Sometimes I can become fairly jaded after seeing many different movies with the same kind of plot and story. From the surface, the Canadian film “Monsieur Lazhar,” one of last year’s Oscar-nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, appears to be one of those films. Teacher comes in, and inspires a class, we’ve heard this story before. Not this time, though. “Monsieur Lazhar begins, as one kid, Simon (Emilien Neron) heads to his homeroom class, only to find his teacher, has hung herself in in the classroom. The teachers try to keep the kids out at recess until they can get her out. They bring in a psychologist (One psychologist) to help with the class’s grief, and start trying to work around everything, appeasing the parents, and keep school going as normal. This is when, Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) walks in. He’s an Algerian immigrant, who’s seeking refugee status in Montreal, but he claims to have been a College professor beforehand, and wants to teach the class. His motives, are oblique, and he keeps his personal story closely guarded, but they give him a tryout. He seems to be a decent enough teacher, but he’s not allowed into the closed-door class sessions with the psychologists. Yet, he teaches the students Balzac, which they find uninteresting, and the longer he stays on as teacher, the more the world of the teacher, and the restrictions put on them become clear. He taps a student on the back of the neck after throwing something at another student. When they students soon demand he apologizes, he can’t understand why. Apparently, kids aren’t even allowed to hug their teachers anymore. A gym teacher complains during a meeting “How do you teach kids pommel horse, without touching them?” Meanwhile, the students, who aren’t as traumatized by their teacher’s suicide as their parents are, start to feel comfortable enough to disclose there thoughts and emotions in their assignments. Simon, suffers the most, as does another student, who also, Alice (Sophie Nelisse) who also saw their teacher’s hanging. She also knows why Simon is struggling with the death, and the incidents that occurred between them before her death. The kids here are quite good by the way, as kids, and as actors. There’s a few elements I’ve chosen not to reveal, and for good reason. This isn’t the movie where the class all succeeds or does something amazing, and the teacher get an “Oh Captain, My Captain” moment. Instead, we get complex characters, adults and children, who are both suffering from the past. The last scene of “Monsieur Lazhar,” involves a student, walking alone, after class to Monsieur Lazhar’s classroom, and because we know just enough of what both of them have gone through, and have been living with, this scene becomes amazingly more profound and powerful. “Monsieur Lazhar,” is the kind of film that gets better the more you think about it. A realistic and thoughtful film, about a bunch of people, trying to deal with tragedies, new and old, brought together, struggling to help each other. Big recommendation.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011) Director: Lynne Ramsey
"Out damn spot!", was the line made famous by Lady MacBeth. That line keeps completely redefined forever in my mind after watching Lynne Ramsey's "We Need to Talk About Kevin". This is her third feature-length film, after "Morvern Callar" and "Ratcatcher," but it's only the first one I've seen, and it's a frightening masterpiece. There's no easy way to go into this next line, but to all current and future parents out there, the movie, might as well be a horror film. I'm reluctant to give details, but I'll begin with the fact that the movie starts with Eva (Tilda Swinton), in the middle of the famous tomato fight in Bunol, Spain. This will get match, first with the image of red, that's splashed in front of her house. Is it red paint, or is it blood? At the beginning of the movie, (with some knowledge of what the movie was about) I thought I knew, but now, I'm not so sure. The movie moves back-and-forth through time, from image-to-image, but this isn't a mind-bending puzzler. We know that Eva's son Kevin (Ezra Miller, as a teenager) is in jail. She's visiting him. These collisions of times and images, instead represent, her perspective of events, and how being a mother and having her son grow up in front of her eyes, all these events essentially happen simultaneously. Yes, there's the debate about nature vs. nurture, fighting in her mind, but it's also the battle she's fought his entire life. Kevin is evil. He did a very evil thing. She knows he's evil. Why is he evil? She's searching for answers. Did she try hard enough when she was younger? Did she really want him to begin with? At one point, Eva tells the infant Kevin in a desperate outpouring of rage how she used to be happy until he came around, which her husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) accidentally hears. He gives a disappointing shake. He's oblivious to Kevin's evergrowing sociopathic tendencies. I'd say Eva was in denial, but she isn't, but there also isn't any clear thing that it seems she could've done differently. The simplest acts, like Kevin biting off his fingernails, seems like an act of terrorism, directed against his mother. Strangely, the only seemingly happy memory of Kevin she has, is of him being sick. She read to him, and he genuinely wanted and needed her care and devotion, the care and devotion she desperately tried to give. Even the devil spawn of "The Bad Seed," and "The Omen", needs his Mommy when he's sick. Except when we think about it afterwards, even that becomes.... I can describe the details of the movie, but the emotions of watching the movie is the real emotional pull. The hopelessness, the inevitability, the disturbing reality that the worse thing to ever happen in your life could've come from your own loins. Performance after performance, it's becoming clear to me that Tilda Swinton is not only a movie star, but one of the greatest actesses in the world. I have a feeling she didn't get an Oscar nomination because it's a little tricky to gauge her performance because of Ramsey's filmmaking style, which uses lots of match-cutting, extreme close-ups, and obtuse angles, but consider how Swinton is in basically every scene, and just how complicated it is, to play this character, which spans, maybe twenty years, and she has to be figuring out, how she thinks and feels for each scene, from the beginning of Kevin's life, to each stage of development, to eventually that jailhouse last conversation, she has to play the correct emotion in each of these scenes, as though they're happening now, as well as keeping in mind, that they're the scattered and erratic memories of her character. This is a tricky performance, and it's one of the best of the year. I will once again warn everybody, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," is not an easy film to watch, but execution-wise, it excels in every single detail. Don't go into it blind, but get into it.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (2011) Director: Cameron Crowe
Alright, I know what you’re all thinking. A guy’s wife dies, and suddenly, he buys a zoo. This isn’t a real movie, right? This is some kids “Dr. Doolittle” movie here, right. Bunch of comedy with a bunch of exotic animals upstaging the actors, right? Yeah, except, Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and Ellen Fanning, they aren’t actors on the downslope of their career, and the movie directed by Cameron Crowe, the many behind “Jerry MaGuire,” “Almost Famous,” “Say Anything,” “Vanilla Sky,” he just did that amazing documentary on Pearl Jam. Why is he directing this film? Why is he co-writing this film? Does he really need the money after his divorce from Nancy Wilson of Heart, or does he actually have a really good Cameron Crowe-type story here, that just happens to be about a guy whose wife dies, and then buys a zoo? Well, it’s a little of both. Based on a true story, Benjamin Mee (Damon) was a relative well-known journalist, known for taking the more dangerous missions. Interviews with dictators, skydiving assignments, things like that. When his wife passed away, it devastated him. It’s these early scenes that must feel like Crowe’s voice calling out. The emotional resonance that the characters feel, as Benjamin can’t even look anywhere, without being reminded of his wife, this is where Crowe’s traditional voice shines. These deep emotions that his characters have, and always finding just the right pop song to underscore these scenes, and suddenly, it doesn’t seem that awkward that Benjamin insists on not going into a particular coffee shop, and why his brother Duncan’s (Thomas Haden Church) cries to move on with his life, fall on relatively deaf ears. Eventually though, he tries to run away. He packs up his kids, Dylan (Colin Ford) and Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and looks for a new house, to hopefully not have to be reminded of his wife all the time. So, how does he find a zoo, instead? Well, the one house they like, wouldn’t you know, happened to be in a rundown zoo, that’s being kept, but hasn’t been open in a couple years, and the owners insist that any new owners, must also strive to keep the zoo, and open it for next season. Along with the zoo, he gets the usual eccentric characters around, who take care of the zoo, and know that Benjamin has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. This group is lead by no-nonsense Kelly (Johansson), whose life is taking care of the animals, and the ragtag group that helps her out. They even have their own diner. She has a young assistant, Lily (Elle Fanning) who happens to be about Dylan’s age, right when the time he can use a first girlfriend, as he keeps getting thrown out of classes because of his mood. (Yes, his mood) There’s also the occasional appearance of a zoo inspector, Walter Ferris (A perfectly-casted John Michael Higgins) who Peter (Angus Macfadyen), the member of Kelly’s crew who designs the Zoo’s enclosures, has had a few four-letters words with in the past. Eventually, this starts to go over the line from Crowe’s emotional sensibilities, to just a story about a bunch of fun, cute, and dangerous animals, and the things in cages that must have been annoying to shoot. (As almost all animals are.) It’s just enough for me, I guess recommend, “We Bought a Zoo”, even though a lot of the ending did feel forced and clichéd, but there’s enough here of Cameron Crowe for me to overlook much of that. Definitely a quintessential mixed review though.
ATTENBERG (2012) Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
3 1/2 STARS
"Attenberg," comes to America, following "Dogtooth," former Oscar-nominee, "Dogtooth," as apart of this new Greek New Wave of cinema, that seems to be stressing the parental-child relationships, as being a core explanation for these outsider perspectives on society. This film is by director, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and focuses on a very peculiar character, Marina (Ariane Labed). Marina spends much of her days and time with her dying father, a legendary architect, Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis), who's pseudo atheist intellectualism still sprouts from him. The opening scene of "Attenberg," involves Marina, trying to learn how to kiss from her friend Bella (Evangelina Randou), who is possibly her only real friend, and strangely is a bit of a slut, so ironically the perfect person to teach her this, but she mostly finds it uninteresting, and determines that she must not have any sexual desire. She might not be wrong about that, but she doesn't seem to have much interest in the human race in general. The title "Attenberg", comes from the nature documentaries of David Attenborough that she continually watches. The only activity she seems to have is this strange dance rehersals she does with Bella in along the sidewalks, that involves high kicks, with crouch-grabbing dresses. There is something Godardian about it, but it's still odd. Somehow though, Marina does end up having an affair with an Engineer ("Dogtooth" director, Giorgos Lanthimos). It's a nice tender, and occasionally sweet affair, but Marina still, only seems to be acting through the part. She seems to relate more to the animals in those attenborough documentaries than humans. I think it's hard to tell whether "Attenberg" is intended as a deadpan comedy, or if it really is just deadpan. There's clearly skillful filmmaking, at play, at these new Greek New Wavers clearly have something to say about the disillusionment of society, or it might be society's disillusionment of them. Maybe that's part of the point. I'm not exactly sure Marina would fit in with the animals either. She'd probably just be the monkey who sits and watches those Discovery Channel specials on human sexuality, instead of going out and climbing the trees. Come to think, how did her and Bella become friends? Maybe there's a sexual attraction between them, or maybe opposites attract, or my theory, that they're both the extremes of fringe societal behavior. The misanthropic spinster Madonna, and the overly-extroverted, oversexualize whore. "Attenberg" is probably a more interesting film to study that to be entertained by it, but for that purpose, it's actually a good film to study.
LET THE BULLETS FLY (2012) Director: Wen Jiang
2 1/2 STARS
"Let the Bullets Fly" is the first film I've seen by Wen Jiang, and I'm going to presume based on his resume that this shouldn't be my first. Actually, I think a more accurate title might be, "Let Everything Fly, except for the Kitchen Sink". I think they would've thrown that in too, if kitchen sinks were so rare and scarce back in 1920s China. Although, they did manage to find time for the score to "The Bridge on the River Kwai," so maybe the lack of a kitchen sink was a stylistic choice. "Let the Bullets Fly," is a full-blasted, incomprehensive, western-ish-esque? (Are there Chinese Westerns?), spectacular, and after about a half hour, the only thing I understood was that one side was trying to kill the other side, although I couldn't even begin to tell you what the sides were, why they were fighting, or how they were gonna fight. I would've have been shocked if robots entered this movie. In the beginning of a movie, a notorious gang of bandits rob a train. Or is it a horse-drawn wagon that ran on train tracks? The train had the governor, of some area, that no one has seen, so the lead bandit, ends up taking the place and acting like the area's top official, who honor him back with a roaring welcome, and free use of the Governor's wife, who's only too happy to jump from one bed to the other, as long as she's the Governor's wife. However, the rich owner the area, who bought all the political seats, isn't too happy with this new bandits in power that he can't control. So there's a lot of back-and-forth spying, and manipulating, and I don't even know. If anybody made any sense out of this movie, after the first half-hour, than God bless you, and frankly that first half-hour didn't make any sense, but at least I understood. "Let the Bullets Fly," is one of those movies that clearly about style. The Tarantino-esque nature of the shots, and the look. The over-the-topness that borders on camp, the explosions, the pop culture references, etc. There's no real way to judge this movie. Either you're going to like it 'cause your predisposed to liking this sort of stuff, or you're gonna hate it, because you're predisposed to hating this sort of stuff. I don't know where I am on this personally, but for this movie, it was way too long and frankly, when I wasn't able to follow it anymore, I just lost interest. Too much pointless action, without a really strong through line tends to bore me, so despite the wonderful use of style, and whimsical over-the-top feel of the movie, I can't say I have any particular desire to see "Let the Bullets Fly" again.
LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2011) Director: Michaelangelo Frammartino
2 1/2 STARS
"Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times) is an ineffebly beautiful mediation on the mysterious cycles of life. ...It traces the path of one goat herder's soul, as it passes from human to animal to vegetable to mineral. ...Inspired by Pythagoras' beliefs in four-fold transmigration of souls." The reason that beginning is quoted is because I copied it from the description of Michaelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte," provided on Hulu.com. Why did I do that? Frankly, it's because there was no way in Hell, I was gonna come up with any kind description and/or explanation of the film on my own. Congratulations to anybody who didn't need that explanation to understand that's what "Le Quattro Volte" was about, 'cause I'm pretty sure that would stumped Pythagorians. Now, knowing that, it didn't make the movie any more entertaining. If you didn't know that, what you have is some transcendtail, Bergmanesque, actually since it's mostly involving animals, Bunuelian, footage, of animals, with occasional run-ins with faraway humans. Usually having some kind of parade and relatively oblivious to the miracles of nature, and the bizarre and strange conflicts they have with modern society. Even in the modern pastoral society, of Calabria, Italy, which is where the film takes place, it's still somewhat unusual to see a goat, on a kitchen table. We do, and we see the goat herder quietly pass away. His farm overrun now with animals. The images are done in long unbroken takes, which is good, because good luck trying to get an animal to do the same thing twice, and that'd be especially hard for the scene where we see a young baby goat, suddenly born. (P.S. not a special effect shot, that was real, as most all the animal footage. I guess there is some kind of "Circle of Life" feel I was supposed to get from this movie, but personally, I didn't have that. I saw a lot of interesting shots of animals, goats most memorably to me. I lot of the footage, I'll give was amazing, but even with knowing the explanation at the beginning. It's a bunch of really good, picturesque, beautiful long takes, but I don't know, if putting them together actually makes a movie. For me, I wasn't entertained enough. Might be interesting to lok at, as a film study, but I can't quite recommend for much more than that.
INTERIORS (1978) Director: Woody Allen
3 ½ STARS
There’s no more famous Bergmanite in America than Woody Allen, and never is that more clear than in his first straight dramatic film, “Interiors”. He doesn’t completely stray from New York to Sweden, but Long Island might as well be Sweden for Allen at that time. The title, “Interiors” has a couple meanings, but the direct correlation is Interior Design, which is what Eve’s (Oscar-nominee Geraldine Page) art is. She’s started slowly losing her ability to accept reality, after her husband Arthur (E.G. Marshall) abruptly asked for a separation, and later a divorce. She has three daughters, all of whom are troubled, and all of whom are trying, and failing to get on with their lives without their dramatic mother’s constant presence. Her poet daughter, Renata (Diane Keaton) get the brunt of her mother insipidness. She’s married to Frederick, a failed novelist who steaming head-first into the alcoholism cliché. Flyn (Kristen Griffith) is a movie actress, who comes home often enough, but is usually on her way out to some new exotic location for her next project. She’s in denial about how bad her mother’s condition is in, but her sister Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) is really in denial about her life. She’s seems to meander aimlessly, occasionally going from job-to-job, which she quits almost instantly, in some misguided search for happiness. She lives with a political filmmaker Mike (Sam Waterston), who can’t seem to understand why Eve keeps coming to the apartment, and changing the location of all the lamps, or why Joey strives to look for happiness, but always ends up resorting to her moping on the couch, and them having the same-old fight. Allen, takes a little more time than most to set-up the stasis of these characters, and get into their world, before things starts going a rye. First, Eve tries to gas herself in her house. A desperate attempt to get her husband back. Get her life back. But Arthur shows up instead with Pearl (Oscar-nominee Maureen Stapleton) who he’s just met on a cruise, and plans to have her marry. She sticks out like a sore thumb in this world, and she’s about as oblivious to it as she can imagine. She’s wears bright red, has stories of working in Vegas, and across the country, she can’t figure out why the house is filled with these gray dull colors, and needless to say, when all these factions begins colliding, well, I would say they clash, so much as, everybody finally lets their true emotions spill out. These characters have all lived in a world of sacrifice, and now, they’re finally demanding some that their own selfish desires be met, which they’re all actually entitled to, but are all unable to get. “Interiors” was Allen’s first film, after winning his two Oscars for “Annie Hall,” and this film earned five nominations, including writing and directing for Allen. He mentioned that, while he used Bergman’s aesthetics for setting, he thinks the story itself is more in the Eugene O’Neill category of family dramas, and there definitely some correlations that can be made. While this is a straight drama, like many Allen films, there some noticeable parallels to his other works. I think the better version of this, might have been his film “Hannah and Her Sisters,” which is a comedy, but also family drama revolving around the lives of three sisters, as well their parents, husbands, exes, etc. I don’t think I rank this one as one of his best. It’s self-assured, and certainly has great performances, and some great scenes, but often the case, Allen may takes the pieces of those greats before him, like Bergman or O’Neill and take these characters, and place his own twists on the story, while here, I think he’s taking the pieces, and moving them around, a bit. It’s him moving them, and he gives the character some Allen-esque quirks and personalities, but this feels more like a remake, than a reinterpretation, or a reimagining to me. Still highly recommending it. I guess I could give it an extra half-star, maybe, but 3 ½ STARS for Allen, is higher than a lot of people’s 4 STARS.
BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919) Director: D.W. Griffith
We don’t usually refer to the movie’s full title anymore, “Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl”, for obvious reasons, but this was a quite a daring film for D.W. Griffith, and for the time. Even though he had done “Intolerance,” as a sort of apology for “Birth of a Nation”, a couple years earlier, (which famously flopped) Griffith still tried to tell stories that circumvented the traditional Hollywood guidelines. “Broken Blossoms” is about a Chinese man, Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) who falls in love with a poor British girl, Lucy (Lillian Gish). This is tough to do, back in the time when it wasn’t acceptable for people of different color to kiss, or touch at that time (Actually, it was illegal for them to marry), but that wasn’t gonna stop him from at least subliminally telling this story. Cheng Huan is a Buddhist missionary from China, who begins on his voyage to London, where he hopes to begin at least educating the West on Buddhism, but he ends up running a store in the Limestock area of London, and spends most of his days getting high on opium, and looking out a window, to a depraved street filled most the lowest depths of the lower class, Prostitutes, drunkards, fighters, etc. He does notice Lucy, the shy little girl who covers herself in torn secondhand clothes, and she seems to walk unnoticed through the streets most days, when she takes what little money she’s given and goes shopping for food. The food, she serves to her father, Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp) a mean prizefighter, who takes his aggressions out on Lucy, when he’s not in the ring. Their home is a sad and pathetic windowless table and chairs basically. She cowers in the corners, poking her fingers on the sides of her face, trying to force a smile. One night, after Battling nearly beats her death, she goes out walking the street, and passes out in Cheng Huan’s shop. He begins comforting and nursing her back to health. A title card reads, “The First Gentleness She has ever known” and we believe it. I’m still working my way through Griffith, but this is probably my favorite film of his I’ve seen so far. Yes, it’s old-fashioned, and it still reflects a different time and has some stereotypical character we’d rather it didn’t today, but the film holds up, as a tale of two forbidden people, getting together, and ever so briefly, making each other happy, when they need it most. By the end of the movie, we’ve cared about these characters. Gish really was the Best Actress of the Silent period, maybe never more so exemplified than is “Broken Blossoms”, and although a white guy played the Chinese Cheng Huan, the movie was way ahead of its time then, and thankfully now, it’s past it’s time, but it remains a wonderfully endearing love story, and a pre-cursor to dozens of films that would come after it and shatter the barriers “Broken Blossoms,” ever-so-slightly grazed upon.
THE ICE STORM (1997) Director: Ang Lee
4 ½ STARS
It’s hard to describe “The Ice Storm,” in terms of dramatic events. It’s a beautiful reflection of life in the Connecticut suburbs, circa the early 70s. Right after the free love sexual revolution of the ‘60s has morphed its way into the Thanksgiving Key Parties of the upper-middle class. I just made it sound a little like “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” but actually, this was made the great Ang Lee, the man behind such masterful and memorable films as “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman,” “Pushing Hands,” “The Wedding Banquet,” “Sense & Sensibility”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Lust, Caution”. Maybe a resume like that, it’s easy to understand how a wonderful film like “The Ice Storm,” could slip into the Also-made, of his filmography, but people should take a second look at this one. Let’s start with the Hood family. Ben (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), but it’s not much of an affair. Occasionally they have sex, but Ben’s more content to just complain about his wife and his mundane life, much of Janey’s annoyance. His wife, Elena (Joan Allen) stays at home, bored to death, looking for some kind of outlet to escape. She tries stealing, but that’s only a minor thrill. They have two kids, Paul (Tobey Maguire) who’s in college and takes the train from New York back home for Thanksgiving and back. He’s got a crush on a classmate, Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes) the latest woman he’s idealized to the point of invincibility, until his roommate Francis (David Krumholtz) sleeps with her. While Paul is overly tentative towards sex, his sister Wendy (Christina Ricci) dives head-first towards experimentation. In one scene, she flashes Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd), the youngest son of Janey and her husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) and he gets caught by her father during one bizarre makeup session with her friend Mikey (Elijah Wood), Janey and Jim’s oldest kid that involved her wearing a Nixon mask. Why she was caught by her father in her friend’s house, by her father, is never asked, although, it probably doesn’t have to be. The title refers to a major storm, that occurs as the adults all attend, a key party, right at the moments of their greatest vulnerability. They’re frozen in, the younger kids are trying to get to each other to wait out the storm, while Paul spends most of the night on frozen tracks trying to get home after a drug-induced get-together with Libbets and Francis goes wrong, and the parents are all anxiously trying to figure out how to get out the key exchange and get home, before the ice crystallizes everything. “The Ice Storm,” is a transcendental experience. It’s poetic like a haiku, slow-paced as is life, and simply a beautiful film that’s tragic and comedic and everything in between, and characters that are all suffering from fits of quiet desperation, that no one knows exactly how to express themselves to each other, to explain what they want.
SLACKER (1991) Director: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater’s films have as much dialogue as Kevin Smith’s but instead his films are filled with philosophical pornderings and transcendental observations on life and existence, and death, and pretty much everything. If we think, therefore we are, to paraphrase my philosophical hero Rene Descartes, than Linklater’s characters, talk about all they think about. No, actually, they listen. Everybody else talks, and we soak in everything like a sponge. Yes, sometimes, “we” can be one of his characters, but really, they are us. “Slacker”, was the feature film that put him on the map, and birthed the Independment Film Movement, out of Texas-Austin. “Slacker” has an unusual format. It takes place in that Austin college town, and it starts with following one character who Should’ve Stayed at the Bus Station (Linklater, himself), and he talks for awhile, to the Taxi Driver (Rudy Basquez), but then, we come across another character, and then, we start following that character for awhile, and see what he/she’s doing or talking about, and then, this continues for awhile, and this continues on. What do they talk about? Stupid shit. Occasionally we hear about or see an accident. A conspiracy buff talks about how we’ve been on the Moon since the fifties, and that we’re about to colonize Mars. One girl comes up and tries to sell Madonna’s pap smear, that she got through, some kinds of probably immoral means, if she got it at all. We run into a couple JFK shooting buffs. Some conspiratorial, other anarchistic. One guys moved out of his room, days ago at a house, and left a bizarrely cryptic message involving postcards and his poetry, that doesn’t explain a lot. There aren’t a lot of movies that follow this structure, Luis Bunuel, is reportedly the only filmmaker to make a film with the structure once before. It’s not his best, but you can see the drips of ideas that would lead to “Waking Life” or “Before Sunrise”. “Slacker” is one of those wonderful films that you can simply listen to, and still be intellectually stimulated. A “Slacker” might be one who doesn’t do much, physically, but they are constantly thinking about things, which is a lot more than some people.
MEET JOE BLACK (1998) Director: Martin Brest
I would not stop for death, so he kindly stopped, and nearly cost me my business, fucked my daughter and ate all my peanut butter, before taking my life…? Wait…-?
Not exactly Emily Dickinson’s vision of Death, is it; but it is the vision of death we got in the overlong, overwrought, dreadfully contrived, “Meet Joe Black”. Death (Brad Pitt) for reasons, that aren’t exactly explained, makes a decision to stay among the living temporarily. Probably for the same reasons that the watcher angel Bruno Ganz played in “Wings of Desire” wanted to experience humanity; he sees the end of life, and how fulfilling a journey so many people are allowed to take, but he might want to simply experience life, for a little while. So, he takes a recently deceased body, and makes a deal with William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins), one of his latest deaths he’s supposed to deal with, and instead, he lets him guide him through living, until he decides to go back and take him. Bill is a powerful owner of a major communication company that he started years ago. His 65th Birthday is approaching, and his older daughter Allison (Marcia Gay Harden) is planning a big birthday blowout for the occasion, despite Bill’s objections. Susan (Claire Forlani) is currently with Drew (Jake Weber) one of the members of the board of Bill’s company, which is currently considering a major buyout offer. However, the body that Death took, unbeknownst to Death, (Which I’m not exactly sure why he didn’t know beforehand actually. You think he, of all people…) had a conversation with that person, shortly before his sudden death. Death, who’s going by the name Joe Black, is startled by her recognizing his face as he suddenly makes himself uncomfortably home during dinner. There’s a couple different genres that they’re trying to mix, both of them have Capraesque roots. The first being, the spiritual being suddenly by the side of a human as he navigates life, in some form, usually as a way to get a greater appreciation of it. Of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is the standard-bearer for this genre, although I think the intention is too borrow a bit from “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” and it’s remake, “Heaven Can Wait”. (Or my personal favorite version, Luc Besson’s “Angel-A”. The other, is the business story, where an evil company, is trying to force itself into power over the morally superior businessman. Again, this is Capraesque, and I’m one that never thought it worked that well then, but it can work. Not here though. I don’t mind this mixing, often it can lead to some great films, but when done badly, it can be, well, you end up with this film. The director was Martin Brest, who previously directed “Scent of a Woman,” another film which mixed multiple genres, and that one earned Al Pacino his only Oscar. His last film was “Gigli”, which is one of the most notorious bombs in Hollywood history. Personally, I’ll take “Gigli” over this film. “Meet Joe Black,” is pretty bad, but it’s ambitiously bad. A movie that everyone genuinely thought was going to be this legendary emotional epic, on par with films like “Forrest Gump”. Well, all it does is make me fall asleep, so I stay awake and do a crossword or my laundry. Sometimes, I walked to the other room and missed a scene or two, or a line or dialogue cause I “forgot” to pause it, and didn’t really need to back up to remind me of what I missed, ‘cause I can pretty much see where the movie’s heading two hours before it gets there. I don’t want to ever “Meet Joe Black”, again.
LAWLESS HEART (2003) Directors: Tom Hunsinger & Neil Hunter
2 1/2 STARS
“Lawless Heart” is one of those movies that tells multiple stories that are all based around an event, in this case, it’s the funeral for Stuart. We often see the same events multiple times, from different perspectives, and they mean different things, when we see them later. It’s a been of a jigsaw puzzle, even to me. I’m struggling to recall, not only the order of events and when they occurred the movie, but also, what actually happened in the film. Yes, sometimes I forget, even a movie that I relatively liked. (I think a lot of that had to do with the Isle of Man British accents that I didn’t listen to as closely as I should’ve, and the lack of recognizable actors.) But I’m scouring through what few movie reviews my annoying-ass-slow computer is allowing me to bring up and recall what happened. Let’s start with Nick (Tom Hollander) he helped run the restaurant with Stuart, they were also lovers. He meets Stuart’s friend Tim (Douglas Henshall) at the funeral, who’s down on his luck and invites him to stay at his house until he gets on his feet. He ends up throwing a party, just to find a girl he met at the funeral. He doesn’t find her, but Nick finds him and a girl named Charlie (Sukie Smith) in bed together. The girl, Leah (Josephine Butler) had a bad affair with David (Stuart Laing) Tim’s brother. Stuart’s father Dan (Bill Nighy) meets Corinne (Celarie) shortly after the funeral, and suddenly, he begins an affair with her, for reasons that aren’t obvious at first either. All of these, and many more connections keep colliding at each other right angles throughout the film. The movie at its core, is really about these collisions of people and how others lives can effects each other in ways that nobody involved might even realize. There’s many good films like this, and better ones as well. “Lawless Heart,” is an interesting and small one, but it’s not really a great one. It’s emotionally able to follow, but it’s a bit of a mess. Just when I think I’m getting ahold of one story, another comes in, and that’s fine, but they just aren’t as compelling as other films with this structure. I probably would like to have another viewing to get my own facts straight, but overall, underwhelming. Reluctantly, I can’t recommend it.