Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wasted Postage - Even more reports from the Netflix theater

The 400 Blows (1959) - As someone said in archival footage in the special features - this is one of the few films to treat children seriously and with central focus — rendering the adults frivolous and the child's struggle important. 400 Blows would be an accomplishment for anyone, let alone a debut picture by a young film critic (Fran├žois Truffaut) that launched an entire movement of film. I saw Truffaut's second film, Shoot the Piano Player, a couple weeks ago and liked it a bit more. It had more of the French New Wave trademarks and playfulness, and mishmashed some of the more pulpy genres. 400 Blows is more somber, with autobiographical details and a fictional story of juvenile delinquency. The main character is a poorly-behaved 14-year-old who, through a series of opportunistic lies and bad luck, ends up on the streets, scrapping for a dollar. His interaction with adults and the desperation of his parents comes from a universal place — everyone can relate to his adolescent troubles — whether you grew up in Paris or not. The final shot of 400 Blows says more than the entirety of most two-hour movies. A

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
- Eh, don't really feel like getting into it, other than the Titanic framing devise of an old lady croaking on about her pre-liverspots romance is completely unnecessary. Lopping it off could have saved 30 minutes, and possibly the over-long film. It's gorgeously shot, and the effects are great, but ultimately inconsequential. And tacking on hurricane Katrina doesn't make it any more relevant. Topical! Can we have the old David Fincher back? C

Let the Right One In (2008) - This is a Swedish vampire movie, sure, but the bloodsucking is mostly used to add fright and atmosphere to a film about childhood horrors, specifically bullies. Effectively disturbing, LTROI saves the gore for the end. Protagonist Oskar, cruelly picked on at school, has a fascination for true crime stories and newspaper clippings, and has his own quiet propensity for violence. He finds a dangerous new friend when a vampire and her elderly caretaker move into the same apartment complex. The two bond over the somber and quiet isolationism instantly recognized between the two outcasts. B+

Palindromes (2004)
We stay the same, birth through death, fat or skinny, the products of genetic coding at birth, said Mark, an unfairly accused pedophile in Todd Solondz' bizarre fifth feature. Central character Aviva is played by several different actors - a few different adolescent girls, a 300 lb black woman, a young black girl and even an adolescent boy - as she goes on a strange journey to have "lots and lots of babies," and recover from some unfortunate interactions with other humans. Even as her physical appearance changes in every scene, it's hardly as jarring as it sounds, as each actor maintains her pathetic, solemn nature and need for male comfort. Solondz traffics in the uncomfortable - abortion, dead babies, pedophilia v- and does not coat the issues in sugar for easy digestion. He drapes them in despair and the darkest humor. That doesn't mean he always adds anything to the discussion. Palindromes makes the audience think at times, but occasionally feels like shock and repulsion for the sake of shock and repulsion. For fans of Welcome to the Dollhouse, Palindromes exists in the same universe. The opening scene is Dawn Wiener's funeral, and the above-mentioned Mark is her brother from Dollhouse. B-

SLC Punk! (1998)
— Had I seen this in 9th grade (like everyone else I know), it probably would have had a lasting effect on several burgeoning ideas. But at 23, Matthew Lillard's polemic monologues, told directly to the camera, are little more than platitudes preached as the writer's idea of "punk" gospel. As Lillard's character begins to find the error of his ways, it becomes clear that some of the diarrhea flowing from his mouth early in the film was meant to be slightly naive. But I won't assume many impressionable minds will get it, instead taking away the perceived importance of poseurs versus real punks, MAN!

SLC Punk! has, unsurprisingly, little about music or even what the mo-hawked youth are rebelling against. It's more about a bunch of dumb-asses more interested in taking acid and unfairly beating the fuck out of rednecks. (Side note - writer/director James Merendino loves to romanticize punks beating the shit out of other subgroups. Fuck that shit.) None of the punks are likable, nor even interesting, as hard as Lillard tries to do both. He chews scenery like a Midwesterner at a buffet, occasionally stumbling upon the intensity needed to the drive the nearly plotless film, but mostly just filling the idea-empty spaces with his gaping horse mouth.
Lillard's character seams to redeem himself at the end of the film (with the requisite hair-cut — you can actually guess exactly when he will go to barber), but his redemption comes in the exact way you predict it will when first introduced to him and parents in the first half hour. Lillard's turn around (the film implies that in order to be a punk you have to be a miscreant leach of society) does happen in a somber and disorientating second act that nearly redeems the first. C


The Juice Box said...

I'm pretty sure I don't remember most of SLC Punk, but that's because I did see it in 9th grade or so, like you said. It was probably better then, but I've never been a big fan of Lillard in general.

Warped Coasters said...

what did you think of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"?

Have you seen "Let the Right One In" yet?

Professor Film said...

I completely agree with your thoughts on "SLC Punk." I saw that movie in theaters when I was 18 and didn't believe a word of it then. The entire movie seemed to be made by someone who didn't understand the punk culture, or understood it only through its mainstream portrayals. Weak.
The problem with "Benjamin Button" is that it never tackled the intriguing central premise: What would it be like to live your life backwards? Imagine looking like you're 80 and experiencing first love. How would society treat you? What effect would it have on you psychologically? David Fincher doesn't seem to care. You could take away the central gimmick and it would have no effect on the film. It never becomes a plot point until the very end, and even then it's touched up in the most facile way.
I think "Let the Right One In" is a tad overrated, the atmosphere is a little too austere and suffocating, but certain scenes work brilliantly, and there's no denying that ending.
"Palindromes." I love it for the scenes involving The Sunshine Kids, what can I say? They're so twisted.

Warped Coasters said...

Those damn Sunshine Kids, man. During that whole part of the film all i could say to my buddy was "man this is so fucked up, man this is so fucked." haha. The whole Jesus boy band routine was funny as hell. I didn't know if I was supposed to laugh or kill myself.

I agree about Ben Button, never really thought of it that way.

"Let the Right One In" is a little overrated, until that ending, which kind of tricks you into remembering the whole thing more fondly. I was a little bored during the middle section.

Professor Film said...

The scene that got me involving The Sunshine Kids was when they were eating dinner together, and it took on the air of a '60s television sitcom gone horribly awry. The terrible corny jokes, the cued laughter, the dog barking. You just simultaneously laughed and cringed, which of course is a Solondz specialty. It was surreal, like "Laugh at the freaks, but don't." Solondz has to be doing something right to provoke such a response in his viewers.

The Juice Box said...

I liked Benjamin Button, but only to a point. For the acting and part of the storyline, but that Professor guy was right on most accounts. They don't really get to the center of the issues.

And no, haven't seen "Let the Right One In" yet.