Monday, January 28, 2008

SHORT TAKES: Red Road (2007), Hot Fuzz (2007), & Magnolia (1999)

Red Road *spoilers*
dir. Andrea Arnold
The grading went as such: the first three-quarters, in which it functions as a mystery and pursues a path that leads one to believe it will become a dark character study, were excellent. It probes the inequalities she creates for herself with the people she observes, then with her ensuing obsession with a mystery character. With their sexually charged (and very explicit) meeting, the film seems to be a subversive study on the sheer range of degrees of decency. A solid 8/10. But the ultimate direction the story heads is rather ordinary and struck me as really ho-hum. Down to a 7/10. But then, I realized the film is admirable in its adult treatment of sad realities and the bathetic truth beneath even the darkest of mysteries, the most luridly indecent of people, or the sexiest of fantasies - the first half's kitchen-sink foreplay (a Repressed Female Security Guard/On-Camera Bad Boy role-play, or, alternatively, "Big-Brother-plays-rough") giving way to the human-interest drama of the second half.

So I gave it an extra .5 and it ended up at 7.5/10.
'Red Road' - 7.5/10

Hot Fuzz *minor spolers*
dir. Edgar Wright
Very funny, but unfortunately not entirely due to the unbridled brilliance and sharpness of the material. I would say most of my enjoyment of the film came from the charisma, line deliveries, and comic timing of the performances. Nevertheless, the film is sharp enough and in fact strikes a potently (and hilariously) subversive political chord in its favoring of thoughtless anarchism over senseless conservatism. Figuring out what the third act will consist of is a moment of unadulterated glee. Too bad the promise of the third act is more gratifying than the actual act itself, for it sort of declines in inventiveness as the antics go on. The ending is sort of a piffle. I would've liked to have seen Die Hard big in the climax.

'Hot Fuzz' - 7/10

Magnolia *minor spoilers*
dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Very insular and solipsistic, like much of Paul Thomas Anderson's films. This one, though, has an especially melodramatic streak and eccentric personality, its haphazard collection of emotions makes it seem kind of all over the place and begs the beggar's question: what's it all, ultimately, about? One can say the shattered expectations of an array of arrested developments, maybe... or people trying to rise above their vapidity. Or a portrait of the emotionally self-serving and the whirlpool they set off with their miserable complacency. Or maybe broken people finding one another again? I left the most trite one for last because the film seems like a bunch of these emotional threads thrown together with the barest sense of a throughline. It does pull it off... but barely, although that in itself is something to admire. Really, the film is much ado about nothing, but I think it realizes that and it is most effective when it wallows in the general void its characters represent, which is luckily most of the time. Anderson's visual eccentricity works to make the film withdraw into its own [in this case, frightened] cocoon, which works with the film's array of frightened characters. And since there are dozens of characters, with more interaction and interplay taking place here than in Anderson's recent There Will Be Blood, this film has the benefit of having much more verve and personality than that film. Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, and Phillip Baker Hall provide the most harrowingly unhappy characters. Reilly is really very good here and his portrayal of a desperately simple man seems a tricky one to pull off, it most prominently walking the line between sad and funny. Moore's scene in the pharmacy stands out as one of the most effective, in-your-face moments of scenery-chewing in the film, thanks to Anderson's unwavering camera. Phillip Baker Hall's Johnny Gator provides the film's most daring dramatic revelation, his character so quickly switching from being sympathetic to becoming immolated as the film's exemplar of emotional selfishness.

'Magnolia' - 7.5/10

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (Takashi Miike, 2006) **Minor Spoilers**

Miike's Off-Broadway play: "You see, the crates represent prison seats..."

Miike goes on to show that he might as well be working in theater with his precise use of lighting, staging, and mise en scene to create his aesthetic effect. BBLJA is a densely metaphoric work, generally saying something about alienated male youths coming of age (and existence) in an ageless, unloving environment, and it does it well at first, with its cryptic tale and abstract design. Unfortunately, by the end, it fails to go anywhere, and, while artistic and ambitious, ends up not as persuasive as it should be.

When the investigation begins on the film's central, slowly-revealed crime, the screenplay becomes relatively - and disappointingly - straight-forward, and its approach to its array of characters suddenly becomes somewhat reductive and flippant - although a certain sense of flippancy is a penchant of Miike's and perhaps a badge of his uncompromised sensibilities. Nevertheless, we want to learn more about both main characters' psyches, but with one's death, the film takes on the need to look backward, which halts the rooting of new thematic ground and instead gives us half-baked exposition, such as the revelation of the character Shiro's connection to the warden (played by Audition's Ryo Ishibashi).

The intrusion of the symbolic landmarks of the spaceship and pyramid are incredibly evocative, their first appearances especially expressionistic in how they literally intrude upon the enclosed space of the prison. The incongruity between these two symbols of faith in a "heaven" - heaven not being dichotomized between these two very loaded symbolic identifications (a spaceship [scientific] vs. a pyramid [religious]) - reflects the promotion of liberal, open-minded emotional understandings between the most disparate sensibilities which the film seems to be making.

The late scenes of the two men venturing outside to observe the spaceship and pyramid were hopeful signs of the film reaching some emotional conclusion, but the film instead seems to degrade into a mere collection of cinematic puns on a burgeoning but repressed potential homosexual relationship, a relationship whose textures should have struck me as fully delineated by the film's conclusions, but instead seem relegated to the background of the film's various subplots and convolutions.

The film is a unique and striking film, though, and probably deserves multiple viewings to fully understand and appreciate.

'Big Bang Love, Juvenile A' - 6.5/10