting” — though many moviegoers are likely to have more emphatic reactions. There’s not much of a narrative arc, and while Dunham does seem to take pains to portray herself from unflattering angles, she’s essentially positing herself (and her story) as worthy of our attention. Some people will be put off by what they perceive as the false modesty of the preening auteur.
Others will mistake the film for something brave and new — which it is not. The details Dunham focuses on selectively reveal a not-sospecial character, a culturally alert, bright but snarky intelligence operating from a safely ironic distance. (Dunham isn’t a real loser — she’s an up-and-coming filmmaker.)
Still, I’m inclined to regard the movie favorably, for it’s well-observed and wellmade — it’s everything you want in a movie if you don’t care about being engaged by characters or story. Tiny Furniture is almost an anti-drama in that it seems to purposefully avoid all occasions to gain purchase in our hearts. Probably because it doesn’t want to cheapen itself. In that way it’s kind of a noble thing. Misguided maybe, but noble. Grade: 87

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