Archive for July 2010

In Hollywood, not driving means there’s something wrong with you.

July 30, 2010

Slate’s Tom Vanderbilt’s examination of the Hollywood film stereotype that only misfits and losers don’t drive struck home for me – an urban type who hasn’t owned a car since 2003. But really, if Pee Wee is wrong, who wants to be right?

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Inception

July 23, 2010

While the math is Solaris plus Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind plus The Matrix plus the rules of action video games, Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster Inception doesn’t quite add up. But you know what, who cares? Is it the best of Hollywood’s “summer movies” of 2010? Probably but the competition is far from fierce. It’s a sad state of affairs when I can give this praise to a film based simply on novelty and ambition as compared to the rehashes of old ideas and unnecessary sequels that seem to be the stock in trade of Hollywood in 2010. Hell I can give Inception 4 out of 5 stars just for novelty.

Inception isn’t a bad movie. I was transfixed pretty much throughout. Make no mistake, it’s flaws are legion: a clunky script that requires too much “tell not show” exposition, leading to a dense film screaming for just a moment to breathe, cardboard characters that waste the acting talents of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe, Nolan’s love of the Paul Greengrass/Quantum of Solace style million cuts a minute action/chase/shootout sequences whose manic intensity make me want to search for old gum on the theater floor until it’s over and the film’s failed attempt at pinning the narrative to a (less than resonant) longing for a lost love. Not to mention Nolan’s failure to understand that dream reality is never as reliant on it’s own internal logic as this film is. I can’t help but think that if he were to just let go for a minute the film would have been transcendent.

Nonetheless as a viewer I was completely satisfied. Christopher Nolan makes wonderful puzzle boxes and revels in surface-level mind-fucks. When he’s at his best (the concept of “dream time” being elongated compared to the time of the “awake” state above it created one of the most clever “race against the clock” scenarios ever filmed) he’s amazing. But make no mistake, this is not a masterpiece. That doesn’t make me not want to experience it again in the theater though, and coming from me that’s pretty high praise.

Best actors and directors under age 40

July 22, 2010

I like lists, do you? No? Tough, this is my blog! Here’s my list of the 5 best directors and actors under age 40 (working largely in English language features – I’m less up on world cinema so I won’t go there.) I turned 30 this year and I’ve slowly come to realize that my generation (I consider myself the tail end of “Gen X” and not part of “Gen Y” or the Millenials) has begun to really come into it’s own in the film world so I wanted to give a look at my most accomplished peers.

Yes, I know that Gen X includes Stephen Soderberg (age 47), Lynne Ramsay (age 40), PT Anderson (also age 40) and Noah Baumbach (also age 40 – frack, 1969 and 1970 ware good years for directors!) and such but I’m sticking with folks under 40 – fellow late Gen Xers who came of age influenced by the kings and queens of the early and mid-90s Sundance Era. Folks who matured only have to battle their way in the aughts and 2010s, an era in which the fallout of the indie-tastic 90s (specifically the shuttering of many indie-major studios) has proven a difficult landscape for interesting and small films to gain traction (not to mention distribution.)

Actors:

Michelle Williams (age 29)

Who would have guessed that the late addition to the verbose and melodramatic late 90s teen soap opera Dawson’s Creek would have become perhaps the most gifted American actress of her generation? Her skilled and heartbreaking turns in Brokeback Mountain and especially in Wendy and Lucy, a performance shot of such bravery and vulnerability that I still cry every time I see it even after more than six viewings. I’m very much looking forward to her starring role in the Fall 2010 release Blue Valentine along with with my #2 on this list…

Ryan Gosling (age 29)

Generally strong choices of roles (though most people remember him for The Notebook which I still refuse to see.) Especially impressive in the intense dramas The Believer and>Half Nelson as well as the lighter comedy Lars and the Real Girl.

Joseph Gordon Levitt (age 27)

A child actor, Levitt’s talent really blossomed as a young man when he played a young gay hustler dealing with past abuse in Gregg Araki’s surprisingly mature Mysterious Skin. Has taken both heavy and light roles and may be following in the footsteps of George Clooney as Hollywood’s next leading man for his generation.

Samantha Morton (age 33)

Soulful performances in Morvern Callar, In America, Synechdoche, New York, Jesus’ Son, Sweet and Lowdown, The Messenger the list goes on and on. Her body of work is better than many great actresses twice her age.

Sarah Polley (age 31)

Not only a wonderful actress but showed great promise as a director with her debut feature Away from Her.

Honorable mentions:

Collin Farrell (age 34)

I used to hate Collin Farrell and his stupid George Michael stubble and his squinty good looks but he’s taken on some really juicy roles in the past few years. Capt. John Smith in Terrence Malick’s always impressive The New World, the underappreciated someday classic buddy comedy In Bruges, and even the terribly derivative and forgettable Woody Allen thriller Cassandra’s Dream.

Anna Faris (age 33)

Anna Faris…seriously! Best comic film actress of her generation. She’s been the saving grace of some pretty terrible films (see the Scary Movie franchise, The House Bunny and Smiley Face) but her turn as the hyper-sexual lesbian vet tech in Lucky McKee’s May is her greatest performance too few have seen. And her bit roles in Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain show her range quite well.

Directors:

Rahmin Bahrani (age 35)

Hasn’t missed the mark yet – his three features Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo have been the best examinations of the lives of the underclass in post-9/11 America. I feel priviliged that we have a whole lifetime to see what this guy can do!

David Gordon Green (age 35)

Green came charging right out of the gate with his lyrical southern Gothic fable George Washington and followed it up with the equally impressive romantic drama All the Real Girls (introducing me to my cliché crush Zoey Deschanel) and the severely underrated Snow Angels. He’s branched out quite a bit recently though with his foray into stoner comedy Pineapple Express and continues to expand his range with his upcoming remake of Dario Argento’s Italo-horror classic Suspiria.

Sofia Coppolla (age 39)

Two big hits (The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation) and an ambitious miss (Marie Antoinette), the girl who ruined The Godfather III (so they say – so many people say it’s bad that I’ve stayed away) is a known commodity in Hollywood now and not just because of her last name.

Andrew Bujalski (age 33)

The youngest director on this list helped jumpstart the most innovative film movements of the aughts with his debut Funny, Ha Ha and has shown growing maturity as a filmmaker with his follow ups Mutual Appreciation and Beeswax. Slowly climbing out of the mumblecore ghetto it’s only a matter of time before a major studio takes a flier and gives him a shot at making a film on a decent budget.

Ondi Timoner (age 37)

The up and coming documentarian of her generation. Her profile of the manic brilliance/instanity/sociopathy of musician Anton Newcombe in Dig! was hypnotic and her recent underappreciated film about internet enterperneur and visionary Josh Harris We Live in Public put her squarely on this list.

Honorable Mentions:

Christopher Nolan (gets in just under the wire – he’s turning 40 in 8 days)
Rian Johnson (age 36)

Who are your best in film under 40?

Scott Tobias on American History X

July 22, 2010

In his most recent installment of “The New Cult Cannon” at the AV Club’s Scott Tobias articulates exactly what I’ve thought about American History X. Pointing people towards Ryan Gosling’s breakout performance in The Beliver is spot on – it was, I believe, in my top 5 list of best of the aughts.

Kaye, who also served as cinematographer, shoots in black and white and color, which for practical purposes helps situate viewers in time, but also suggests ways of seeing the world. The Derek of the past sees things starkly; Derek post-incarceration has a more nuanced perspective. But no matter where it stands in the timeline, American History X is strictly black and white. It’s not just that the script leaves no room for interpretation, but that its dramatic transformations are rarely all that plausible, especially in the scenes with Derek in Chino. It makes sense that his disenchantment with his Aryan prison buddies starts with his observing their hypocrisy in moving drugs through Mexican gang members. But Derek’s relationship with a black inmate (Guy Torry) on laundry detail is pure hooey, staking Derek’s hasty transformation on a handful of genial exchanges and a story about the racial injustice that led the inmate into the pen. Reforming a hardened neo-Nazi like Derek—who isn’t a sheep-like follower of racist dogma, but a confident proselytizer of it—would take a hell of a lot more than some disarming jokes over the folding press. (For a better example, look to The Believer, a superior film that turns to a much more profound source for conversion.)

But Tobias is also right to praise the film for it’s frankness and accessibility in bringing racial issues to a head without couching them in code or innuendo a full ten years before Obama gives his race speech during the ’08 campaign. Got to give it credit for that. Credit gets taken away, though, for the gratuitous use of slo-mo and voiceover.

L’Enfant

July 21, 2010

As I mentioned in an earlier post I am a latecomer to the Dardennes’ Brothers work. L’Enfant (The Child) is just my second encounter with them. Immediately the differences from my previous viewing are clear: They dispense with the shaky camera and back-of-the-head focus and deliberately slow build of The Son and replace them with more professional looking tracking shots and, gasp, attractive actors! Our immediate introduction to a couple reminded me of nothing more than if Seberg hadn’t turned in Belmondo in A Bout de Souffle but rather had seen their relationship through and started a family. These are two attractive and adventurous drifters who clearly have no idea that the world can be just as cruel and dangerous as they are.

L’Enfant is one of those films that whose heavy baggage of almost universal acclaim lead to my distinct disappointment. A Palm d’or at Cannes doesn’t make something an unqualified masterpiece. However at the very least, if you’re going to make the film about the moral consequences of selling a newborn on the black market you should at least make that child more than a prop. Jeremie Renier’s Bruno carries the child through city streets, on busses and into the hands of a baby broker with nary a peep, poop or demand of food. A Katie Kisses toy is higher maintenence than this bundle of pure maguffin. I found it difficult to experience the true level of emotional outrage at Renier’s acts due to the fact that I had a hard time thinking of the thing inside that blue parka as an actual child and not just a lump of plastic. The Dardennes would have done well to add in a few scenes of realistic physical attention and closeness between parent and child.

My lack of engagement with the primary conflict of the film is especially unfortunate in light of the impressively nuanced and expressive performance of Renier whose face and slump betrays his crisis of conscience as he waits in the adjacent room as his child lays on his coat on the other side of the wall as the stranger comes to take the bundle away. If the parcel came off as anything but a bundle perhaps my emotional response would have been of the level that the Dardennes had designed.

Trailer: It’s a funny kind of story

July 20, 2010

Saw this trailer for the new feature from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (the makers of the wonderful Sugar and Half Nelson) last night before a showing of The Kids are All Right at the Kendall Cinema. I can only hope that the insensitive and ignorant way they address severe mental illness resides more in the trailer than in the film. As someone who has worked with many people who are sort of “frequent fliers” hosptialized in units such as the one this film claims to depict I can tell you there is very little funny about it. Delusions, hallucinations and paranoia of the nature that gets one hospitalized in a locked unit are frightening for everyone involved and generally people sick enough to be in such a 21st century psych ward are not edgy Kristen Stewart/Juno types who wear shirts that say “I hate boys” on them to demonstrate how much of an “outsider” they are. Teen angst doesn’t get you locked in a psych ward. After their thoughtful depiction of middle-class drug addiction and the unique immigrant experience of a Dominican minor league ball player in their previous films I really expected more sensitivity from Boden and Fleck than this trailer provides. Here’s hoping the film is better than this.