Monday, January 30, 2006
Prozac Nation (Erik Skjoldbjærg, 2001)
This film was based on the life of Elizabeth Wurtzel as documented in her book of the same title. It was actually never released in theaters due to the unlikeable nature of the central heroine, and the fact that Wurtzel herself hated the movie, among other reasons. It actually made debuted on the Starz! network in 2005. After watching this film I can see why Mirimax films shelved it indefinitely. Christina Ricci plays a young aspiring writer who battles depression. The film wreaks of stereotypes and cliché characters including an overly emotional mother (Jessica Lang), a deadbeat dad who suddenly reemerges, the sweet boyfriend (Jason Biggs), the understanding friend (Michelle Williams), and hip young doctor (Anne Heche). I also found the voice-over narration to be shallow and unoriginal, considering the main character is supposed to be a brilliant writer. The dialogue often seemed trite and forced at times. It seems "Prozac Nation" attempts to keep our attention by use of either flashy camera effects, or gratuitious scenes and/or references involving sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. In one scene we see Ricci sitting on her bed completely nude for no apparent reason. What was even more disappointing was when it's all said and done, the film doesn't take a strong stand either way on whether antidepressants are positive or negative.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Twist (Ron Mann, 1992)
This is another documentary from award winning filmmaker Ron Mann. ("Grass") It explores the evolution of dancing from the conservative ballroom style to the freestyle form that took place in the early 60s and the years leading up to it. As the title suggests, much of the film focuses on the phenomenon the song "The Twist", originally written and peformed by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, and then covered and popularized by Chubby Checker, created. As I was watching the stock footage of young teenagers dancing I thought to myself why make a documentary about such a frivolous topic, but soon I found the film raising some profound points. The interviews with former American Bandstand dancers, and performers such as Hank Ballard, Chubby Checker, Joey Dee, and others revealed a lot about mainstream trends and American pop culture in general. Topics such as the plagarism of African American dances and music, the ridiculousness of companies trying to market anything and everything involving the word "twist" as well as other absurd dances similar in nature, and the free spirited individualism that began to evolve during this period. The problem I found with this film was it only briefly touches on the more meaningful subjects, while being more concerned with repetitive footage of different trendy dances.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
In the Mood for Love (Kar Wai Wong, 2000)
This is the first film I have seen from Kar Wai Wong, despite the fact that I took an Asian film class last semester. The text, my professor, scholars, and critics alike gave him much praise, but we tended to watch less accessible films in the class, in hopes that we would be inspired to watch the more popular Asian films on our own. After viewing "In the Mood for Love" I have to concede that writer, director, producer, Kar Wai Wong lived up to all the hype. The story is simple, but intricately told through Wong's unconventional style consisting of elliptical editing techniques, and unique composition. The audiences view is often obstructed by objects in the foreground, or blocked by doorways and cramped spacing, lending an element of entrapment. Wong also prevents the audience from participating in the story with many third person observer shots rather than first person point of view shots. For example there are several times in the film when we can hear the spouses of the two main characters talking, but we never see their faces on screen. The two main characters played by Tong Leung and Maggie Cheung are neighbors who form a bond with each other after discovering that their spouses are being unfaithful. This emotional film was masterfully constructed, beautifully scored, and the acting by both Leung and Cheung is magnificent. I look forward to watching the follow-up film "2046" and seeing more from Kar Wai Wong in the future.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
This film is centered around the stories of two boys from Kansas, who are molested by their little league coach. It is an interesting look at the long term effects of sexual abuse on young children. "Mysterious Skin" grabs your attention early with amazing visual imagery and cinematography along with a stunning 'shoegazer' soundtrack. There are numerous homosexual scenes throughout. Some of which are very disturbing and I wouldn't recommend this film to someone who is uneasy about this sort of material. At times I found some of the dialogue to sound too melodramatic for a film trying to convey such a gritty and realistic look at life, and some of the character's accents annoyed me since I am from Kansas myself and they didn't quite match up. But aside from these minor faults, Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an outstanding performance in a difficult role as Neil McCormick, who becomes a gay hustler, while his co-star, Brian Lackey played by Brady Corbet instead represses his memories and insists he was abducted by aliens. There were several excellent supporting performances in the film as well, especially from Elisabeth Shue as Neil's mother and also from Mary Lynn Rajskub as Avalyn, a UFO obsessed friend of Brians.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Happy Endings (Don Roos, 2005)
Much along the same lines as several other ensemble cast films such as Robert Altman's "Short Cuts", P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia", and more recently Paul Haggis's "Crash", "Happy Endings" weaves several different characters and their plotlines throughout the narrative and loosely connects them in some way or another. The cast includes Lisa Kudrow, Steven Coogan, Tom Arnold, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Ritter, and others. Although these types of films are starting to become cliché, "Happy Endings" still maintains a sense of freshness with it's subtle blend of dark humor and more serious life issues such as sexuality, abortion, artificial insemination, and illegal immigration and is ultimately entertaining.
Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
Emily Watson delivers an extraordinary performance as Bess in her screen debut which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Several other great acting performances are note worthy in this film as well. The film explores an interesting theme of faith, spirituality, and allegiance to God in a very original manner and employs several of the Dogme 95 film techniques consisting of hand-held camera use, lack of artificial lighting, frequent use of close-ups as opposed to the more orthodox establishing master shots, etc. This film was made before the Dogme manifesto was written, and is sort of an experimental hybrid. The film does require patience, as it is rather slow and lengthy, but is visually stunning. The photography throughout the film is amazing. My favorite moments are the transition shots between chapters when title screens are juxtaposed with beautiful scenery of the scottish country side and 1970s rock n' roll music.
The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)
Although it is easily construed as corny, the campiness, outdated hair styles, costuming, music, and slang is what makes this film a cult classic. There really isn't much to the story. The acting is subpar, the fight scenes are neither believable nor well choreographed, and we've all seen these familiar scenarios in films before. But despite all of it's shortcomings, this film provides fun and entertainment, memorable characters, quotable lines, and imagery that has stood the test of time for 25 years. The newly released directors cut includes transitions with scenes beginning and ending as illustrations from a comic book, which I happened to like, while others criticize the change. Yes, the film is cheesey, but who says cheesiness is always negative?
Central do Brasil (Walter Salles, Brazil, 1998) aka Central Station (USA)
Nominated for 2 Oscars, Fernanda Montenegro for Best Actress in a Leading Role and for Best Foreign Language Film in 1999, this film showcases the directing talents of Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries")and the acting ability of Montenegro. It is accompanied by a moving musical score by Jacques Morelembaum and Antonio Pintoas as well as beautiful cinematography by Walter Carvalho that allows us a admire the Brazilian landscape. The plot revolves around Josué (Vinícius de Oliveira), a young boy whose mother has recently died in an accident and is in search of his father and Dora(Montenegro), an old cynical school teacher, who is left with no choice, but to help the boy. The story itself is a bit sappy and predictable. yet it is still a touching film without being overly sentimental.
Buffalo '66 ( Vincent Gallo, 1998)
I was first introduced to Vincent Gallo, as a filmmaker when I watched the notoriously atrocious The Brown Bunny. So I was skeptical about this film, but impressed after watching it and honestly amazed that such a well done film, was written and directed by the same person as The Brown Bunny. Vincent Gallo and Christina Ricci are excellent as the neurotic Billy and Layla and I especially enjoyed the portrayal of Billy's eccentric parents played by Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston. Buffalo '66 is a fine technical achievement in filmmaking as well. There is an amazing three-dimensional freeze scene towards the end of the movie where the camera pans around the still characters. I also found the overlaying flashback scenes to be a nice touch. This film is oddly depressing yet humorous at the same time and very original both narratively and stylistically.