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Posts Tagged ‘Donnie Darko’

A Serious Man: Some 30 minutes before the film comes to an end in a breathtaking display of disquieting beauty, Professor Larry Gopnik hesitantly breaks down in front of a receptionist, pleading his case, a life of anxiety and misfortune that too, to seek advice from a wise old Rabbi. “This is not a frivolous request. This is a ser- I’m a ser- I’m, uh, I’ve tried to be a serious man, you know? Tried to do right, be a member of the community, raise the- Danny, Sarah, they both go to school, Hebrew school, a good breakfast… just tell him I need help. Please? I need help” he fumbles to the cranky bespectacled lady, which leads to the Rabbi nonchalantly turning down his request. The expression on Gopnik’s face needs to be stored alongside William Macy’s dejected broken-nose expression from Magnolia and Daniel Auteuil’s shell-shocked stare from Caché as a template for young actors learning how to turn in an honest performance without seeming theatrical about it. Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Prof. Larry, has rightfully had his performance praised to Olam Haba and back by movie critics all over; flat-out great acting that takes more than one viewing to understand the effort he has put in to do justice to Larry’s desolation. Halfway through the film I actually started rooting for his life to spiral further out of control just to see him suffer some more; Stuhlbarg is just fantastic as the modern-day Job who ironically gets screwed by everyone but his God.

Sari Lennick is suitably hateful as Mrs Gopnik, the pocket-size Amish version of the Desperate Wives. Fred Melamed is hilarious as Sy Ableman, Larry’s wife-grabbing friend; the way he flares his nostriles whenever he politely patronizes Larry is truly sleazy and worthy of a barrelful of laughs.  Richard Kind tunes in a seriously good performance, as well, as Arthur – Larry’s middle-aged sad savant of a brother. Thankfully, we don’t get a retarded feel-good Rain Man sequence…instead we get what Henry Thoreau once endlessly babbled about, the cold, inconsequential truth. Also, major kudos to the directors for not blowing the Arthur character out of proportion because it could have been the most convenient thing to do, considering how much of a hard-on a presumably intelligent target group of movie-goers would have for quirky, depressed savants.

The film itself is one of the finest that the Coen brothers have ever made. The all-round brilliant acting, ambitiously creepy music and the wry storyline lift A Serious Man above anything else the brothers have done since Barton Fink. Really funny stuff in here, as well, with the actors making the one-liners sound funnier than we could have imagined. IMDB says the Coen brothers now have their sights on Charles Portis’ True Grit, an unflinching Western tale of vengeance, and if it’s half as good as this one, I’d be much happier being a serious man.

Observe & Report: I love it when a film jumps at me, mauls every one of my misconceptions, leaving me wanting a fat guy with one of those “I Am With Stupid” T-Shirts next to me. Observe and Report is a film that can leave your head spinning if you watched it with preconceived expectations or rather the lack of. Considering that the film is directed by the guy who made the hilariously retarded The Foot Fist Way and starrs Seth Rogen, Patton Oswalt and Anna Faris, I wouldn’t blame you for having presumed that it was a PG 18-rated version of Steve Carr’s Paul Bart: Mall Cop which was released in the same year. Well technically it could be, but the adult rating has more to do with the spectacular brutality of the film’s catharsis than with any erstwhile penis joke or nipple slips. Observe and Report has some serious intensity going its away and barely pulls any punches with its storyline. The film follows Ronnie Barnhardt, a maniac depressive mall cop who takes his job very seriously, on a violent and complicated journey to rid the mall off a devious flasher. By vulgarizing the sanctity of the mall, which has been a warm spring of comfort in Ronnie’s otherwise miserable life – the flasher quietly sets off a tiny spark in Ronnie’s head that threatens to explode into a catastrophe at the slightest behest of a reality check. Seth Rogen gives his best performance since playing the crazy jock in Donnie Darko. I am dam near shocked that he could be this intense; his burst of anger are chilling as is the creepy romance he shares with Anna Faris, who much like Seth, hasn’t look this good since her indie days. Their “controversial” sex scene looks as deliriously uncomfortable as Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg going at it the second time around in Antichrist and just as necessary; definitely a contender for the creepiest scene of the year in a motion picture.

The supporting cast chips in nicely too, with Patton Oswalt, Ray Liotta (who does good cop-bad cop shtick all by himself), the Yuan brothers and Collette Wolfe doing their bit to make this film less about one man’s descent into madness. The ending works itself in quite beautifully, with Nada Surf’s version of Pixies’ Where Is My Mind playing in the background as the film’s twisted perception of poetic justice shows up one last time to say goodbye. Now, about those folks who have been talking about all the “unnecessary violence” portrayed in Observe And Report, I just wish they would pack their satchels and move out of the safety bubble they call home. Our world is genuinely screwed up and many a times comically so; I can only appreciate filmmakers for recognizing the irony. If Seth Rogen’s man-child antics and a few pools of blood are too much for them to handle, I can only imagine the torture they go through while reading the crime section of their local newspapers.  For the rest of you, minions, who enjoy sparse moments of beauty and peace so much that you are at ease with the high probability of the world clinically sucking the life out of you before you die, you’ll get a real kick out of Ronnie. Observe and grin.

Lars And The Real Girl: The emotional parenthesis that bookends Lars And The Real Girl is forgivable because this one happens to be Craig Gillespie’s debut feature film. Far worse crimes have been committed by directors the first time around, especially considering that Gillespie has indeed steered the film away from turning into an unfunny joke without a punchline. So we have Lars Lindstrom (a strikingly detached performance by Ryan Gosling) who orders this sex doll he finds on the Internet and falls heads over heels in love with it. The thing is to Lars it isn’t a doll at all, it is the soul mate that he has been looking for. Much to the horror of his brother and sister-in-law, Lars goes the distance and gives it a name (Bianca), a background story and a physical handicap to boot.

The problem with Lars And The Real Girl is that towards the end it tries too hard to give emotional closure to its characters. Lars learns a few of life’s lessons, his guilt-ridden brother (Paul Schneider) finally discovers the core of his essence or whatever, his over-protective sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) resolves a few issues, hell, even Kelli Garner, playing his sitcom-ish office colleague, finds love. A few things are done really nicely though. For instance the portrayal of Bianca’s funeral could have really sucked, but it didn’t – thanks to the script that skips right past the melodrama and the obvious surprises. The actors – Ryan, Emily and Paul – are pleasant to watch, be it in happiness or in sorrow, and at least look genuinely confused when things conveniently work out. I mean, it’s all nice and dandy and I am sure if I knew these people I’d be happy for them for the way things turned out, but as a movie geek, it left me a little disappointed. Simple mathematics, really.  Movie + Happy ending = No Thank You.

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant: Great. First Daybreakers, now this. This one’s remarkably more tragic for me since that it starrs Willem Dafoe AND John C. Reilly – two of my favourite American actors. If Cirque Du Freak didn’t take itself so dam seriously, it would have made for a fun hour and a half. You have John C. Reilly, one of the most obviously funny guys in Hollywood, a character for him called Larten Crepsley, a suave half-vampire who leads a carnival of freaks, and somehow director Paul Weitz decides to take the serious route? Quite possibly, some editor, whose wife ran over his dog with a truck, sat down with the script and cut out all the jokes. I know that the original novel (The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan) wasn’t meant to be funny in any capacity but the text in it was offbeat enough to qualify as wry wit. Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assitant is at best a vaguely-amusing fantasy drama with dollops of pop psychology thrown in for good measure. Ken Watanabe as Mr. Tall is the only actor who shows any sort of commitment to calm us from the doldrums of his dialogues, but still itis neither significant nor long enough to make this worth a second glance even. Matter of fact even if John Tuturro unexpectedly showed up at your living room, sporting a bad-ass Mexican porn director moustache and juggling Oompa Loompas with their heads on fire, it still wouldn’t help.

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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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Lawn Dogs: I am not entirely sure what director John Duigan wanted to convey through Lawn Dogs. It is the equivalent of reading a Patrick McCabe novel. You are not entirely sure about what’s going on, but somehow you are moved by it. Throw in some over-the-top symbolism and a haunting musical score and you’ll be lucky not to be squatting naked on your bathroom floor, clutching your knees, sobbing while dealing with a migraine by the end of the film.

Alright, maybe I exaggerate a bit (certainly not about McCabe though, try reading Mondo Desperado), but seriously, the ending freaked me out. And I want that beautiful piece of music that pierces through the climax more than I want chocolate shavings on my double-scoop sundae.

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Sam Rockwell once again gets on every critic’s good side with his commitment to his character’s eccentricities. Even in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, he played the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox with the perfect level of silliness and assholishness (I don’t get paid for this, you know). In Lawn Dogs, Rockwell plays Trent – a free-spirited, slightly insane trailer park reject who makes a living by mowing lawns in the nearby sophisticated housing development. Enter Mischa Barton, who plays Devon Stockard – a ten-year-old girl who feels so burdened by society’s imperfections that she hardly feels the need to let her mind wander within hundred feet of reality. They have something in common – the urge to keep running away until normalcy is all but a tiny dot.

Of course, the other residents misconstrue certain events, which leads to many awkward moments and by the end, a few disturbing, violent ones between these two lawn dogs and the rest of the world. Like I said earlier, I don’t think Lawn Dogs ended the way that would have probably catapulted it to greatness (or at least what I conceive to be so), but it did leave me with a feeling that it could never be replicated again. That’s more than I can say for most of what artists across different medium spewed forth during the Nineties.

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Donnie Darko: Dam…I should have watched Donnie Darko a few years ago. Not that I didn’t enjoy it a whole lot, but something tells me that I would have just stopped short of persistently drooling if I had watched it then. See folks, if you want to make a film about teenagers getting messed up by peer pressure, social alienation and all that, this is what you do. You hire a competent actor (Jake Gyllenhaal is exactly that), give his character a vague emotional crisis, weave a plausible storyline around his life and then boldly going where few films about stressed out teenagers go  – a dark alley where different genres of film meet up and shake hands.

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Donnie Darko does that to science fiction; often teasing to cross paths with time travel, but never obliging to say more than a kind word. I’ll stop before I confuse you further by talking about everything else than the storyline. So, go watch Donnie Darko. It is directed by Richard Kelly and features solid performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal (whom I think can do no wrong) and Holmes Osbourne. Oh, Patrick Swayze is remarkably sleazy and awesome in his role as the motivational speaker. No wonder he almost managed to save Niall Johnson’s Keeping Mum with similar creepiness.

followingFollowing: This one is Christopher Nolan’s first full-length feature film and with the exception of Memento, it also happens to be his most satisfying work. Surprisingly, most its uniqueness stems from the fact that the storytelling in Following hardly bears to any resemblance to any of his future endeavors that brought Hollywood to its knees. Before I go on raving about this and that, you should know that the narration is presented in a disjointed format; meaning that Christopher Nolan – the cinematographer – had more of an impact on this film than Nolan – the director or the writer.

Shot in a grainy 16 MM camera, it gives us a glimpse into the life of ‘Bill’ (Jeremy Theobald) – a writer who one day decides to follow people in order to understand more about them. An encounter with a sharp dressed thief (Alex Haw) leads ‘Bill’ and us, the audience, into a journey of fractured self-discovery. So, is this film noir? Perhaps, but with muted words replacing dramatic silence.

Pi

Pi: And this one just happens to be Darren Aronofsky debut film (both of which are available, excellently packaged at Rainbow DVD store in Old Parsons Complex). This too has been shot in murky black and white with the inconsistent camerawork working to its benefit. As horribly cheesy as the tagline – searching for patterns in all the wrong places – is, it perhaps is the most accurate description of Aronofsky oddly intense debut.

Pi has Sean Gullette playing Max Cohen – a New York-based mathematical theorist who believes that numbers can solve universal complexities and provide a definitive answer to the biggest problem of all, life itself. With the help of Euclid (his homemade supercomputer), he looks to find patterns that could give him control over the stock market. Like Following, the protagonist’s life changes after a strange encounter with an even stranger man – in this case, Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), an orthodox Jew who theorizes on Torah (Judaism’s original religious and legal texts).

Pi

Now look, I have absolutely hated mathematics as long as my memory permits. Nothing made me sadder as a kid than to know that solving a problem involving numbers held the key to how close I was to a righteous asskicking from my dad. Despite that, I enjoyed the tricky arithmetic of Pi; mostly because the director didn’t suck the life out of it by taking away the element of human error.

Pi is splendid mostly because we pity Max Cohen more than anything else.

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