Posted on 4/19/10 09:20 AM
Buffalo '66 is an interesting debut film by writer/director Vincent Gallo. It combines idiosyncratic humor with some quirky moments of poignancy to produce a film that is original and effective. The film is pretty self-indulgent on Vincent Gallo's part, so if you don't like Gallo's performance, there's a good chance you won't like the film. However, even if one doesn't care for Gallo's character, there are still several aspects of the film that can be appreciated.
The film's story goes like this: Billy Brown is released from prison. He kidnaps a young woman and forces her to pose as his wife when he goes to visit his parents. To explain anymore would probably reveal too much of the plot.
Vincent Gallo plays the lead man Billy Brown. As I mentioned before, if you don't like Gallo's performance, you might get sick of the film, because he's on screen A LOT. I enjoyed Gallo's performance. It was somewhat reminiscent of David Thewlis in Mike Leigh's Naked (which I loved). His character is extremely narcissistic, selfish, somewhat misogynistic, and very rude. Of course, all this makes him fascinating. He is motivated by a troubled past, and his behaviors are propelled by these strange quirks in his persona. I thought Gallo did a pretty damn good job of embodying these character traits. Despite his volatile nature, Gallo ventures into a few moments of tenderness in which he releases the selfish bonds of his character and nervously treads in what to him is the world of the unknown: human affection. It is through this vehicle that we see that Billy Brown, though stoic and strong on the surface, is actually weak, and this adds sympathy for his character.
Christina Ricci gives a solid performance as a young woman who is frighteningly kidnapped but becomes gradually enamored with her kidnapper. Her portrayal of a young woman who instantaneously falls in love with an older "bad boy" is convincing. Her character is interesting, but the film does not give much information on her. We learn about Billy Brown's past, but we don't learn anything about Ricci's character. Ultimately, she remains somewhat of an enigma, which is probably okay because her past is not all that relevant to the story. On a bright note, Ricci exposes major cleavage throughout the entire film. It's hard to keep your eyes off her breasts.
John Huston's daughter, Angelica, plays the mother of Billy Brown. To put it lightly, she has a few screws loose. She has this intense obsession with the Buffalo Bills. Her memory has become very foggy. Interestingly, one of the best elements of the plot that is simultaneously touching and disturbing is the connection Billy Brown attempts to make with his mother. This is one of Buffalo '66 big strengths: there are several moments that are funny and moving at the same time.
Ben Gazzara plays Billy Brown's father. He's a rather bitter man who holds fast to strong resentments towards his son. Like his son, he is quite self-centered. He embodies his selfishness convincingly, and he's very entertaining to watch, especially when he hits on Christina Ricci. Also, the scene where he sings to her is wonderful!
Buffalo '66 is a very original piece of work. It is surprisingly funny throughout. I was thoroughly impressed by Vincent Gallo's work in this film. Prior to seeing Buffalo '66, I had seen his other film, The Brown Bunny, which is absolutely awful. So I did approach this film with low expectations based on The Brown Bunny. Fortunately, I was pleasantly charmed. Buffalo '66 has an interesting plot and some pleasurable dialogue. The performances are solid. The shots are interesting. There are several extremely memorable scenes. It's just a neat little film.
Posted on 4/12/10 06:44 AM
Religulous is an abrasive documentary in which Bill Maher probes various religious leaders and followers with simple yet challenging questions about their faith. At times, the film is funny. Other times, it's annoying. Despite being extremely one-sided, Bill Maher deserves credit for his fearless inquiry into the world of religion. To me, it didn't seem like Bill Maher was out to convert people to atheism. Rather, he was simply out to ask questions, or, as he states, cast doubt on the dogmatic certainty that characterizes religious belief.
Maher primarily concerns his quest with Christianity. He travels to many different places including various locations around the United States, Jerusalem, and Rome. Maher interviews religious followers and leaders, focusing his questions on some of the more mythical stories in the Bible, such as the talking snake in Genesis, the virgin birth, Moses talking to the burning bush, and other stories. His point is valid. Why do religious people think the story of Santa Claus is made-up whereas the equally implausible stories in the Bible are accepted as truth? Basically, why is Christianity granted superstitious and mythological amnesty over all other myths?
One intriguing aspect of the documentary is Maher's interest in people who converted to Christianity. For example, he interviews a few Jews who used to be Jewish but then became Christians. Maher wants to know why they converted. To be honest, they don't give a convincing answer. Also, Maher interviews a pastor who used to be a homosexual but was "cured" through Christ and has since been married and has three children. This particular interview is one of the more disturbing parts of the documentary, listening to an ex-homosexual denouncing homosexuality.
Truthfully, all of Maher's questions are fair. All other bodies of knowledge are subjected to intense scrutiny and skepticism, and they typically aren't accepted unless they prove themselves beyond a reasonable doubt to be true or plausible. However, religion seems to be exempt from these same scrutinies. Maher's endeavor of posing these types of questions to religion is admirable. For example, God spends the better part of the Old Testament wiping out cities and flooding the world and destroying things. What kind of loving God is this? The answers people give in the documentary are similar to the ones I have heard myself: God's ways are beyond are understanding. I don't know why some people find this answer satisfying.
In all fairness to the subjects Maher interviews, he does not treat them with much respect, and he constantly asks a question and then interrupts them. He doesn't really give anyone an opportunity to respond before he refutes them. On this level, Maher does himself a disservice by making himself look like an asshole, which to be completely honest, he kind of is in the documentary. Maher would argue that religious followers are closed-minded to possibilities and questions outside their religion, but conversely, Maher is pretty closed-minded to what these religious people have to say. This was my one problem with Maher's documentary: I thought he could've treated the people he interviewed with a bit more respect.
Ultimately, Religulous poses fair questions towards religion. However, the way Maher goes about asking these questions is at times unfair. But the documentary is very entertaining to watch because of many of the interesting people Maher interviews, and the way Maher maintains his cynical poise in the face of religious zealots. I think the goal of Religulous is important. Maher spends time talking about the uncountable deaths throughout history as a result of religion as well as some people's obsession with the "End Times" and the apocalypse. Though I am on Maher's side in terms of supporting skepticism, accepting evolution, and being pretty sure there is no such thing as a deity, I am not sure religion is as inherently bad as Maher asserts. In many ways, religion is pretty harmless. It is probably true that the vast majority of religious followers are good, decent people. It's the extremists that are the real problem - the charlatans, the terrorists, the ones who push their beliefs on other people.
The topics of Religulous are ones that we all have a predisposition towards. In this sense, it was hard for me to watch this film and break free from my own predisposition towards religion. Since I would rather see a world free of religion, I liked the film and felt vindicated in several instances as Maher posed his questions and made his points. However, the film reminded me of all the times I have had intense debates with my mother, who is a devout follower of Christ. Without trying to, I inevitably seem to hurt my mom when we have these debates. In this sense, I felt bad for some of the people being interviewed, because Maher was essentially attacking them. But still, I support the ideas and questions Maher is championing.
I don't think this film has the power to change anyone's mind. Whatever your beliefs are before you watch the film, you'll still maintain them after viewing the film. Basically, if you aren't religious, you'll probably like the film and feel vindicated. If you are religious, you'll probably be pissed off. I liked the film, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.
Posted on 4/09/10 08:39 AM
Children of Men is a science fiction thriller of sorts. It seems to hang its hat on action sequences rather than storytelling, and this is the primary reason I did not enjoy the film as much as the community at large. However, in the areas where the film succeeds, it succeeds quite marvelously. Ultimately, I felt like the film's story left a few important questions left unanswered.
The film has an engaging premise. The year is 2027. Women have become infertile (or it could be that men are shooting blanks - it is never really explained). No child has been born in 18 years. It seems that the current 18-year-old generation is the last generation of humanity. What is to be done? How can humanity be saved, if it can be saved at all? The film takes off from there, moving at what I considered to be an enjoyably aggressive pace.
The film takes place in Britain, and since it is only 18 years in the future, the city-scapes are very familiar, resembling what we are used to. However, the buildings, the streets, and the people are in a sickening state of decay. The sets impressively render these ominous details, and this decomposing environment help to infect the film's hectic plot with an added degree of bleakness.
Clive Owen stars in this film, playing a man named Theo. Initially, Theo seems detached from the world's sad state, indifferent to what appears to be the impending apocalypse. After twenty years of separation, he is unexpectedly contacted by his ex-wife, who has become heavily involved in an anti-government faction. This faction is bent on inciting what they call "The Uprising," which is basically an overthrow of the current government. Theo's ex-wife needs his help. Reluctantly, Theo agrees to help her. I had problems here. At first, Theo's indifference seemed unshakable. Then he becomes wrapped up in this anti-government movement. This transformation is fine and interesting, I just thought the conviction with which Clive Owen embodied the transformation was a bit unconvincing. To me, it felt feigned.
The film's story is at once intriguing, but to me, it quickly became saturated in simplicity, leaving important holes in the plot unexplained. For example, humans have become unable to reproduce. How did this happen? Why did it happen? These questions are not addressed. In the film 28 Days Later, we are offered that first introductory scene with the chimps who have been infected with rage. Though brief, it provides an explanation of how the world came to be in the sad state it is in when the film takes place. In Children of Men, we are offered no such explanation. This bothered me.
Without spoiling the film's plot, my next issue is geared towards those who have seen the film. It pertains to the young girl whom Theo strives to protect. Her name is Kee. My question is: Why her? Why is she so special? What is it about her that allows her to perform what is perceived as a miracle? In the context of the film's story, it occurs to me that her extraordinary condition is worthy of explanation. Perhaps it is unfair of me, but I demanded an explanation, and I never received one.
Lastly, because of the story's simplicity, I felt like the film descended into action sequences. There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, some of the action sequences were brilliant and shot with incredible innovation. However, I felt like the extensive action in the film was a substitute for what could've been an extremely interesting and engaging story.
Children of Men is a good film. Don't get me wrong. I liked it. It has been well-received by the vast majority of film fans. And I feel I understand why. It is engaging and demands your attention. The movement of the film is riveting. I just didn't feel the film realized its potential in terms of story. And I will admit, my main focus of film is on the story. So perhaps I am criticizing the film from the wrong angle.
Anyway, I would recommend the film to anyone. It is spontaneous and engrossing. Surely, it is entertaining. I don't think anyone would regret having seen this film.
Posted on 4/06/10 06:42 AM
Moon is a sometimes eerie and mysterious but ultimately tenderly human science fiction film of great power. Blessed by a spectacular performance by Sam Rockwell, Moon gracefully tells a story about isolation, deceit, conspiracy, and compassion.
The premise of Moon's plot is as follows: Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is an employee of a company known as Lunar Industries Ltd. Lunar Industries is an energy company who harvests energy from the moon and returns it to earth, cleanly and efficiently. Sam Bell is currently in charge of a space station on the moon. The space station has vehicles and modules that mine for minerals and such that can be converted to energy. Sam Bell is on the moon by himself and has been for almost 3 years. His only companion is his computer system named Gerty (whose voice is by Kevin Spacey). His existing contract is for 3 years, so he only has a couple of weeks left before he gets to go home. However, one day, while on a routine drive along the moon's surface, Sam crashes his vehicle, rendering him unconscious. When Sam awakens, he makes a disturbing discovery which I refuse to discuss because it would ruin the plot. To put it lightly, twenty minutes into the film, it gets quite interesting.
Moon is a one-man show. The plot is plenty interesting, but really, with the absence of other characters, the film's success is truly shouldered by Sam Rockwell. Fortunately, he is brilliant. The film spends the opening scenes establishing the type of desolate isolation Sam lives in. Despite no immediate conflict, I was drawn in to observing the personality of Sam. Here is a man who has lived alone as an astronaut for almost 3 years. He receives video messages from his wife and child, who are eagerly awaiting his return to earth. Sam is straight up itchin' to go home. I was very touched by Sam Rockwell's portrayal of a man who struggles to maintain his sense of humor, struggles to smile, struggles to keep a positive outlook on his situation. After all, there is no one to share anything with. You're all alone. Except for Gerty (the computer). But there is something strangely empty about Gerty. I mean, he's a computer. He's devoid of emotion. He's not exactly your ideal concept of a companion.
I'm not sure the function of a review is to spoil the plot for readers, and it is difficult to discuss the plot of Moon without revealing too much. Therefore, I will simply say that Moon's plot is a gradually unfolding mystery, at times muddled in confusion, at times exacerbated by paranoia, and yet at other times, it is an affectingly moving tale of human compassion. Much to my pleasure, the film left me strangely satisfied, and I felt it was up to me what to make of the ending. I love ambivalent endings, though.
The fact that Sam has this relationship with the computer Gerty might sound a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey. On the surface: Yes, the two films are similar in that the main characters talk and interact with a computer. But don't worry. Moon is totally and completely it's own thing. It is not a rip-off of 2001. It is original and stands by itself. It may be compared to 2001 or other science fiction films, but not as a retelling of any of them, rather, as its own separate work.
Overall, I thought Moon was excellent. I was riveted by Sam Rockwell's performance. I forgot to mention that the film contains several moments of tender humor, and these serve to further create the living, three-dimensional character of Sam Bell. As the film progressed, I grew increasingly invested in Sam's situation. I truly cared about him. And this is one of the beauties of storytelling: We get to journey into an experience through the shoes of a protagonist. If the storyteller does this effectively, the audience empathizes with the protagonist and is thus held in suspense as the plot unfolds. Moon is an immensely impressive debut film by writer/director Duncan Jones. It is a wonderful and promising start to a fresh career. The film is science fiction, but its primary concern is with humans, and because of this I would recommend it to anyone, science fiction fan or not. It is a great movie.
Posted on 4/03/10 06:49 AM
Anastasia is a historical drama that plays around with the modern myths surrounding Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last czar of Russia. Interestingly, the film's plot borrows from factual happenings, but it is still a complete work of fiction. The film is a great entertainment: beautifully shot, meticulously directed, and wonderfully acted by two Hollywood giants, the great Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner.
Without spoiling any of the film's plot, the premise is fairly simple to explain. First of all, in 1917, as we all know, there was a communist revolution in Russia. The czar, Nikolas Romanov, and his family were all taken hostage and exiled to Siberia. A year later, the entire Romanov family was executed. However, the spirit of the Romanovs lived on in Russians who were sympathetic to the czar and resistant to Lennon and the commmunists. Somehow, rumors abounded that the czar's daughter, Anastasia, had survived the execution and was on the loose, her whereabouts unknown. Furthermore, the princess Anastasia had a huge inheritance available to her, some ten million pounds from the Bank of England. However, no one was really sure if she was actually alive.
Thus, the film begins. Yul Brynner plays a Russian ex-general who, along with two partners in crime, hatch a plan to train a young woman who looks like Anastasia to actually become Anastasia Romanov. The goal is to fool the world and cash in on the inheritance.
Ingrid Bergman plays the distraught young woman fresh out of the insane asylum whom Yul Brynner runs across one night. Struck by her resemblance to Anastasia Romanov, Yul Brynner takes her captive, determined to mold her into Anastasia Romanov.
Both Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergman are very entertaining to watch, Bergman in particular (she actually won the 1956 Best Actress Oscar for this performance). The two propel the film's plot with ease. They seem to fit perfectly in their roles: Brynner as the domineering patriarch and Bergman as the somewhat deviant but somewhat submissive female counterpart.
The sets and costumes are lavish. I was amazed at the shots on location in Copenhagen in Paris. I really got the sense that I was viewing living, breathing royalty. Since the driving action of the film is to convince various European royalty that this Anastasia imposter is actually the real Anastasia, it adds a great degree of suspense in many of the scenes. I was gripped, worried that Ingrid Bergman wouldn't be able to pull it off and the whole plan would come crashing down.
If you know anything about Anastasia Romanov's story, there is a certain amount of superstitious mystique you bring into the viewing of this film, which only adds to the fun. The film's plot has a few good twists and turns making for splendidly unpredictable, high-quality entertainment. And to cap it all off, the film has a surprisingly transformational ending.
I would recommend this film to anyone who loves classic cinema. It has all the glitter and grace of a Hollywood classic, and at the same time, it involves skillful storytelling and tremendous acting.
Posted on 4/01/10 11:24 PM
Lila Says is a French erotic coming-of-age story. It portrays the relationship between a young Arab man named Chimo and a beautiful young French woman named Lila. Chimo is a 19 year old without much direction. He lives with his mother in an apartment. His father left his mother for a French woman, and his mother is yet to really move on from this loss. Lila is an orphan who lives with an Aunt. She stands out in the predominantly Arab neighborhood because she is both beautiful and white. Chimo's buddies oggle her as she walks by, and they all desire her sexually. However, Lila pays them no mind, treats them as if they don't exist, save for Chimo. For some reason, she senses something in Chimo, and Chimo and Lila engage in a steamy friendship that is largely propelled by Lila's blunt discussion of her sexual fantasies.
Sex is the primary theme of this film. Unfortunately, it is also about the only theme. The conflict between Arab and French culture is only mildly expressed, although it feels like it wants to be more of a factor than it really is. The main conflict of the film is. . .not really much. You watch a seemingly promiscuous young woman and a somewhat naive young man's friendship grow, and the only real conflicts exist on an ancillary level, only briefly coming front and center. Lila has a few issues she is confronted with, but her character is so strong that she never endures any struggle. Chimo, the point of view character, endures some struggle with his friends over his relationship to Lila. The majority of the film seems to be spent wondering if and when Lila and Chimo are going to have sex.
The film is a tease. While I'm not all that wild about this film, I will concede the sexual tension is very well done, which is important, because this is the film's circulatory system, it's what gives it life. The role of Lila is a somewhat daring one, and the girl playing her embodies the erotic nature of Lila with confidence and conviction.
The film might appeal more to males or lesbians because of its intense expression of female sexuality. Basically, if you're not turned on by this girl's performance then you're going to be extremely bored (so let's hope you like blondes). However, the guy who plays Chimo is very handsome, so there is a bit of eye candy for female viewers.
There are some beautiful moments in the film, but they are infrequent. The story is a bit muddled, and I was left with several unanswered questions, forcing me to make assumptions which may or may not be correct, and it's not like I was trying to solve a crime, I just wanted to know more about these characters. Personally, I think the narrative technique of using Chimo as the point of view character was a mistake. It seemed to me that the character of Lila was far more interesting. However, since we are not invited to stand in her shoes, we don't get to experience what she experiences. Instead, we stand in Chimo's shoes, and basically all he wants is Lila so it makes for rather dull suspense since there is not much at stake. He either gets the girl or he doesn't. But Lila has a few interesting side-stories that are only lightly touched on, once again, because we see them through Chimo's eyes. Of course, if the film was told through Lila's point of view, then we wouldn't have all the steamy eroticism of her character to stare at, but this probably wouldn't be a bad thing. Themes of sex can be interesting, but can also get old fast.
This film doesn't suck. I was entertained. But this film will not stay with me. It had little to no resonance. Maybe it just wasn't for me. I would not deem it a must-see, and I would not recommend it to many of my friends.
Posted on 3/30/10 08:06 AM
Let the Right One In is a vampire tale that doesn't really feel like a vampire tale. It's strange. You're aware early in the film that you're dealing with vampires, but somehow the film breathes freshness into every scene, bringing new life to a tired genre. Though the film does utilize some of the generally accepted vampire myths, it does not do so in boring or cliche ways. Basically, the reason I think Let the Right One in Succeeds so magnificently is that it's about so much more than vampires. It doesn't rely on shocks or jumpy moments to retain the viewer's interest. Instead, the film is propelled by interesting characters, superb storytelling, and the peculiar way it grabs the viewer's emotions and doesn't let go.
This is a Swedish film, and honestly, I haven't seen much of Swedish cinema outside of Ingmar Bergman. Anyway, the setting of Sweden, primarily because of the snow, makes for some brilliantly vivid scenes. The contrast of the light reflecting off the snow creates these intensely eerie outdoor shots. And of course, what better way to have blood stand out than by setting it against snow?
Let The Right One In is told from the point of view of its young protagonist, Oskar. Oskar is a 12-year-old boy who gets picked on at school and has no friends. His parents are separated, and he mostly lives with his mother in an apartment while seeing his father occasionally in his house outside of town. One night, some mysterious people move in the apartment next to Oskar, a middle-aged man and a young girl Oskar's age. Oskar and the girl, whose name is Eli, awkwardly strike up a friendship at night in the playground of the apartment complex. Also, Oskar is absurdly pale, borderline albino, which could be one of the reasons the vampire Eli is attracted to him (this is a joke).
The blossoming friendship is very moving to watch. I'm usually not that excited to watch a film in which the lead roles are children because often times children are simply too inexperienced to act well. However, there are still many times in which children nail their roles and contribute to a fantastic film. This film is one of those times. These two children in the lead roles of Let The Right One In do an amazing job of bringing this film to life. I was shocked. Their performances were so touching, so tender, and so believable. Director Tomas Alfredson deserves much credit for coaxing such stellar performances out of these children. Also, I read that he spent almost a year searching around Sweden to find the two children for this film. It seems the tedious quest was well worth the effort.
Although the vampire element is at the center of the story, it isn't the focus. That's what's so beautiful about this film: it transcends the limitations that other films of its genre succumb to. The film has more to do with the typical elements of storytelling that draw us in: conflict, character development, characters who want things they can't get, things like this. Also, this is just me, I did not find this film scary....at all. But I'm not sure that was the film's intent. Instead, I was drawn in to the story. I was sort of expecting to be a little freaked out, but the film was good enough that I wasn't disappointed at all.
I ordered a copy of this film for dirt cheap off Amazon. I started watching it and the characters were speaking in English but the movements of their mouths were not matching up. I quickly realized that the voices had been dubbed. I stopped the film and went to the main menu and made it so that the characters spoke Swedish and English subtitles were displayed. I would suggest watching it in Swedish. For me, this made the film more natural since Swedish is the native language of the people in the film.
I think I would recommend this film to anyone. There were some strange parts, but I'm a fan of weird things, so some of the more disturbing scenes were really neat for me. Despite drawing on the over-commercialized idea of the vampire, Let The Right One In bleeds originality. It's inspiring to see artists make something new and fresh with old, tired material. I mean really, how many books and movies have been made about vampires? How could you possibly come up with something new? Let The Right One In humbled my naive expectations of the artist's vision. It will blow you away.
Posted on 3/26/10 10:06 PM
It's safe to assume you've probably never seen anything quite like Wisconsin Death Trip. That is to say, it's very original. However, originality in and of itself does not equal quality, and Wisconsin Death Trip mostly succeeds but occasionally lacks effectiveness in its quasi-documentary narrative.
Briefly, Wisconsin Death Trip is a documentary-style film about some strange, disturbing events that took place in a small Wisconsin town called Black River Falls between 1890-1900.
Shot in black and white, the photography is brilliant. It's very atmospheric, very vivid. I loved the music in this film. So to view some brilliant shots accompanied by beautiful string music was a treat.
Here's the thing. Wisconsin Death Trip is based on a book written in 1973. The book came from a series of photographs and newspaper clippings from Black River Falls between 1890 and 1900. Strange things took place in this small town like murder, suicides, people going crazy, arson, all kinds of shit. However, there's no plot. I just told you it. The film is told in little snippets of events accompanied by some photographs and scenes of actors portraying the brief story being told. So I don't know. It's hard to become invested in any of the characters because their stories are so brief and there's so many of them. It's still fun and interesting to watch. I liked that there were occasional glimpses of modern day Black River Falls shot in color. The juxtaposition is almost necessary.
I liked this film, but I think it sounds more interesting than it is.
Posted on 3/25/10 08:11 AM
The Squid and the Whale is an absolutely brilliant story, both piercingly emotional and bitingly funny. It is one of my favorite films in recent years. Made on a budget of $1.5 million, the film's attention is towards the flawless acting by the entire cast and the magnificent script of Noah Baumbach.
Set in the year 1986 in New York City, the film opens with a very symbolic doubles tennis scene. Jeff Daniels, the husband and father, and Jesse Eisenberg, the elder son, are playing against Laura Linney, the wife and mother, and the younger son (I don't know his name). The scene is hilarious and very telling of the rapidly dissolving marriage. From here, the ensuing divorce is at the center of the plot.
This is by far my favorite Jeff Daniels performance. He plays a struggling author who once was acclaimed but has since faded into obscurity. He teaches creative writing at a college. His character is irresistible. He is intelligent but arrogant. He is thoughtful but dogmatically opinionated. He cares about his sons but not always for the right reasons. He is flawed, and he is a wonderful joy to watch. His matter-of-fact, monotone delivery of sardonic comments are hilarious. You kind of like him, but you kind of don't. He is perfect.
Laura Linney is fantastic. She plays the wife and mother who genuinely cares about her sons but has fell out of love with her husband and engaged in extramarital affairs. Also, she has begun to write a novel which is gradually receiving critical acclaim, which stands in contrast to Jeff Daniels' waning popularity. Her character is very three-dimensional. At once she seems like the main catalyst of the divorce, the evil heart of this family catastrophe. But as the film progresses, we see more of her, go further in-depth in her character, and we become sympathetic towards her. She is flawed and she is so human it's beautiful.
Jesse Eisenberg, the oldest son, plays a high school-aged kid who admires his dad. He regurgitates many of his father's "intellectual" comments and opinions. When his parents' marriage ends, he takes the side of his dad, vehemently dismissing his mother as shallow for having affairs and leaving her husband "because he's not as popular as he used to be." He has his own personal journeys throughout the film. He has his first experience with love. These scenes are brilliant and so utterly human it's impossible not to smile.
The youngest son, this actor who I don't know the name of, does a wonderful job as a confused boy who does not fully understand the whole divorce thing, but sides with his mother because she is supportive of his endeavors in tennis whereas Jeff Daniels dismisses tennis as "not serious" and would instead like to see him get "more serious" and get into "books and interesting films." This kid is a joy to watch. Like all the other characters, he has his own personal demons he confronts. He discovers masturbation, and the behaviors he engages in are grossly funny.
Overall, I found The Squid and The Whale to be flawless. I won't spoil it, but the title of the film becomes a very rich metaphor by the end of the film. The film is so beautiful because all the characters are not entirely innocent but not entirely guilty. The dissolution of the family and the painful healing process is a collaborative effort with each character contributing in his/her own unique way. The film is only about 80 minutes long. Every scene, every line, every movement is germane to the story. There is nothing wasted. Everything progresses naturally and inevitably and builds on itself, making the humor and the pain and the drama all the more poignant. Noah Baumbach has struck gold with this film. It is a work of art. It mimics life with all the rich ambivalence life contains.
Posted on 3/23/10 09:36 PM
A History of Violence, though a good film, was a bit of a disappointment to me. It felt pulpy. It's ultimately a gangster-revenge story rather than this hyped-up thought-provoking inquisition on the nature of violence.
The acting is pretty solid. Viggo Mortensen is compelling as a small town, All-American white guy family man. Maria Bello's performance is probably better. She seems to animate her emotional transformations a bit more than Viggo, which I guess serves the purpose of contrasting to Viggo's stoicism. Ed Harris is quite good. There are currents of lunacy in his character's behavior and pathology, and he brings these to life with conviction. Though only in the film briefly, William Hurt does a wonderful job. I very much enjoyed his short performance - kind of wished there would've been a bit more of him.
The film is a bit of a mystery, but the answers to immediate questions are fulfilled quickly. However, this does not diminish the suspense. When certain questions are answered, more are raised. The plot moves at a very swift pace. But there isn't a whole lot to think about. For me, the film didn't make me "question the nature of violence." Instead, violence was a mere spectacle just like it is in almost all films with gratuitous violence. There was one interesting aspect to the violence, and that was in the son's exhibition of violence at school, which in turn led to Viggo's character hypocritically telling his son something to the effect that this family does not use violence to solve problems. Anyway, that was the extent of it. It was not as intellectually stimulating as I hoped it would be. Maybe I missed something. I would classify this film as high-grade pulp bordering on art. However, like Eastern Promises, the film's believability is highly questionable. If you've seen the film, you will have to admit this simple question is posed very fairly: Why couldn't the mob simply track down this "Tom Stall" character? I thought revenge was one of the central principles of the mob, and if they had to track somebody down, they were resourceful enough to do it. They wouldn't need for their target to inadvertently make national headlines in order to become aware of his whereabouts. But that's what happens in the film. I thought this was kind of unsteady ground to proceed with a plot. But maybe the plot is not meant to be believable. Maybe this isn't a film whose intention is to mimic reality. Maybe this is speculative. I could've simply interpreted this film wrong. At any rate, I like the film, but it's not one of my favorites.