Encounters at the End of the World
The world is doomed, and Werner Herzog couldn't be happier. Encounters at the End of the World bubbles with delight at the bleak beauty, dire forebodings, and human and animal eccentricity the director encounters in his episodic tour of Antarctica. He promises at the very start that this will not be another film about cute penguins; yet before the end of End, he'll watch one walk off, disoriented or driven, toward the center of the continent and, as he cheerily points out in his voiceover narration, "certain death." This and other images rank among Herzog's most rapturous, and the creatures he encounters are invariably weird and illuminating, though none more so than Werner Herzog himself.
Although it has only one graphic moment of violence, Michael Haneke's Funny Games bothers some more than the torture porn in Saw and Hostel. Haneke's shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 Austrian film of the same title is a black-comic exercise in suspense, sadism, and Brechtian finger pointing. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play a comfortably bourgeois couple with a dog and a little boy whose plans for their summer vacation go awry when two nice young men with white gloves invite themselves in. Haneke suggests that the alienation effect of the media might be turning us into monsters. But what fun is that? Moral lessons aside, Funny Games excels at making audiences squirm.
Mike Leigh looks on the bright side in this story about a schoolteacher (Sally Hawkins) who gets more involved in making bird costumes than with her pupils. Nothing dims Poppy's optimism and bemusement, not even the stares of the annoyed and indifferent — which could include some in the audience. As she bops from one encounter to the next, she collides with an entertaining collection of engaging oddballs, among them her nemesis, Scott (Eddie Marsan), who resembles David Thewlis in Leigh's Naked had he become a driving instructor. Their conflict ends with the two of them battered, and the more sympathetic for it.
Strangers to Guy Maddin's delightfully nightmarish, black-and-white version of the universe, with its fusion of silent-film techniques, absurdist collage, odd archival footage, and unapologetic weirdness, will find this a heady introduction. As for his fans, they'll recognize the origins of many of his obsessions and motifs in this dream landscape of the city in which he was born and which, he claims, he has forever been trying to flee. My Winnipeg is a happy hunting ground for those seeking the origins of Maddin's bizarre obsessions — or their own.
This film from David Gordon Green is the movie Knocked Up might have been had it not copped out. No apologies here from stoned, sweaty thirtysomething loser Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) for dating a teenager — they're in love. No qualms when Dale and his dealer, Saul (James Franco), sell grass to 10-year-olds in the school yard — the kids are tougher punks than Dale and Saul. The pair stick to their amorality despite being punished by a plot only a pot-addled mind could conceive, as Dale witnesses a murder and he and Saul must flee, pursued by the killer's henchmen and beleaguered by hilarious violence. It's Blue Velvet by way of Cheech and Chong, with no moral lessons to muddle the fun.