Monday, February 01, 2010

Miscellaneous: Weekend Roundup

Wallander. Don’t ask me to compare these BBC adaptations to Henning Mankell’s novels about Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. I’m woefully unschooled in Scandinavian crime fiction, a failing I will soon remedy thanks in part to these films. They have a striking look, the Swedish locales shot in part by last year’s Academy Award winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. Kenneth Branagh is sensational as Wallander, a compassionate investigator who is never fully present in his own life. The ninety-minute running times allow the personal scenes room to breathe. Sometimes they overwhelm the mystery; I was more involved in Wallander’s reconciliation with his troubled artist father (David Warner in Old Testament prophet mode) than the main story in Sidetracked. The films improve as they go; the last, One Step Behind, is as good as television gets. All three are suffused with a weary, bone-deep sadness that’s haunting.

Whatever Works (2009). Minor Woody Allen, but still entertaining. The movie’s notion that living in New York makes you a better person is naïve, but I happen to agree with it. Larry David’s inability to be anyone other than Larry David actually helps to put it over. A pleasant surprise.

Girls on the Loose (1958). The lovely Mara Corday leads a distaff team of heisters in a payroll job. I don’t know why she turns to crime. She says something about needing to live on the edge, but I think it’s because she’s going broke booking her gamine sister’s Bohemian burlesque act in her nightclub. Mara assembles some crew: a nervous wreck, an alcoholic French beautician, and a truck-stop tough blonde (Joyce Barker, a true Gold Medal gorgon who only appeared in this movie). The whole enterprise is nicely sleazy – Joyce is a masseuse! – and not all that badly plotted. Amazingly it’s directed by Casablanca’s Victor Laszlo, Paul Henreid. That this movie is not on DVD is a travesty. Here’s the trailer.