March and April are the months in the Twin Cities when the film scene gets out of control with a plethora of releases. There are simply too many things going on for even the most ardent of cinephiles to keep up. Local film blogger Daniel Getahun points this out in his spot-on piece titled Minneapolis Movie Madness.
Gone are the barren movie months of January and February. This year in particular was frustrating. Perhaps with this upcoming wave of festivals and regular theatrical releases every Friday I can move past all the disappointments I’ve personally suffered from some great directors who really let me down with their latest efforts—I’m looking at you, Martin Scorsese, Paul Greengrass, Peter Jackson, and Werner Herzog (twice!). Don’t even get me started on Tim Burton’s dull, awful Alice in Wonderland; though he’s a director in whom I lost interest long ago, so I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece.
There have been some bright spots so far in 2010: the wacky and hilarious Belgian film A Town Called Panic screened for a week at the Lagoon earlier this month. You can check out, for free, some of the five-minute shorts the film was based on here. The folks at MFA and St. Anthony Main screened two films I enjoyed called That Evening Sun and Collapse; Sound Unseen has been consistently strong screening documentaries at the Trylon, the best movie theater in Minnesota: White Stripes: Under Great Northern Lights, Still Bill, and Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin. Finally, you have to check out my favorite film of the year so far, Spike Jonze’s 30-minute short film I’m Here, a melancholy and beautiful robot love story. The film is available for free at its official Web site.
So, some bad mainstream movies and good-to-great off-the-beaten-path films have come and gone. But I digress. The real reason for this article is to review two films coming out today at our lovely Landmark Theatres. Please excuse the lack of depth, as there’s only so much time to read reviews with all the films coming out. I’m here to steer you towards the good stuff from now until the end of the festival. (Seriously, the Daily Planet will not be lacking in film coverage in the coming month.) After that, we’ll all be awash in summer movie season. Yay, I guess?
Terribly Happy can be seen at the Edina Cinema. It’s a fantastic, twisty (and twisted) Danish neo-noir / dark comedy. The film opens with our hero, Robert Hanson (played astutely by Jakob Cedergren), a disgraced Copenhagen police officer, forced to fill the vacated Marshal position in a small, strange town. Not much seems to happen here, until Hanson gets involved in affairs he shouldn’t. There’s a femme fatale, married to the asshole abusive town drunk (played with sleazy perfection by Kim Bodnia, from the first Pusher film. Hanson has a shady past, and a Boy Scout mentality when it comes to matters of right and wrong.
The strength of the film is in director Henrik Ruben Genz’s rendering of a very specific place. Like the best Coen Brothers films (Blood Simple, Fargo, No Country For Old Men), Terribly Happy‘s setting is a character in and of itself. It feels unique, and strange. The story is well thought out and comes to a near-perfect conclusion, one that is quite tense and dark. Genz trusts the audience enough to let his images do the heavy lifting. One of the best films I’ve seen this year so far.
I can’t say the same for Greenberg, at the Lagoon Cinema. I can add this film to my aforementioned list of disappointments this year from directors I’m quite fond of. Noah Baumbach is testing my patience with every new release. The man who co-wrote (with Wes Anderson) The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and wrote and directed Kicking and Screaming and the deeply personal The Squid and the Whale (my favorite of his films, and one of the best dark comedies of the decade) has lost me with his two most recent efforts. Margot at the Wedding was a hateful, frustrating film to sit through. Following up Squid with that stinker was akin to a chef serving broke glass in the dessert after a wholly satisfying meal.
I can say Greenberg is a better film than Margot, but it’s equally as awkward and just as difficult to bear. Baumbach is again working with a major movie star. Here it’s Ben Stiller playing the title character. Nicole Kidman was the lead in Margot. Stiller returns to L.A. after spending some time in a mental hospital. There he’s set to housesit for his more successful brother while he and his family are away on vacation. Stiller meets their personal assistant, played by Mumblecore regular Greta Gerwig, and they (kind of) hit it off.
But not really. Stiller does some good work, as does the adorable Gerwig, but I never understood why these two characters ended up together in the first place, or why Gerwig’s Florence—and Greenberg’s other friends—endure his misanthropic attitude. He’s an asshole through and through. Baumbach makes the peripheral characters far more interesting and empathetic to show just how small and meaningless Greenberg’s problems are. I agree with this, and see what the talented writer-director was going for, but that doesn’t make the movie any more pleasant to sit through. Baumbach’s films work better (for me anyways) when he keeps the jerks in the background, filtering their hatred through sympathetic, likable characters in the foreground.