Rio Sex Comedy (2010)***
For the majority of its two hour bulk, Rio Sex Comedy is actually a fairly interesting movie; all about a group of European and American expats adapting to life in wild and wooly Rio. An American diplomat (Bill Pullman) goes thoroughly native and hides from the State Department in one of the city’s favelas (hilltop ghettos virtually abandoned by the local government; think Juarez with an ocean view), while filmmaker Irene Jacob has her marriage vows threatened by an attractive cameraman (Jean-Marc Roulot). Charlotte Rampling plays a relocating British plastic surgeon, and before long, everyone succumbs to the rampant horniness that seems to fill the air of this sensual city. It all gets a bit silly toward the end, especially a subplot involving a local hustler (Fisher Stevens) and his lust for a virtuous Indian girl (Dani Dams). Writer/Director Jonathan Nossiter is a documentarian at heart, and his Mondovino from a few years ago is recommended as an irreverent look at the ethically-challenged characters that control world wine markets. Rio Sex Comedy seems most alive during scenes of everyday life among the city’s residents; once the gringos start stripping off their clothes, not so much.
Park Benches (2009)****
This ensemble comedy takes a while to get going, but it’s worth the wait. Essentially a three act play with tangentially related storylines, the movie features cameos by a who’s who of French cinema: Catherine Deneuve, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Gourmet and Chiara Mastroianni, to name a few. The final act takes place in a Home Depot type store, where a variety of power tools run amok makes for a hilarious finale. Light, entertaining froth.
Room at the Top (1959)****1/2
The prequel to 1962’s Life at the Top, this bleak British New Waver shows how that blackguard Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) weaseled his way to a good job and lasting unhappiness. It’s basically a soap - albeit a wonderful one - with all manner of seemingly respectable folks behaving badly. And Harvey, as usual, is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Running With Scissors (2006)****
Surprisingly good memoir of a particularly twisted upbringing, with unfailingly earnest Joseph Cross as a teenager lost in a sea of scheming and mentally unbalanced adults. Even if you find the story farfetched – which I didn’t – the film is delightful to watch for the great performances of Annette Benning, Brian Cox and Joseph Fiennes. Director Ryan Murphy does a very good job with this; so good I can almost forgive him for the Eat Pray Love screenplay.