Monday, July 24, 2006

Head On, I Know Where I'm Going, Viva Las Vegas, My Super Ex-Girlfriend

I very much liked Head On, but I'm not sure how to categorize it. It starts off with a twisted meet cute: a middle-aged man and a young woman (both German but of Turkish descent) meet in a clinic after suicidal episodes. She proposes marriage to him instantly, but with a twist not terribly unlike something out of Greencard. It sets you up to expect a formulaic story in which two people who pose as lovers struggle when feelings of real love emerge. But both of these characters have a tendency to resort to violence when challenged, and the story takes a darker turn than I expected in the second half, one that reminded me of love tragedies like Romeo and Juiet. The basic theme is the alienation experienced by cultural minorities, and the story pushes the idea about as far as it can go. The movie is beautifully shot, with a good soundtrack. Two pop songs stood out ("After Laughter" by Wendy Rene and "I Feel You" by Depeche Mode), but what was outstanding was the use of a performance by the Selim Sesler Ensemble feat. Idil Uner singing a piece called "Saniye'm." The film opens with a lovely shot of the performers near the river in Istanbul with the Hagia Sophia in the background. It looks like morning, and as the film progresses, in between chapters as it were, the film cuts back to these musicians, and each time the day has progressed: midday, late afternoon, sunset, etc. Lovely, even profound. The lead actors are excellent, thoroughly convincing as they go through drastic transformations, and they elicit a full range of emotions with this powerful material. Director Fatih Akin is one to watch. Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Red picked I Know Where I'm Going, a Powell/Pressburger film, to rent this week (clearly the classiest film of this batch). I'd never even heard of this 1945 film, but it was very good, as one would expect from that team. A headstrong young woman who knows exactly what she wants in life from a very young age sets out for a remote island in the Outer Hebrides to marry her rich fiance, but storms keep her on the mainland long enough to become just a bit confused about just what (or who) she wants, apparently for the first time in her life. With a remarkable whirlpool action sequence, this remarkable romance is charming and thoughtful. Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.

Viva Las Vegas is only the second Elvis Presley movie I've seen (after Speedway). Ann Margret (I'll always think of her the way I was introduced to her as a child, Ann Margrock) seems to bring life to any project she participates in. (I was blown away by her in the movie Tommy, which I saw for the first time a month or two ago.) Elvis is a little flat as an actor (reminds me of the Harry Connick, Jr. problem--lively musician makes for rather dull actor), but singing and dancing with Margret he was charming. Needless to say, a silly plot (he's a racecar driver again), but reasonably fun, with some musical numbers very much worth seeing.
Rating: 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

I wanted to see My Super Ex-Girlfriend because I love stories which use SF/Fantasy/Comic book conventions as a metaphor for life: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Shaun of the Dead are the great ones, but I also loved Sky High. My Super Ex-Girlfriend doesn't touch those, but it was enjoyable. It gives the gifted Ana Faris a chance to spread her wings a bit, and it's a decent comedic vehicle for stars Uma Thurman and Luke Wilson (and his butt body-double). The film seems to have failed with much of the audience and with critics, but I can't help thinking people are a bit misguided to lap up every last "serious" superhero film like they're the most important cultural events of the year while ridiculing lighthearted fare like this. A very adolescent attitude.

Worst of all, some (like the Chicago Tribune's lackluster critic Michael Philips) have accused the film of sexism, a dopey accusation. Actually, Luke (like his brother Owen) Wilson's persona continues to be defined here as the more feminist-friendly sensitive man who isn't threatened by loving a strong woman and who prefers a comedy of self-humiliation over one of minority-bashing. In making Thurman's character so neurotic, this broad comedy is really just following the stereotype of the superhero who has to conceal her daytime/nighttime identity to its logical conclusion. Anyone who's ever had to come out of a closet of any psychological kind will understand that. Ever stop to think about how strange/kinky Batman is? The roles could just as easily have been reversed, but the comedic premise here is solid: what would happen if someone you just started dating and who turns out to be a flake happens to have superpowers? How could they ruin your life if you broke it off? There's a lot of balance built into the ending that I don't want to give away. The effects are surprisingly good, but unfortunately the humor isn't as sharp as it could be. None of the performances are great (though the leads are solid, especially Uma), and Eddie Izzard, in particuar, gives a turd of a performance. Rainn Wilson (so great on The Office) does what he can as the prick buddy who encourages the hero to score and head for the door, while on the hero's other shoulder, Wanda Sykes (love her or hate her) plays a sexual harassment-obsessed boss--both are broad comedic types that make sense for a sex anxiety comedy like this, but the two are more shrill than funny. Still, the film's entertaining enough, with some strong gags and a fair amount of fun. (The company that created the film's closing credits sequence ought to have been sacked, though.) Rating: 2 out of 4 stars.



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