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Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Peet’

Beautiful: These “dark side of suburban families” films are getting a bit tiresome. The depressingly ordinary Ordinary People and American Beauty influenced loads of young directors to come up with a slew of storylines about lenses being lifted from normal upper-class families to reveal tortured souls screwing with each other’s heads. I’ll have to disagree with Tolstoy on this one, I don’t think unhappy families are unhappy in their unique way all the time; at least not the ones featured in films such as Dean O’Flaherty’s Beautiful. Technically I have no qualms about it other than its constant use of tried and tested downer clichés. We have the quintessential loner who’s too befuddled to qualify as geeky, residential sexual deviants, emotionally-scarred parents and a whole lot of dirty secrets. Some of scenes in this tip their hats off to movies like Blue Velvet, Donnie Darko and Happiness so feverishly that it blurs the line between being influenced and plagiarizing. Quite sad, considering that Beautiful has a decent-enough storyline going for it ( So 14-year-old Danny (Sebastian Gregory) goes on a super serial secret mission for the psychotic 17-year-old Lolita – Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi) – to discover the hidden filth that lurks in the living room of their neighbours).

A good hour into the film the director starts messing with the twists and turns, finally leaving us with one that leaves a sour taste in our mouths. The colourful photography and navel-gazing music makes Beautiful live up to its name in parts. Orchestrator Bryce Jacobs and art director Tuesday Stone have done a nice job capturing the film’s chilling moments, letting us comfortably breathe as the rest – the actors, the script writers, the director – bring it down a notch. One of those indie films that make you sit through them, but evoke little else than a “meh” reaction at the end of it. Watch it once if you thought American Beauty needed to be a bit more screwed up.

Thumbsucker: Director Mike Mills has a knack for defying logical conclusions. He makes a documentary on uber-suave electronic pop duo Air seem listlessly dull and lifeless yet creates another called “Does Your Soul Have a Cold?” that investigates the impact of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals on the depression level of the Japanese and makes that look interesting. In the 2005 film Thumbsucker, he continues to bewilder us. Make no mistake, this is a good film, just that it leaves you with an odd feeling when you realize why exactly you liked it. Lou Taylor Pucci, despite looking like Kristen Stewart’s twin sister grappling with a minor case of lycanthropy, actually makes thumb sucking look like a genuine medium of existential malcontent and doesn’t reduce playing a Ritalin addict to annoying American stoner shenanigans. Then there’s Benjaman Bratt, who starred in some of crappiest films of the 2000s (The Next Best Thing, Miss Congeniality, Catwoman), standing out in Thumbsucker as one of its definitive highlights; he’s incidentally funny and consummately fucked up as Matt Schramm, the charming actor and hapless junkie.

Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of Perry Lyman, the spaced-out orthodontist, is so good that it jumps out of nowhere and slaps you in the face, screaming, “bet you didn’t expect it”. Much of the shock can be traced to the fact  that Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly was released only a year later, so as of 2005 – the world had no reason to believe that Keanu had any acting talent whatsoever. Also the character itself called for an air of nonchalance and a sense of disconnect that only guy who has no clue what he’s doing can accurately convey.

On the flip side, firstly we have Vince Vaughn, overrated in big-budget comedies but perfectly fine in gently fucked up films like these, not living up to his reputation. I almost hoped that Will Ferrell would at some point appear in a cameo and give him some on-screen chemistry to work with. Then we have Tilda Swinton, arguably one of the finest actresses to grace our screen, surprising us here with her half-hearted portrayal of Audrey, Cobb’s doleful mom by day and a slightly less retarded Nurse Betty by night. There’s a scene in which she confronts Schramn at the hospital and Benjaman Bratt actually out-acts her; normally this would signify the end of the world and the cruel demise of all its living things, but thankfully it all makes sense, considering this is a Mike Mills movie. Good film, but the surprises might kill you.

Everything Is Illuminated: Most of my love for Liev Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated stems from the all the wonderful music it introduced me to, right from the gorgeously eerie themes that Paul Cantelon stirs up to the insanely catchy gypsy-punk harmonies of Gogol Bordello and Tin Hat Trio’s whimsical acoustic chamber sound. Of course, there’s Matthew Libatique’s breathtaking cinematography; I can only assume that sunflower fields and meadows in and near Prague have never looked prettier.

It only lately occurred to me that everything else pretty much illuminates (see what I did there? High-five?) the film, as well. Elijah Wood, who plays young Jewish bloke looking for the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II, Eugene Hutz, his American pop culture-obsessed Ukrainian guide and Boris Leskin, Eugene’s disgruntled semi-blind, anti-semitic grandfather, are all fantastic in their roles as quirky characters yearning for that elusive ray of guiding light to make sense of their lives.

Somewhere down the middle, Everything Is Illuminated pans out to resemble one of those soul-searching road trip movies, but stays strong in its course to become something less pretentious, thanks to its actors and a tight screenplay. Few of the scenes (this sequence, for instance) in fact have the perfect combination of sound, sight and thought, something so rare that Steven Spielberg, having accidentally stumbled upon it during the mid-portion of Jaws, convinced three generations thereafter that it wasn’t a fluke despite all signs pointing otherwise. The film also boasts of great one-liners that are thankfully more Coen-esque than Borat-ish, (Alex: I am unequivocally tall. I do not know any women who are taller than me. The women who are taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous year). Humour is often lost in translation, especially from well-written novels, but kudos to Schreiber for bringing in the whimsies and the subsequent giggles. Just so you know, Jonathan Safran Foer’s original novel based on which the film was made is really good too. If I fawn over this anymore, I’d actually salivate.

Igby Goes Down: Take out all the overacting courtesy of Susan Sarandon and you have a pretty good film in Igby Goes Down. She almost sinks Burr Steers’ film with a loud performance as Mimi Slocumb, the manic mum. I remember her as a talented actress during the early Nineties; I guess Chris Columbus and his masterpiece of suck – Stepmom – just went ahead and killed her enthusiasm for a good script. Her incessant grunting in the opening scene, intentional as it might have been, would have certainly rivaled Avril Lavigne’s voice as the most irritating shit you could hear in 2002, but what’s worse are her sycophantic over-delivery of dialogues that really stretches our nerves. Having said that, fear not for the other actors turn into superheroes and rescue Burr’s debut from her clutches.

Kieran Culkin is fascinating to watch as Igby. Not that he awes us with skull-crushing intensity or bone marrow-sucking awesomeness; it’s just that every time I see this dude act, the more I am convinced that he uses negativity to scare the actor out of him. It almost amazes me when people who have led screwed up lives or closely been around those who have end up doing nothing worthwhile. Isn’t pain the greatest muse of all? Both him and his talented younger brother Rory are or at least seem competent at trying to channel the crap that once surrounded the Culkin name and turn it into their lady muse.

In Igby Goes Down, he tunes in a good performance as the lead role, a post-modern, coffee-house Holden Caulfield struggling to grow up despite being taught only to self-destruct. Jeff Goldblum is predictably great in his portrayal of Igby’s sleazy and stylishly suited step dad, only outdone by another actor who has been consistently fantastic for the past three decades – Bill Pullman, who plays Igby’s dad by birth. He is sparingly used, but whenever we do see him, there he is…wallowing in self-decay, mumbling inconsequential truths about life and looking fucking terrific at it! Amanda Peet, Claire Danes and Ryan Phillippe are given shitty dialogues to work with, so nothing to shout about there, but they certainly don’t harm the film. In fact I wouldn’t  have believed that Claire Danes could pull off Faustian one-liners but dam she proved me wrong in this film. So there you have it, an entertaining film about a family’s collapse and a kid trying to make sense of it by running the hell away. I bet you’ll like it…you, sick freak, you.

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Director Roland Emmerich loves blowing things up. Stuff keeps going up in flames in his films all the time. He lets loose giant lizards (Godzilla), extraterrestrial beings (Independence Day) and bulging muscles (Van Damme in Universal Soldier) to wreak havoc on-screen. Truth be told, I’m glad he’s a Hollywood director. Lord knows the combination of working-class woes and homemade explosives could have landed this man in jail and a lot others in their graves. While thousands of lives have been saved by Emmerich’s foray into films, many minds have been left devastated by the sheer idiocy of his films. 2012, his latest film, is grandiosely idiotic; it is so preposterously aware of its absurdity that I almost wanted to applaud its progress into the abyss of bad filmmaking. Sort of like Lady Gaga; so kitschy and stupid that sometimes we can’t help but nod our heads to her music. Or perhaps like a T Rajendar YouTube clip that is so out of tune with physics that we obsessively replay it for shits and giggles.

The storyline in 2012 is so loathsomely drab and flimsy that I had to devote full attention to it till the end. I had to soak in every frame and bathe myself in its retarded sense of fatalism. Character development gets a sharp kick in the rear, as well. Firstly, we have Curtis (John Cusack) – a novelist – who has the personality of a soft, rotten fruit. His wife (Amanda Peet) and kids (Alexandre and Philippe) collectively could give Sigmund Freud one hell of a wet dream; so varied is their emotional response to explosions, earthquakes and personal tragedies. For instance, when his daughter sees a devastating earthquake destroy their house, her first reaction is to wonder what happened to her fucking doll. The step dad, played by Thomas McCarthy, makes up for the film’s lack of an African American misnomer. In fact, when he gets killed, his family so does not give a fuck that you almost wonder if he’s a black guy in a horror movie.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is close to being unwatchable as the annoying-as-hell, do-gooder scientist. At times, so unnatural was this character’s investment in matters of the heart and so lackadaisical his commitment towards science, one could have easily mistaken him for impersonating the bastard child of Nelson Mandela and Abdul Kalam. Danny Glover manages to outsuck Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford (and that’s saying something) as the President of the US. Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, that large Russian dude and his mistress are hilariously bad, as well. Woody Harrelson, who plays crazed radio jockey Charlie Frost, gets in a few obvious jokes and thankfully gets killed off before he could reach ‘Randy Quaid in Independence Day’ level of bad.

All said and done, I really wanted to like this film. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy watching the world deteriorate, right?  Yeah the eye-popping visuals got the adrenaline going mildly but everything else about 2012 was so awful that it didn’t matter. By the time the film reached its Utopian finale, I felt exhausted. Felt tired for enduring this shit two hours, dirty for having ever harbored good thoughts about this film and stupid for ever telling Jerry, “dude, we have got to check out 2012 in the theatre”. Like a bored Thai prostitute standing in the street corner, screaming “me so horny” at hairy, overweight tourists with an endless budget for self-indulgence.

Only difference is I won’t get paid for doing this.

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