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Monday, July 20, 2009

WHATEVER WORKS AND WHATEVER DOESN'T: Reviews of Whatever Works and Surveillance

Whatever Works is the latest film (though it was written something like forty years ago) from the near legendary writer/director Woody Allen; i.e., screenwriters, never throw out your old scripts, you never know when they might come in handy. I went with a friend who pretty much summarized my feeling for the movie when she said, “I didn’t like it, but I didn’t hate it”. There’s probably no way I can improve on that. Though the movie doesn’t really work, by the time it’s all over, one actually is moved by the all these different people finding love and relationships that actually work for them. The central problem I had is Larry David who at first would seem the perfect person to cast as a misanthrope. But he tends to say all his lines on the same yelling, boisterous level that he becomes tiring and actually misses most of the comedy (it was originally written for Zero Mostel and you can almost hear these lines drip off his tart tongue). The rest of the cast are perfectly fine, but the story never really comes alive until Ed Begley, Jr. shows up and gives the bravura performance. Here Allen does something I never thought I’d see him do: give a sympathetic portrait of a gay man (though he’s still a bit too squeamish to actually have them kiss).

Surveillance was written by Keith Harper and co-written by director Jennifer Chambers Lynch (who is David Lynch’s daughter—there, I said it, now we don’t have to refer to it again, because it really should be irrelevant). It’s about two FBI agents called to a small town that is the victim of a serial killer. It’s a first script by Harper, who also plays a policeman in the movie. The movie has one incredible sequence when two sadistic cops, who tend to stop miscellaneous out of town drivers and psychologically fuck with them, target two cars, one with a family and one with two hopped up druggies, and then everyone is attacked by two serial killers. This sequence shows what the movie could have been, but wasn’t. Bill Pullman, one of the agents, has his partner Julia Ormond set up three rooms with three video cameras so three witnesses can be interrogated at once. One would think that such a set up would cut the time in telling the story by a third—one would be wrong. Everything slows to a crawl and it takes forever to get the full plot. The big twist, though it makes enough acceptable sense, is silly. The climax isn’t helped by a poor performance by Bill Pullman and an evil lesbian straight out of the 1970’s (note to Harper and Lynch, even Woody Allen isn’t this stuck in the past and his script is 40 years old).

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