Hal Hartley

Hal Hartley

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Fay Grim Review


Weak
Roughly ten years after cementing his place as an offbeat indie favorite, Hal Hartley revisits the characters that put him there. His 1997 Henry Fool, a screenplay-award winner at Cannes, introduced us to lonely garbage man Simon Grim, his horny sister Fay, and the titular character that drastically changes their lives. Hartley brings them back with Fay Grim, but the "where are they now?" fun wears thin quickly.

Part of the problem is Hartley's distinct style, which, if you're a fan, you already know well. Characters often speak slowly, pausing pensively for dramatic or comedic effect. Conversations -- and camera angles -- are unexpectedly funny and skewed, dabbling in established genres. When this approach has purpose or emotion (as in Henry Fool), it works. When it runs in circles, as in the second-half of Fay Grim, it exists only for the "art" and can be annoying as hell.

Continue reading: Fay Grim Review

The Girl From Monday Review


Weak
"Let's fuck and increase our market value," urges Cecile (Sabrina Lloyd) in director Hal Hartley's latest curiosity, an interesting yet static look at a consumerist tomorrow. In Hartley's flat satiric world, every citizen's worth is determined by his ability to conform and spend -- making Cecile's forceful suggestion selfish yet logical.

Described in the credits as "science fiction" (a pretty loose use of the term), The Girl From Monday represents another genre leap for Hartley, following his 2001 Beauty and the Beast fantasy, No Such Thing. Well, if you're a typical sci-fi fan, be forewarned: There are no special effects -- minus thugs in funny helmets -- and there's really nothing terribly innovative in the storyline department.

Continue reading: The Girl From Monday Review

The Unbelievable Truth Review


Excellent
Hal Hartley's first feature is widely hailed as one of his best, if not the best of his quirky oeuvre. The story is simple (unlike his recent work, which has ventured into the inexplicably complex), featuring a mysterious ex-con (Robert John Burke) who returns to his Long Island hometown after his release from prison, eventually falling for the daughter (Adrienne Shelly) of his new employer. Of course, it's not a straight romance -- it's a witty diatribe on social interaction, the threat of world war, and the penal system. All of it is punctuated with Hartley's strange dialogue cadences reminiscent of David Mamet. Recommended.

Amateur Review


Good
Hal Hartley's latest film, Amateur, is quite a departure from his earlier work. Still gone is his once-traditional lead, the crimson-haired ingenue Adrienne Shelly (who hasn't been seen since Trust), and in her stead are two foreign actresses, Isabelle Huppert (as a lapsed nun trying to make it as a porn story writer and who believes she is a nymphomaniac) and Elena Lowensohn (returning to Hartley's films as Sofia, a somewhat psycho porn star). Hartley's favorite male lead, Martin Donovan, remains as Thomas, the slimeball husband of Sofia.

The plot is this: Sofia is fed up with Thomas, so she tries to kill him. He doesn't die--he just cracks his head and develops amnesia. Isabelle finds him and takes him under her already fragile wing. Throw in an extortion plot wherein the old Thomas was trying to blackmail a nameless entity, and add the thugs trying to kill him. Eventually, everyone gets sucked into this scheme, and nothing works out for any of them.

Continue reading: Amateur Review

No Such Thing Review


Good
I bet there's a really cool backstory behind No Such Thing. Its premise is so bizarre (but what Hal Hartley film isn't?) that it's either the work of a genius or a madman. Knowing Hartley's work, the jury's still out on that one.

Sarah Polley, an exquisite actress, stars as a young journalist-wannabe named Beatrice (in pigtails, natch) who flies to Iceland to locate her boyfriend, who has gone missing along with his entire TV crew. Her plan crashes, she undergoes surgery to get fixed up, then continues on to Iceland where she discovers the fate of her guy: He was killed by a monster (played by Robert John Burke) who lives like a hermit in an abandoned building.

Continue reading: No Such Thing Review

Henry Fool Review


Weak
Like a French New Wave director, Hal Hartley has always embraced the world of the second-rate. Setting many of his films in a second-rate city (Hoboken, New Jersey) and tracking the lives of second-rate folks has gotten a lot of mileage in the indie circuit - and deservedly so, with small, vignette-like films like Simple Men and The Unbelievable Truth. Henry Fool is still one of his most ambitious movies - a serio-comic art piece that at least acknowledges the outside world - but it's deeply flawed. The script is full of promises that the movie fails to deliver, and few in the cast seem quite sure when and if they're supposed to be funny, earnest, or both. Hartley painted himself into a corner with this one, though he does use interesting paint.

The story turns mainly on the relationship between Queens garbage man Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), a pretentious aesthete who drifts into Grim's life. Fool is thoroughly unlikeable - Ryan plays him as greasy, chain-smoking poseur, acting smarter than he actually is - but Simon clearly need somebody in his life. He's friendless, antisocial, and living with his mother and sister, who routinely berate him as retarded. Fool blathers on out his memoirs and opines about the difficult life of a genius ("An honest man is always in trouble," he opines), but he also encourages Simon to start writing himself. For Simon, that counts as friendship enough.

Continue reading: Henry Fool Review

The Book Of Life Review


Excellent
After six feature films shot with the same "too hip to smile" minimalist approach, critic's darling Hal Hartley really needed to shake things up. Shot on hand-held digital video as part of the France Collection 2000 series, The Book of Life is that project, a shaggy dog guffaw at the end of the millennium.

Miles away from what we critics enjoy referring to as "visually austere" (i.e., static shots with careful compositions), The Book of Life throws caution to the wind. Working with new cinematographer Jim Denault (Boys Don't Cry) instead of old standby Michael Spiller (Trust), Hartley spins and fusses in colorful blurred abstractions, creating a dreamy, impressionistic look with none of his trademark hard edges. Look, ma -- no hands!

Continue reading: The Book Of Life Review

Hal Hartley

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Hal Hartley Movies

Fay Grim Movie Review

Fay Grim Movie Review

Roughly ten years after cementing his place as an offbeat indie favorite, Hal Hartley revisits...

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No Such Thing Movie Review

No Such Thing Movie Review

I bet there's a really cool backstory behind No Such Thing. Its premise is...

The Book of Life Movie Review

The Book of Life Movie Review

After six feature films shot with the same "too hip to smile" minimalist approach, critic's...

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