Friday, October 22, 2010


I watched this last night and can't seem to get it out of my head. Here's what I wrote on Flixster:

"Every so often a film comes along that I don't know how to rate. This film made me sad, angry, depressed, helpless, and hopeless. But it did so because of an effective story and characters. So is it a good movie or is it irresponsible filmmaking?
The plot is so far outside of my frame of reference it's hard to believe. Is this what urban kids really are like? Are they really that unsupervised? Why don't their parents give a shit? Where are their parents, even? That was probably one if the saddest parts of the film- the absence of caring, guiding adults. Sigh.
One scene you're thinking to yourself, These kids are gonna get exactly what they deserve for being so stupid. But the next you're thinking But they're just kids and they honestly don't know any better.
KIDS is what happens when babies grow up with unchecked ids and ego...
It reminded me of Lord of the Flies."

It was interesting for me to see how my attachment to the film changed when Jennie gets her big news. Before, I was watching purely from a sociological perspective, but when it came down to life and death I became much more emotionally involved. Let me say that the film is a universe away from my personal adolescent experience. It was only after reading some reviews on Flixster attesting to its truthfulness that I was even able to get over the fact that I couldn't even really believe that there are children out there that are that neglected. Or let me check myself (and perhaps reveal a little about my own ignorance)- I couldn't believe that there were white kids out there that neglected. I think part of the brilliance of the film is that it's about white city kids. Where a film like Boyz n the Hood is powerful and deeply affecting, it remains other for me. Certainly I care about poverty in the inner city. But it's an overwhelming problem, and it affects largely a culture and race I am not immediately part of and with which I don't have regular contact. But a film about white kids (and their black, Asian, and Hispanic friends) hits me in a more personal way, right or wrong. For me (and for Clark's intended audience) it is a lot harder to detach myself because I am able to see the particulars of these kids' situation more distinctly instead of lumping the whole thing together. While all the major races are represented, the white kids are the primary instigators, sexually and physically. Unsupervised children is a universal problem, not just a black one.

Caspar is an interesting character. He starts out as the foil for Telly- passive to his aggressive. He smokes and drinks while Telly preys on young girls. One might start to idealize him or let him comfortably settle into a pothead stereotype (he evens gives change to a man on the subway, while Telly doesn't even notice the man), until he initiates a vicious attack on a young black man (one of the more disturbing sequences in the film). He still can be compared favorably to Telly, though, until the final scene in the film, where he takes advantage of Jennie and we realize that there are no white hats in this movie. But there are no bad guys, either, because these are all KIDS.

Telly is probably the most reprehensible character in the film, for obvious reasons. But in his final monologue, he reveals the the audience that sex is pretty much all he has to live for. So even this young man, who at first seems only callous and vile, turns out to be hanging on the edge of the precipice himself, clinging to the one thing that gives him any sense of control in his world.

I felt that Clark also let the camera rest deliberately on the younger kids in many of the group scenes. The most memorable one is the group of prepubescent boys squeezed together in a chair, talking and smoking pot that one of them got from his brother. In the absence of caring adults, younger kids learn their values from older children, who are clearly in no place to be passing them on. There are a number of other scenes, too, that give us a clue as to how this cycle of bad decisions and deformed or aborted morals is going to continue on to the "next generation," who only are a few years younger. It is telling when Clark pans the camera away from Caspar's rape and points it at a younger boy lying passed out next to them? Will he be the next one to give or accept a diseased adolescence to one of his peers?

Jennie's predicament seems to shake her out of the unreal world that all these kids are a part of, where the present is all that matters. Aside from Telly planning his next conquest, we don't ever hear any of the characters talk about the future at all. Only Jennie (who, by the way, seems to be one of the few characters who we can assume comes from a more well-off family, expanding the socioeconomic scope of the film in a subtle but effective way) mutters to herself in the cab, "I'm not going to die, I'm not going to die." She sets off to find Telly to preach to him the harsh gospel of reality (which will likely spread like wildfire among the group, especially considering the number of Telly's escapades), but she is waylaid by a drug dealer in a club (played by Korine, interestingly enough) who pretty much renders her attempt impotent. There will be no pin to puncture the festering boil these kids are trapped in. Not yet.

I wonder how necessary the final scene, where Caspar seems to break the fourth wall, really is. Is it the director saying, "I have a conscience about this film but have deliberately stayed away from trying to be preachy to hit my points home more effectively"? Or is Korine saying, "My adolescence was F%$&d up- what happened?" If it's the former, then I didn't need it. I felt that in subtle ways Clark showed the audience that he felt and knew he was filming a tragedy. Any detractors who say that he was being exploitative for the sake of sensationalism is not really watching the film. If it's the latter, then it just makes KIDS all the more tragic. Korine, only 19 at the time, was likely writing what he knew. Now that he's out of it, in the real world, he still has no sense for "what happened"- which may be more indicative of how many urban kids feel once they've escaped the teen years than any of us would like to hope or believe.

I really, really hope one of you has seen this! I want to hear other opinions.

Also, I watched Greenberg finally and know I need to write about it. But as I mentioned earlier, I couldn't get this out of my head.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Flixster Update

This goes back about 2 1/2 weeks. Jabberwocky and The Town should also be in the list, but I wrote independent posts about them both.

The Hills Run Red
: The film-about-a-film aspect is fun, but Masters of Horror's Cigarette Burns did it waaay better. Pretty typical gore horror otherwise. Stupid add-on ending partway through the credits ruined what was actually a halfway decent one.

Scoop: Scarlett Johansson is really cute here, and Woody Allen is really funny. I don't watch a lot of Woody Allen, so I haven't been burned out yet on his brand of humor. Definitely a light, fun, enjoyable film.

Justice League- Crisis on Two Earths: I really like the idea of these PG-13 superhero movies, but I'm typically underwhelmed. This is one of the better ones. Some of the voices didn't really fit- like Batman's and Superman's, but the story was relatively solid overall with some really bright spots. Owlman's character and dialogue was particularly well written. I can't decide between 3 and 3 1/2 stars, but I'll play it safe and go with three.

Dead Man: A wild ride. entertaining and unique. I watched this again recently, and gave it an additional star. Visually arresting, clever dialogue, and a story that takes you far beyond where you thought it would or could go all make this one of Jarmusch's masterpieces (does he make any films that aren't) that improves with each viewing (times two so far).

Survival of the Dead: The tongue-in-cheek humor was funny, but overall this movie was terrible. The plot hung in shreds barely recognizable over a flimsy frame. Lines were cliched and plagued with wooden deliveries. The extra half star is for the humor. I'm so sorry, Mr. Romero.

Up in the Air: Got kinda schmaltzy and life lessony just before the end and I thought I was gonna have to like it less. But then it turned itself around and became more like real life. Kudos for that. Kendrick is delightful, really. Clooney is as handsome and charming as ever. Lots of nice moments, nice interactions between characters. I could have done without the wedding stuff altogether. Bleah. That's why it gets 3 1/2 stars instead of 4.

The Fourth Kind: A lot of this film's success depends upon the viewers buying into the "facts" of the film. Of course, there are consequences afterwards, when the thinking audience goes home and looks it up and finds out it's not true. It raises the question of whether or not it's ethically responsible- especially when you consider that there are those who *won't* look it up afterward and will think that it's based on fact.
In terms of how it was filmed, I don't think it was given enough credit for trying something new. I don't know that I've ever seen a film that uses "documentary" footage side by side with reenactments. So aside from the ethical considerations, is this an effective way to tell a story? I think I'd need to see more like it before I could tell you for sure.
My rating loses a half star because the film is not actually true.

Big Fan (watched because of John's review): This was really tough to watch. Not being a "big fan" myself it was hard for me to relate to the protagonist making one bad choice after another. As a character study, however, it was quite effective and thought-provoking. I couldn't help but make the connection between what happened to Paul and abusive relationships- the shame, making excuses for the other person, continuing to support the other at your own detriment, etc. You want to empathize with Paul but you can't because he in such denial he can't empathize with himself. I ended up thinking about it all day afterwards...

Carriers: Surprisingly good and well put together. It's rare for a film like this to rely on plot and characterization to tell its story rather than SFX. I was impressed. Note: I'd really like to watch this again to see how it holds up. I was very surprised by this film.

MacGruber: 1 star for the 2 minute skit towards the end that the entire film was built around, and a half star for throat ripping. Heck yeah! I knew going into it that it was going to be bad, so I'm not mad or anything. But it was crude without cause in many instances (though the celery in the ass was funnier than I wanted it to be), and so much of it didn't resemble the SNL skits that I have enjoyed. Kristen Wiig always makes me smile, so I don't fault her for anything. She probably had to do it because of her contract. Heh. Probably.

Cecil B. Demented: This was my first John Waters film. Finally! Based upon what I've heard and read of him, this seemed pretty mainstream, relatively speaking. It was sloppy but really, really fun and funny watching Waters poke fun at both Hollywood and independent film.

Have either of you seen any John Waters? I'd be curious about what you think. He certainly has a reputation for being a distinctive director.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ben Affleck is a Much Better Actor When He Doesn't Yell A Lot

He just looks silly, really.

Here is what I wrote in Flixster when I saw The Town about ten days ago. I've been wanting to write about it, but the truth is that I figured you'd both see it and I wanted to wait to hear what you had to say first.

4 stars: "Tense all the way through! Good ending was a mix of happy and sad... Great job by Affleck- I was losing hope for the guy as a successful lead... "

It's funny but I don't know that I have a lot more to say than that. I'd have to watch it again to comment on the construction of the film and the particulars of the performances. But as far as the story goes, I have little to say because it was really a very satisfying experience. There was a good balance between characters, drama, and action. The romance wasn't too sappy, the action wasn't too phallic. I liked that he got away at the end, but there was a huge cost. And as I hinted at, Affleck's performance was verrrrry impressive. I've been actually avoiding movies he's been in lately because I've been increasingly dissatisfied with his acting. I saw Jersey Girl, Paycheck, and Daredevil all around the same time, and enough was enough. As I was looking through his list on IMDB, I realized that I haven't even seen a film (Clerks 2 doesn't count) he's been in since Jersey Girl, with the exception of Extract, which I didn't know he'd be in (and I raved to my wife about his performance, commenting that he "should stick to supporting roles because maybe he's better as a character actor"). So in The Town, not only did he hold himself back- and leave the dramatic spotlight to Renner- but he directed the thing! Verrrrrry impressive.

Otherwise, I'd say I'm inclined to agree with you both about the film, which is a two-edged sword. I'm happy to see our tastes overlap (and on such a good film), but then there's nothing to argue about. Except...

John, Inception was waaaay more high concept than The Town. Affleck told his story well, but it's not a new story. I can't recall EVER having seen a movie where people STEAL STUFF FROM PEOPLE'S DREAMS. So, I could be wrong, but it's a film with an original idea in Hollywood, which rarely ever happens. I give extra brownie points for original ideas.

There is one irritating scene in The Town, and that's when he buries the money in the garden and she finds it and uses it for the skating rink. Schmaltz! First of all, you can't get me to believe that she's going to think to look for a big bag of money while she's gardening that's well hidden enough that some other yahoo's not going to find it first. Second, we already liked Affleck's character. We would have liked him if he'd kept the money. No need to try to turn him into some kind of Robin Hood with a last heroic act. ALSO- I find it hard to believe, unless she sat on the money for a while, that a sudden large donation to the community in the primary suspects's mother's name is not going to raise some eyebrows.

Aside from that, I'm good.

I've seen a bunch more crap, but I don't have time to REPOST my other Flixster reviews just yet. Feel free to check 'em out, if you think your consciences can handle it.

Speaking of the evil empire, anybody seen The Social Network yet?

I'm going to NY Comic-Con this weekend for work. Be jealous of me.