Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two from the Video Shelf

I actually went to the video store and RENTED some movies...and just in time, as it turns out my local video rental store is closing forever. (Just after I decided to move to Baltimore, too. And my favorite club, DC's Red Palace, just announced it's closing after the new year. I might as well move.)

Anyway, first up is Stanley Donen's 1966 thriller Arabesque.

This was a follow-up to another Donen work, 1963's Charade, a dazzling comedy-thriller starring Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn, along with Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy. Charade is a minor classic and well worth seeking out. It's in the public domain but the Criterion disc is worth the cost. Arabesque is an attempt at a comic spy thriller in the same vein, but does it work?

David Pollock (Gregory Peck) is an expert on Egyptian hieroglyphs who is asked to translate what appears to be a coded message from a spy network. Pollock infiltrates the organization of the mysterious Beshraavi (Alan Badel, who is frequently mistaken for Peter Sellers in the role) and falls in with Beshraavi's mistress Yasmin (Sophia Loren), who may or may not be on his side.

OK, the worst up front: Gregory Peck, as wonderful as he is, is not Carey Grant and is not the greatest comic actor (something he purportedly admitted readily on the set of this movie). But Sophia Loren was at the peak of her beauty, and her natural wit and style shine. It's got Mancini music and Loren in Dior dresses, and enough excitement to keep one's interest. I enjoyed it, although it's definitely a cut below other works by the same director.

For a sample, here's the main credits:

Next up was something more recent: the 2010 independent film Cold Weather.

Doug (Chris Lankenau) is a forensic-science student home from school, taking some time off to re-evaluate his life. He moves in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), gets a job in a Portland ice factory where he befriends Carlos (Raul Castillo), and then is excited when his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) visits Portland on business. But then things get weird when Rachel disappears...

Cold Weather takes its time; the first third is just about setting up the characters and atmosphere. These are slackers, to be sure, but also have regular workaday lives and the give-and-take of their relationships and especially the budding friendship between Doug and Carlos actually make for good watching. When the mystery does kick in, it's rather low-key...but at the same time, since the movie has so firmly established the characters as regular folks in a normal world, it actually is exciting because it's how we can see ourselves handling this. Plot twists that would be nothing in a Sherlock Holmes movie are major here.

What's REALLY fun for me is watching how characters handle the mystery. Doug is a fan of Holmes and goes off to buy a pipe to help himself think; naturally, it doesn't work and he has to find his own way. And a couple of times characters are at a loss for what to do in a given situation, times when heroes of big-budget movies and slick novels would have everything figured out.

It does end rather abruptly, but then you realize that the movie isn't as much about the mystery as it is about the relationships, especially between Doug and Gail, and they're firmly on the way to fixing their broken connection by the end, and that's what matters.

Writer/director Aaron Katz deserves kudos; this is a delightful little film that mystery buffs like me can relate to; we often wonder how we would handle a real mystery coming our way, and this shows what it would be like. And the relationships in the movie are refreshingly REAL and relatable. Seek this one out, folks.

Here's the trailer:

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