Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire is a brutal, efficient thriller, one that oozes style and menace. Its tight screenplay strips down the story and character to their bare essentials. We may only understand a fraction of who is double crossing whom, but murky intrigue is immaterial when the hero’s motives are ruthlessly pure. Under Soderbergh’s confident direction, the fight sequences – as well as the moments preceding them – are masterfully constructed. Clear, fluid action sequences pump up the suspense, so the violence is cathartic and, well, a whole of lot fun.
Already a hit on the festival circuit and in Europe, the Iranian drama A Separation is poised to become the latest American art house smash. The film won a Golden Globe on Sunday, and of this writing, it’s ranked number 80 on IMDb’s top 250 (Full Metal Jacket and Amadeus are 81 and 82, respectively). Writer/director Asghar Farhadi‘s latest is a relentlessly intense domestic drama, one where the audience must work through difficult questions involving class, religion, and family.
A middle-class couple is at the center of the film: Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are ending their marriage because she wants leave Tehran for a better life. Nader feels he must stay at home so he can take care of his father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who has Alzheimer’s. With Simin staying elsewhere and his daughter (Sarina Farhadi) at school, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat) to take care of his father. Razieh and Nader have an argument of how best to treat the father, and its consequences lead to a legal battle where the truth is always elusive. I recently talked to Farhadi about his characters, Iranian censorship, and how Kurosawa influenced his work.
In Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, the onus is on the audience to figure out the titular character. Directors and actors are there to tilt the interpretation one way or another. But Scena’s Theatre current production of Hedda Gabler, now at H Street Playhouse, doggedly refrains from any sort of judgment. That is not to say, however, that Scena’s take is complex or thought-provoking. On the contrary, the actors are either too mannered or too wooden, which results in an absence of insight.
If you’re familiar with Roger Corman’s work but not his personality, you may be surprised by what you find. The prolific producer of such films as Sorority House Massacre II and Death Race 2000 is actually quite mild-mannered; he speaks like a wise professor, not the creator of ultra-violent cinema. Director Alex Stapleton’s documentary Corman’s Wold: The Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel is not just a biography. Using footage from his old movies and testimonials from Hollywood royalty, Stapleton makes the case that Corman deserves recognition as an original iconoclast.
The emotional toll of combat, particularly among journalists and photographers, has recently become a popular topic to explore. Thrillers like The Hurt Locker and The Bang Bang Club are more visceral, using pulse-pounding footage to show why certain people always return to war zones. Documentaries like Restrepo and Hell and Back Again are relatively sensitive to how ordinary soldiers cope with their duty, as well as its aftermath. With Time Stands Still, the new production at The Studio Theatre, playwright Donald Margulies joins the fray of like-minded writers. His sharp, empathetic drama is all aftermath. Though war journalism is the agency for tension among the characters, understated marital drama is the source of its impact.
Based on the acclaimed Haruki Murakami novel, Norwegian Wood is an overlong ode to wistful melancholy. Director Anh Hung Tran lingers on his characters like a voyeur, yet the young Japanese students are too inward to be fascinating. With one notable exception, understated performances betray the depth of feeling the characters should have. Tran’s approach is not much help, either. The distance between audience and subject create a steady feeling of ambivalence, even during some emotional high points.