Home movies: Demoted, The FP, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Harold and Maude, In Darkness, Miss Minoes, and Thin IceJune 22, 2012
A few recent DVD releases:
Demoted (R, 93 minutes) — Mediocre sub-Office Space comedy that went quietly straight to video after languishing in the vault for a couple of years doesn’t even quite succeed at being offensive, even as it tries to evoke our empathy for a couple of bullying narcissists — Sean Astin and Michael Vartan — who suffer their comeuppance at the hands of a nebbish (David Cross) inexplicably promoted after their Good Time Charlie boss suddenly dies. Sigh. Grade: 75
The FP (R, 93 minutes) — A deranged dance movie set in the future that plays much better than any synopsis is likely to make it sound, but let’s give it a shot anyway: We’ve got two clans fighting for, as narrator James Remar (who was in The Warriors before he was Dexter’s dad) tells us, “dominance over the small town of Frazier Park.” And just how do we settle these turf wars in the future? We dance off to the death. Bizarre and wonderful. Grade: 87
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (R, 83 minutes) — At times charming, at times irritating little slacker comedy about Jeff (a well-cast and invested Jason Segel), a pot-smoking slacker who lives in his widowed mother’s basement and spends most of his time contemplating the metaphysical implications of M. Night Shyamalan movies. Sent on an errand by his long-suffering mother (a luminous Susan Sarandon), Jeff’s path crosses that of his jerkwad brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who’s mired in his own unhappiness.
Written and directed by the brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, Jeff is a delicate little construction that can’t quite bear the philosophical weight it might like to, but it’s a lovely thing nevertheless, and all the actors do fine work. Grade: 88
Harold and Maude (PG, 91 minutes) — The Criterion Collection has just released a Blu-ray edition of Hal Ashby’s classic black rom-com about the peculiar, affecting bond between a suicidal young man (Bud Cort) and a much older woman (Ruth Gordon). The film is sui generis, though highly influential and the Criterion edition is, as you might expect, immaculate. It features a new audio commentary as well as audio excerpts from seminars with Ashby and screenwriter Colin Higgins (both of whom died in 1988) and an essay by critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Grade: 90
In Darkness (R, 145 minutes) — Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Academy Award (it lost out to Iran’s A Separation) is based on the true story of Leopold Socha, a Polish municipal worker who, during World War II, sheltered Jews in the sewer system of German-occupied Lvov. It is an extraordinarily well-made movie, one that manages to effectively convey small truths about the nature of being human. Holland affirms her station as one of our most meticulous and deeply moral storytellers, a worthy heir to the legacy of Polish masters Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Grade: 91
Miss Minoes (Not rated, 86 minutes) — A surprisingly entertaining Dutch live action cartoon about a cat who drinks a mysterious potion and is transformed into the titular Miss Minoes (Carice van Houten) — a human being with the instincts and psychology of a cat. She meets an endearingly shy reporter, Tibbe (Theo Maassen), and the two make common cause. She provides him with intelligence gleaned from her confederates in the cat world. It’s all good-natured goofiness but it’s underpinned by a respect for its presumably juvenile audience and it is strange and well-crafted enough to engage all audiences. Grade: 86
Thin Ice (R, 94 minutes) — The obvious and probably too-easy reference point for Jill (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) Sprecher’s Thin Ice is the Coen brothers’ upper Midwest noir Fargo. But if Sprecher’s movie isn’t quite a classic, it doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as a derivative curiosity either — it’s a diverting black comedy with a very good cast and a feel for the rhythms and vernacular of the flyover North.
The real triumph of the film is its pitch-perfect casting. All the principals and supporting players fit seamlessly into their roles, and the acting is first-rate. Greg Kinnear, particularly, seems born to play Mickey Prohaska, a Kenosha, Wis., insurance agent who has built a kind of career preying on the naive and dimwitted, employing his innate slickness to squeeze through ethical loopholes. (Yes, he’s a distant relation to William H. Macy’s compromised Jerry Lundegaard.) But he’s getting desperate, and he’s looking for a way out — one last con that could set him up and maybe win back the ex-wife (Lea Thompson) he abused financially.
He thinks he finds it in the person of Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), an addled old-timer who has recently inherited an ancient violin that may be worth many thousands. At least that’s what the appraiser (Bob Balaban) thinks. Mickey’s made aware of all this through his straight-arrow subordinate, Bob (David Harbour), who not only writes Gorvy a homeowner’s policy but persuades him to install an alarm system.
Enter Randy (a wonderfully psychotic Billy Crudup), an erratic, ex-con locksmith who also installs alarm systems. Well, you see where this is going. Grade: 88