Quick Takes – 11.05.12

17 Filles

Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing

Indie youth dramedy is emerging as a more significant sub-genre than the Sundance comedies we were burdened with this summer. Films like The Myth of the American Sleepover have paved the way for a movement of young filmmakers telling stories of their not far passed teenage-hood. There’s a crucially lost quality about the protagonists in these films, who quite often feel they’ve found the answers adults are too set in their ways to understand. And as is the unavoidable norm, sex plays an important role in their plans, because at that age it’s such an empowering act. It’s an assumed right of passage into “adulthood” as people at that young an age can perceive it, and that’s something so massively affecting about these films. No matter how in control these people may feel, we know reality is going to crash into them either all at once, or bitterly over time.

17 Filles isn’t entirely sure throughout which of those conclusions it will reach. Telling the story of seventeen girls who decide to all get pregnant at the same time, outraging their knowledgeable parents and teachers, co-writer/directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin are certainly not about to judge their subjects. It’s quite a heavy decision they’re making, and it’s not as if the dicey considerations of their futures aren’t made. It’s simply based on where they are in their maturity, the age of 17 being a terrifying middle ground between childhood and the age of responsibility. Most don’t start considering what their career-centric accomplishments will be until well outside the care of their parents. Their main priority is how they feel and finding a cure for what emotionally ails them as soon as possible.

There is an extreme irony to the way most of these wayward teen girls are most frequently shown, alone on their beds in the middle of the day. They’re morosely waiting to not be so alone anymore, and yet have ethically no right to complain with a roof over their heads, dinner being served, and a bed to keep them warm. It’s a lesson one of the girls learns the hard way when she is driven out of her parents’ home and forced to live in an abandoned mobile home nearly the coast. The bitter cold of life isn’t something you can simply get rid of, certainly not by placing all your hopes on a human being that hasn’t even been born yet. The pro-life/pro-choice debate holds little sway here, as the girls having the babies are making a bold choice that could diminish the potential of their lives. It’s a boldly human reversal of the debate, saying that maybe these unborn masses aren’t as precious as the growing personalities already around us.

Looper

Grade: B- | 1st Viewing

Do I ever get tired of being wrong? Yeah, I really do, but how can I help it? When people let their imaginations loose on hailing films like Looper unconditionally, it’s hard to follow suit so long after the main hype has passed. And yet I find myself easily agreeing with Hilary’s Kissinger’s opening statement regarding the film, which has a similar status in the pop-culture consciousness as Inception did in 2010. In both cases the films are focusing on fleshed out worlds leaning heavily on technology, in this case time travel, but it’s given an individual twist. We’ve seen time travel be played out in film again and again, but where Rian Johnson attempts to pave new ground is how he depicts the mechanism. His assertion of it is not as predeterminism, but that our emotional choices allow us to form new futures for ourselves as our current future plays out. I admit, I absolutely dig the concept!

There is admittedly a lot that’s cool about Looper, from the old school style of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe to some pretty gruesome punishment being doled out in this world. When every citizen on the street is armed and dangerous, you tend not to make a huge deal about gun-control. But the time travel mechanic is extremely cool in its first usage showing the slow demise of one significant character early on. But when Bruce Willis shows up as Joe the elder, things take an oddly unmotivated turn in a film that’s crucially about motivation. I tend to roll my eyes when the entire reason behind a plot is a murdered lover, and the short work made of old Joe’s backstory doesn’t give enough reason to root for Willis. I suppose you could say that’s the point, as Gordon-Levitt is the protagonist of the film.

That’s where the divide becomes practically unbridgeable, since I could never find myself believing the young Joe could still turn into this cruel and selfish monster. I didn’t believe it in old Joe’s backstory that he would suddenly turn his back on all his dreams just to drug himself out in China (Please, don’t ever go to China. Go to Paris!). I blame this not so much on the performances, both of which are serviceable, as I do on an arc that never quite feels justified. Even less justified is the shoehorned plot involving citizens with telekinetic abilities, which seems too overtly sci-fi a flourish to throw into a film already packed with potential thanks to the retooling of time travel. Sadly, even though there’s are some cool moments to be had, I just never connected to the story, and cared even less through the tedious second half towards the awkwardly abbreviated finish.

Schindler’s List

Grade: A | 1st Viewing

I feel terribly crude calling Schindler’s List Steven Spielberg’s most homoerotic film, though please believe that I mean that only with the greatest of respect. As Lincoln is getting press for being Spielberg’s most performance-based film, I respectfully state that none will ever surpass the magnificent triad of Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Ralph Fiennes. These men form the most understated of love triangles, though they obviously never come close to fucking once. It’s a film about forbidden attractions, most accessibly emotional rather than sexual. All the same, Fiennes’ Goeth shows a respect for Schindler that goes beyond professional into something disturbingly other. Less disturbing is the bond that Schindler forms with Kingsley’s Stern, a man who’d never be silly enough to go for such a dalliance. Both Schindler and Goeth are men who cannot get enough of what they desire.

All this may be happening opposite a devastating Holocaust drama, but my initial worries heading into this particular cinematic blind spot were that Spielberg would make it less about personal drama and decide to generalize that trying period. I emphatically apologize for even thinking that, as Spielberg finds himself performing dutifully to a higher calling than himself. The signs of his direction are still there, particularly in his use of colour within the dominantly black and white film. Such touches are undeniably Spielberg, and not lamentable in the slightest given their tragic resonance and how sparingly they’re used. A burst of warm orange candlelight is an inspiring presence in a world so deprived of colour.

I must also praise Spielberg’s touching reserve and determined application towards a subject that’s hardly an easy pill to swallow. The Holocaust gets a bad rap in cinema for being a lightning rod for Oscar bait, but it’s such an easy subject to offensively misunderstand in cinematic portrayal. Spielberg doesn’t, and is uncompromising in capturing the horrors of that period with the precision of a knife’s edge. The torture onscreen is devastating, the gunshots sending feathers flying more viciously than blood, as the price of expensive clothes mirror the cost of taking a single life. So too is the benefit of saving one life, but Schindler tragically misunderstands the phrase “He who saves one life, saves the world entire,” buckling under the weight of all those he could have said if he had only done more. It is here that the passionate love between him and Stern most devastatingly comes to the front. Even in philanthropy, Oskar Schindler could never have enough.

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  • Paul

    Argo-1st Viewing-B+
    Overall very gripping with a few script problems that could of been fixed in Affleck was not so damn obvious about how much he hates Iran. Last part of the film really won me over with how suspenseful it became. Strong acting from all except Arkin who was just in it for comedic value.

    American Beauty- 2nd Viewing-A-
    One of the greatest satires ever filmed. Spacey hits the right blend of perfect narcissism and hopelessness. All the characters feel real even though there problems seem so out of touch. A must see for any film fan.

    Manic- 1st Viewing-C
    Terrible direction and camera work. Felt really out of focus with nothing really moving the plot along at all. Also had no real point to it. What saves the movie is the strong performances by Don Cheadle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

  • “American Beauty” (D): I had the exact opposite reaction as Paul to this film. Thought it was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in ages. The performances are decent, but the script is just terrible. None of the characters are believable, and the dialogue tries so hard to be meaningful (and mostly fails, by the way) that it never sounds like anything I could ever imagine human beings actually saying to each other. How this won Best Picture is beyond me.

    “Pather Panchali” (A): This, on the other hand, was an amazing film. Beautiful camerawork, a simple yet profound story, and several scenes that are just astonishingly powerful. Hope to watch the other two films in the trilogy (which my university’s film library fortunately has, because they’re not available on DVD from Netflix right now) before the end of the semester.

  • Jose

    The Interpreter:
    Not bad. I was surprised by the strong performances by Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. The movie works better as a drama about coping with grief than it does as a thriller. The resolution to the assassination plot line felt a bit half-assed, but it was enjoyable.

    B

    Superman Returns

    I’ve seen it over the years, but never in full. It was on tv and there was nothing better to do so I thought, “why not?” Its kind of admirable how Bryan Singer was trying to pay homage to the previous Superman movies, but I didn’t think it worked. And the movie’s way too long for its own good.

    And I really wished that Kevin Spacy would’ve made made up his mind on how to play Luther. It was as if he couldn’t decide to play it campy or straight, so the result was a weird mix of the two. Plus, his diabolical scheme was idiotic. Even Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther would’ve been smart enough to not hatch that scheme.

    I also wish t hat Kate Bosworth wasn’t casted, but whatever. The action scenes were cool, I thought the climax was spectacular, so I guess that that mean that I like this movie more than most people.

    B

    Also, Greg and Paul, I’ve only seen American Beauty once. I liked it, but I haven’t really thought much about it since. Nor have I felt an urge to revisit it, so I guess I fall more in line with Greg than Paul. Even if I wouldn’t go as far as giving it a D.

  • – Looper (A-)

    Just might be the best Sci-Fi movie of the year. Johnson carefully directed a Sci-Fi movie with lots of character drama giving it a unique look. Screenplay is very well written and i was truly engaged in whatever that was going on, the second half does become a bit tedious but it still nevertheless effects the entire movie. One of the best movies of the year for me.

    – A Royal Affair (B+)

    Beautiful to look at. Brilliant cinematography, production design, costumes and score. Performances are just fine but Mikkel Folsgaard’s performance is just amazing. Script is a tad bit weak as i couldn’t really believe the whole affair/love thing happening or maybe was it the actors fault. Still the movie is visually stunning to look at. Reminded me of Barry Lyndon.

    – Ran (A)

    One of the best Kurosawa movies i have seen. Quite larger than life epic melodrama with every single scene so carefully made. The uses of color is astonishing. Also the score and performances were brilliant. The visual style of this movie is not like typical Kurosawa.

    – The Mirror (A)

    One of my all time favorite movies. Brilliantly directed, the main premise is very simple but Tarkovsky’s treatment of it makes it highly complex yet so riveting. Stunning visuals.

    – La Dolce Vita (A)

    My second favorite Fellini after 8 1/2. A joy to watch this movie and the actor Mastroianni. There is so much one can say about those series of “episode” in this movie.

    – Nostalghia (A-)

    Stunning imagery, Tarkovsky is god!

    – Life is Beautiful (2nd viewing) (B-)

    Overrated by a mile. I am not a big fan of the goofy screwball humor of the actor nor do i like it against the backdrop of Holocaust. It is in a way touching but i just don’t think it deserved all the praise/awards that it got.

  • Hilary Kissinger

    I agree with your Looper critiques. While I felt there was thematically redeeming material in the film’s ending, the slapdash inclusion of the telekinesis and the second half’s motivation problems are a roadblock for me too. I suspect it’s a film I would like less with further viewings rather than more.

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