Please note: This is an abbreviated column. Part of it was lost (along with last week’s work) due to a bad laptop going haywire and breaking down. Such is life.
Goodbye Solo (R, 2008, Lions Gate)
Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) lives on the far reaches of the edge of the cab driver spectrum, cheerfully engaging his customers and uncovering layers even a shrink couldn’t peel back in three times the time. That charm isn’t quite enough to transform grumpy old William (Red West) into a gabby Ray of sunshine, but it is good enough to convince him to offer Solo a lot of money to drive him somewhere else in a few weeks. Without spoiling anything, it isn’t a particularly good place, and that knowledge is enough to compel Solo, who has a few emotional irons of his own in the fire, to elect himself as William’s personal cabbie. “Goodbye Solo” uses this reasonably simple premise as a means to painstakingly (by movie standards, anyway) pore over two lives that both converge and stand completely at odds with each other. And because the film does such an entertaining job at establishing both characters through images and exchanges rather than by spelling it out and holding the audience’s hand, it makes this dissection both look easy and feel uncommonly meaningful all at once.
Extra: Director/cinematographer commentary.
Nights and Weekends (NR, 2008, IFC Films)
You have to hand it to the allegorical public relations firm responsible for popularizing the dating staple known as the long-distance relationship, which has maintained a startling level of romanticism despite a failure rate of more than 99 percent. Similar credit, however, is due to “Nights and Weekends,” which ignores that romanticism and rather painfully picks apart the realities of a seemingly doomed relationship between Chicagoan James (Joe Swanberg) and Manhattanite Mattie (Greta Gerwig). The film isn’t so much a story arc as it is a collection of scenes that, in many cases, could be presented out of order and still tell the same story. But it works anyway — and it works awfully well — because those scenes are so gosh darn authentic in their presentation. Gerwig and Swanberg are very chemically compatible (no surprise, seeing as “Weekends” is their fourth collaboration either in front of or behind the camera) and the slice-of-life nature of the storyline perfectly captures the sad banality of a relationship working on borrowed time. Such compulsive devotion to authenticity most definitely is not everyone’s idea of a good time at the movies, but “Weekends” need not apologize for sticking to its mission and seeing it to completion.
Extras: Producers commentary, test short, Swanberg teasers.
Duplicity (PG-13, 2009, Universal)
The business of conducting business is pretty serious business — an adage “Duplicity” exuberantly illustrates during an opening fistfight between two CEOs (Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson). That fight spills over into the rest of the film, which finds one of the CEOs babying a top-secret breakthrough product while the other scratches feverishly to uncover the details and steal it out from under him before the plan goes public. In the center of it all: a pair of double agents (Clive Owen and Julia Roberts) who must balance their roles in protecting and uncovering the secret with their compulsive need to deceive and seduce one another. The whole charade, to say nothing of the rest of the players involved in the production, is nothing short of ludicrous — especially when you realize what this high-stakes confidential battle royal is over. But that’s sort of the point. “Duplicity” is a little too slick for its own good, particularly early on before we really get to know anybody well enough to find the greasy dialogue smart rather than cute. But smart ultimately does take over cute in the writing department, and the story’s breakneck pace and appetite for twists and double-twists is complemented nicely by the many foreshadowing winks it throws the audience’s way. Best of all, it never takes itself too seriously, settling quite comfortably as a cartoonish, escapist look at corporate bloodlust — and, in doing so, thriving in that role.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary.
The Informers (R, 2009, Sony Pictures)
A student of film might watch “The Informers” and wonder what, beyond a paycheck, was the point of it all when work on the script first began. That isn’t a knock against the quality of the cast (Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke, Winona Ryder, Chris Isaak and Amber Heard, among others), or even the short-term merits of the slightly interwoven stories (a Hollywood producer trying to rekindle his dead marriage, a group of not-quite friends not-quite mourning the fatal overdose of one of their own, an ex-con engaging in a horrifying act of illegality, a father and son’s love/hate relationship with each other) that cast acts out. The performances are fine, and had any of the stories received some breathing room, the film might have turned out fine as well. But “Informers” seems to lack the narrative confidence needed to make any of these stories feel like anything more than bite-sized retreads of similar, better stories. And beyond the place (Los Angeles) and time (the 1980s), there exists very little — arguably nothing — to meaningfully connect one episode to the rest. The purpose of so many characters and scenarios seems solely to keep “Informers” from exposing this inability to do anything special with any of them, but the charade can last for only so long before it becomes obvious the film isn’t going anywhere its audience hasn’t already been.
Extras: Director/cast commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
Worth a mention
— “Earth” (G, 2007, Disneynature): Disney’s love affair with Blu-ray enters phase two with the release of “Earth,” which not only is the studio’s feature film-length answer to Discovery’s “Planet Earth” series, but also the linchpin for a new brand. (Yes, “Disneynature” is one word and not a typo.) James Earl Jones narrates, but the pictures, as they should, steal the show. Per recent custom, Disney packages the Blu-ray and DVD editions into the same box. Extras include filmmaker annotations (Blu-ray version only) and a making-of feature.
— “Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season” (NR, 2009, ABC studios): The only evidence of “Scrubs'” migration to ABC from NBC? The inclusion of an ABC Starter Kit DVD with sample episodes of six ABC shows. The important stuff — the same great cast and the same great writing — remains as intact as ever. Includes 19 episodes, plus deleted scenes, alternate lines, bloopers and intern Webisodes.
— “Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean & Harry Shearer” (NR, 2009, Courgette): The three musicians/actors/writers/whoknowswhatelse convene on stage, sans costume, to perform hits from “This is Spinal Tap,” “A Mighty Wind” and more. Also part of the festivities: an audience Q&A, movie and fan clips and a few other random surprises. Also includes liner notes from Harry Shearer.