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This is an incredible story, well told. I disagree completely with any reviewer who states the film is at all maudlin - that's unfair. The predicament of the main character, Saroo, is so immense, you really should consult a doctor if you lack empathy for him. It is true that, as depicted here, his life as a young adult lacks the immediacy of the near hour-long episode of the crisis that nearly engulfs him as a child. (And there is something funny that the actor who stars in The Exotic Marigold Hotel series is now studying hotel management in Melbourne.) There is an inevitability to the story that makes the second half seem a bit perfunctory - but given the harrowing nature of the first half, that comes as some relief. (I literally lost my breath and gasped out loud during one scene in which I feared for the safety of the young Saroo.) Whatever techniques the director Garth Davis employed to coax/capture the performance from Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo, there is no denying that it is the heart and soul of this film, which should be seen for that reason alone. Pawar is fully committed and engaged in these often distressing circumstances; that the power of his performance slightly fails to transfer to the older Saroo, played with reliability by Dev Patel, has more to do with the writing than any fault of Mr. Patel. The charismatic child becomes a cipher as a young man in the second half, which can't decide if it's solely concerned with Saroo's plight, his methods or the crumbling away of Ms. Kidman's adopted family - or even Saroo's relationship with a young woman played by Rooney Mara. But the film finds its footing once again when Saroo inevitably discovers the location of his true home and the film reveals what he finds there. What is of most importance is that you will be astounded by Saroo's real life odyssey. I was profoundly moved by the notion that in life we all get a little lost sometimes and Saroo's story tells us that if we dig deep enough and are compelled to do so, the possibility exists that we can all go home again. Unlike so many other films, Garth Davis' Lion truly earns the tears and outpouring of emotion that it provokes from the audience - because it deals with the primal nature of our existence and our sense of identity in the world which is depicted as both big and, because of technology, much smaller than we think. Highly recommended.
Formalised Look At Death
I've always been an admirer of Haneke's work but this film left me cold. It is well made and the performances are terrific (especially Jean-Louis Trintignant); Haneke is certainly a master filmmaker whose formality certainly demands attention. Such is his hold on the viewer that the film doesn't really allow for self-reflection or moments when one might mourn the loss of their own loved ones. It is very tightly contained. I think it is best described as Disneyland for people who've never had to deal with end of life issues.
As a gay man who came of age during the AIDS in the '80s, death was always a factor. I felt surrounded by it and supported friends and strangers alike who suffered and died. Even beyond that, I've supported friends who cared for parents who were in declining health and died. (Gay sons and daughters often assume these roles.) It is a honour to care for people and share the last stages of their lives with them. Death is inevitable for us all but it ain't over 'till it's over.
Maybe that's why it seems like such an indulgence. We all have loved ones. The couple depicted, comparatively, suffer very little. The have a roof over their heads, groceries delivered daily, you never see them on the phone haggling with insurance companies; she receives the necessary care. On reflection, it seems that Haneke is indignant that we should die at all! To add some drama, he takes an unfair crack at the nursing profession which hardly seems representative in my experience.
The whole thing was very unedifying. I was reminded of far superior films on this topic, most notably the 1993 documentary Silverlake Life which records the last months of a documentary filmmaker's harrowing life with AIDS, both the good and the bad days, and is a true celebration of life and love; Kirby Dick's Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (1997) is another startling record of long term illness and eventual death that manages to celebrate a difficult existence. These are films that truly look death in the face. Amour is just bourgeois old people in formalised decline with a nurse who brushed the old woman's hair too hard. For once, Haneke seems out of his depth; you almost wish the doorbell would ring and the film would lurch into a mashup of Funny Games and Amour. If someone videotaped it, you'd have Cache as well.
Have been mystified by the across the board praise of this film. Are people really that distant from death?
Some heart but little humanity
Though unworthy as a Best Picture Oscar winner by most people's standards, Paul Haggis' Crash does have some heart. But it also lacks credibility as a drama about race, is contrived to the point of trivialising the very issues it appears to want to illuminate and drowns in the bathetic nature of Haggis' script, whose weaknesses as a writer were obviously reigned in by FX Toole's source material for last year's Million Dollar Baby, a film that, unlike Crash, had a director, Clint Eastwood, that knew the power of its story was indelibly linked to his ability to control its emotions. In contrast, Crash is an emotional bubble bath.
Still, the cast far exceeds the requirements of Haggis' thumbnail sketch of a script, at least offering dignified performances where no characters actually exist. Don Cheadle, Loretta Devine, Ludicrous (sic throughout, thanks to IMDb's spell checker) Terrence Howard, Ruby Dee, Brendan Fraser and especially the too little seen Jennifer Esposito; even Sandra Bullock does a fine job compressing the whole of Driving Miss Daisy into about two scenes. Thandie Newton should probably never be hired to play a black woman but I'm pretty sure that was the point of her casting; Matt Dillon as a cuddly faced racist cop is a bit of a stretch but is indicative of the kind of fence-straddling Haggis does throughout. Ryan Phillippe impresses as a gay cop.
But ultimately Crash is too manipulative for any viewer to take seriously. Haggis' dichotomy of human nature is far too simplistic to mark him out as much of an observer much less a sage on issues of multiculturalism. A primary set piece where Haggis sacrifices what little credibility he has for creating a modestly produced, small scale drama about race, is far too contrived and manipulative to engage the viewer furtherat that point, in a scene involving a little girl and some blank ammunition, Haggis reveals precisely his superficial interest in these issues; he merely wants to entertain. Later when he uses a truckload of illegal immigrants as a prop to illuminate yet more triteness about Ludicrous' character, it is precisely thatcompletely ludicrous. That Haggis presents the entirety of human trafficking in a two-minute nutshell is really a shameless, pass the barf bag moment. Crash isn't a film for people with real concerns. That Oprah Winfrey herself compares her experience of not being let in to a Paris branch of Hermes after hours without an appointment to being a "Crash" moment completely encapsulates the insincerity and superficiality of this film.
Oscar ignored Do The Right Thing in 1990 and 16 years later they're still not ready for it. That they honoured Robert Altman, whose esteemed and far superior 1993 film Short Cuts is an obvious reference point for the highly derivative, red-headed foster child that is Haggis' Crash, is just one of many ironies that abound in The Academy. Voting Crash for Best Picture would indicate that the majority of academy members have never even seen an Altman film at all. The excellent Hustle & Flow is a far more honest and realistic look at race and culture; despite the presence of two of its stars in Crash (Howard and Ludicrous), you don't see anything approaching the vibrancy or audacity of Three 6 Mafia in Haggis' anodyne Crash.
That said, I think I preferred it when the Australians made it and called it Lantana or, even more so, Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. Some may wish to check out Lawrence Kasdan's version called Grand Canyon or even the great Michael Haneke's version, the excellent Code Unknown. Even Cronenberg's Crash would be better than Haggis'; though it may lack a heart at least it has some humanity.
Unknown White Male (2005)
Director Rupert Murray has had to fend off accusations that his film is a fake and it's not hard to see why. Murray is a first-time filmmaker and not a documentarian or journalist of any kind. So a few minutes in when Murray intones loudly and unnecessarily with his best imitation of Nick Broomfield, its sheer inappropriateness seems like parody. UWM has to be the least rigorous pose a documentary filmmaker can possibly strike.
It purports to be the story of Doug Bruce, an Englishman in New York who claims one day to have suffered a complete loss of memory. If Murray had any interest in science, he might've happened upon the fact that the fugue state he describes as being incredibly rare is actually quite common. Several cases a year are documented in the UK alone and a fair amount of case history exists from at least the late 19th C. Instead, Bruce is presented as a pioneer, experiencing something of which medical and psychiatric science has little to no knowledge ofall the better to romanticise Bruce's condition, to which Murray applies a gloss more typical of Hollywood.
That Murray is a friend at least explains his access to his subject and offers some explanation for the lack of objectivity. Instead of a probing investigation, Murray pointlessly renders Bruce's experience through endless sequences of unrelated, rapidly cut imagery of buildings, street corners, cloud formations, fireworks, etc., finding much value in that Final Cut Pro license, no doubt.
A fugue state is a dissociative break from identity and, in reality, is brought on by stressful events. No one in Doug Bruce's life has any interest in what might have caused such a break. No one is probed for knowledge of what was going on in his life and Murray hasn't the skill or fortitude to investigate it for himself. One suspects there must be some clues that would further illuminate the situation. E-mails, bank statements, credit card statements, phone records, etc. would contribute something to the picture but none of this figures in Murray's film.
Instead, we get a highly subjective, sketchy portrait of Doug Bruce who seems to exert a high level of control over the people in his life. No one dares to puncture his assertion of total memory loss, instead they welcome his presentation as a Forrest Gump-like sage of simple wisdomeven when that wisdom is directed at his own father with the force of a silenced revolver. Bruce is surrounded by women in NY; his former girlfriend from Poland appears to take up residence in his East Village loft; an Australian woman falls in love with the new Bruce 2.0 claiming he is without fault; another young woman and her mother nearly adopt him as family. They all eroticise Bruce as a man-child. Predictably, his allure is completely irresistible. Murray never investigates this either.
Murray introduces home movie footage of the man previously known as Doug Bruce, who seems little more than a spoilt, almost callow young man of privilege, which is the one constant of both incarnations of Doug Bruce: wealth and privilege. Bruce lived in a loft the size of which even Monica on Friends could only dream about; for all his medical concerns, Bruce doesn't appear to have any financial worries. His bank account apparently allows him to move forward as his new self with complete ease. There is never any apparent change in his lifestyle.
Bruce expresses no surprise or is at all humbled by the rather lofty, elevated circumstances he finds himself in. There is no relief expressed to find that he is not one of the 45 million people or so in the United States without health insurance. One of the joys of memory loss apparently is rediscovering foodespecially if you can afford to tool around NY eating in its finest restaurants. For his part, Bruce expresses little distress or curiosity of his former self and is rather pleased to have suddenly just sprung into existence as a grown man cut off from any sense or, more importantly, OBLIGATION of personal history.
The filmmakers, Bruce's friends and somewhat unwillingly, his family, pretty much encourage his voluntary loss of memory or hoax, which isn't meant to disparage any of the participants. But Bruce's claims of complete memory loss are less than convincing. When Bruce returns to London, he states that, in comparison to the women that surround him in NY, his former friends seem "more like lads," a buzzword of '90's London that belies his claim of total memory loss. He also overly obliges the image of himself as innocent yet wise man-child to a faultwhen introduced to a newborn, Bruce marvels not only as if he'd never seen one before but as if he'd never before contemplated our origins as infants. It is a ridiculous scenario of over-the-top romanticism of which this film frequently indulges. (Not surprisingly, we're never offered a similar sequence of Bruce rediscovering homeless people in NY or disparate lifestyles.)
That Bruce is able to move forward apparently without the aid of any counselling, more than happy to fashion a self somewhere between Chauncy Gardener and Forrest Gump, even more at ease assuming the lifestyle trappings of a stranger, strains credibility, which isn't to say that he himself doesn't believe it. What's more difficult is Murray's fashionable post-Memento interest in his friend as romanticised contemporary hero. Murray knows there is a story here, he just doesn't have a clue what it is. The complete disposability of Doug Bruce's former self (and, by extension, possibly Murray's present self) is well outside Murray's own awareness.
Trapped could conceivably serve as precisely the kind of Hollywood "entertainment" that inspired Michael Haneke's Funny Games (in fact, pairing the two would make an interesting double feature). Haneke's film is an often misunderstood, highly controversial treatise against the irresponsible, immoral and overwhelmingly gratuitous depiction of violence in cinema; a depiction that removes the truth and consequences about acts of violence, humiliation and degradation that Hollywood often serves up as entertainment for no other reason than that the audience has been conditioned to enjoy it like Pavlov's dog. Which is precisely what happens in Haneke's film--a family on holiday being terrorised by two cool thugs? "Co-ol!"; "Whoa!"; we've been trained to laugh at the clever perpetrators of violence, even applaud them, man!--with the exception that the heroic turning of the tables that the audience has been conditioned to expect never comes. The little child does not outsmart the attackers, who have no convenient motivation for their senseless acts; father doesn't save the day, mother doesn't use her feminine wiles to gain the upper hand and bring the proceedings to a heroic conclusion. What the audience gets instead is a figurative kick in the stomach that renders them speechless in the face of Haneke's powerful indictment which depicts the grueling truth about what it's like to be terrorised in your own home. In short, there is no pleasure to be taken in such horror (and Haneke's film is, not surprisingly, based on actual events). There is nothing enjoyable about it and it makes those forced to respond in unconditioned ways very angry--turns out, audiences want their steady, mindless and familiar diet of gratuitous violence without consequences. Technically, there is very little violence witnessed on screen in Haneke's film but audiences feel so pummelled by the consequences of it, they often feel as though they've witnessed a massacre. If it is a cruel film, as some say it is, it is cruel by necessity to make a valid point.
That Trapped encountered difficulty upon its release in the US due to several real life kidnappings that hit the national headlines during the summer of 2002 makes Haneke's point even more pertinent; the film tanked. Audiences could not stomach or reconcile these real life, gut wrenching tragedies re-packaged for them as entertainment; Sony could barely think of a way to promote the film without betraying its inherent superficiality. Released in the UK amidst intense media coverage of the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, Trapped failed to whet the appetite of British filmgoers as well.
Whereas television shows like Without A Trace and the 1983 feature film of the same name (and countless others) primarily deal with child abduction from the point of view of law enforcement, Trapped tries its hand at turning child abduction into a cross between a caper film and an action adventure; while the viewer will undoubtedly be engaged, it is difficult to fathom what one is actually supposed to make of it, particularly the ludicrous ending which features the victim's father landing an aircraft on an expressway while the mother seeks her revenge with both a tire iron and a firearm. The filmmakers expect us to collude with them and enjoy the predicament of the Jennings family; instead we are left to wonder: what are the powerless parents of children who disappear every day meant to feel about films like Trapped?
Amongst a strong cast (including impressive work from Courtney Love), tiny Dakota Fanning, playing the abducted child, is a standout. But the creators of Trapped fail to convince us that child abduction is fun for the whole family, nor that trivialising the subject amounts to entertainment.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Subversion in Tokyo
Charlotte is a 24-year old philosophy graduate from Yale, married for two years to a commercial photographer of film and music personalities currently working Tokyo popular culture as if it were a gold rush. Charlotte is by his side but in her isolation is losing her own sense of self. Bob Harris, stuck in a kind of repetitive mid-life crisis, is brought to his knees in Tokyo while he shoots a lucrative ad campaign for a Japanese whiskey. Bob is an internationally known actor whose career and life has strayed very far from his original intentions. (Our understanding is that Bob is a `beloved' star of the screen whose cinematic glory days are well behind him.) For Bob, who feels beyond alien in this foreign land (which presumably he has visited before with better results), the strangeness and impenetrability of Tokyo culture (of which he himself is a part) brings on a crisis of dysfunctional proportions.
And so, Bob and Charlotte float about, having lost their moorings amidst a sea of unfamiliar faces in contemporary Tokyo. Lost in Translation is about how like-minded people find each other in such a sea; how these two people come to each other's rescue and, possibly, change each other forever.
That last bit, `the changing forever' bit, is far beyond what director Sofia Coppola would contrive for us to believe here, and though Lost in Translation has its contrivances, they are not of the gratuitous, rom-com variety. Coppola protects Charlotte and Bob from the mass multiplex audiences who have paid their money and want very much to be jerked off in some consumerist, superficial way with a soundtrack of oldies and endless montages of a glamorous `happy' couple, played by performers who are soulless enough to enact a shorthand, cinematic equivalent of a Hallmark card (Richard Gere and Winona Ryder anyone?)-all of which she could have very easily done. Instead, Coppola subverts our every expectation of how a relationship should be portrayed on screen, perhaps most strikingly, by giving her characters dignity. Bob and Charlotte are not show-offs; they don't jump through hoops to convince the audience-to signpost in oh so familiar ways-that their connection, whether it be romantic or a shared sensibility, is genuine. Instead we see the comfort and ease with which they take each other on, the way they care for each other, in their desperation, more than they do themselves. We also see it in the decidedly chaste way they pursue their relationship, though they express a lot of affection for one another as they laugh at each other's jokes and take ownership of each other during their stay in Tokyo. (Charlotte says to Bob, `Let's never come back here because it will never be the same,' in one of Coppola's many gentle ways of suggesting that it's people, not objects, that give us a sense of place.) In one of the film's loveliest moments, Bob and Charlotte find themselves in a contortionist stripper bar, a place where Charlotte has unknowingly suggested they meet, and though both are bemused by their surroundings, when Bob asks if he should get some drinks-going along with her presumably planned scenario-Charlotte says, `No, let's go.' And both are out the door. Though the dialogue is sparse throughout, Coppola consistently nails moments like this that speak volumes about how much Bob and Charlotte are in each other's pockets, sharing their existence.
What Bob and Charlotte share as well-profoundly, deeply-is a sense that contemporary marriage is dead, an over-rated, useless, almost joyless invention that both feel kind of hoodwinked into, like the heterosexual rite of passage that it is. (When Bob says, ` life as you know it ends with the birth of your first child,' Charlotte says, `They never tell you that.') Both feel cheated by false expectations and one can't help but feel, given they've been married (to other people) for twenty-five and two years, respectively, that their discontent with modern marriage has something to do with the consumerist age in which we live. Charlotte's ever-absent husband doesn't even think to include her when meeting a friend in the hotel bar-after he's left her alone and completely isolated for days on end. Bob's wife phones and faxes infrequently and then in a terse and tired way, mostly to inquire about carpet samples, the message being: `Our lives go on even though yours has come to a dead halt. Save yourself.'
A rather stunning moment in Ms. Coppola's film comes when Bob does lack fidelity and more than a little sense; even though theirs is not a sexual relationship, Charlotte feels a complicated brew of emotions in a scene with just a few bits of short, sharp dialogue where Bob is chastised for behaving in, for him, a very undignified manner while Charlotte gets a jolt from Bob as a reminder of how much he has given himself to her, much more than she would ever know. Coppola, the screenwriter and director, navigates this relationship with considerable skill, acknowledging these deep pockets of feeling without ever giving in to the romantic convention of cramming in a lifetime's worth of experiences between her leads in a few short days or similar rom-com pornography; Charlotte and Bob never seek to define their relationship for themselves or the audience but we see it in the way they continue to be drawn to each other and eventually seek each other out, we see it in the way Charlotte finds that when seated, Bob is just tall enough for her to rest her weary head comfortably on his soft shoulder.
Coppola proves a very light touch with comedy as well and Bill Murray's considerable talents are an obvious inspiration for all of the character-based humour; to her credit, Lost in Translation doesn't feel like a comedy or a drama, it just feels like life. Scarlett Johannsson is literally 19 years-old going on 24 and the maturity and just plain cinematic nous she displays makes one wonder-probably much as Bob Harris does-what the future holds for this startlingly perceptive and talented actress. Her lovely bottom opens the film and from the first frame one realises you would have to be mad to leave her alone for too long-those lips, those eyes and lovely thighs
but one of the most ground-breaking elements in Coppola's film is her ability to suggest that Bob Harris-a man of considerable age and experience-sees something far more valuable in Charlotte than just her physical proportions. These two actually have a spiritual connection. Coppola doesn't put Johannsson through the well-known ingénue paces of funny hats, costume changes and long pop video montages whereby she must dance around and seduce not just Bob but the entire cinema going public-on the contrary, when that moment comes and Johannsson has the opportunity to wow us with a karaoke version of Brass In Pocket, both director and performer pass it by without so much as a backward glance. Instead, the moment is about her level of comfort with Bob, the way in which they both are at ease with each other. Both performers are very much on the same page as their director who by presenting an A-list Hollywood talent and personality vacuum in the form of Kelly (a hilarious, brutal impersonation of Cameron Diaz by Anna Faris) reminds us quite easily what Johannsson as Charlotte could've been subjected to by another filmmaker. This isn't that film and Coppola isn't that filmmaker. She's the one who knows and demonstrates here that the cinema can be a place where sometimes we retreat because we need to sit in the dark and contemplate our own lives as well as the loves, connections and the places and people in it. Bravo.
Essentially the story of a novelist who imagines a young man, named Alex, as the protagonist of his rather existentialist novel, Reconstruction blends the joins between two separate realities (the novelist's imaginary context makes up the third). Director Christoffer Boe basically omits any detail that would add distinction to his construct, instead keeping everything vague and non-committal enough to string the audience along. The glue that holds his construction together is Maria Bonnevie, cast as Everywoman in the men's imaginations (Aimee the wife and muse of the Phillip Roth style novelist; Simone, the young protagonist's girlfriend). Ms. Bonnevie displays a subtle sense of the difference between playing a woman and playing a romanticised view of a woman. As the wife she is mostly quietly dissatisfied, as the romanticised object of affection she is often lost, promiscuous and dependent on men; her Simone is somewhat less clearly drawn but is also a bit of a red herring to the main narrative. She has a beautiful, strong featured, cinematic face that she uses to great effect with accomplished neutrality that works particularly well in this context.
While Reconstruction has some clever, sometimes startling imagery-particularly in the shadowy motif of a figure in freefall-none of the characters emerge much beyond stick figures or chess pieces in Boe's elaborate yet superficial exploration of what, one presumes, are matters of the heart. Nicolaj Lee Kaas, as Alex, makes a rather charmless protagonist; unlike Bonnevie, Kaas seems inexplicably aware of his personal reality in the context of the novelist's imagination, thus it would seem that in Boe's world view there are no romanticised notions of maleness. Kaas is compulsive and promiscuous but is never given the opportunity to explore his predicament much beyond the director's shallow concept. Boe's attempts to play the humour of his Kafkaesque, Alex in Wonderland' scenario fall flat, revealing the shaky foundation of the entire enterprise-it isn't sufficiently compelling to engage us in Alex's fate. Nor anyone else's, for that matter.
Reconstruction is most likely to appeal to younger, less experienced filmgoers for whom the bait and switch narrative techniques will seem more substantial; otherwise the film plays out with the opaqueness of an extended, overlong perfume advert. For all its elegance, the inclusion and reliance on Barber's overused Adagio feels like a major cheat; better that the narrative itself provoked an emotional response instead of the orchestra. Boe is a young filmmaker who may be one to watch but a certain maturity of purpose is in order. That said, Reconstruction is a major winner for the Copenhagen Board of Tourism.
Mystic River (2003)
Mystified by all the praise
Ugh. What a repugnant piece of work this is-patronising and full of pretension; it feels as if Eastwood were filming Titanic in a bathtub and fancied himself James Cameron. But that's the least of it. Mystic River arrives on a tidal wave of prestige: an Oscar winning director, Oscar winning screenwriter, the majority of its cast Oscar nominees and/or winners. It's an impressive package. The actors make a mighty effort-none more so than Laura Linney, alternately mastering and mangling a Boston dialect-but Eastwood falls on his sword, aided in part by a lacklustre screenplay contributed by Brian Helgeland.
Ostensibly a character piece-at least in pace-Eastwood lacks either the confidence, skill or instinct to let go of the superficial trappings of a thriller, which this potentially searing drama most certainly is not. There are no thrills here, folks, no mystery, no suspense and the only mysticism is in the title. This isn't a whodunit. Eastwood makes sure of that by telegraphing the outcome through his use of obvious, clumsy symbolism. This is a human tragedy of imperfect people struggling with extraordinary circumstances; but the workings of that tragedy have to be achieved before they can be elevated to such a grand scale. On the one hand, you could see where the story of a community of friends and relatives torn apart by random criminal acts would resonant for the director and star of-how else to put this?-westerns. But therein lies the trouble. The demands of dramatising a contemporary, convincing urban community in distress are far greater than the prefabricated iconography of the western. Demands that Eastwood appears to be blissfully unaware of; Mystic River presents a directorial challenge to which he simply never rises.
It's actually a little worse than that. Eastwood demonstrates an uncertain sense of tone-and not just in his self-penned score which surely sounded better when he composed it on his Casio keyboard than it does in the cinema. Delicate, sensitive elements of this story-child abuse, abduction and murder, to name a few-are handled, mishandled or just plain overexposed to the point of verging on exploitation, mostly because he thinks this film is about the narrative as opposed to the obvious, overwhelming grief of a father who's daughter doesn't come home one night or the young boy who was left to rescue himself from his abductors-an abduction that, as staged by Eastwood, his two best friends are more or less complicit in. (Not that this merits any investigation from the director.) This is just one of several awkward stagings; others would include his ghastly, unnecessary overhead shot of a victim in a park that pushes the audience away from the characters and into the position of voyeurs, as well as another act of violence, later in the film that gives way to a complete white out of the screen as Eastwood misjudges the moment (or distrusts the drama) and reaches for a kind of majesty where none exists. In fact, both scenes end in white outs-a technique that flags Eastwood's overall discomfort with this material.
And what material it is.but Eastwood's adherence to genre in what emerges as an anti-thriller, stifles the potential catharsis this drama might have. He seems to understand that Mystic River is about a larger, human tragedy-hence, the portentous and superficial epic quality he applies so liberally, as if he's actually earned it-but gives into the contrivances of a thriller at every turn. Perhaps most disappointingly, Eastwood strains to withhold from the audience the characters and circumstances-the very heart of this story-that would make it at all edifying. This ultimately severely lessens the impact of the drama as Eastwood tries unsuccessfully to solve the crime and heighten the tragedy simultaneously-so much effort when just allowing the audience to see the characters and the action for who and what they are would've been much more compelling, allowing the audience to compose the tragedy for themselves and engage in it fully as an inevitability as opposed to some surprise plot twist.
First and foremost, this is a film about men, and a rather insulting one at that considering Eastwood's narrow view of them. In Mystic River, boys are not allowed to be boys, fathers are not allowed to be fathers because everyone-even the women-have to be like men, manly with a capital m. This presents itself not so much as stoicism as it does broad caricature, particularly when Penn, a bad guy who in the last nineteen years has undergone a reformation of sorts, shows up around 11 o'clock in full leathers, including gloves. Not since Olivia Newton-John in Grease has a performer made such an obvious, attention-getting entrance. Penn invests his character, Jimmy, with a hefty humanity but Helgeland's script isn't written to Penn's strengths-ultimately, Jimmy just seems an ignorant lout despite Penn's graceful intimations that he is so much more. One missed opportunity on a tote board of many. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne, the homicide gumshoes on the case, give what they can but Eastwood and his screenwriter overlook the fact that even in a mystery/thriller, the drama usually rests with the investigator(s) on the case and what compels them personally to solve it. Here, they simply move the plot along as we are asked to believe that Bacon has been carrying on a relationship for six months with his mobile phone and a disembodied pair of lips (his estranged wife that Eastwood rather inexplicably shoots from above the chin and below the nose-go figure). It's not big and it's not clever-both this conceit and the abduction in the opening scenes feel like the kind of scenarios that work better in novels where the payoff might be bigger. Here, they are simply unbelievable, at least as Eastwood presents them. Robbins is strait-jacketed into a sort of homage to Boo Radley; his is, by far, the most interesting character but Eastwood is content to just indicate this character's sorrows rather than investigate them. As is born out in the end, Robbins' character is in a completely different movie altogether and merely wanders around the sets of Mystic River, his pain and dislocation just so much red herring, played as so much bait to Eastwood's would be morality play or further Oscar mongering, a rather tasteless dramatisation of child abduction, paedophilia and murder.
The women each get one opportunity a piece to audition for the part of Lady MacBeth, presumably in some future Eastwood production (or Mel Gibson's). Which is a shame really considering the women are Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney; one playing a woman who thinks her husband is a murderer, the other secretly pleased at the absence of her stepdaughter, regardless of how brutal her demise. Both are rich with possibilities, both reduced to abrupt snapshots.
Ultimately, what really rankles is Eastwood's `honour among men' ending; again, reaching for some kind of majesty-fingers running amok over the Casio keyboard-Eastwood posits that men do what they have to do, blah, blah, blah, in some lame elevation of the importance of the American family above all else-truth, justice-it's the American way. However, what one is left with-in this day and age-is that Americans, ignorant and lacking ethics, will protect their cosy way of life at any cost, no matter whose blood is flowing down the mystical or otherwise polluted river. It couldn't end on a less empathic note.
Eastwood's supporters are more than happy to do the work for him and applaud this ambitious effort but what appears on screen in Mystic River is a muddle of missed opportunities and clumsy, unchallenging storytelling; Eastwood seems assured enough but allows too much of Mystic River to fall between the cracks.
Tom Guiry does impressive work as the boyfriend of the missing girl.
I'm not sure what everyone is on about when they describe this as the worst film of the year (or ever)--it's every bit as good as, if not better than, last year's Spiderman. It would appear there's something of a culture clash when an art house, albeit populist, filmmaker aims for a summer blockbuster. The only thing wrong with Hulk is the packaging as it seems to have misled the target audience into thinking it was going to be the same old/same old, though why people used to a reheated tv dinner would object to a gourmet meal is beyond me. Hulk isn't your typical summer fare but at a time when Hollywood would seem to be choking on the fumes of completely exhausted formulaic full throttled sequels, one would think this kind of originality, flair and quality storytelling in a mainstream film would be more welcome. I guess those who flock to the multiplex prefer their beans on toast.
Visually stunning, well written with excellent performances, Hulk's special effects are closely tied to the main character's journey of self-discovery--meaning they appear when necessary and when integral to the plot. Most blockbusters are probably constructed in opposition to that credo. Sam Elliot and Nick Nolte give terrific performances as fathers locked in a duel to the death while dealing emotional damage to their children (Connolly and Bana). Connolly gives a respectable performance--which is more than can be said of her work in A Beautiful Mind--and is well cast as the feminine influence that calms the Hulk. Lee gives her character, Betty Ross, far more dignified material than Fay Wray or Jessica Lange ever got in their beauty and the beast vehicles. Bana is obviously working to his director's very strict brief for his character, Bruce Banner, giving a very controlled, restrained performance. It is some credit to Bana and Lee that the three actors who play Banner throughout the film all seem to be cut from the same cloth--Bana's Bruce is very much the adult we would expect such a muted, tormented child to become. Bana, though not responsible for the cgi performance of his alter-ego, Hulk, serves this material well by serving the story--that's really all an actor is supposed to do. (How can you grandstand when you're playng the Hulk?) Lee paces Banner's trajectory from an emotionally controlled stick figure to a raging hulk with masterful assurance--I mean, what did people expect? Banner would bust out of his shorts right after the opening credits? Hulk is necessarily a slow burn, folks, leaving Lee and company some distance to travel.
There are memorable, nail-biting sequences galore. The derision that has greeted the cgi effects is just misplaced and goes to show how some initial bad word of mouth can easily sway the masses. Frankly, I'm not sure what more people would expect--when the Hulk appears he seems every bit a product of genetic engineering, of scientific experiment gone wrong and yet somehow soulful. The sequence with the genetically modified dogs is as terrifying as anything I've ever seen at a multiplex (and that would include the patrons). When Hulk breaks out of his military prison and is pursued relentlessly across the desert as he tries to make his way back to Betty, it is completely engrossing as we discover the full extent of his endurance--by this point the film is in full flow. I was sobbing by the end of the sequence as Connolly makes her way toward the Hulk and we see them both collapse into each other's arms--I mean, it's just a movie, folks. What more do you want? How about watching the Hulk being flown into the outer atmosphere and dropped from a staggering height? It certainly left my mouth gaping. Throughout, Lee's meticulous homage to Marvel Comic's framing puts the material--especially the script--in the perfect context. It's like the film is bowing to it's origins throughout--it doesn't pretend to be realistic, it's about images and framing that immediately and economically communicate motion and pathos to the reader. (I mean, cinema goer.) Characters speak with the economy of the thought bubbles or narration one would find in a comic book--it's refreshing to see this material transferred to another medium without losing the unique narrative of a comic book or graphic novel. Lee is very faithful to the style of his source--as anyone who's actually read a Marvel comic would tell you. Like all the great Marvel heroes, Hulk is about duality, about the shadow that is a part of all our characters. By the time we arrive to the final showdown between Bruce Banner and his mad scientist father, David, Lee reveals the jewel in his crown: Papa Banner, mercilessly winding up his freak of a son, says, "The more I GET to you--the more you GIVE to me!" It certainly sounded like the crux of a father/son relationship to me. It's a moment that equals if not surpasses the "with great power comes great responsibility" ethos of Spiderman (an ethos that, rather ironically, has apparently gone ignored by Americans in their quest to remake the world in their own image) and acknowledges the darkness and depth of humanity that a comic book can reveal.
Given the complete inanity of the trailers that preceded the film (formulaic retreads like SWAT, from the makers of 2 Fast 2 Stupid and, heaven help us, XXX--can't wait!), I suspect that multiplex audiences have been conditioned to consume large doses of destruction without any subtext and certainly without caution. Hulk must have seriously disappointed those that just like their blockbusters to go BOOM! without questioning the nature of our destruction to ourselves and others. Although the sad, unspoken commentary throughout is the level to which audiences have been dumbed down when a simple parable of this nature is somehow classified as demanding. If nothing else, the response to Hulk exemplifies that audiences can no longer sit still and listen for longer than three minutes at a time.
Get Over It (2001)
Fizzy pop confection
If director Tommy O'Haver's second feature (after the charming Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss) is mostly predictable at least he doesn't waste any time getting to the good parts. O'Haver is actually up to something quite clever here--having made a teen flick for his own generation--and therein lies some of the problems. You have to really be in your thirties (or so) to fully appreciate a long-awaited homage to the Captain and Tennille; ditto the songwriting female lead who is more of an aspirant Laura Nyro than Debbie Gibson or--heaven forbid--Britney Spears.
While market forces obviously dictate targeting a teen audience, O'Haver tips his hand a bit more toward an adult humour; this unreconcilable mix leaves the film feeling at times restrained and reigned in when it should be soaring. O'Haver has made a nostalgic teen film for adults with his tongue firmly in his cheek--one wonders what contemporary teens would make of this. Though stylish, it doesn't really speak to their zeitgeist.
Still there's plenty to enjoy not the least of which is Kirsten Dunst, not only the most luscious ingenue going but also a talented actress with genuine warmth and a generous spirit. Dunst takes a bit of a backseat here but when her moment arrives it's a heartstopper. If her presence, sophistication and all around loveliness tends to unhinge and unbalance the plot (she could easily make ANYONE forget their girlfriend), her performance does offer an interesting contrast with Lux in The Virgin Suicides (a film where she is just achingly beautiful and sensual). What little she has to do here she does with aplomb and doesn't seem at all concerned about sharing the screen with others--it's a lovely, relaxed and gentle performance.
Ben Foster is a likeable lead, completely cast against type in the role of a high school jock dumped by his A-list girlfriend--a subtle revisionism on the high school hero. Another director might have cast Heath Ledger in this role (or someone similar); Foster isn't even Jesse Bradford. But he's convincing and plays out the fantasy that we all have about what high school would've been like if only we'd asserted ourselves and didn't let anyone push us around. His deadpan, tough guy expressions are the type that one spends the whole of their twenties perfecting in front of a mirror. Martin Short only makes one long for the star that O'Haver made in Screen Kiss--it's not difficult to imagine the difference Sean Hayes (Jack from Will & Grace) would've made in the role of the deeply misguided drama teacher. It's a lightness this film could've used instead of Short's unfunny, forced dry husk of a performance. Sisquo gives a nice understated performance with a surprisingly long fuse while we wait for him to do his full-on James Brown mini-me acrobatics--what else would you expect of this firecracker in a supporting role? It's a nice, vibrant touch and if O'Haver and his legion of producers don't exactly see eye to eye, there's always the fabulous hands in the air, hip-swivelling closer of Earth, Wind and Fire's "September" covered by Sisquo and Vitamin C with the full cast decked out, glammed up and ready for Saturday night. It's a song full of nostalgia for another time that is probably wasted on teenagers of the day but still remains well within reach of this 36 y.o.'s walkman. Worthy.