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Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Ten Word or Less Review: What Satan does with a day off.

Five people get in an elevator, one of them is Satan.  That’s the plot of Devil.  It’s the kind of ridiculous, silly concept which can work like cinematic gangbusters when put in the right hands.  Nothing is better for creating movie tension than bickering strangers, intense claustrophobia and mounting fear.  What has to worry you though is that this idea comes from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan.  The one time directorial wonder kid now turned poisonous hack, Shyamalan sets off every warning light when anything springs forth from his corrupted noggin.  But Devil shows that maybe when his ideas are directed by others, here by John Dowdle, perhaps the gimmicky nature of his effort can be turned into a worth while effort.

When five seemingly random individuals get on an elevator they aren’t on it long before it stops dead and everything begins to come apart for our trapped dupes.  Lights flicker, they get annoyed with each other, they do nothing to establish trust between themselves, then someone gets bit.  On the other side of the elevator building security, maintenance and police officers scramble to get them out to no avail.  As the somber narrator informs us, there’s little to be done, this elevator will be Satan’s playground for the day.  It seems the hooved one enjoys spending an afternoon torturing the corrupted souls among us.  The people on this elevator have dirty secrets and Beelzebub is going to spend this particular day grinding their spirits into dust, then revel in killing them one by one.  One would feel safe assuming Satan would have bigger fish to fry but we can only speculate that the penultimate evil being of the cosmos must occasionally like to take a day off to appreciate the smaller things.  Like killing assholes in an elevator.

Devil , the first of what is supposed to be a series dubbed The Night Chronicles, was mostly marginalized and shrugged off upon it’s release.  While it is no genre defining, groundbreaking masterpiece, it is a tightly constructed, wound up work of tension.  Shyamalan, here a writer and producer, has wisely put Devil in the hands of another director.  Running a scant 75 minutes, director Dowdle has no fat at all on his story.  It simply starts and goes and doesn’t stop, leaving the audience no time to question the dubious nature of the story.  It gets off to a disorienting beginning as a typical fly over shot of Philadelphia gets turned upside down, literally.  From that cool beginning Devil economically works along to make the audience guess and squirm, doing both reasonably well.  A few characters do a few stupid things, power line and water dumbass, and our folks in the elevator shouldn’t have to be told to take out their phones to use as flashlights, but on the whole nothing back breakingly idiotic ruins the scenario.

As I said, there’s really not a lot to blow a viewer away, but with Shyamalan involved Devil feels like the F student in your classroom suddenly turned in a C+ paper.  Yeah, it is only a C+ paper, but considering the source, you can do nothing but be stupefied by the adequate results.  Maybe M. Night is coming out of the fog which has ruined his reputation, or maybe he just wasn’t involved enough to screw things up.

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Ten Word or Less Review: The woeful romances of white people.

Love is an exemplary thing when the hardships of life don’t get in the way to muck up two peoples state of bliss.  Such is the story running through Like Crazy, a authentic feeling exploration of two people who seemed destined to be bound together for the rest of their lives, but can’t iron out the logistics of life to make it happen.  Maybe they should have called UPS for help.

Anna and Jacob are two college students edging toward graduation.  Anna (Felicity Jones) is small and gorgeous and a poet at heart.  She wants to have a career in writing and woos Jacob on their first date with her longing glances and prose.  Jacob (Anton Yelchin) is a design student with his sights set on making high quality furniture in a business all his own.  The two make the kind of perfect couple which in real life would drive many to a sickening state of envy.  She teaches him about whiskey.  He makes her a chair.  He’s smitten.  She swoons.  Love is heavy in the air, Paul Simon sings, everything should be hunky dory.  But there’s a rub.  Anna is British and as graduation looms her government mandated return to England threatens to put their relationship on hold for months.  Throwing caution to the wind she overstays her visa and creates an issue which will come to cripple their relationship in ways they never thought possible.  Love can conquer many things but it has a hard time standing up to cold, dispassionate bureaucracy.

Like Crazy’s look into contemporary romance among well intentioned, well educated but inexperienced lovers works as insightful, genuine character drama.  Anna and Jacob are believable, very charismatic and intelligent individuals but they are not unselfish or perfect.  The two are understandably drawn together but despite the clear attraction and bond, neither can help but muddy the waters when separated from the other.  With he in America and she in England, and that nasty, inflexible visa issue separating them, their relationship ebbs and flows as both give into dalliances with others.  He falls into a relationship with a coworker (Jennifer Lawrence), she gets involved with a handsome neighbor (Charlie Bewley).  Their relationship keeps straining under the weight of life and distance and neither of them can quite make the sacrifices necessary to make things work out for themselves.  Jacob doesn’t want to move to England.  Anna can’t move to America.  Why Jacob can’t make chairs in England is kind of glossed over.  These elements of selfishness and impatience between the two paint a more believable and complete portrait of love when we are not quite adults.  Grown up yes, but still riddled with need and not as selfless as we like to think we are.

Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin make an eloquent onscreen duo, forming a tightly bound and touching chemistry together.  They, and the movie itself to some extent, echo the relationship of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in the Before Sunrise/Sunset films.  Much of the work here was improvised by the both of them, along with director/writer Drake Doremus, and they show insightful instincts as performers.  Despite the inability of either of them to remain true enough to their cause, they understand what they’re losing by their actions.  At its end when the hurdles have finally been cleared away for the two of them to be together, too much time and life has passed.  They’re bureaucratic problems are swept away to at last allow them to wind up in each others arms but once in the others embrace they have nothing to hang onto but a memory of what they briefly once had.  Loves fleeting greatness hangs heavy.

Like Crazy will vex fans of typical movie romances.  Cliches which make the genre stupid and insufferable like tearful rain soaked confessions, icky pop tunes, rushing off through the city to catch someone before they get on a plane and confessing love in front of a large group of people who suddenly care are all thankfully nowhere to be found.  Like Crazy avoids the dishonest shams so often wrapped up in stories like this, instead wanting to examine a great love not meant to be and how it got that way.


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Ten Word or Less Review: American Psycho

Artifice and superficiality are warping characteristics much too rampant in popular culture.  These traits when left unchecked create people like Young Adult’s Mavis Gary, someone who craves the attention of others even as her own achievements which would warrant said attention are fading, maybe even not being there to begin with.  Mavis wants to be admired by the people she’s left behind, she feels she’s entitled to it, and she has no qualms about spinning a stream of lies which are visibly suspicious to many.  Incapable of admitting any truth to herself, Mavis represents the type of life that happens when all the wrong personal choices are made and never pointed out.  In short, Mavis is an extreme case of suspended adolescence and what happens when you don’t grow up.

A small time writer of teen lit, Mavis is in her mid 30’s, a raging alcoholic and in a state of denial so deep, what she sees as a fulfilling existence free of the so-called traps, family, house, normal job, etc., is little more than a house of warped mirrors constantly reflecting her shameful inadequacies as a human.  Stuck in a place where she is no longer able to see the truth in anything about herself, Mavis receives an e-mail from old boyfriend.  Buddy (Patrick Wilson) announcing the birth of his daughter sets Mavis off on a strange mental obsession.  Flooded with a sense of misplaced nostalgia for a time when she thought more of herself, Mavis heads back to her hometown in a bizarre attempt to steal Buddy away from his life, which she sees as his prison.  She runs into family and friends with whom contact is awkward and frequently misleading, but she strikes up a re pore with Matt, played by the excellent Patton Oswalt, an emotionally pained and physically crippled nerd with no life, but who none-the-less sees right to the core of Mavis with few obstructions.  Mavis plots to take back what she sees as the life which should have been hers, all the time spinning selfagrandizing lies which only reveal the depths of her alcohol and ego fueled delusion.

Charlize Theron has taken a career path which defied most expectations.  Being widely regarded as one of the world’s super gorgeous, she’s gradually avoided the kind of romantic claptrap and action movie garbage which she was too often apart of early in her career.  Theron has instead chosen to take the high road when it’s available, forsaking the inane and instead reaching for the interesting.  Mavis is a twist on the image of glamour Theron herself personifies.  She equates the adoration of others and non-conformity in general with success, even though she has little to brag about.  She’s a character lost in vanity and a pathetic struggle to prove to everyone that they wasted their life, not vice versa.  Mavis is a sharp image of people who lead their lives by narcissistic tendencies and selfish impulses.  The message is crystal clear, Young Adult skewers in an odd direction in its final moments.

Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, who worked together on Juno, work to form a movie which straddles the dramedy line with acute precariousness.  Young Adult exist in that place of awkward observation where neither laughs or tears are appropriate.  Mavis prods people in uncomfortable ways in which she’s keenly aware of what she’s doing but painfully oblivious of the effects her actions have.  Young Adult flirts with bringing about sympathy and change for our lead character but instead focuses on Mavis’ awkward delusions and doesn’t mind putting the audience off with uncomfortable situations and conclusions.  You may hope Mavis grows to become something else, but Young Adult doesn’t look to that possibility as a forgone conclusion.  In the case of Young Adult’s characters, the blind wind up leading the blind and only in a circle do they go.

There is worthy observation at the heart of Young Adult but it’s written into the life of a person it may be painful to experience that observation with.  Mavis is not the heroine who learns great lessons and overcomes great obstacles to her or others betterment.  Like the character she writes about in her woeful sounding series of high school lit, she’s hopelessly self absorbed, incapable of empathy and desperate for something she simply isn’t wise or mature enough to define.