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On Movies: Get lucky and see 'The Double Hour'; be luckier and miss '13 Assassins'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 26, 2011 - You'd think it would be unnecessary to admonish readers to "pay attention" while watching a particular film. Why pay 10 bucks to go to the movies if you're not going to pay attention? But our ability to focus has been short-circuited by the electronic chaos of modern life, plus movie and TV plots a newborn could follow, so telling people to pay attention to a movie falls in the same strange-but-necessary category as telling kids to go outdoors and play.

Anyway, if you go see "The Double Hour," and you should if you like twisty Italian psychological thrillers, pay attention or you'll miss something.

One thing you might pay attention to is suggested by the title. "The Double Hour" refers to that time when the hour and the minute are identical - say 10:10. According to Guido (Filippo Timi), such moments are lucky.

Guido, a retired cop, works in electronic surveillance for a private security firm. A lonely, morose widower, he has speed-dated his way through half the youngish female population of Turin when he meets Sonia (Ksenia Rappoport) just as the clock clicks over to a double hour.

Sonia is an immigrant from Slovenia who works as a chambermaid at a fancy hotel. Early in the movie, a young woman commits suicide by jumping out of the window of a suite she is cleaning. The mystery of the suicide drapes like a pale ghost over the rest of the movie.

Guido fairly quickly falls in love with Sonia, and she at least really likes him. They begin an affair that seems rosy. Then there is a holdup, shots are fired, and the movie slithers down a wormhole. The film will emerge fairly quickly, and the remainder of the story makes sense, but you have to pay attention. Did I say that?

The well-paced, visually arresting direction is by newcomer Giuseppe Capotondi. Despite his background in music video, he doesn't assail us with rapid-fire series of disconnected images, but moves the story along at a brisk Hitchcock-like pace. He succeeds in combining a classic sleight-of-hand thriller with a winsome and wistful romance.

Opens Friday May 27

"13 Assassins"

Akira Kurosawa, the great Japanese director of samurai movies, was influenced by the elegiac westerns of John Ford. Takashi Miike, the prolific director of "13 Assassins," is clearly influenced by American directors, too, bad contemporary action directors who substitute fast-cutting, brutal imagery and aural and visual noise for coherence and suspense.

The plot of "13 Assassins" owes a debt to Kurosawa's magnificent "Seven Samurai," a debt it fails to repay. In both movies, a cadre of samurai is assembled to fight the minions of an evil man. But nearly doubling the number of fighters to 13 in the new movie means we don't really have a chance to get to know them by the time they go into battle. They are, needless to say, badly outnumbered but righteous in their cause, which is to bring down a young lord who rapes and murders his subjects.

The movie ends with a 45-minute battle scene that is all flashing swords and bright explosions, cut together for maximum visceral effect and minimum lucidity. There is seldom any sense of who is doing what to whom, not to mention where, and fairly quickly the whole affair becomes a bloody bore.

Opens Friday May 27

Harper Barnes, the author of Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement, is a special contributor to the Beacon. 

Harper Barnes
Harper Barnes' most recent book is Never Been A Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights Movement