Saturday, June 28, 2008
I sheepishly admit that I rarely take advantage of the Los Angeles Film Festival. Mostly because I get overwhelmed by the plethora of choices without knowing what's wheat or chaff and end up just throwing my hands up. But this year I was determined to make an appearance. So I hopped around the LAFF site, reading synopses at random, and found two solid selections—a documentary about troubled kids at a last-chance UK boarding school called Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go and the upcoming indie release, American Son, which I chose after seeing it on Mike D'Angelo's 2008 top ten list—a cinematic superdelegate vote if there ever was one.
Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go
Unfortunately, I kept comparing Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go to the much more satisfying 2003 student/teacher documentary To Be and To Have. That comparison aside, Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go is a terrific and touching inside look at how emotionally traumatized kids find hope in the care of amazing teachers. Guaranteed to induce cringing and cheering.
American Son is a beautifully made film told and shot with a naturalistic grace that is all to rare on the big screen. Director Neil Abramson did a Q&A after the screening, along with cast members, and there was an air of gentle wisdom about him that came across in his work on-screen.
Mr. Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, gives an irresistible performance as a young Marine named Mike who is about to be shipped off to Iraq from his rundown town. The equally charming Melonie Diaz (Raising Victor Vargas) hits just the right notes of sweetness and sadness in the role of Mike's new love.
Screenwriter Eric Schmid deserves accolades, as well, for keeping what could've played like a movie-of-the-week feeling very unaffected yet very emotional. Cinematographer Kris Kachikis brought another layer of honesty to the story with an easy grace of his own. I keep recalling one breathtaking shot where Mike and his friend are competing in a junkyard shooting range as the glare of the Bakersfield sun flares behind their lanky silhouettes. The film's original music by Tim Boland and Sam Retzer offered its own unobtrusively perfect punctuation to the tale.
During the Q&A, I raised my hand too late to get my compliment in, but what I wanted to express to Abramson and his actors was my appreciation for their success in making good storytelling seem so elegantly effortless. Bravo.
When a quiet, one-word line—"Pressure."—brings the house down, you know you've got something magic going on.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
OK, OK. After all my ranting and raving about how I would absolutely never, ever, ever see the Sex and the City movie on the big-screen, I feel I must come clean. I did, indeed, attend a public showing of the film for a fee of $12. I sat in the back row of a packed stadium-seating cineplex theater on the weekend after it opened. I laughed, I teared up, I got annoyed, but, overall, I enjoyed it.
To borrow a description from some review I read, it's basically a valentine to fans of the show. It didn't bring anything new to the table, but it was a sweet cinematic treat for the most part. I actually got choked up during one small moment between Carrie and Miranda on New Year's Eve.
The girls looked good. They must've all been doing Pilates around the clock for the past four years. Also, they acted their ages, which was a relief—a little more subdued and reflective, although they do get in a few shrill, girlish shrieks. Ouch. Let me just say now, no man should ever have to involuntarily see this film. It will be ever more painful than any "waiting outside the department store dressing room while my girlfriend/wife tries stuff on and asks for my opinion over and over."
As many others have noted, the movie's success is rooted in the same thing that made the show such a success—the celebration of true, abiding friendship.
So, now that I've sung the praises of the film I beat up before seeing it, I would like to share some whines, as well.
My big beefs with the film:
- Children are weird accessories. Charlotte's kid is practically mute. Brady gets stuck at another table during one restaurant scene with his mom's back to him.
- The running joke of the dog humping the pillow. WTF?
- The Carrie-in-her-closet fashion show with the game show cards. Super duper DUMB.
- Some sloppy writing, like Carrie telling Samantha, "You just compared your relationship to chemo." Uh, no. She just compared being there for someone whose chemo has become all-consuming to being there for someone whose career has become all-consuming.
- The Jennifer Hudson storyline. Huh? I didn't buy JH's character for a minute. Too saccharine sweet and tacked-on. Her main purpose seemed to be to provide a reason Carrie wouldn't get her Mr. Big love letter e-mails. Which he probably had his assistant transcribe.
- The duct tape on Carrie's cell phone. Supposed to be endearing, but actually seemed affected and DUMB.
- The heavy-handed designer name-dropping and product placement. It was distracting, because it felt very "promotional consideration paid by."
- The girls' shocked reaction to Samantha's "huge" weight gain of 15 lbs. Creepy, especially having heard that SJP won't let the word "fat" be used in her home, because she feels it's cruel. And the awful moment where Samantha is cleaning out her pudding bowl like a desperate puppy before the annoyed airline attendant snatches it away from her. It was just a cartoonish way to address emotional eating.
- The lame close call of Big deciding go through with the ceremony right before Carrie pummels him with her wedding flowers in the street. Probably supposed to make us ache at how close they were to actually tying the knot. Felt wimpy and forced. Like a Three's Company misunderstanding.
- Charlotte's crisis plot point: Pooping her pants with Poughkeepsie pudding. Mkay.
So, after all those complaints, you might wonder what else there was to like. But with a 2.5 hour-ish running time, there was plenty of good stuff, too. Funny stuff. Cute stuff. It's great so many women are loving this movie and using it as an excuse to celebrate their own female friendships. Good for them.
And good for those four feisty actresses and the talented Michael Patrick King. They've given us a lot to love over the years.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I found the Danish film After the Wedding to be emotionally riveting and visually appealing. And not just because of its brooding star, Mads Mikkelsen, who is so handsome it almost hurts. The film wasn't perfect by any means, but it masterfully stoked the tension with the smallest glances and gestures. While the director, Susanne Bier, who co-wrote the film with Anders Thomas Jensen, really pushed her luck with distracting close-ups to create a hamhanded sense of foreshadowing (dead plants and taxidermy, anyone?), the finely wrought performances (especially Mikkelson as Jacob and Rolf Lassgard as Jorgen), believable dialogue and lovely settings—whether the saffron shades of India or cool blues and cold stone of Denmark—were truly satisfying. I also appreciated that the story's secrets were fairly quickly revealed, getting down to the true drama of human beings being pulled as tightly as harp strings in the moments of fallout.