This week’s selections share two commonalities: all were lounging on my hard drive and none were ever reviewed in these pages.
After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, women were not allowed to enter a stadium where men watched sporting events. Without a center-field knothole to spy through, a few brave young girls resorted to disguising themselves as boys in order to sneak in. The majority of the action in this Iranian comedy/drama takes place in two locations: a makeshift military holding center situated in the upper corner of a bustling soccer arena, and inside a van carrying several of the female detainees to the police station. The cast is populated with unfamiliar faces, none of whom are ever called by name. Filmed at the Azadi Stadium in the middle of a World Cup match between Iran and Bahrain, we never spend more than five minutes inside of the arena. And unlike most pictures centered on sports, this one does not conclude in competition. Writer and director Jafar Panahi never tells us what to think or how to react. He trusts and respects his audience that way.
Waitress Agnes White (Ashley Judd, in her boldest and most emotionally demanding role) suffers alone in a shabby Oklahoma motel room. Meanwhile, in addition to his unhealthy preoccupation with insects, Peter Evans (Michael Shannon, at his paranoiac pinnacle) lives a life in mortal fear of technology, chemicals, and disseminating information. The film was based on playwright Tracy Letts’ psychological horror drama, and not since Roman Polanski adapted Death and the Maiden had a one-set affair been afforded such an intelligent cinematic mounting. Entomophobes take heart: director William Friedkin wisely refrains from pouring on the vermin. If memory serves, there’s not one menacing shot of a creepy-crawly in the entire piece. With the exception of one scene involving a self-inflicted tooth extraction, the graphic shocks are all in your head. By the time he made this, Friedkin had spent a good portion of his career trying to repeat the success of The Exorcist. Bug may not have left much of a mark at the box office, but when it comes to lean, frightfully good storytelling, this is one roach motel worth checking into.
Crazy Love (2007)
Crazy Love trailer
At a time when the average American was making $4000 a year, ambulance chaser/nightclub owner Burt Pugach (pronounced “Poo-gosh”) was pulling down eighty grand. Linda Riss, who wanted nothing more out of life than to marry well, fell in love with Pugach in spite of one glaring inconsistency that involved a bottle of acid and the permanent disfigurement of his bride-to-be’s face. It is not a pretty picture: close-up interviews, newspaper clippings, and fuzzy TV newscasts are director Dan Klores’ main modes of visual expression. Normally repugnant, these “techniques” are cinematic beauty marks compared to the pair of toxic good-for-nothings whose gripping romance the film recounts. It’s rare when a fact-based documentary doubles as a taut suspense thriller, and much of the credit for this goes to Klores’ wise decision to leave the passing of judgment to his audience. SPOILER ALERT: After what’s revealed about their relationship, the sight of Linda and Burt Pugach together in the same frame still stands as one of the great shocks of my moviegoing life.