The Whistlers: Catrinel Marlon makes a superb addition to cinema's long list of femme fatales in Corneliu Porumboiu's complex crime comedy.
Theft, drugs, and bad romance drive this week’s trio of tales.
The Whistlers trailer
The Whistlers (2019)
Birds warble in the background as career detective Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) pulls up to Gilda’s (Catrinel Marlon) house. Or do they? Broken into seven chapters — all but one named after a principal character — Corneliu Porumboiu’s icy, camp-free caper comedy prides itself on cunningly backtracking audiences through a tale of pure and simple greed, complexly told. Who better than Cristi, a mafia whistle-blower working both sides of the badge, to drill into the ancient art of the “whistling language,” a Canary Islands variation of Morse Code designed to fool cops into thinking it’s the skirl of birds they’re hearing, not criminals getting a fix on $30 million in stolen greenbacks. When first they meet, statuesque, smokey-eyed knockout Gilda introduces herself as Zsolt’s (Sabin Tambrea) partner, willing to do anything to help spring him from prison, even if it means masquerading as a high-priced call girl and sleeping with a cop. But what happens in Bucharest stays in Bucharest: once they hit the Canaries, all signs of romantic chemistry are off. For all his crime-solving knowhow, Cristi is stiffer than buckram. Even his Mama (Chapter 5) can’t reconcile her unmarried and childless son’s behavior. (The first thing she does after finding a bag of money Cristi stashed in the cellar is to immediately donate it to the Church in exchange for prayers that her baby isn’t homosexual.) Porumboiu is a master of doling out information, and nothing would please him more than viewers needing to hit the rewind button to see what they missed. All this and the best use of a clip from The Searchers this side of Mean Streets. But as wild and enjoyable a ride as it is, I cannot for the life of me fathom how the hell this wraps in Singapore.
Joe Begos’ previous feature, Bliss, hypothesized a street drug that turned its users into vampires. This time it’s zombies — not in the traditional sense of flesh-eating ghouls given the appearance of life, but rather a group of addled automatons hooked on Hype, the latest opioid du jour sweeping the nation. Begos’ crowning achievement was in assembling a platoon of bloodthirsty B movie veterans: Stephen Lang (Avatar, Don’t Breathe); William Sadler (Trespass, Roadracers); Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson (Black Caesar, Bucktown); Martin Kove (White Line Fever, The Karate Kid); David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors, Wild at Heart), and, cheerfully reprising his role as the sponge at the end of the bar, George Wendt. Together with newcomer Tom Williamson, the vets defend their tavern against an onslaught of mutants operating out of an abandoned movie theatre across the street. (Never mind the excessive gore; this viewer would have been equally happy spending the running time inside the VFW post listening to these soldiers of cinema swap war stories.) But what Begos failed to observe was the old rule of screen villainy: the badder the bad guy, the better the picture. Operating under the influence of head-pusher Boz (played by the aptly named Travis Hammer), the punks simply have no style — other than using a machete to open skulls as one would a coconut. The disregard for idiosyncrasy among the young carries forward in Lizard (Sierra McCormick), the innocent teen avenging her sister’s death who inadvertently drags the vets into the conflict by seeking refuge in their watering hole. Never mind that it takes a full reel before the Lang gang questions her presence, she later goes soft by lecturing her protector on the evils of alcoholism. Fortunately, each of the warhorses is afforded a moment in the spotlight, and it shines brightest on Lou (Kove), a used car salesman whose first inclination is to haggle a deal with the braindead Boz.
The Invisible Man trailer
The Invisible Man (2020)
The official cause of death should have been listed as “suicide by invisibility” when a mad scientist with an inflamed ego, living (where else?) but in the spooky castle atop the hill, invents a see-through suit to reclaim the only woman who dared dump him. Had they stuck to this premise — and paid more attention to James Whales’ fleet 71 minute version released in 1933 — it would have made for a superior horror addition to the #MeToo movement. Nobody will believe Cecilia (a non-stop Elisabeth Moss) particularly when her abusive ex continues to make her life miserable from beyond the grave. He first appears in the form of a stovetop brush fire, followed by one of the film’s few spectacularly subtle special effects: the visibility of a ghostly cold-night’s breath condensation. The compound tension derived from the dark tones and menacingly slow drift of writer-director Leigh Whannel’s camera pull the audience to the seat’s edge for the first hour or so before things begin to sloppily veer in the direction of a slasher pic. (Alas, what’s a Blumhouse movie without the unnecessary gore to placate fans of such things?) The surprises dry up quicker than a train of thought, and unseeable logic soon becomes too much to bear. A hospitalized character, one wrist slit by a fountain pen, fails to produce even a trickle of blood while being dragged across the linoleum. And the police officer friend with whom Cecila initially sought shelter is the same one assigned to investigate the case? In spite of that, a good hour and an immense performance are yours for the download.