Monday, June 23, 2014

Borgman, The Only Real Game, Third Person

Third Person

The Only Real Game

Capsules on a few of the week's smaller releases:

"Borgman" is Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), a tall and scraggly itinerant who, as the movie opens, is rousted from his makeshift underground digs by a priest and two henchmen who've come to kill him. He scurries up and out of the woods, stopping to tip off his cohorts Ludwig and Pascal. He sets his sights on a modern suburban home owned by a corporate exec, Richard (Jeroen Perceval) and his artist wife Marina (Hadewych Minis). Camiel rings the doorbell and asks Richard if he may take a bath. When Richard declines, Camiel claims to know his wife. Richard punches him and brutally kicks and beats him. Some time later, now clean shaven, Camiel poses as a gardener (their last one left mysteriously days before), lands the job, and moves into the guest quarters. The film is about the ineluctable process by which Borgman takes over the household, turning Marina against Richard and ingratiating himself with their three children. It's an oddity, to be sure, and not for all tastes, but for Dutch director Alex van Warmerdam it's also - should he wish to go Hollywood - a stylish calling card, a fully realized vision to which the opening title card holds the clue (don't come late). Though some of its fertile themes - mind control, cuckoldry - are left less than fully explored, there are a goodly number of laughs in its pitch-black comedy, and tension born of both moment-to-moment uncertainty and overarching, inexorable dread…In "The Only Real Game," director Mirra Bank illustrates the history and pride of place that baseball holds in the eastern Indian state of Manipur. Along the Burmese border, Manipur served as a vital Himalayan gateway for Allied airmen in WWII. Today, it is ravaged by warfare between a state army that misses no opportunity to oppress the locals (under an odious Special Powers Act) and dozens of bellicose insurgent factions. There's a sweet story in here about the power of sport to bring people together, but we spend more time getting to know the American coaches that MLB sends into Manipur than the Indians themselves, and Bank does a poor job of contextualizing their baseball aspirations, so that the denied visas and unbuilt stadia lose their impact in a final barrage. Melissa Leo's narration, meanwhile, disappears from the soundtrack for half-hours at a time…Maybe they all hoped to take the stage at the end of the Oscars, like the "Crash" ensemble almost a decade ago. How else to explain how Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Maria Bello and Kim Basinger all signed on for Paul Haggis' latest exercise in interlocking stories, "Third Person"? Neeson, a writer, has left his wife, Basinger, to conduct an affair with a much younger mentee, Wilde; Brody, a spy who steals couture house designs for companies that make sweatshop knockoffs, meets at a bar a Romanian woman (Moran Atias) who walks out without her bag containing the five thousand Euros she needs to get her 8-year-old daughter back from traffickers; Kunis, a former soap-opera star, lost custody of her son to artist ex-husband Franco, takes an incog job as a hotel maid, and misses appointments with her attorney (Bello) and court-appointed psychologist. You know something's amiss when Kunis, in New York, cleans the Paris hotel room where Neeson and Wilde are getting it on. The situations always feel constructed, never authentic, and there's not a single character for us to invest in emotionally. Haggis ties it all together neatly at the end, but "Third Person" plays like one man's long (137 minutes) stab at the reclamation of former glory.

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