Friday, October 07, 2005

It's the peak of the film year, at least until the inevitable truckload at Christmas, and I'm making more of an effort to blog about what I'm seeing.

Thumbsucker's vibe reminded me of 60s greats like Harold and Maude and The Graduate. Based on a book with a cult following, it's the story of a shy and troubled teen harassed by his father because he still sucks his thumb, esp. when stressed out. Relative newcomer Lou Taylor Pucci plays Justin Cobb, the titular hero. Keanu Reeves nearly steals the show, hilariously playing Justin's orthodontist, pontificating with New Age-y wisdom--it's a key performance in Reeve's career, promising a bright post-Neo future. The supporting cast also happens to features an unusually good performance from the often hammy Vincent D'Onofrio, a strong turn from the ever-reliable (and co-executive producer) Tilda Swinton, surprising comic relief from Benjamin Bratt, and another outstanding turn from Vince Vaughn, who was marvellous in the mostly disappointing Wedding Crashers. Justin is diagnosed with ADD, and a prescription is suggested as a solution, and the story takes several unexpected twists and turns. To begin with, the big surprise to me is that this kid sees the diagnosis and the drugs as a hopeful thing, a potential easy fix to his adolescent crisis. Personally, I would've been offended and repulsed in his situation, but the story is true to Justin's character, exploring some surprisingly philosophical questions. It's interesting to compare this film to Garden State, which had very similar concerns--prescriptions as inadequate solutions, Gen Y aimlessness, challenges of young love--but failed to create any depth in the family storyline. Garden State was all gesture by comparison. As a last note, this film is another high point in producer Ted Hope's illustrious independent filmmaking career.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.

Incredibly taut and effective, surprisingly resonant and meaningful, A History of Violence may be the year's best film. I've seen much of director Cronenberg's work of the last decade, and this is the best. The American mainstream audience is going to choke on this subversive masterpiece, thinking it's just another violent thriller entertainment. Prudes are already complaining about its sex scenes, which are erotic and and comic and edgy and crucial to the significance of the film. The contrast between the two scenes, as commentary on the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Stall before and after a certain revelation, is exceptionally rich. What economy! The exact same thing can be said in the two scenes in which their gay son, Jack, is threatened with violence by bashers at school: the differences between the before and the after says so much. For a film about violence and its legacies (and, I think, esp. America's relationship to violence), the film is surprisingly funny, and fun. But also complex. Cronenberg's no pacifist. In this film, as in the world, violence is sometimes necessary, but once it is committed, its ramifications reverberate, uncontrollable, a continuing problem. A classic, this film will be taught in film appreciation classes.

Rating: 4 out of 4 stars.

I rented Cronenberg's 1983 film Videodrome after seeing the new one, and I found it to be impressive and startling, equally provocative in sexual matters, and even more--perhaps too--ambitious in terms of meaning. The effects are resourceful and, at times, brilliant. Debbie Harry is outstanding, but James Woods, in a highly challenging role, is uneven, as are some of the supporting cast, and the ideas of the film are exciting but complex and amorphous, the kind of thing best left to college philosophers writing for academic journals. Am I wrong to think of this as part of the wave of 80s cyberpunk SF? It certainly beat The Matrix to the punch by a good 16 years, not to mention Serenity's meagre get-out-the-message plot.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

I rented The Rainmaker (the 1997 Grisham adaptation, not the Hepburn/Lancaster film) because I loved Runaway Jury. Coppola directed, the cast seemed strong, the ratings were good, and I was curious to see the nearly 70 year old Teresa Wright. The overlong film wasn't bad, but it was fairly bland. The thought occurred to me: What happened to the 70s rebels, Coppola and Lucas? Where's their fire? Victims of success? Will this happen to all of the bright young rebel directors of the last decade--Jonze, Russell, Tarantino, for example? Damon was fine, even convincingly southern, but a bit mumbly. Danny Devito thankfully doesn't try the accent. Claire Danes is a bright spot, as she often is. Voight's good. A pre-Sideways Virginia Madsen dazzles in her small role, perhaps too much compared to the rest of the cast. Mary Kay Place is good. Good performances, good direction, good intentions--a bore. Dear old Teresa Wright--I barely recognized her at first. That spirited talent from the 40s who I fell in love with a couple months ago is now an old woman, many of her mannerisms intact. Now she's playing a role that's fairly marginal, a sweet but dotty woman pushed off to the side. What a strange time machine film is. The camera one man used to glorify her has been taken up by another to pity and perhaps to pay homage.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.

Song: "I Want None of It" by Radiohead



Post a Comment

<< Home