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What's Up For Today?
Film



Oskar Roehler’s
Agnes and His Brothers
Open Friday, June 9, 2006
Quad Cinema

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Agnes is a transsexual. Her two brothers are about as emotionally screwed up as people come. All three are a product of the same father who may or may not be a monster of sorts.

Agnes and His Brothers is a character-driven gem from German director Oskar Roehler. The film probes the torturous pain damaged humans bring with them as they attempt to lead adult lives while still suffering psychological childhood trauma.

Transgendered Agnes is attempting to lead some semblance of a normal life until she is kicked out of her home by her jealous boyfriend.

Agnes’ politically-motivated brother, Werner, is having domestic problems. His family belittles him. His wife will not sleep with him. His eighteen-year old son has taken to videotaping him in very private moments (not to mention the fact that there is a disturbing Oedipal feel to these relationships!) Werner has dream-fantasies of murdering all of them.

The third brother, Hans-Jorg makes the other two look perfect. He is a pervert and sex-addict whose compulsions lead to his getting fired and, ultimately, committing a heinous act of violence.

Roehler masterfully blends the comedic and melodramatic elements of these stories and creates a thoughtful, richly rewarding work filled with striking performances.

Herbert Knaup is a hilarious mess as the tortured Werner. Moritz Bleibtreu delivers a complicated portrait of a disturbed soul on a cursed quest for love. Hans-Jorg could have easily been a cartoon. Bleibtreu manages to humanize him completely.

The amazing newcomer Martin Weiss plays Agnes with subtle restraint. It is a truly remarkable performance that enables viewers to know so much more about Agnes than the screenplay allows. Weiss near steals the film and his face haunted me for days.

Agnes’ sexuality is admirably handled as we casually meet her son and realize that gender and sexuality lines are never easily drawn.

Roehler’s script is pretty sharp and he make very good use of preexisting music to enhance the plot.

My only real complaint is that too little time is devoted to Agnes’ story which is so compelling and intriguing that it definitely deserved more devotion. This would have made her onscreen fate more poignant and acceptable. The reason for Agnes’ becoming a woman is only hinted at in the film. Exploration of that alone would have added a great deal of desired nuance to the movie.

Quad Cinema| 34 West 13th Street

 



Courtney Solomon's
An American Haunting
Opens: May 5, 2006

Starring: Donald Sutherland; Sissy Spacek; Rachel Hurd-Wood; James D'Arcy; Matthew Marsh; Thom Fell; Sam Alexander; Gaye Brown; Kate Batts
Zoe Thorne; Miquel Brown; and Shauna Shim.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Finally, a thriller that is actually about something. Who saw that coming?

I have to admit I went into An American Haunting hopeful, yet cautious. I was hopeful because it starred the always superb Sissy Spacek as well as arguably the most underrated actor working today, Donald Sutherland. I was cautious because I am not a fan of the horror/thriller/scary movie genre, mostly because those I have seen (especially in the last decade) are forgettable, intelligent-free, non-scary excrement. Yes, I have strong feelings.

So imagine how flabbergasted I was when Haunting turned out to be a taut, exciting, terrifying film that, with it’s last revelation in particular, chilled me to the bone and gave me a perfectly creepy feeling that, yes, haunted me for quite a while after the credits rolled.

And, rest assured, this third act reveal is no silly and incredulous M. Night Shaymalan-esque twist. It’s believable and shocking. Even if you see it coming, it’s still genuinely horrific.

The script is based on true events that occurred in Red River, Tennessee in the early 1800’s. A story that has become legend since it’s the only U.S case that officially attributed a death to a spirit. Plotwise, the Bell family are visited by an evil poltergeist. The haunting escalates into full physical attacks, first on the daughter, then the father. The blame was initially placed on a local witch (a nicely wicked Gaye Brown) but the truth is a lot more human...and a lot more ghastly.

Based on Brent Monahan's novel The Bell Witch, An American Haunting is directed with a deft hand by Courtney Solomon, who manages to keep a swift pace throughout. The movie boasts a terrific ensemble led by the perfectly understated Ms. Spacek and features: Rachel Hurd-Wood, impressive as the tormented teen; James D’Arcy as the skeptical teacher and the stunning Mr. Sutherland who never ceases to astonish with his risk taking.

Owing a great deal to The Exorcist, Solomon stages the brutal and disturbing attack scenes remarkably well. Caine Davidson's score is quite electrifying. The production designer by Humphrey Jaeger is outstanding as is Adrian Biddle’s camerawork.

I recommend An American Haunting specifically to thriller fans who have been fed up with the crap cookie-cutter copies of late AND to folks like me who do not love the genre but do love good films.

 






Terry Zwigoff's
Art School Confidential
Opens May 5, 2006

Starring: Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella



Terry Zwigoff’s films are noted for their surprising originality. Surprising because the director seems to love to take a done-to-death subject/genre/idea and inject it with refreshing new spintwists. Crumb, Ghost World and Bad Santa all shake up and strange-ify existing genres and allow audiences to delight in quirky, three dimensional characters. (In the case of the docu Crumb, a non-fictional character.)

His latest feature, Art School Confidential, is no exception. A clever, cutting look at the insanely eccentric, cutthroat and self-important world of arts academia, the film isn’t afraid to poke fun at the sheer insanity of who decides what is art...and how.

Using Daniel Clowes commendable script as a blueprint, Zwigoff proceeds to genre-blast the coming-of-age college movie, the 50’s teen flick, the creative-artist biopic and the serial killer thriller...just to name a few.

The film centers on a handsome young artist Jerome Platz (Max Minghella), an art school freshman who hero worships Picasso and happens to be...a virgin. On his way to becoming the ‘World’s Greatest Artist.” he encounters a slew of lunatic stereotypes including: his filmmaker roommate (Ethan Suplee, chewing scenery flawlessly) who would sell his soul for a good idea; an arrogant, now-famous alumnus (Adam Scott, dead on dripping with contempt) and the bizarrely behaved jock (Matt Keesler, perfectly cute and creepy) who has a secret...

Jerome quickly falls for an older artist model (Sophia Myles, who resembles a Cate Blanchett/Kate Winslet hybridization--although I wouldn’t compare her acting to these thespian titans).

Minghella is commanding enough to make us give a damn about Jerome and follow his oddball odyssey which blend the hilarious with the melodramatic.

The ensemble rocks and special kudos go to the lunatic John Malkovich who can dust onscreen for two hours and make that look interesting. His Professor Sandiford is a scaryass mix of the pathetic and the weird. Also on hand to twist the plot is the divine Jim Broadbent who brings new meaning to the label “angry artist.” His Jimmy “lives only for the narcotic moment of creative bliss.” The final revelation is a testament to just how frightening that phrase can be.

Art School Confidential exposes the ass-kissing corruption inherent in most of academia as well as unveiling the frauds that masquerade as professors. At one point Broadbent asks Minghella how he is at giving fellatio since the measure of a true artist is in his ability to boink the right person. It may sound like biting satire, but Art School Confidential can also be seen as a road map on how to survive in the real world. And that’s the most terrifying thing of all.



Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana's
Cavite
Cinema Village
Through June 15, 2006

Starring: Ian Gamazon

Reviwed by Jessica Cogan

Described as a “no-budget” film, Cavite is a remarkable adrenaline-charged thriller that proves good films can be made with a single actor, a cell phone and a couple of fairly expensive plane tickets.

Shot on location in and around Manila, Cavite follows Adam, a Filipino-American living aimlessly in San Diego, who returns to the Philippines for his father’s funeral. When he arrives, he’s met at the airport not by his mother, but by a ringing cell phone. On the other end is a sinister voice who promises to kill Adam’s mother and sister – who are being held by the villain – if Adam fails to follow directions.

Adam is sent on a string of odd errands through the humid, hectic streets of Manila and its nearby slums. Some of his tasks seem trivial and aimed to disconcert him: he’s made to attend a cockfight, witnesses a beating and choke down a balut (an aged fertilized duck egg). But Adam is also ordered to clean out a bank account and learns about his father’s own involvement with Muslim extremists. In fact, the sinister voice on the other end of the line is himself a Muslim extremist – although the underdevelopment of his affiliations is one of the film’s shortcomings. Finally, Adam is ordered to take innocent life in order to spare his family’s – and his native land’s history and troubles are brought crashing into the life he’s built thousands of miles away.

Cavite does an impressive job in building and sustaining suspense. Adam is convincing as a bewildered ex pat feeling both alienation and familiarity in his native land. And the voice on the phone makes a strong, sinister villain. He’s taunting and menacing. Psychopathic. So it’s a shame that he’s billed as an Islamic terrorist since his ideological motivations feel tacked on. Still, the film succeeds—and bodes great things for the filmmakers who will likely never need to work on so low a budget again.

Cavite was written and directed by Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana.
www.cavitemovie.com

Cinema Village| 22 East 12 St.





Ward Serrill’s
The Heart of the Game
Opens Friday, June 9, 2006
Angelika Theatre

“It's your life. Make every shot count.” Heart of the Game.

Narrated by: Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

The Heart of the Game is a feel-good documentary that follows college tax professor Bill Resler for seven years as he coaches the girl’s basketball team at Seattle's Roosevelt High. Filmmaker Ward Serrill wanted to make a sports documentary so he started filming Resler and his team. And from the school of thought that if you stand on a street corner and watch the world go by you will eventually see everything, Serrill found his story. A few years into the filming, Darnellia Russell joined the team as a freshman and what had been a very good documentary about hard work and the love of the game suddenly had a compelling plot.

Here is a quote from their press releases: “Serrill, camera in hand, followed Resler – who looks more like Santa Claus in Birkenstocks than a whistle-blasting high school coach – into the Roosevelt High School gym and soon discovered a group of girls whose unbridled toughness, passion and energy he came to call The Heart of the Game. Then, one day, onto the Roughriders’ court (and into the film) walked Darnellia Russell – a tough, inner-city girl whose off-court struggles would eventually threaten to crash the star athlete’s plans to play college ball and be the first person in her family to get a college education. At the center of The Heart of the Game is Darnellia’s unforgettable true story – the loss of her eligibility and her legal battle to get back on court to play the game that means everything to her. With Coach Resler, her team and her family standing by her side, she takes on enormous personal obstacles as well as the ruling body of high school sports in Washington State.”

Resler is an incredible coach; his huge heart matched only by his total commitment to win. Every season he gives the girls a mental image to inspire them to win like telling them that they are a pack of hungry wolves who are out to kill and devour their opponents. From a less charismatic man, these instructions would seem totally bizarre. But the girls love him for it and go out and “kill and devour their opponents,” nearly becoming the state champion year after year.

And then Darnellia joins the team as a freshman and there is a change in the air. What had been a great team now has that extra-luck-called-talent to let them take the state championship. The press releases are a little coy about why Darnellia lost her eligibility, but almost anyone can figure out that she became pregnant and had a baby (a darling little girl). Before the pregnancy, Darnellia was just a kid who did not have the motivation to work hard at school. Her mother had insisted that she attend Roosevelt instead of her more ghetto neighborhood school and she felt out of place and unmotivated at mostly white Roosevelt; her heart was still in the hood. After the birth of her daughter, Darnellia returns to Roosevelt, excels academically and wants to play ball. Her heart is now in her game but she is thwarted by the “powers that be” who rule that she lost her eligibility when she "decided" to drop out of school to have a baby. But Resler and her teammates believe in her and vote to let her play while they fight the decision in court. And Darnellia, with the help of some incredibly talented team mates, finally gets a chance to show what she really can do.

So, if you loved Hoosiers, or for that matter any great story, go see The Heart of the Game. It will definitely warm your heart.

Heart was produced by Serrill and Liz Manne. The executive producer is Larry Estes.

Angelika Theatre |18 West Houston Street



Kevin Bacon’s
Loverboy
Opens Friday, June 16, 2006

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

As a showcase for the tremendous talents of Kyra Sedgwick, Loverboy proves the perfect vehicle. Sedgwick, one of the best indie actresses working today, has delivered the thespian goods in such diverse films as Personal Velocity, The Woodsman, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge as well as the Julia Roberts starrer, Something to Talk About. Loverboy allows her to portray a painfully complex and emotionally scarred woman who’s misguided mindset leads her to an astonishingly incredulous act.

Directed with confidence and panache’ by (her husband) Kevin Bacon, with a screenplay by newbie Hannah Shakespeare (based on the book by Victoria Redel), the film juxtaposes moments from Emily Stoll’s present and past as a way of compellingly telling her story.

As an only child, Emily (Sedgwick) is atypical in the sense that she constantly feels her parents (Bacon and Marisa Tomei having a loveblast) are: “the embodiment of the dreadful exclusivity of true love.” The only bright spot in her childhood is provided by the sexy and savvy Mrs. Harker (Sandra Bullock in a radiant turn).

Grown up Emily is determined to never marry, but is obsessed with having a child who she can devote her life to and love, like she feels she wasn’t. After a legion of sexual encounters with a gaggle of guys who she feels possess the qualities that will help her conceive the perfect child, she finds herself unable to get pregnant. That is until she meets Paul (a wonderful Campbell Scott). Once she has her baby, her life is given a purpose.

When Paul, Jr. is born, Emily exposes him to a magical world of imagination--exclusive to the two of them. For six years Emily succeeds in keeping Paul all to herself, but Paul soon begins to wonder about the world outside and why he isn’t a part of it...

Loverboy is unrelenting in it’s portrayal of a damaged woman and her determination, born out of defiance, to exclusively love her child.

Bacon manages to draw rich performances from his stellar ensemble. In particular, newcomer Dominic Scott Kay impresses as the boy. But the film is Sedgwick’s from first frame to final moment. She allows us access inside this complicated woman--a frightening example of how we are all products of our upbringing.

The one flaw in the film is the cop-out ending. While Loverboy may not be a feel-good movie, it’s certainly a thought-provoking and significant one.







Robert Altman’s
Prairie Home Companion
Opens Friday, June 9, 2006

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

I must confess to being a Robert Altman aficionado. And I am the first to admit that not all of his films are everyone’s cup of tea. Quintet, which I love, can be a maddening sit, but if you cannot appreciate Nashville, The Player, Short Cuts, Gosford Park and M^A^S*H, you should spend the rest of your days on earth locked in a room with nothing but Michael Bay films playing over and over again.

The fact that this living legend, filmic innovator, auteur-genius has NEVER won an Oscar (he was deservedly presented an Honorary one last year) and hack Ron Howard has makes me seethe with the kind of anger usually reserved for the spouses of adulterers.

So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I began my Prairie Home Companion journey. It was also with great trepidation since I never really thought of Garrison Keillor’s radio show as anything special.

As the first frames flickered I found myself wearing this ridiculously wide smile on my face. 105 minutes later, I was heartsick to learn two things: that the film was over and that I had been smiling that silly grin for the entire length of the picture. I prayed no one saw how dopey I must’ve looked. The only comfort I got was from the fact that the film was so delightful, so infectious, that I could not have imagined anyone wanting to take their eyes off the screen long enough to look at anything else--let alone goofy-grinned me!

Once again Altman has fashioned a non-traditional narrative (basically non-linear and short on plot) that explores character and tells a pretty straightforward story in a fascinating and mesmerizing way.

The screenplay imagines a final farewell broadcast of a very Midwestern radio show. (ironically the real Prairie Home Companion is still on the air and still quite popular after thirty years!)

The potpourri of talent includes: oddball sisters Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) who were part of an ill-fated quartet, and the envelope-pushing cowboys Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly).

Along the cinematic road we encounter luckless PI Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) who is the backstage doorkeeper; Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones), the Texan who is responsible for the show’s demise; Lola (Lindsay Lohan), Yolanda’s songstress-wannabe daughter and an Angel (Virginia Madsen) who has come for more spiritual reasons.

The all-star cast is simply sensational beginning with the perennially-amazing Meryl Streep (has she ever not been anything short of astonishing in any film?), who is obviously having a ball with the role. Her onscreen sister, Lily Tomlin, is also splendid and the two share a fantastic chemistry when they are singing as well as off-stage. They’re so good, in fact, that it becomes painful to realize that the Johnson Sisters are actually failures. Streep and Tomlin are particularly glorious performing “Goodbye to My Mama.”

Kevin Kline is a comic wonder and his Guy Noir is a hilarious and sad creation. The enigmatic Dangerous Woman is divinely embodied by the ethereal Virginia Madsen. In the hands of another director this particular character and plot point could have been delivered in a heavy-handed manner, destroying it’s power and ultimate transcendence. Altman allows her to enchant us.

Garrison Keillor does an admirably respectable job basically playing himself. Keillor fashioned the terrific imagined-swan song screenplay on some of the persons and anecdotes that have kept Prairie on the air. It includes many of his self-penned songs.

Altman lets these marvelous characters simply be, allowing them the freedom to soar but knowing exactly when to cut away. He is precisely aware of where to place the camera and when to move it. And he trusts his actors enough to let them do what they do best.

The music is infectiously entertaining with Streep and Tomlin the chief showstoppers. Camerawork is captivating with the usual Altman dolly pans and extended takes.

Filled with so many unexpected pleasures, Prairie Home Companion sometimes feels like Nashville-lite. And while that 1975 masterpiece was a filmic feast for all senses. Prairie is it’s own smorgasbord. Yet as fun and facile as it seems on the surface, the theme of death pervades the film, in a strangely transportive and magical way.

Most directors in their twilight years lose their creative spark. Altman, now an octogenarian, is as innovative, clever and thought-provoking as ever.


 

 



Guy Pearce as ‘Charlie Burns’ in ‘The Proposition’
Photo by: Kerry Brown


John Hillcoat’s
The Proposition
Opens Friday, May 5, 2006
Screenwriter Nick Cave

A Western with no white hats!

Starring: Guy Pearce; Ray Winstone; Danny Huston; John Hurt; and Emily Watson.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

John Hillcoat (director) and Nick Cave’s (writer) new film, The Proposition, is an ode to violence and cruelty. Set in the nineteenth century Australian outback, the film tells a story of vengeance and murder in a land swarmed by flies, battered by dust storms, broiled by the sun and flooded with blood. It is a place where the good are not good and everyone and everything is filthy. It is outback Queensland as one of the nastiest places on this planet; you can literally see the heat radiating from the dirt - an Australia no one would willingly visit.

Here is a synopsis from the press release:

“Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is a renegade living in Australia’s lawless frontier who, along with his two brothers, is wanted for a grisly murder. After being captured by local law enforcer Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), he is presented with an impossible proposition: the only way to save his younger brother Mikey from the gallows is to track down and kill his psychotic older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), who Stanley believes to be the ringleader in the violence. Meanwhile, Captain Stanley has other problems with which to contend. Having given up their comfortable life in England, he is desperate to shield his luminous wife Martha (Emily Watson) from the brutalities of their new surroundings. However, his attempts at “civilizing” the lawless émigrés and renegade Aborigines only makes matters worse. An uneasy sense of foreboding grows as events close in and each character faces a punishing moral dilemma that leads inexorably to a devastating climax…”

After receiving his ungodly proposition, Charlie Burns journeys to the outback to kill his older brother and save the life of his innocent younger brother. He is quickly attacked by a band of aborigines, who are living like a pack of wild dogs in caves. Then he is rescued by his older brother, who is also living like a dog in a cave along with as motley a crew of “associates” as will ever be seen in a western. The brother, Arthur Burns (played by the normally boyishly likable Danny Huston), is a man with literally “no redeeming social value.” But he is Charlie’s brother and he saved Charlie’s life and thus there is a dilemma.

Meanwhile back in town, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) and his wife (Emily Watson) are incongruously trying to recreate civilization by serving tea, growing flowers and having formal dinners. But Stanley also has a job and a boss, Eden Fletcher (played by David Wenham), and the likelihood of success of Stanley “proposition” is severely compromised when Fletcher decides to extract his own pound of flesh in revenge for the atrocities committed by the older Burns brothers.

So the “dogs of war” (as played by the Burns brothers) are unleashed on the town; Charlie and Arthur ride to town to rescue their brother and enact revenge upon Stanley and his wife. And when they do, none of the amenities of English country life can save Mrs. Stanley from being assaulted by the horrific reality of her new world.

All of the actors give incredible performances under unbelievably harsh conditions (the heat and flies were not added in a digital lab). Emily Watson gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the wife who longs for the beauties of England but who also has an inherent human capacity for cruelty and revenge. Guy Pearce gives a quietly restrained performance, showing no overt emotion but with eyes that tell a story of desperation, despair and the search for humanity in a land which seemingly has none. Ray Winstone aptly portrays Stanley, Guy’s nemesis and counterpart in the search for some semblance of equilibrium. John Hurt is amazing (as always) as an old drunk (as always) who seems to have been just dropped off in a cave to die. But the real surprise of the film is Danny Huston. This is most definitely a Danny Huston I have never seen before nor expected could exist. Huston’s portrayal of the thoroughly corrupt Arthur Burns is simply mesmerizing.

The light in the outback (as filmed by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme), is eerily beautiful. The land (for all its heat, flies and filth) is a wondrous place, filled with shadows and graced with incredible sunsets. The film is also blessed by Nick Cave's haunting score.

Bravo to Nick Cave and John Hillcoat for creating a truly mesmerizing story of violence and the quest for morality in a world with seemingly no moral compass.

The Proposition opens on May 5, 2006 in New York City at the Angelika Film Center (Houston & Mercer St.) and the AMC Empire 25 (234 W. 42nd St.).




David Frankel’s
The Devil Wears Prada
Opens Friday, June 30, 2006

Reviewed by Christina M. Hinke

Starring: Meryl Streep; Anne Hathaway; Emily Blunt; Stanley Tucci; Adrian Grenier; Tracie Thoms; Rich Sommer; and Simon Barker. Daniel Sunjata; Jimena Hoyos; Rebecca Mader;
Tibor Feldman; Stephanie Szostak; David Marshall Grant; and James Naughton.


The devil must have decided to go down to Georgia because there wasn’t an opening for the post of editor-in-chief at the fictional New York fashion magazine Runway. In the movie version of the best-selling book by Lauren Weisberger, Meryl Streep brilliantly plays the cold-to-the-core editor Miranda Priestly. But in true Streep fashion, she also manages to show the warmer side of the ice queen. It would have been a lot easier to hate Miranda had Streep played Miranda as a Sub-Zero refrigerator, but instead she shows Miranda as a warm-blooded person with feelings (although they are demanding feelings), so you hate to hate her.

Dowdy Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway), is fresh out of Northwestern University and she has a passion for journalism. Somehow Sachs touches a nerve with Miranda and soon the grandma skirt-wearing Sachs is fetching Starbucks (hot, very hot), answering phone calls, attempting to schedule impossible flights during torrential thunderstorms and scouring New York to get her hands on a copy of the latest unpublished manuscript of Harry Potter for her impeccably dressed, unnerving boss.

Anne Hathaway is darling as Andy and manages to hold her own against Streep, Stanley Tucci and the delicious Emily Blunt (who plays Sachs nemesis, actually named Emily). Hathaway manages to look comfortable both in her sweats and straggly hair and in her post transformation head-to-toe Chanel. Surprise! Surprise!

Impeccable performances, a tight script and an effortless one hundred and ten minute run time make The Devil Wears Prada into a devilishly good New York time.


 


 

Michael Cuesta's
Twelve and Holding
Opens Friday May 19, 2006

Starring: Bruce Altman; Conor Donovan; Jesse Camacho; Zoë Weizenbaum.

Twelve and Holding
, Michael Cuesta’s eagerly awaited follow up to the intense and controversial LIE, is a rich and resonant look at the lives of three distinctly different twelve year-olds. While Cuesta is regressing as far as his main character’s ages go, he’s grown in filmic confidence and storytelling.

Twelve begins with the tragic and freakish death of Rudy, one of a set of Identical twins. He leaves behind his meek, birth-marked brother Jacob as well as his revenge-obsessed mother and confused father. Rudy and Jacob have two misfit friends: Malee, a half-Asian girl who longs to be an adult and falls in love with one; and the overweight Leonard, who realizes he must shed his pounds and goes to extreme lengths to make sure his mother does the same.

As he did in LIE, Cuesta coaxes fantastic work from his actors, most especially Jeremy Renner, who gives a powerful and heartbreaking performance and manages to deliver a third act speech that in the hands of a lesser actor, could have elicited laughs instead of tears. He is riveting. Annabella Sciorra adds another outstanding turn to her growing list of supporting work. Someone needs to write this gal a lead!

And the young actors are all touching and convincing. Conor Donovan, in particular, plays both twins with amazing ease displaying remarkable range.

The script is a bit too cliche’ but Cuesta has a magical way of directing THROUGH them.. He, also has a great gift in being able to show us the inner adult-wannabe world of a child and how much their psyches are affected by their parents and the “adult” world around them.

I’m still not sure I appreciated the ending and what it said about revenge (especially since the crime wasn’t really intentional). Come to think of it, I absolutely hated the ending of LIE, where the Brian Cox character was killed in a horrific way because he was a pedophile. Cuesta seems a bit too bent on marring his films with biblical vengeance (or choosing scripts that do so) which is a shame because everything else avoided the bullshit-trappings usually reserved for studio films.

Twelve and Holding was reviewed at the 35th New Directors/ New Films Festival
March 22 through April 2, 2006 at Lincoln Center and MoMA.




Larry Clark
Wassup Rockers?
Opened Friday, June 23, 2006
Angelika Film Center

Reviewed by Armistead Johnson

Some of my favorite movies: Best in Show, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Waiting For Guffman, have all been part of a new genre called “mockumentary.” The films are not documentaries because they are scripted situations (even though dialogue is improvised) and the point is to satirize the situations. Larry Clark’s Wassup Rockers is yet another layer on this new genre that does not include satire, nor is it going for obvious laughs.

Wassup Rockers hits the streets of L.A. following a group of teenage skater boys as they traverse their way from South Central into Beverly Hills to skateboard the famous “nine Stairs.” The teenagers, led by fifteen-year-old Jonathan, are all Hispanic, and their puck rock, Ramones inspired look is not the norm in the hip-hop flavored ghetto of South Central. These boys are real people, not actors, and the cameras follow them while they are put in situations that might mimic their actual lives (with actors playing the parts of the other people in the scenes.) It’s a tricky balance…the actors in the scenes are not as good as the “real” boys and subtlety is not Clark’s strong suit.

A policeman, played by an actor, harasses the boys for skating on the public steps. In the interrogation, the policeman consistently refers to the boys as “Mexicans.” The boys, who are from different Hispanic origins, none of which is Mexican, correct the “policeman” over and over and over…to the point where we start to wonder if the policeman is retarded. Then it dawns on you…this is the scene where the audience is supposed to learn that “Hispanic” does not equal “Mexican.” We’re also supposed to realize that this is a mistake commonly made by policeman, even if the policemen are corrected over and over, leading us to wonder…are the police a little bit racist?

In an equally subtle scene, the boys stumble into a fancy, backyard Beverly Hills party hosted by a gay, Gay, GAY man. The gay, who of course is instantly fascinated by the group of boys flamboyantly agrees to let Jonathan use one of his seven bathrooms, but not before hissing at his DJ, “Please play some Madonna!” While showing Jonathan to the bathroom, the gay immediately begins to hit on the fifteen-year-old (because most gays like little boys.) When Jonathan refuses his advances and goes in the bathroom alone, the gay then frantically tries to get a look at Jonathan’s penis through the doors keyhole (because the gays are all perverts.)

A drunken actress gives one of the boys a bath because “being clean is fun!” A Dirty Harry look alike shoots one of them because he believes in “shooting them first, asking questions later.” The stereotypes go on and on, and it seems like these boys might encounter less racism if they just stayed out of Larry Clark films.

Wassup Rockers does succeed however in giving the audience a peek into these boys lives, despite the film’s desperately trying to script them. The more revealing and interesting scenes are the ones where the boys are unscripted, either being interviewed or interacting with each other. I wish Clark had more faith in his audience. Racism is obvious in their poor living conditions, their poorly supervised school and for that matter, their poorly supervised adolescent lives as a result of parents who work in other people’s homes, watching other people’s children. The audience does not need to see a buffoon of a policeman repeatedly calling them Mexicans to “get it.”

The boys, as I believe Clark intended for them to be, are the most interesting thing in the film and the process is interesting to watch. Wassup Rockers is now playing in select theatres.

Angelika Theatre |18 West Houston Street


 

 

 


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