Sunday, July 26, 2009

Renter's Adventures, Part Two

Pathology (2008, Marc Schölermann)

In Pathology, a young doctor (a bland Milo Ventimiglia) slowly discovers that the autopsy staff is playing a strange game. They’re competing to see who can pull off the perfect murder. The bodies come through their morgue, giving the other players in the game the chance to puzzle through the cause of death. Is our protagonist shocked by such behavior? A little bit, I suppose. But soon enough, he’s partaking in the games. This is a good concept, ripe for luridness and, sure enough, the filmmakers indulge in grisly autopsies and brutal murders, throwing in plenty of drugs and abuse as well. This should be a schlocky good time, but the whole thing falls flat.

First-time director Marc Schölermann has a serviceable style that neither dazzles nor distracts but the script by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor brings the real disappointment. The two of them wrote and directed Crank a hyperactive, and ridiculously lurid, action movie that barrels forward with such a crazed energy that those with strong enough sensibilities can find themselves swept up in the ride. I found Crank a little exhausting by the end. I was overwhelmed by the sheer excess but admired the style. Neveldine and Taylor have guts and talent and I still hold out hope that they’ll turn out some great genre work. With Pathology, though, they pull back the pace which only serves to make the plotting seem sleepy.

There’s a sense of matter-of-fact movement in the dialogue and plotting that makes even the most shocking hard-R content seem boring, routine, or just plain silly. The deeper and deeper Ventimiglia is pulled into the dark game, the more I felt my attention slipping away. It’s frightfully uninvolving, even for a third-rate knockoff and mash-up of Se7en and Coma. This is one seriously undercooked B-movie. Where’s the urgency? Why don’t the stakes seem life-and-death? All thrillers need a sense of danger and forward momentum. I never felt that here. Pathology is just well-shot nonsense, dull and grimy, lingering in the mind just long enough to feel uncomfortably sleazy.

(2009, Michel Gondry/Leos Carax/Bong Joon-Ho)

Tokyo!, an underwhelming triptych ode to Tokyo, presents three short films from directors who are not natives to the city: two Frenchmen and a Korean. Each film presents a distinct vision, has a few enjoyable sequences, but none of them truly satisfy. There is certainly none of the great sense of rambling unevenness married to a sense of relentless artistry that came with Paris, Je Taime, an anthology film featuring mostly great Paris-set shorts from nearly twenty different directors.

The first film, Interior Design, comes to us from Michel Gondry, of Be Kind Rewind and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film follows a filmmaker and his girlfriend as they move to Tokyo. The banter between the two is charming, as are the scenarios in which they find themselves, such as finding a dead cat or competing for the same gift-wrapping job. This being a Gondry film, though, I was constantly anticipating a shift into whimsy and dreading the prospects since the short unfolds with such unforced heightened, but not much, reality. When the shift arrives with the girlfriend finding a new purpose in life, I was disappointed.

The second film is Merde from Leos Carax (who hasn’t directed a feature since Pola X in 1999), about a strange creature who emerges from the sewer and storms down a city sidewalk snatching bouquets and sandwich, pausing occasionally to frighten a baby or lick an innocent bystanders armpit, all in a mesmerizing sequence that plays out in nearly one continuous shot. When the creature’s antics turn more dangerous, it is captured and put on trial. The whole short is entertaining but it can’t match the high of its opening moments.

The third, and final, film is Shaking Tokyo, about a recluse who makes eye-contact with another human being for the first time in some time. That’s all I shall say about this one, plot-wise as it both the simplest and my favorite of the three. Director Bong Joon-Ho, who also directed the fun monster movie The Host, from a few years ago, shoots his short gorgeously with great pacing and patience in its warm human comedy and poignancy.

I’m not sure Tokyo! would have been worth seeking out in theaters, but now that it’s available for renting, it might be worth a look. After all, with anthologies, if you don’t like one contribution, you can skip ahead and hope you like the next one.

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