Friday Movies: 'A Scanner Darkly' and 'Time to Leave'

A Scanner Darkly

An "animated" Keanu Reeves stars as Bob Arctor, in A Scanner Darkly. Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros.
Time to Leave

Melvil Poupaud and Jeanne Moreau in François Ozon's Time to Leave. Fidélité Productions hide caption

itoggle caption Fidélité Productions

A personal note: I just had a baby so I don't expect to go to a movie theater ever again. OK, maybe something from Pixar, but nothing I really WANT to see — which would include the latest Philip K. Dick book-turned-film. At least I can read about them though, and to that end, I cast a line to NPR movie critic Bob Mondello, way down in South America.

I'm sending this from Argentina, where the big films appear to be Cars and El Retourno de Superman. Happily I caught a couple of films before I left.

A Scanner Darkly — The coolest thing about the movie version of Philip K. Dick's seven-years-from-now dystopia is that director Richard Linklater takes the title seriously. The painted-cell animation he used for his film Waking Life, has been improved to the point that this whole picture looks as if it's been run through a medical scanner and then colorized to bring it back to a semblance of real life. What this has to do with anything is anyone's guess, but it looks pretty amazing. The story — about an undercover cop who's investigating a drug scourge called "D" (an amphetamine-style substance that seems to make "E" seem pretty tame) — is less interesting than watching what the animation does to the faces and movements of Keanu Reeves (as the cop), Winona Ryder (as his junkie girlfriend), and Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. (as his constantly feuding housemates). When the roomies are front and center — Downey especially — the story crackles. When the conspiracy stuff takes over, things slacken, so it's nice that the look of the film is so unusual. Cops, when they're undercover seven years from now, will apparently wear special suits made up of DNA fragments (or chips, or something) taken from thousands of people, so they're literally shape-shifters, a notion that the rotoscoping visual style Linklater's chosen is ideally suited to illustrate. And frankly, you've gotta love the director for finding a way to make Keanu Reeves seem, er, animated.

Time to Leave — French director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool) offers a meditation on death, without histrionics or melodrama. A gay fashion photographer learns he has untreatable cancer, is briefly cruel to his lover and everyone in his family except grandma (the still glamorous Jeanne Moreau). Then he rethinks how he's treating people — including a couple who want him to help them have a child — and takes steps to make amends before he dies. Where most films about death are all about grief, or about the struggle to survive, or about metaphysics, this one's actually about dying. It's austere, peopled by gorgeous folks (Melvil Poupaud goes from healthily strapping to emaciated and frail), and — like all of Ozon's films — beautifully made. It needs to be, to offer compensation for a main character who is purposefully off-putting and distant. Whether it will be compensation enough is an open question. The film won't be for all tastes, but it's as visually exquisite as it is emotionally distant.

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