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|3 reviews in total|
I didn't catch up to this film until thirty years after the fact, but I was pulled in by its simple, elegant emotional resonance. This is a pretty young Sam Waterston. Though the plot is rife with potential rivalries over Charlotte Rampling, the film lays an astute and well-observed tale about friendship over a road film and, happily, these guys aren't ugly Americans, and even make an attempt to try to speak the languages along the way. Wonderful, spare location photography. I started watching it out of morbid interest, but ended up being lulled by that heart ache and yearning at the center of a vacation and adventure movie.
I was stunned at what a successfully against-the-mainstream film Wonder Boys turns out to be. Even though it lacks the usual boffo ending, it manages to make a film about a small transformation of a character engrossing and empathetic. I have to admit that I was originally not that impressed with Curtis Hanson's LA Confidential because the plot was so overwrought and the idea of a brothel that specialized in star look-alikes wasn't that radical. But the fact that he was able to look at this material and actually see a movie in it, amazes me. I was watching the film ten minutes, during the Marilyn Monroe marriage jacket scene, before I realized that I had actually read the book it was based on, though the book had been such a mess that the only thing that managed to pull me through it was the fact that there was the possibility that there might be some meaty gay coupling in it somewhere. The film manages the near-impossible feat of actually improving on the book while remaining absolutely faithful to it. Besides brilliant cinematography and script adaptation, the casting is perfect. None of the female characters looks as if she was cast for any special male audience except for the Dawson's Creek actress. Frances McDormand, who's usually wasted in character-actor parts (see her play a mousy forensic psychologist in Primal Fear) has a role she can sink her teeth into and does that special thing that only she can imbue a character with. And Michael Douglas, who is usually cast as a maniac or the victim of maniacs, shows a disorderly soul trying to find his way to some personal clarity through a haze of pot and various avuncular obligations towards a self-destructive student and his literary agent, who's about to lose job for lack of any recent successful books. This is the most gender-friendly movie, without being a primarily gay film that I ever remember seeing since Miracle Mile. The film is remarkable for its general air of benevolent pansexuality.
Head On is a stunning film by Ana Kokkinos. It chronicles twenty-four hours in the life of nineteen year old Ari that begins at a wedding reception. This event contextualizes the protagonist's tortured sexual persona squarely within the activity with which the rigid, patriarchal, Greek culture expects him to play out his own life. Ex-patriot communities tend to be even more conservative than the populations they've left behind. In the multi-ethnic milieu of Melbourne, Australia, everyone hates everyone else and many find themselves with the dilemma of assimilating into the more progressive, liberal Anglo culture they grow up in schizophrenically. Add to this already volatile mixture the element of drugs, which can make anything seem possible, and you have a tortured soul who has to keep from having to make the choice of being a good Greek Australian boy, the son his parents want him to be, or amputating himself from his ethnic group and family so that he can fully embrace his unpopular desire. Ari barely manages this precarious balancing act by trying to find meaningful relationships among his vast Greek extended family, where he only runs into homophobia and is warned, in no uncertain terms, against making the choice he seems headed for. To this end he respects and spends time with his cousin Johnny, who occasionally gets stoned, dresses like a woman and throws himself into the night spots frequented by his scornful and contemptuous Greek peers. And it is through fraternizing with Johnny that Ari endures his most humiliating experience in a brutal strip search at a police station where an Anglo cop goads his fellow Greek Australian cop to even greater heights of cruelty by provoking his ethnic revulsion. Ari agonizingly poises himself between the two worlds by throwing himself into anonymous, impulsive, public sexual encounters in which he attempts, with some success, to assert his masculinity by assuming a strictly dominant role. It is in the frenetic, sexual, drug-induced moments, as Ari makes his progress through this personal inferno, that Kokkinos' film transcends its subject. Using heaving, swooning rushes of the subjective camera, placing us precisely within Ari's delirious and tormented point of view, Kokkinos elevates this film into a kind of ecstatic cinema. When Ari manages to alienate the only person who offers him love instead of just sex, he finds himself thrown out onto a pier in the early dawn hours, dancing the Hasapiko and proclaiming himself a "whore, a sailor" and recognizing that in this state of limbo that his "life doesn't matter to anyone." It is to Kokkinos' credit as a filmmaker and to the extraordinary performances of Alex Dimitriades as Ari and Paul Capsis as Johnny that we are seduced into caring about these ailing characters. The omniscient and critical eye of the film never fails to point out the contradictions in the ideologies that drive these colliding social forces and it is because of the remarkable empathy these people are viewed with that we are coaxed to immerse ourselves into this dark and masochistic vision. After all, we're all only one or two steps away from being trapped in the same kind of predicament ourselves.