tcc: the visitor

October 24, 2008

i was fairly excited to jump into this one.  when it first came out, and i had watched the trailer, i was very uninterested and unimpressed.  then i heard some very positive reviews (not to mention positive reviews from filmspotting the most trusted film critics) and a lot of praise heaped onto richard jenkins performance.  so as i picked it up from the library today i figured it would make a good pre-game movie.

and if i had to quantify my response to it in just one word it would be “meh”.  there are some real moments, and some funny moments, and some moments that made me go “awww”, but overall the movie just didn’t do much for me.  and i think richard jenkins is getting too much praise for a performance that really isn’t asking him to do much.  the toughest thing he had to do was learn how to play the african drum.  most of the time he just has to stare blankly back at people, or say something and try to act awkward.

the script was the real drawback for me however.  first of all, it felt like characters would just stand there asking each other questions.  not to mention the very contrived set-up and pay-off to the film, which just felt too on the nose.  the film tries to hard to make statements about u.s. immigration, through jenkins glances over at a mother and her child visiting their husband/father in detention or the discussions on the statue of liberty.  it tries to be understated, but those moments are so out of tone with the rest of the film that it totally takes me out of it.  it’s very predictable, you could almost guess exactly what happens in the scene from the first fifteen seconds.

some of the best moments are the richard jenkins/haaz sleiman scenes, and they work really well, especially when they are around the drums, but the film has too few of those moments.  i love what the film is trying to do with music and life.  creating this fusion between living out your dreams and not caring about the demands of your job.  i think that in our society today we put way too much emphasis on how our career is going to turn out and what will we be doing for a living, but this film tries to get at ‘do what you enjoy’ (which is something i can get very much behind).  but the film gets too caught up in the issues of immigration and haaz sleiman spends most of the film in the detention center.

if you’re looking for something light (maybe you just watched 4 months 3 weeks 2 days), that’s when i can fathom recommending this movie.

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gus van sant is one of my favorite filmmakers and if you asked me why, i probably wouldn’t be able to give you a definitive answer.  i’ve always been really intrigued by his use of the long shot/long take, usually lulling the viewer into a hypnotic zone.  he always is able to create a strong sense of space and time, and always has a command of what is on the screen.

i think that this film (though with a larger portion of dialogue) is a strong continuation of his last three, last days, elephant, and gerry, in that it’s a mediation on an event that ends (or in this case really, starts with) a death.  the films never try to give a reason or explanation for the tragedies.  he never places blame on a person or a group of people, but is really more interested in how the characters got to that cataclysmic point, or how they deal with it after it’s happened.  this film is interested in how alex (gabe nevins) copes and deals with the tragedy.  how it affects his relationships, and how it forces him to grow up in a world where his parents aren’t there to help him.

we never see the faces of the adults in the film, unless van sant feels it’s necessary.  one of my favorite scenes is when alex is sitting in his basement and his father is talking to him, and the depth of field is so short that only alex’s face is in focus.  his father stands completely blurred in the background, and when van sant finally reveals him we see a man covered in tattoos and piercings, something that seems befitting of alex’s current state of mind.

i also think van sant does something really interesting with the character’s hair.  hair?  yeah.  you heard me. alex is always hiding behind his hair in any moment he feels pain or discomfort or awkard.  in the scene when he and his girlfriend have sex, both of them hide their faces from each other behind their hair.  it really comes into view whenever alex has to deal with the accident.  he burries his face away from the camera behind his hair.  masking his emotions, or trying to escape and find respite from what he’s feeling.

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in an effort to make this blog a little more relevant, up the post count, up the number of readers, and make the whole thing a little more enjoyable, i’ll be instituting this feature the contemporary companion.  (hopefully) this will be a (bi)-weekly posting of current or close to current films.  along with my write ups on the classics of course (because that’s what this was all started for right?)

the night of the hunter

October 9, 2008

would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? the story of good and evil?

i feel like i’ve stepped into some weird sort of alternate dimension where the film that i just watched, that ranks in at number 40 on the filmpsotting (all-time) top 100 movies list, is not the same film that everyone else has watched.  i don’t understand how it could be.

robert mitchum’s performance was decent in moments.  specifically when he is supposed to be magnetic to the people around him so that they let him into their lives without trepidation, those moments worked well.  i bought the idea that they would find him so engaging and lovable.  what i didn’t buy was almost everything else.  his over-the-top moments were soooo over-the top that i just found myself completely taken out of the film.  i mean the way he plays up the moments of violence or attempted violence are so ridiculous that it took every ounce of suspenese it tried to create right out of the film.

i do not understand all the praise being lauded onto this film.  i really can’t even say that this was competent storytelling.  i think the first 20 minutes are insanely jumbled; characters felt rushed into the film, you never know who these people are that are on the screen, and you can’t make connections between them.  not to mention some of the most absolute worst acting i’ve ever seen (i’m looking at you billy chapin and sally jane bruce).  i mean it was just laughably bad!

it’s also just unbelieveably contrived.  would a woman really just forget all about her husband (in what felt like just days) after he died?  and then run into the arms the next man who enters her life?  is that the way the 40s were run?  i’m not buying it.

it also has some of the oddest set pieces, i’m thinking specifically when the uncle is on the fishing boat and he looks down in the water to see the car, and it looks like he’s looking down in a bathtub.  i couldn’t help but laugh.  and that’s not something i really enjoy.  some people are able to derive pleasure from uninetionally funny films, saying “they’re so bad it’s good!”, but that’s never something i’ve been able to get behind.  poor film making is not funny to me……it’s just sad.

and that was basically it.  just reall awful acting, contrived moments, over-the-topness, nothing was really working.  and i’m surprised that so many people love it.  a lot of the reviews i’ve glossed over have said something to the extent of “it’s corny and outdated, but really suspenseful”.  and i’m more like “it’s corny and outdated, but really suspenseful

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i’m running really behind, mostly because i’ve really not had time to watch any movies, but i’ll be getting to the rest of the films listed for last month, this month.  and maybe some write ups on some documentaries (which is what’s going to consume my viewing plate for the next few weeks thanks to a doc class at school).

hey you might even get to read my paper on little dieter needs to fly and rescue dawn (but don’t get your hopes up).