Friday, June 20, 2008

On The Green Planet (No Twist)

The Happening(2008)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan, tries to make a summer horror movie, with no pretentions. The problem lies that pretentions are what make some artist's good, it's their ambition(insane, and annoying at times though it may be), that makes them so vital. "Lady In The Water" was ridiculous but it was interesting, it's arguable, it has ideas greater than itself. "The Happening" is an example of what you see is what you get. There is no twist here, just survival and some thin guess work for a plot, some very intense sequences, and an ending which has some subltle hints at enviornmental crisis and the woes of global self-destruction.
People continously go see Nights movies expecting "revelations", when at best he's made some clever twists and subversions of standard speculative fiction conventions; ghosts, superheros, aliens, fairy tales, utopias and monster myths, etc. He stands out as much as he does because he makes interesting genre films in places other's wont tread, or tread poorly. At a time when all movies are either franchise attempts or remakes or both, it's nice to see someone (anyone), at least try and think of something new. It just feels like people expect Night to be Hitchcock, when really he's somewhere between him and Larry Cohen.
I don't want to give away any crucial plot details, but the drama begins when all across the east coast people begin seeminlgy spontaneously killing themselves. No one knows what's going on(Night questions of any ever could), but sooner than later, the characters find it's not terrorists, and it's happening to smaller and smaller groups of people.
So what's left is a good pop corn horror film, with some original images, good music, a few awkward bits in the dialog, but over all decent writing with some light comedic touches (very needed), for effect. I think as a director overall he's grown, while as a story teller, he may be running on steam. Even though it's not as thought provoking as his other films, it's got all the suspense and dramatic tension, audiences have been waiting for since "Signs". So a little dissapointing, but overall still worth checking out.
(Spoiler Following): There's alot places the plot could have actually gone, there are theories that the evolution of flowers helped wipe out the dinosaurs, which I was just sure this movie would mention, but it didn't...or maybe something more with communication between human and plants (hinted, joked at, but never done). The movie makes it clear that "man" is the problem, like the ending of "Planet Of The Apes", one can imagine M. Night Shyamalan somewhere on a beach banging his fists into the sand shouting at the statue of Liberty, "You blew it up you maniacs", however in 2008, pointing out that man is self destructive, and an enemy of the enviornment of the planet, is like shooting fish in a barrel. Every movie from Godzilla to Frankenstien to Inconvienient Truth tries to point out how were messing up the natural balance(and does a more competent job), only Night doesn't seem to see any possible end in sight, just the beginnings of crests on a terrible wave of future problems (which is fair, and if nothing else honest), and so it seems the optimist of "Lady In The Water" and "Signs" where we had hope and each other to beleive in, has finally given in to modern pessimism (remember all those cars driving away from the dinner)...were all fucked, humanity is a disease...but at least we got movies.

And The Horses Became As Glue

The Tracey Fragments(2007)

Directed by Bruce Mcdonald

Wow. Like a manic depressive answer to "Run Lola Run". "The Tracey Fragments", is the story of 15 year old girl (Ellen Page), who is self described as "a normal teenage girl who hates herself", the movie is told mostly out of chronological order, but we open with images of Tracey riding a bus, wrapped in a curtain and looking out the windows in a blizzard, hating the world, and obsessed with finding her missing brother Sunny. Like the title says Tracey is fragmented, and visually this translates into everything in the film occurring on multiple screens at once. At first this smacks of art school excess but none of the juxtapositions are random, they really do highlight elements of Tracey's personality. Traumatized and delusional Tracey's life in one scene resembles the paneled grids of a comic book she reads, in another it resembles a trailer for an imagined film about her life, a music video with she and her rocker love interest (the Lou Reed looking "new boy" Billy Zero(real name Slim Twig)), in another a magazine diced up with future interviews. Aside from fantasizing Tracey mainly distorts her own trauma and problems (she is not a reliable narrator), the other kids at school both male and female are improbably hostile about Tracey's small breasts, because this is how Tracey feels rather than what her life is. Similarily Tracey's psychologist is an androgynous looking man in drag (in Tracey's mind, both Mother and Father figure, she later asks to movie in with in him). Of course, a lot of the Tracey Fragments is difficult to piece together because some vignettes seem completely delusional while others at least seem to bear the scars of realism.
Constantly showing events from a multiplicity of angles of highlights Tracey's self consciousness, always observing herself as she participates doubting everything, "how can anything be true if everything is in your head", she wonders at one point. Really this movie is little like "Run Lola Run", save they're both indie films, highly inventive in terms of script, editing, cinematography, and direction, and both have commanding lead actresses. The stylization is as exciting as the material is difficult, were poured straight into the mind of a unstable, angry,and terrified, teenage less sexed Kathy Acker heroin, raging with guilt.
(Spoiler in next paragraph) The films clearest moment Tracey finding her brothers hat near a snow bank in a simple wide shot, slowly lines like cracks in ice slowly appear up the screen dividing the image into multiple shots of the lake, as Tracey's mind literally fragments and looks away to avoid the obvious. The Tracey Fragments, is a tense psychological study, and bleak coming of age tale, highly and effectively stylized into something greater than the sum of it's parts. It's disturbing, tragic, but also a really unique film experience, and easily one of best films of 2007 .

The Bittersweet In Being Nice

Du levande (You, The Living)(2007)
Directed by Roy Andersson
"Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe's ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot" -Goethe That's the opening title card from "You The Living". Like Roy Andersson's earlier "Songs From The Second Floor" each scene in "You, The Living" is composed with a static non moving camera, giving each vignette the detailed composition of a photograph or a painting. Some vignettes last minute or two, some a matter of seconds, as previous. Though Anderson plays the same stylistic instrument, he manges to get more than a few fresh notes. One of the most stunning openings in a film anywhere, a woman complains about the woes of the world and her life, repeatedly insulting her boyfriend and dog to leave, as a New Orleans Style Brass band bubbles beneath the conversation, until the boyfriend exits and the woman repeats that he lies, but that she may be along latter for dinner. Then she breaks into a song about escaping from her life on a motorcycle. Then cut to a group of Chefs standing in a row and staring in silent awe out of a window at something off screen, while the Brass band plays on, making the scene resemble an eerie french cartoon. Eventually the Chefs go back to work, and an old man hobbles into frame moving at snails pace, and dragging ten feet behind him on a leash a small puppy yelping on it's back, as the band plays on. Songs From The Second Floor began with a quote, "Blessed Be The Ones Who Sit Down", and where that film built it's jokes and visual poems from consumer culture, this film takes a broader view of the world, where all suffering and misery, fantasies, and hopes are all to be appreciated, because they're better than the alternative; death or "Lethe's ice cold lick" as Goethe puts it in opening quote. And besides all the humiliations and loneliness are funny enough if you look at them from the right perspective, as this film perpetually does.
A thin old man has sex with a large breasted woman wearing a band leaders helmet, as she moans on top of him and gets closer to climax, he somberly recounts losing his pension, having served in the brass band for years and now having nothing, as she orgasms, he mutters "Isn't it Tragic". It's brilliantly and beautifully put together, and hilarious sometimes in very dry and others very absurd ways, the scenarios here instead of feeling stark and tragicomic have a warm bittersweet feeling to them.
The greys of Ingmar Bergman have abandoned for brighter, softer tones, the colors in the class room and the park look like crayon and watercolor alternately, and there's a building on train tracks, that's as amazing as anything Terry Gilliam or Michel Gondry ever dreamed up. The ending, ties all the themes of appreciating whatever of life we have together perfectly. Though I liked the feelings and sensations this invoked in me more than "Songs From The Second Floor", it is slightly less effective. Still though, amazing follow up film, and something anyone interested in movies needs to see, actually makes for a much better introduction than "Songs". Dry humor, dreamy images and structure, vivid colors and bittersweet harmonies of brass bands, guitar heroes, and loud lone drummers in empty rooms.

All The World Is A Stage

The Fall(2007)
Directed by Tarsem Singh
A beautiful and amazing fantasy film, like Jean Luc Godard's "Alphaville" which transformed 60's Paris into a dystopian sc-fi planet without the use of special effects, Tarsem's "The Fall".Shooting in 18 different countries the film transforms some of the most beautiful locations on earth into a surreal fantasia of orange deserts, blue cities, and underwater photography of elephants swimming in the open ocean.The story is deceptively simple tale of a stuntman named Roy, whose taken an emotional and physical fall, meeting a 5 year old Romanian girl named Alexandria, who fell and broke her arm working the California Orange grooves,meeting in a hospital in 1920's Los Angeles. Alexandria has lost her father, Roy's lost his girl and is suicidal, and Roy begins telling an epic tale of revenge, staring characters based on hospital staff and historical characters.Five heroes an Italian explosives expert, an Indian Prince, an African self-freed slave, Charles Darwin as young British naturalist who speaks to animals, and a mysterious masked Zorroesque bandit who is at turns Alexandria's father and Roy himself, set out to kill their mutual enemy Governor Odious.(with occasional assistance from a shaggy haired wild man called "The Mystic") (The leading man from the film Roy was working on, who stole his girl and drove him to his stunt/suicide?) in the story Roy tells Alexandria, provided she fetch things for him. Like so many oneiric fantasies, this story is about innocence and romanticism vs. the big bad world, in Don Quixote it was romanticism and fantasy vs reality and deception, "Pans Labyrinth" romanticism against fascism, "Brazil' romanticism against bureaucracy, and "The Fall" likewise is romanticism against despair.The film is as grand in it's themes as it is in it's visuals, touching on love, death, despair, story-telling, manipulation, the early days of film making, innocence, cross cultural relationships(when Roy says wigwams describing the Indian's back-story, Alexandria imagines Hindu Palaces.)and reconstructing your life after a trauma, picking up the pieces after the fall.I was glad I saw this in theaters on a big screen, one of the most vibrant and beautiful things Ive ever seen anywhere and at anytime. If you've seen Tarsem's first film "The Cell", you've got an idea of this directors abilities to work with both visuals and performers(he mad J-Lo passable).Alexandria is played by one the best child actress Ive seen in a very long time, a 5 year old who speaks like a 5 year old, which injects a good helping of humor into the story. Instant classic, If you get a chance, see it.