Saturday, September 11, 2010

Timer (2009) ****

The cool thing about “Timer” is that it doesn’t look like Science-Fiction, but it is. My definition of Sci-Fi is that the writer comes up with a single, central technological reality that might exist in the future, and the story should just unfold naturally from there. In good Sci-Fi, everything that happens should feel like a natural consequence of that technological conceit. Good Science -Fiction is always posing the question, “What would happen if…?” What would happen if aliens landed? What would happen if an alien got lost and some kids found it? What would happen if there were manufactured humans with a limited life-span who weren’t allowed on earth. What if mankind abandoned Earth to live in a giant spaceship while cute little robots cleaned up our Earthly messes? And so on.

The question posed by “Timer” is, “What if you could know years ahead of time the exact moment you were going to meet your One True Love?” Dating would be unnecessary, which would either remove a lot of the pain from life or remove a lot of the excitement, depending on your attitude. If you did date, then it could just be for fun and sex, but every relationship would feel poisoned from the start. This kind of knowledge might free your energies for other pursuits or it could be really depressing. The timer in this movie is a device that gets attached to your wrist sometime after puberty. It analyzes hormones, DNA, etc. and establishes a long-distance link with whomever you are destined to be with, and both timers then count down to the predicted moment of your meeting. This only works if the other person has a timer, too, which most people in the free world do in this movie. Most people are walking around with timers counting down to a point 6 months, a year, maybe 5 years in the future when they will finally meet their True Love. Oona (Emma Caulfield) has had a blank timer since the age of thirteen, which means that her intended, if he (or she) exists, is wandering around out there without a timer. Naturally, she only dates men without timers, and only until she convinces them to get a timer implanted, and each time she is disappointed when her timer doesn’t sync up with theirs. Oona’s desperation is matched only by the despair of her sister Steph (Michelle Borth). Steph’s timer is running, but it says she won’t find true love until some time in her late forties. Her reaction is to pursue a series of one-night stands, and only with men who have timers, since that eliminates any pressure. The obvious narrative outcome here is that Oona finds herself falling for a guy with a timer while Steph breaks her rule and gets interested in a man without one. Hilarity and drama ensue.

We heard about “Timer” due to its excellent reception at the Tribeca Film Festival. It feels like a film festival movie, meaning it doesn’t have big stars in it, and it doesn’t feel dumbed down. It’s a little bit of a chick-flick, but it’s a sci-fi chick-flick, which is a rare animal. The acting is excellent, the babes are hot, and it’s a completely entertaining little romantic dramedy.

4 stars.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Hannie Caulder (1971) ***

There really isn’t much to say about “Hannie Caulder.” Raquel Welch plays Hannie, a gal out for revenge after three low-lifes murder her husband and rape her. She gets a badass bounty hunter (Robert Culp) to teach her the way of the gun, then she gets that revenge, all while looking fabulous.

As revenge westerns go, this is just alright. Robert Culp’s bounty hunter is a pretty cool character, and Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, and Strother Martin are darkly hilarious as the evil Clemens brothers. The movie might have been better if they had gotten a better actress than Raquel Welch, but it wouldn’t have looked nearly as good.

I guess I might be more enthusiastic about “Hannie Caulder” if I weren’t a little burned out on a certain brand of movie gun fighting, which is by no means limited to westerns. I’m sick of seeing people run around with their finger on their trigger, sick of people getting ten shots out of a six-shooter, and sick of people in gunfights waiting for the other guy to draw first, as if that provides some sort of strategic advantage. I will say that Robert Culp’s character tries to give Hannie some actual useful advice, but in the end she doesn’t really follow any of it. Oh well, it’s a fairly fun, stylized movie, and they could have done a lot worse.

3 stars

Sunday, September 05, 2010

La Dolce Vita (1960) ****1/2

Italian for “The Sweet Life,” this film is ironically titled. It is basically the story of a guy in a mid-life crisis. He has a cush, easy life, but he doesn’t consider it sweet. Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni) is a dapper, successful gossip magazine editor. He glides smoothly through the elite social circles of Rome, mixing with movie stars and artists and presiding over a gaggle of ruthless photographers. (One of the photographers is named Papparazzo, which is where we got the term “papparazzi.”) Despite the glamour of his life, Marcello feels trapped and dissatisfied. He has a loving live-in girlfriend, but she doesn’t challenge him enough, so he chases more dangerous women. He longs to be a serious writer, but he lacks the courage to give up what he has in order to pursue what he wants.

“La Dolce Vita” follows Marcello through a number of wild nights and bitter mornings as he struggles with these issues, floating from party to party, woman to woman. At one point Marcello’s father visits, and proves to be a charming, but aging bon-vivant. Marcello seems torn between admiring his dad and fearing becoming like him. A wise, older friend seems to offer an example for Marcello to follow, but he tragically disappoints him. Marcello meets a young girl who reminds him of his own youthful innocence and aspirations, but later he sees the same girl and fails to recognize her, symbolizing how much he has lost track of who he is.

Marcello’s existential struggle is one that we all face when we realize that we are still young enough to change the direction of our lives, but that our time is running out. Marcello has discovered that he isn’t going to find happiness in affairs and orgies, but he can’t seem to give them up. I find myself wishing that Fellini had imagined a redemption for Marcello so that he could have been a role model for us, not just a mirror. Ultimately, Marcello doesn’t find an answer, which is realistic, but unsatisfying.

This long, meandering film left me feeling a bit empty, but if it is hard on the heart, at least it is easy on the eyes. “La Dolce Vita” is filmed beautifully in black & white and is filled with beautiful women. Mastroianni is a tremendous actor, able to speak volumes with a single line or just a change of expression. This movie demonstrates why Fellini is one of the Masters.

4.5 stars.

For anyone who is interested, I highly recommend Roger Ebert’s review of “La Dolce Vita” at: