Tuesday, February 26, 2008

#95: All the Real Girls (Green, 2003)

The first scene is one of startling tenderness and genuine emotion that sets the tone for the entire film. A young man and woman are face to face in the cold airy night exchanging soft delicate words. There is a moment where she asks him, “Why haven’t you ever kissed me before?” He responds plaintively, “I’m scared. Mostly because I don’t want it to be like when I kissed other girls.” She then responds with a gesture, suggesting that he kiss the palm of her hand and that way it wouldn’t be like the other girls. I’ve returned to this film on numerous occasions just to watch this opening scene unfold and each time it completely bowls me over in the way that Green is able to illustrate such transcending compassion between two people with such simplicity where their feelings for each other become fully realized. Of course, this scene wouldn't work without the fantastic performances of Zooey Deschanel and Paul Schneider who absolutely shine in their roles here. They each respectively give their characters nuance and idiosyncrasies; convincingly depicting them as flawed individuals who are vulnerable and desperately seeking for affection.

Few modern film romances released in the last couple years are as sincerely portrayed or tentatively impressionistic than the one found in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls. Eschewing the typical Hollywood-esque romance genre conventions, Green is intent on transposing the naive ideals and unreal expectations of love into something with tangential potency. The story itself is overly simplistic: Noel and Paul live in a small rural town in North Carolina full of broken-relationships where honest compassion is scarcely to be found. She is the kid sister of Paul’s best friend who has just returned home from boarding school and he is the local town’s Romeo. They decide to date for a while, break up on account of betrayal and painfully attempt to atone for their discretions (past and present) by getting back together. These are not spoilers of any kind because the actual plot remains secondary to Green’s examination of young love and the disappointments associated with vicariously relying on love to achieve enlightenment. The prospect of love being this all powerful instrument in curing one’s personal afflictions is a common misconception and Green is keen on reinforcing this notion through his young couple’s troublesome relationship.

With awe-inducing cinematography, Green successfully establishes a time and place where the environment plays a significant role in the different character’s behavior and attitudes. That isn’t to say that he is condescending towards these characters, portraying them as uneducated bumpkins. His film is distinctively southern and by capturing the ordinary details of every day life in this small southern community, Green is able to use the setting as a method in creating verisimilitude for his story. At times imperfect especially as the film comes to a close; All the Real Girls sustains a remarkable amount of poetic lyricism throughout and remains a powerful expression of genuine heartfelt intimacy between the lead characters which is all too rare in the majority of romances churned out of Hollywood these days.

Monday, February 25, 2008

#96: Husbands and Wives (Allen, 1992)

Woody Allen has made an illustrious career as a filmmaker tackling the subject of love and relationships from every possible angle but none are as more delicately profound or intimate than Husbands and Wives which would prove to be his final collaboration with Mia Farrow; his wife at the time and recurring star in many of his films starting in the early 80’s. At the time of its release, the film caused a media sensation resulting in many critics accusing Allen of using it as a springboard to attack Farrow. In retrospect, it makes sense that people would ultimately jump to this conclusion because of the striking similarities between the characters they play in the film and their real-life relationship which sadly came to an end shortly after when Allen’s scandalous affair with his adopted step-daughter Soon-Yi Previn surfaced. As is the case with many movie celebrities, their on-screen persona or artistic endeavors tend to be intermingled with their real-life so the question remains: Where does one draw the line in forming a distinction between the two? It’s a tricky business that relies on presumptions rather than effective criticism and is ultimately reductive. It is the opinion of this humble critic that the artist and the art they create are inseparable but should be examined as separate entities. As DH Lawrence famously once said, “Never trust the artist, trust the tale.”

With that statement in mind, viewing Husbands and Wives from an objective standpoint reveals that Allen isn’t so much as revealing personal details of his relationship with Farrow. Instead, he is more interested in exploring the reasons why relationships are so difficult to maintain and the destructive nature of human folly when love is thrown into the equation. By grounding the film in a quasi-documentary style, Allen breaks the barrier between fictional characterizations to reveal something a little more privy to actual life. The anonymous documentary crew is given direct access to interview the various characters with questions pertaining to their relationships with one another. As a creative gesture, Allen does not dispose of the grainy, hand-held camerawork often associated with the genre and continues to use it, capturing even the most private moments between characters – furthermore blurring the line between fiction and truth.

The story centers predominantly around two couples: Gabe (Allen) is a literature professor who is happily married to Judy (Farrow), an art magazine editor. Their best friends are Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis) who come over for drinks one night to announce that they are getting a divorce. This shocking information sets off a chain of events in the relationship between Gabe and Judy where they slowly begin to drift apart as buried feelings along with unfulfilled desires are brought to fruition. What begins as a harmless quarrel of dissatisfaction escalates into a serious problem as they struggle to keep their relationship from falling apart. Jack and Sally are also finding it difficult as divorced middle-aged singles despite creating a fa├žade of happiness with their newfound partners just to spite each other. Gabe starts up a relationship with a bright young female student named Rain (Juliette Lewis) as Farrow forms an attraction with a handsome co-worker named Michael (Liam Neeson). Far from your typical romance of disenchanted lovers, Woody Allen skillfully places his characters in specific romantic relationships that insightfully comments on the complex nature of love and human companionship while at the same time having a sense of humor about it. Who hooks up with who is of minor importance in contrast to Allen’s established thematic framework and search for rational explanations concerning why relationships have to be some complicated and what makes them work. By the end of the film it is clear that he has still yet to find the answer.

#97: Metropolitan (Stillman, 1990)

Stillman is a hermetic director who made three films in the 90’s before disappearing entirely. It’s a shame he decided to call it quits because his debut Metropolitan showcases a budgeoning auteur with a sharp ear for refreshing dialogue where his characters are pre-occupied with philosophical musings or existential thoughts of reality which brings to mind the works of Woody Allen or Richard Linklater. If you happen to be a fan of either director, this is the film for you. However, the difference is that Stillman’s work tends to focus more on socialism and conformity created by a specific milieu -- in this case it happens to be small group of rich college preppies living in Manhattan who as one character refers to as UHB: an acronym for Urban Haute Bourgeoisie. It’s a clever title that is meant to abolish the standard referral of “upper-class” since its meaning is no longer entirely relevant in contemporary society.

The film takes place over the course of the Christmas break for these first year college students who dress as debutantes and attend various social functions. Enter Tom (Chris Eigman), a middle-class Princeton student who rents luxury suits and puts on a pseudo-intellectual guise in order to integrate himself into this elitist niche. As luck should have it, he bumps into an old female classmate named Audrey (Carolyn Farina) at one of these prestigious balls who happens to be part of this rich upper-class (like in the real world, it’s who you know) and introduces him to her select group of friends where he begins to form a friendly relationship with them. Nick (Chris Eigeman) is one of the people that Tom’s takes an instant liking to mostly for his cynical nature and views on the disintegrating bourgeoisie class system. The rest of the story follows Tom’s various escapades among these haughty individuals and his struggle for social acceptance. It’s important to note that Stillman’s film is not to be taken at face value and above all else, is a social satire that takes witty jabs at pretentiousness while also being a meditation on growing up. For a film that is very dialogue heavy, the script exemplifies great writing where irreverent comedy with a social conscience is seamlessly interwoven with intellectual ruminations about life itself. These characters are not exactly likeable but their insecurities, relationships and problems they encounter ring true for those not quite ready to accept adult responsibilities.

It's finally here! Lemonz' Top 100

In the attempt of resurrecting my dead blog I present you dear readers with my arbitrary Top 100 films of all time. Let me clarify that this not a definitive "Greatest Films of all time" list but simply a personal list of specific films that have influenced me as a cinephile and ones that reflect my adoration of cinema. Thanks for reading and comments are always welcome!

Honorable Mention #1: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuaron, 2003)
Honorable Mention #2: Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984)

100. Robin Hood (Reitherman, 1973)
99. Me and You and Everyone We Know (July, 2005)
98. Days of Wine and Roses (Edwards, 1962)
97. Metropolitan (Stillman, 1990)
96. Husbands and Wives (Allen, 1992)
95. All the Real Girls (Green, 2003)
94. High Fidelity (Frears, 2000)
93. Interiors (Allen, 1978)
92. Johnny Guitar (Ray, 1954)
91. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999)

#98: Days of Wine and Roses (Edwards, 1962)

So, Jack Lemmon makes his first appearance and definitely not his last on my list. What is it about this guy that I find so appealing? For starters, he’s one hell of an actor with incredible dramatic range and comedic talent with a knack for effortlessly switching gears between the two without missing a beat. Lemmon has the nice guy persona down-pat and took on many roles during his career where he personified the “every man” which makes him instantly relatable. In Blake Edward’s Day of Wine and Roses, Lemmon plays Joe Clay, a successful public relations man whose downward spiral is caused by alcoholism. Many comparisons have been made to Wilder’s Lost Weekend which deals with similar subject matter except this one is a much more realistic portrayal of alcohol addiction and doesn’t succumb to painting a perfect picture of full recovery at the end. Instead, it opts to show the horrors of alcohol abuse and the challenging ordeal of maintaining sobriety with all the pratfalls in between.

Clay’s profession involves being an avid socialite with clients so naturally, drinking is part of the equation when he takes them out to restaurants or fancy clubs. He starts a relationship with a beautiful secretary in his office building played by the voluptuous Lee Remick whose radical transformation from a puritan to a raging alcoholic is devastatingly portrayed. My only gripe with the film is her sudden change of heart towards Lemmon who strongly resents him when they first meet and then erratically has a change of heart almost instantaneously. It would have been a lot more convincing if she actually had a reason to give him another chance after he insults her. Still, I am able to overlook this minor formality in regards to everything that the film does get right which is plenty – two tour-de force performances from Lemmon and Remick who were robbed of acting Oscars that year, solid direction and a wonderful script with nary a falsity that is unflinching in presenting the harsh reality of how alcoholism can destroy lives. The films closing moments are heartbreaking and ambiguous in nature which works to emphasize Edward’s position that beating alcoholism takes more than commitment where difficult decisions need to be made no matter how unpleasant the results.

#99: Me and You and Everyone We Know

I'm feeling a bit lazy so here's the link to a previous review I wrote on this film.

#100: Robin Hood (Rietherman)

As a kid growing up, Robin Hood was hero of mine because he defied authority and played by his own rules. An expert at sword fighting, archery and quick thinking made him a threat to his enemies. Above all else, he always managed to win the girl in the end. It should be pointed out that he wasn’t without his flaws such as being incredibly brash in his abilities and conceited at times which almost leads to tragic consequences. His bravery and devotion to being a crusader for the people was something to aspire to.

The compilation of any type of “favorite movie list” especially one of this magnitude is a daunting task that involves constant shuffling and re-examination in order to get it just right. The relentless scrutiny over placement can be very stressful albeit rewarding because for those of us who take cinema seriously, these lists are often a direct reflection what cinema personally means to the individual and the impact said film(s) has on them. A strategy that I used to help make this list a little easier for myself to complete was to use nostalgia as a key to narrowing down films that have a direct correlation to my childhood. After all, certain films that I watched constantly as a youngster were highly influential in shaping my interest in cinema today and Disney’s Robin Hood happens to fall into that category. While there have been plenty of depictions of the famous rogue of Sherwood Forest over the years, none surpass this version in terms of sheer entertainment value, laughs or charm although Michael Curtiz’s version starring Errol Flynn comes close. It may be animated with animals playing the key roles but the rebellious spirit and sense of adventure inhabited by this classic tale remains untarnished.

This underrated Disney classic is a breezily entertaining affair for both kids and adults. Imbedded with a bluesy style emphasized by the narrator played by a rooster (that even becomes a character in the story) who sings and strums away on his banjo as he tells the story of Robin Hood sets the tone of the film. Roger Miller does great voice-work for him and is responsible for the majority of the fantastic songs on the soundtrack too with “Not In Nottingham” remaining the standout track and one of most moving scenes in the Disney canon because of it. Of course, not enough can be said of the iconic villain Prince John (Peter Ustinov) the lion and his slithering side-kick Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas). This dynamic duo offer more laughs than any of the other Disney flicks and their relationship is actually a lot more interesting to watch unfold than say Robin Hood and Little John. The Prince’s infantile behavior (he clearly has mommy issues) and absent-mindedness offers plenty of laughs. He is also prone to sudden bursts of rage towards Sir Hiss which is cruelly comical. Nostalgia aside, this film still holds up surprisingly well even today which is often not the case when returning to childhood favorites. No matter what my mood, I can throw on my worn out VHS copy and for those brief 83 minutes, feel giddy like a kid again as if watching this film for the first time.

Friday, February 1, 2008

February Viewing Log

Feb. 1st: Husbands and Wives (Allen, 1992): [****] 3rd
Feb. 1st: Coffy (Hill, 1973): [*]
Feb. 1st: Funky Forest: The First Contact (Ishii, 2005): ??????????????????????
Feb. 2nd: Darjeeling Limited (Anderson, 2007): [***1/2]
Feb. 4th: Spirit of the Beehive (Enrice, 1973): [****]
Feb. 4th: Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut, 1962): [***]
Feb. 6th: Johnny Guitar (Ray, 1954): [****]
Feb 6th: Interiors (Allen, 1978): [***1/2]
Feb 6th: Election (To, 2005): [**]
Feb 6th: Superfly (Parks Jr., 1972): [Muther-fuckin' cool]
Feb 8th: Sunrise (Murnau, 1927): [***1/2]
Feb 8th: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Powell, 1943): [****]
Feb 8th: Heathers (Lehman, 1988): [***1/2]
Feb. 9th: Michael Clayton (Gilroy, 2007): [**]
Feb 12th: Lars and the Real Girl (Gillespie 2007): [***1/2]
Feb 12th: Cluny Brown (Lubitsch, 1946): [**]
Feb 13th: Talk to Her (Almodavar, 2002): [***1/2]