Sunday, May 23, 2010

A movie review: Primer (2004)

Primer (2004)
Director - Shane Carruth
77 Min; PG-13
Grand Jury Prize – Sundance Film Festival
Aaron - Shane Carruth
Abe - David Sullivan

There is no possible way for me to review the film Primer without first explaining that it was created on a budget of just $7,000 and shot mainly in the garage of the director/writer/actor Shane Carruth. Why that is important, mainly, is that this film is so well done in a sci-fi indie sense to the extent that I never would have thought twice about it being such a low budget production. Other than a few sound and editing issues the story itself is pretty complex. The fact that the writer decided to keep the story itself simple and understated while the dialogue is complex and unsettling makes for a very strange viewing experience.

The story is that of a group of engineers/scientists working on inventions (at this point a potential box that can reduce some of the qualities of gravity on an object) when out of nowhere two of the members realize that what they really have invented is some sort of time travel device. Unable to explain it even to themselves, Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) decide to remove themselves from the group and continue their work alone. Once their comprehension of the basic working principles is in place they do what anyone else would do – they use time travel to make money in the stock market, of course. It sounds corny, but the film is anything but, and as the true workings of the time travel ‘box’ become known we come to realize that we are never sure if we are watching and listening to the original characters or their doubles/triples etc who are also coming and going from the box.

After you watch the film take a look at this link for some fun mind blowing fun: This is a film that will leave you wanting to look up and seek out the complex issues of the film, and I for one love the entire idea of this movie as a human nature piece more than anything else.

*** and a ½ out of 5

A movie review: Five Easy Pieces (1970)

Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Director - Bob Rafelson
98 Min
Robert Eroica Dupea - Jack Nicholson
Rayette Dipesto - Karen Black
Elton - Billy Green Bush

Five Easy Pieces has a plot that can be summed up in very few sentences, but it is a film which carries far deeper and thought-provoking issues of what it is to be a human being in turmoil. The man who is able to pull off this great feat of acting is Jack Nicholson who was already known to the public through 10 years of film work, including Easy Rider (1969). It is difficult to imagine what a film like this would have meant to a 1970s audience (it would be wrong to discuss a film from 40 years ago without at least attempting to put it into context) but I am probably not the best person to come up with answers. Instead, I’ll stick to what I do know: This film is a wonderful and complex character piece that happens to be taking place within the confines of a film – the plot of the movie is important because it grounds us in the world of Robert, but what is actually happening in his world is fairly irrelevant, since it is only a matter of time before he seeks out a new environment.

The movie centers on the life of Robert, who we are introduced to as an oil field worker who hangs out with his simple friends and waitress girlfriend at the trailer park or at the bowling alley. He is clearly not a stable individual, full of anger and resentment. At one point while stuck in traffic he leaps from his car and begins yelling at everyone, including a barking match with a dog which he wins. Upon learning that his father is very ill, he decides to make a trip to his childhood home in Washington, bringing along his girl Rayette (Karen Black). While there visiting his family we come to realize that Robert has been running away for quite some time. Born into a privileged existence and a family full of musical talent, Robert at some point decided to flee the rigid routine of a classical pianist and search for something else. Clearly he has not found and most likely will never find what he is looking for, because mainly he is just looking to get away from what he had.

I really love the way this film does not preach to us nor does it give us easy answers. This is a man who has a lot of internal turmoil. He is not a good person to his friends, family or girlfriend, yet he still has all of them if he needs them. The ending of the film was brilliant and perfect and there is no other ending that could have captured the entire feel of the movie in one scene. Famous scenes from this film include the diner scene when Robert tries to order a side of toast by asking for a chicken sandwich ‘hold everything’ and the scene where he plays piano in his house while the camera pans through past years of family history, including his own, as classical musicians – a clear and stark difference to the world he now inhabits.

***** out of 5

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Movie Review: Two Lovers (2008)

Two Lovers (2008)
Director - James Gray
110 Min; R
Leonard - Joaquin Phoenix
Michelle - Gwyneth Paltrow
Sandra - Vinessa Shaw

As the title of the film Two Lovers implies, this film will indeed revolve around two lovers. As my cast credits imply, those lovers are the wholesome and pretty Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) as the daughter of a successful family who is nudged more than gently in the direction of our bi-polar leading man Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), who, though he would be wise to simply fall in love and live happily ever after, simply cannot take his eyes (or hands) off of the anti-Sandra Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who fuels her New York nights with pills and booze and nightclubs in the effort to rid her mind of the terrible life she feels she leads as the mistress to a married man.

While the plot of the film is fairly straight-forward, the story being told is actually very nuanced. The parents of Leonard and Sandra do a wonderful job of portraying what people from their generation in their cultures would look to do for their children, though today’s younger generation may not be able to relate fully to that type of caring, it isn’t all that uncommon. I think their minor performances are a strong glue to the film.

As for our 3 lovers I think things begin to unravel at some unknown point. Early on I found myself pulled into this story of a suicidal young man (Why was he suicidal? What were the details of his ex fiancĂ©?) and especially to the life of Sandra (Why was such a pretty, young, intelligent woman always rejected by men? What was going on there?) And then we get Michelle. I must divulge here that I am a serial-hater of Paltrow and her films, but I am more than willing to overlook that and say that I was interested at first in what she had to bring, but very quickly I realized that what her character had to bring was a steaming pile of genericism(sic) onto which I could never fully recover. Her entire life situation is too convenient for the role of this film and it bothered me, though I understand something has to move the plot, this just felt very forced – her being given an apartment by her married boyfriend next to Leonard of all people, the exact person who is looking for some way to further destroy his life? Ok, I guess. There is more but I’ll move on.

Ultimately the ending is a failure, and I say that in the sense that I/you/we/everyone could see it coming from as far away as a Hubble telescope image of the edge of the universe. Do I always have to be surprised? Or tricked? No, of course not, but the ending was so telegraphed that as it was happening I found myself guessing exactly what would happen next, for about 20 minutes.
I feel a little bad sounding so judgmental in the past few paragraphs because, overall, I am glad I saw this film and surprised it was never on my radar. I can’t honestly say that I didn’t enjoy a lot of it, but I can honestly say that it has a lot of faults.