Some thoughts on the recent films I’ve seen, three that hardly anyone else seems to have seen:
, the most entertaining of the three, starts off like gangbusters, mixing together French new wave, Barbarella
-style sci-fi camp, black-and-white documentary, and Fellini-esque navel-gazing self-reference into a great little stew. Unfortunately, if you wait to see where it goes, you’ll still be waiting. Roman Coppola decides to end things before ever really going to the next level, where he has something to say. But while he remains safely on the side of style, the movie is definitely worth seeing. Jeremy Davies is in every scene, and he carries it beautifully, playing the meek film editor/wanna-be-director whose life is split between two films he wants to make (one is a personal doc, the other is a big budget popcorn film), two directors whose visions he has to meld (one is an artsy Frenchman, the other is a moronic American kid), and the two girls with whom he is in love (one is a moody brunette homebody, the other is a knockout blonde actress in leather). Angela Lindvall plays the gorgeous actress, and she doesn’t suck. Jason Schwartzman is a riot as the young director, and Billy Zane is the pompous gay lead actor playing a Che Guevara-type revolutionary with a requisite beret. Coppola’s film is handsomely made, but it doesn’t stick in your mind the way his sister’s debut did. Still, I enjoyed the reflection on the malleability of filmmaking, all of the performances, the hefty volume of laughs, and the near-perfect period throwback to 1969-1970 Europe. Could have been great, but it’s still a solid steak knives.
is the exact opposite, yet my final assessment is identical in scale. The movie looks like crap -- directed and composed with a pretense toward Bergman’s domesticity, but coming across like cheap student film -- and it seems to have been edited with a spork from Taco Bell. The coverage sucks, e.g. cutting from a master into a mismatched close-up, back into a master. And the photography is harsh, bright light with dull accents. Add to that one of the single worst supporting casts I’ve seen in such a heralded film: the character playing the mother is the director’s own mother, a mistake that makes sense in the context of the film, but which nearly destroys the storytelling. She’s so uncomfortable in front of the camera, with such a bad sense of timing, you can tell she’s never acted before in her life, probably not even when she was stopped for a speeding ticket.
That said, you’d need a pretty great script to overcome those flaws, and Late Marriage
has it. It’s about a 31 year-old Georgian bachelor living with his Jewish family in Israel. His parents keep trying to marry him off to 17 year-olds that don’t want him, and he doesn’t want them -- he wants the (older) single mother he’s fucking on the side. The inevitable clash between love and tradition isn’t Hollywood at all (thankfully), choosing to take familial piety over the illusion of romanticism (a decision I’m not sure I agree with, but then again I’m not Georgian-Israeli, and the last time I was in a synagogue, a different George Bush was in office). The two leads are also fantastic, not only in their extended sex scene, but also in their silent moments as they receive tongue-lashing after tongue-lashing from the merciless parents. It’s a testament to the skill of the leads and the nuances of the script that a movie so shoddily put together packs such a punch. Not to say there aren’t one or two nice shots, and at least 2 really hot, leggy brunettes (for the straight men in the audience).
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
is not, contrary to popular opinion, about priests butt-raping little kids. It’s a live action/animation hybrid (though the animation takes up only about 20-30 minutes of actual screen time), a coming of age story for two boys, friends at a Catholic school, and the girlfriend of one of them, who reveals a dark secret involving incest. All five leads are terrific, thanks to subtle but powerful direction from R.E.M. video clipper Peter Care: Emile Hirsch is the protagonist (and quite a find, a teenager coming out of nowhere to dominate the movie), Kieran Culkin is his equally good buddy, Jena Malone is the girl, and Jodie Foster and Vincent D’Onofrio are quietly effective as adults (especially seeing the normally aggressive-acting D’Onofrio relax into the chill, “cool smoking priest” role). The movie goes wrong only when plot rears its ugly head (and some Christian symbolism gets a little too heavy-handed), but when it’s simply episodic, observational, languid, romantic, funny, and inspired (such as in the innocently creative animation scenes by Todd McFarlane), it has some of the best moments of any film this year.
Also, and this shouldn't be a spoiler, Altar Boys
contains the single most frightening shot I've seen since The Others
. Maybe the reason it works so well is because the tone is so light and realistic, you don't expect to be chilled to the bone for about 15 seconds.