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Welcome to Purgatory
This remake of Groundhog Day has some things to recommend it. It is not the greatest movie ever made, and it is skating the clichés. You have to have some guts to remake a big successful movie, and work the clichés and not drop into crap movie territory. This movie remains a good solid flick. It takes advantage firstly of an implicit nondescript but plaintive Canadian tone, which reminded me of Atom Egoyan's 'Exotica' or 1989's 'Roadkill.' It looks American, but little things scream that it isn't. Interesting, and this kept the film from becoming hackneyed and obvious.
On top of this, I thought solid acting from the 3 leads and supporting actors, especially Alexia Fast, allowed some of this peculiar non-American tone of introspection to surface. The three leads all had clear trajectories, and I think de Klerk really anchored them. The acting was not over the top and it stayed forlorn and gritty, even when two characters are redeemed. It is likely that the characters have already left the mortal plane, at the beginning of the film, so their experiences are basically spiritual - but their mortal free will remains. I thought they could have gone deeper with the purgatory idea - especially the day after Sonia comes back the first time. It would have been intriguing to pursue de Klerk's descent.
Instead of going deeper into what was happening on a spiritual level, the director opted to keep the action going, and keep the film clipping along at a good pace. What it lost in depth, it gained somewhat in some good physical acting between de Klerk and Milligan. Milligan in particular settled by the end of the film into the central role, a kind of scrapped up gilded hero that made him really look like Hollywood star material. But I don't think he could have gotten there without de Klerk, Crew and Fast supporting him.
Crew did a very nice job of opening up. Her intimate scenes with Milligan were extremely well done - touching and not contrived. They cultivated some gentleness and actual on screen chemistry. She faced a similar connundrum to Heather Donahue in 'Blair Witch' - a low grade wardrobe role where a girl with the same hat on all the way through has to become the psychological and emotional catalyst for two males.
All in all, some choppy bits, but a good enough film that got the job done. It could have been deeper, could have been more big budget and glossier, but frankly only the former would have made the pretty good performances here even better.
Parting Words (2008)
This is a great film!
See this film! (Spoilers follow.) I luckily watched this gem on local TV in New York city. It is one of the best indie films I have ever seen. The plot, set in working class New Jersey, involves three buddies, countered by a fourth who happens to be female, played by Elizabeth Regen. Their conventional marriages contrast violently with this alternate picture of the male-female relationship. All the actors are phenomenal, delivering seamless performances, so real that you might as well be a fly on the wall. The story is so powerful that very quickly the trappings - setting, social class, culture, time - fall away and the viewer is confronted with a story that is practically biblical and at least epic. - Regen playing Laura occupies the position akin to Mary Magdalene, Princess Diana, Cleopatra, or a similar type of figure - a woman who is compulsively loved, marginalized, and sacrificed in the name of preserving the mundane conventions of everyday existence. Regen's presence in this film is absolutely brought to life by the positive and negative reactions of the male and female characters around her. The male actors here - especially Narciso and Giordano - electrify the scenes by progressively ramping up the tension with their lust, squabbling, love, friendship, and general chaos and confusion, all buzzing around the honeypot. They are unable to resolve their different roles in different situations. Narciso's performance as the soulmate who, due to some unseen but irreducible weakness, does not manage to save his beloved, encapsulates the quandary that every man worth his salt must confront in his lifetime. The wives' curdled friendship with Regen's character emphasizes that she mirrors everything they cannot be.
Regen's role is similar to that played by Natasha Richardson in two other movies, both from 2005: 'Asylum' and 'The White Countess.' But this film unites all perspectives split across those two films into one explosive package.
The Wicker Man (2006)
Look again, it's intriguing
I disagree with the negative reviews this film is getting. I saw the remake today, and I've seen the British classic cult film a couple of times, which I admired, especially Woodward's and Lee's performances. I do agree that the transition to the American setting was a bit clumsy -- the whole commune idea is a bit out of date for 2005-2006 (whereas in 1973 it was very current) and the weird matriarchy/beehive/feminist premise in the remake may have been credible in the 1970s, 1980s or mid 1990s, but not now. I wondered if there was a critique of Mormonism in this film, however, and noticed by looking up the director, Neil LaBute, on the IMD/Wiki that he has split from that church.
At any rate, they changed the whole 'fertility premise' for the commune between the two movies in order to accommodate the change in values over time -- and the difference in values between Britain and America. Where the 1973 film was licentious, this one was weirdly wholesome. Where once free love (the basis of the commune in the 1973 film) was shocking, now the removal of men from the process of responsible procreation is the real question in the remake. I did not find that part believable. Modern masculinity may be going through a crisis because of feminism and modern life, but it isn't going to become redundant.
The film is well shot, and the colours -- I've rarely seen so many levels of pink, green and gold in one movie, with the colours still being innocuous -- are just beautiful. Very very dreamlike, and I noticed that the colours get more monochromatic in gold as the end approaches. It is far more polished in terms of lighting and cinematography than the 1973 film. But the key to the film's success -- which I think will become apparent to viewers over time, is the innovative treatment of human relationships in the story by the director, Neil LaBute. In the first version, the policeman is anonymous to the island, he is merely driven by his commitment to his job, upholding the law, and his private religious faith and his own virginity. He dies not just because he goes to the island, but also because he refuses the temptation of the barmaid and remains a sexual innocent. If he had only had sex with her, he would have saved himself! That is a pretty typical example of British irony. I think such irony would have been more than lost on American audiences and would have been counter-intuitive when displayed in an American context.
In a way, the remake is far more interesting in terms of casting Cage as the father of the missing little girl. He has a personal stake in what happens that is far more profound -- and the fact that he returns to find the girl's mother Willow shows that he is already a marked man because he can't get over his past. He is doomed because he cannot get over that one relationship with someone who has already treated him unforgivably. The fact that he obviously hopes to save the girl, and leave with Willow (who is clearly a bad deal all the way through), and have a second chance at having a real family shows how profoundly low his self esteem is. That IS interesting. The question at the heart of this film really is: what's more important? Standing up for yourself and living a boring, mundane, yet safe life (presumably with his fidgety policewoman partner)? -- Or going like a moth to the flame with the slimmest of hopes of re-finding and saving your doomed lost dreams, with the slightest of chances that they just may come to life and it all may work out in your favour? Cage's character picks the latter option, and that error in judgement proves his undoing. Underneath the story, the film is really remarking sadly about what is done to and thought about the real dreamers in our society: they are weak and deserve to die. I think that's a message that we should all pause and reconsider.
The Island (2005)
Pretty good but not the next Blade Runner
This was a lot better than expected -- a good summer movie with a great cast. McGregor and Johansson have believable chemistry and are able to carry a really stylish updated version of Logan's Run, with Buscemi taking on Ustinov's former place in a familiar story of the clash between the synthetic future and the gritty but redeeming aspects of human reality. There are also nods here to other classics -- Blade Runner, Matrix, the Terminator films and even Crichton's Coma. The film stands apart not only because it follows the style of the newer generation of sci fi films like AI, I Robot and Minority Report, but also because it makes ironic and effective self-referential twists on that more recent style. The rocking action scenes are heart-pounding, but with such a great cast, it's too bad Michael Bay didn't forgo some action and let his actors explore some deeper depths in this story.