Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Roger Dodger (Kidd, 2002)

"Natural selection, now that is a principle of nature, selection, something has to lose, something has to be defeated in order for something else to be selected."

Perhaps if only I were as suave and witty as Roger Swanson (played by the impeccable Campbell Scott) when it comes to interacting with the ladies, my non-existent love-life could invariably take a turn for the better. He’s a smooth talker who is exceptionally gifted when it comes to understanding the female psyche which has obviously allowed for him much success in bedding women on a regular basis. His intellectual charm and good looks come off may come off as a bit smug but that doesn’t stop women from falling for him. Roger has even managed to start a sexual fling with his boss (Isabella Rossellini) except when she decides to call it off to avoid any future interference with their work; he doesn’t take the break-up all too well. Enter nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a 16 year old who shows up at his office and is interested in learning from his uncle the tricks of the trade when it comes to dating.

Roger agrees to help Nick with his women problems and propels him into a crash collision course of dating. First time director Dylan Kidd who also wrote the script isn’t interested so much in whether his two protagonist’s get the girl in the end but is more intent on exploring the battle of the sexes and the difficulties of dating in a chaotic urban society. Kidd doesn’t paint Roger as a saint like-figure. He is a pompous jerk and his motives are a tad bit sketchy. Spending time with his nephew allows him to realize the error of his ways and that there’s more to relationships than just getting a good screw off.

For a film that is very dialogue heavy, the actors involved need to compliment the sharp and clever script which they do so in spades. Campbell Scott personally gives one of my favorite performances of 2002 through his outstanding delivery of speech and his uncanny ability to dominate each and every scene. His character may be a selfish and deceiving individual but Scott is able to portray him in such sympathetic light (not an easy task). Sure, he may bed a different woman every other night but deep down, Roger is a miserable lonely person who is sick of the dating game. Scott does such an excellent job of subtly depicting his character’s self-loathing for his lifestyle and the contradictions that arise in his attempt to help Nick become even more poignant. Eisenberg and the rest of the supporting cast are solid but this is primarily Campbell Scott’s film and he makes sure that his presence is known.

The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door (Greenfield, 2004)

The promotional marketing was deceiving; the trailers suggested a silly teenager comedy except it turned out to be a rather dark comedy about the relationship between a high school senior and a young porn star who wants to escape show business. He’s a social outcast, an honor student who plays by the rules and when he develops a crush on the new girl next door (hence the title), his world turns topsy-turvy. The premise is ripe for all sorts of hilarity, but the filmmakers decide to put a slight twist on what could have been a conventional comedy about horny teenagers which almost pays off. The transition into a darker drama is slighty jarring making for plot holes and silly character motivations with no payoff. Cuthbert is the definition of sexy and her sympathetic portrayal of a porn star with a “heart of gold” is pretty much the film’s only saving grace. It’s disposable and probably best viewed on cable television when there’s nothing else on.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Waking Life (Linklater, 2001)

Welcome to Philosophy 101 on acid. Alternating between headache-inducing nausea and poetic lyricism, Linklater’s Waking Life employs a unique visual style that takes on a lucid-dreamlike quality unlike anything I have ever seen before. According to the making-of feature on the DVD, the film was first shot using regular hand-held cameras which allowed for increased mobility and for a more documentary type feel. The footage was then edited before given to the animators who were then able to add another dimension through the technique of “rotoscoping” which basically involves tracing the image frame by frame. The animation looks almost hand-drawn but not in the traditional sense. It’s much more fluid whereas the images take on a certain painting-like quality mixed with a live-action comic book. Visually, the film is fascinating to look at with its attention to detail and hallucinatory imagery. The surrealistic animation effectively coincides with the protagonist’s state of mind who finds himself unable to distinguish between dreams and reality.

Polarizing to say the least, Waking Life can be a frustrating experience because of its meandering narrative, trippy visuals and excessive philosophical ramblings. The film can be a bit exhausting on the brain with its conceited philosophical discussions primarily revolving around the big “E” word. Split into several vignettes where the unnamed protagonist sets out on his journey of self-discovery, he meets a handful of different people who each raise their own questions regarding the great debates of human existence. Some discussions are more interesting than others and although never boring, it can be little overwhelming to absorb everything that is being articulated. Nevertheless, there’s something intimately profound about this film that asks the viewer examine their own life in regards to the different issues raised. The cover-art is quite deceiving in looking like a psychedelic comedy of sorts. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s more of an art-house film with a high-brow attitude that allows Linklater to spew forth all of his philosophical ideals of the universe.

Some may find it aggravating while others will find it to be quite rewarding. I find myself in the latter category. Waking Life emphasizes the significance of curiosity being an essential human quality to growing and it’s encouraging that Linklater provides a bombardment of fascinating questions and theories ladled with heavy connotations whilst bestowing no definitive answers. Everyone wants to find some sort of significant meaning in their life and what I found to be the most positive aspect of this film was its encouragement to step out of the box for a moment in order to rationally contemplate what it means to lead a fulfilling life.


Friday, June 1, 2007

June Viewing Log (2007)

01/06: The Mummy (Sommers, 1999) - 8.5
01/06: The Mummy Returns (Sommers, 2001) - 7
02/06: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (Leiner, 2004) - 6

It's a little ironic for this to be the first film to review in this thread. I can only imagine how much more enjoyable it would have been watching it high. A stoner comedy much like an updated version of Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar is delightfully stupid and never takes itself too seriously. I tend to usually avoid a lot of these silly modern day comedies on the basis that many of them follow a smiliar hokey premise and come of as being inane instead of funny. Or maybe I've become too jaded as a filmgoer to appreciate an inconsequenital comedy once in a while.

Nevertheless, the film did manage to make me laugh on more than one occassion (especially the Anthony Anderson cameo) but I also found myself rolling my eyes more than I would have liked. The Hang glider sequence anyone? There's also a scene where our two protagonists encounter a Cheetah which can only be described as bizarre. The running gag does become slightly redundant as the two buddies stumble from one misadventure to the next and by the end it runs out of steam. A decent comedy, but I'd never watch it again unless I decided to smoke up as a pre-requisite.

03/06: The Fountain (Aronofsky, 2006) - 9.5

Not many films have been as emotionally gut-wrenching or visually stunning as Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain.

04/06: Ocean's Eleven (Soderbergh, 2001)
04/06: Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005) - 9.5
05/06: Hard Candy (Slade, 2005) - 9
06/06: Half Nelson (Fleck, 2006)

Despite the great performance by Ryan Gosling who received a lot of press last year for his realistic portrayal of a drug addict middle school history teacher, the film in itself felt slightly hollow and innocuous. It made the mistake of confusing over-sentimentality with subltely which resulted in more indifference rather than poignancy. Nevertheless, it is commendable for portraying such a life-like respresentation of drug addiction without resorting to the typical spiral downfall or hokey sunshine ending of becoming clean through positive influenes. Far from an inspirational story, the film takes on a more slice-of-life approach towards the personal struggle of having a drug problem in the rawest form. Gosling's performance actually overshadows the weak script which tends to veer into overindulgent territory. Half Nelson is a mixed bag that relies considerably too much on its performances in order to keep the story afloat, leaving much to be desired.


11/06: Mean Girls (2004)

So, um, Mean Girls was actually really good. One of the better representations of high school life that I have seen. One of my lecture halls was used in the film which was cool. Oh, Lohan and McAdams are also really hot. 8/10

12/06: The Girl Next Door (Greenfield, 2004) - 4

13/06: Wedding Crashers (Dobkin, 2005)

Put me in the camp that found the first half of this film to be a riot of laughs whilst finding the second half to be rather disappointing. Wilson and Vaughn play two ladies men who specialize in crashing weddings in order to get laid. They both have rare comedic duo chemistry (reminding me of a younger and hipper Jack Lemmon and Walter Matheau) playing off each other’s brand of humor which is very effective. Their contrasting personalities with Wilson being the softer type and Vaughn the more rowdy, gives their relationship an even more added hilarity. The dialogue seems takes on an improvisational effect with Vaughn and Wilson acting in an adlib fashion which is very amusing. Unfortunately, what initially started out as one the best comedies in recent memory turns sour once the second half of the film rolls around. The spark and crackle of Wilson and Vaughn’s relationship loses much of its potency as it is replaced by useless plot devices as a cheap shot to draw laughs which come off as more annoying than funny. If the filmmakers had kept to the spirit found in the beginning, Wedding Crashers may have turned out to be a lot more worthwhile. 6/10

18/06: Waking Life (Linklater, 2001) - 8

19/06: Science of Sleep (Gondry, 2006) - 4

20/06: Roger Dodger (Kidd, 2002) - 8

20/06: Me You and Everyone You Know (July, 2005) - 9.5

26/06: The Ice Storm (Lee, 1997) - 5

27/06: Driving Lessons (2006) - 6