Thursday, July 18, 2013

Movies: Some Summer Viewing

Time to do for a few movies what the previous post did for books.

Hey, Bartender. I awaited no film more than this documentary about the craft cocktail movement, which is probably why I found it such a colossal disappointment. It’s too muddled and New York-centric to do justice to its subject. Hey, Bartender is several movies elbowing each other for space. You’ve got a host of well-chosen experts offering a hasty history of mixed drinks with no insight into the current revival. There’s a look at Employees Only, a fine Big Apple bar reduced here to an obnoxious scenester hangout. One of EO’s bartenders, Steve Schneider, has a compelling story, but the film mistakenly relies solely on him to tell it; it would be far more interesting to learn why Dushan Zaric, Employees Only’s owner, took a chance on putting a wounded ex-Marine behind the stick. Lastly, there’s the proprietor of a struggling Connecticut tavern who foolishly listens to a liquor rep’s advice to go to Tales of the Cocktail in scenes wouldn’t make a decent episode of Bar Rescue. He gets to New Orleans and immediately buys himself a hat, which perfectly sums up the film’s superficial approach. A bartender friend told me that the great boon of the cocktail renaissance is its democratizing effect; you can walk into a dive bar in the middle of nowhere and find a bottle of maraschino on the shelf. That’s a story worth telling, and Hey, Bartender stumbles onto it several times, most notably when spirits historian David Wondrich describes his amazement at learning that Boise, Idaho “only” has two craft cocktail bars. Too bad the movie keeps on walking.

The Call. Brad Anderson may be having the definitive post-indie film career, moving effortlessly between inexpensively made auteurist features (The Machinist, Transsiberian), smart TV series (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) and studio fare like his latest, which I caught up with on DVD. Halle Berry plays a 911 operator who, following a mistake that resulted in a teenage girl’s death, is on training duty. She gets a chance to redeem herself when the same killer resurfaces. Anderson, Berry and company relish the opportunity to explore the fresh terrain of an emergency call center. The villain’s backstory is believable, even tragic, and cagily doled out. It’s a thoughtful, well-structured movie that continually ratchets up the tension.

Then the last 90 seconds ruin it.

After what should clearly be the film’s final image comes a scene that smacks of studio interference and plays like an alternate ending meant to be exiled to DVD. Everything about it feels off, the actors giving wholly different performances as if going through the motions on a rewrite they hope will never see the light of day. It’s actually impressive, how thoroughly this addition undoes all that’s gone before. What would be an authentic sleeper leaves only a bad taste.

Jesus, did I see anything I liked? Well, yes.

In Berberian Sound Studio, Toby Jones is a reclusive English technician who goes to Italy in the 1970s to work with a director obviously based on Dario Argento. We never see a frame of his film, aside from its gloriously overwrought title sequence. We only hear it, in detailed descriptions of the degradations it depicts and Jones’s construction of the soundscape that brings it to life. It will not come as a surprise that our man slowly goes nuts. Beautifully and meticulously assembled, down to a soundtrack that fiendishly mimics those of Argento films. Watch that trailer. It’s a masterpiece.