Brandon is always on the prowl.
In the subway, the handsome New Yorker stunningly played by Michael Fassbender in “Shame” stares flirtatiously at pretty passengers. In bars, his quiet charisma attracts the best-looking women. At home in his tidy Manhattan bachelor’s pad -- and at his unspecified white-collar desk job -- he surfs the Web for porn.
And when that’s not enough, he hires hookers.
His insatiable sexual appetite precludes any meaningful relationships, romantic or otherwise. He bickers with his wayward sister Missy (a bleached-blond Carey Mulligan) after she unexpectedly drops in for an extended stay.
Sharply directed by British artist/filmmaker Steve McQueen, “Shame” is about an outwardly content man with an empty soul. No matter how many women he sleeps with, Brandon can’t fill that emotional void.
Despite all its writhing naked bodies and Fassbender’s full frontal nudity, the film isn’t prurient. It’s a sad, gloomy look at extreme loneliness in the midst of one of the world’s most bustling cities.
Fassbender, who played an Irish Republican Army prisoner in McQueen’s first film, “Hunger,” captures Brandon’s tortured psyche with minimal dialogue or action (if you don’t count the sexual gymnastics). He reveals the character mostly through subtle looks and gestures, notably in a scene where he’s devastated after failing to perform in bed with a beautiful colleague (Nicole Beharie).
Mulligan lends strong support as Sissy, a lounge singer who delivers a slow, show-stopping performance of “New York, New York.” Her one-night stand with Brandon’s sleazy married boss (James Badge Dale) creates even more conflict with her brother.
“Shame,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures, is playing in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington. Ratings: ***1/2
‘Answers to Nothing’
You need a scorecard to keep track of all the characters in “Answers to Nothing,” an ensemble drama about a varied group of unhappy Los Angelenos searching for meaning in their lives.
A partial list includes a married therapist (Dane Cook) having an affair with a sultry rock singer (Aja Volkman); a recovering alcoholic (Miranda Bailey) caring for her disabled brother; a black TV writer (Kali Hawk) who hates black people; a nerdy teacher (Mark Kelly) obsessed with finding a missing girl; and a former police cadet (Erik Palladino) who attends strangers’ funerals.
The film has 52 speaking parts, so it’s easy to get mixed up, especially since the characters overlap and intertwine. But director/co-writer Matthew Leutwyler lets the connections unfold in a believable way, making them more than just dramatic devices.
Cook, best known as a stand-up comedian, shows he can handle a serious role. And Volkman, the slender, dark-haired lead singer in the rock band Nico Vega, makes an impressive film debut that features her Joan Jett look and Janis Joplin singing style.
“Answers to Nothing,” from Roadside Attractions, is playing in major U.S. cities. Rating: **1/2
Don’t let the title fool you: This “Sleeping Beauty” is no children’s fairy tale.
Julia Leigh’s debut feature is a disturbing story of erotic desire and sexual perversion. It’s not beautiful and certainly won’t help you sleep.
The central character is Lucy (stoic Emily Browning), a willowy Australian college student who pays the bills with menial work as a waitress, copying machine collator and medical guinea pig. For kicks, she picks up guys at bars.
One day she answers an ad that leads to a kinky sex job.
After being heavily sedated, Lucy lies in bed while elderly men act out their fetishes on her motionless body. The only house rule is “no penetration”; otherwise all bets are off.
Lucy is unconscious during these sessions and afterward is strangely detached from the experience.
So was I.
“Sleeping Beauty,” from IFC Films, is playing in New York. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor No stars Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)