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Posts Tagged ‘Kieran Culkin’

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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vanishing point

Vanishing Point: I dig neither speed nor metal. The combination of both on a desolate highway gets me as excited as a rabid wolverine at a veggie salad bar. This is why I used to sneer at anyone who asked me watch Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point. Imagine…a film about a half-maverick half-psychotic driver called Kowalski who is set to deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger drives from Colorado to San Francisco with a tagline that says “it’s the maximum trip at maximum speed”. Hell, I thought I’d be laughing during the course of film, thinking about when some shitty Kenny Loggins song is going to disrupt an even shittier chase sequence.

Vanishing Point is probably the only film about cars that I have ever liked (apart from Rajasekar’s Patti Sollai Thattathe which kinda ruled). Finally I have something intelligible to utter other than ‘oh wow’ or ‘uhhh I see’ whenever my friends or colleagues start babbling about Choppers, Porsches and that questionably invigorating vrooooom sound that one of those BMW cars make. Instead of pretending to give a shit, now I can try my best to look cool and say, “go watch Vanishing Point fuckers.” Having said that, avoid the 1997 remake with Viggo Mortensen like you would the monkey plague, it makes Torque seem watchable.

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The sound production and cinematography were two of the biggest reasons (along with the storyline or rather the lack of one) as to why the original seemed vastly superior. The sound reminded me of those old Seventies rock albums on audiotapes… frantic, crafty and a little murky, but attractively so. The soundtrack  itself is all kinds of awesome; little surprise it is that Quentin Tarantino hails this film as one of his inspirations. On the visual front, cinematographer John Alonzo has had his way with the vast landscape of the highway and the sweltering sun up in the sky; no real surprise that over the next few decades, he would continue to inspire beauty in visually-stunning films such as Chinatown and Grass Harp. The detour that the driver takes into the sandy desert is beautifully done, with the tyre marks forming mysterious patterns that make a whole of sense when seen in retrospect. I’m also really glad that the Kowalski character (aptly played by Barry Newman) wasn’t prone to theatrics; no overtly heroic deeds, no moral dilemma and mercifully, no ‘ooh naked lady on the bike, must woo and screw” and “dam rattlesnake, must kill you with my fingernails” scenes.

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Blind radio jockey Super Soul (Cleavon Little), free-spirited chopper rider Angel (Timothy Scott) and the Prospector (Dean Jagger) play the kind, decidedly crazy souls who come to Kowalski’s aid. Despite the redundancy of their collective liberal state of mind, they really do fit in with the grander scheme of things – Kowalski’s journey. Let me pull the curtains down on this one with a comment by some bloke called Tom Darwin from IMDB…“stop wondering why Kowalski, on his quest for speed, is always being overtaken and passed by other vehicles; just put your brain on neutral, put your popcorn where it’s handy, and buckle up.”

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Lymelife: Indie films make me feel all fuzzy and warm. No matter how emotionally overblown or fantastically silly they are, most of them are perfect precursors for lazy Sunday siestas. The commonalities between them range from the lucidity in which the frames move from one to another and gratuitously ambitious soundtracks chockfull of bisexual alt-country guitarists to anticlimactic and most often abrupt endings and random A-list guest appearances. Some of them become so full of themselves that they actually end up making that uneasy transformation into big-screen blockbusters; even so, they still remain cutely apologetic of such popularity. Case in point, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno to a lesser extent. Derick Martini’s Lymelife is one of the least interesting indie films I have seen over the past few years, but that probably has more to the do with the quality of similar films. While it doesn’t even begin to sniff the greatness that is the list of indie gems such as Station Agent, Mean Creek, Thumbsucker, Igy Goes Down and many others, Lymelife still gets a minor thumbs up on the weight of few its actors.

Cynthia Nixon doesn’t count because she is a regular on that terrible sitcom. Oh yes people, there are certain things artists do that just cannot be forgiven. She could crap Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony Movement on cue, but I’d still hold that ‘Sex In The City’ card against her. Alec Baldwin is convincing as the assholish husband, but in the later parts of the film when he has to be more of a husband than an asshole, it seems a little less believable.

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The cake, if I had any, would undoubtedly go to Kieran Culkin who plays Jimmy Bartlett, a kid desperately seeking a young lassie by the name of Adrianna (Emma Roberts) and solace from his dysfunctional family. Timothy Hutton has a neat role too; he plays the Lyme-diseased Charlie Bragg who suffers just as many migraines as bouts of nagging from his wife. Most of all, I dug the ending and its lack of melodrama. Sort of like the Requiem For A Dream climax, but without the drug-infested gloom permeating the piteous decay of humanity.

The Big Nothing: Almost everyone reading this by now probably knows at least three of Ross’ girlfriends. They’d never admit it because lord knows – it is seriously uncool for an intellectual to confess to having seen at least one million out the eleventy billion episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Who in their insidiously pretentious mind in fact would? For someone who can probably hold his own in a trivia about the sitcom, I can safely say that Ross was one of the few characters I could watch without feeling the urge to stick a café mocha up my superfluous ass. I even liked that Run Fat Boy Run movie that had David Schimmer directing Simon Pegg and Hank Azaria! I like this one better and it has Mr Pegg in it too, but funnier, darker and more in tune with what made him completely awesome in Shaun Of The Dead.

Big Nothing

In Jean Baptiste Andrea‘s The Big Nothing, Schwimmer plays Charlie, a former professor who gets fired on his first day at a call center. Enter Gus (Simon Pegg), a scam artist who almost isn’t clever enough to count as one and former pageant queen Josie (Alice Eve) who convince Charlie to join them in a seemingly “snag-free plan to make some cash” involving Internet porn and men of cloth.

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Of course things go wrong; with hearts, promises, arms, words and skulls broken all at once. The climax did take more turns than I had cared for, but the final frame in which…well, you’ll see…works wonderfully well. Schwimmer and Pegg are funny as hell, especially the first time their characters meet. Something about Gus is so perversely pathetic that you want to slap really hard before telling him that things might be ok after all. Charlie is just one of those characters you end up feeling sorry for; then months after watching the film, one fine day you’d wake up finally understanding why you probably shouldn’t have.

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