Mark Borchardt is a man in pursuit of the American Dream. Granted, he doesn't have much in the way of the talent or the finances or the common sense to make his dream come true, but that's beside the point. The documentary American Movie tells the story of a filmmaker from Wisconsin who strives to make the great American movie, despite his obvious shortcomings. At times hilarious (Borchardt's inability to correctly pronounce the name of his film and the behavior of his stoner best friend Mike are comic gold) and at times heartbreaking, the film is ultimately uplifting and strangely inspiring as Borchardt desperately hurdles every obstacle in his way to bring his movie to life.
In Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco, a vapid group of twenty-somethings alternate between dancing to vapid music and engaging in vapid conversations. And that's about it, as there is really no plot to speak of. The dialogue is stilted at its best and unrealistic at its worst – does anyone in America really speak in such an esoteric manner without drawing the ire of his or her friends? With the exception of Kate Beckinsale, who sounds as though she's reading her lines off a teleprompter, the cast does a decent job with the lines that have been provided and the film looks fine on a technical level, but unless there was some sort of subtext that has gone way over my head, the whole thing is just a pretentious bore.
Chris Morris turns his satirical eye to Muslim extremists, always a potentially dangerous place to turn a satirical eye, in Four Lions. A small group of self-taught but thoroughly incompetent jihadists from Sheffield decide to wage war on British infidels with the promise of martyrdom when they blow themselves up, ultimately settling on the London Marathon in an ill-conceived plan destined for failure. The satire is absolutely spot-on throughout, hilarious from start to finish, ruthless in its attack on religious extremism. One would think the nature of the humor would wear thin after a short time, but Morris actually builds on the absurdity that culminates in suicide bombers running through the streets of London dressed as cartoon characters. It's absurd, it's stinging, and it's absolutely laugh-out-loud funny.
When Catherine (Julianne Moore), a justifiably suspicious but woefully insecure gynecologist, suspects that her husband David (Liam Neeson) is having extramarital affairs, she hires beautiful prostitute Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to test David's fidelity and slowly comes to the realization that this is probably not the most prudent manner in which to resolve the situation. Atom Egoyan's Chloe, despite a strong cast and Egoyan's typical stylistic flourishes, ultimately flounders under the weight of its own stupidity and, while it is certainly entertaining at times, leaves you wondering how improbable the entire scenario actually is and, more importantly, how you managed to buy into it for so long.
Set in the small city of Vaslui, a Romanian television host assembles a panel to discuss the role of the city in the national revolution that drove Nicolae Ceausescu from power in 1989. 12:08 East of Bucharest starts slowly and admittedly drags a bit over the first half, but the actual TV broadcast of the ‘debate' is comedy gold. Using primarily stationary cameras, a bland color pallet and grainy film stock, the movie has an appropriately austere look to it, complimented by the deadpan and dry performances from the entire cast. The laughs kick in when it becomes evident that the town may have played no role in the ousting of the dictator as those who recall the events begin to clash over their interpretation of the events of the day. The humor is subtle but undoubtedly effective in its execution.