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 (François 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