Sunday, June 24, 2012

One Day on Earth, The Woman in the 5th, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

One Day on Earth
The Woman in the 5th
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

The collage film “One Day on Earth,” which consists of snippets of video footage shot around the world on a single day (10/10/10), follows on the heels of last year’s identically-conceived “Life in a Day.” I enjoyed the new film, which includes material from every country on Earth, more, but perhaps only for the fun of mentally ticking off 20 seconds in Andorra, and Djibouti, and Dominica, and Oman. Each film struck me as a solution in search of a problem – or, to the point, as mental masturbation. A day later, I’m at pains to remember a single moment from “One Day on Earth.” Nothing resonates. It’s all an exercise.

In the stilted head-scratcher “The Woman in the 5th,” Ethan Hawke plays a blocked writer and lit prof whose one and only novel was shortlisted for the Pulitzer but, in Paris to violate his wife’s restraining order and steal some time with their young daughter, finds himself reduced to a suspicious isolation-booth job buzzing people who ask for “Mr. Monde” into a building where something criminal, if not terrorist, is likely going down. As we’ve seen in “Before Sunset” and elsewhere – and as we’re reminded in a couple of shots as he awakens – Hawke can be one of the most appealing men in Hollywood. But the filmmakers hide him behind 60s era black horn-rimmed glasses, a mop of unkempt hair, and a voice that channels Willem Dafoe. They’ve also cast Kristin Scott Thomas as the sexual specter who haunts his soul – a dubious choice at best – and the one time we see them in flagrante delicto, he’s wearing a tweed coat. A deep, dark grayness envelops “The Woman in the 5th,” and I admired that, but the movie never awakens from its own self-induced slumber.

Coming so soon after last year’s masterpiece “Melancholia,” it’s almost embarrassing to have to talk about “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” a movie whose vision of the apocalypse is small and shifts wildly in tone and is sometimes played for laughs that never come. In a different year – one that hadn’t already seen Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand as gay lovers in “Rock of Ages” – Steve Carell and Keira Knightley might contend for the Worst Screen Couple Razzie. I actually don’t dislike either of them – Knightley’s always lovely to watch, and there’s a quiet grace to Carell’s work here that suggests unexpected depth of range – but I hold apocalypse movies to a high standard. In 1998, the Canadian actor-director Don McKellar made a movie called “Last Night,” which achieves much of what this picture aims for. Seek it out instead.

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