Reviews for October 29th, 2010
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani.
Amer, which means “bitter” in French, follows three stages in the life of Ana: first during her childhood, second as a teenager, and third when she grows into an adult. As a child, she must deal with some kind of perversion that she witnesses taking place in her parents’ creepy-looking mansion. As a teenager, she’s a sex object for men, and, finally, in her adulthood, she’s tormented by an unknown killer that stalks her. If you think none of this really sounds like a standard narrative, you’re absolutely right. Writer/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani essentially channel Dario Argento by way of Brian De Palma by way of David Lynch on crack. The musical score along with the pretentious, stylish cinematography on top of the lighting, odd and dizzying camera angles, and too many extreme close-ups, colors and editing hit you over the head so often that it feels like an assault on your senses. You’ll find yourself with a headache instead of merely trying to scratch your head to try to figure out the meaning and purpose of what you’re watching because the laconic dialogue certainly doesn't help shed light on anything of particular value. Perhaps Amer should be required viewing for all prisoners in Guantanamo as a means of torture because it just might turn them crazy if they were to watch it repeatedly. The film should at least come with a warning beforehand, like in the hard-to-find experimental film The Flicker, which states that audience members easily prone to headaches and/or seizures should be accompanied by a physician while watching it. Number of times I checked my watch: 8
Opens at the Cinema Village.
Released by Olive Films.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Directed by Daniel Alfredson.
*Full review coming soon*
Number of times I checked my watch: 2 Opens in select cities.Released by Music Box Films.
Directed by Dan Ireland.
Based on the short story “Jolene: A Life,” by E.L. Doctorow. Fifteen-year-old Jolene (Jessica Chastain) marries Mickey (Zeb Bewnab) and lives with him at the home of his uncle, Phil (Dermot Mulroney) and aunt, Kay (Theresa Russell). While Kay and Mickey are out of the house, Phil and Jolene have sex and, soon after, Kay jumps off a bridge to commit suicide upon learning of his wife’s infidelity. Phil ends up thrown in jail for having sex with a minor and, before the drop of a hat, Jolene ends up in a home for troubled girls where a nurse, Cindy (Frances Fisher), falls in love her and helps her to escape so long as she promises to live with her for the rest of her life. Eventually, Jolene travels to Arizona where she gets a job at a burger join, meets a tattoo artist named Coco (Rupert Friend), and---surprise!---the two of them become lovers. It’s not quite clear if she’s into him as much as he’s into her, though, but, nonetheless, the relationship ends before she travels to Las Vegas and becomes a stripper. There, she meets Sal (Chazz Palmenteri), a wealthy real estate agent, and becomes his lover. Just when you hope that that will be the very last of her many tedious adventures, Sal dies and, soon after, she meets yet another man who swoons for her: Brad (Michael Vartan), a born-again Christian whose family is so wealthy that he doesn’t have to do much work for the rest of his life. Just the fact that he proposes to her without even knowing who she is will make you cringe, especially when it comes to the way that she masochistically allows him to treat her with such disrespect as sensitive woman and human being. For that matter, screenwriter Dennis Yares never really allows the audience to truly get to know Jolene so that they’d be able to grasp precisely what she’s think and feeling. It seems as though Jolene merely moves from person A to person B without changing much innately or reaching any sort of epiphanies throughout the span of those ten years of traveling. Each adventure feels episodic in nature and could have easily been fleshed out more in a separate film for each one. On a positive note, the modicum of heart and soul in Jolene lies in the moving and charismatic performance by newcomer Jessica Chastain. If only the screenplay were more character-driven, organic and less dull, Jolene might have been a much more memorable and fully-developed character. At a running time of just under 2 hours, Jolene is vapid, convoluted, tedious and too episodic despite Jessica Chastain’s charismatic performance as the seductive, wounded, insecure and lonely Jolene.
Number of times I checked my watch: 5 Opens at the Village East Cinema.Released by E1 Entertainment.
The Kids Grow Up
Directed by Doug Black.
This poignant and illuminating documentary focuses on the evolving dynamics of the relationship between Doug Block and his daughter, Lucy, who’s about to move away to college. Doug can’t seem to get over that fact that Lucy has grown up and will be leaving him alone with his wife, Marjorie. He had filmed her ever since her early childhood years, but eventually she becomes tired and annoyed of him filming nearly every part of her life just like any sane human being who wants much-needed privacy would react. Yet, as if he were a stubborn, quixotic child, Doug continues to film her and to ask her questions some of which are very basic, like what she wants to be when she grows up. The most interesting footage is when she rests on the couch and tells him, point blank, that he won’t be able to capture the real Lucy on film---a statement that lingers throughout the rest of the documentary even as Doug films her interacting with her new boyfriend. During one of the most heartfelt moments, Lucy breaks down into tears because of her father’s invasion of privacy, but, in another thought-provoking turn of events, she does eventually calm down and become a willing participant in his quest to film her transition from high school to college. Doug also sheds some light on the relationship between him and his wife, Marjorie, who’s struggling to overcome depression and candidly admits that she has suicidal thoughts. The fact that she and Lucy seem very honest and open on camera makes the footage all the more fascinating, but, concurrently, it makes you feel a bit uneasy because you’re like a voyeur peering behind the curtain into the private lives of these people. Some of the moments are humorous, such as when Doug ask questions to a baby to films the reactions, so those ephemeral slivers comic relief allow the film—and you, the audience---to breathe every once in a while. Doug may not reach a solid conclusion, truth or revelation per se, but what’s most fascinating is his search for the kernel of truth. While that search may seem very personal and specific to Doug’s family, it’s also universal because, to some extent, there are fathers out there who want to understand their loved ones better, especially before they’re about to leave the nest. At an ideal running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, The Kids Grow Up is a poignant, honest and voyeuristic quest filled with insight and humor.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1 Opens at the Angelika Film Center.Released by Shadow Distribution.
Directed by Lucy Walker, Karen Harley and João Jardim.
This captivating and eye-opening documentary follows artist Vik Muniz as he travels from his home in Brooklyn all the way to Brazil, his native country, to work on a new art project. He visits Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest garbage dump located in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. His goal is to change a group of people by turning their everyday material into art, but he ends up accomplishing much more than that. Simply by photographing the garbage pickers, a.k.a. catadores, at Gramacho, he raises awareness to the world about these neglected people. The same could be said for director Lucy Walker for filming the daily lives of the catadores and shows you what it’s like to live in their favelas. She also allows you getting to know some of them by including footage where they discuss their dreams, struggles, how they feel about working at Gramacho and how the Vik’s artwork has changed them as human beings. Valter, Gramacho’s recycling guru/resident bard, feels proud of working at the garbage dump where he’s been working for over two decades. He readily admits that he had not received primary and secondary education. Isis, another garbage picker, doesn’t have pride in working there, though. Vic photographs the Isis as well as other catadores, namely, Irma, Suelem, Zumbi and Tiaõ, the President of the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho (ACAMJG). Using those photos, he sketches them, uses garbage that fills in the portrait, and then photographs the artwork for exhibition, auction and also for prints to be sold. All the money made from that will be donated to ACAMJG. Would sending the catadores to a new environment, i.e. London, for an exhibit and asking them to fly on a plane be too drastic of a change for them? Vik’s wife has doubts about what the effects of that transition might be like, but Vik remains confident that it’s worth for them to go through such a change. It’s equally moving and uplifting to listen to the catadores explain how they’ve changed from Vik’s project that combined art with social causes. That positive results of that project is an exemplar of how art can serve a purpose to change people and that, yes, people can change, after all, if they look at their lives from a new perspective and feel proud about who they are as unique, beautiful human beings. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, Waste Land is captivating, inspirational and profoundly eye-opening. It’s a testament to the true healing power of art.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0 Opens at the Angelika Film Center.Released by Arthouse Films.
Welcome to the Rileys
Directed by Jake Scott.
Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) lives in an Indianapolis suburb with his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), who’s so emotionally distraught over the death of her daughter in an automobile accident eight years ago that she’s too afraid to leave house. They used to have a happy marriage, but now they barely speak to one another as if they were strangers. Doug takes the opportunity to briefly escape his situation at home traveling to New Orleans for a job convention. There, he goes to a strip club where he meets a 16-year-old stripper, Mallory (Kristen Stewart), who physically resembles his daughter. He tries to reach out to her in a private room without asking for any sexual favors and, gradually, forms a special friendship with her. She ever so slowly opens up to him emotionally and vice versa. Eventually, he helps clean up her small, dilapidated house, buys her a mattress and provides her with heat while paying her $100 per day to sleep there with her, although, again, sans sex. The more time they spend together, the more fatherly he becomes toward her, for instance, he makes her pay 1 dollar for every time she curses. For at least the first hour and change, Welcome to the Rileys meanders through the dynamics of their relationship. The plot finally goes somewhere more interesting when Lois overcomes her agoraphobia and drives all the way to New Orleans to meet Doug in hopes of patching up their wounded marriage. Screenwriter Ken Hixon does a decent job of fleshing out the characters so that you’re able to see them as fallible, complex and sensitive human beings. He also adds a few slivers of comic relief to offset the many heavy, melancholic moments. The performances by James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are each raw, heartfelt and well-nuanced, but, unfortunately, Kristen Stewart could use some acting lessons because she’s unable to convincingly and organically tackle a wide range of emotions as Mallory transforms innately. On top of that, the third act could have been much more powerful and haunting instead of leaving you feeling cold and underwhelmed. What truly causes the film to drag, though, is first-time director Jake Scott’s inexperience in knowing how and when to cut a scene because too many of them go on and on needlessly as if he assumes that a slow pace always results in substance; in this particular case, it results in boredom. At a lengthy running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, Welcome to the Rileys a character-driven drama that too often and bores you with its sluggish pace and poor editing. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo anchor the film in raw, well-nuanced performances.
Number of times I checked my watch: 6 Opens at the AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square 14.Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn.
*Full review coming soon*
Number of times I checked my watch: 4 Opens at the AMC/Loews Lincoln Square and Regal Union Square 14.Released by Freestyle Releasing.