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viciouscircle's reviews view profile

try Mussolini Firecracker  
on June 21, 2005 - 12:45 AM PDT
  of Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
5 out of 7 members found this review helpful

Napoleon Dynamite just doesn't work. My primary frustration with this film is that it is comedic ally voyeuristic in that the humour is derived from a specifically third-person (and ironic) look at the characters. We are clearly intended to laugh at the ridiculousness of the characters - to the point that even the main character is represented without any depth or vigor. This voyeurism creates an asymmetry with the narrative - in which we are ultimately encouraged to be our own unique person and follow our hearts . This message is delivered rather haphazardly and abruptly at the end of the movie, and only after we have spent the whole film laughing at the expense of some truly 'unique' people. Because of this, the message totally fails to have any impact. It's a have your cake and eat it too scenario, and for me it just doesn't work.

For counterpoint, consider the Farrelly's Stuck on You which operates in the same manner but (in contrast to ND) ultimately creates a sympathetic bond with the main characters. I felt that the Farrelly movie was careful with it's use of laughs-at-the-expense-of and in the fourth act drove home the point that the viewer was equally culpable of wrong-doing as the antagonists. At the end of Napoleon Dynamite, I was left feeling "So what?".

Misgivings about the point and tact of the film aside, ND just isn't that funny. I think I got maybe three or four chuckles out the movie (and I felt guilty afterwards). There are far more astute and interesting absurdist comedies (see: Wes Anderson, the Coens, Woody Allen, etc.). Ultimately, I felt that ND completely failed to establish any sense of personal style or exposition (nonetheless comedy) and it came across as over-wrought, self-conscious and contrived. The movie took no chances and yet the point of the movie is to do so ...

So what?
Modern Day Noir at its Best  
on March 12, 2005 - 11:52 PM PST
  of Shallow Grave (Criterion) (1994)
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful

I cannot believe that no one has reviewed this film, to my mind it is Boyle's best and one of the better dark movies in recent memory. An interesting thing occurred as I was reflecting on the film and what I could say about it that would spur someone to watch it. I realized that I could not even determine the appropriate genre of the film - is this horror, a thriller, a drama, a black comedy?

Shallow Grave is all those things, but more than anything else - this is pure Film Noir. The characteristic feature of noir films is the theme of violation - of laws, personal boundaries, mores, and psyches. Though certain devices have typified classic noir (narration, flashbacks, lighting) the core of a noir film is the investigation of human interaction in extreme violations of social norms.

In this respect, we are clued into Shallow Grave's noir aspirations at the outset. The main characters are seeking a fourth roommate for their flat, and in a hilarious scene they repeatedly skewer their applicants with wit and discomforting questions - clearly crossing the boundaries of politeness and good taste. We are instantly notified that our characters are, for lack of a better word, villains. There is no hero to root for here.

The plot centers around the death of the (finally selected) fourth roommate who happens to possess a suitcase full of cash. The roommates decide to keep the money, the defining criminal act of the film, and from here on out - things spin out of control in typical noir fashion. Boyle's genius with the film is how he expertly redirects the focus from the external concerns of the characters (i.e. not getting caught, disposing of the body, etc.) to the internal psyche's of the characters and their personal interaction. There is betrayal, voyeurism, and mental and physical violence of every kind until we reach the end.

I don't believe the movie is about 'what would you do' in the given circumstance. Noir films rarely make such moral challenges. Rather, it is a more visceral experience, a movie that captures you as you actually want to bear witness to exactly how hellish things can get. In this regard, noir films tend to bring out our own darkness to a degree - as gluttonous consumers of carnage and violence. Those who dislike films without redemption should look elsewhere.

Boyle is now widely regarded for his style, but nowhere is it more effective than in Shallow Grave. The apartment is hip yet austere, cold yet vibrant, a home and yet prison. The lighting and use of colour is wonderful - I am continually blown away at each viewing. Similarly, the dialogue is sharp, witty, and electric and the performances do the excellent writing justice.

I highly recommend this movie to fans of noir, as well as to those of dark cinema. I also think that fans of work similar to Kubrick and Jean-Pierre Jeunet will find a lot to like.
Sophia Cop(pola)'d Out  
on February 25, 2005 - 4:04 PM PST
  of Lost in Translation (2003)
14 out of 21 members found this review helpful

!!Warning!! The following review contains spoilers and detailed information about the movie.

Lost in Translation (LiT heretoforward) fails in such spectacular fashion that it really deserves some new rating that compares potential to outcome. Sadly, there is so much that LiT does so right that the movie's ultimate failure makes it all that much more difficult to bear.

Narratively and thematically, the film is rather direct - we follow the (non-)relationship of Bob Harris (Murray) and Charlotte (Johansson) as they find in each other a kindred spirit in Tokyo. Each is dissatisfied and constrained by their lives, each in what once were true relationships but which have dissolved into detachment. The characters are neither understood nor appreciated by their partners.

What we begin to see is that although Bob and Charlotte have a real and profound love for each other, the reality of the situation is that there can be no realization of it. Both characters are alienated and seemingly adrift in their own lives, subject to the whims of the world around them. In each other, they find firmament and understanding - yet confronted by the realities of their lives this constitutes another alienation. How the characters deal with this trial is the source of tension in the movie. More on how this is utterly destroyed later.

Cinematically, LiT is a true visual feast, if a bit overwrought. The camera work and lighting is immaculate and contributes to creating the cold, icy, and harsh reality that confronts the main characters. Tokyo is ingeniusly caricatured, the karaoke scene is truly hilarious, and the club scene perfectly satirizes the comic nature of Tokyo nightlife. My favorite shot of the film is when Bob is playing golf and we are treated to this spectacular shot of Mount Fuji in the background. It is beautiful but perfectly conveys the sense of space and alienation that really takes on the role of a third main character.

Theatrically, I thought Murray and Johansson absolutely nailed their parts. Murray may not have been the best choice, simply because he carries so much personality with him, but I really do think he played his role perfectly. (The parallels in actor choice and role to Sandler in Punch Drunk Love are uncanny. Food for thought.) Johansson brings the perfect combination of awkwardness, sexiness, and wit to her character. I had no problems buying into their characters or their chemistry despite the overly stylized world and phsyical improbability of interest.


Given the numerous positives I have mentioned, you might ask why I absolutely loathe this movie?

Well, the answer is that Sophia simply has no idea where she is going with the story, and ultimately compromises her entire movie with one scene. To explain why I feel this way, we need to revisit the source of tension in the movie and how it operates. Given that Sophia went to such great lengths to develop this incredible tension and story arc between Bob and Charlotte you would think that she would have a good idea of how to end this movie. First, the key scene to understanding the whole dynamic of the Bob/Charlotte relationship is about two-thirds of the way through the movie. The characters are lying side by side in bed, and the emotional and sexual tension at this point is at its climax and virtually unbearable. The only resolution we get to this moment is that Bob touches Charlotte's foot. That's it. That is all that they are capable of - this is a pivotal moment and I feel their choices ultimately define their characters. This solidifies that there can be nothing more. Later, in her most expertly crafted scene in the movie, Sophia really enforces on this sentiment. In this scene we witness Bob and Charlotte see each other across the hotel lobby but Bob is surrounded by Japanese media so there can be no interaction. Again, we see the characters battle reality. And the key idea here, is that this is a reality of their own choosing. Bob and Charlotte exchange glances and an awkward smile as Charlotte enters the elevator. The doors shut and Bob can only see his reflection in the cold metal of the closing doors.

What a perfect spot to end the movie, no?

But Sophia isn't done yet! Bob leaves via taxi for the airport where upon his trip whom does he see on the sidewalk? Oh goodness - it's Charlotte!


In Tokyo.

In the downtown.

From a moving taxi. Are you friggin kidding me?

So, of course Bob gets out and runs over to her and they finally ... you guessed it ... kiss! Happy day! Oh what joy is this! Of course there is the infamous whisper no one can understand (which is the whole point, let it go people) and we now are left sated and happy and can go off and live our smily joyous lives knowing that Bob and Charlotte kissed. Apparently this was an improv by the actors, which if Sophia thought this worked for her story, she should smacked upside the head with a trout. How can a writer be so out of touch with her own story and message?

As I watched stupified, I pretty much vomited in my own mouth. What an absolute cop out and complete undermining of narrative, theming, and 120 minutes of my time. Deleting this one scene and ending the movie at the elevator doors would have resulted in a perfect ending. But leave it to Sophia to take something truly evocative, poignant, and challenging and transform it into something mundane, pointless, and easy. The tension is eradicated. As viewers, we are let off the hook and need not pose any questions to ourselves. Worse, the characters that are so painstakingly articulated to us over the duration of the movie are annihilated within a moment. I guess Sophia intended to allude to some potential future, but I don't see it working in any context of the story to this point. The whole message of this movie is obviated. It feels cheap and easy.

Sadly, all the cast and crew who worked so diligently on this movie deserve the highest commendation. The visuals and acting are top notch. It is a shame that something with so much potential was allowed to commit seppuku by the writer/director.

I was initially wary of the movie, as I had heard mixed reviews. I entered with low expectations and discovered a wonderful film. I desperately wanted to love this movie and yet ultimately, I only feel a sense of betrayal and loss.
"I'm just singing in the rain"  
on February 25, 2005 - 1:25 AM PST
  of A Clockwork Orange (1971)
5 out of 7 members found this review helpful

In my opinion, A Clockwork Orange is Kubrick's finest film and it is one of my personal favorites.

I believe that the movie is neither mysogynistic nor trite. Those unfamiliar with Burgess' novel would do well to read it - and may find a repeat viewing of Clockwork more illuminating, though I feel it stands on its own merits just fine. Like most of Kubrick's work, much goes unsaid. He respects the viewer and does not undermine his message by attempting to give it literal voice and body. It is up to the viewer to consider and construct the message in her own terms and based on her own experience. I, at least, find the film expertly crafted and rich in commentary on politics, society, justice, and the human condition.

Narratively, we follow Alex and his group of three anarchist droogs as they pillage society. After a survey of their violence, including murder and rape (in Alex' own words "a bit of the ultra-violence") Alex is betrayed by his droogs and sent to prison. There he undergoes reconditioning to change him into a civilized being. We come to see that this reconditioning is a patchwork solution at best, and is yet further evidence of a world where crime resides so deep in the subconscious that it cannot be healed.

Thematically, the movie operates on so many different levels, it becomes difficult to summarize. On one hand, this an anti-utopian rendering of an all too possible future. A world where justice is a stopgap solution and violence is not so much a societal ill as a necessary product of a culture so ordered that freedom is non-existent. Thus, only acts of the unthinkable become an expression of free will. In this respect, the movie serves as a warning that extensive societal control can only lead to nihilism. We cannot have one without the other.

On another level, there is a distinct psychological element. The stylized world of Alex is one that we inevitably come to see through his eyes. The stylization of his violence should be simultaneously cathartic and repulsive. It is precisely because of his impulses towards violence that we see Alex as a human being - representing choice and freedom in a world without any. We do not want Alex to be caught. We do not want him to be betrayed. And we do not want him to be reconditioned, though we know according to our logic that this must be done. Through this pathos we personally experience the frustration and emptiness of this world - and we accoringly must confront our own impulses and desires. We are forced into playing out the role of both Alex and this horrific society with neither role offering any comfort. Which is worse, an anarchistic nihilistic killer or a dehumanizing societal order? Or perhaps, they are one and the same?

Stylistically, narratively, thematically, and theatrically this is simply one of the finest films ever made.
a life-altering and -challenging work of art  
on February 21, 2005 - 1:49 AM PST
  of Irreversible (2002)
7 out of 8 members found this review helpful

Irreversible is a movie that changes, or at least should change, your outlook on film, life, and horror.

Granted, this is a profoundly difficult movie to watch. In a sense, this is the ultimate horror movie. Irreversible does not resort to cheap scares, gore, or the surreal but instead illicits horror in the viewer at the most profound level of humanity. It delivers a heavy blow to the core of your being. Those unprepared to have their morality, faith, and psychological foundations called into question should not watch this movie.

To achieve his end, Noe presents us with the gamut of crimes against, and the beauty of, human experience: murder, drugs, sex, bravery, fear, community, isolation, hate, love, beauty, profanity, lust and violence. This experience is delivered not only empathically through the characters but also viscerally to the viewer.

The presumptive safety net is immediately and utterly destroyed by Noe at the outset. As viewers, we are affected as the characters are in the movie - our borders are crossed, our spaced violated, our assumptions dismantled. The impressing thing to me, is that unlike most deconstructive attempts, Noe does not resort to gimmick to achieve this. It is accomplished almost purely narratively. This is not shock or gore for the sake of it, it is a necessary device to achieve an artistic end. By necessity, these violations are committed early to set the tone, and are culminated halfway through the movie in one of the most challenging scenes set to film. We are then easily let down and finally sent off with a parental tuck into bed. Our havens are re-gifted. Our violent spin out of control has ended. Or has it?

From what I have read here and elsewhere, I get a sense that many may be missing this dual theming of the movie. Part revolves around the inherent narrative juxtaposition - sex vs. rape, love vs. lust, heaven vs. hell, violence vs. vengeance, living vs. existing - the psychological and moral questions that so many other great films have put to us. But more importantly, the other part revolves around our (the viewer's) relation to the film and we discover that we have no choice but to address the questions. We cannot (and should not) opt out. And in formulating a response to the question we may just discover some truths about ourselves. There is a lot required of, and done to, the viewer of Irreversible. To dismiss this movie as mere shock and awe is (to my mind) to completely miss the point of the film.

Noe has crafted a true experiential artwork - it is an important one - and it has a deep and challenging message for those brave enough to hear it and embrace it. In my opinion, the achievement of Noe is in creating a true emotional experience that challenges the viewer. This is the pinnacle of film making and of art.

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