Saturday, May 06, 2006

Fantastical Newness

Hard Candy (2005, David Slade, seen in theatre)- intense as all hell, and disturbing too, not least because it leaves one unsure of who to root for. The film is structured as a two-hander, with almost all the action unfolding in a locked house, in which we find Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a photographer with an eye for underage girls, and Hayley (Ellen Page), a 14-year-old who hooked up with Jeff over the Web. Jeff thinks he's in control, but after Hayley drugs his drink it's clear that she has something more sinister in mind. Hayley runs the risk of feeling more like a construct of the screenplay than an actual person, but Page's performance is so spot-on that she's never less than convincing, injecting occasional bouts of uncertainty into her carefully-considered plan and sometimes having to wing it to get it back on track. Director Slade takes an interesting directorial tack with this film- rather than seeing the action primarily through the eyes of (a) the vicious girl, or (b) the pedophile she holds hostage, he stands back, recording the action from a third perspective, turning the audience into voyeurs. This may not seem to be a new idea, but (SPOILER!) given the true nature of Jeff's involvement in a certain incident in question, it makes perfect sense in retrospect. Rating: **1/2.

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005, Mary Harron, seen in theatre)- fairly entertaining but wafer-thin, Harron's film coasts mostly on the surprisingly awesome lead performance from Gretchen Mol, who provides pretty much any emotional pull the film has to offer. The film has little to offer in regards to perspective about Page's life- it's a glossy rags-to-riches-to-rags story spiced up by Page's cult status and the requisite vintage erotica. What I lacked was a reason to really care about the people onscreen- I never got the impression that the people I saw were living lives, but rather were re-enacting them for the cameras, which of course they were, but this feeling shoots the whole suspension of disbelief idea right in the ass. That the film doesn't really seem to take the time period too seriously doesn't help- most of the incidental characters are seen ironically, such as the "respectable lawyer"/bondage freak who reveals himself to be a mama's boy. As I said before, Mol's performance is top-notch, which is almost enough reason to see this. Almost. Rating: **.

Don't Come Knocking (2005, Wim Wenders)- part of the problem with Wenders' recent work is that he gets too caught up in incidental goings-on that he gives short shrift to his ostensible plots. Which is not to say that plot is the be-and-and-end-all of filmmaking- consider Howard Hawks' late period, in which he made the same movie three times- but when the film deals with a father connecting with a son he's never met, some engagement is required. Still, there's some good stuff interspersed throughout- a scene of Sam Shepard resting on a couch in the middle of the street, the sensory onslaught of a casino, a short conversation between waitress Jessica Lange and bond company stooge Tim Roth about different varieties of breakfast potatoes- but not enough to make me forget that my attentions ought to have been elsewhere. Alas, the film goes downhill once Eva Marie Saint (as Shepard's mother) exits the scene- Saint commits 100% to the story, creating a deeply felt character that holds much more interest than anyone else in the film. Rating: **.

Mirrormask (2005, Dave McKean, seen on DVD)- more fun than I had expected from a movie that looked like a distaff version of the SPY KIDS movies. Perhaps it's the Britishness of the film that makes it so enjoyable- the sense of class structure even in the fantasy world, the way this world traffics in riddles that sometimes double as clues, and the very un-video-game nature of the visual flights of fancy all contribute to the uniqueness of its vision. In the end, it's still fairly slight, but it's also entertaining enough to make that forgivable. Kinda wish I could've caught this on the big screen, however. Rating: **1/2.

A Perfect Couple (1979, Robert Altman, seen on DVD)- "minor Altman," as Professor Berkman might say, but Altman's still Altman, and his cockeyed vision of the world informs every frame of this. The bits with Paul Dooley's staunchly conservative Greek family feel almost cliché, but Dooley himself is sort of marvelous here, making for a capable, albeit unconventional, romantic lead (his female counterpart is Marta Heflin, an ideal Altman camera subject, who depending on the camera angle can become hard or soft, pretty or homely). I also dug the stuff with the band with which Heflin sings, "Keepin' 'Em Off the Streets" (lead singer: Ted Neeley), with Altman's knack for capturing musical performances as peerless as ever. This is hardly canonical Altman, but for a second-rank piece it'll do quite nicely. Rating: ***.


Jason_Alley said...

I can't wait to see "Hard Candy" - my theater's getting it soon.

Also, that's awesome that you saw and loved "The Crazies" (I'm not sure if you got my e-mail about it). That's easily my favorite Romero film outside of the real Holy Trilogy.

Donna B. said...

I was stunned at how effortlessly unique so much of A Perfect Couple was. Where is my soundtrack album? And why was I denied this movie for so long? It's hamstrung by the rote, static Greek family scenes, as you note, but nearly everything else just sings. (Often literally.) This is one of the great lost ones.

Paul C. said...

Jason~~ I figure you'll dig Hard Candy. It's in your wheelhouse. Also, don't you mean the Holy Tetralogy?

Donna~~ Yeah, the musical sequences in A Perfect Couple were pretty rockin'. I've had "Something's Comin' Over Me" stuck in my head on and off for a week now yet I'm not really sick of it. I get the impression that Altman wasn't really into the Greek family stuff, although I did like that scene where they parade as one into the furniture store.

And yeah, I'd buy a Keeping 'Em Off the Streets album if they released songs from the movie.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Paul-- Glad to read your assessment of A Perfect Couple. I'm looking forward to seeing it again, though I remember being less than impressed when I saw it 25 or so years ago. It's the only one of the recent Fox Altman DVDs I haven't yet caught up with.--