Czech Horror and Fantasy Film at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts

Laura: Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is presenting some marvelously perverse holiday programming with their Czech Horror and Fantasy on Film series, running 12/11 through 12/21. On Thursday, 12/11 at 2 p.m., the event is kicked off with the magnificently gothic "Krysar" ("The Pied Piper") by Jiri Barta. This stop-motion animation has imagery redolent of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," "Der Golem" and the drawings of Escher. Barta takes the classic pied piper tale and turns it into a cautionary tale about capitalistic greed. "The Pied Piper" is paired with three shorts and is repeated on Sunday, 12/14. Also on Thursday, 12/11 at 3:30 p.m. is the only showing of "Who Killed Jessie?" Václav Vorlícek's black and white film is a madcap sci-fi comedy where the comic strip characters that obsess a scientist, including the busty Jessie, come to life after his henpecking scientist wife tries a new serum on him. This one's not unlike "Monkey Business" meets the Marx Brothers with dashes of the Far Side's Gary Larson - one experiment delves into the nightmares of cows in which they're tortured by gadflies! On Saturday, 12/20 at 2:30 p.m. is the surreal cult film, "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders." Jaromil Jares' film follows Valerie just as the thirteen year old enters womanhood and is plunged into a weird world of incestuous ancestors, vampires and religious figures right out of Ken Russell's "The Devils." The film shows its 1970 roots (the actress who plays Valerie is no thirteen year old), but this Faustian vampire tale has bizarrely beautiful imagery that recalls such films as Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." On Sunday, 12/21 at 4:10 p.m. is the rarely shown "The Ear" by Karel Kachyna. This black and white from 1970 is a study in paranoia as a married couple discover their house is bugged and electricity and telephone communication are denied them. "The Ear" is a psychological study akin to a Communist "The Conversation" and is preceded by a shorts program featuring Jiri Barta's ("The Pied Piper") "The Last Theft" and three selections from the great Jan Svankmajer ("Alice"). Other film selections which were not previewed include the horrific black comedy "The Cremator" and "Invisible/The Damned House of Hajn" which is described as the stylistic child of Roman Polanski, Billy Wilder, Maya Deren and Dario Argento! Click here for the MFA's December, 2003 schedule.

Laura's Review: B+

Writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass ("The Puffy Chair," "Baghead") leave the mumblecore scene to make their studio debut with their own warped take on a familiar theme and succeed largely due to the skills of their imaginatively cast male leads. John C. Reilly's remarkable range is a known factor, but here he blends his comedic skills with his warmth for a new mix. Jonah Hill simply goes to some very new places that can be as scary as they are funny. The Duplass brothers choose a unique way to introduce John. A concerned Jamie stops by his small ranch home. There's an ominous thumping on the soundtrack. There are lights on, but no response to the doorbell. Jamie lets herself in. Jas Shelton's hand held camerawork adds to the suspense - are we walking into a murder or suicide scene here? Then the embarrassing/funny reveal of a 'preoccupied' John in his bedroom with headphones and little else on. The introduction perfectly describes where this character currently is. At the party, he needs to be goaded into trying to talk to someone, fortified with a cup of vodka and Red Bull. His efforts are inept, so he continues to drink. That Molly can joke about his peeing in a bush is a fresh flag. She also responds to his childishly exuberant reaction to Human League's "Don't You Want Me Baby," proof that he can, indeed, be the life of the party. His utter openness washes away any disbelief in the physical mismatch. When John later clandestinely follows Molly to her home and starts sneaking around after he sees her leave the next morning, he's confronted by Cyrus (Jonah Hill, "Get Him to the Greek"), who invites John in despite the awkward introduction. Cyrus seems reasonable, in a stilted, bright-eyed kind of way, until he offers to play some of his music for his guest. Hill is brilliant conveying Cyrus's belief in his own genius as he offers bombastically mediocre musical output. When Molly arrives home and, not seeing John, shimmies towards her son professing his talent, we learn their whole world. It seems as though things are just fine, in a weird kind of way, but warning signs abound - that picture Molly keeps on her bureau of her breast-feeding her son at an inappropriate age, Cyrus's casual entry into a bathroom where his mother is showering, John's missing Nikes. Finally, suspicions become truths and war is declared with Molly none the wiser. The Duplass brothers are known for their improvisational style, both in their writing and the technical aspects of filmmaking, so its hard to know just how much the actors added, but the central trio have a great dynamic. Tomei plays Molly straight, with a hint of awareness that her relationship with her son is abnormal that's forgotten when John appears to accept them. All three characters have strong arcs as well, each ending up in a very different place than where they began, all growing up in their own way. Reilly's decency is touching and Hill's malevolence is thrilling (the actor uses body language to elicit sympathy near film's end0. It is a testament to the Duplass's filmmaking skills that they maintain an even tone with such a strange mix. The dependable Keener provides John with a counterpart to Molly's emotional home base. As her new fiance, Matt Walsh is the audience POV into the insanity. Production values are modest, giving a good sense of East L.A. neighborhoods. The high def cinematography is more notable for its movement than for its look. The sparingly used score (Michael Andrews, "Me and You and Everyone We Know," "Funny People") slyly works in synth notes, tying it to Cyrus's compositions. "Cyrus" is a witty relationship comedy about maneuvering through fundamental connections in order to form new ones. Hill shows off new facets in this gem of an ensemble.

Robin's Review: DNS