Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On-Demand debuts: KREUTZER SONATA, LIFE IN FLIGHT; encore for Chaos, Answer

Keeping up with On-Demand debuts is a tricky task: Which films to try? Which to pass by? It's a crap shoot, even for someone like me, who watches a lot of movies. Thanks to IFC's various On-
Demand programs, including its Festi-
val Direct (small films of differing merit that made a splash at a fest or two but wouldn't otherwise find re-
lease), the pickings are getting better.

Two very different "love" stories have recently appeared On-Demand: THE KREUTZER SONATA and LIFE IN FLIGHT. The first, directed and co-written (with Lisa Enos -- from a Tolstoi novel) by Bernard Rose, tracks the journey of a jealous husband; the latter, the first film from newcomer/former designer Tracey Hecht, follows a young husband/father as his life takes a new direction. Neither sets the film world aflame but both have a number of good things to recommend.

The Kreutzer Sonata
leaves all credit information, save its title, to the end of the movie, a fact I was grateful for when I finished. Had I know that Mr. Rose directed it, I probably would have passed on the opportunity to view. Yet it is my favorite of his films I've seen so far -- which I suppose, is not saying all that much: Paperhouse, Candyman, Immortal Beloved and Anna Karenina. This one, shot on what seems a very tight budget, uses a hand-held camera and snappy editing to capture two good performances from its stars Danny Huston (shown above) and Elisabeth Röhm (shown below).

Huston is always good; his kind of creepy charisma has held together some pretty "iffy" movies, and this one is no exception. Approaching 50, the actor is in great physical shape and can handle a nude sex scene with the best of them. He is also as good as it gets in terms of offering that special kind of menace that tries so hard not to be menacing. The guy can't help it. Ms Röhm, on the other hand, is a fine foil: light, lithe, open, and - whew! -- gorgeous! Unless you're somewhat prudish, you should enjoy their many nude romps. But as the movie moves along, because its subject is jealousy, it simply goes where this theme leads without any surprises, and with, alas, Mr. Rose's penchant for the florid. This guy can't help it, either. And for me, at least, his excess ends up lessening all of his films.

Life in Flight, on the other hand, is anything but florid. It moves along quietly and rather lovingly, telling its story of a successful New York architect and family man, played with a fine intelligence and concern by the consis-
tently savvy Patrick Wilson (right) -- the current go-to guy for roles that call for a smart and decent "hunk." Wilson's character is married to a pushy "striver" (played well by Amy Smart), and along the way he comes into professional contact with a young woman (Lynn Collins), who opens his eyes and heart. That's it. And, as movie plots go, it is not one that offers anything new or particularly noteworthy.

"Flight" is slight -- you needn't look to it for originality or surprise -- but there are three good perfor-
mances here, and director/writer Hecht has made an OK debut, learning her way around a camera, editing, dialog and the lot. For me, the only surprise, was, as usual, Ms. Collins (shown, left)-- whom I never seem to recog-
nize until the movie is over. It's not that this actress looks so entirely different from role to role, but she manages to imbue her characters with such differing feelings, attitudes and, well, "character" that, even visually, each stands quite apart from the next. I find her one of the more versatile actresses currently working, but in the sort of subtle manner that perhaps doesn't get the recognition it should. (It doesn't take playing a serial killer or a saint to bring out Collins' talent; she turns ordinary characters into something special.) If you don't know this actress' work, start with The Merchant of Venice, then move on to Bug, The Lake House, The Dog Problem (an underseen gem), The Number 23 and Towelhead -- and you'll understand. Some of these films are not that edifying, but Ms. Collins' performances certainly are.


Another good thing about On-Demand is that, if you happen to have seen a film in a theater but want to view it again, quickly, rather than months later, when it finally appears on DVD, On-Demand gives you the chance (at less than half the cost and time of a theatrical outing -- plus you can track back for that line or two of dialog you didn't get). I recently had the opportunity to see again two films that I quite liked but wanted to share with my companion: Quiet Chaos and The Answer Man. While he enjoyed both (well, sort of), he was not as impressed as I, who found them, particularly the former, every bit as good upon that second look. And so I commend them to your attention once again.

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