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misfired in the editing room
The many choices one makes about what scenes to keep and what scenes to lose went somehow wrong here. I'm guessing it was because they got some stronger-than-expected performances and decided to hold on to them, but they overdid it, and ended up sacrificing the story. You cannot build a film on performances alone.
Important things omitted include
-where was the boy's father?
-what is Teresa's background? Is she part of this world of crime or is she a solitary example of an important character who is not?
-what happened to Cuban Juan that he disappears after Act I? did a life of crime catch up with him?
-how in the world did the boy from Act II turn into the man of Act III, which seems entirely improbable? There's your real story, regrettably not shown at all, and a gaping hole preventing this film from holding together.
But in the most glaring gap of all, the boy's gayness is never shown. Very likely there were scenes filmed showing it, but apparently someone chickened out. I don't necessarily need graphic scenes, but just some scenes that show why people are taunting him, why he needs to know the meaning of the "faggot", etc. Way too much telling here, and little to no showing. In the end these problems often make the movie first puzzling and then yawn-inducing, especially in Acts I and II, and overall really keep it from being the best film it could have been.
Take This Waltz (2011)
Some interest, but too long with too many problems
After screening this recently, the couple seated behind us ventured to admit their complete bafflement as to the meaning of the film and actually asked me to explain it. This, plus the film's clear opacity, makes me wonder if there aren't many others who would also benefit from an explanation.
Ostensibly a relationship film, the topic of Sarah Polley's writing and directorial effort is actually rather different. At the outset we are with the Michelle Williams character as she meets the Luke Kirby character in a series of kooky circumstances and conversations. Credit is deserved for the imagination shown in dreaming up these sequences, but the dialog often rings false. As just one example, do men that you know, especially Canadian men, call a woman they've just met "asshole" in a friendly way?
Eventually we discover that despite her flirtations, the Michelle Williams character is married to Seth Rogen's character, a cookery writer. The Williams character herself is an aspiring writer, but never once does she write. As the husband works from home, they see far too much of one another, having nothing to say avoid conversation and are reduced to baby talk and adolescent taunts and pranks as a means of relating. Probably the idea here is to make the audience feel the relationship ennui, but unfortunately it goes on far too long; the temptation to walk out on the film was strong.
Some comic relief, but not nearly enough, is provided from time to time, by a refreshing Sarah Silverman, playing an alcoholic. There is also a rather amusing sequence set at a swimming pool exercise led by an over-the-top gay instructor. Following that comes a shower scene including full frontal nudity for Williams, Silverman and several obese women. These scenes have no purpose, unless someone lacked sufficient confidence in the film and hoped to use them to bring in more male audience members.
Following are more desultory scenes as the Williams and Kirby character grow ever closer. These are shot in a bohemian quarter of Toronto which is fun to see, especially if one knows the area. Eventually of course there is a climactic point at which Williams must decide which relationship she wants. Along the way here are scenes where the Rogen and Kirby characters have uneasy meetings. In a bold move the film does not show the scene in which the Williams character reveals her true feelings to her husband. Because we have all seen that scene too many times before it was probably the right move, but in this there was probably strategy relating to the true meaning of the film too.
Now we see Williams and Kirby working out their new life. Instead of being told conventionally, instead we're given a montage of very short shots. We see that whereas the previous relationship was about the baby talk and adolescent behavior, this one is all about sex, until, of course, as escalating sexual situations must, it ends and the couple is left with a boring existence leavened only by a couch and a television. At this point the Williams character encounters reminders of her ex-husband, via random event comes back into contact and even appears ready to return to him.
It's at this point that an off-the-wagon Silverman character tells the truth of the film. She is an alcoholic, yes, looking for answers to life's pain in a bottle. But is the Williams character any different? Instead of doing something with her life, whether writing or anything else, she looks not in a bottle but into relationships with men, hoping to find there some answer which is never going to come. In the meantime she leaves behind her a string of broken hearts belonging to well-meaning, but somewhat naive guys who have failed to recognize her psychological dynamic.
There are some very good performances here, especially from Williams, but really all of the cast do excellent work. It's particularly amazing that Williams can segue from Marilyn Monroe to this character and make both so believable, though in a way, this character may share something with Monroe's many broken relationships.
There are incongruities as well though. It's not clear how the underemployed Williams and Kirby characters manage to support themselves financially. It's also unclear why the handsome and smart Kirby does not find an unattached woman other than Williams, even at the very party that occurs midway through. It's also puzzling that the Kirby character seems at first so smart and intuitive about who the Williams character is, but nevertheless fails to fully understand her. Either this character does have that much EQ or he doesn't; real life won't allow both ways.
As a film idea, this is not a bad one. But it could have been told much more economically. By no means should such a simple idea require 116 minutes. Many scenes should have been cut and those which remained needed more punch, more payoff. In the early going the dialog should have been more believable as well. This is a slice-of-movie in which "you are there"; unfortunately we end up being there far too long.
La kermesse héroïque (1935)
Out of the Celluloid Closet
The women hold a big banquet and all of the Spanish officers are invited. However, one of them is not interested and prefers to stay indoors and do his needlepoint. One of the village men is also not interested so the officer invites him to bring out his knitting. They discuss what kind of stitches to use and the officer opines that a particular stitch feels nicer on the leg.
The scene is perfectly innocent, but how interesting that already in 1935 they had the idea that maybe not all of the soldiers wanted to be seduced by women! And they actually dared to put the scene in! :)
The question of just what the Mayoress has done with the Duke is left unsaid, but probably also would never have passed the Hays Office in Hollywood.
Haiku Tunnel (2001)
Problems in format conversion
There are a few good moments, but much of it is unwatchable, not just because it's neither funny nor moving, but also because the character is doing such horrible things. I've seen Josh Kornbluth on the West Coast Live radio program where he is hilarious and amazing doing improv with host Sedge Thomson. What the movie lacks is his charm and wit in explaining all the bad things that he did -- on that basis they seem almost okay. But in film he doesn't really get to explain them for the most part -- instead we just look on in horror. What the movie should have done to make up for this is add more material, but it didn't happen. Let's hope the creators understand this before setting out to do Red Diaper Baby or Tax Law or whatever.