Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now showing at home: TETRO (R) 2009

Starring: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Maribel Verdu, Klaus Maria Brandauer

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Genre: Drama

Tetro is a grand spectacle of a movie, masquerading as a small film in the early going.

18 year old Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) looks up his estranged brother, Tetro, (Vincent Gallo) in Buenos Aires. Tetro, a once promising writer who hasn't lived up to his potential, has distanced himself from the family--for reasons that ostensibly have to do with their famous composer-conductor father--who is something of an amoral sh*t--and a tragic accident involving Tetro's mother. Bennie gets a tepid reception from his brother, but a hospitable welcome from Tetro's common law wife, Miranda, (Maribel Verdu) who was once the older brother's psychotherapist. Tetro is a haunted soul--a loose cannon ready to explode at the drop of a hat--and he freely takes his frustrations out on others, especially Bennie. When Bennie discovers an unfinished play Tetro has written, and has no intention of finishing, he surreptitiously tacks on his own ending and submits the play to a prestigious local festival.

Tetro, a vaguely autobiographical work from director Francis Ford Copolla, (his dad WAS a famous composer) slowly builds the tension between the brothers as Bennie attempts to rescue Tetro--flailing and kicking all the way-- from pissing away any more of his unrealized life. Is blood thicker than urine? That's the question to be answered as Tetro takes some fascinating detours into the world of quirky amateur theatre along the way. (And there's just enough nudity to keep those of us who get disappointed without some baring of the body along with the soul, engrossed.)

There are echoes of Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces here, and not solely because of the unexpected climax you won't see coming.

Vincent Gallo is effective as the loose cannon. You just have to look at him--whether he's in character or not--and something shouts PERSONALITY DISORDER at you.

And while Alden Ehrenreich is a newcomer, there's this deja vu feeling that we've seen him before, as he evokes a younger Matt Damon.

A haunting accordion/guitar flavored score from Osvaldo Golijov that senses just the right moments to fall in on, perfectly complements the rich visual feast that is Tetro.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Stars: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac

Director: Vincenzo Natali

Genre: Sci-fi thriller

A mad scientist with too much time on his hands will eventually get around to creating Frankenstein. That's the premise of Splice, an independent Canadian production from Cube (1997) director Vincenzo Natali.

In this instance we have a couple, Clive and Elsa, (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) geneticists who don't seem to realize that they are mad--they just go about their gig of creating new animal life forms by splicing different genes together in service of the giant pharmaceutical company they work for--which, of course, only cares about making money off of their research.

Then one day Elsa decides WHAT THE HELL...let's mix a little human DNA in there, put it in the blender and see what comes out! What comes out is this blob that immediately starts bouncing off the walls and knocking crap over in the laboratory. Clive's impulse is to destroy it--but it's got an oversize chipmunk kind of head and Elsa thinks it's cute. (It's also female, and gals gotta stick together, right?)

Their "experiment," which Elsa has named Dren, ages more rapidly than normal. Dren (Delphine Chaneac) soon begins looking kind of pretty--sort of like a teenage Sinead O'Connor with kangaroo-ish legs and a tail. She also has the ability to sprout wings. Throughout, Clive and Elsa struggle with the moral implications of allowing Dren to survive--because, for one thing, they have to keep her under wraps. And when she gets cranky, it's not a pretty sight. A woman with raging hormones is one thing, but a woman with raging hormones and a stinger tail that can zap you and do you in is something else altogether!

I found Splice to be an uncomfortable, yet morbidly fascinating film to watch. A movie that keeps upping the ante in its bizarreness. To illustrate--and I don't think I'm giving too much of the plot away here because it's out of context--both Clive and Elsa will have sex with Dren (one consensual, one non-consensual) before Splice proceeds to its ominous-implications-for-the-world conclusion.

As for the performances, you've got two reputable actors in Brody and Polley, but they both seem to be taking the whole thing a bit too much in stride--not nearly as freaked out as you might expect people to be in Clive and Elsa's situation. Or maybe it's just because they're jaded scientists who've been playing God for too long.

You can make of Splice what you will, but for me it's ultimately about the amorality of the scientific community--which is filled with sociopaths when it comes to those who experiment on living creatures--believing that the end always justifies the means, no matter what lengths it drives them to.