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Boys Don't Cry (1999)
One of the best films of 1999
Following actual events pretty closely, director Kimberly Peirce and her co-writer Andy Bienen pick up Brandon Teena's story from his move to Falls City, Nebraska, where Brandon meets and falls in love with local girl, Lana. This incurs the wraths of Brandon's heretofore friends, John Lotter and Tom Nissen, both ex-cons. What is impressive about Boys Don't Cry is that Peirce doesn't sensationalize the material, which is easily done in lesser hands with such subjects as gender-bending, rape, and murder. Nor does Peirce, a lesbian, exude an agenda. Brandon is shown warts and all as a thief and habitual liar (about far more than his gender), while John and Tom are welcoming and amicable before they uncover Brandon's secret. Peirce even allows that John's loathing for Brandon may derive more from his jealousy of Lana than homophobia, though homophobia abets his actions. Brandon does not come off as a martyr, but very much an individual. Brandon refuses the label of lesbian. The subtext is gender fluidity and the questioning of why we have to categorize sexual orientation at all. Labels emphasize difference, and difference is a code word for misanthropy.
Peirce intersperses wonderful time-lapse sequences of the horizon, the clouds, the stars, even a refinery throughout the film. While these could just be throwaway flourishes, their beauty and timing point to a transcendent hope in the characters' dreams, no matter how stupid they may be, like Brandon's preoccupation with Memphis or Lana's wanting to become a karaoke singer. Only at the end, does Pierce's romanticization get the better of her, in a fictional love scene between Lana and Brandon.
The entire cast is superb. Actress Hilary Swank holds nothing back in giving the character of Brandon brashness, longing, hope, naivete, and denial. Matching her every step of the way is Chloë Sevigny as Lana, and their chemistry together is wholly convincing. Sevigny (along with Sarah Polley) is among the great actors of her generation. Peter Sarsgaard imbues John with both humanity and barbarous malevolence. In two smaller roles of great merit are Alicia Goranson, who plays Candace, Brandon's first friend in Falls City, and Jeanetta Arnette as Lana's outlandish mom.
Kiss the Girls (1997)
This is one idiotic film
This movie was so contrived, all one can do is throw one's arms up in the air. All the characters suffer from "I'm going to do the stupidest thing I can in this scene" syndrome. Morgan Freeman's character would have lost his job half way through the film for doing what he did, going out of his jurisdiction, withholding information from the FBI, giving a potential kidnapper a legal out. And that Ashley Judd's character could just tag along was completely ridiculous. Why didn't one particular character come up with the underground slave pit earlier? Um, because the movie would have and should have ended 10 minutes in.
Better than Chasing Amy, but that's not saying much
Kevin Smith is like a big kid. His humor is that of a sophisticated juvenile's. He grew up idolizing Star Wars and loves comic books, having allso written a few. He also has a cult following, mostly composed of teenagers, college students, and Smith's own fellow adolescent-minded grownups. Smith is hilarious in person and in writing, but when he tries to be earnest and moralize, that is when he goes wrong. I think Kevin Smith is a better writer than director.
Great directors show us their theses instead of having the characters sermonize them. This was true in the overrated Chasing Amy, and it is true for Dogma as well. That is not to say Smith's message is a bad one. In Dogma, Smith tells us that problems arise when people believe beyond any doubt that their insight into God and God's desires is superior to anyone else's. Basically, dogmatism is bad. Changing the minds of the dogmatic is virtually impossible, and since the dogmatic believe that they have special insight, they also know what is best for you, whether you like it or not. This is not exactly a new message in movies (see Inherit the Wind), but I have no problems with recycling old ones, particularly since Dogma's protesters are proving Smith's point. Smith's own problem with delivering this message is that he beats us over the head with it like we are reading a Dogma for Dummies book. But this is Smith's personality, and his simplistic views neglect such adult issues as how does one interpret the Bible (or Koran, etc.) correctly (or if there even is a correctly) and how one settles disputes of heretofore dogmatic concerns.
The story concerns abortion clinic worker Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) being chosen by Voice of God, Metatron (Alan Rickman), to prevent the destruction of the universe by two fallen angels, Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Angel of Death, Loki (Matt Damon). Along the way, forgotten thirteenth Apostle, Rufus (Chris Rock), stripper muse Serendipity (Salma Hayek), and slacker duo Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith himself) come to Bethany's aid. Fallen muse, Azrael (Jason Lee), proves to be the behind-the-scenes manipulator for all the chicanery.
The logical but convoluted plot only exists as an excuse for the jokes and to make Smith's points, and in itself, has little dramatic momentum. Among the supposedly outrageous claims made by the film is that God is a woman, Jesus was black, and the Bible was written by a bunch of racist, misogynistic white men. Of course, Kevin Smith does not necessarily subscribe to these ideas himself. They are a metaphor for the fears and insecurities of the dogmatic. Smith says as much in his amusing disclaimer that precedes the movie. When Harvey Weinstein asked Smith to put it into the film before Cannes, Smith thought it might give validation to protesters' claims that the film was sacrilegious, but then he rethought it and turned the disclaimer into a joke.
The film's humor is uneven. Some parts are very funny as when Bethany goes for a fire extinguisher when Metatron makes a burning-bush kind of entrance. But many of the film's jokes just bomb, as in virtually anything involving Salma Hayek's Serendipity. Also, some of the jokes can be seen coming from a mile away. Still, Smith keeps the zingers coming at a sufficiently rapid pace. Among the actors, Fiorentino and Rickman stand out by far. Fiorentino virtually by herself gives the film emotional weight. >
Classic Hong Kong cinema
While essentially a remake of the original Chinese Ghost Story, this third installment has higher production values and greater subtlety in both the acting and the story. Tony Leung is particularly good. CGS III is a gorgeous, moving film.