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Save Me (2007)
Deeply moving without the need to pull heartstrings
Interesting that this 2007 film is only now getting the recognition it deserves (a 2009 GLAAD nomination for Outstanding Film / Limited Release -- see Message Boards). Having never even heard of it when it was released, I just now finished watching it, and was deeply moved by its even-handedness and lack of melodrama. Instead of being a potboiler, Save Me (which indeed could have used some rescuing from the back burner of publicity) gently simmers its characters in a subtle stew of reason and emotion. One might expect the climax of such a film to concern sexuality, but instead it reaches out to encompass the gestalt of human relationship, of being and belonging.
As someone who watches almost no TV, I didn't recognize any of the actors, so I was pleased to discover them in this film. Gant and Allen were fine, Lang was excellent, and Judith Light was an absolute phenomenon: an astonishing performance of understated depth and nuance. She deserved an Oscar nod. The writing was thoughtful and well-balanced between character interaction and personal introspection (through individual disclosures to an off-screen presence revealed at the end of the film). Production values were superb, given what I assume was a small budget.
Along with exploring the psycho-dynamics of the individuals and their subsequently conflicted relationships, the film places the viewer at a level of detachment which promotes compassion for all of the principals - as well as a sense of forgiveness that is Christian in the very best sense of that word.
Self Medicated (2005)
What am I not getting here? I mean, are you guys kidding?
From all the reviews so far, I'm thinking I've stumbled upon a meeting of the Monty Lapica Fan Club.... Meanwhile, there's this film I saw last night with an audience that merely got up and walked out when it finished. And this particular indie theater is the kind of place where audiences easily clap when the credits roll -- unless the film is a dud.
This may not be the worst movie I've seen, but it's no Basketball Diaries. For starters, I commend Lapica for his multiple efforts, but he would have done better to have an actual teenager play the lead. I kept looking at this mid-to-late-20s guy and wondering why he was trying to portray a high school angst-ridden druggie. I don't care how intelligent the character (i.e. Lapine) is, he was just too-- neatly pressed, and too old, to be believed.
The dialog was wooden, the acting either stilted (Lapica and various reprobates) or overblown (Bowen), and the cinematography often washed-out and grainy (and not for effect). I'll give editor Kendall points for good flow and no continuity errors. But he had to work with trailing characters who said their lines and went nowhere -- and a big hole in the form of the pivotal but missing father whose death remained unexplained, and whose memory was as poorly detailed as the home movies that featured him.
There was a homogenized blandness to the proceedings that had me wondering if this project was backed by the Mormons or some other white-bread Christian group.... Despite the profanity, it had a fundamentalist ring to it. As a result, I had to keep focusing my attention consciously instead of being drawn in. The story may be based on actual events, but I had a hard time believing in it because almost everyone was isolated and self-centered. And so I remained unmoved by the plight of a handsome young narcissist who miraculously mends his ways thanks to the homeless black angel "Gabe"(riel), reminiscent of a Bulworth plot device.
All in all, it just goes to show what GQ looks and financial backing will do for a fella (who is this Tommy Bell producer-dude anyway?).... but I'm crashing the party here. Both the film and all the gushing about it smacks of major pretense. In fact, "Self Medicated" almost made me wish I was when I sat through it.
Harry and Tonto (1974)
A simple and real tale of travel (inner as well as outer)
Every good fish-out-of-water story has a hook. In this film, it's not excitement or glamour or derring-do (well, no more derring-do than an aging retiree can muster) that moves events along, but the very real strength of human connection based on the frailty of human nature.
Harry is literally carried out of his NY apartment slated for demolition, and must learn to re- define home by going on an odyssey he never would have planned. He begins as an unwilling participant -- but because he has one remaining link to the life he knew (the tail-waving Tonto), he remains able and willing to see what's around the next bend.
Encountering children and grandchildren, bus drivers and prostitutes, old flames and old farts, each with their own agenda, Harry stays true to the notion of not reaching home until he knows he's truly arrived -- and that requires letting go of his need to matter to someone, as well as accepting the importance of his mattering to himself. It is one of the sweetest and most human (non-mythical) journeys you'll encounter on film.
The Nativity Story (2006)
There's a fine line between awe-some and aw-ful....
.... and depending on your religious persuasion (or lack thereof), this film will surely line up people on either side of the fence. So OK, it's a faithful rendering of a very brief New Testament narrative, with additional dialog that attempts to portray the Judeans of that time -- but beyond that, from a critical standpoint it's so god-awful even God would agree.
I wanted to leave during the opening cheeseball villainy of Herod, but remained to the bitter end -- putting up with the swelling (make that sweltering) violin score replete with multiple interwoven Christmas carol themes, to the painfully uncomfortable comic relief of the three wise guys (sort of a weird astrological minstrel-show), to the climactic creche scene straight out of a bedecked mantelpiece from the 50's.
As Mary, Keisha Castle-Hughes looks properly worried throughout (her upturned brows frequently reminded me of Olivia Hussey's similar turn at bat). Maybe it's because she's put into the family way via a family-film "conception" of the event, thereby robbing her (and the viewer) of any deep gnosis via an ecstatic experience. Instead her "overshadowing" by the Almighty is a perplexing non-event attended by a lone kestrel understudy for the Holy Spirit. The only visible miracle occurs later without explanation, when her suddenly-blue robe as labor draws nigh brings a welcome diversion from the generally flat and nearly monochromatic cinematography.
The film attempts a juxtaposition of realism and the supernatural, and instead fails at both. It panders to the Nativity mythos and renders it banal. Indeed, it infused any attempts at historical authenticity with such a thick layer of treacle that it left me gasping for the exit when the Holy Threesome likewise beat a hasty retreat into Egypt. At least then I could finally identify with the characters....
V for Vendetta (2005)
Can the revolution happen without a leader?
Just saw it and was DEEPLY impressed. Yes, acting and cinematography were top-notch, but it was the updated socio-political commentary that gave the film its punch. The novel, written in the Thatcher/Reagan 80's, was projecting the politics of conservative corporate greed into the future, and look how far we've already come since then....
Most thought-provoking was Finch's comment to his colleague upon uncovering administrative malfeasance -- if your government facilitated and/or perpetrated actions against its own people that were subsequently blamed on domestic/foreign terrorists, "Would you want to know?" (Such a question exposes the root of national denial, through which we're all going to hell in a hand-basket....)
V's liberation was by fire, and Evey's is by water. His is mythical, impossible to grasp except through enjoying the fantastical world created in graphical novels. Hers is real and intensely moving. It is the kind of freedom from fear that is faced down by untold others throughout history. Even now as I write this, and as you read it, someone somewhere is coming to terms with the ultimate value of some truth beyond one's own life. Evey experiences and surpasses that unspeakable terror which others (i.e. the great majority of us) prefer to project out into the world as "terrorism" -- and without facing such a fear we acquiesce to almost anything in order to believe we're "safe."
Evey's name isn't merely similar to that of V, but is a metaphor of the first woman as life-giver, and thus subject to the natural and inherent "temptation" of preserving life. Is there ever a war worth fighting for, dying for, killing for? This film says yes.
While the faceless V behind his mask is a virtual No One, he emerges as the voice of Every One -- and the movie's final moments express this beautifully. Only problem is, most folks have to be much worse off before they rise up, with or without leaders and cool costumes. Bread and circuses (i.e. "Britain") will indeed prevail a good while. But perhaps some day when a barely literate populace no longer has easy access to graphic novels, and global warming brings the seacoast lapping up the sides of abandoned coastal cities turned slums, the revolution will come....