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Needs a site map --- this was edited with a butcher knife
For a film that allegedly went through over 25 revisions, "Startup.com" is shockingly poor in its construction and story-telling. Situations are brought up and dropped without explanation, scenes of seemingly great importance are played out with no set up, and people appear and disappear with no introduction or follow-through.
The filmmaker's insistence on no narration or title cards is a stylistic choice which, in this instance, proves fatal as the scenes presented by themselves offer no clear narrative through-line. The mysterious "third partner", who ends up absconding with nearly a million dollars, is barely given any introduction and the audience gets no clear description of the financial conundrum his actions create for the two protagonists. A major story arc, the conflict between Tom and Kaleil over Tom's involvement in the company's tech division, is so poorly presented that when it plays a major role in the third act of the documentary's structure, it's just baffling until the very END of the film when the audience finally understands its importance. Kaleil apparently goes through two girlfriends in the film, but they appear and vanish with no explanation (this is an issue since the filmmakers solicit their on-camera opinions, then mysteriously excise them from the story altogether)---odd, since Kaleil's relationships with them are initially introduced as a relevant plot point, then there's no explanation when one girlfriend is apparently discarded and replaced.
The film is fitfully compelling, and Tom and Kaleil are interesting enough figures to make this story watchable. Somewhere in here is a document of a fascinating time, of a brief period when hope, vision and foolishness coalesced into a mini non-revolution the effects of which are still being assessed. The clumsy assemblage called "Startup.com" is not that document.
The Next Best Thing (2000)
Pretty Good, Dubbed
I once watched this on French TV, dubbed. It actually seems like an OK movie in a different language, with different voice actors in a completely foreign tongue. However, seen in its original version the effect is no less that horrifying. Madonna might have done well if the whole thing had been set to music and she was relieved of any obligations of having to speak dialogue. But even bad-movie freaks would be weirded out by how wooden, awkward and cringe-inducing her performance is (to be fair, Tom Ropelewski's dialogue couldn't be made tenable by Meryl Streep). The script smells of desperation; lame dialogue, clumsy time jumps and characters whose motivations seems to come from nowhere. Take out the gay angle which is its only novelty, and you've got something so bad and uninteresting even the PAX channel would reject it. What a sad, sad, sad coda to John Schlesinger's career. And Rupert Everett is so NOT a gardener.
The Convent (2000)
Lame, lame, lame!!! A 90-minute cringe-fest that's 89 minutes too long. A setting ripe with atmosphere and possibility (an abandoned convent) is squandered by a stinker of a script filled with clunky, witless dialogue that's straining oh-so-hard to be hip. Mostly it's just embarrassing, and the attempts at gonzo horror fall flat (a sample of this movie's dialogue: after demonstrating her artillery, fast dolly shot to a closeup of Barbeau's vigilante character she: `any questions?' hyuck hyuck hyuck). Bad acting, idiotic, homophobic jokes and judging from the creature effects, it looks like the director's watched `The Evil Dead' way too many times.
I owe my friends big time for renting this turkey and subjecting them to ninety wasted minutes they'll never get back. What a turd.
(may contain spoilers)
This film's earnestness and sincerity is genuine; this dv project was inspired by the director's breakup of a long-term relationship and the overall tone of the resulting work feels more than a bit confessional. Personal exorcisms on film should be approached with more than a bit of wariness, and "Drift" demonstrates this fact precisely. It's hard to argue with the source of Quentin Lee's work as it's clearly rooted in true events and genuine emotions; the problem is the resulting feature that is an almost total embarrassment. Lee's script is full of trite howlers which would make a first-year film student cringe; in dialogue which is clearly meant to be "revealing", the characters seem to speak in bumper stickers, i.e. "why do we live when living is painful?", functioning as mouthpieces for Lee's trite and facile observations about relationships. It feels raw, but the entirely wrong kind of rawness; the script's college-sophomore dialectic feels more like a long one-sided conversation with someone who drones on and on in an incessant monologue which has long lost both emotional resonance and entertainment value but the performer is convinced that he's discovered something new and meaningful, so every word must be cherished protracted and repeated incessantly. Characterizations are facile and undeveloped; the lead character's preoccupation with serial killers is supposed to indicate some hip and edgy fascination with the dark side, but Lee doesn't go anywhere with this notion after bringing it up. His haphazard throw-it-on-the-wall-and-hope-it-sticks approach to characterization makes the serial killer plot point, as well as most other aspects of the script, come off as shallow and affected. Perhaps some distance and time would have generated a more original, relevant videomaking approach. The three different endings don't feel so much like a revelation of destinies than a tired, gimmicky attempt to liven up a limp and pretentious script, neither fun or touching. At least "Run Lola Run" had some kinetic style to back up its gimmicky narrative tricks; in "Drift", the first section just lies there. Relationship Outcomes #2 and #3 are no more relevant or interesting. The ending, as the central character strolls on the beach and reflects on All He Has Learned, feels even more pointless when you consider that nothing coming before had much insight to begin with. If "Drift" is what we have to look forward to every time Lee has a breakup, let's hope the term "long term relationship" has entered his lexicon.
XX: Utsukushiki kemono (1995)
Fast, Cheap and Unsettling
Perverse! Maniac who takes to slicing up nubile young women is pursued by a forensics cop who has a morbid streak of her own; her involvement with the prime suspect recalls but doesn't quite follow the tired Eszterhazian formula which hobbles most similar films this side of the Pacific Rim. Breaks many western thriller conventions (i.e. dispatching a major, sympathetic character at a crucial moment), a creepy and methodical unraveling of plot elements and a ruthlessly economical narrative reflect an approach decidely offbeat to viewers more conditioned to Western formulas of thriller exposition...
A gory, somewhat unpleasant ice-fingers-on-the-neck treat. If this your cuppa tea, have a slice, but don't expect "Scream"-style conventions---the take-no-prisoners level of violence and the leading lady's chilly presense keep things disturbingly out-of-kilter despite a silly and moralistic epilogue.
Pic more or less works without subtitles, if you're wondering.
Noce blanche (1989)
Was this a joke? Stunning young pupil falls for droopy, haggard old philosophy teacher, becomes obsessed with him, disaster ensues. Imagine "Lolita" with the predatory roles reversed, none of the humor, literacy or irony, and delivered with a sleep-inducing dullness. The "erotic" scenes are laughably soft-core. The film's attempts at a sex/death dialectic are pathetic---you'd do a lot better with Kubrick's Nobokov adaptation, Pabst's "Pandora's Box" or at least "American Beauty", Tragic Jailbait stories with intelligent subtexts.
Vanessa Paradis is transcendental. She enlivens the film, even if her character is written in a cheap, tawdry and uninteresting note. The sight of Cremer slobbering over Paradis' silky young skin gave me the shivers, almost as much as watching Harvey Fierstein making out with Matthew Broderick in "Torch Song Trilogy": anything to skip this Creepy Old Guy fantasy that doesn't show any awareness of its own ludicrous hamfisted-ness.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
Day Into Darkness
(may contain spoilers.)
Displaced rage flashes across Diane Keaton's visage in her `love' scenes in the film. In half-shadows, in detached ambivalence, Keaton/Theresa Dunn chooses to embrace her hunger, and engages the audience in her spiritual annihilation. This is not a film about promiscuity, or the singles bar scene, or the `decadent' Seventies; those elements are settings and props, a backdrop for the unfolding of a much more interesting, emotionally violent internal war.
Judith Rossner's based-on-real-events makes its way to the screen largely intact in Richard Brook's dark film noir-ish take, despite the excising of the internal-monologue approach of the book. It's a glib, apt approach; the material has elements in common with `women's films' of the Thirties and Forties---narratively it details a woman who chooses a socially `unacceptable' method of living, largely out of disenfranchisement from her family and society, and the inevitable spiral through a dimly-lit Purgatory.
In those films, female destiny was decided by severe social delineations, determined by whether or not the male characters forgave social/sexual/economic transgressions; in `Goodbar', the era's different, and superficially the milieu has changed. It's the post-sexual revolution (as Richard Brooks hoarily points out in unsubtle references to the women's movement). The character's still straitjacketed, by her oppressive family structure and internal demons, and there (deceptively) appears a way out physically and psychically; new apartment, new life, a `room of one's own'. Theresa Dunn's freedom and self-determination will not go unpunished.
The first half-hour's riveting, because we see a young woman's transformation from naïve, emotionally hungry romantic to tough cynic. Even more chilling is that it's not entirely an act of will; in the face of an abusive father and a first love who treats her like a sexual cesspool, detachment becomes a weapon of survival. Brook's script adds greatly to the psychosexual claustrophobia of these moments, as it adheres so strongly to Theresa's consciousness that the spectator views not just what she experiences, but also what she imagines, desires, dreads. This appropriation of Theresa's thoughts and fantasies, woven into the structure of her physical existence, draws and binds the audience to her journey into Hell but is also problematic and disingenuous on Brook's part---as the film delineates her descent, Brooks' script appears to validate the integrity of her dilemma, but also implicates female sexual self-determination in her downfall. That is, Richard Brooks implies that Theresa's sexual freedom, her insistence on subverting traditional modes of feminine sexual behavior (in the film's `love' scenes she is frequently filmed on top, or on the right side of the screen, an unusual power-position for female characters in this context) is as much or more to blame than the mental damage sustained from her messy, classically dysfunctional upbringing. This is thematically the film's greatest weakness, the filmmakers' moral indecisiveness which severely undercuts the narrative thrust and focus of the film---who are we to blame, Theresa's emotionally screwy, perpetually in-denial family society for going down a moral spiral or is Theresa both protagonist/antagonist in this schematic arrangement?
Problematic, but this ambivalence and ambiguous thematic structure also makes this film infinitely more interesting. The anxiety provoked by these elements in conflict produces an unexpected, morbidly enticing drama. Most of the credit for this film's power goes to Diane Keaton's presence. Her work is perfectly modulated, at times repulsively real and raw, and at other times devastatingly poignant in the ways she lies to herself and others about the implications of her character's actions. She glows with dark energy, gradually becoming one with the film's descent into what seems like a long, long communion with Night. Keaton nearly single-handedly prevents the film from transmogrifying into an anti-feminist diatribe, by imbuing Theresa with qualities which seem infinitely flawed and human. Amazingly she does this without descending into dramatic grandstanding or exploiting her character's weaknesses. Flawed but full of conviction (even if it's misguided), seething with misdirected anger, Diane Keaton is overwhelming in the film's silent sequences, alone in Theresa's dim, cavernous apartment, suffocating in her loneliness. Regardless of how the writer/director or her fictional family chooses to judge her, it's in the amalgamation of moments like these (alone, in bed with just her pillow to gratify herself, no words are needed to show the turmoil she's feeling) that Keaton subverts the moralistic scheme of the film and shows us something infinitely more wonderful---a persona in conflict with herself, unable to find an easy resolution within and without her dimly lit surroundings. What the audience takes away are fragments of Theresa's ruptured psyche that add up to a very beguiling human drama. Keaton won the Oscar for the wrong film in 1977.
In the end, Theresa Dunn finds the resolution to her journey. It's horrific. It's even more of a shock, because by that point, the confused, morally disjointed film has gathered into a coherent portrait of a soul in transition. She's struggled, and does she earn her fate? Seen as a moral judgement on her `lifestyle', the climax might be seen as a `punishment' justified by the character's behavior and lack of morals. In a sense, it's true that the film offers up Theresa as an example of when Good Girls go Wrong and what happens when you're not what's construed as a `good woman' despite the goodies and freedoms that society periodically offers up.
An alternate reading of the resolution: Theresa finds her Animus, her male side embodied in a sexually ambiguous stranger who represents the impossibility of psychic reconciliation with the fragments of her divided spirit. Theresa exploits and uses men as physical revenge for her childhood and the psychic wounds inflicted by her father and first love, but in doing so creates a psychosexual monster of injudicious power.
Theresa meets, and embraces, her shadow.
Yi jian zhong qing (2000)
Maggie's Performance The Film's Saving Grace
*warning: potential spoilers'
A number of intriguing disparate elements:
-the San Francisco location, beautifully shot and actually moving beyond the tired Golden Gate Bridge/Rice-a-Roni tourists' view of the city and utilizing some unique neighborhoods like the Castro and the Mission.
-Director Andrew Lau, better known for action movies like `The Storm Riders' branching into romantic comedy.
-Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai, promising that lightning might strike twice after `Comrades'.
Sadly, the result is far, far less than the sum of its (potential) parts. The film's concessions to its setting and pre-Millennial era consist of utilizing San Francisco's image as a dot-com haven and the unsettled lives of its protagonists in this society results in something laughably half-baked; the `Nirvana' site proposed by Leon Lai's dot-comer is ludicrous but a more problematic issue is Mike's character as presented in the script and acting. Mike's (Lai) character is woefully underdeveloped and seems a blank slate, a Rorschach man-boy with vague economic prospects and plastic, generic aspirations. It's worse than presenting him as an `everyman'; he has no personality as written and Lai, as usual, brings little to the table as far as making Mike a flesh-and-blood cinematic creation. He barely reacts to his surroundings or changes facial expression throughout the hour-and-forty minute running time and the film's brutally myopic focus on his male protagonist only goes to show the filmmakers projecting their own male narcissism of the dullest kind.
Would that the film stayed, or at least conceded, some more focus to Maggie Cheung. For the first thirty minutes, her side of the drama actually shows some promise; a restless, struggling (we can overlook the ridiculously plush 2-story house she rents on a single-mother cab-driver's salary.in San Francisco's current economic ruthlessness, a millionaire would be hard-pressed to afford such abodes in even newly gentrified neighborhoods in SF) and questioning woman flirting with promiscuity, wanting more (of what? She doesn't seem to know and we're intrigued to find out) than the boundaries of her life. It's all due to Maggie. She makes the drama worth watching; she IS the drama, as the thin script and herky-jerky plot/character development would leave lesser actors in the lurch and audiences asleep by the end of the first act. Fear, defiance, ambivalence, joy, panic, pain, tranquility, emotional overdrive dance across her face effortlessly---it's no accident she evoked the spirit of silent actors so evanescently in `Irma Vep'. Without words or belabored emoting, Cheung lets the audience into the emotional life of a cinematic being like a funhouse of hidden, wonderfully discovered dimensions. The script woefully, colossally lets her down by the middle as she winds up playing martyr and displaced maternal figure to Lai's tiresome Peter Pan stunted -development dweeb (yes, he's cute and will probably make lots of dough, but would someone like her give this loser more than two minutes after the conversation starts?).
More minuses: the film's homophobic slant, strange for a film set in San Francisco. Richard Ng's self-deprecating gay landlord character is an insult, even as a `mother' substitute for Mike who had essentially raised him from childhood, it's necessary for him to emphasize in a dialogue scene with Maggie his inadequacy in teaching Mike how to be a `real' man. It's one thing to make gay characters the butt of jokes (what else would you expect from producer Wong Jing's Neanderthalic sensibility) but it's far more horrid, embarrassing and insulting when a film purports to give you sympathetic gay characters and then railroads them into self-flagellation over their `deviancy' no matter how benignly presented. It's not the film's worse problem---I won't even go into the ludicrous climax, an unbelievable, corny and trite act of self-redemption by our dot-com hero---but it's symptomatic of the film's regressive attitude towards gender roles and a cheap, senselessly one-dimensional attitude towards characters who don't fall within the hetero man/boy paradigm.
Maggie, wonderful as she is, doesn't quite escape. Still worth seeing for her---keep your eyes on Maggie and your expectations very, very, very low.
Sex: The Annabel Chong Story (1999)
More Than Meets the Lens
A haphazardly revealing documentary, intermittently interesting in spite of itself. Gough Lewis's herky-jerky approach isn't consistent---frequently he cuts off potentially interesting developments (Grace's family situation and rage at her oppressive Singaporean upbringing, fascinating clues to her psychosexual makeup, are barely touched on) and even the more prurient and lurid elements (the making of the gang-bang video, the hypocritically scathing assessment of Grace/Annabel's persona by her porn producer) are given perfunctory treatment, while some of the more positive aspects of her life (concerned classmates and her one or two genuinely supportive friends) barely register. The squalor of Grace's everyday life becomes chillingly mundane and repetitive by the midway point; how many shots must we see of her apartment in disarray? Structurally the film's only intermittently involving---the film takes a jumbled, confused course from Grace's childhood, porn career, family visits and academic life, never creating a consistent dialogue with each element and therefore failing to engage the audience as either a character study or lurid gawkfest.
The film is, inadvertently, telling when it comes to Annabel/Grace. Grace Quek's theorizing and intellectualized justification for her notorious record-setting actions come off as tiresome and unconvincing. What's ultimately more compelling are the glimpses into Annabel/Grace's ruptured persona. To say that she's a conflicted personality is a mild understatement---for all her talk of self-empowerment, of making a statement about controlling her sexuality, Grace comes off as someone who is anything but in control of her emotions and internal demons. Fifty percent ambitious academic control-freak, twenty-five percent regressive China Doll, and the remainder Hysterical Head Case, Grace/Annabel/Whomever is less successful in proving her case to the world than proving the spiritual futility of her quest for self-actualization. Morality aside, her lame attempts at intellectualization provoke more pity than contempt--- the revelations about her life (oppressive childhood milieu, an alleged gang-rape in her teenage years, the lax HIV screening of the participants of the 251-men Screw-A-Thon) reveal a serious LACK of self-examination and belie her futile attempts at asserting her sexual persona of control and empowerment. Her academic discourse reveals itself as a disorganized jumble of babble, an ineffective salve for Annabel's existential crises---the poor girl got screwed, and instead of screwing the world back, she's really just switched the masks on the faces of her internal demons.
For an interesting comparison, see Ryu Murakami's "Tokyo Decadence".
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
My Evening, Interrupted
Addled, dull, mush-brained. Winona Ryder plays a spoiled, suicidal rich girl with what looks like a repetitive series of ticks and shakes---it's not so much a performance as an overwrought improv exercise in acting class, and not a very convincing one at that.
What we get overall is about as edgy and exciting as an episode of "Felicity" set in an isolation ward. Director James Mangold hamstrings an otherwise talented cast with a goopy, sentimental take on a all-girl's mental ward with a remarkably lax security staff (which lazily seems more to service the narrative than proving a point about the rebellious ingenuity of the gals in this perfectly groomed snake pit); breakouts seem a nightly event and after a point the setting feels more like a valium-drugged sorority than an emotionally tumultuous ward for the emotionally unravelled. For a film about mental illness, Mangold managed to flatline every moment in the film; every confrontation and revelation is staged in the dullest, enervated way possible.
Consistently, every scene announces itself with a Declaration and just as consistently there's no payoff or genuine point; Susanna's final confrontation with Lisa is a laughable dud---for all the script's flailing about Lisa's "sociopathic" ability to cut to the quick about the tiresome and self-indulgent mental peccadilloes of the brats around her, it seems unlikely that she would be so undone by Susanna's single "cutting" comment, an observation made eons ago by the audience and which could be applied to the movie itself. As for Nurse Whoopie's comment, that Susanna's just "a spoiled girl making herself crazy", would that the script itself were so clear-headed---the movie's just as guilty of indulging its characters, so unwilling to take them to task for their neuroses real or imagined, that there's no dramatic investment in sticking around until the last reel.