Posts Tagged ‘Canada

21
Aug
11

Daydream Nation (2010)

Here’s a movie that I would have loved ten years ago. That’s not a slight on the film, I liked it, but I bring to it a certain lack of impressionable youth that I now know I didn’t even have back then. This movie reminds me of other movies, but not in terms of plot or even merit. I’ve just felt the marks hit in it before in ways that were revelatory in those other movies (like say the way love is approached in Magnolia, or teenage ennui in Donnie Darko, etc.), but here they just come across as unintentionally derivative (if this sounds a bit too harsh, it’s only because those movies are in leagues of their own).
The title caught my eye awhile back, as it is an obvious reference to the great record by Sonic Youth. The film has several of their songs and some other songs from the era, but makes no attempt to be set in the late ’80s (cell phones giving away the lack of anachronization). These are details best left to sweep away (along with the fashion mag-like poster art that has nothing to do with the film). One can only assume the writer-director has a certain like-minded affinity for these bands (though hearing Sebadoh’s “Gimmie Indie Rock” at a post-millenial high school party is a bit too much cognitive dissonance for me).

So, now that the criticism is out of the way, let me recommend this movie to you.
This is a first feature for writer-director Mike Goldbach. I don’t know anything about him and I didn’t bother to look too hard. However, I will most definitely be watching whatever he does next. This is the type of film that has so much going on in it (and for it), that it just cannot help failing to bring it all together in a satisfying way. You have to get beyond that to enjoy the film. It has some great moments from a writer who is clearly self-reflexive enough to recognize his own shortcomings here. Yet, the film is made. So, he’s in a better position than most.

You get little moments that define characters, rather than an overall plot-directed story. The film evokes an overall mood of unbridled teenagery that is rare to see in American film; Smart and assured posturing with simultaneously instant vulnerability and doubt. Caroline Wexler (Kat Dennings) is a meta-character in a play filled with people who define themselves by what they think other people (are supposed to) think of them. She says from the beginning that she is a girl who is playing a part. Yet, somehow in playing this “ethereal” worldly-wise teenager she comes to terms with her own frailties. She chooses to be who she is rather than who she thinks she wants to be. Some things are momentarily “perfect” and that’s worth something more than trying to rise above what could be seen as anything but. It’s a coming-of-age story, but one where the characters skip too far ahead and have to come back to where they belong (I left this movie thinking, ‘Who is this Reece Thompson‘? Oh, yeah, from Rocket Science. Another great performance).

The two male suitors are subtly left to comment on each other. Both have love to give, one whose is initially misplaced and the other’s whose initially has nowhere to give it.  This film is less about resolution (for it is a jumbled one) and more about the comparative impressions between characters. Aside from these two male leads (Josh Lucas plays the teacher with a complexity of both shallowness and depth), I feel like most of the supporting characters are underdeveloped (especially the younger children). Andie MacDowell isn’t really given enough time to have a definable character as the mother, but she makes her role memorable (I point this out because I’ve never really liked her before). Her scene with Caroline’s father (Ted Whittall) is, in retrospect, so deft. They have both loved and lost; in a position beyond the other characters, where they simply enjoy the brief company of each other. I made the mistake of assuming there would be some sort of further involvement between these characters, when I now see that it quite aptly encapsulates the film as a whole: be aware of the little moments that will only seem perfect in retrospect because one will be both too close to them to notice in the present and too far from them to accurately represent them in the future…

29
Mar
10

Chloe (2009)

I was going to see Shutter Island again yesterday, but I instead saw this film because it will no doubt be gone from my town after a week, due to its unmarketed, arthouse type lack of money-making status (two other people showed up as the previews were ending to the Saturday matinee I attended). I guess Atom Egoyan isn’t much of a draw here in the States. He used to be one of the better known Canadian directors (perhaps even the most celebrated in the 90s, before people like David Cronenberg and Guy Maddin started getting rightfully noticed for their awesomeness). If you haven’t seen The Sweet Hereafter, you should stop reading and watch it now.

I wasn’t going to write about this movie, because I’m not sure I want people to get the wrong impression. I usually only write about movies I like, or think I will like if I think about more. The longer I think about this film, the less I liked it (Since I knew most of what was coming, it’s hard for me to judge how well crafted it is, though). It is being billed as a sexually provocative film (you would think that would make it some money), but knowing Egoyan is the director should make some expect a bit more than some sort of Emmanuelle-type picture, though the plot sounds a bit trite: a woman (Julianne Moore) suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) of cheating on her, so she hires a prostitute/whore, depending on your classification of the difference (Amanda Seyfried), to attempt to seduce him in a series of encounters. The women meet several times to discuss the results (in all their so-called lured detail) and….stuff happens.
The film differs in some rather important details from its original source; the French film Nathalie… (2003). It interestingly expands upon and makes blatant what was only ambiguously hinted at in the original (maybe this had more to do with the cultural differences than the choices/abilities of the writers, but more on that later). One can choose to see this lack of subtlety as a fatal flaw of the film (which I was originally inclined to do), but as with any comparison of any two films, they are ultimately separate entities with separate agendas.

Knowing this was an Egoyan film was really enough for me to see it, though I was intrigued by his high-profile, non-Canadian cast here (though the film is set in Toronto). It is no surprise that Julianne Moore is drawn again to yet another masochistic role that blurs the line between bad taste and perversion (after this and Savage Grace one has to wonder what she sees in these roles exactly). She is refreshingly good in this film (personally preferable to the rather blank Fanny Ardant in the original), without a silently crying, frozen/hysterical face in the entire film (when she does this it really annoys me). Amanda Seyfried takes the title role (originally played by the similarly, beguilingly odd-faced Emmanuelle Beart). I don’t want to be too harsh on the rising starlet, but she is clearly no match for Julianne Moore in gravitas. While one could argue that this unequal screen balance is part of the intent between the two characters, I think it might just be a matter of their incomparable level of experience. Neeson is a bit of a cypher; playing the rouse to her game, left with the thankless job of simply reacting to everything (his French counterpart Gerard Depardieu clearly a different character in a different time and place).
This change of the male role is a curious one and I can’t help but think it has some sort of gender commentary to go along with it. Though Egoyan is male, the English-language screenwriter, Erin Cressinda Wilson (writer of the also-dubbed ‘psychosexually provocative’ Secretary), is obviously a woman. I was wondering about any noticeable differences in the ramifications of a woman directing the original and a man directing this version, but I’m not sure if that really even matters. Does Egoyan’s choice of making the husband a seemingly more sympathetic character mean anything? Does his choice of revealing Chloe’s motivations less discreetly or expanding upon her interactions with the couple’s family mean anything different? The original was also clearly more class-focused in the motivations of its title character, while the latter completely ignores any reference to Chloe’s background. Ultimately, I think Egoyan leaves Chloe without any sort of recognizable humanism, forcing Seyfried to pick up the slack in the emotion department (which isn’t quite fair to the actor, methinks).


This is obviously not on par with Egoyan’s Exotica, which has similar story themes and structure, though it is much more reigned in than the mess of Where The Truth Lies (which attempted to be much more provocative as its original NC-17 rating attests to).
I’m not sure what else to say without ‘spoiling’ the film. Knowing what happened in the original and then seeing it play out in the extended way that it did in this film is both interestingly welcome and disappointing, if that makes any sense. Egoyan auteurists will want to check this out and those infatuated with more than Seyfried’s face will not be disappointed, to put it discreetly. Um, yeah.