Tribeca Remainders: Killer Inside Me, Into Eternity, The Space Between

05/04/2010 2:59 PM |

The Tribeca Film Festival ended on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean these three movies won’t eventually make it to a theater somewhere in your vicinity, if not ultimately Netflix, at least.

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The Killer Inside Me
Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is a faithful adaptation of Jim Thompson’s 1952 eponymous source novel—a little too faithful. It suffers from Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road Problem: like Richard Yates’ portrait of a Mad Men marriage’s dissolution, Thompson’s violent, sexy, and violent-sex-heavy roman noir classic isn’t remembered so fondly for its plotting, tight as it may be: it’s the book’s tour-de-force inner monologue that pushes it forward (praised on the book-cover blurb by no less than Stanley Kubrick, a two-time collaborator). Without it, the pulpiness of the story just feels, well, pulpy—and, that Winterbottom slathers the film in snippets of Thompson’s first-person prose only makes matters worse. When faithfulness slips into fealty, it stops paying tribute and begins to offend the spirit of the very work it means to esteem.

Casey Affleck plays Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, an aw-shucks naïf on the outside—with boyish looks and a pubescent voice crack—and a sadistic savage on the in. He’s a man who loves to hurt women, surrounded by women who love to get hurt: Jessica Alba plays the hooker he loves to fuck roughly, cast because she’s pretty enough that her eventual hamburgering qualifies as tragedy; Kate Hudson is the girl he’s gonna marry—or, you know, beat until she pees herself. Winterbottom’s movie packs a shocking level of sexual depravity and violence (against women, though he doesn’t fetishize it like too many horror movies do), but he manages only to hint at the underlying dualism that was Thompson’s coup.

The degeneracy on display may be set in West Texas, but that it’s in the town of “Central City” seems to imply that it’s not confined to there—that the savagery and psychosis belongs to all post-war America. Thompson’s book concerns a country with a dual-personality disorder, a nation with a yes-ma’am-no-ma’am exterior that conceals a bloodthirsty spirit seething within. But in Winterbottom—maybe because film is a visual medium?—we never get much more than a glimpse of the façade. And yet, that ain’t terrible. The Killer Inside Me, as crime yarn, might not be uniquely plotted, but its blood-and-babes storytelling; its dusty, Southwestern-spun Mad Men style; its colorful, 70s-cool credits sequence; and its score straight out of Central Composers still make for compelling viewing.

IFC will release The Killer Inside Me this June.

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Into Eternity
Directed by Michael Madsen (above), not the Michael Madsen

Michael Madsen’s Into Eternity concerns an under-construction, underground bunker in Finland that will store nuclear waste; the director shoots what’s been built already hauntingly, like it’s the mineshaft in My Bloody Valentine. That’s because this documentary is “A Film For The Future” (as per its subtitle), a cautionary report on what this place is and why it’s so terrible, so that people of the future will never visit it. Of course, it’s unlikely that people 50,000 years into the future will be able to figure out how to play Into Eternity in whatever format in which they discover it, so it becomes gratingly smarmy and pretentious that Madsen (by match light!) continues to address audiences of the future (hope you guys appreciate aughties Eurotrash trip-hop!), and to do so as though they’re retarded. (“Man found fire but could not put fire out, so man…”)

It’s easy to look past the movie’s faults, though, and enjoy its long stretches of slow, poetic beauty: the eerie tracking shots of empty corridors, the Kubrickian ballet of futuristic machinery moving to Viennese waltzes. Madsen’s camera reflects a love for man’s mechanical ingenuity that seems at odds with his admonishing attitude toward a species that produced nuclear waste to begin with. It’s ostensibly an apolitical film, but Into Eternity ultimately makes a clear argument against nuclear power: not just because there’s a potential peak-uranium problem, but because of The Waste Problem.

“You can’t make nuclear waste disappear,” the engineer of the Finnish bunker says. You just have to hide it deep underground for 100,000 years, which will require what would be the longest-standing structure in human history—by an astounding factor! (The pyramids are roughly 5,000 years old.) The film functions as a plea to future generations not to pry open our nuclear waste repositories as we pried open the pharaoh’s tombs. There are no treasures to loot here! (Or, will spent plutonium be a valuable resource in 54678 AD?) Will the warnings keep future generations away, or only pique their curiosity? Should we mark the site with skulls and crossbones (would they even understand the pictograms?), or should we let the location simply fade from memory, let the radioactivity fizzle out, forgotten? Will legends about the place survive? These sophisticated and fascinating philosophical inquiries carry the film, along with its lyrical images. If sometimes grating, Into Eternity is a thoughtful, beautiful film. But, if it’s supposed to be so scary, maybe it shouldn’t be so pretty? Madsen’s film falls short of perfection because he won’t stop speaking to the wrong audience.

No distribution yet, though I imagine it will soon, and that it’ll be a hit on the art house circuit along the lines of Food, Inc.

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The Space Between
Directed by Travis Fine

Writer-director Travis Fine ought to be ashamed of himself: not at all because he’s created another vehicle to spotlight the talents of Melissa Leo—who garnered a deserved Special Jury Mention for her performance—but because he uses the deaths of thousands of people as a catalyst to Open The Hearts of his contrived characters. Leo stars as a crusty, alcoholic flight attendant (with horrible taste in music) in charge of an unaccompanied, Muslim minor (Anthony Keyvan); when the plane is grounded because it’s September Fucking Eleventh, plane movie becomes road movie as she chaperones him back to NY—by bus, until they’re kicked off for Racism! Directed At Children!, and then by used car—to look for his father, who worked at Windows on the World. They will also make a pit stop so she can deal with her own family issues, where there will be more Racism! Directed at Children! “We’re stuck together, whether we like it or not,” Leo is actually forced to say.

Will this miserable woman-on-the-run and this scared, sensitive kid have anything to teach each other? Will they…form some sort of mutually enlightening and educational bond? You bet! As long as 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing have something to say about it! The Space Between packs all the emotion of a Patriot’s Day greeting card: every telegraphed twist and turn, each banal back-story, is more embarrassing and shameful than the last. A drunken Leo remarks ruefully in a bar that, “in a few years, no one’ll remember [9/11]”. But better we forget that terrible day than remember it like this. Using it—and repeated glimpses of the planes crashing and the buildings falling—for worthless and manipulative emotional ends is a form of aesthetic nihilism, its own kind of terrorism.

Also no distribution yet, hopefully forever.