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"Neon Demon" falls into that weird category of movies that aren't for
everyone, which is what makes it wonderful.
Set in the high-fashion world of LA (??) "Neon Demon" takes its first cue from "Mulholland Drive," starting as the story of a young, blonde innocent played delightfully by a chameleon-like Elle Fanning who is sometimes innocent beyond belief and other times seductive, wise and deranged beyond her years. She meets a "friend" in Jenna Malone, who gives the film's most interesting performance as a possibly-predatory, possibly insane Lynchian lipstick lesbian and the movie then moves into Brian DePalma-land, filled as it is with ultra-clean, neon lit sets and the ever-pulsing electronic score. The plot follows Fanning's "Jesse" as she moves her way up the ladder of "success" in the cutthroat fashion industry and the malevolent forces that seem to be gathering, either to taint her quality or to, literally, feed on it.
While the plot isn't all that original (people in high-profile creative jobs can be literal cut-throat monsters, Hollywood is a tough town, the price of naivete is destruction) and the film contains some tiresome, unsavory moments of young women being threatened and dominated by men (and one gratuitous scene with a cadaver that would have stopped the show completely if what followed hadn't been equally outrageous) what makes the ride worthwhile are the 80's-inspired set pieces. Project creator "NWR," whose other films I have not yet seen, tips a hat to Kubrick, DePalma, "The Hunger" and "Cat People" (to answer the question many have asked as to why a certain scene of an uninvited animal guest appears in the movie). I imagine that's part of the problem...I don't think a lot people who reviewed this film negatively got the "joke." I chuckled through the entire movie, and I suspect the director wouldn't have minded. My first clue was the use of a Kubrick homage key word...I can't believe any director would put such a bit of business into a film and expect it to be treated seriously...likewise the Lynchian cameo of Keanu Reeves and Allessandro Nivola. The pace, the characters, the over-the-top fashions, the color scheme (I have a color-blind friend who can vouch that people with color blindness prefer a world that looks the way the film is colored) the retro music score and the nods to other psychological thrillers...I was absolutely delighted to find someone had seen and loved the same trashy films I enjoyed in the 80s and 90s and made a film that not only commemorates those tarnished gems but takes them a step further (I had no idea where the film was going to end up and found the ending satisfying as well as repulsive).
This film is not for anyone who has pre-conceptions going in, it's not for those who insist on viewing cinema as an art form of "literalism" ("Cinema Sins," which I actually enjoy), it's not for someone in a hurry, it's not for someone who wants to see a "Syd Field 101"-scripted action story with commonplace character tropes. It's female-centric, the politics are left-of-center and the movie absolutely requires you to surrender yourself to the moment and not be in control. It's probably not terribly deep in intent. It has the lack of narrative discipline of a European art film, it's too long and slow, it succumbs to the visually and mentally repulsive on occasion and doesn't provide easy answers...I'm not even sure the movie is asking any questions. It seems like the sole purpose of the movie, like "Enter The Void," is to generate a sensory response, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. Would that many mainstream Hollywood films today were better at doing that much.
When this movie came out I read a lot of reviews saying this movie was "bad," that it was a disappointment, that it didn't live up to the potential created by the director's other films. As usual I took the advice of these reviews and missed seeing the thing in a theater before remembering that often as not the movies that people shout are "good" bore me to tears. To re-frame my subject line in a more positive light, if you find yourself liking movies that mainstream viewers don't, this might be one for you to check out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Have you seen the one about the little doggie passed from owner to
owner who, in her journeys, shows us some insight into some of the
darker--and lighter--shades of humanity along the way? Did you like it?
Hate it? Were you irritated by it, or merely bored?
Good, you're still among the living.
I saw a new Solondz film was out and was mildly excited--I was disappointed by his last two; it felt as if he was going the route of a lot of once-popular auteur-esque filmmakers these days--tiny-budgeted direct-to-video personal statements without the boldness and brashness (or budgets) that made the director famous.
An acquaintance told me he'd seen it *in a theater* and he liked Solondz but hadn't heard of "Palindromes" or "Happiness" (????) and was ambivalent about THIS movie. Others were saying it was Solondz's first "feel good" film (perish the vile thought!). Then it showed up as a freebie on Amazon--in fact they were rolling out the red carpet for a filmmaker who had become, basically, un-bankable in our Captain America world (word of Solondz's still having to keep his day job despite his prolific efforts as a director was depressing too). Thank you, Amazon, I've just renewed my Prime account...
Now we have "Wiener-Dog," which both recalls what Solondz fans love about his past works and brings something new to the table. To those who would argue he's merely repeating himself...did you make it to the end, with the lyrical, poetic vision of younger versions of the Ellen Burstyn character...? No, this "Black(comedy) Beauty for the 2010's" is not his strongest work--the short and (mostly) incomplete nature of the stories included prevents us from getting too involved, unlike, say, Aviva's "hero's journey" in "Palindromes" or the scathing and dread-inducing pedophile's story in "Happiness" or the "I was almost there once" shudders "Welcome To The Dollhouse" evokes. But for all that it's a powerful piece of cinema that isn't easily forgotten, happily enrages the conservative and small-minded and, like the best of Solondz, pits an undying optimism and love of beauty against all the darker themes, visions of an unavoidable imperfect humanity and grue. What is a cynic, but a buried optimist, after all? To those who would say the film is "hateful" consider that Solondz has gone on record as saying he loves his characters (even the pedophile in "Happiness"), a very evolved way of looking at things in a world of "I need a bad guy to transfer all my anger and hate to." Solondz's films have the audacity to present a world without gloss and fantasy visions of humans as immortal superheros...and still makes it all entertaining. It's easy enough to love this year's favorite celebrities, beautiful or no--who loves the "little" people, the people with flaws and egos? and there are a lot more of them (us), after all.
To those who object to the perceived mistreatment of an animal, or at least the CG glorification of it in the film's jaw-dropping final moments, it's SUPPOSED to be nasty. Did you see "Jurassic World," "The Force Awakens" or any number of big-ticket action films? (You probably did)...how many un-grieved, senseless deaths happen to unwitting bystanders in those films, one wonders? The tragic accidental death of a revered, humble animal in this film, presented unflinchingly and without fanfare, is more artistic, true and dignified than the horrifying slaughters that happen in movies made for children...but also reflects a bold and absurd "laughing equals crying" sense of humor that is a lot more complicated than the "laugh at every line" sitcom formula most audiences are used to. As a writing teacher told me once, "Sometimes kids need to hear that the 101 Dalmations did NOT survive, and were actually turned into coats after all," because that's as valid--maybe more so--than "they all lived happily ever after." I don't think it's a cynical joke the Nana character names her dog Cancer (and anyway, she could have been referring to the zodiac sign), but it is funny in a cynical way; when we stop laughing at tragedy we're really done for.
Lastly, to the critics who didn't get it (among them the Hollywood Reporter, New Yorker, EW, Travers and Reed--thankfully the reviewer on Ebert's page "got" it, as I think Roger would have), well, professional criticism is on the way out and thankfully movies like this get made, and seen, despite the tired personal rants of reviewers about what they personally don't like, based on their own simple biases. Oh, and the critics also neglect to mention that DeVito and Burstyn in particular give fantastic, noteworthy, touching performances.
Those of us who "got" this film know it was made for us, not all of "you," and are glad movies like this can still get made. The rest of "you" have everything else, and please do go enjoy mainstream, big-budgeted movies and keep Hollywood afloat so stuff like this can sip through the cracks now and then...
"Lie Down With Dogs" probably only exists because it was a product of
the mid-90s, and as such has become a bit of a time capsule of an era
that is now long gone, for good or ill. In the early 90s entertainment
with gay themes began to capture the interests of straight viewers;
"Philadelphia," "Priscilla Queen Of The Desert," "The Crying Game" and
the PBS mini- series "Tales From The City" were all successful and
proved to Hollywood that there was money to be made in "gay cinema."
The sole motivating factor in Hollywood is making a buck; suddenly gay
meant cash, and there was a flood of gay-themed movies. Most of them
were pretty terrible, some of them ("Broken Hearts Club," "Jeffrey,"
"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," "To Wong Foo") had bigger budgets and
tried hard, and sometimes succeeded. The main thing Hollywood created
was content: for the first time in history, there was an abundance of
gay-themed films that took the subject matter more or less for
granted-- these were not stories about perverts, degenerates and
losers, the homosexuals of these films were heroes.
Nowadays it's hard to imagine how a film like "Lie Down With Dogs" would get any attention at all. Gay-themed films are the "B-movies" of the day, micro-budgeted without much distribution, but there are scads of them. Most of them are, like "LDWD," fluffy, forgettable and mostly fun, low on budget, acting or story but entertaining enough--like a trashy summer read. "LDWD" in particular shows a time when gay men looked a certain way, acted a certain way and thought certain ways...just listening to the soundtrack is like hearing a time capsule of what the 90s *sounded* like.
I picked this movie up for a dollar out of curiosity recently and found that what the movie is "about" was of little importance--that it isn't about a conflicted gay man trying to come out in a straight world or writhing in shame is the significant thing. That it's a mindless comedy about a young man on the prowl for love makes it no different than thousands of rom-coms made for straight people, which is also significant. There are now dozens of such movies to choose from but that wasn't always the case, and in a weird way makes "LDWD," which is NOT a particularly good film, a bit of a landmark. Also too the fact that the "author" of the film seems to have passed away lends the film a bit of significance, or at least poignancy; all the bubble-headed, insatiable, selfish characters in the film would now be a good deal older as would be the target audience for this film, gay men in 1995. The 90s are gone, the world has changed and "Tommy" and his buddies would have passed the torch to a younger generation of egocentric P-Town tourists by now. It makes the film seem almost sad somehow, in that light. I would be surprised if anyone even remembers this movie at all in another 10 years (or even today), and that's not the end of the world, but as a time capsule of a different era I think it's rather thought-provoking.
A description of this project can only be, like descriptions of Lynch's
other more obtuse works ("Inland Empire," "Lost Highway," "Fire Walk
With Me" "Rabbits") a description of "what happens" during the running
time, which is more or less a useless venture. Try to describe what you
dreamed last night to a friend and watch his eyes glaze over. One would
hope that someone watching this video has a vague idea what to
expect...you don't go for a viewing of something by Lynch hoping for
"Singing In The Rain" at the least.
This project is definitely "out there," and like the other films mentioned is more or less non-narrative, more like a tone poem...what "meaning" there is to be found is probably up to the individual viewer. As I've said before about Lynch, only the dreamer of the dream can really guess accurately what any of it "means" to him, our experience can only be what the artist has filtered through. So what do we have? First and foremost, this recording, culled from two live performances Lynch was apparently commissioned to do, contains some of the wonderful, spooky songs written for and recorded by the ethereal Julee Cruise. The pyrotechnics, flashes of lighting, metal-on-metal surroundings, frustrated sexuality and typically Lynchian sound effects evoke an "industrial" dread that pre-sages Cronenberg's "Crash" a few years later. It is by turns perversely sexual, horrifically surreal, sweetly sentimental and slightly dull, and all within 50 minutes. The possible highlight is a song that plays like a sad lament for a lost era of 50's doo-wop, with two blasé prom-dressed girls and a chorus of vivacious Vegas showgirls.
This is "Lynch-land," and if you like Lynch you'll probably enjoy it, if not you would probably find it pure torture...it looks a bit "90's" by today's standards, it is relentlessly dark and slow at times and I question how much forethought actually went into it (Lynch himself claims it was put together pretty fast) but it is inherently memorable...one is unlikely to forget some of the strong images, or the plaintive sighing of Julee as she floats through the air, the embodiment of an innocent heart broken, but not destroyed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's very little territory to mine in the "mad slasher" genre...it
was all done in the 80's, re-done in the 90's and has been "retro" done
again ever since. A recent trend has been to drop the pretense of any
"mystery" about who the killer is or what he/she wants and just aim
directly for the nearest artery, and open it...on screen, with an
unflinching camera. This has resulted in scads of thoroughly unpleasant
low budget shocker flicks commonly labeled "torture porn." The genre
itself is nothing new...Herschell Gordon Lewis mined the viscera field
until there was nary an eyeball left to be stepped on in the late 60's.
The 70's are ripe with truly unpleasant, mean-spirited, ugly little
films that exist solely for lovers of human suffering and unrelenting
grue to whack their puds to. And then of course there are "motion
pictures" like the "guinea pig" series from Japan that take things to
the furthest extremes imaginable...just because someone had to do it.
Somewhere in the middle of all this is an efficient little direct-to-the-home-market piece of sludge called "Carver" that I found exceptional for a number of reasons. I resisted it at first...as I have grown up I'm no longer as interested in watching people suffer as I was as a teenager glued to pay-cable. But, like many fans I know, I'm always looking for something a little different than what the genre usually offers. By the time I saw this one I already knew about the infamous "outhouse scene" and was prepared for the worst. What I didn't expect was that the scene in question, and pretty much all the splatter, was the least interesting thing to me in the movie. I've found myself watching it on "Crackle" in its edited/censored form while doing other things around my place, because it makes good background distraction. Huh? My suspicion is that Franklin Guerrero Jr. is actually a competent and enthusiastic film director who is aware of the time-honored tradition of breaking into professional film directing via the low-budget genre. And as such, he also knows that the bar MUST be raised in order for a film to get noticed. So make a film that ups the ante on the disgust-o-meter and you're likely to at LEAST get a chance to make another film, as it seems Guerrero has done.
"Carver" is nothing new, in fact it's old as the hills: stupid kids make the "mistake" of camping in a place where there's a vicious killer who then proceeds to kill them on-screen for, essentially, our edification. "Carver" adds a clever twist by incorporating the idea of voyeurism-via-film as part of the killer's motive, but that is, of course, beside the point. The "point" is blood, and much blood is spilled and yes, it is rather satisfying in a visceral, sick way when a film doesn't hold back (and the effects are reasonably well done). It IS disgusting, but as Helen Mirren said of her role in "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover," "It's all theater, darling..."
But kudos to the stunningly attractive Ursula Taherian, who seems to be a very credible actress and deserves more work, beyond low budget horror. Cheers also to Neil Kubath--the director was smart to have him carry the film...he's got an interesting face that wears a look of confused disgust with the world around him that I know very well from having had a similar little brother myself. His delivery is unusual and his position in the movie perplexing (he's not a hero, not an anti-hero, he simply exists, until he doesn't anymore). But the presence of Kubath, Taherian and some of the others, the gore and the premise (and yes, That Scene) anchor what would otherwise be an utterly forgettable entry into the genre and make this one, in fact, at least to this viewer, rather memorable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jane Eyre is a complicated story and, much like "Wuthering Heights," it
defies film adaptation because you can't squeeze it into a traditional
Hollywood "3-act" formula. They either sacrifice the plot to fit the
formula or make a sprawling mini-series out of it that taxes the
patience because it does NOT follow Hollywood formula. What is required
is a thoughtful, well-planned and well-executed adaptation of the work.
This "Jane Eyre" is one of the best adaptations of the novel--and a
piece of classic literature--I've seen in a very long time.
The genius is in the structure...recalling "Wuthering Heights," in fact, the film begins around 3/4 of the way through the story. This does two amazing things: it provides a natural way to include the "St. John" episode which is often otherwise dropped in the interest of maintaining momentum, and it keeps the experience fresh for viewers who are familiar with the material and are now challenged by having the story told "in reverse." And, as adaptation, it's a near genius way to avoid redundancy--a re-write of the book might have incorporated the device, which is no small suggestion of course, and the highest possible praise for the screenplay you could imagine.
At 2 hrs running time the film feels full and "epic" but doesn't drag (well, it probably does for younger audiences who can't sit still for a film that doesn't move like a lightning bolt; I'm happy to say this film was not made for them). It encompasses the breadth of the story, which is very long, without leaving out too many important details (I was both anticipating and dreading Rochester's "gypsy" disguise moment and glad the makers of the film found a way around it). Most importantly it captures the "feel" of the source material.
I've noted other reviewers complaining about the "heart" of the film being absent, as if this were some Jane Austen bon-bon...this film is Bronte incarnate: dark, cold, unflinching,twisted, cerebral...passion that, even when it's released is subdued. The acting is superlative--you know that underneath the cold, repressed exteriors of these emotionally stunted characters fire-breathing dragons lie hidden, clawing to get out of their shells and let their passion loose--the very essence of the Victorian era. There have been complaints about some of the artificial elements of the storytelling...well, the BOOK had artificial elements, that's part of the charm of Victorian novels, really. I found the ending utterly satisfying, the final lines sent chills down my spine. They really, really nailed it.
Having traveled in England and studied Victorian novels some, and read quite a few, I found the film completely satisfying as an interpretation both of a specific work and of a genre in general. If people don't like this film then it's likely because they don't get it. Again, thankfully, it wasn't made for those viewers, but for the rest of us who understand what the goal was in lensing this film one more time, and how successful the attempt to capture this difficult book really was.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Have you ever really, really been angry at the world, so angry you'd
just about break the law...so angry you just didn't think you could
take it anymore? This film might be for you...
"Vendetta" is an odd one. It rides the fine line between being sleazy B-movie and a "real" movie. A little bit more nudity and it would easily qualify as something made for the cable TV pud-pulling crowd. More bloody violence and it would work for the gore market. A little less of everything and it might just work as a TV movie for a niche cable market. It has some snappy dialog and some smart themes, but it also has female prisoners allowed to wander around at will, kill each other at random and dress in Madonna-inspired underthings. I found it hard to believe even in the 80's that these women were allowed to sport 10 foot high mall-hair, whore make-up and frilly lace bras. Would that really be regulation? Even functional?
So a realistic view of a women's prison this is not. But who cares? It has Sandy Martin! She has to be one of the most under-used talents around...she is in lots of movies and always makes her mark on them ("Napoleon Dynamite" is probably what she's known most for today I'd imagine) but never really gets to show what she can do. In "Vendetta" she does, and she all but steals the show. As much as you want her to pay for the terrible things she's been involved in, she's so fun to watch you can't help but root for her too on some level.
The rest of the cast is serviceable. The fights may seem strange today because they're rather more realistic than audiences might be used to--they almost look to be in slow motion considering how action scenes are cut today (which isn't necessarily a bad thing--Kill Bill for example). But the action keeps coming and is quite satisfying in a low-rent kind of way...if you're in the mood.
This is a cheap film, 80's campy, very unrealistic most of the time, and hardly earth-shaking, but when I'm in a bad mood and feel like the world is against me I can think of few better movies to purge that feeling than one in which the wronged lead heroine, who is essentially a good person, destroys all the monsters who have ruined so many people's lives with vigilante justice...to answer the warden's very thought-provoking question, "Did it bring your sister back?" No, but watching this movie, I'm glad she did it all anyway, and I think I would've too, if I could've, and life was a movie.
I was really rooting for this one--the "gay rom-com" can be a wonderful
thing that indulges one's fantasies and even conveys a truth or two.
There is still much territory to be mined in stories about dating in
the digital age, life in big cities, coming of age as a gay man in a
more tolerant society, the relationships between gay men and women and
young gay men and their elders, but I guess we'll have to wait a little
longer for those stories. Here we have a fantasy that is so far from
reality that it's not fun for the viewer, shaking his head in
disbelief. It's as if the author of the film wants to have his cake and
eat it without so much as a glance into a cookbook to see how much
actual work cake-baking requires to get such pleasant results.
First the "one note joke" of the film, that two people who have had at least 2 nights of intimate phone calls (although, other than phone sex, it appears all they do is say, "I like that TOO!") would not pick up right away that a mistake has been made when they meet, just doesn't work. This concept would be perfect for a short film or sitcom (specifically Three's Company) but is a tough one to sustain for 90 minutes. Because all it would take is one or two sentences to clear up the whole mess (and end the movie), and because no one SAYS those sentences, we are left believing our protagonists are stupid people, and it's difficult to enjoy the process of their discovery or even like them (despite being portrayed by guys who are handsome and not bad actors--you can't blame them for some of the wince-inducing dialog). I looked at my watch halfway through the film with disbelief...the "reveal" (that even a 4 year old could see coming--would anyone rent a movie like this to NOT see the heros get together eventually?) was going to be delayed for another 45 minutes? Yes.
Second, the world of this film is curious to the point of drawing one out of the movie. I know the coffee shop where some of the action takes place, and the magazine that is highlighted, which would seem to indicate the film takes place in West Hollywood...if so, it's an alternate universe where everyone is white, under 30, gay or gay-friendly. One of the bars looks suspiciously like a set built in someone's garage (we only see 2 walls of it). No one really seems to work...do these people have hobbies? What do they do all day when they aren't involved in our protagonist finding or not finding the man of his dreams? How do they know each other? Why do they CARE about each other? The women we encounter are by and large fag hags who exist only to comfort or antagonize their gay companions (the one whose only personality trait is having sex with a riding crop in particular). There is one man who appears to be (gasp!) over 50 and he is treated, as is often the case in films but not real life, like some wise sage, a knowing gay Gandalf who again exists for no other purpose than to support the young heroes. Meanwhile, his sudden, and constant, intrusions into his hot young ward's life are creepy and borderline criminal. Bruce Gray delivers some fun quips but was clearly not "directed," though he seems to do his best. Meanwhile--what if the old man and the young kid had found something in common? Or if Xander had turned out to be ugly or of some ethnic persuasion Blaine found initially distasteful? Now there are some challenges. Well he SAID he was in love with the PERSON didn't he?
But mostly I found the central conceit of the film the hardest to swallow...Blaine, like most love-sick protagonists in rom-com films, is supposed to be a sort of undiscovered Cinderella: if only a guy would show up in his life everything would be better. This fallacy is the essence of good rom-coms of course, but ignores the truth, which is that a "good" relationship is born out of trust and develops gradually over time. In the same way that a person with little experience would see older gay men only as quippy, neutered fairies, gal-pals as emotional tampons and go-go boys as hot-pantsed (it's not a "g-string" btw) older brothers, one might look at a "good relationship" between two people as something built on a couple great phone calls and attractive looks. Oh, if only.
What has Blaine offered? What has changed about him by the end of the film? He got everything he wanted and didn't have to do anything but admit he made a mistake that was so foolish and ill-conceived it would be a deal-breaker even for someone desperate, let alone a perfect knight in shining cowboy suit (at least until he sneaks into Blaine's apartment to "sing"...well, to each his own--frankly I might have called the cops). People who say they want to take long walks on the beach with someone should try taking one themselves first--it can be really nice, and then when you do have someone you can share your location with them. People who say they want to cuddle in bed on Sunday with someone ought to be made aware that sometimes people don't smell that good first thing in the morning, but if you care about them you get over it.
Well, again--this isn't reality, it's fantasy, and for all its faults the film looked pretty good for a micro-budget, had many cute moments, and I thought about it enough to warrant writing something on IMDb about it. I hope for many more films that try to tackle the issues of this one, and I hope they succeed in the attempt where this one failed.
"Hollywood J'taime" is unique in being the only French film I can think
of that wasn't made by anyone French. In theme and style it
well-emulates a European film, and that's a compliment.
The film is the journey of a man in Paris who has been dumped by his boyfriend and decides to chuck it all and go to Hollywoodland, USA to get over it. This all results in his finding that home is where the heart is--not an earth-shattering revelation, Dorothy Gale, but one that never grows tired or passé--in an ending that is refreshing in its unwillingness to tie up all the loose ends like a dopey sitcom, but is satisfying nonetheless.
What makes the movie so French is that the p.o.v. of the film belongs to vacationing Frenchman Jérôme, played with wonderful understatement and realism by Eric Debets (who does, in fact, bear a remarkable resemblance to Adrian Brody, a running gag). We follow Jérôme from France to LAX and beyond, seeing LA through his eyes, and to see what he sees, and how he sees it, is the primary joy of the movie. Aside from being dead-pan natural, real, and utterly "French" on-screen, Debets doesn't hold back exposing himself both theoretically and quite literally...this is a film with a gay audience in mind and as such knows there's no need to try to be otherwise; most comfortably gay males appreciate male nudity, and don't spend a lot of time sitting around discussing what it means to be gay, the problem with many films in this genre.
The director shows confidence in presenting his story without either going crazy with technique or being hobbled by budgetary limits (the opening credits are delightfully snappy). It looks far more expensive than it probably was to make, but doesn't resort to flashy gimmicks (although some may argue the slightly-beyond-R sexual scenes push that boundary--again, depends on your comfort level). It's easy to watch, the acting is above average, the characters interesting and the script feels complete. It could probably use one more edit to cut just a wee bit of fat around the edges, particularly in the 3rd act when Jérôme looks for a "real" job in a restaurant. Jérôme verges on unsympathetic at times for his bad planning (he seems too old for some of the dumb choices he makes) and the plot suffers occasionally when it resorts to contrivance and coincidence, but it is, after all, a movie. I also found myself wanting to know more background on most of the characters, who seem to appear on cue and disappear as needed. However, things never become insufferable in depicting drag queens with hearts of gold or gorgeous guys throwing themselves at someone just because the script requires it, like many similar films in the same category. And the somewhat-open ending is, again, satisfying and very "true" to what has come before.
What really sets this one apart is its depiction of the "real" Hollywood...this is literally a snapshot of the popular Silver Lake-to-Santa Monica stretch of LA area as it is/was in 2009; one can almost smell the grit on the sidewalks or feel the dry heat. I say that being a resident who recognized every block used as a location. It's one view among many, and not pretty, but it's an accurate one, and should be required viewing for anyone (gay) who is thinking of dropping everything and coming to Hollywood with the idea that it is a "dream factory," something that still happens quite frequently. Similarly, the film is remarkable, being made by Americans, in portraying the US from the perspective of a person from France, and captures the European-out-of-water in LA scenario, which is very common here, quite well (It's too bad Jérôme didn't take the bus to Venice Beach instead, it may have been a whole different movie).
Congratulations to cast and crew on a job well done and kudos well-earned, and a film that goes down like a fine French wine to those interested in the subject matter. I'll definitely be on the lookout for a sequel, and I'm glad we're living in times when movies like this can be made.
I just saw "The Fall" after hearing about it for some time and, while
watching it, thought two things. 1) It brought to mind "Pan's
Labyrinth" and 2) showed me that, while "The Fall" was far from a
perfect movie, it points out everything that's wrong with "Pan." To
misquote Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated that movie. That's what
this review will be about and if you don't want to hear my comparisons
of the two films with that slant, don't read any more.
Both "Pan" and "Fall" are personal, stylized films that concern young girls in situations where their childhood innocence is in jeopardy and refuge--of sorts--is found in a fantasy world that has nebulous borders with reality. Both little girls are required to complete tasks that require them to be more adult than they are prepared to be, to serve the needs of someone else, and in both cases the fantasy worlds they wander in, which are generally more malevolent than fanciful, act as a mirror and commentary to this journey; symbolic representations of their inner journeys.
The first noticeable difference is in look. "The Fall" is jaw-droppingly bright and beautiful, the imagery echoes Fellini, Gilliam and Jodorowsky in terms of amount of work undertaken just to get one single shot as beautifully rendered as possible. By contrast, del Toro's film has a sort of "Henson"-esque knock-off feel to it, the sort of "blue and black" color scheme that has been around since the 80's. The "fantasy" world of the film is bleak, ugly and unfriendly, a terrible place that no one would want to go, and doesn't look much different than the "real" world the characters inhabit.
Technically both films sport incredible attention to detail and a filmmaker in love with his art and style, often to the detriment of story. Watching "The Fall" to the end it's clear there wasn't one wasted frame, it just seemed confusing because one didn't know what the outcome was going to be, ie, you had to actually think a bit. "Pan" is full of sidetracks and tangents, clearly because the director simply thought it would be "neato" if certain creatures looked or acted the way they did, and the same with the human characters, who don't resemble "real" people any more than the monsters.
The performances of Lee Pace and an alarmingly talented Catinca Untaru in "The Fall" are so real and touching it's like watching a magician perform--it's hard to believe that what you're seeing isn't real. You like "Fall's" characters even though Roy is a reprehensible, broken being that you should hate. "Pan's" sympathetic characters are so remote and un-knowable you can't like them at all, they're just more props for del Toro to move around like his dripping-with-goo puppets and dark, etched walls.
Thematically, "Pan" presents a universe in which there is little or no hope, presided over by an evil human being who has no human attributes and is All Bad All The Time. The plot exists only to point out the unpleasant, and NOT universally shared belief, that life is to be suffered through, martyr-like, in order that one find rewards and riches in the afterlife that you were denied on earth. The violence is gratuitous and mean in a way that, far from being "brutally honest" speaks more about the immaturity of a director who couldn't stop himself from going too far, for kicks.
"The Fall," on the other hand, assembles a crazy quilt of subtle clues that present a world that is complex, interesting and realistic. In life, unlike a scripted movie, things just keep going, no one knows exactly what to do and there's good and bad to be found everywhere at various times. For every answer there's a question, but the sooner you learn to live with the knowledge of these things, the easier your life will go--something everyone can appreciate learning even if they don't like hearing it. The fantasy world created is a brilliant fusion of what a man is dreaming up and how a little girl interprets what he says and, despite some silly humor, the world is indeed very "fairy tale" like and magical. The violence is also gratuitous in parts, but violence IS ugly, and as the young Alexandria is literally forced to find out, it can't always be avoided...but it can be dealt with in a world of hope. Director Tarsem obviously knows a thing or two about grief management and loss, and how to battle through to come to peace on the other end. The denouement of "The Fall" is a beautiful moment that avoids being cloying and over-sentimental while still being satisfying and very moving.
Finally, in "Pan" a young girl is forced by all-powerful, unknowable forces to complete a task that doesn't make sense to her and in the end is rewarded with a crown. In "The Fall" a young girl is guided by an unknowable force into an interaction with a damaged soul that sends her on a journey that doesn't make sense to her but ultimately gives her tools to grow, learn and lead a more fulfilling existence from then on. The choice of which is the better film is as obvious to me as a brightly colored butterfly.
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