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Posts Tagged ‘Mysterious Skin’

Man About Dog: We all know by now that Guy Ritchie inspired a bunch of British films with his flashy editing technique and reworking of Kurusowa’s improvisatory narration. He grabbed the crime drama genre by its neck and sliced and diced through its modus operandi of storytelling. Barring the travesty of Sherlock Holmes and Swept Away, his other films have stayed clear of turning redundant; so much so that aspiring directors have generously borrowed his ideas to try and make it their own. Paddy Breathnach’s Irish comedy Man About Dog is ritualistic in its adoration for Snatch, right from the hare-coursing and gambling plots to malevolent old men and vernacular jokes. While it isn’t anything as entertaining as Ritchie’s, you have to love them for trying. Some of the gags in fact are blessed with exquisite timing, especially when they involve Cerebral Paulsy (Tom Murphy), the spaced-out hash enthusiast. Not that its funny to see people do weird stuff on drugs; just that their response to stimuli naturally slows down enough to qualify as being comedic, especially considering the kind of situations these four guys get themselves into. The other two – Mo Chara (Allen Leech) and Scud Murphy (Ciara Nolan) – aren’t as funny but adequate in their roles as the ambitious lads looking to make a quick buck. Unfortunately the plots and sub-lots that run wild during the course of the film fall flat many a times. Unpredictability was what kept us on our toes in Snatch; if I knew beforehand that Mickey was betting against himself, I wouldn’t have had that satisfyingly stupid grin when Mickey’s friends blow Bricktop’s head off with a shotgun.

In Man About Dog, you can sort of figure out how things are going to turn out but thankfully it has enough working-class entertainment (like this one, for instance) to make this worth a watch. I never understand when people say “that film had a heart” but if it has anything to do with a bunch of nice enough people creating a fun, harmless movie about prize dogs and mad Irishmen, well you can fake breakdancing moves with your friends to its hearbeat. You’d also be well advised to check out Paddy Breathnach’s The Long Way Home and I Went Down, two great examples of Nineties’ British films. RIP Tom Murphy too.

Summer Scars: Extreme urban violence seems scarier to me when perpetrated by kids. Maybe I’m a closet pediophobic or maybe everyone should be working harder towards distancing their children from sharp objects and flammable substances, whatever that is, I believe that innocent minds when manipulated can have far worse consequences than ones already corrupted. That’s why films like Eden Lake scared the pants off me, as did a few others in the British hoodie genre. Julian Richards’ little indie film Summer Scars turns the tables on the hoodies. It transports a few of them into gorgeously lazy woodlands and lets loose a volatile drifter.

Richards has created a taut low-budget thriller that builds tension so effortlessly that we get caught up in the dilemas faced by its characters. Kudos to the younger actors for not going Haley-Joel Osmont on us and instead playing down their emotions as real kids would when they’re seriously frightened. Amy Harvey and Ryan Conway are especially good in making us care deeply about what happens to them. I guess, obscurity and simplicity has given them an air of genuineness that couldn’t have been taught in any acting class. However it is Kevin Howarth, who plays Peter – a volatile drifter, who makes Summer Scars a true stand-out in the crowded UK indie genre. He reminded me a lot of Paddy Considine in Dead Man’s Shoes; understated, intense and always a cigarette away from going completely nuts. Sometimes you even wonder if he really is a psychopath or just a serious man with shitty luck. The director cleverly keeps us guessing until a series of uncomfortable moments towards the end of the film. Also get your hands on Jacob Aaron Estes’ Mean Creek, a toned-down, but better-looking version of this.

Lake Mungo: Yay. Another ‘footage found’ film with plenty of chills! While neither as eerie as Christopher Denham’s Home Movie nor as tense as John Dowdle’s Poughkeepsie Tapes, it has so many wonderfully creepy things that you get sucked into it atmosphere. Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo revolves around the strange, sudden disappearance of Ms Arnold Palmer, and the spooky consequences that would have any parapsychologist frothing at the mouth with joy, but given that the Palmers are your regular friendly-neighbourhood family, has them scared shitless.  The best parts of the film creep up from behind during the beginning and the end, with an unnecessarily extended middle portion. The faux sub-plot of the resident psychic’s role in the haunting seemed a tad unnecessary too; much like the lengthy interviews with Timothy Treadwell’s plutonic friend in Herzog’s Grizzly Man. The other twists and turns are cleverly woven in, and like most self-respecting low-budget horror films, it uses the shaky, grainy camera angles to raise the level of suspense. Director Joel Anderson even makes Lake Mungo’s lack of originality ( it is loosely based on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Susan and Leland Palmer, remember?) seem less bothersome by giving it a perfect ending. This certainly isn’t some Discovery channel-produced “Unsolved mystery” . Lake Mungo is a faux documentary about grief and supernatural longing that could beat the crap out of Paranormal Activity in a fist-fight.

The Lookout: Joseph Gordon Levitt is getting really good really fast. Ever since he starred in Greg Arakki’s Mysterious Skin in 2004, he’s been on a roll, with his portrayals of downbeat characters. While his performances in films like Shadowboxer, Latter Days and Manic have solidified him as an actor who’s both consistent and talented, in films such as Brick, Mysterious Skin and now this, he’s so good that I worry for him. Young actors who show signs of greatness tend to fizzle out and lose themselves in mediocrity. I can only hope that he bypasses the Christian Bale phenomenon and stick to what he does best even when everyone else is telling him, oh man, you can do that in Hollywood too.

In Scott Frank’s moody thriller The Lookout, Joseph Levitt plays Chris Pratt – a teenager who has his life turned inside out following a terrible accident. Tragedy, pain pills and memory loss turn this once popular high school jock into a bumbling, insecure bank janitor. Brick meets Memento, anyone? Even Levitt’s ‘sad puppy look’ works to his advantage because he expresses it through his eyes instead of pursing his lips down or doing something silly. The story here is that he is conned into aiding a local gang rob the bank he works for. Sex, money and friendship are thrown at him in exchange for him playing a crucial part in their heist. Matthew Goode (as Gary), the brains behind the heist and the betrayal, Jeff Daniels (as Lewis), Chris Pratt’s older, much blinder roomie and Sergio Di Zio, who plays small-town deputy Ted, are really good in their roles. Lewis is a big ol’ optimistic mongrel, Ted’s a saturated do-gooder and Gary’s just an  asshole, all very believable and engaging to watch. Isla Fisher, unfortunately named Luvlee in this one,  deserves special mention. She plays the morally ambiguous girlfriend character and has figured out how to channel it on-screen, almost stealing the spotlight from Gordon Levitt. Almost. As for the young man, don’t you dare play Dick Grayson…ever.

The Descent Part 2: Something tragic has happened in the independent horror film circuit. Jon Harris has made its worst sequel ever (at least The Daring Dobermans made no bones about being silly). The first part of Descent was brilliant like few other modern horror films have been; claustrophobic visuals, fascinating thrills and flat-out great storytelling.  This one’s as bad as it can possibly be. Redundant visuals, predictable twists and awful dialogues. Worst of all, the clichés, good Lord, so many of them in this, right from useless cops, angsty Aussies to a bunch of storyline loopholes and frivolous false alarms. It is clear the director has opted for The Descent Part 2 to have wider appeal, and it might have been understandable if it didn’t eat so much into what made the franchise so great the first time around. Even the gore factor doesn’t help matters since the audience gets precious time in-between the running, the screaming and the freaking out to admire anything else. It even commits the ultimate crime that a sequel ever could, cheaply insinuating that Part 3 is right around the corner. Avoid this like a Chuck Norris’ high kick to the skull.

Next up, Crazy Heart, Home Sick, Leaves Of Grass, Delirious and City Island.

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Ice Age III: Ice Age III is the Leprechaun III and IV of its generation. Unnecessary, irritating and damming proof that kicking a dead horse is funny only when it is not used as a metaphor. I can think of only two genuinely funny moments…a prehistoric ostrich chick getting knocked out trying to bury its head on ice, and a deer making fun of the Sabretooth tiger (Diego) for being old and wounded. Hmmm…maybe they should have had a couple of velociraptors beat the crap out of a prehistoric horse. Nah, even that couldn’t save this film. P.S: I loved Ice Age I.

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Nowhere: Gregg Araki’s cult status could conquer a small Polynesian Island if it wanted to. Such is his intensity for stirring up emotions through films. There is myriad of expectations (mostly underground, I hear) that greet his efforts. Many assume that an Araki film is more or less doomed to to cross cinematic taboos and explode in the face of every art movie critic while others thump their bibles (or any religious souvenir of choice) and plot devious schemes to keep his films away from their sons and daughters. Maybe I am overhyping the fellow a bit too much, but for what it’s worth his 1997 film – Nowhere – is 88 minutes of nauseating brilliance.

In fact even Araki’s description of it as “a Beverly Hills 90210 episode on acid” seems to fall short of capturing its vivid concoction of sex, drugs, teenage confusion and the devastating aftermath of its collective tryst with romance and violence. James Duval (Dark) and Rachel True (Mel) who plays his girlfriend deserve special mention. The colour of death in their eyes is scary and it almost blinds me to the fact that Shannen Doherty and Heather Graham share the same space with these largely unknown actors. Watch it as you would a Harmony Korine film…with hesitation and with someone at an arm’s length to tell you to persist with it.

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Mysterious Skin: While Nowhere was raw and intense, Mysterious Skin is far more cautious in its approach to let its characters toy with the audience’s perception of their lives. Having said that, I must warn you that there is absolutely no redemption in Mysterious Skin, so do not expect Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to get together with Brian (Brady Corbet) and sell surfboards near the warm Atlantic Ocean by the end of the film. Neither is it a heart-warming story about kids dealing with sexual abuse. Gregg Araki has taken a very weird path in this one. It starts off by giving us parallel stories of Neil and Brian – two kids whose slices of Americana have been distasteful and crippling; both seemingly victims of various stages of child abuse. One of them goes on a downward spiral while the other represses the memory and instead gives it enough leeway to screw with his head .

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A few of the graphic scenes and the urgency of their appearance almost hinder what is otherwise a decent film. Tthankfully, the actors spare us the loose dramatization of pain and violence, which could have made for tedious viewing. I expect better things from Gordon Lewitt in the future. First Brick, now this. Good boy. As for Bill Sage who plays Coach with such dedication to all things Eighties porn-y and ultra-fucking sleazy, good for him too. I bet his wife never looked at him the same way again. Yes, that’s a compliment.

Scratch: See, this is why I lug my ass all the way to Old Parsons Complex and sit there in front of scornful air-conditioning to purchase DVDs instead of downloading them. With the sheer amount of strangely moving art out there, I sometimes feel that only actual physical and accidental glances might bring me closer to the more obscure ones (…cue American Beauty theme song). During one such visit, I came across Scratch – a documentary by Doug Pray on the fascinating culture of turntablism.

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Since I have not ventured too far into the nuances of this art form (apart from DJ Shadow, DJ Krush and Danger Mouse), I had a great time discovering how deep the roots of scratching sink into popular and underground culture. Even if your musical tastes exist beyond the boundaries of hip-hop, give Scratch a try…it can never be inconsequential to watch and listen to artists wax poetic/lyrical/egomaniacal about their music. Of course, I was not a big fan of the DJ Jazzy Jeff’s presence; any man who thinks Will Smith can rap is an idiot in my book.

Thankfully, there is enough lyricism in the way the others have expressed their thoughts on turntablism; so much that I am almost tempted to write letters emails to DJ Qbert or DJ Shadow and to tell them that they are A-Ok in my book. They, of course, would laugh uproariously at the magnificent pointlessness of my imaginary book and then we would get together, listen to some Afrika Bambaataa and make prank calls to Lil John. Hmmm…silly fantasies aside, seriously people, give Scratch a spin.

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Transformers II: I thought I’d just post a link to Srikanth’s hilarious review in Seventh Art (brevity is an art), but the prospect of trashing this shit is too much fun to pass. Here we go…take everything you could hate about the 1980s sitcom Small Wonder and throw in all the moments during which you were 80% sure that Robocop was going to cry. Wait, wait…not crappy enough. Matter of fact, why don’t you – the good reader – eat some Mexican food and think about how bad Rajnikanth’s Robo is going to be when it eventually gets released. Now, with that sadness in your heart and steamy bile in your abdomen, take a dump. Yes. That’s how bad Transformers II stinks.

P.S: I hated Transformers I, as well.

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