Mandel Maven's Nest Flicks: Ogling Teens and 20somethings



Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.




So it's late Summer and young couples' thoughts turn to love, right? I was walking to work on 22nd Street and in front of me were TWO very attractive young couples gazing into each other's eyes. It's 8:00 am and both couples are doing the same thing -- turning to each other with a slowly growing, glowing smile. Clearly of remembrance of Things We Did Last Night (or just this morning?). Both slowly reach out hands, then gradually inch arms around each other, then lock lips. You know it's love in Manhattan when one couple stops in the middle of the street to kiss and the other doesn't even notice the light turning green! While an ancillary reason I go to every free concert in the parks is to reassuringly observe that young love optimistically blooms eternally in a city bustling with summer interns, it's more socially acceptable to be a voyeur in the dark.

Frantz (previewed at 2017 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film Society of Lincoln Center) (3/18/2017)

Something About Life (Nesto o zivotu) (short) (seen in 2017 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (2/4/2017)

Boone (seen in 2017 First Look Festival at Museum of the Moving Image) (2/4/2017)

Almost Sunrise (previewed at Human Rights Watch Film Fest 2016 at Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center) (7/27/2016)

Inside The Chinese Closet) (previewed at Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2016 at Film Society of Lincoln Center and at IFC Center) (7/13/2016)

Spartacus and Cassandra (seen in 2016 Panorama Europe at Museum of the Moving Image) (5/23/2016)

LoveTrue (previewed at 2016 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/6/2016)

The Tribe (Plemya) (My edited capsule “Best of 2015” review) (previewed at 2015 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (12/20/2015)

Manos Sucias (previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (My additional notes.) (8/3/2014)

Point and Shoot (previewed at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival) (8/3/2014)

A Coffee In Berlin (Oh Boy) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman.) (6/13/2014)

A World Not Ours (previewed at 2013 DOC NYC Festival) (5/28/2014)

Youth (Hanoar) (kudos to the Cunio brothers) (previewed at 2014 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women.) (4/5/2014)

Fish & Cat (Mahi va gorbeh) (previewed at 2014 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (4/5/2014)

The Return To Homs (briefly reviewed in Witches & War at 2014 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (Note: Ripping through apartment buildings, the government bombs reveal a middle-class with comfortable possessions, making the people we see on the TV news in refugee tent cities more relateable, and making their kids turned into a ragtag rebel army that much more striking.) (3/31/2014)

Stop the Pounding Heart (briefly reviewed in Witches & War at 2014 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (Note: While I haven’t seen the first two films in this trilogy, From Colby was first seen in Low Tide, and Sara in The Passage. The closing images of her are too theatrical, but at least seem more respectful of her limited options than how Hollywood (and most audiences) who would have put her on the horse of her dreams to ride away. (3/31/2014)

Teenage (briefly reviewed in 2013 Documentaries at Tribeca Film Festival and in Youth in Rebellion at Tribeca 2013) (6/9/2013)

The Motivation (briefly reviewed in 2013 Documentaries at Tribeca Film Festival) (6/9/2013)

What Richard Did (briefly reviewed in Youth in Rebellion at Tribeca 2013 at Tribeca Film Festival) (6/5/2013)

Northwest (Nordvest) (briefly reviewed in Youth in Rebellion at Tribeca 2013 at Tribeca Film Festival) (6/5/2013)

Harmony Lessons (Uroki Garmonii) (briefly reviewed in Youth in Rebellion at Tribeca 2013 at Tribeca Film Festival) (6/5/2013)

Renoir (previewed at 2013 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Film Society of Lincoln Center) (Note: This is quite a contrast to the garrets seen in other depictions of Impressionist painters, hinting at how the son later sold off this patrimony to fund his own art. The concluding reunion is lovely in even bringing the beloved predecessor back to the bosom of the family. Not only have I not seen a zoetrope used so flirtatiously, Alexandre Desplat’s score is exceptionally romantic.) (4/6/2013)

Burn It Up Djassa (Le djassa a pris feu) (briefly reviewed at 2013 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/25/2013)

Sister (L'enfant d'en haut)) (Note: Cinematographer Agnès Godard emphasizes the yo-yo elements of the kid’s life up to the mountain and down in the valley in the limbo of that cable car (he is even is dispatched downhill with the garbage at one point), even as a car ride on a flat road is even more tense with a threat of violence.) (10/29/2012)

China Heavyweight (7/6/2012)

Gypsy (Cigán) (6/27/2012)

Bidder 70 (briefly reviewed at 2012 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival) (6/16/2012)

Benji (briefly reviewed in Documentaries at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: ESPN Films’ continuing 30 for 30 series has helped expand the audience for documentaries and sponsorship for documentarians, so I’m looking forward to 9 for IX.) (5/3/2012)

Town of Runners (briefly reviewed in Documentaries at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/3/2012)

On The Mat (briefly reviewed in Documentaries at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/3/2012)

Planet of Snail (briefly reviewed in Documentaries at 2012 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/26/2012)

Turn Me On, Goddamit (Få meg på, for faen!) (previewed at 2011 Tribeca Film Festival) (Note: Just a mild warning, given that it’s not MPAA rated but I think it is appropriate for teens – there is brief glimpse of bare breasts and a (prosthetic) penis.) (4/1/2012)

Bully (Notes: My review is colored by the experiences of me and my husband growing up—no, this is not a new phenomenon or a current crisis/epidemic as some claim-- and as a mother of my sons, where I, too, would complain to teachers and bus drivers with reactions like shown in the film – when there was intervention there was a year without bullying; when the response was “Sure, every parent wants their kid to be popular, but they can’t all be. . .” etc., the bullying resumed. Mitt Romney’s reported behavior against a classmate was so commonplace in our high school years (and we were at Harvard graduate school at the same time) that he, as the popular ringleader, can’t now either remember it or understand “pranks” as bullying a victim (though younger reporters don’t understand kids then didn’t use contemporary terms like “gay” or “homo” or the “f” slur, more likely the taunts were of “sissy” against a boy, or “tomboy” against a girl.)
However, I do have issues with the documentary. There's far too much of weeping parents, which leaves it open to criticisms about other problems the kids had who tragically killed themselves. Let alone, to be cynical, grief looks the same no matter what the cause, in so many depressing documentaries. The interviews with the lesbian teen are like after-the-fact TV magazine coverage -- she mostly stands there with her few supportive friends and looks longingly at the gym she’s been hounded away from. The as-it-unfolds verité portions, even the after-the-fact legal consequences for the victimized black girl in Mississippi, are so good and so strong that they make the rest of the film look weaker. Also frustrating is the lack of insight on the bullies, let alone their parents, and any punishments, not even an epilogue scroll or in the press notes.) (updated 5/12/2012)

Donoma (briefly reviewed at 2012 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/23/2012)

The Forgiveness Of Blood (Falja E Gjakut) (2/24/2012) (Notes: The script a bit too didactically adds in a woman customer on the sister’s route who is an opposing cousin but is sympathetic that a hotheaded male relative has violated the norms, yet she still can’t interfere. Director of photography Rob Hardy heightens the atmospheric contrasts between indoors and outdoors, so that the teen boy’s release in the officially sanctioned “besa” has the emotional force of Ray Bradbury’s 1954 science fiction story “All Summer in a Day” as he tries to temporarily reenter normal teenage life, so it seems that much more cruel when it’s suddenly cancelled. How sad that the way being found to help these kids is to get them home computers. For background explanations of the culture read The Accursed Mountains: Journeys in Albania by Robert Carver, even though it’s out-of-print from 1999.)

Homecoming (previewed at 2011 Other Israel Film Festival) (11/21/2011)

Shout (previewed at 2011 Other Israel Film Festival) (11/21/2011)

The Interrupters (Notes: They tell their tough biographies that doubtless make them ineligible for conventional Big Brother/Big Sister role model programs, and are unlike police or social workers, with endless empathy for those coming out of jail, raging against the murder of a family member, or are in shock from witnessing a killing. They plead for respect for the dead and their families, and get people to talk instead of lash out, though sometimes they even physically put their bodies between aggressors.) (Why The Wire references.) (7/29/2011)

The Myth Of The American Sleepover (Notes: The next day dawns with almost too All-American scenes of flying flags, picket fences, and the Labor Day parade, where the teens fit neatly back into the town’s expectations – marching band, dancing girls down main street, and the blonde object of desire as the queen waving from the convertible. James Laxton’s dreamy day passes into night cinematography recalls his lovely work in Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy (2008), though not as quietly patient in how the newly revived Rohmer films capture the impact summer’s evanescent natural phenomena on young folks.) (7/29/2011)

The Team (briefly reviewed at 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, dedicated in memory to my activist dad) (6/20/2011)

Better This World (briefly reviewed at 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival, dedicated in memory to my activist dad) (6/20/2011) (Note: This is one of several films in the series that my editor thought I was being too cynical in seeing what I thought of as an "Emily Littella" moment, like Gilda Radner's TV editorialist who ranted about issues she had misheard. Her "never mind" coda echoed here when a closing confession revealed in passing that the seemingly railroaded defendant was prevaricating.)

The Colors Of The Mountain (Los Colores De La Montaña) (5/20/2011)

Louder Than A Bomb (previewed at 2010 DocuWeeks) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women.) (5/18/2011)

Splinters (briefly reviewed in Final Roundup of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/13/2011)

Winter Vacation (Han Jia) (briefly reviewed at 2011 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/25/2011)

Winter In Wartime (Oorlogswinter) (3/18/2011) (Note: The book subsequently came out in English, but I haven’t read it yet. The action includes a bike, a horse, a boat, a bridge and learning who to trust. Pino Donaggio's score is a bit over the top.)

Zero Bridge (2/20/2011)

Mumbai Diaries (Dhobi Ghat) (1/21/2011) (Note: The tour through the maximum city also includes hearing many different dialects and seeing Parsi Zoroastrians, and Muslim and Hindu celebrations.)

If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle (Eu Cand Vreau Sa Fluier, Fluier) (1/5/2011)

Rachel (10/10/2010) (also briefly reviewed at Part 1 Recommendations of 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman) (4/26/2009)

Highwater (8/27/2010) (Note: Ted Woods' upcoming documentary Whitewash is eye-opening about the biases in the Endless Summer series that this younger Brown director still hasn't completely overcome. The Jersey Shore refugee seems like a more competitive, long-haired, tiny bikini-clad counterpart to the patriarch in Doug Pray's Surfwise, soon to be fictionalized as Sean Penn.)

Salt Of This Sea (Milh Hadha Al-Bahr) (8/13/2010) (also briefly reviewed in Part 3 Family Ties Around The World at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman) (5/9/2009) (Note: The Palestinian-American woman butts up against the Palestinian Authority and bank as much as the Israeli police and military. The issues around the romantic couple keep changing based on their gender, language, and citizenship.)

Lebanon (Notes: Their only visible contact with headquarters is in the person of the grizzled Jamil (Zohar Strauss, unrecognizable here as the older man in Eyes Wide Open (Einayim Petukhoth)), who comes into the tank to berate them with peremptory commands that gradually have less and less credibility. There's also pointed instructions to identify the banned phosphorous as "smoke".) (8/6/2010)

Racing Dreams (7/9/2010) (also briefly reviewed at Part 2: The Kids Are Alright of 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/4/2009) (Notes: Explanatory charts keep the audience apprised of their standings in wins and points after each race on the karting national circuit in 2008, as the kids enthusiastically describe track conditions, racing strategies, and expensive equipment selections (with a palpable longing for sponsors and their products).)

After The Cup: Sons Of Sakhnin United (additional background in my review of 2009 Other Israel Film Festival) (5/21/2010)

Buried Land (seen at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/14/2010)

Just Like Us (briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries: There's No Business Like the Celebrity Business at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/7/2010) (Note: The multi-national --albeit non-Jewish-- English-speaking comics visit Dubai, Egypt, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.)

The Two Escobars (briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries: There's No Business Like the Celebrity Business at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/7/2010)

Freetime Machos (briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/7/2010)

Keep Surfing (briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/7/2010) (Note: Coincidentally, the most captivating segment in The Travelogues, Dustin Thompson's impressionistic tour of Europe also showing at the Festival, is a more aesthetic appreciation of the river surfers in black and white, with the distinctive mentoring tradition there put in extra relief by their distinctively German back-stories.)

Sons Of Perdition (briefly reviewed in Recommended Documentaries at 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/7/2010) (Like the real-life versions of characters from Big Love.)

Hunting & Sons (Hunting & Zn.) (briefly reviewed at 2010 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/30/2010)

Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo) (briefly reviewed at 2010 Film Comment Selects of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (2/19/2010)

Eyes Wide Open (Einayim Petukhoth)) (2/5/2010) (also briefly reviewed at 2010 New York Jewish Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center/The Jewish Museum) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman.) (1/25/2010)

Everyone Else (Alle Anderen) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (10/9/2009)

Bright Star (10/5/2009)

Eccentricities of a Blonde (Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loura) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New York Film Festival of Film Society of Lincoln Center) (9/26/2009)

Bliss (Mutluluk) (8/7/2009)

Original (briefly reviewed in Part 3 Family Ties Around The World at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/9/2009)

My Dear Enemy (Meotjin haru) (briefly reviewed in Part 3 Family Ties Around The World at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/9/2009)

Seven Minutes in Heaven (Sheva Dakot Be’gan Eden) (briefly reviewed at Part 3: Family Ties Around the World, of 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, and briefly reviewed in The NH Jewish Film Buzz, at page 21) (updated 12/9/2011)

Team Qatar (briefly reviewed in Part 2: The Kids Are Alright at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (5/4/2009)

About Elly (Darbareye Elly) (briefly reviewed in Part 1 Recommendations at 2009 Tribeca Film Festival) (4/26/2009)

The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh (So, nu: my commentary on the missing Jewish woman.) (4/10/2009)

Tulpan (4/1/2009)

Enlighten Up! (4/1/2009)

Give Me Your Hand (Donne-moi la main) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/27/2009)

Ordinary Boys (Chicos normales) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/27/2009)

The Shaft (Dixia de tiankong) (briefly reviewed at 2009 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/27/2009)

Unmade Beds (briefly reviewed at 2009 New Directors/New Films of Film Society of Lincoln Center/MoMA) (3/27/2009)

The Black Balloon (12/5/2008)

Antarctica (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish woman) (11/26/2008)

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (previewed at the 2008 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center) (11/21/2008)

Ping Pong Playa (9/8/2008)

Bustin’ Down The Door (Note: The Da Hui were known as “Black Shorts”, in tune with the civil rights movement.) (7/25/2008)

The Order Of Myths (emendations coming after 1/25/2009) (7/25/2008)

Wonderful Town (7/18/2008)

The Wackness (7/3/2008) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women)

Unsettled (emendations coming after 11/8/2008) (So, nu: my commentary on the Jewish women) (5/8/2008)

Up The Yangtze (emendations coming after 11/1/2008) (See with Patty Chang and David Kelley’s 30 minute short Flotsam Jetsam, seen at the 2008 New Directors/New Films Series at Lincoln Center/MoMA)

City Of Men (Cidade Dos Homens) (2/29/2008)

Ezra (2/13/2008)

Beaufort (1/18/2008)

Look (emendations coming after 6/14/2008) (12/14/2007)

Atonement (emendations coming after 6/7/2008) (12/7/2007)
(Note: RE the most notable scene in the film: From 'Atonement' director uses novel approach to adapt bestsellers , by Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, 12/2/2007: “Wright wrangles unusually long prep time for his films, including two weeks "in camera" planning shots for Atonement. However, such preparation wasn't a factor in one of the film's signature sequences, a five-plus-minute tracking shot through the insanity of the British evacuation at Dunkirk. ‘That was the one thing that [cinematographer] Seamus [McGarvey] and I actually didn't plan because it was daunting, . . [production designer] Sarah [Greenwood] took it on and planned the set around that shot; Seamus took on the whole camera aspect; the Steadicam operator, Peter Robertson, gave sweat and blood for it, and we practically hospitalized the man. The actual cast then invested their hearts into it, and a thousand extras on the beach’ and the surrounding community were involved, Wright said. ‘That's why I find that scene quite emotional now. Because of all those minds focused on that one moment and all doing the best they can. It was more like a happening than a shot; it was a special moment.’"

Rocket Science (8/10/2007) (emendations coming after 2/10/2008)

Dans Paris (Inside Paris) (8/8/2007) (Note: OK – so one of the hunks is already in his ‘30’s. But you can still play a drinking game of the French New Wave references – yes –addressing the camera is from Jean-Luc Godard!)

9 Star Hotel (Malon 9 Kochavim) (5/23/2007) (emendations coming after 12/23/2007)

Candy (11/17/2006) (emendations coming 4/17/2007)

Somersault is a fresh spin on the in-over-their heads teenager movie, particularly the mixed-up city girl confusing the well-meaning country boy sub-genre. It is a sophisticated look at the motivations and resourcefulness of a teen age runaway.
In her debut feature, writer/director Cate Shortland poignantly captures a girl's search for love and independence through sex. It isn't often that we see a film about tantalizing jailbait from the girl's perspective.
The town settings from Canberra to Jindabyne in New South Wales are unusual for Australian films we usually get to see in the U.S., providing an unusual meeting place for cold-weather tourists, the poor in their service industry, and farmers in from cattle stations.
Abbie Cornish is a marvel in the central role. Looking startlingly like the young Nicole Kidman from her early Australian movies such as Flirting, she morphs from coltish girl to sexual aggressor, even as it's clear she doesn't understand what she's getting herself into by thinking she can live out her fantasy in following one guy after another who she has met on the road. With the glimpses we get of her tumultuous inner world through a childish diary, "Heidi"s naiveté is palpably painful as Cornish projects her at different times in the film as being the character's actual 16 or pretending to be 20 when she thinks she can use sex as a manipulable tool without realizing what creepy situations can result. The subtlety of her performance extends to how differently she relates to men than women, particularly as she keeps seeking out mother figures.
Sam Worthington is heartbreakingly sweet as equally naive, somewhat older "Joe", who clumsily becomes her protector and something more. I wasn't clear, though, about his back story with issues in his past (there's a lot of family secrets all around). The film also comments on bloke culture, including the ambiguous touches of homo-eroticism in male bonding.
The scenes between these two marginalized young people are engrossing with their attraction and hesitation, as they clumsily imitate adult behavior that they can't really handle. Bouncing between maturity and immaturity, tenderness and aggression, they have enough trouble expressing and understanding their feelings without adding sex into the mixture.
A side story with an autistic child leads to a way too didactic discussion about empathy and emotions, with flash cards no less.
The cinematography had a lovely blue haze, but used fuzzy focus too often.
I had some difficulty understanding the male dialogue among thick accents and low sound projection in the Time Square Theater, compounded by the restless male audience, up and down, in and out, slamming doors, who seemed mostly attracted to the film by Cornish's nude scenes.
This film is a creative contrast to American indie films that tend to see young women on the cusp of adulthood more as victims as they experiment with their sexual power, such as Blue Car or Hard Candy, or in commercial fare as innocents, like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, let alone male fantasy objects as in American Beauty. A spate of recent non-American directors have focused on their impact on males, such as in The Holy Girl (La Niña santa), À Tout de Suite (Right Now), and Lila Says (Lila dit ça), with varying degrees of the success of this film in capturing their girl/woman confusion. (8/2/2006)

Iowa wants to be Requiem for a Dream for Midwest meth, but it comes across as a hard R rated Reefer Madness.
Yes, drugs are bad, and meth is horribly pernicious, as an addiction and how it destroys people, families and communities. But these characters who are either dumb or ridiculous and the eye-rolling plot won't teach that lesson to anyone.
While writer/director/star Matt Farnsworth has some charisma on screen, his partner Diane Foster plays a wincibly silly wide-eyed innocent corrupted by drugs as was already satirized by Susan Sarandon in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I really felt sorry for her for all the totally unnecessary nudity she was put through. It wasn't until the end of the film that I realized I was supposed to think these two were recent high-school graduates to explain some of their naiveté, as we are bombarded by their school photos, but if so, they even looked older than the folks on The O.C.. While they have good chemistry on screen, they are a pale imitation of a Badlands-type couple.
The guest stars are badly used. Michael T. Weiss, who was so good in TV's The Pretender, is completely ludicrous as a corrupt parole officer and his brutal violence is just plain crazy, as his character pretty much ruins any social significance for the film. Rosanna Arquette has to be even sleazier than she rolled around for David Cronenberg as a very low rent Livia Soprano. John Savage even has to mouth the old baby boomer excuses about I did pot but this is worse. A Goth chick shows up, with the odd explanation that she's a stripper from Des Moines. The obligatory Latino drug dealer appears - in Iowa?
With a limited budget, the interior view of meth use is portrayed quite vividly, with quite scary hallucinations. We certainly see them go crazy.
While the Iowa locations are used very well (including an amusing scene of a propane gas robbery), the accents and church references are confusingly Southern Baptist. Guns seem to be used by law abiding and law breaking citizens here more than in any inner-city drug-dealing movie.
The songs of Iowa's best known bard Greg Brown are used throughout, but oddly are not listed in the credits. I hope they were used with permission.
I caught this at its commercial run in NYC because I missed it at the Tribeca Film Festival where it got considerable-- and inexplicable-- buzz. (4/6/2006)

Debut feature writer/director Rian Johnson seems to have gotten the idea for Brick about the same time the creators of Veronica Mars situated a noir detective story within a California high school, but he has brought it to life with a visual filmmaker's eye for dark storytelling.
Within a small budget and limited locations, Johnson pulls together smart dialog by emotive young actors, beautiful cinematography, with tension-inducing editing punctuated by a marvelously creepy score.
While there's myriad visual and dialog references to scores of earlier mysteries and noir (from Sherlock Holmes to Edgar Allen Poe to The Maltese Falcon to Chinatown to The Long Goodbye and many, many more) in the deliciously twisted plot where everybody sets up everybody else, Johnson slyly maintains the high school setting, even with death and drug dealing. Key scenes take place on the football field, messages are left in lockers and a talent show is in rehearsal (allowing for more odd references from Bob Fosse to kabuki to shadow puppet theater). A glossary that is being distributed at theaters is silly as we certainly expect kids to talk in slang and have nicknames, even if this runs more to post-war L.A. than hip hop culture (the closest to pop selection on the soundtrack is Lou Reed). We expect a sub-culture to have its own slang; that's a major plot point in HBO's The Wire. I wasn't sure if devilishly clever one-liners about trust issues and muscle, among a lot of funny lines that the audience warmly responded to, were lifted from other sources or were original.
While the original "Shaft" himself, Richard Roundtree is Assistant Vice Principal "Trueman", effectively representing the snitch-seeking cops, the only time the teen ambiance is weakly played for laughs is when an oblivious mother shows up, pushing corn flakes and juice. And she's the head villain's mom, a hobbit-looking Lukas Haas. (There's even a joke about Lord of the Rings and the initiating request certainly recalls a certain plea for Obi Wan Kenobi.)
Central lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt is considerably less flashy as "Brendan Frye" than his charismatic performance in Mysterious Skin, but he does a surprisingly tender Bogart, going from nerdy lone wolf to surprising tough guy to heartbroken. I wasn't sure if the changes in his bruised visage were continuity errors or intended to be humorous or that longer time passed than I thought despite frequent shots of changing digital clocks (there are a lot of repeating blank screens when he is knocked out). But then his character earlier had a shadily missing two months. Nora Zehetner channels Mary Astor quite tastily.
While some of the set-ups are a bit too Hopperesque stagey as characters freeze and the camera glides along (coincidentally recalling some shots in A History of Violence), other scenes brilliantly show off Johnson's skills at delivering thrills with no special effects. One dark room is lit only by a shaft of light and a slowly turning mirror. Another dark basement room holds three antagonists nervously listening to horrific sounds of a fight above them. There are a lot of long shots of empty roads, a ringing Phone Booth and a lone speeding car or runner that provide key clues. Flashbacks are well integrated in for stream of consciousness memories and cinematic clues and explications.
Johnson's visual and literate use of a genre for both humor and poignancy favorably compares to the Coen Brothers. (4/3/2006)

Lonesome Jim is an affecting portrait of a would-be writer on the cusp of 30 who reluctantly seems to reenact Thomas Wolfe's adage "home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in" even as going home again is a depressing admission of complete defeat.
Despite the pictures of suicidal authors on his old bedroom wall, "Tim" is gradually forced to develop empathy for other people and see beyond his own failures, even if at first it's only to get laid (in an amusing effort to try and prevent premature ejaculation). He even complains to his even more depressed divorced brother "I came home to have a nervous breakdown but you beat me to it." Each time he in a small, even ineffectual way steps up to the plate and accepts responsibility for another person and his actions towards people we cheer as a progressive victory against his no man is an island loneliness.
Casey Affleck as "Tim" is so adorably woe begone that it is not surprising that his mother (a scarily cheerful Mary Kay Place, recalling her Mary Hartman days) and Liv Tyler, as "Anika", are drawn to him as a fixer-upper. Tyler, no longer anorexic looking with a post-maternal real-looking body, sweetly captures a small town girl who was probably the prettiest in high school, got knocked up in time for graduation and since is clear-eyed about her life and responsibilities. While Place's mother, a bit oddly, overly infantalizes her two back at home adult sons, she has poignant flashes of giving or receiving brutal honesty that show she knows perfectly well she's been turning lemons into lemonade (or cobbler anyway).
Besides Mark Boone Junior in broad comic relief as the conniving stoned uncle, James C. Strouse's debut script and his autobiographical Indiana settings), (and he sweetly thanks a lot of family members besides the ones who were extras), well capture the non-anonymity of Midwest small town relationships, with their entanglement of friends, neighbors, parents, children, ex's, hospital, community center basketball team and local bars (as director Steve Buscemi showed so well in a different locale in his first feature Trees Lounge). And many of Strouse's relatives are listed in the cast. With a ladder factory instead of dolls, the atmosphere is like a sweeter, more romantic Bubble without the mystery.
Jack Rovello as little "Ben" is one of the most appealing child actors seen in years and his on-screen relationship with Affleck is not clichéd in its back and forth as each fulfills a need in the other.
The soundtrack emphasizes that "Tim" is not in NYC any more with very twangy country music always on the radios, all nicely non-commercial selections.
Much as I was rooting for the characters, the laser digital photography or whatever was distractingly poor quality blown up on a big screen at the IFC Center in NYC. It might have been better served being a cable movie if with a low budget they could only afford this level of cinematography.(3/30/2006)

Duck Season (Temporada de patos) answers the question what do 14 - 16 year olds in a Mexico City housing development do on a lazy Sunday afternoon when their mother and the electric power is out?
Turns out, not much else than the kids in the Wisconsin basement did in That'70's Show or in Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat. It is a relief to know these latchkey friends aren't like Larry Clark's Kids on NYC's Lower East Side or those in the banlieus we've seen lately in French films, as instead we have a series of amusing vignettes, with the humor emphasized by co-writer/director Fernando Eimbcke's camera angles. The audience frequently takes the position of the oven, video game, painting, etc. that the adorable youngsters stare at intensely in various degrees of sobriety. Danny Perea as literally the girl next door is marvelous. The boys' friendship is very naturally portrayed.
This is the second little movie I've seen this year where a Pizza delivery guy gets caught up in his customers lives and it is a cute gimmick, even if we don't really learn much about the guy other than that he's fed up.
We only learn much about one of the kids, as the minor revelations are let out gradually in incongruous ways. Surprisingly, any of the self-discovery or lessons learned are really just a taking off point for humorous actions. It's just a series of funny looking scenes, one slowly after another, usually based on the kids' naiveté and misunderstandings. (The trailer is very misleading as to the pacing of the film.)
The final scene is after all the credits so you can see, among many thanks, acknowledgments to Yasujiro Ozu, probably for the domestic focus and camera angles, and James Jarmusch, as this black and white film does have a lot in common with the look and interactions in Coffee and Cigarettes, among other of his films.
There are only a couple of cool song selections we hear them playing, with some classical pieces for juxtapositional humor.
The English subtitles are always legible and easy to read.(3/22/2006)

Beautiful City (Shah-re ziba) is an intense, universal story of love and death within societal strictures, as much as stories by Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Henry James, Edith Wharton, I.B. Singer or O. Henry, etc. etc. It just happens that here love from parents, children, siblings, friends, spouses and suitors has to find an outlet within Islamic law as practiced in contemporary Iran so they are silhouetted against extreme options.
Writer/director Asghar Farhadi is as observant of the power of human emotions as those masters in letting the story and characters unfold slowly like an onion. Each becomes more complex than we see at first; each has reasons motivated by strong feelings that teeter between sacrifice and fulfillment.
All the characters have choices to make - and feelings they cannot choose to control. A father's grief is as implacable as the undying love of his daughter's boyfriend. A mismatched couple (a spirited Taraneh Alidoosti as the woman "Firouzeh") falls in love without ever touching or exchanging an endearment (and completely enclosed in clothes, as a lesson to Western cinema). All know that if they compromise they will be diminished or something irretrievable will be lost. As each must ask just how far to go for love, they are trapped as much by human nature as by the stringent details of Islamic law (with resonance for any country that has legal revenge through the death penalty).
The character who takes over the heart of the film is a familiar figure in every culture - the confident negotiator who could talk the devil out of whatever, with charm, wile and persistence. A thief, he is at equal ease creatively debating with his jailer as with an imam. But in a short period of time this incipient "Milo Minderbinder" (as in Catch 22) dramatically learns that the mysteries of the human soul may be beyond even his bargaining. Striving to save his best friend's life and finding unexpected ramifications whatever he does, young Babak Ansari as "A`la" grows before our eyes.
None of the characters is a stereotype. The jailer is like a sympathetic social worker. The imam is very practical about life (though oddly his quoting of Koranic verses aren't translated in the subtitles). The sister stands up to abuse. The teenage murderers acted out of deep love. Even the strict, abusive father is seen as crazed with a sorrow he cannot let go. So there are no Hollywood endings to their lives.
The look of the film seems like faded 1940's Hollywood Technicolor, with a bluish tinge, making it look old fashioned, even as we see a Nike cap and other miscellany of modern culture among the evocative atmosphere of crowded jails, rooms and mosques. The personal issues of drug addiction, poverty, domestic abuse, etc. that complicate love are also universal beyond the headscarves and unfamiliar architecture.
The English subtitles are always legible, turning from white to yellow against light backgrounds. (3/17/2006)

I stayed through all the lengthy non-translated closing credits of Evil (Ondskan) waiting in vain if co-writer/director Mikael Håfström would credit Tom Brown's Schooldays as it is virtually identical to that classic about bullies at a boys' boarding school. While I now know that the original novel by Jan Guillou is semi-autobiographical (which is required reading in Swedish schools), perhaps it should have started with "inspired by a true story" or some such.
Otherwise it just seems like a story updated to Sweden in the 1950's, so that issues of Nazi sympathizers vs. social democrats and Gandhi-model nonviolence can be added to the dialog, American pop tunes by Buddy Holly etc. can be inserted into the soundtrack and Andreas Wilson as the central "Erik Ponti" can have an intentional James Dean swagger, but, except for an odd prologue and epilogue, the plot is otherwise the same.
These additions try to broaden the issue of male on male bullying to explore its roots in child abuse, but they just make the progression of the central character's development more confusing as he goes from bully to victim to revenger and make the title subjective. Similarly, the weak role of authority figures, including a nasty stepfather, and their jabbering on about morality to victims not to perpetrators is more quizzical than in the older work because there the author had a pedagogical point to make. "Erik"s search for alternative strategies in dealing with the bullies is somewhat creative, though not as in If.
What makes the film compelling to watch at all despite what we have seen many times before is Wilson's charismatic performance. He actually makes us believe that this model of Aryan physical perfection and athletic prowess with his own troubled violent past could be best friends with the poetry and jazz-loving nerd and would prefer to spend his afternoons reading Oscar Wilde (which is as close as this story gets to the homo-erotic issues at such schools, despite one dark hint about what worse damage the bullies could do). Henrik Lundström is very good as the weak roommate "Pierre Tanguy", but the other actors are playing caricatures who were already satirized in Animal House.
The role of women is problematical here, as they are not oblivious to the abuse but are mostly cowed observers and therefore complicit. "Erik"s relationship with the not too believably outspoken young waitress "Marja" (Linda Zilliacus) is a sweet respite (unlike in "Tom Brown") so we can sympathize that it is their relationship that becomes his breaking point to make changes.
The closing frames seemed a bit too precious and inappropriate reference to Truffaut's 400 Blows (Tre Cents Coups) as this hero does have a future. (3/17/2006)

Woman Is the Future of Man (Yeojaneun namjaui miraeda) feels like a cheerless Korean spin on Jules et Jim crossed with the chauvinism of Carnal Knowledge.
From the discussion in the ladies room afterwards, people in the audience weren't falling asleep trying to follow the flash backs vs. dreams vs. fantasies vs. flash forwards vs. the narrative of an obsessive threesome of old friends as much as frustration with the women characters. Either the females were fulfilling every racist stereotype Americans have of "Oriental" women, as seductive passive doormats, or the film is one long drunken male fantasy. The women only got to even show emotions a handful of times.
Occasionally the two guy friends weepily confess, through their nonstop talking and drinking, their faults with mea culpas and various self-flagellations about wanting sex "too much", and even admitting that they've mistreated the women they stalk --but that doesn't stop their boorish, insensitive --and worse-- behavior.
It is also possible that a lot of the Korean cultural reference points were lost in the subtitle translations. There seems, for example, to be a familiar form of address in Korean as there is in many non-English languages that was clumsily handled in the translation when women despair of being addressed that way by their lovers.
Whatever theme writer/director Sang-soo Hong intended to portray about the role of Eros amidst a non-purifying snowy night in the city, all that comes across is that men are shmucks and they deserve what they get.(3/13/2006)

London started out with potential as another male self-pity party, a kind of Leaving Las Vegas as if done by misogynist Neil LaBute with Mamet kind of language.
I even sympathized with Chris Evans sometimes, at least when he was in shaggy-haired, hang-dog mode moping over his ex-girlfriend, as Jessica Biel is gorgeous in various undress. But the flashbacks to his Fantastic Four-looking shaved head macho, jealous crazy days with her made me wonder why she had been with him at all, other than his tattooed abs. He does seem to have a lot in common with the guy in 9 Songs as he pretty much just remembers one thing about a relationship and figures the only reason she'd break up with him was sex-related, unless arguing was their foreplay.
But the drinking and cocaine use begins and never stops and any sympathy evaporated.
The ages of the women in the movie make absolutely no sense. Sometimes they seem to be jailbait, but other times they are old schoolmates of the twenty something central characters, and the central party attracts an odd mix of ages. It's not even clear if they are in or out of college. Certainly the ridiculous conversations about the meaning of life and God (surrounded as they inexplicably are by Buddhist sculptures in one of those fantasy NYC apartments with a very large bathroom) seem like late night dorm bull sessions.
The flashbacks to illustrations of pseudo-scientific theories and urban legends are amusing but are a waste of time if they are to convince us that any of these deluded idiots are intelligent instead of just stoned. A fight breaks out just so you shouldn't think that such soul-baring discussions would mean these guys are metrosexuals, as that seems as much a motivation as anything else in this film.
It was five minutes into the film when Jason Statham inexplicably appears (playing an older guy who may be intended to be like Jack Nicholson along for the ride as in Five Easy Pieces) that I realized this wasn't the film I meant to see, but another with a similar name. But I was prepared to have an open mind and the audience in the Times Square theater I was in positively responded to the mordant humor.
Debut writer/director Hunter Richards does show potential here in handling romance, as that is the most effective part of the film, at the beginning and end. (2/27/2006)

Imagine Me & You is a fluffy British take on Kissing Jessica Stein that makes even less sense in understanding lesbians.
This thinly stretches out into a predictable romantic comedy what so many serious films lately have shown so much more poignantly, people struggling to understand their confusion with their sexuality, and the impact that has on the people with whom they are intimate.
While trying to be nice to everyone, it comes close to supporting the nonsense theory about gays "converting" straights, as it sure seems easy, though lately even the series The L Word seems to be demonstrating that as well. Unfortunately abandoned was even the exploration of how gay and straight women could be Will and Grace-like best friends.
There are some sit com-y amusing scenes of straights trying to prove their PC-ness with gays. I enjoyed the switch that the florist is a gay woman not a gay man for a change, and the running plaints on love from the customers was amusing and has sit com future potential. We don't learn much about her otherwise. But then I had trouble all through the film of even telling the two lead actresses apart - couldn't they have at least died one of theirs hair?
This was the first Matthew Goode film where I didn't think he was the one who was going to come out, though the film's rush effort to treat him nicely was very forced.
It was nice to see actors from various British shows like Waking the Dead and Manchild get to have fun with different characters.
The pop music selections are surprisingly old, from the title Turtles song to Dusty Springfield's "Look of Love."
The film might have been more effective as an old-fashioned straight triangle. (2/27/2006)

Pizza is a sweetly droll portrait of the impact two disparate people have on each other over one night in a small town.
Writer/director Mark Christopher brings to bear some of the freshness of the likes of Napoleon Dynamite, Me and You and Everyone We Know and MTV's Daria. He is particularly good at capturing the dialog, rhythms and social interactions of teens and post-adolescents.
Kylie Sparks as "Cara-Ethyl" is the stand out in carrying the film with her twixt childhood and adulthood 18th birthday girl, quickly switching from big sister knocking down an annoying little brother (exceptionally foul-mouthed, but believably played) to painfully trying to fit in with the high school in crowd to wisely sizing up her companion for the night. She is funny, poignant and moving. She's so good as the chubby, bespectacled outsider that it was unnecessary to have a poster from the musical Hairspray shown over and over behind her during a karaoke number.
Ethan Embry as 30-year-old "Matt Firenze" the pizza delivery guy she latches on to takes surprising directions in self-discovery; he charmingly is not a stereotyped hunk as he learns to move beyond that comfortably easy role. The film ends up being more about him finally learning to grow up, even as it is realistic about their relationship.
It's nice to see Jesse McCartney satirize his usual pop image, even in a tiny role, while the casting of rail thin Alexis Dziena unintentionally supports the commentary on Hollywood images of teens as she's gone on to star in ABC's Invasion. The point is nicely demonstrated how everyone is striving, inappropriately, to be in an older in crowd.
Too bad the adults are so broadly drawn as to bring down the film, particularly Julie Haggerty's temporarily blinded mother, even though the film ironically recalls her classic encounters in Albert Brooks's Lost in America. And why is she carrying around that hairbrush?
Overall, the success of the film is because the characters are neither sentimentalized nor patronized. They make mistakes and they don't always do the right thing, but somehow they learn something through a night of delivering pizzas.
The interstitial animations that play off pizzas are cute.
The Wilton, PA filming locations are very effectively used to convey small town life. (2/13/2006)

On the Outs puts teen age girls front and center in as moving and disturbing docudrama like films that focused more on boys, from The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups) to Kids.
This is the distaff side of where the child drug dealers in The Wire come from, with Jersey City a strikingly similar locale to Baltimore. We see the intertwining and exacerbating problems of poverty, poor health, violence, and weak education with the destructive impact of drugs cutting a hurricane-like swath through their community and defeating individuals who try to stand up in its rip tide.
Three young black and Latina women, who intersect in the streets and in a juvenile detention facility, have the tragic contradictions of typical adolescents, especially of ones thrust way too soon into the adult world. (As Rush ironically sang: We are only immortal for a limited time.)
We see the tough young dealer determined to make it in a man's world (the charismatic Judy Marte of Raising Victor Vargas as "Oz") who thinks she can nevertheless keep her family free of drugs and dealers; the loving but cocaine addicted single mom (a heartbreaking Paola Mendoza as "Marisol") who forgets to buy her daughter milk; and the naive lover (the pivotal and very non-amateurish Anny Mariano as "Suzette", who says in the accompanying film guide that she was inspired by her sister's experiences) of an older "Sportin' Life" of the streets-type -- the changes in her eyes over the course of the film illustrate the girls' trajectory.
The acting is uniformly excellent. Don Parma, in his screen debut as "Tyrell," is almost as devilishly riveting as Michael K. Williams's "Omar" in The Wire, which is really saying something. The actresses portraying mothers and older relatives fairly showcase the difficulties these women have in preventing their daughters' from repeating their mistakes.
There are a few weaknesses. I was unclear what the passage of time was -- a month? More? We don't really understand how "Oz" got so tough and started dealing in drugs. It's a bit heavy-handed, if ironic and poignant, to frequently show the girls in silhouette to the unattainable Manhattan skyline, particularly of the Statue of Liberty.
I also think writer/directors Lori Silverbush and Michael Skolnik want us to think of the bureaucrats they brush up against as rigid and uncaring, but, sorry, I don't think a foster child should be returned to an irresponsible addict not committed to a drug rehab program, regardless of how she got or stays that way. The "Scared Straight" approach didn't look effective, either, by further weakening the girls' self-esteem. At least the white middle-class employer of one girl's housekeeper mom wasn't drawn too stridently.
Some scenes use a herky-jerky whir that's a bit dizzying, and it's unclear if there's thematic consistency to its use or if they were artsy, cinematographic accidents.
The original music and selected songs were excellent, ranging from gospel (the beautiful opening "Motherless Child") to hip hop to singer/songwriter (Imani Coppola's "Freedom Come"), particularly considering the small budget.
I'm not sure who the teens outside the theater were who appreciated my attending one of the last screenings in New York City, but they very helpfully directed me to the background booklet the filmmakers' produced which is essential in providing information that was not in the credits, and not just on the actresses and creators. The booklet explains that the script grew out of a summer the creators spent working at a juvenile jail in Secaucus, N.J. and how they workshopped the script with the actors. It also includes resource information on the problems of and solutions for girls caught in the juvenile justice system that are also linked on the film's Web site.
But there are no easy solutions for the three girls we cry for in this film, even as there are hints of hope. (1/27/2006)

Tristan & Isolde is a satisfying enough pseudo-historical Hollywood re-telling of a legend.
Marketed to teens, particularly through music video TV ads on teen-oriented shows rather than faux promotional documentaries on A & E or Discovery or the History Channels, it's an adequate PG-13 swashbuckling tale for an audience who hasn't seen many romantic epics. While the production design, architecture, military technology, hair styles, costumes, religious practices, music, languages, accents, literacy, let alone the John Dunne poetry, make absolutely no pretense of any kind of historical accuracy whatsoever, the film takes its tone very seriously and it's quite possible to leave one's rational brain behind and get swept along.
In Hollywood terms, the film opens with a background explanation that it takes place soon after the recent version of King Arthur and seems more redolent of that renowned triangle than the German opera or classic French tale, etc. There's quite a few elements in the plot with holes and confusions, especially in keeping track of various treacheries, duplicities and crossed loyalties. And where does that mast and sail on the little skiff crossing the sea between Ireland and England come from?
While even "Isolde" notes "Tristan"s scrawniness by commenting to him that her betrothed is "twice your size," John Franco is attractively sinewy with an irresistible mop of curls. Too bad he portrays "Tristan" as too stoic rather than conflicted, which he did do well in City By The Sea. Thomas Sangster as the "Young Tristan" is absolutely adorable without curly hair.
Sophia Myles is similarly so sweet as "Isolde" that the relative explicitness of her adulterous triangle is a bit confusing, especially since Rufus Sewall, for a change, isn't a stereotyped villain. It's to the credit of Dean Georgaris's script that he is instead a king for whom no good deed goes unpunished. "Isolde" even admits at one point that if she had a baby she wouldn't know which one was the father, while a closing explanation continues fitting the legend into history.
The production design is overwhelmingly grey. We don't even see any blood in the many duels and fight scenes until a key trail at the end, when it seems more black than red. The aftermath of various violent encounters is more gruesome than what we actually see happening, as the brutal intensity is created more through editing and sound design.
While the matte landscape backgrounds are only obvious a couple of times, the coastal scenes are beautiful.
The music by Anne Dudley is very dramatic but other than a few flitting fiddles, it completely wastes any opportunity to incorporate traditional instrumentation, melodies or even differentiation between Irish and the various tribes of Britain. (1/22/2006)

Match Point is such a pastiche of many films and literary works, some self-referentially preened, that I occupied myself identifying them throughout the movie.
Starting with a repeating visual motif of tennis balls across the net recalling a classic image from Blow Up, scenes at a Wimbledon-like club near the opening seem straight out of Evelyn Waugh, such as in Bright Young Things. Two guys exchange a freighted conversation about loving opera I thought for sure was a coded gaydar filter so we'd be seeing them either on the down low or bi, especially as Matthew Goode is channeling a young Rupert Everett.
But, no, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is more conventionally manipulative as we see him reading Crime and Punishment, and the Penguin equivalent of Cliff Notes of Dostoevsky for analysis (and poshing up his native accent even as Goode keeps teasingly calling him "Irish").
Courting is done, as in many references to Woody Allen's own Crimes and Misdemeanors, by seeing old black and white movies during the day (portentously Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes)) or foreign ones (ironically class-conscious The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta) with a rich girlfriend of an ambitious guy who makes quite different decisions) though this film actually focuses very little on Dreiser's class differentials of the similar American Tragedy).
The setting is supposed to be contemporary, but other than some frank discussion of birth control and fertility treatments, these folks love opera and collect classic cars. Not an iPod in sight and computers are something mysteriously used at vague jobs. It would make sense if Penelope Wilton's tippling matriarch was the source of inherited wealth and Brian Cox's patriarch a wealthy business tycoon, recalling Edith Wharton, let alone F. Scott Fitzgerald, but that would make too much sense, as we're supposed to assume this is an old, inbred family. This seems to be parallel to Allen's oeuvre as Age of Innocence is to Scorsese and Gosford Park is to Altman's, but their period specificity added the weight of historical social changes to come that this film is lacking.
Instead, what we get is basically another take on the character of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Rhys-Meyers is much better than Matt Damon, as sexy as Alain Delon was in the Purple Noon (Plein soleil) interpretation and far more emotional than both, in his lust and in his chutzpah. He dynamically carries the last part of the movie by creating the kind of villain where the whole audience first starts rumbling about him to each other and then yelling to him on the screen. His Bergman-esque confrontation with ghosts, while visual, is far less effective than the moral and religious discussions in Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Up until her last few Shelley Winters-in-A Place in the Sun-channeling hysteria scenes, Scarlett Johansson has some of the smartest and sexiest seduction dialog in any of Allen's films. But her character stops making a lot of sense.
Emily Mortimer pretty much plays the same lovelorn victim she did in Young Adam and doesn't get to expand into the further tender vulnerability she projected in Lovely and Amazing.
With the film co-produced by BBC, it's nice to see wonderful actors from TV series such as Spooks (MI-5), Murphy's Law and Prime Suspect, who add authenticity heft in small roles.
The production design and music are way over the top. The continuous opera excerpts, sounding like they are playing from old '78's, are a change from Allen's usual jazz, but seem a forced exaggerated theatricality (even as Rhys-Meyers amusingly uses the decidedly more middle-brow The Woman in White as an alibi). With one of the characters interested in contemporary art, he is constantly surrounded by paintings that comment on his actions, such as a large red rooster emphasizing his cuckoldry and another with the word "ache" writ large across it, etc.
The best elements of the film are ironically visualizing the elements of luck and chance, as applied to tennis, fertility and life.
This film looks beautiful and has nothing new to show or say.(1/12/2006)

Brokeback Mountain ranks as one of the saddest, most heart breaking romantic movies ever made, without a drop of sentimentality or ounce of schmaltz.
Director Ang Lee has created a direct descendant of John Ford's seminal Westerns. While filmed in Alberta standing in for Wyoming, rather than Ford's usual Monument Valley, the gorgeous landscape (credit to Rodrigo Prieto's lovely cinematography) and endless horizon of isolation recalls a West where John Wayne tried to shoot Natalie Wood for transgressive fraternizing in The Searchers and the men of My Darling Clementine, etc., were only free outdoors, beyond the confines of civilization. The camera adores the two handsome Marlboro Men at the center of the story from first shot, and throughout, as we see them draped over trucks, sheep, horses, campfires and each other.
Enlivened by terrific acting, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana's screenplay adaptation of Annie Proulx's short story manages the difficult feat of communicating raw emotion through essentially inarticulate characters who first don't understand their feelings and then have no words to express them.
Jake Gyllenhaal is almost as adorable as "Jack Twist" as he was romancing Gwyneth Paltrow in Proof. Even though his aging hair and make-up defeat him visually for a human saga that extends over 20 years (as well as Anne Hathaway's who literally ropes him into being her spouse), his growing maturity and self-realization is demonstrated to be hard-won. While we have seen the anxiety of the third leg of a triangle many times in stories of adultery or intermittently requited love, Gyllenhaal wears his passion, joy, hope, affection, longing and desperation on his face so transparently that the audience cannot help but be drawn into his palpable pain.
But Heath Ledger takes conflicted masculinity to a new level, in a way that Jarhead scrupulously avoided. As one of the aggressive women in their lives says in frustration as to why she's now with a new beau: "He even talks." Ledger's "Ennis Del Mar" drawls a concession of "Guess I wasn't much fun." Her tearful riposte: "Don't you understand that a woman doesn't fall in love with fun?" He creates a complete, taciturn, repressed, confused character from a hardscrabble life who tries to force himself to accept being fenced in by the strictures of Western expectations and codes of conduct towards both men and women. His character is totally overwhelmed when his feelings are unleashed and collide, and yet, can shine with exquisite tenderness in sweet romance. His performance leaves the audience exhausted in its pathos. While I've been a fan since his teen acting days, his brief scenes in Monster's Ball only hinted that he was capable of this depth. He embodies tortured loneliness who has to sacrifice too much to learn that no man is an island.
The film is movingly sensitive to the women in their lives and very sympathetic to the women being hornswoggled by adultery where they least expected it. Michelle Williams is a whirlwind as a naive girl who grows into an exhausted working mother suddenly faced with an explanation for the jarring disconnect in her marriage that will always be there through their shared children. (The men take seriously responsibility for procreative sex.) Her interactions with Ledger, in and out of bed, build to fraught climaxes.
The musical leitmotif of the central relationship is repeated operatically relentlessly. The country music jukebox selections are adequate (Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" is a bit too obvious a choice), though the tracks on the soundtrack CD are beautiful but not apparent in the film. Over the credits, Willie Nelson croons a lovely take on Bobby Bare's traditional "He Was A Friend of Mine" that ironically segues into Rufus Wainwright's "The Maker Makes." And when I got home the first song that popped up on the radio was Aretha Frankin belting "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" which seemed even more appropriate. (12/19/2005)
Reading the a href="http://brokebackmountain.blogspot.com/">original story as it re-appeared at the end of Annie Proulx's collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories (revised a bit from its prize-winning New Yorker debut and now retitled post the issuing of the film), puts the characters into the context of her view of the hard-bitten men and women of the west and should be read with all the stories for that context. It is the only story of true love in the book. It makes absolutely convincing that a fear of violence and retribution for being different is completely justified as each story portrays decades of those who are different bearing the brunt of suffering.
Reading it is also a classic case of seeing how gifted screenwriters can adapt an original source, as the story is more about flashbacks than told chronologically as is the film. Where characters drop a line about something that happened in the past, that casually mentioned incident becomes accurately fleshed out as a whole scene in the film. I have even more respect for Ledger's acting as he takes a crucial concluding paragraph and turns it into a simple heart-stopping gesture. The coda in the film is justified for inclusion as it is also implied in the story. (1/26/2006)

Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte) is an intriguing effort to understand terrorists.
Loosely based on a novel, writer/director Marco Bellocchio specifically re-imagines the kidnapping of Italian party leader Aldo Moro in 1987, with heavy use of television clips. The quaintly naive Cold War rhetoric, emphasized with odd historic black and white newsreel interstices such as of Stalinist parades, may now be seen as an examination of a symbolic precursor for today's gruesome politics, though he was already working on the film at 9/11.
The young idealists we are first introduced to seem as harmless as the radical pranksters in the contemporary The Edukators (Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei). While it's a jolt to gradually learn their connection to the violent attack, first revealed as they cheer at the initial TV coverage, they seem so bumbling and nervous (one takes leave abruptly for, as it were, a conjugal visit as he feels he's the one being imprisoned; another gets fixated on an overly symbolic pet caged bird), it's never clear if they personally committed murder or if they're just the guardian cell taking orders from those who stage the mock trial and pull the triggers or if that is a moral difference that is intentionally considered irrelevant.
Real world politics do occasionally seep through in silent background commentary, through factory strikes and sarcastic graffiti, but the determined ideologues reject these actions as they see themselves as the true believers. Ironically, the drone of the TV coverage, with reports of related and unrelated violent acts around the country, they anxiously watch becomes as much a recitation as the opening pitch from the bored apartment rental agent.
Their Red Brigade aims seem so diffuse about intending to set off revolutions and counter-revolutions, compared to the more direct motives of the terrorists in Paradise Now (let alone how kidnapping has devolved into a business, as in Secuestro Express), at least to those not intimately familiar with Italian political dialectics, that it seems more understandable than ludicrous that the negotiations draw on. A long side bar scene where one of the kidnappers joins her family in a memorial service for World War II partisans nostalgically singing an anti-Fascist anthem, inspiring her to read a collection of letters resistance fighters wrote before their executions instead of her usual Lenin or Engels reading, makes the dialectics even more ironic as to what fascist behavior is. Her internal struggle to resolve these pressures, including several confusing dream sequences, is the core of the film and Maya Sansa, with very expressive eyes, is captivating as "Chiara."
The kidnapping itself takes on a Ransom of Red Chief feel as the Aldo Moro character, well-played by Roberto Herlitzka and the point of the film's dedication to the auteur's father, is much more of an eloquent, dignified, paternal humanist statesman than a typical politician. The kidnappers seem to be thwarted in provoking political crisis because he will only write personal, non-political notes to his family, particularly his grandson (even if does seem as if he's writing love notes to his mistress rather than to his wife). But his appeal to the pope and the pope's involvement in the negotiations and their aftermath seems as incongruous as an odd séance by political supporters or the kidnappers doing a blessing before eating. Compared to the director's earlier My Mother's Smile (L'Ora di religione: Il sorriso di mia madre), religion is only an ancillary issue.
The auteur's voice, as an artist, seems to speak through a somewhat naive and flirtatious friend of "Chiara"s who has written a screenplay about radicals and quotes the Emily Dickinson poem that inspired the title. He argues that the imagination can be a powerful force in influencing people, though of course the authorities misinterpret his involvement.
I saw it with a defective soundtrack, but other than odd musical commentary with bombastic selections from Aida and Pink Floyd, the film's strength is faces and looking into the eyes of deluded cogs in the wheel of historical forces, though the best sequence is given away in the trailer. (11/16/2005)

Paradise Now is an engrossing effort to put a human face on suicide bombers, until it gets too talky and didactic towards the end.
We are introduced to two young guys in Nablus just getting through another desultory day, at a boring job and with not much to do otherwise but smoke and flirt a bit with a pretty young woman - not that much different from small town life in the U.S. And religion doesn't have much more emphasis in their lives than, say, an evangelical Christian in a small town in Texas. Lanky Kais Nashef (as Said) and Ali Suliman (as Khaled) in their film debuts charismatically hold the screen as life-long friends (so close that one's mother doesn't even put her head scarf on when the other is around so he's become part of the family). We see them as real people, not stereotypes, interacting warmly with their relatives.
So it comes as something of a shock when they get notified that the suicide mission they've been waiting for to do together is set for the next day. The story is kept narrowly on West Bank Palestinians, so can't be presumed to provide answers about such as the London bombers or those who this week blew up hotels in Jordan. Their preparations are both comic and tense, as unfortunately the regularity of these methods have created their own rituals with photographs and statements. It does seem as if the older cell leaders directing the mission are using the younger men as pawns, in how the bombs are strapped on to them, the casual reference to the titular afterlife, and as they get so little information on the mission's context, an omission that will create chaos when they have to deal with being out of the West Bank for the first time in their lives, despite the alleged two years of planning. When one of their mothers profusely thanks the leader for running a school because the boys need education, there's a strong implication through his demurral of what the kids are learning in what is probably a notorious madrassa.
Their transformation from slackers to terrorists is chilling, as they are shaved, shorn and dressed to look like they could fit in with observant Jews. There is a running, ironic joke, that everyone keeps asking them if they are going to a wedding dressed in those incongruous black suits that are hard to keep clean in their dusty adventure. There is a silently touching interlude when "Khaled" sadly watches two boys flying a kite together, clearly nostalgic for his childhood with his friend.
A running theme throughout the film is family history as related to geographical history. The major characters have fathers whose actions reflect on them in the community, either in pride or to rebel against. Despite the long-winded political debates towards the end, it is coldly noteworthy that their target is clearly civilian with no religious or specifically political resonance, in Tel Aviv, the secular, sophisticated, economic heart of Israel, which seems like a city from another planet compared to the evocative scenes we've seen in broken-down, Old World Nablus.
The most interesting character is a young woman, doubtless atypical (played by professional actress Lubna Azabal), as she is a Moroccan who has lived in France and has come to Palestine to work for a human rights group (she's very sensitive that her accent is different). Her exposure to the world has allowed her to see a wider potential for peace that the young men with their claustrophobic existence, that is manipulated by the militants, hemmed in by the border and frequently changing checkpoints, simply cannot understand. She has an ironic interchange with a store clerk about what he charges for videos of last testaments of suicide bombers vs. those of collaborators. Certainly macho pride also figures into their decisions. But exposure to her arguments, delivered literally on the run as she begins to realize what's afoot, has unpredictable consequences.
The weakest part of the film is when the characters express how their philosophies and family histories are affecting their decisions. While "Said"s lengthy monologue is eerily like "Tom Joad"s from the Grapes of Wrath film, both in content and as photographed by director/co-writer Hany Abu-Assad, the setting of delivering it to his revered cell leader doesn't quite make sense and turns the film from a dramatic feature into a political statement.
Even with the monologues and political discussions, the film is as involving as entertainments about terrorism such as Day of the Jackal and 24 as we do not know what will happen at each turn. A running story line is looking people in the eyes and this film does that clear-eyed both visually and thematically about Palestinian suicide bombers.(11/11/2005)

Jarhead is a visually stunning celebration of making an R rated film about enlisted men, ground level troops from basic training through homecoming in a late 20th century war. And that's it.
The first third is a repeat of every movie ever made about basic training, including Full Metal Jacket and even having Jamie Foxx channel Louis Gossett Jr. from An Officer and A Gentleman. Just that now we get to hear a lot of variations of the "F" word in conversations and scatological marching chants. The squadron is even set up as the diversity of the new Army (there's an amusing interchange about unfamiliarity with author Anthony Swofford's Anglo-Saxon surname), as the inevitable kid from Compton now replacing the World War II stereotype of the boy from Brooklyn, with two Latinos, one dark, one light, with one a Cuba Libre proponent. That's just about all we learn about each of these guys, though at least we can tell them apart more than the guys in Black Hawk Down. Peter Sarsgaard is mesmerizing but his character stays a bit of a mystery throughout. Are these any different than scenes from an Qaeda training camp would be?
Just as generals fight the previous war (the lesson learned here was to have overwhelming force and popular support), these guys get hopped up on Viet Nam War movies, though the message of Apocalypse Now seems lost on them and there's only one plaint for their own music (there's actually surprisingly little hip hop on the soundtrack though Thomas Newman's soundtrack and other selections are very effective). This section is tedious and loses the audience too soon.
The second third is the build-up to Gulf War I as it slowly changed from Desert Shield into Desert Storm, and which we at home knew a lot more about through CNN than these troops out in the desert did (and there's no sign of other members of the coalition), as they only get propaganda briefings a la the truism that the first victim of war is the truth. This salacious section is basically Boys Gone Wild with Boredom, that veers close to HBO's Oz territory and you can practically smell the latrines and body odor. The R rating could have been pushed much further here, as the full extent of what isolated men are like together is covered clinically in the voice-over that is only useful in this section and is otherwise too annoying throughout. A beefed up Jake Gyllenhaal is explosive in representing the marines' disintegrating mental state. The military does seem to have learned some lessons from this readiness experience to keep troops in touch with home, as seen in the recently cancelled FX series Over There. The scenes of press interviews have lost a bit of punch since we've seen since embedded reporters.
It is effective at showing how a brutal misogyny can develop in these situations (with a toss-off about fertility as a half-hearted balance) such that the women in their lives become The Enemy in the bitter "Wall of Shame" of cheating wives and girlfriends. (There's a nasty vignette of a wife turning her husband's fondness for The Deer Hunter back on him.) It's a small stretch to understand how in other cultures and at other places rape and pillaging could become a weapon of war as a release. (Homophobia is not dealt with.) War looks like a controlled outlet for testosterone.
The third section is all about Roger Deakins' cinematography, from the blinding white out of the desert to the burning oil wells, to friendly fire and collateral damage. It is starkly beautiful.
There are some political points here as gradually the sniper marines realize they are irrelevant in an air war, but we know that won't be the case in the Gulf War Part 2 that's now urban guerrilla battles. Three Kings is much better at combining the grunts' and the wider cultural and political perspectives, though there's some token discussion about dissent. The film reinforces another truism that troops in battle fight for their buddies, not for ideology (presumably in Qaeda as well).
The concluding coda is heavy-handed, including the closing narrative point: "All wars are different. All wars are the same." Best Years of Our Lives made the same points and almost the same story lines.
While Chris Cooper and Dennis Haysbert seem to get a kick out of strutting around, I doubt the military can use this as a recruiting film, as there's brief points about inadequate equipment and risky issued drugs.(11/7/2005)
Anthony Spofford's visceral, insightful memoir is so much better than the film! While the strongest images and incidents come directly from the book, the decision to untangle the triggered flashbacks and flash-forward's into a straight chronological story dilutes the emotional impact, particularly about his relationships with father and grandfather and their previous wars, as well as with various women (the casual lovers at marine camps around the world are completely eliminated in the film). The book does not have the boring, extended, conventional boot camp training intro that fatally drags down the movie, and provides wry comments Viet Nam era movies and music that did not come through in the film. The film did successfully combine several guys into the colleague played by Sarsgaard, but I think it was his strong performance that made him indelible, not the script or anything from the book, as he embodied the spirit of the book more than any specifics. Many of the most macabre and graphic scenes of war, as well as the rough language, were eliminated. Read the book, don't bother to see the movie! (1/12/2006)

Elizabethtown is a string of vignettes that don't quite pull together for an emotional journey. What I especially didn't expect is a Cameron Crowe movie that feels so much like pieces of other movies.
The opening vignette of corporate rise and fall has a few amusing satiric touches of cubicle life in an entrepreneur's ego-driven company, but feels hastily retooled from the internet bust to an athletic shoe company and is too dependent on the annoying, voicing the obvious, voice-over narration. This part is too much like the weak Just Like Love or even too obviously striving to re-strike the opening of Jerry Maguire.
The "meet cute" vignette establishes immediately that Kirsten Dunst's flight attendant is just plain annoying and continues to be so as we learn nothing more about her. Just that everyone loves her and her occasional southern drawl immediately (at least at the only there for silly comic relief wedding party) and she's a prescient, controlling know it all so that the maybe's of their relationship only seem based on her psychic abilities and not their developing chemistry, and there's no suspense about it. Their extended phone conversation courtship was done better in The Truth About Cats and Dogs. Even the teens behind me got fed up and muttered that she was "an idiot." At least in Junebug, which was also centered around a family's bland golden boy returning to the south, we got insight into the preternaturally peppy woman. As long as this film is rated PG-13 for some reason, more could have been made of the romance.
The family gathering in the titular town stoops to some stereotypes as it's like a southern mirror image of Avalon, and the lost big city guy in the small southern town seems a lot like Doc Hollywood. But the contrasting father/son/grandson conflicts around Cousin "Jessie" (Paul Schneider of All the Real Girls) are so natural, despite a buffoonish conservative Loudon Wainwright as the dad (despite that so much of his own oeuvre is about these same father/son issues) and the mystery of their wives, that he seems to be in a parallel, better movie. Too bad Crowe's boomer musical tastes make the cousin a Lynyrd Skynyrd fanatic as that doesn't make a lot of sense for such a young guy (and greatly confused the teens in back of me who didn't get a single older musical reference so missed the significance of a slapstick funny "Freebird" climax though it uncomfortably recalled a recent tragic accident).
Women's role in such get-togethers is portrayed affectionately. Susan Sarandon's brief comic appearances start out seeming just oddly silly but turn into a gutsily sweet and funny facing down of a family that always saw her as an outsider, though the modeling message that was supposed to be conveyed to her son about romance was a bit muddled. Just that this must be at least the fifth movie recently that considers the song "Moon River" some kind of touch stone.
It is amusing to have some family members note in passing just how handsome Orlando Bloom is, as he doesn't add much else to the film. At least his accent only slips once.
The closing road trip is a music version of the Americana kitsch journey in About Schmidt. I wish that Crowe would do a separate documentary about his musical free association from Kentucky to Memphis and west as it would work better on its own and I would love to see that. Yes, the music selections are terrific, except when they are too distractingly obvious and familiar, such as Elton John, U2 and Tom Petty, and I did want to be able to take in all the selections on the mix CD that we barely glimpse (including an inside joke of listing a Rufus Wainwright song in a notebook that looks just like the one in the teen remake of Cruel Intentions) and hear, as it was nice to hear Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket and Eastmountainsouth. Evidently the 18 minutes eliminated from the rough cut shown at the Toronto Film Festival were from this section and now it just feels jumpily confusing and not at all revelatory about Bloom's character. What does he learn about himself by visiting the Lorraine Motel, Sun Studios and the Second Largest Farmer's Market other than boogying badly? The seconds of nostalgic flashbacks to connect the past with the present aren't quite enough emotional grounding. Combining a musical journey with an inner one made more sense in Schultze Gets the Blues.
Crowe wonderfully captured '90's young people in Singles and nostalgically those of the '60's in Almost Famous, but his insights just don't seem to flow out of these young folks. (10/15/2005)

Dandelion is a hauntingly beautiful contemporary spin on Splendor in the Grass, with pervasive forebodings of how the endless horizons of the American Western prairie can lead to claustrophobic traps.
Debut director/co-writer Mark Milgard masterfully makes the long hot summer of the lovely Idaho and Washington landscapes redolent with both the magic of young love and the dread of violence in a very Days of Heaven fashion. The sins of the parents are literally visited on the children. The perceptive camera fills in the silent gaps of the inarticulate characters, between parents and their teens, between parents and between teens. The action is moved along not by theatrically explosive explication but by the existential choice that each character makes, even as one gently points out that his passivity at a key point was a choice. Using cinema as a storytelling technique, the director unveils these choices visually.
Key to the success of this approach is Vincent Kartheiser. We certainly had no trouble thinking he was from another dimension in TV's Angel, and here his emotive face and saucer eyes are Garbo-like to the camera. His "Mason" almost non-verbally goes from sullen son huddling under his hair to opaque Billy Budd-like martyr to an achingly enraptured Romeo. His sudden bright smile lights up the screen and forecasts the potential for hope and love as much as his tear-filled eyes drown our hearts. Every feeling felt or shut down is reflected in that face and eyes. Kudos to Kartheiser for not choosing to be another of the WB TV Boyz -- was he in college in between?-- and instead taking an offbeat role.
No wonder Taryn Manning's "Danny" finds the scrawny sensitive kid irresistible even when a more conventionally hunky bad boy Shawn Reaves (of TV's Tru Calling) is a rival (though the triangle plays out in an atypical fashion). She sensitively exudes toughness and vulnerability, in a different way than she did in Hustle & Flow, as she blossoms into what "Mason" sees in her.
The parents are also atypically not inconsequential and the excellent acting by the adults ratchets up tensions (though a post traumatic stressed syndrome Viet vet uncle and a grief-stricken mime out of Springsteen's "Reason to Believe" are a bit too much). Arliss Howard well captures a nice guy who nevertheless commits terrible emotional abuse on his wife and son. Mare Winningham starts out as the usual tippling oblivious homemaker, but brings real feeling to the last part of the film, in both an explosion of frustration and in an almost pieta scene of sympathetically stroking her inconsolable son's hair. Michelle Forbes is commendably almost unrecognizable in a very atypical role for her as a troubled single mom who destroys her daughter's self-esteem. The film well shows how the adults start to perceive their kids' feelings and how that powerful life-affirmation affects them.
Even though what was obviously a minuscule budget necessitated no changes in hair styles or aging make-up etc. to back-up the interstitial "two years later," the weather-beaten buildings and exquisite settings of meadows, creek, endless road and railroad tracks and big sky of bright clouds and overpowering rain are an essential component of the story, though I'm pretty sure the title image only appears once.
While co-writer Robb Williamson's score captures the ominous mood and the indie rock song selections are illustrative, especially Sparklehorse ironically singing of a "wonderful life" and Cat Power covering Lou Reed, the visuals reminded me of a country song: "You know the world must be flat/'Cos when people leave town, they never come back." (from "Small Town Saturday Night" by Alger and DeVito, popularized by Hal Ketchum).
There have been some other films lately dealing seriously with teens and parents amidst death and first love, including the suburban Winter Solstice and Imaginary Heroes, but I was the most moved by Dandelion. This is the most poignant, mature portrait of young people in rural America since Tully. (10/12/2005

Into the Blue beautifully delivers exactly what it advertises -- Jessica Alba in a string bikini and a sun-drenched Paul Walker as the primary flora in a lot of water.
For the record, straight women get a bit cheated, as Alba's attire is a marvel of waterproof tape (especially with the camera constantly down her (or her stunt or body double's) front and up her rear) while Walker wears long trunks and jeans throughout so we get half the view straight men do. Are we not customers too? Can we not get our pound of flesh? Is our money less green? Oh sure, we're supposed to mostly care about cuddling, and we get on the big screen some of Walker's engaging smile and crinkly blue eyes as "Jared" establishes his romantic fidelity to Alba's "Samantha" with less passion than he won over those of us oblivious to fast cars in Noel. I came in a few minutes late so missed some of the most romantic scene, but I didn't seem to miss any explication. I get that the 12 year old boys in the audience are restless during such romance, but older, female members of the audience would have liked more as a break from the confusing action.
The two swimsuits, er, actors do have chemistry together, even though he's at least eight years older than she (so doesn't quite fit my 20something limitation here). Alba is charming as her "Sam" does get to spout morals, as she makes clear that drugs and drug dealers are bad, and is kindly to children, convincing that love is all we need, and she is neither helpless nor super, but does get to use some of her old Dark Angel chops. I'm sure dentists will be happy how sexy she makes brushing teeth look. But I was mostly worried if the actors were using strong sun screen or if they would be eligible for workmen's comp when they develop skin cancer from so much over-exposure.
While the plot gets way overly twisted up levels and levels of corruption and way too many bodies pile up (and I did not think it appropriate that audience members brought very young children due to the violence and occasional naughty word), the morality basics of the slippery slope of compromise are presented well, though there no noir subtlety or comeuppance. I think the confusing elements in the underwater action sequences may be due to editing confusion over which masked stunt double is portraying whom.
As usual in such films, the bad guys do seem to have the most fun. Ashley Scott's party girl brings some ambiguity to her role as an evil influence. Josh Brolin was almost unrecognizable behind his gristle and gruff voice and James Frain was enjoying slumming in what sounded to Yank ears as a working class accent.
The soundtrack includes some good Caribbean song selections, such as by Ziggy Marley, and a few surprising singer-songwriters, such as Loque, but even more would have been welcome. The instrumental music is serviceable, but it ramps up too obviously with surprise villainous attacks.
This is a visually entertaining, mindless ride. (10/3/2005)

Pretty Persuasion crosses Mean Girls with an updated slant on Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, but its social and political satire feels in too many scenes like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch.
The film is heavy-handedly based on the sociological findings that instead of doing Columbine-like violence, teen age girls lash out with spiteful aggression in social situations. The film makes the extended case that teen girls are more like Machiavelli than Carrie or as in Heathers. The male debut writer and director can't resist adding in dollops of male fantasy about girls and women. Even under the guise of examining how ambiguous male-driven media messages from Britney Spears to Lolita to TV shows, etc. create confusing role models of appropriate behavior for girls in their real lives, males are seen as clueless pawns of younger females.
One effective touch is to replay scenes in flashbacks from different angles to show how miscommunications and misunderstandings can occur and be manipulated.
Individual scenes and caricatures are very funny, particularly James Wood doing a comic take on his Ghosts of Mississippi role. Adi Schnall is touching as a naive Muslim student thrown in with the sharks of the American Dream. Jane Krakowski enjoys making fun of the ambitious bombshell roles she usually plays. Elisabeth Harnois is the most affecting as the best friend, but she is so natural she almost seems to be in a different movie. Selma Blair has a brief funny scene as a wife mocking her husband's fantasies, though a notable episode of TV's Angel did the exact same scene with more dark bite, as well as the general theme taken up more effectively by Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ryan Murphy in Popular. But most of the rest of the broad, scatter shot attacks on ethnic, racial and sexual PC clichés end up just wooden and go on repetitively for too long. Individual lines like "I can sympathize with the immigrant experience because I'm Canadian." are amusing, as are ongoing jokes about putting on the story of Anne Frank as the high school play, but pile up in dialog that even the commanding Evan Rachel Wood has trouble making seem real.
The closing montage ties all the disparate themes together in a sudden shift of tone, but it was a long time getting there, in moving from the obvious to the touching to twists in using high school as the usual metaphor for the world at large.
The cinematography is all appropriate bright pink. The set design is full of visual jokes, more than the can be picked up quickly.
For a film set in the world of teenagers, there are few songs on the sound track, perhaps due to budget limitations, but more music might have helped the pacing. (9/25/2005)

Thumbsucker is a charming look at an adolescent boy and the constellation of friends and family around him. It has the humor of Napoleon Dynamite through the kind of original prism as Me and You and Everyone We Know and the clear-eyed look at families as Imaginary Heroes.
With an ongoing refrain of "Did you ever really want to change?", the film takes both a humorous and almost Flowers for Algernon serious look at the current trend to label what might be normal, or just slightly unusual, childhood behaviors as a medicatable disorder, particularly labeling a kid ADD and giving him a pharmaceutical solution, and how it affects not just him but his family and others around him in unpredictable ways. Debut director/writer Michael Mills has the camera movements accent the debates, going slowly back and forth, emphasized by the song selections that swing from cheery Polyphonic Spree to depressing Elliott Smith, with a lot of silences in between. It is refreshing to see a film dealing with a kid with a different problem than most recent films, not grief nor dope nor abuse. The family is more functional than most portrayed, as they do genuinely try to reach out to each other and there is plenty of humor amidst the poignancy.
Noting that everyone has secrets that they will allow all kinds of misinterpretations in order not to reveal, the story goes further and explores other sources of a habit and solutions, from the spiritual to recreational drugs to sexual to see them all as crutches for avoiding maturity at whatever chronological age. The ironies are accented through funny dream sequences.
Lou Taylor Pucci of the soulful eyes is captivating as a warmly believable kid and puts in a really vulnerable performance through the roller coaster plot. While not as showy as Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mysterious Skin, he should be remembered around award time for newcomer, break out performance of the year.
He is surrounded by top notch adult actors who revel in playing against or making fun of their usual types. Tilda Swinton is very maternal, but with a mysterious edge so that you can join her son in being wary of her. Vincent D'Onofrio captures an inarticulate ex-jock dad. Vince Vaughan is almost a caricature of the nerdy teacher who wants to be one of the guys with his students (though the depiction of the workings of his high school debate team is inaccurate, even if the author of the book the screenplay is adapted from does a cameo as a judge). Keanu Reeves is The Matrix's Neo as a cheerfully suburban orthodontist. Benjamin Bratt satirizes celebrity TV stars.
The longing for more than friends relationship with the out of reach girl is a bit conventional for such films but quite touching nevertheless. The character of the girl is more a real person with feelings and a trajectory of issues of her own, which is unusual in this genre.
While the Portland area setting was more exurban than typically suburban, there was a bit of laughter in the Times Square theater I saw the film in when New York City kept being quizzically bruited as an unreachable goal, with the image of Times Square as freedom. And everyone knows that college acceptance letters are the thick packet, not the thin envelope. (9/25/2005)

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Xiao cai feng) raises the awkward situation of commenting on a semi-autobiographical story which was originally written, then adapted and directed by the person who lived it in the same, beautiful locations where the events that inspired Sijie Dai took place. How much is fiction and how much is docu-drama? And I haven't read the book so I don't know how much he changed.
The basics of the story would seem like a 1940's sci fi allegory of a totalitarian, anti-intellectual society if the Cultural Revolution under the here ubiquitously revered ruler Mao Tse Tung hadn't actually happened, with its anti-literate class-based revenge of kicking the children of the perceived elite out of the cities to rural areas for re-education at rigorous manual labor. In outline, his story is like a real life Fahrenheit 451 and "the Little Seamstress," the teen ager, played charmingly by Xun Zhou, who gets caught up in a triangle between the out-of-towners, like Ninotchka. She, startlingly, has far more ambition than the loyal peasant girl in The Road Home.
So it's hard to tell if the strong condescension in the tone to the local peasantry is what the two young men finally learn to overcome or is somewhat shown to be just as endemic in the Communist Party as is seen at the end they were suppressing the beauty of local traditions almost as much as intellectual influences. Because the premise that transforming aesthetics can only come from outside influences through movies, fashion and Western literature and music just seems anthropologically naive as they poke fun at and trick the locals. We do see that the peasants appreciate story telling, sewing and songs - but only of the most earthy kind until the re-educated sneak in their experiences, disguised as homages to Lenin or Mao. For example, with the almost universality of stringed instruments in human culture, it's hard to believe that peasants would be that skeptical when first exposed to a violin.
The film is at its strongest, and loveliest, when it sticks to the personal relationships that result from contacts with the locals, as human nature is more powerful than ideology and youth is simply irrepressible and non-Orwellian. The romantic triangle plays out beautifully and gently demonstrates male instincts for Pygmalion control, irrespective of politics. The story affirms the Law of Unintended Consequences, heavily symbolized at the end with the coming of a dam on the river that will have the same effect on these towns as the TVA had on now forgotten communities in Appalachia.
This tender and poignant nostalgia is a chronological and thematic prequel to the less optimistic The World (Shijie) in showing the impact of globalization on China and its people. (9/20/2005

Games of Love and Chance (L'Esquive) is an involving experiment in giving classic French comedy of errors relevance to today, in a dramatic demonstration of "Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose" -- the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche juxtaposes the titular 18th century work by Marivaux with junior high kids in a poor, inner city Arab immigrant neighborhood, for an effect that crosses Larry Clark's Kids with Mad Hot Ballroom. Like any period farce, the real relationships are dizzyingly circular: A loves B who loves C who is in disguise with D. A threatens C, B changes places with D to pursue his suit and use Marivaux like Cyrano, C can't make up her mind, friends of B and C misunderstand everyone, and the course of true love doesn't run smooth.
While marred by wincingly heavy-handed intellectualizing on class social criticism by the literature teacher who is directing the kids in the play and a deus ex machina insertion of biased cops, the frank life and death-ness of adolescent romance strongly comes through in comparison to Marivaux's mannered floweriness, even as these kids communicate amongst each other with four letter obscenities, bluntly crude slang (that may not be too well represented in the English subtitles but I'm sure French subtitlers likewise have trouble with the patois in movies such as Four Brothers), heart-tugging looks of longing, painfully hurt tears, and, finally in frustration, physical action.
It is not clear if "the blonde" as she is referred to in the English subtitles (played by the excellent Sara Forestier, who seems to have been the only member of the cast with some previous experience before the cameras) is also from an immigrant family or Muslim, or if she just picked up use of a couple of Muslim catch phrases in her slang as to whether Kechiche is adding another layer of social commentary. Or she could just be part of the trend in French cinema to fixate on pouty young blonde temptresses, viz. La Petite Lili, À Tout de Suite (Right Now), Lila Says (Lila dit ça). (If her different ethnicity was clarified I would classify this film under ROMEO AND JULIET ACROSS THE ETHNIC DIVIDE).
This film has a lot of parallels with Lila Says (Lila dit ça), not just about sex and social setting, though it dealt with older kids, but also how literature can be an escapist outlet but also a threat that brings hidden emotions to the fore.
The grim mise en scene makes wonderful use of a crowded, high rise neighborhood where the kids hang out chilled because they have little privacy at home, some fathers are in jail, their loving mothers try to keep tabs on them, and cell phones are their expensive lifelines.
While the film goes on a bit too long as scenes meander, probably because it isn't clear how much has been scripted and how much the kids are very effectively improvising particulars around a basic story line, their relationships are enthralling, both the romances and the friendships. Each teen actor creates an indelible and different character.
270 years since Marivaux and the human heart hasn't changed. (9/8/2005)

Oyster Farmer is a warm, refreshing, Australian take on the old-fashioned genre of the secretive, hunky stranger with a murky past shaking up a small community.
Alex O'Lachlan in his notable debut as "Jack Flange" is very much like William Holden in Picnic and Paul Newman in The Long Hot Summer. While debut writer/director Anna Reeves certainly appreciates his visual and visceral assets, his character's mysteriously tattooed masculinity is a Sensitive New Age Guy metrosexual compared to the hard-working blokes along the mangroves of the isolated Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, which looks a lot like the bayou country of Louisiana that has been similarly used for sultry effect in movies like The Big Easy.
While it's a bit confusing at first to sort out the relationships (let alone the basics of oyster farming), partly due to the accents, in this tight and quirky Brooklyn where everyone knows generations of everybody's paternity, marital disputes, personal business, and, particularly for the plot, their mail, the gradual revelations add to our enjoyment of the comfortable repartee as we are thrust into the ongoing squabbles along with the outsider and learn to appreciate this fading lifestyle as it becomes his home despite his suspicions and other plans.
Jim Norton as a Granddad with an Irish gift of gab is particularly entertaining as he goads his stubborn wiry son, an appealing David Field, to make up with his wife, who has the more successful touch as an oyster farmer. Women in this macho environment have to not only be tough, but resilient as they find ways to still assert their femininity.
Diana Glenn's "Pearl" seems perfectly adapted to the local way of life-- her hitchhiking up the river is a wonderful detail even as she has Sex and the City proclivities --though her flirtation with "Jack" is only frankly lusty.
Kerry Armstrong is a marvelous matriarch, but her character's level-headedness reduces opportunities for jealousy, as the script opts for humor over tension.
Jack Thompson has a small local color role, but key as he becomes an anchoring father figure for the restless "Jack" as we see him grow new roots.
The national park scenery and Alun Bollinger's cinematography are breathtakingly beautiful and that waterfront train looks like a delightful ride, though a bit more geographical context would have been helpful. (7/31/2005)

The Edukators (Die Fetten Jahre sind vorbei) should be adopted as the movie of the "Summer of Live8," with almost as good a soundtrack. It is a wonderful illustration of how all politics is personal -- as one character quotes, "every heart is a revolutionary cell" and compares the hormonal rush from political action to love.
Helped enormously by an appealing cast who perfectly capture the ebullience, exuberance and idealism of twentysomethings, director/co-writer Hans Weingartner brings to life an intelligent film about politics that is also very funny and wonderfully romantic. Just when any character starts slipping into rhetoric in their thoughtful, pointed debates, their conversations suddenly turn on double meanings for their personal lives. Dialectics quickly turns to longing gazes as these are sweet revolutionaries who are irrepressibly human. As probably middle-class products of democracy who want to influence voters for change, they are much more Yippies than terrorists. They are more about what used to be called consciousness-raising, hence the original German title, as they warn rich capitalists "Your Days Of Plenty Are Numbered" and sign themselves "Erziehungsberechtigter," a mouthful which I understand translates more as "guardians" than the nevertheless evocative English title.
The first half of the film has a breathless New Wave feel, and I'm sure it's not a coincidence that one character is named "Jule" as the Jules et Jim triangle is a driving plot point. There's an amusing pattern of repeated visuals that change meanings as we see who is now next to whom, who is asleep and who is awake. Her boyfriend "Peter" is just the kind of seductive guy, played by a leonine Stipe Erceg, who brings her a present of a sexy camisole and thinks she just needs bright colors in her frustrating life. So how can she help but be surprised that his Angry Young Man best friend and "weird" roommate "Jan" can really talk to her.
Music is used marvelously throughout the film (even though covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" -no, it's not Jeff Buckley's version, it's Lucky Jim- have been way overused in films lately, the words actually are meaningful in a climactic scene here). Non-German speakers are otherwise at a real disadvantage both for having to tear your eyes away from the charismatic actors and because few of the lyrics are translated in the subtitles, though I presume one is translated because the nostalgic lyrics for a pastoral past gain ironic resonance when the threesome ends up in a soothing sylvan Tyrolean landscape. But we can pick up that the guys play loud, aggressive music in very expressive mano a mano camaraderie throughout and the chick plays a romantic-sounding singer, Jeff Cole. So we can also be surprised when "Jan" admits to having gone to the same concert she did.
While Daniel Brühl was charming in Goodbye, Lenin! and sweet in Ladies in Lavender, as "Jan" he's a heartbreaking movie star. The camera simply falls in love with him, too, in frequent close-ups, and wet opportunities to take his shirt off, as he puts poignancy into every look, even a furtive, frustrated glance in a rear-view mirror.
Just when a baby boomer is feeling nostalgic watching these kids, the film makes the connection with the '60's explicit as it very amusingly crosses The Big Chill with Ruthless People. There are at least two lines from these comparisons that are very laugh out loud funny, while making points about the 1968 of protests, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Somehow I had previously missed the generation gap truism: "If you're not liberal when you're under 30, you have no heart. If you're liberal after 30, you have no brain."
The conclusion goes in very surprising twists on bourgeois ethics that leave some questions about who chose to do what to whom when and who is now "a good liar." So it is frustrating to learn that the director went back and added a clarifying scene that is only being shown in Germany. I can only hope international audiences will at least get to see it on the DVD.
The director has explained in the forum on the film's German web site (which also has a still from the missing scene on the yacht that is presaged in the dialog), according to what meininki (Sat Jan 22 2005 03:09:06) says is a "rough" translation on the IMDb message boards: "The scene has always been in the script. It wasn't finished in time for Cannes, didn't "work" yet. Only in the summer, I've found the right music for it and recorded additional dialogue for the cafe scene . . . At the time, the film had already been sold to 44 countries and I couldn't and didn't want to force the local distributors to take the "new" ending. But please believe me when I say that I think both endings are great. In the end they aren't that different from one another. The message stays the same. . . with the "short" ending you have to imagine it. Kind regards, Hans" (He also comments on the genesis of the film, casting and the future of the characters on the U.S. web site (enter the site, wait through the graphics, then click on "Get Edukated" then click on each subject.)
It is refreshing to see a German political film where the context is Europe within capitalist globalism, though there are a couple of frissons of recall to the unavoidable past, as when the rich capitalist they debate comes very close to saying he's just following orders in how he's just followed the system. The subtitles translated one of his points as perilously sounding like "Work will make you free" but I don't know if he actually said "Arbeit macht frei" in the German. I presume the number of English words that have casually become part of their lexicon is also symbolic of globalization.
As I have recalled elsewhere in reviews, I once went to a Herbert Marcuse lecture that concluded with a lengthy Q & A; the last question, from an audience member far older than the rest of us acolytes, heck she had gray hair, was "Why are revolutionaries so grim?" She was hooted at and Marcuse didn't deign to respond to it seriously -- but it's the only thing of substance I remember from the whole evening. How wonderful that a new generation of revolutionaries, at least through this film, has a sense of humor, unlike other efforts to combine politics and romance, such as Conventioneers
This film restores one's faith that youth is not in fact wasted on the young. (7/30/2005)

Caterina in the Big City (Caterina va in città) is a pointed, funny but also good-hearted satire of Italian politics and society that uses the microcosm of high school as a vehicle for exposing cliques and factions as a social system just barely under control.
Like Election or Saved! with a broader frame of reference, director/co-writer Paolo Virzì takes us further into the home lives of the contrasting mean girls and their parents, so that the school groups correspond directly to real world cliques. From the opening shots of bored teens in what looks like a working class, vocational high school, through to the preppie and goth Queen Bees and their courts in what is apparently a more prestigious, upper class public high school, the students look and act authentically like today's kids, complete with text messaging cell phones (and the actors actually look their ages).
While naive, socially awkward but obedient to a fault "Caterina" ((a very appealing Alice Teghil) moving from the sticks to Rome bouncing accidentally from one socio-political group to another is the vehicle for the acidly funny observations of somewhat stereotyped behaviors, Sergio Castellitto as her histrionic, ineffectual, hypocritical, toadying but loving dad keeps the comic tone humane, even when the left-wingers and the right-wingers are a bit cardboard. Her voice-over diary interpretations and dutiful reports to her dad are very amusingly contradicted by what we see actually happened to her.
Like Look At Me (Comme une image), this film pokes fun at the irresistibility of TV celebrity to bring out the worst in people from all across the political spectrum, particularly among the literati. I'm sure much of the particulars of Italian politics go by the American viewer, such as the specifics of particular political arguments and digs at the Prime Minister's broadcasting holdings and legal problems (and probably other cameos have significance besides Roberto Benigni), we can certainly appreciate the universal circus of modern media pseudo-debates, social class differences that are of style and not substance, gender and parent relations -- (particularly of Italian men such that as in U.S. films an Australian guy saves the day)-- snobby condescension and currying favor, particularly through the settings that tell us a lot about each family.
The universality of human behavior, especially of the perfectly captured teenage girls (even as they narrowly avoid the most dangerous pitfalls), can be well understood, and the left and right seem to be in for equal barbs.
While the hair styles, clothes and make-up of each group is on target, one surprising touch compared to similar American satires is how little the school cliques define themselves by their musical preferences, except for some preppie club dancing and a goth listening to morose singer-songwriter Nick Cave.
"Caterina"s rapturous preference for classical music, Mahler in particular, seems a bit wishful thinking of hopes for the future of high culture as above all cliques - doubtless a conservatory has its own divisions.
Whether in the seats of government or the media, the ironic message that the power elite will shrug, shake hands and go on is demonstrated in a funny scene in the principal's office as all the parents and their rebellious teens get together, in an Italian take on "The more things change, the more they stay the same," as the kids have mimicked their parents throughout.
The satire is not nasty, however, as "Caterina" and her family do learn valuable lessons from their exposure to the powers that be and make surprising decisions to change their lives to pursue their own happiness that leaves a sweet impression. (7/9/2005)

My Summer of Love is a sensual warning that idle hands are the devil's playmate.
Director and book co-adapter Pawel Pawlikowski is very much a visual artist with repeating motifs of watching eyes as he imagines Heavenly Creatures set in a sunny, languid Yorkshire using a similar dreamy pictorial lens and aural envelope as Todd Solondz.
Where American art house films tend to see young women on the cusp of adulthood more as victims as they experiment with their sexual power, such as in Blue Car, or in commercial fare as innocents, like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and a spate of recent non-American directors have shown their impact on men, such as in À Tout de Suite (Right Now), La Petite Lili, and The Holy Girl (La Niña santa), this film well captures the kind of intense relationship between young women Carroll Smith-Rosenberg described in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America for which emotionally distant men are mere side adventures and experiments.
The camera frequently rests on verdant undulating hills as pierced by obvious phallic symbols of a singular smoke stack and then a cross laboriously erected by a brother of one of the girls to literally save her soul, though Pawlikowski goes a bit overboard using seduction symbols like a horse, swan, cello and Edith Piaf. These moors are definitely sensual, with no sign of the fog of 19th century novels.
The initially theatrical contrivance of the central freckle-faced, living-over-the-pub lonely lass buffeted between her born again brother and a bored mansion-on-the-hill, Nietzsche-spouting temptress ("They say I'm a bad influence") actually comes together well in the climax as their inner truths are exposed to free her to find her own way and Nathalie Press gives her real flashes of personality.
Ryszard Lenczewski's beautiful cinematography is bleached out sun-drenched or candle-lit that very effectively crosses the girls' internal lives and fantasies with their every day reality.
The primarily Goldfrapp soundtrack adds to the libidinous and threatening moodiness of the atmosphere. (6/27/2005) (supplemented 7/8/2005)

Lords of Dogtown is a rollicking companion piece to Stacy Peralta's documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys about the very young men who transformed skateboarding into a commercial extreme sport.
Director Catherine Hardwicke has a marvelous, visual instinct for capturing the lightning in a bottle that is the energy of adolescence, as she demonstrated with teenage girls in Thirteen.
While the actors are actually a few years older than the founders of the movement, astoundingly, were, they explode with adolescent fidgeting on the screen that then channels hormonal and emotional frustrations into constant movement on first surfboards then skateboards.
This film fills in many of the gaps in their personal lives that were frustratingly missing from the documentary, with evident artistic license as some characters are composites. Some rough edges are left out or smoothed over to keep it from the usual sex, bad contracts and rock 'n' roll biographies.
I had no idea that suburban-sweet little Emile Hirsch from Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Imaginary Heroes was a Venice Beach sk8ter boy in his real life, albeit New School, so that he could so naturally embody the lithe, rebellious Jay Adams, who starts from and rolls to darker places than his cohorts.
Brought much more to the fore is Tony Alva's Chicano family and Victor Rasuk shows that as in Raising Victor Vargas he can passionately portray youthfulness and growing into maturity.
Screenwriter Peralta may be a bit self-serving in how he lets his almost too nice younger self be so sunnily portrayed by John Robinson as the very image of a Southern California beach boy, but an incongruously responsible one -- he actually wears a watch to get to a real job. We learn even less here about his background than any of the other kids.
Heath Ledger transforms himself into a stoner surfer Fagin, revealing better than the documentary the rise and collapse of the odd mentoring relationship the sponsor of the Zephyr Team created with boys who needed some kind of father figure in their lives.
The restless, jangly cinematography races after them like a helmet-cam from the opening shots, on land, sea and especially in empty swimming pools, soaking up their vibes and momentum with quick editing.
While this is more a clear-eyed cautionary ode to too-much too-fast adolescence than to testosterone, the women in their lives are given only a little more acknowledgment than in the documentary. Rebecca De Mornay, who started her career as a teen boy's lust object in Risky Business, ironically now plays Jay's unstable mom, but she is not drawn as substantively as the similar mom in Thirteen.
Just as most rockers admit that they first slapped on a guitar to get chicks, this film is up front that the boys attracted groupies, and makes a half-hearted effort to personalize a couple of the young women for whom they compete, or maybe Nikki Reed is just miscast as Alva's sister. Even the concluding scroll about their futures, much more upbeat than in the documentary, leaves out their detritus of the women in their lives.
The re-created settings and production design of the notorious Pacific Ocean Park Pier well illustrate the class differences between these outlaw locals vs. beach blanket surfer movies and the owners of those prized pools.
The period music is mostly used just for atmosphere, from the opening riffs of Jimi Hendrix's guitar, but occasionally hits home with a character's mood, particularly Neil Young's "Old Man" and Rod Stewart's "Maggie May."
The hair styles, clothes and make-up are also much better done, including the wigs, than most '70's period movies, though why cover up the countless bruises the cast suffered, as presumably in real life the guys must have been banged up besides the one incident shown.
Stay through all the credits to see clips of the real folks, including a sweet tribute to Jay as the font of the style. (6/4/2005)

Mysterious Skin may be the most disturbing film since Kids for a parent to watch. It is by far the frankest film I've ever seen on pedophilia and its victims.
Part of the degree of the viewer's excruciating anguish is the very young age of the two boys when they are abused by a community father figure. The film matter-of-factly goes further than either L.I.E. or The Woodsman in methodically showing how a pedophile picks out his affection-tropic victims, lays his trap and conducts his abuse to attract kids in this age group, including a comparable aged shill or enabler or whatever the technical psychological term is.
Director/book adapter Gregg Araki very carefully had the angelic looking youngsters act in a separate film for which he wrote an age-appropriate script (he should include that with the DVD as a reassurance to viewers) then edited in their actions and reactions, particularly with very intense close-ups. This is intellectually clear because they do not appear in any of the same frames as the abuser, in shots that are as tightly edited as a Hitchcock thriller, but of course the viewer's mind automatically blends the interstices for horrific impact that builds up to a frighteningly matter of fact narrative explanation of the specific acts at the conclusion.
The impact of the abuse is heightened further because we see it primarily in flashbacks as the haunting memories come back to the boys in different ways, clear to one and mysteriously to the other.
The film is heartbreaking in exploring how both are severely emotionally crippled from the abuse for the rest of their lives, but in two very divergent ways, partly because one is gay (and we are told was aware of his sexual orientation at even this young age) and one is probably not. As the abuse happens when the boys are younger than the victims in Bad Education (La Mala educación), Mystic River and The Boys of St. Vincent, it even more affects their personality development, their perception and use of their bodies, particularly as sexual objects and especially their incapability to sustain mature relationships.
Brady Corbet is endearing as the kid who virtually shuts down, as the abuse transmogrifies into other thoughts and manifestations. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as "Neil" has the flashier role and plays it to the hilt and with every inch of his skin. He is scarily captivating.
The film is very careful to set the story in a very specific time when parents were more naive about child abuse and before AIDS transmission is widely understood but is beginning to surface so it hangs over "Neil" as a sword of Damocles or a "McGuffin" in a thriller that the audience knows could strike him down at any moment and gives additional tension to the possible consequences of his immature acting-out. It is grievous how the abuse gets re-translated in the gay underground as he gets older, how they take advantage of "the black hole in his soul" even as he thinks he is in control, to the point where he is not.
The weakest part of the film, and I don't know if this is a hold-over from the book as I haven't yet read Scott Heim's novel (and evidently one needs it for an explanation of the title) is that the women are not full-fledged individuals, particularly the mothers. I don't know if the roles are underwritten or if they are being blamed for emotional and physical neglect or just distraction so a point is being made about the neediness that pedophiles pick up on, though these boys seem to be missing fathers in their lives even more. Both mothers seem stereotyped in their oblivious extremes from a Stepford wife in one family to a slut in the other, though Elisabeth Shue endows the latter with warmth.
The boys' cohort girls aren't much more full-rounded, as each has her own neuroses. Mary Lynn Rajskub, "Chloe" from 24, is almost comic relief until she seems even more sad as a possible victim of some other kind of abuse, as the film provides a creative explanation for alien abductions. Michelle Trachtenberg, most familiar from Buffy the Vampire Slayer seems a bit miscast against her usual type as the goth best friend, who at least is not as devoid of common sense as just about everyone else in the film and "Neil" does make wry comments about how different their relationship would be if he weren't gay.
I hope the ending means there is potential for some kind of healing that would allow these boys to become full human beings, but I'm pessimistic.
I do support the NC-17 rating for this harrowing and draining film. (6/2/2005)
I did read the book -- and it is even more searing and moving than the movie, though it is ironic that one character says "Hollywood would never make a movie about us."
First, it is far more explicit than the movie, painfully, tearfully so. Second, it makes even clearer that "Neil"s behavior is a result of the abuse just as much as "Brian"s- and that he recognizes finally--helped by connecting with "Brian"--that what he remembered as his first gay love experience was a distortion just as much as "Brian"s alien transference, that it was in fact abuse. Heim more effectively contrasts "Neil" with another gay kid who has not been abused--and is capable of love.
Third, "Brian"s parents, particularly his mother, are better realized in the book than the stick figures that are in the movie.
The book makes heartbreakingly, crystal clear that sex is not for kids and that abuse scars kids forever into all realms of their relationships.(7/14/2005)

The Holy Girl (La Niña santa) effectively captures the obsessive, all-consuming passions of adolescent girls, like an Argentinean Thirteen suffused by Catholicism instead of California pop culture.
Young teens are shown exploring their faith as equally as their bodies and the new found power of their sexuality, as a religious instructor, Mía Maestro of TV's Alias protectively, and finally impatiently, tries to channel their avidity into becoming a nun.
But one of the girls comes into contact with the panoply of the perfidy of adults in an intriguing situation, as part of the family of resident managers of a resort hotel. The film focuses on the week when a medical convention brings partying doctors into her and her mother's sights. Writer/director Lucrecia Martel adds an interesting element, recalling but much less brutally than Blue Car and Fat Girl (a ma soeur), when an older abuser crosses paths with the curious adolescent.
Ironically, he is a nondescript, middle-aged husband and father but he gets off on anonymous rubbing up in crowds (which is eerily accompanied by a street musician playing the spooky-sounding Theremin), that she confuses for more direct attention into what she transfers as her religious "mission" (at least that's how it's translated).
The parallel story with the flirtatious mother is less convincing, even with some sort of jealous motivation because her ex's young trophy wife is now pregnant and her boredom with some sort of ongoing, casual relationship she has with another hotel employee.
The film ends on an oddly sympathetic note for the fetishist as his needed anonymity is gradually lost over the course of the week, with a negative view of the teenage girls as they manipulatively deflect adult notice from their experiments.
The English subtitles are very awkwardly translated. Some of the English words have a disjointed connotation and are downright confusing.
The cinematography is very lush and warm, reflecting the girls' emotions. (6/2/2005)

The Illustrated Family Doctor is a wry, ironic comedy about a neurotic hypochondriac having a "quarter-life crisis."
While writer/director Kriv Stenders described it as very atypical for Australian films, which tend to celebrate masculinity, bringing it to the Tribeca Film Festival was like bringing coals to Newcastle. Stenders claimed in the Q & A to be particularly influenced by Jim Jarmusch, but this seemed more like The Office done by Woody Allen.
Samuel Johnson, who has been seen in the U.S. on The Secret Life of Us on cable TV, was wonderfully appealing as an Everyman who is the par excellence shlimazl (as in the shlimil is the one who spills the soup and the shlimazl is the one he spills it on).
The digs at Reader's Digest type reference and condensed books are particularly droll.
While the pacing is just too slow, it is an amusing critique of modern corporate life, similar in tone to Walter Kirn's novel Up in the Air, with a passing resemblance to the British film How to Get Ahead in Advertising.
The production design beautifully captures the sterility of today's working and socializing environments. (5/25/2005)

Swimming Upstream reveals an intense dysfunctional psycho drama behind a competitive sport.
It is as moving about a macho male athletic culture, here focused on swimming, as Friday Night Lights was about football, particularly as dysfunctionally fueled by alcohol.
Geoffrey Rush gives a searing performance as an alcoholic patriarch who arbitrarily plays his sons against each other for his attention and approval. Judy Davis, who usually masters powerful women, here is memorable as a buffeted mother drained by caring for five children, poverty and her occasionally violent husband.
Claustrophobic family dynamics are well-captured, particularly in showing how childhood experiences shape adults emotionally forever and what was once a refuge becomes torture. When the sons reach adolescence the screen is filled by blue-eyed Jesse Spencer (he's in a crew cut with rippling muscles in the pool so much that I didn't recognize him as the very clothed, longish haired doctor in TV's House) and the young men in small bathing trunks playing his brothers, in heightened scenes of very physical sibling rivalry and closeness.
The visuals and production design well communicate the bloke culture of Brisbane in the 1950's and early 1960's, from the fading docks, to the pubs, to the locker rooms, to the union halls, that is brutally carried into the family.
The shocked smile on Spencer's face as "Tony Fingleton" discovers a wider culture through his swimming, heck with admiring women in it, is heart warming as I thought that if someone doesn't give that guy a hug already I'll reach through the movie screen and do it myself.
Russell Mulcahy's directing, however, frequently undercuts the power, with unnecessary narration and gimmicky camera moves during intense scenes.
The timetable as years go by is a bit confusing, especially as annual tournaments repeat.(2/8/2005)

Rory O'Shea Was Here (Inside I'm Dancing) is a marvelous lead showcase for the talented James McAvoy who up to now has been a cocky secondary character in movies such as Wimbledon and memorable television such as State of Play.
But there his bad boy brashness is supported by a whirlwind of movement and sensuality whereas here all he can use in portraying a spark plug with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is his voice and expressions. His "Rory" takes hold of a condescending home for "special people" the way Jack Nicholson shook up the mental ward in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He is a rebel with a cause -- freedom.
Steven Robertson as the pal he dynamites out of perhaps too simple complacency is achingly convincing as a young man with cerebral palsy who gradually learns he has a potential to fulfill, emotionally and intellectually. The film is particularly good at creating very individual characters with specific family and class situations, as well as making good use of the Dublin environment.
While there are some clichés along the way, as well as a few overly convenient plot points, the film with humor, liveliness and poignancy (and a cool soundtrack) sticks our face in large issues about the helping bureaucracy, the need to individuate independent living opportunities, with particular attention to age differences, and our attitudes about the physically disabled. (2/8/2005) That The Wall Street Journal reviewer had to check the IMDb to see if McAvoy was really disabled confirmed to me that movie reviewers don't watch quality TV. But then TV reviewers don't seem to go to the movies either. (3/12/2005)

Bad Education (La Mala educación) works well as a trilogy with The Boys of St. Vincent and Mystic River in showing how the sexual abuse of a boy damages the man he becomes and affects his family.
Women are barely present in this insight into Pedro Almodóvar's artistic inspirations, just passive conveniences for producing more sons and to be lied to. They might as well be cloistered as they are oblivious to their men's true passions.
While there's a confusing conflation of pedophilia, homosexuality and transgender identity (why would a pedophile later get obsessed by a young man?), the camera's eye is clearly taking the view of the male seeker as it lingers over bodies to create a sexual context, such as two parallel swimming scenes, first of boys innocently playing and then of a manipulative skinny dip between a director who we gradually realize is gay and an ambitious actor. At least for a heterosexual female viewer, several (it's at least three, maybe four) of the roles are fully realized by Gael García Bernal so some of the camera's perceptions can be shared.
As the stories within stories within stories develop, the themes of obsession, revenge and "How far would you go?" (as the director taunts the actor) intertwine with the characters' search for identity.
Almodóvar takes sidetracks through his own biography to show how the characters escape to the movies, from the plotters killing time at a Film Noir festival to see Double Indemnity (with probably also a wink to Billy Wilder's cross-dresser in Some Like It Hot) and an odd singing of "Moon River" by a boy for his seducer, though I sure hadn't been aware of the homoerotic content in that film. Perhaps Almodóvar is expressing regret that an abuser steals the innocence of such situations from a child.
A peasant with a scythe walks by as a reference, I presume, to perhaps both The Seventh Seal and Woody Allen. I'm sure I missed many references to other films, particularly Spanish ones.
The director's assistant parallels Almodóvar's close partnership with his brother Agustín. There's also nasty cracks at actors, but then everyone lets all the bad vapors come out by the end.
The criticism of the Catholic Church in tolerating abusers is actually less pointed than in the Mexican heterosexual-focused The Crime of Father Amaro (El Crimen del padre Amaro). Almodóvar makes it seem it could come out of the hothouse of any all-male environment where some have power over others.
From the vivid opening credits that are as distinctive as in 1960's movies with a visual theme of Spanish mosaics, the lush, red-drenched cinematography of José Luis Alcaine is beautiful and its color coding helps us a bit in keeping track of where we are in the flashbacks.
Alberto Iglesias's music is overly melodramatic.(12/23/2004)

Days of Being Wild (A Fei jing juen) seemed so fresh that I was startled that the last credits' frame had a copyright of 1990 as I had had no idea that I was just seeing a new 35 mm print at the Film Forum in conjunction with its first U.S. release on DVD.
The lush, saturated cinematography was instantly recognizable as the work of Christopher Doyle, but was he then a child prodigy? He and writer/director Kar Wai Wong enfold us in its timelessness by capturing the look of a black and white film noir in color, as comparably distinctive as the evocation of its movie time in Far From Heaven.
The setting around 1960 is immediately established by the sensuous use of an old Coca Cola sign and bottle, and much of the movie seems to use those green glass curves as a filter.
Leslie Cheung vividly creates a seductive Hong Kong cad who is as unforgettable as Michael Caine's original "Alfie" in the same year a half a world away. He is the center of the wheel that the other characters spin around as we gradually come to understand his complex mother issues.
While he literally treats women only as madonnas or whores or Oedipal objects, the other actors do not let their very distinctive characters be just his patsies, even as they all obsess about him or have their fates doomed by him. The naive salesgirl, the saucy dance hall dancer and the aging courtesan mother are full bodied people who take surprising actions in their passion.
I was a bit confused by his interactions with men, from the gigolo to the cop/sailor to the old friend, especially once he starts his sad odyssey in the Philippines to find his biological mother, but each is a fascinating character.
It is certainly unusual for a film with an unsympathetic central character to be so captivating, but the visuals and the musical score help to keep the viewer involved. (11/30/2004)

I went to see First Daughter strictly as a fan of the TV series where the two leads gained their first fame, Katie Holmes from Dawson's Creek and Marc Blucas from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but both were better served by those shows.
I assume that writer Jerry O'Connell originally came up with the story as a vehicle for himself and his goofiness might have helped lighten up the atmosphere, though the quick closing consideration of the impact on the guy's career was actually kind of touching if muddled.
But the script seems as if it were dusted off from a 30 year old pile, with a couple of contemporary references to security issues and a couple of hip hop tunes added to the soundtrack in a lame attempt to update it. And I haven't even seen the other theatrical and TV films that follow the same Washingtonizing version of Roman Holiday.
The California college the daughter attends seems out of Animal House, where there's way more parties than classes. Why would she think a probably illegal use of Air Force One to fly to a boring black-tie dinner-dance would be a treat for her college friends?
While Margaret Colin is an excellent visual match as Holmes's mother, we're so used these days to seeing older men-young chicks match-ups on screen that Michael Keaton's attentions to his daughter didn't seem paternal. (10/15/2004)

The Notebook has a script and dialogue that even my die-hard teen girl and fellow crone chick flick fans tittered and gagged at a recent matinee.
While I am in general fed up with stereotypical high-school romances being pictured as the Love of One's Life story line, this brief teen summer fling turning eternal was ridiculous, but I haven't read the original Nicholas Sparks book to know what was faithful or changed as the central characters have zero on which to base a relationship.
But there are salvageable elements. I came out of curiosity to see Ryan Gosling as a big budget romantic lead, as opposed to his tortured misfits in indie films like The Slaughter Rule and United States of Leland. While it strained credulity to the utmost that this carpenter from the wrong side of the tracks reads aloud from Whitman to entertain his dad (who prefers Tennyson, but then he's played by Sam Shepard), he is undeniably captivating eye candy.
The surprise was how good his co-star Rachel McAdams was. She lit up the screen like an old-fashioned movie star discovery so that you know that they're meant to be together just because the chemistry is much more electric than any suspense (though I am curious to see how Sparks defined "waiting for you for seven years").
Kudos to director Nicholas Cassavetes for casting McAdams - perhaps inspired by his mother Gena Rowlands, both as a life example and for the plot. It's the kind of movie where I had plenty of time to think about why talented young actresses have been missing from romantic roles for so long, whether in chick flicks or action movies - even the MTV "Best Couples Award" is tending to go to same-sex buddies. Instead, we have had to endure wooden acting by models with little or no acting talent across from young guys whose attraction does put my fanny in the seat.
Which led me to consider several theories about why those with little non-visual talents are getting cast and how this movie and Cassavetes are different: 1) the casting couch is still in play and these women are doing traditional auditions; 2) the male directors have zero conception of what constitutes male/female chemistry on-screen because they play for another team; 3) the male lead is an egotist who doesn't want his light diminished, not realizing that a great pairing is synergistic; 4) TPTB think the movie can be marketed to men and so the women on the screen can just be wallpaper.
While the hair and costumes seemed to be modern interpretations of 1940's styles and simply did not look authentically like an old Bette Davis movie, the cinematography by Robert Fraisse was lovely.
The flash forwards to James Garner and Rowlands together in the literal sunset of their lives added much more poignancy and weight to the film than this usual kind of story generates. (7/4/2004)

Saved! tries very hard to be a satire about religion the way that Election used the high school locale for a satire about politics.
Rather, it works more like a teen comedy in the Popular/Mean Girls vein with the gimmick of taking place at a religious school to fuel the ins of the "Christian Angels" vs. the usual assortment of freaks and geeks, including a Jew and a wheelchair-bound Macaulay Culkin.
It's the kind of movie where somehow Patrick Fugit, grown up a bit from Almost Famous, can, oddly enough, have the Chad Michael Murray role of heartthrob to compete for.
I don't think debut writer/director Brian Dannelly quite has the talk right for the religious folks, as they pretty much just keep saying "Jesus loves you" to the point of confusing meaninglessness to all the characters rather than at least quoting malleable Scripture to make them seem less woodenly dumb.
While there are laughs along the way, the script opts for too easy targets and has a too sweet ending.
Producer Michael Stipe duets on the closing "God Only Knows" with the very engaging co-star Mandy Moore. The selection of other covers of religious-themed pop songs is quite good, including of Iris DeMent's "Let the Mystery Be." (6/14/2004)

interMission can be seen as either an Irish take on Guy Ritchie's bumbling but violent crime comedies, such as Snatch, or a gritty, urban take on charming, eccentric Irish communities like in TV's BallyKissAngel or the movie's Waking Ned Devine.
The local pub turns the city into a small town of connected characters, all offshooting from the decision of John (Cillian Murphy with his native brogue and the most irresistibly doleful eyes now onscreen) to test an "intermission" from his girlfriend.
Debut writer Mark O'Rowe and director John Crowley bring freshness to the genre with several unredeemed characters, particularly the most well-known members of the (to U.S. ears) thick-tongued ensemble, in Colin Farrell's bully boy and Colm Meaney's braggart cop, amidst other random cruelties.
The women are caustically feisty and independent as they crack the whip over the fumbling men around them.
There's laughter, tears, poignancy, surprise twists, and a heavy layer of entertaining cynicism about jobs, sex and the media.
Nice selection of Irish rock on the soundtrack, from U2 to Farrell's Pogues-like take on "I Fought the Law." (4/8/2004)

Love Me If You Dare (Jeux d'enfants) has a premise not unlike 40 Days and 40 Nights and How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days in bringing the attractive lovers together, apart, and together on a dare.
But where the Hollywood movies pretty much only involve hurt feelings solved with a heartfelt apology, debut writer/director Yann Samuell has his characters play for deeper stakes that bitterly cut to the psychological core of each damaged partner.
Imaginative cinematography by Antoine Roch and special effects keep you guessing what is real or fantasy or flash forward or metaphor and keeps vengeance from overwhelming the romantic comedy mode.
The white on white subtitles are the most illegible I've seen in years, but the clever uses of many cover versions of "La Vie en Rose" will have you humming the song as you leave the theater. (6/4/2004)

The Dreamers explores a confluence of history and aesthetics in the summer of 1968 that came together in the sexual revolution.
For us in the States we may think of politics and music at that moment, but Bernardo Bertolucci posits that in Paris it was politics and film, that when the cineastes who usually spent their hours isolated in the dark watching old American and New Wave films ventured out together to protest the firing of the head of the Cinemateque, it sparked a revolution in the streets.
This backdrop is symbolically narrowed down to focus on one hothouse household. Two college student siblings of intellectual parents spend most of their time at the Cinemateque, where they pick up an American in Paris, Michael Pitt as the naive student "Matthew."
First they act out their shared love of movies, and I didn't get many of the Godard or other French movie references and even the American movie references were pretty obscure. But when the parents leave the kids' alone, they stop even going to the movies and the increasingly isolated threesome breaks down the barriers between fantasy and reality, between the voyeurism of watching the movies and the Kesey-ianness of being in their own movie, before the real world intrudes again, literally through their window. The siblings announce that they need "Matthew" to get past a boundary they can't do together -- explore their sexuality, though they've sure come close, or perhaps to reenact Jules and Jim.
What's amusing is ultimately how coy Bertolucci actually is about sex (and somehow I haven't seen Last Tango in Paris for comparison). While the beauteous and bodacious Eva Green prances around nude so much that it took me awhile to realize that one scene was making the point her "Isabelle" was a virgin, except for one very effective full frontal male nudity close-up, the males are actually allowed to be quite modest in front of the camera.
Stressing the men's heterosexuality, there's only two tiny whiffs, hinted in a brief camera angle, of potential homo-erotica within a three-some [I read that the director chose to excise this aspect that was in the original novel.] Pitt said in an interview that he realized he was embarrassed in front of the camera crew in one scene in strategically placing his towel, but Bertolucci didn't re-shoot that as he doubtless would have with Green.
There is one nicely sexy after-play in "Matthew"'s slinky appreciation of "Isabelle"'s body, but she doesn't really interact with him, which makes it less erotic and helps to shake him into reality. That leads to his trenchant denunciation of the pair that sums up the movie as well, but the film swiftly swings into symbolic territory again.
I'll have to presume that the parents' reaction to the wreckage of their doings is saying something about French society at the time that I don't get as the siblings' wake up to the revolution outside.
All in all, Bertolucci's movie of repressed and uncommunicated desire Besieged was more erotic without an NC-17 rating. (2/21/2004) (supplemented 4/8/2004)

Elephant is a fascinating conceptual piece that works visually, but finally is too empty.
Gus Van Sant uses many of the techniques of Frederick Wiseman's two High School documentaries in following teens around on what could be a typical day at a very large suburban school but inexorably ends up extraordinary. (I kept thinking of Joan Baez sweetly singing about "the quiet of a Birmingham Sunday" before that bombing).
The very lengthy seemingly endless, aimless walking chillingly is repeated by the methodically stalking shooters; I don't usually give away plot points but I'm not sure the slow first half is endurable without knowing that this is just a build-up.
Van Sant's extra conceit is that all our views are literally from the teens' viewpoint; this emphasizes that they are still children as it's like kids' camera shots from waist high angles. We barely even see any adults, making clear how peripheral adult supervision is, and how much more important extra-curricular activities are than classroom instruction. The few we see full body are ineffectual, a drunken dad (the only known actor in the film, Timothy Bottoms) and a martinet principal concerned only with the letter of the rules and not the kids' real lives.
It's the very ordinariness that's spooky, for example, as three Alpha Girls gossip non-stop about boys and shopping at the mall and then bulimically throw up their diet salad lunches.
The structure, somewhat confusingly, both rewinds in time and shows us Rashomon-like how particular kids who we gradually can sort out got to be at their physical locations at the crucial moments. While most of the film takes place in the school, the camera does follow home two boys for a more extended period of time; we eventually learn these calmly methodical boys are the shooters.
While I understand that Van Sant is no way trying to delve into the why's of a violent American culture that Michael Moore did in Bowling for Columbine, we are only given a very simplistic motivation through seeing them play violent video games and the casual ease with which they purchase guns online. Unlike every shooting incident that's made the national media, these boys are neither victims of bullies nor the rigid social structure of the school.
The cinematography by Harris Savides is beautifully dreamy.
The cast of real high schoolers is simply wonderful and show up most TV shows and movies that use older actors. (12/20/2003)

Shattered Glass takes a dry premise and surprisingly makes it into a really involving film.
Co-written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger, so we can be assured of milieu authenticity, and screenwriter/debut director Billy Ray, the story of a young New Republic feature writer gone bad has been tagged by most critics as the millennial take on the journalism genre movie stretching from The Front Page to All the President's Men, or more appropriately Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, to show that damaged ethics aren't new in this profession.
But that's because they are journalists so they are biased to only see that element of the story. I saw other even scarier themes. One is the horrible damage that a compulsive liar does to the people around him, whether that person is psychologically damaged to be so and immune to the benefits of talk therapy (as examined in an audio documentary on This American Life -- go to "Liars" Episode 18 from 3/28/96), or if he's simply a confidence man as in Six Degrees of Separation or Catch Me If You Can.
More broadly, this is the first dramatic presentation of the dangers of the cubicle culture that was shown for laughs in Clockwatchers and the cult favorite Office Space and in documentaries on the Internet boom like Start-up.com which also featured too-young stars given too much credit.
Hayden Christensen is an eerily masterful Machiavelli--you can literally take notes on how to charm yourself ahead in the modern office culture, including unctuously manipulating support staff and co-workers and self-deprecatingly sucking up to indecisive bosses like a latter-day Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. While the Young Turk of The New Republic gets his own office space and is brought down by Steve Zahn's Zonker-like reporter at a Dilbert desk in on online publication (albeit part of Forbes), they both exude the same youthful competitiveness and daredevil ambition--and tendency to show-off to admiring and co-opted female co-workers like preening birds.
Ultimately, this becomes the first pro-boss movie, coming out in favor of older experience, less trust, and tighter supervision of employees, as portrayed in a very complex performance by Peter Sarsgaard. Jimmy Stewart-like, complete with new baby at home, he plays a nice guy suddenly thrust by a curmudgeon sugar daddy (think "Mr. Potter" in It's A Wonderful Life) into the impossibly thankless position of replacing a beloved boss and before he can establish any authority or priorities or camaraderie on his own he has to challenge a popular employee and thus his whole staff.
When do you remember cheering in a movie that a supervisor fired an employee? Not in Norma Rae, that's for sure. That this increasingly tense battle has significance for the very credibility of the Fourth Estate is in fact a secondary element that simply adds a fuller dimension to this heightened drama of office politics. (11/24/03)

L'Auberge espagnole is as much a fun love letter to foreign student life in Barcelona as Cédric Klapisch's charming earlier film Chacun cherche son chat (When the Cat's Away) was to post-graduates living in the changing neighborhoods of Paris.
In both films, he captures the fiber of urban life and the quirks and passions of the people impacted by the city. Klapisch updates a French farce by making it a laugh-out-loud Euro comedy of errors that both makes fun of and illustrates national stereotypes; evidently the title refers somehow to that, but the butchered subtitles lose most of the multilingual references and puns so it's hard to tell (with my high school French I couldn't read the dictionary entry that fast!). So for unilingual Americans something is literally lost in translation (though, yeah, we can get one repeated bi-lingual pun on a four-letter-word).
Their actions here are beautifully age-appropriate, particularly in interactions with their peers, siblings, and parents. The click-through busy screen images fit the age and pacing of the characters, who when depressed by their love lives watch hours of MTV.
Some points off for the usual male fantasy elements of an affair with an older woman and lesbian tips. At least, because this is mostly American-free, we don't get a scene in a strip bar.
And, yes, I do mean to see Whit Stillman's Barcelona for comparison.(6/15/2003)

I don't usually find movies first by their soundtrack, but I first heard of The Slaughter Rule because Jay Farrar, of the late Uncle Tupelo, did the score and song selections, including by Vic Chestnutt, the Flatlanders and the Pernice Brothers. So I was intrigued when I saw it was on Sundance Channel as it hadn't appeared on screens in New York.
The debut jointly written/directed feature of twin brothers Andrew and Alex Smith, the film has a lot of similarity to Tom Cruise's early All the Right Moves, even down to charismatic young star Ryan Gosling clearly being a movie star hunk of the future.
Set in the brothers' home area of rugged (and very desolate) Montana in the fall, this film takes its working class football frame of athlete seeking father figure and coach conflict much further in examining maleness and the implications of the homo-eroticism of such sports much further. It bravely (particularly by David Morse in a touchingly agonized performance) goes into the breach of what much discussion of current scandals has avoided, at the confused nexus of pedophilia and sexual identity, particularly for teen-age boys. There's also a dollop of racial issues via the very realistically portrayed poverty of the Native Americans.
The women are mostly helpless within this overwhelmingly male environment, and their best choice for survival is just to leave, as unromantically satisfying as that is.
This ranks in the gritty tradition of sports movies as a setting to demonstrate social tensions like Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner than more popular fare.(5/18/2003)

Shape of Things proves to me not only that, yes, Neil LaBute probably is a misogynist, but he is also an excellent filmmaker and playwright who knows the difference between the two media (perhaps David Mamet could learn from him).
I saw the play off-Broadway, with the same cast as in the movie who also originated with the play in London, and it is fascinating to see how he and they re-worked it for film. He has chosen to take advantage of film both to effectively open up the mise en scene and to let the close-ups and actors' expressions replace many lines of dialogue. The background settings of the ironically named "Mercy College" (but then everything here is ironically named), local coffee shop, art museum, graduate student apartments, quadrangle, and lecture hall no longer need to be described as they are quite natural, though now they are specifically set in California, with some unnecessary implication that the behavior we see is therefore more understandable in this sunny environment.
Even more significantly, LaBute has deleted quite a lot of lines from the play, maybe too many. While in many scenes, cutting remarks are replaced by glares and agonized or confused looks, sometimes a little less vagueness would have been nice. While he was right to cut the whole last scene, which had seemed to be an unnecessarily obvious coda, Gretchen Mol's truncated part in particular has left her character more ineffectual and less an alternative to the central artiste, and, hence, less evidence that LaBute can be sympathetic to women.
While Aaron Eckhart is usually identified as LaBute's alter ego on film, Paul Rudd also appeared in an earlier LaBute stage work, Bash: Latterday Plays, a series of inter-connected dialogues about college experiences which Showtime still re-shows a taped version of now and then. Paul Rudd has developed his character's tics even further than on stage, helped by prosthetics, but making his spooky transformation from schlemiel to high-scorer on a Cosmo boyfriend quiz even more pathetic. Fred Weller also makes the best friend more demonstratively affected by the goings-on than I remember.
Another change from the play is in the music. The play was punctuated by blasts of Smashing Pumpkins, mostly to jar the audience and to establish the hip, college milieu. The movie uses all previously released Elvis Costello songs from throughout his career, though I couldn't quite catch if the caustic lyrics were also an intentional commentary on the action.
Rachel Weisz's artist is still bloodcurdingly effective, but the film audience didn't gasp at the revelation of her true character as the theater audience had done (and the only way to avoid most critics who seem to insist on giving away the ending is to not read other reviews). LaBute may have undercut her a bit by over-emphasizing the role of the artist argument much more than he did in the play, including a heavy-handed display of exhibit titles and quote on the wall about the role of the artist. He doesn't need this defense of his role as an artist to make the case that he is in an incisive and unblinking examiner of contemporary relationships.
The credits significantly say "written for the screen and directed" by LaBute, while the original play is only mentioned at the very end of the credits.(5/18/2003)

Writer/director Justin Lin must have seen every teen movie ever made in California before doing Better Luck Tomorrow, because he is intimately familiar with the genre to be able to turn it on its head to make a serious movie that ends up more resonant of Stand By Me than of Bring It On.
It subversively focuses on the model minority of middle-class Asian-American high school students who gradually realize the power they have over authority as long as they maintain their A averages and high SAT scores to hide a secret life (a grounded-in-reality parallel to the fantasy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The movie doesn't bother to distinguish among their ethnicities (except one in passing as we discover she was adopted from China by a Caucasian family) as assimilation issues are simply another aspect of the usual high school hell of the popularity wars (academic decathlon competition, the winter formal, college applications, etc.), with a particularly funny take on affirmative action on the basketball team, and a passing disparagement to the one seeking to move up socially by dating "a Barbie doll", i.e. a Caucasian bimbo.
Each character repeats how much they love their parents, but we never see them or know anything about them, except for the kid explicitly abandoned, other than that they can afford an upscale neighborhood that still has some a range of affluence. Though none of the girls are individuated, the four central guys are each unique personalities.
Distributed by MTV, the movie does start out using music video techniques, such as slo mo's and fast cuts, before taking twists and turns that depend on some odd character actions and substantially changes the tone of the movie. The conclusion is very open-ended.
I think the soundtrack was making additional commentary that I didn't quite get, either in the song or artist selection, but I was also distracted by the couple in back of me talking in Tagalog throughout the whole film.(5/5/2003)

All the Real Girls is a beautiful effort by writer/director David Gordon Green to visualize inarticulate people as they struggle with love.
The scenic North Carolina landscape surrounds the characters as they seek, unsuccessfully, for comparable inner beauty with romance and family. But human interactions can't be as perfect as a sunset.
Every person here is hurting in some way (including a widower uncle and a developmentally disabled brother), and if they aren't in the beginning they are by the end as they have to learn to stop idealizing the people they love, who can't live up to that. Some reconcile to it, some can't, and none can explain it.
In this small town, everyone knows everyone's business and heart and can't walk away from that intimacy. While that is realistic and the dialogue is very naturalistic, it's a bit unsatisfying to watch as a romantic drama. Hunky co-creator Paul Schneider (strikingly like young Kevin Costner) sets up the confusion when he tries to convince us he's the town heartbreaker; I did not pick up for quite awhile that he was supposed to be such a bad boy as he just seemed so sweet from the first scene on. His laidback scenes with aggressive Zooey Deschanel are full of such tenderness as the full force of First True Love hits them, that the disappointments that follow are quite the downer. Tully had very similar character and story arcs, and, while schmaltzier, was more satisfying as a movie experience.
The alt-country instrumental and song soundtrack, including Mark Olson & the Creekdippers, is quite poignant.(3/16/2003)

Home sick in bed for three days, when I was feeling better I could at least get to the VCR and stick in 40 Days and 40 Nights. Several times.
Yes it seems like a cheap idea for a movie -- a guy swears off sex for Lent after a break-up with his girlfriend.
But how is that a silly sex comedy can in fact work? By managing to poke fun at both guys and gals yet be sensitive to both. While the premise and extremely frank images and explicit dialog make this in no way a competitor to the old-styled classic Battles of the Sexes of Hepburn and Tracy, director Michael Lehmann has practically created a new date movie genre via his Heathers and The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
First criteria for success is his choice of leads. Josh Hartnett has a checkered record of selecting teen crap to overblown melodrama to Big Hollywood I haven't seen with some actual good movies I have, but gosh he just might be the new Gary Cooper (too bad they don't make Westerns anymore. See I'm being Mrs. Robinson just by knowing of Cooper. And thinking of Josh in chaps.) That tall, lanky, aw shucks demeanor, crinkly eyes, and husky voice are perfect for heartfelt apologies. He can do goofy and besotted. (Not that Gary Cooper ever had to fake faking an orgasm.) He's such a star now that Daily Variety lists his current movie in production as "Untitled Josh Hartnett Project."
Second, the women are all strong characters, who actually have believable jobs (well, at dot.coms in San Francisco) and feelings. They all insist on f*cking on top. A key scene is a close-up of Shannyn Sossamon weeping after what she thinks is Josh's betrayal. Ah, these pawns bleed (to irreverently quote Norman Thomas from an anti-war rally in 1965).
Third, while Lehmann uses humping as comedy fodder for both sexes, he appreciates the powerful cinematic importance of foreplay. There is a simply beautiful, creative, sexy scene of immaculate connection that raises the stakes and the temperature for the outcome beyond hard-ons (which, heck, are used for visual fun accompanied by Pete Yorn's "Strange Condition").
Nice to see some good bit players, Maggie Gyllenhaal, underused as the Best Friend, and the older "Pete and Pete" as "Bagel Guy."
I think there's a message there somewhere about balance in a relationship, but they are all so young and frisky it's hard to tell. There's certainly no claims of love or long term commitment.(2/1/2003)

Tully is a gem of a movie!
It's the first film I've seen since the beginning of August that I've put on my "Best of 2002" list. Yet according to the IMDb this debut feature directed and co-written by Hilary Birmingham has apparently been sitting on a shelf for two years, probably looking for distribution.
Based on the short story "What Happened to Tully?" by Tom McNeal that won an O. Henry Award in 1992, it takes a simple family story and tells it beautifully visually, economically if leisurely, while avoiding clichés. It is the best evocation of small town life since Last Picture Show, but this is much more rural.
The laconic farmer family is the best portrayed since Straight Story, but that was propelled as a road movie, not what taciturn life on the farm is like, which poses a challenge in a communicative medium. We see the most charming and complicated relationship between two brothers since another little movie Smiling Fish and Goats on Fire.
Surprisingly, it doesn't take the simple road of competition between the titular womanizing "bad brother" and the younger, loyal "good brother". Instead, "Tully" (played by hunky Anson Mount) is a direct descendant of the tortured, conflicted James Dean of East of Eden and Giant (including the Oedipal conflicts there), struggling in a macho environment with his impact on women, his feelings, and his responsibilities.
With completely character appropriate dialogue and body language we watch the impact of old love and falling in love on a father and son who have no words and only gradual understanding. You can't know you're heartbroken until you know you have a heart.
The women can have this impact on them because they too are not clichés; they have specific personalities, needs, and even jobs. Julianne Nicholson is much more credible (and expressive) here as a vet intern than she is now on TV in Presidio Med as a full-fledged doctor. Several old men in the audience yawned loudly, so maybe this is a chick flick, but I was involved and moved by the unfolding of realizations in their past and present family and romantic relationships and how Tully comes to grips with them all, like a long, silent, overhead shot of him waking up in an empty bed that manages to communicate so much loneliness and longing.
John Foster's cinematography is simply gorgeous. The mise en scene is common in country songs, so we're lucky that the director probably couldn't afford commercial country artists on the soundtrack for the usual clichés. Instead we have Canadian alt country singers like Fred Eaglesmith and Oh Susanna (the only names I recognized), with some blues thrown in as well such that "Tully" even asks what radio station could that be, as they are all very sensitive to music, as it helps them all communicate with each other.
And with us. I hope it can find its audience on video. (11/18/2002, added to 1/28/2003)

I went to see the Filipino-American The Debut because I make a point of seeing any ethnic coming-of-age movie, as I'm curious to see how they compare to the Jewish experience in movies, such as last year's Asian Indian-American films ABCD, and American Chai, the Greek-American Astoria, and one of my all time faves the Korean-Canadian Double Happiness.
But many such lauded little indie movies never make it to a neighborhood theater (where the actual immigrants live) or last long enough in theaters for word of mouth to spread. So I was really surprised when before the movie started a guy got up and gave an impassioned pep talk for the movie that took eight years to make by a tiny company, thanking us for coming, asking us to stop by afterwards to buy merchandise so they can raise money to buy ads, and urging us to spread the word so audiences will come and it will last at the Kew Gardens theater more than this one week. So I asked him who he was and it turned out he's the director/writer Gene Cajayon. Hard to give an objective review after that!
Like all movies in this genre (usually for semi-autobiographical reasons), the conflicted lead wants to be an artist rather than what his parents plan for him. A particularly original angle is that the main character is younger than usual, a high school student way immersed in MTV culture, from comic books, heavy metal and hip hop language, and, of course, embarrassed by his family's cooking and other traditions.
The titular event is his sister's coming-out party, which becomes an evening of ethnic discovery for him. Unlike the older generation of immigrant vs. young artist movies like The Jazz Singer, the ethnic culture here is not all retrograde but is lovingly shown in class and generational diversity and warmth, while showing the conflicts the parents face as well.
The political debate among the teens as to whether the lead is a "coconut" is a bit forced but interesting. The variety of dance scenes leave the realism a bit as they are as choreographed as in the cheerleader satire Bring It On but they are fun. The naturalness of the actors in supporting roles makes up for some of the amateurishness in their performances, and the leads are charming.
When I asked Cajayon how could it be that such a gathering would attract kids from across class lines, he explained that such Filipino family events bring together a large slice of the community as friends of the family, as here the dad works in the post office and the uncle is a doctor. So, yeah, I emptied my wallet and bought a CD (the music Cajayon selected is certainly varied in reflecting the cross-cultural pulls on the kids and the family and is used effectively in the movie to represent different points of assimilation) and "the making of" book, though I didn't think to ask him to autograph it. (You can get T-shirts too.)
The closing credits are as open-hearted -- amusingly and passionately thanking the myriad people with the explanations of what they did to help. The plucky director is finding more local theaters to show the film (according to the weekly e-mails I'm now getting-- so he's a creative guerrilla marketer as well as a good filmmaker. (updated 11/17/2002)

Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is very similar to Stand By Me, with the nice addition of a non-stereotyped girl and a stereotyped nun (played by producer Jodie Foster) in the mix.
Young love is shown the sweetest I've seen in a long time (oy, I'm still apologizing to Eddie L. in my head when he was so sweet to me at that age and I didn't know how to handle it; oh well, I didn't have a script based on a book to follow.)
Emile Hirsch and Jena Malone are marvelous, especially with the very serious sides of their lives, though the lousy parenting is only vaguely shown with shouting.
While the gambits of their crew are a bit unbelievable as they try to put fantasy into their real lives, their fantasy comic life through Seth McFarlane animation is a lot of fun (I was a fan of McFarlane's HBO series Spawn.) I've never seen a super-hero with such sensitive eyes! (6/23/2002)

Y tu mamá también blows away the teen road trip genre.
Setting a new standard between the naive youthful exuberance of The Sure Thing and the nihilism of Kids, this captures the restless sexual energy of teenagers, particularly of boys, framed by the knowing maturity of a cynical, omniscient narrator and an older, but still young woman who never really had an adolescence.
As they travel from the crowded class politics of Mexico City to an undeveloped beach, their trip together is also of self-exploration, as well as metaphorically into Mexico's psyche, not that I caught all the references. The beautiful older woman (Ana Lopez Mercado), teaching them about life, sex and themselves, is from Spain; the upper class boy (Diego Luna) has the Aztec name of "Tenoch," and his working class best bud has the last name of "Zapata" (played by the riveting Gael Garcia Bernal, who was also in another terrific Mexican film Amores Perros, and is so charismatic that I kept following him with my eyes and forgetting to read the white on white subtitles to figure out what he was saying, so Spanish speakers have a real advantage).
The climaxes are telegraphed in advance, coming organically out of the story, but make us re-interpret what we've seen throughout, so it's the kind of movie you want to talk about to people who have seen it.
As scatological as the subtitles are, I gathered that the spoken language is even more so, as I recognized a couple of epithets that didn't get translated.
The cinematography is lush and beautiful, the only indication that this is the same writer/director who did Great Expectations and The Little Princess, Alfonso Cuaron.
The soundtrack songs are carefully selected to reflect specific points of Mexican influences and regional culture as they play on the radios and jukeboxes along this brilliant, revelatory journey. (4/5/2002)

Tape has Ethan Hawke in hyperactive Mamet/LaBute guy trash-talking territory here (as filtered through Springsteen's "Glory Days"), bouncing off the furniture and knock-hockey-like in a three-hander with Robert Sean Leonard and eventually also with Uma Thurman.
Thurman's role is significant for how her involvement changes the direction of the pissing contest and the very terms of what each character supposes as truth -- truth from their male viewpoint.
Director Richard Linklater respects the enthralling dialog (in a nondescript motel room with a camera that alternately whizzes back and forth and multiplies mirrored reflections as a character reflects).
I'm not sure if I missed a crucial point just before the end in terms of resolution, so I'd like to see the newly revised play version.
How the movie came about is in a background interview with playwright/screenwriter Stephen Belber.(11/17/2001)

Better Than Sex is yet another mostly bedroom two-hander on a relationship, like About Last Night and Breaking Up, but is quite charmingly done in a frank and funny tone.
With a gimmick of a time-bound, three-day relationship setting the limits, the talking to the camera by the two lovers and their friends works as a way to show what's going through their heads. This technique is especially useful when dealing with the visual problem foreign movies have grappled with but American movies have avoided since Klute (especially Pretty Woman): how to show when sex changes with feelings.
There is a touch of magic realism with a bemused cab driver, but she also could be their whimsical thoughts.
The Australian actors are not of the pencil-thin/gym worked-out American variety, but are lustily and cheerily robust as we see quite a bit of them.
What was confusing was the order their days together are presented -- did my projectionist mix up the reels or was the print I saw mixed up? At one point one character says "We've already had our first fight," which hadn't happened yet, and he leaves with a bag he hadn't brought over. But then later both the fight and the bag appear. I also got confused as to what was which with an indication of "The Third Day" vs. "The Last Day." There's a possibility it was shown out of order for emotional effect, but then I think the changed red sheets didn't appear at the end.
The Aussie pop songs are nice, but incidental and hardly noticeable.(11/17/2001)

About Adam is a cheerful pentangle, helped along by a charming young cast, unpredictable quirkiness and Irish blarney.
Kate Hudson, in what was her first film role, shows off her Mom's smile to good effect.
Frances O'Connor is atypically frenzied. And so on.
All inspired by a lovable, enigmatic rogue whose sensuality turns on at least three sisters and a brother.
The song choices are surprisingly conservative traditional pop, culminating effectively in Peggy Lee.(6/15/2001)

As an Israeli's view of war, Kippur takes Thin Red Line's visual approach, with little plot or explication or context, from the sacred (Yom Kippur mis en scene) to the procreative beginning, to the wounds and exhausted faces of the soldiers.
This is a war where a soldier takes his used Fiat right up to the front and back again to his girlfriend's front door. Unlike Tigerland where the soldiers are young neophytes with taut basic training bodies, these are lean, lanky, long-haired chain-smoking, experienced reservists who pretty much pick and choose where they'll serve. Instead of the usual U.S. barking sergeant, this unit is based on long-term friendship, training, coordination, shared goals and consensus. Fodder for discussion on military management styles. And I can't think of another war movie where a guy named Weinraub is as sexy looking.
Even The Grouch, who is a devotee of the War Channel and thought it was way too arty (and amazingly this was from the same director who did the agit-prop anti-Orthodox domestic drama Kadosh) found one long sequence with almost no dialog very effective, as the medics try to rescue the wounded in the mud.
The projectionist shut down the credits before it was finished.(12/2/2000)

Broken Hearts Club tries to be a gay Sex and the City but it's not as funny or frank or deep about relationships; if you've seen the previews you've seen the best jokes.
Done by Greg Berlanti, a producer of Dawson's Creek, it features hunks from that show and other TV shows in chaste kisses that could pass a gay Haye's Code and feels like a TV movie that could go on at 8 pm.
It's an ensemble piece featuring a lot of really good looking gay guys sittin' around dissin' including a discussion of gay role models in movies, wherein these folks seem to live in a part of L.A. that never gets foreign movies. I think the only jobs most of them had were working in a restaurant together, but I wasn't sure as we don't really learn all that much about the individuals outside their gayness and dates.
There are a couple of fresh angles, with how the group deals with a "newbie" to being out of the closet, that's sweet and revelatory, and one guy dealing with growing up in a relationship that's virtually identical to what the John Cusack character in High Fidelity went through, one bounder getting what he was dishing out, and what another learns from hanging out with a different group of gay friends.(10/22/2000)

Tigerland is a Vietnam War movie the way that The Unforgiven is a Western.
It's more a Universal Soldier movie, as "Fortunate Son" is not on the soundtrack, or virtually any other period music. It is comparable to the fine, underrated Full Metal Jacket as it's more about basic training than Vietnam. It certainly won't be a recruiting film for Today's Army that is trying to use participatory Sigma Quality Management Circles to retain better educated soldiers.
Colin Farrell is mesmerizing as the Rebel With A Cause--to clear the Army of misfits, sadists and undesirables, including himself. There's a neat, original scene when he gets a tough barking sergeant to reveal his first name.
In general, young hard-bodies are feasts for the eyes, even if it's hard to tell crew-cut objects apart.
The cinematography looks effectively TV newsreelish, especially as it's really a memory play about our youth looming large and mythic over the rest of our lives.(10/7/2000)

My older son Ben recommended I see Bring It On. His critical view, given that he was probably dragged there by his girlfriend, was that it wasn't as good a teen satire as Election or Clueless but was better than the usual teen movies.
I'd rate it with the WB's Popular series, combining satire and some social consciousness (including fair racial commentary on rhythm and class) and funny one-liners. I particularly enjoyed the cheerfully indulgent references to other teen faves, such as the opening which is clearly a funny commentary on American Beauty, the references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as this movie co-stars the actress who plays "Faith" on the series. I'm not sure the teens would get the Risky Business tribute or the imitation of a key My So-Called Life scene.
I also went as a scout for The Grandfather of Spit, as he monitors the image of dental hygiene in movies (and yes the teeth brushing flirtation will definitely encourage more teenagers to brush at night before they go to bed (not sure though if they will be alone or together).
The closing credits with salacious cheers and out-takes where the actors break character into their real ages' behavior continues the cheerful humor.
The theater was quite full, even several weeks after opening.(9/24/2000)

Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire is, in several ways, an Italians-in-L.A. version of The Brothers McMullen.
It's evidently done by NYU students, with the print blown-up from 16 mm, grainy shadows and all, and filmed primarily in the house of the brothers who co-star in and co-wrote the screenplay.
The problems with the Opposite Sex are pretty much the same too, with one being a happy-go-lucky philanderer (that's "Smiling Fish") and the other a straight-arrow accountant being shredded by his long-time girlfriend (that's "Goat on Fire").
The new, magic realism element is an elderly black sage from the early days of race movies who provides oddball advice on love and the magic of the movies.
As twenty-somethings-in-and-out-of-love movies go, this is cute and likeable.(9/16/2000)

To keep from being bored during Love and Sex first I tried to think of all the movies this was imitative of: Breaking Up with Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek (though that had a more original ending), About Last Night with Rob Lowe, and a lot of TV shows.
Second was admiring just how gorgeous Framke Janssen is so I couldn't believe for a nanosecond that she could have a problem getting a date. She is certainly in line to give Julia Roberts a run for her money, literally-- and wasn't Julia in some movie with this same plot or other?
Third was trying to figure out why the writer/director bothered to give Jon Favreau's character the Jewish name of Adam Levy; he even refers admiringly to eating a ham sandwich.
Fourth was trying to figure out why some critics had given this a good review which is why I was in the theater.(9/2/2000)

Praise is definitely not a promotion for Brisbane, as it's a very contemporary Days of Wine and Roses where booze is only part of the couple's addictions and power plays in a weird but very compelling very, very, very frank co-dependency relationship.
Be prepared for a lot of nudity of a body covered in eczema rashes.
The script is by the author of the book it's based on, so I guess he meant for the ending to just trail off where about the only thing the main character achieves is a hair cut. And boy did I keep wanting to tell him to clean up that room!
The only other people in the audience were a noisy couple in front of me who came to see it for its Scrabble sub-text and when bored otherwise kept stretching their arms up right in front of my face. (7/6/2000)

I chose to see Jesus' Son for Billy Crudup and director Allison Maclean, who did the terrifically creepy romantic short I saw on the Sci Fi Channel a few weeks ago Kitchen Sink.
Jesus' Son is a picaresque road movie traveling through addictions, and manages to miss wallowing in the depression that made Leaving Las Vegas so unrelenting.
Samantha Morton has incredible chemistry with Crudup who is fascinating to keep watching even as his character is a passive naïf whom we really don't learn anything about. My biggest complaint is that the cameos by recognizable and/or famous actors (Denis Leary, Jack Black of High Fidelity, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper) make the source material of short stories--which I assume are where the chapter headings come from-- too obvious; I would have preferred intriguing character actors or complete unknowns.
This is one of those "little movies" where you see a filmmaker in love with her tools of the medium, because it is both literate and explores the story visually, with judicious use of fantasies and hallucinations.
The Joe Henry musical score is wonderful, and the soundtrack selection of alt.country, including several Wilco songs, and offbeat rock and r & b classics are also commentaries on the action (amusingly the only Henry song used comes in over the radio that an annoyed Crudup turns off in order to hear the dialog).(6/24/2000)

Virgin Suicides is an adolescent "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" as teen boys try to figure out the beautiful sisters in their midst.
It's encapsulated when the first suicide attemptee faces Danny Devito as her therapist who says she has nothing to kill herself over: "That's because you've never been a 13-year-old girl."
While Josh Hartnett's period wig isn't very good, his first serious acting effort is quite good and he almost keeps up with the excellent young women.
Perhaps it's a result of a woman writer/director adapting a male-written book (which I haven't read yet), but it really get inside teen heads. We get only a little sense, however, of the adults the guys become even as one narrates Wonder Years style so why is this story even important to him. And the one guy we do see as an adult is not much more revelatory.
It's all a mystery, very much like Picnic At Hanging Rock.
It's a beautiful looking film with a dreamy musical score.(5/14/2000)

Love and Basketball is one of the most feminist and non-stereotypical teen-through-20something movies I've ever seen. It's in effect a tribute to Title IX and the WBNA casually showing a girl with basketball dreams, and how it affects her personal life and those around her. Highly recommended for teens.
As good as Omar Epps was though, I thought he was a bit short to be believable as an NBA prospect.
Except for one talky section of the movie towards the end where everyone pretty much says the obvious about their relationships, the rest of the character development is done visually and through situations and not one sports movie (or African-American) cliché.
It is a date movie because both leads change.
Stay through the credits to see a sweet shot at the end.
I was girding for a hip hop soundtrack, but it's old school R & B all the way and lovely to listen to (complete with a wonderful line that the audience really appreciated: "Mom, why are you drinking? I haven't seen you drink so much since Marvin Gaye died." (5/6/2000)

Seeing American Psycho right after High Fidelity is like going through a fun-house mirror, as it's a warped, caustic view of many of the same issues HF deals with humorously and with humanity.
The monologues on pop music are disarmingly similar, but here they are just foreplay for uncontrollable hate and blood lust as a way to try to poke through them for feeling, as if it's ripping through Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video for blood.
I have no idea about what the original book is like, but this is a Bonfire of the Vanities of the single '80's set. One weakness is that we don't actually see the interchangeable yuppies work so we don't see the testosterone rush at work that is so frightening in Boiler Room and would have added more tension and maybe even explanation here, where all we hear is that "Mergers & Acquisitions" is synonymous for the lead character to "murders and executions." They are all so interchangeable (shades of The Talented Mr. Ripley taking over Jude Law's character) that I was really not sure of what is real or fantasy when others keep saying that he must be mistaken about murdering a co-worker when they met with him.
The lead character, played beautifully narcissistically by Christian Bale, is equally murdering men and women here, so the misogyny charges filed against the book don't apply here, and he's equally unfeeling to both. But as he breaks down, the irony is that he's not unfeeling about his crimes--the rest of the people around him are.
It's a very funny, very visually appealing and horrific commentary.(4/15/2000)

The Beach is Lord of the Flies about 20somethings who have seen Apocalypse Now (it's referred to visually and aurally) but don't seem to have read Heart of Darkness which inspired it, and which this is basically with a bit of sex and/or desire added (I didn't read the book but the reviews say that wasn't in the Garland book either.)
Deer Hunter is also brought to mind with its view of Asian cities and exotic risks; Return to Paradise takes the same milieu for a much higher moral purpose.
I did like the irony of using Leo in one of the sex scenes as just a straight business service deal. The camera also loves Leo and Boyle ramps up the story line with visuals almost as dazzling as in his Trainspotting, particularly with the frequent references and visualizations of video games.
Leo here reminds me of how Jane Fonda would be used in her movies, as the naive American or outsider who gradually learns a lesson in sophistication that the rest of the jaded world already knows. The descent is a bit too swift and not 100% believable.
Tilda Swinton is terrific as the leader, though I guess her stupid lug of a boyfriend is just good in bed. Robert Carlyle is briefly in it but is quite memorable and as usual incomprehensible. That man should just walk around with subtitles.
The cinematography is gorgeous, but I think it would be hard to ruin the scenery.
The soundtrack is lovely and surprisingly too is the electronica. (2/11/2000)

I figured I watch Dawson's Creek and Felicity at home so why not watch the same thing in the movies. Down To You is quite pleasant to look at due to Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles (quite a few very noisy teens in the audience seemed to agree with me).
But the writing is so weak; the TV shows I watch are much better with dialog and plot, though there were some good lines about sex, comparable to Undressed on MTV.
I enjoyed the talking to the camera about the relationship and some unconventionalities (Prinze's father Henry Winkler is a TV chef and he wants to be a cook too), but the crucial motivations were deus ex machina with no reasons.
It's in a very fictional NYC that reminded me of a college version of Astaire & Rogers movies for its sense of unreal NYC.
The music choices weren't the pop I expected -- Folk Implosion, Luscious Jackson, Yo La Tengo--but they made no sense in terms of commenting on the action, just songs strung together for no purpose. And why would college students now be into Al Green such one would be "their" song?(1/23/2000)

The Best Man is my first buppie (i.e. Black Urban Professionals) movie.
Taye Diggs alone is worth the price of admission -- he is charismatic and captures the screen -- and unlike the choices Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington either had to make or chose to make he is definitely sexy; this is almost a Chick Flick but it's actually about four guys.
The movie was written and directed by a cousin of Spike Lee, who produced it, and oy did it need editing and trimming. Every scene in what is in effect a black, younger Big Chill dragged on too long and was mostly too straight-forwardly directed. There is a writing talent in there that needs help in a collaborative art form to be shown to best effect.
The flashbacks didn't make musical sense (except one excellent use of a Stevie Wonder song) or hairstyle changes so I found it unspecific about time period or college we were flashing back to.
The black audience laughed along with the male/female portrayals so I guess they weren't annoyed by the trash-talking guy who automatically called his bro's "n----r" or the acceptance of double-standards such that strong black professional women with active sex lives are sentenced to be old maids while only submissive or otherwise un-together black women are worth marrying.
The cinematography was rich, particularly lingering on beautiful, chocolate-colored skin.
It felt like a first movie the way first novels do -- but that was part of the theme as it's about a first-time novelist writing a roman a clef. But all the cast and the writer are clearly up and coming talents.(11/14/1999)

There is a certain amount of freak show aspect to Boys Don't Cry, much like M Butterfly as you're simply dying of curiosity as to how s/he gets away with sex (a dildo helps). And it does pander to that curiosity.
But it gets beyond that to quite vividly show that relationships are about sharing, caring and intimacy, regardless of physical how-to's, making sexual identity confusion more sympathetic than the usual treatment of transsexuals in film, including The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, or maybe it's just because the gender is different. Or maybe it's Hilary Swank's amazing performance.
There is a frightening sense of isolation surrounding these trailer-park trash characters--not just the very confused central character, Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, but all these screwed-up, very drunken, very bored folks in very small Texas towns, such that one very much fears for their progeny. I thought it looked like alcoholism is a bigger problem than homophobia and threats to sexual identity such that you are made sympathetic to the desperate lives of all of them where they seem to only have sex and violence as outlets. Reminded me of a line in the Hal Ketchum song to the effect that the world must be flat because everyone who leaves never comes back.
Brendon Sexton III is once again playing a threatening character, like in Welcome to the Dollhouse, but he was unrecognizable at first in curls and scraggly beard as the follower not the initiator.
I didn't yet see the documentary this film is based on, so I have no idea how factual it is (I did see in the credits that they misspelled one of the names of the lesbian-oriented foundations they got seed money from, that's never smart to do).
There were a couple of people who hadn't expected what Boys was about and were quite disgruntled walking out.(11/7/1999)

Lovers of the Artic Circle (Los Amantes del Círculo Polar) was basically Next Stop Wonderland crossed with Map of the Human Heart about a couple who fall in love as children and continue star-crossed throughout their lives.
The critics decried the theme of coincidence but it does in fact happen, so it was sweet here.
And yes they are both easy on the eyes and maybe that it's in Spanish makes them seem even more romantic.
I liked that the parents were real people who have problems and lives and grow and change.
The story line goes from each's perspective in flashbacks and current, illuminating thoughts and motivations, which seems to be a trend in movie-making.
Quite beautiful cinematography.(5/2/1999)

Next Stop Wonderland was an absolutely wonderful romantic comedy. It right away became one of my favorite of the genre of magic realism bringing lovers together genre.
It helps to like the New England Aquarium and Boston (the title is a pun on a transit stop) - hey who doesn't.
Hope Davis was wonderful in Daytrippers and she shines here. It's just a matter of time until she gets cast as the sister to Lisa Kudrow in a movie.
Terrific use of lovely Brazilian music all through.(4/11/1999)

Go is basically "Post High School Pulp Fiction."
Definitely a guy flick, particularly the scenes and dialog of male fantasies one after the other, with no particular point to the plot or character development.
Guys however will think this is a date movie as Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes are so good, but they're good as victims like Wil E. Coyote who just keep coming back strong, like Fish on Ally McBeal would say "Hey, bygones!"
Yeah it's funny and the characters interface cleverly like they do in Playing By Heart. The camera work is busy.
I'm surprised at the rave reviews it's getting. The positive one can say about director Liman after seeing this and his Swingers is that he's appreciative of dialog and a screenplay.
The music was disappointing, not all that cool.(4/11/1999)

10 Things I Hate About You is not as cleverly written as Clueless in modernizing a classic.
But leads Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger (he of TV's Roar on Fox a couple of years ago) have wonderful chemistry that carries the movie (and into the out takes over the credits). They are that good that the movie's worth seeing as sheer romantic fun even when Taming of the Shrew is dropped half-way through for a more conventional teen movie.
Finding this amazing high school in Tacoma cost them $1 million extra than shooting in L.A. but was really worth it. It's hard to believe such a school exists.
One also knows that this will just be a summer romance - I sort of see this as a prequel to John Sayles' Baby It's You.
It makes good use of the subtleties of music battles in high school. This was the second movie I saw in a week where a guy woos a girl by pretending to be into grrrl rock (Mad Love was the other, on cable). Letters to Cleo are (is?) featured prominently. (4/11/1999)

Drew Barrymore is good in Never Been Kissed, but I kept waiting for her to come out of the ugly duckling phase to be, well, Drew Barrymore (she was so gorgeous and good in Mad Love).
But she stays in character with annoying mannerisms to just become a presentable duck rather than her swan-self, oddly enough.
The best parts are the EdTV aspects as the office watches her life on a hidden camera.
David Arquette is basically playing his 1-800-Call-ATT role. Jeremy Jordan as the school hunk and the teacher are cute but don't really push my buttons.
The terrific Latin band Ozomatli is prominently featured, as is some other neat music, though the final use of "Don't Worry Baby" was a bit odd choice. (4/11/1999)

I went to see Desert Blue without having read much about it. I really liked it.
It reminded me of the little Australian movies that are so quirky and character-driven.
It has a very fine cast. Sara Gilbert of Roseanne, ironically, is not playing the TV star who lands in a bit town in the desert, who is played by the more conventionally pretty Kate Hudson; Casey Affleck has brown hair; the ever charming Brendan Sexton III; the always interesting Christina Ricci in mascara mode; John Heard who is becoming like Harvey Keitel in his willingness to be in offbeat projects in addition to mainstream ones.
The leisurely pace takes advantage of a terrific set in Nevada and reveals characters onion-like.
The soundtrack doesn't use Dave Alvin's "Dry River," but the soundtrack was unusual - in addition to groups like the Candyskins, several of the very lyrically-appropriate songs were written by the scorer Vytas Nagisetty and the auteur Morgan J. Freeman - NOT the actor, but who has made several movies with Sexton.
I felt cheated without a final kiss; yeah yeah it's a stereotype but come on, give the audience some dessert. Instead there's a different satisfying ending.(6/13/1999)

Pushing Tin was better than the reviews had let me to expect. If one suspends a bit of judgment with John Cusack and Cate Blanchett playing Long Island Italian-Americans.
I was reminded of the recent Homicide episode where "Falsone" pontificates that Italian women are named Connie, as this one was to try and convince us of her ethnicity, despite the blonde, blue-eyed look, and Cusack's character was in fact named Falsone, nicknamed The Zone singing Dean Martin songs.
The anti-climactic scene with Billie Bob Thornton doesn't work and screams for a re-write.
But I bought the air controller's job intensity and break-down. I think this is Cusack's first grown-up role as married guy with kids.
Angelina Jolie of course is wonderful as she gives a cipher sympathy. (5/19/1999)

The British Twice Upon A Yesterday (The Man with Rain in His Shoes) was a cute date movie (both the guy and the girl change ).
Sure it's unoriginal, a cross between Groundhog Day, Sliding Doors, and Next Stop Wonderland with magic realism, but I'm a sucker for that and this is more thoughtful about the relationships.
Other than a cameo by Elizabeth McGovern, the Brit and Spanish actors are all unknown, not even from Brit TV, and not all by any means gorgeous.
Nice world music soundtrack, reflecting the new British immigrant diversity. And nice musical touch that the couple almost stays together because he gets her tickets to a Radiohead concert. (6/5/1999)

Election is an absolutely marvelous satire, of high school and politics.
Even the Grouch kept laughing and laughing and commenting until I had to tell him to shut up.
None of the characters are stick-figures but are real people, sensitively--and hilariously--drawn.
I'm a fan of Reese Witherspoon but she has re-invented herself with a walk and talk unique to this character.
Matthew Broderick closes out his Ferris Bueller days quite believably.
The co-star high schoolers were found on-site before filming and they are genuine finds.
Amazingly this is produced by MTV, which I gather has been actively promoting it, despite quite a few 4-letter words and visually implied situations. And despite that the soundtrack is not particularly noteworthy, with some made-up sounding band playing ersatz genre music for each character, which I guess is part of the satire. (5/16/1999)

The cast and vignettes in Slums of Beverly Hills are better than the totality. The ending trailed off.
Natasha Lyonne is particularly good, switching from dead pan comedy to poignant and she is warm chemistry with Alan Arkin as her dad.
As a person behind me pointed out, if they're staying in Beverly Hills for the school district, how come they're never in school?
If you're collecting coming of age movies (or Kevin Corrigan movies) it's worth seeing, like Manny and Lo, another indie movie about virtually parentless teens and how they cope. (9/12/1998)

Cruel Intentions seems more like the movie Kids moved uptown to the Upper East Side than like Dangerous Liaisons, which is probably more a comment on changing mores than movies.
Ryan Philippe is certainly more believable as a seducer than John Malkovich, but the girls are far stupider here than in the 18th or whatever century, or at least compared to Michelle Phillips. And, yes, he and real significant other Reese Witherspoon defy the usual movie truism that off-screen lovers make for on-screen lack of chemistry.
But, whew, I 'm glad I don't have daughters. What happened to Girl Power? Sarah Gellar has Villain of the Year on the MTV Movie Awards wrapped up with this one; her cock teasing scenes drew howls from the few guys in the mostly teen girl crowd I saw the movie with. (But then they also howled at the homosexual scenes.) So why does this character degrade herself with stupid boys?
The first -time writer/director Roger Kumble caved into the studio too much; he says they made him remove some of the nastiness to focus on the romance. But the romance here has the same problem it does with Felicity, which at least does it sweetly, and Dawson's Creek which does it bluntly -- these kids seem to think that there's only kissing and then intercourse, nothing in between, no seduction, no romance, no foreplay. Nothing for teens between a bunt and a home run. So visually there's no difference between a virgin surgeon and a boyfriend.
There's no shortage of movies where the ever so attractive bad boy is reformed by the love of a good woman (I was reminded how much sweeter and sexier the scenes were between Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint in On the Waterfront), but the reformation isn't as convincingly shown here, partly because the virgin gives in so easily.
The director also gave into the studio's obsession with making MTV-attention span movies 90 minutes long so there's no time to develop relationships. So I am curious to see the deleted scenes on the DVD.
The soundtrack is mediocre - big lack is Nick Lowe's "All Men are Liars." They definitely should have commissioned a theme-set a la Dead Man Walking on that subject or on manipulative seduction in general. (5/7/1999)

The first 2/3 of Great Expectations worked, then it departed too much from the book.
Having BOTH Miss Havisham and Estella APOLOGIZE? Why change (either) Dickens ending that clearly had Estella being a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her rich husband? But then why have the husband played by too nice guy Hank Azaria? And where's the evidence that Estella, who's as much victimized as Pip, has gained a heart?
On the positive side, I always appreciate movies that show more foreplay than humping, even if it was to prove Estella a tease.
At least Chris Cooper gave dignity to a role that could have been a buffoon or stereotype, but the class issues weren't dealt with well because the NYC transformation of Pip doesn't completely jell. Miss Havisham showing up in NYC works - except not having her burn down in her ravished memories is a BIG hole and leaves the movie with no lasting image.
Jane Campion a la her work on James's Portrait of A Lady would have done far better. (2/1/1998)

The last time I saw Paris was in Eric Rohmer's Rendez-Vous. Now I've revisited in While the Cat's Away (Chacun cherche son chat).
It's Seinfeld-ian in that nothing really happens (and sometimes its 95 minutes do drag) but it's a wonderful slice of urban life in a gentrifying neighborhood as residents occupy different eco-systems in the same locality.
It could easily be re-made on the Upper West Side of NYC, or other city neighborhoods.
It is quite a lovely little movie. Many of the actors are non-professionals that really are their neighborhood's local color characters.
However, at last night's showing someone brought their kids thinking because it had an animal in the title it was appropriate. I did not think so - there are visuals and discussion of explicit sex (hetero- and homosexual) as well as sexual harassment threats that I do not think are appropriate for children. (7/24/1997)

Smoke Signals was touted at Sundance as the first completely Native American written, produced, directed etc. film or some such.
I thought it was going to be a plotless road movie, but it turned out instead to be about family and had a very specific story and plot line that avoided clichés. In that way it reminded me of the New Zealand Once Were Warriors - with about 1% of that violence about aborigine families struggling to have dignity within the confines of a white-restricted world. Like that movie you virtually don't see whites at all.
I very much liked how the flash backs were handled (in the context of "the past is never dead, it's never even past" type evocation).
The title is used for several layers of meanings about smoke and fire. Dar Williams's road song was used in an ironic road way, but I think it was added on afterwards. The passenger is bopping along to the song on the radio saying over and over that it's her favorite song, which would be odd for an obscure song. But the joke is also that the car can only go in reverse.
John Trudell (he's the DJ at KREZ) and Elaine Miles ("Marilyn" from "Northern Exposure") have teeny parts. Neat music --though none by Trudell and very little traditional. The closing credits have a Walala (the trio with Rita Coolidge and sister) tune that I thought it would be cool if it got nominated for an Oscar, if it's not previously recorded, as I thought it would be something different at the Academy Awards. The other music mostly also comes ostensibly from KREZ and is by Native Americans but in the singer-songwriter mode (no Bill Miller used). Other than Ulali (I thought was Walela but I was corrected) and Dar when I tried to read the credits as they quickly went by I didn't recognize any of the names.
I almost immediately caught Powwow Highway on the IFC and was surprised to see how much it must have influenced Smoke Signals as a Native American road movie.(7/2/1998)

When the credits started for Clockwatchers - Toni Collette, Parker Posey and Lisa Kudrow - the senior citizens around me complained they hadn't heard of anybody. (There were also choice bit roles by James Elliott of Jag, Bob Balaban and Paul Dooley and they didn't recognize them either.) There was a row of young kids in the front for some reason who talked as much as the seniors through the movie and kept going in and out to get food and slamming the door. All of which is hard to take during a comedy.
This is a great movie for those of us in unsatisfactory office cubicle jobs - ideal for those in temp hell. Not necessarily laugh out loud funny all the way through but biting social satire about office life today for those at the bottom end of a ladder that doesn't go anywhere.
Collette's central character is almost too bland and vacant towards the end as there's no ringing conclusion just some small revenges, but it's all in character and place.
Kudrow gets to be a bit nastier and practical life-facing than her usual roles.
Clearly the sister creators of this movie have spent some time as temps! And temporary office placement companies are now the largest employers in the country.(5/26/1998)

Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy is being promoted a la Jerry Maguire like a "date movie" - I just hope the folks aren't on their first or even second date cause I think they have to be fairly comfortable with each other after the extremely frank amusing conversations about sex, oral and otherwise.
I saw this with a matinée crowd half of senior citizens and half of rowdy high school and college kids out on vacation. The seniors loved the romance and the kids shut right up once the dialog turned truth-and-dare-ish. Like Clerks, the R rating is all about the dialog not in the discreet visuals.
I'm a Jersey Girl so couldn't resist a movie with a courting scene playing skee ball Down the Shore. I assume the gay critics won't like it for the inconsistent lesbian.
The scene where they break up during a hockey game seemed to be designed to satirize the opposite type scene in other romantic movies.
Should we take a vote on who thinks "Alyssa" and "Holden" would ever get back together? This will reveal the cynics vs. realists vs. romantics among us. I realize that just like in Gone With The Wind these two have hurt each other too much to get back together. So I'll just make a new movie in my head that gets them back together just like I do with GWTW which I have now so convinced myself is the Real Movie that when I catch it on TV I'm surprised that in the end they still break up.(4/25/1997)

Love and Other Catastrophes is co-written and co-produced by a Jewish Australian woman, makes some jokes on Woody Allen, and doesn't repeat any of his stereotypes.
There's an interesting Jewish character or two - including a guy named Ari who is a lothario and a guy considering a circumcision due to the demands of his Jewish girlfriend.
It fits nicely in the genre of twentysomething roommates seeking love, i.e. Singles, Kicking and Screaming, etc.
The lesbian couple is treated completely naturally and romantically and is really the most interesting couple. None of the guys even assume the lesbian's straight best friend is gay, as I think would happen in most American films.
The film student satires are a bit heavy handed, but on a whole it's a cute, funny first-time movie casually made.
I only recognized two songs out of the whole soundtrack as it was filled with Australian rock 'n' roll I've never heard before. (4/2/1997)

Life Less Ordinary was much better than the reviews; only Peter Travers in Rolling Stone had liked it (good music) but I got a big kick out of the absurdist angel element.(11/15/1998)

Then as there was NOTHING on TV last night, I agreed take Ben to the movies. He'd been nagging to see Good Will Hunting which I'd seen but in a multiplex next to "Titanic" so had heard no dialog for the 2nd 1/2 of the movie. We got to a large multiplex in Queens a 1/2 hr early, fought for a parking spot, got on a HUGE line, then to hear that it had been sold out. (We'll come back to the early show Sunday.) We drove home to the largest video store in the area, West Coast Video, to find it mobbed and virtually everything out. After a 1/2 hour of looking I managed to find a copy of Grosse Pointe Blank in a corner. Thoroughly enjoyable, except I got a business call in the middle so will have to finish watching it today. I knew there was a reason I usually just stay home and watch TV on a Saturday night!(1998)

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To the Mandel Maven's Nest Reel Life: Flick Pix
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Comments, corrections, additions, questions welcome! Contact Nora Lee Mandel at mandelshultz@yahoo.com



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