Classic Film Review: Punch Drunk Love

Full Title: Punch Drunk Love
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Year: 2002
Comments: Ever since I was a little kid I have been a fan of Adam Sandler as a comedian, but after watching this film I have gained more respect/appreciation for him than ever before. For years people told me to see this film and I put it off for whatever reasons (now, I’m kicking myself in the teeth for waiting so long!). I have seen Sandler in “serious” roles in Reign Over Me (2007) and Funny People (2009), but neither of these films convinced me that Sandler was (or could be) a terrific actor. PDL has done just that for me and so much more. Firstly, the story tells the tale of Barry Egan (Sandler), a businessman that suffers from severe social issues and has yet to make any real connection with anyone in his life, particularly a romantic relationship, which he clearly desires. Soon, he finds his sister hooking him up with a sweet friend from her work, Lena (Emily Watson), whom oddly takes a liking to Barry (and vice versa) and attempts to understand his peculiar, little world. Now, it is time for the timid, introverted Barry to obliterate his defense mechanisms and for once actually live his life. All in all, this is a top notch flick, Paul Thomas Anderson is a master raconteur: the story is slow, but purposefully slow, if that makes any sense. It revels in its characters, letting them develop, so when they finally ACT it is all the more meaninful. Also, the music is incredible and nicely complements what is happening on screen. We hear a loud, pounding score that perfectly corresponds to the mayhem occuring in the paranoid, disturbed brain of Barry’s. Without a doubt, one of the finest films of the last decade. I plan on revisiting this in the future.

Grade: A- (9/10)

Classic Film Review: Over the Edge

Full Title: Over the Edge
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Year: 1979
Fun Fact: This was Kurt Cobain’s favorite film and served as inspiration for the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” music video.
Comments: This here is a molotov cocktail in your very hands for you youngsters out there. Yeah, I know y’all didn’t catch my little Jerry Rubin reference, but catch this a town filled with tired and uninspired teenagers abandoned by their wealthy parents, whom only care about making more money while their community is rotting from the inside. Edge is the dark version of Dazed and Confused (1993); kids in the 70s, apathetic, anarchic, and ready to Rock and Roll: having a good time is the top priority. I must say being a fan of youth oriented/teen/coming of age films, I really dug this work and while watching it I had a myriad of reactions. It really felt like I was watching some sort of archive footage from the 70s. In some ways the story seemed schizophrenic, meaning I could not tell if the movie was rooting for the kids or for the adults. There was this afternoon made for TV movie special feeling to it (which was actually kinda cool!) and simultaneously a Rock and Roll High School (1979) youth rebellion aesthetic to it as well. I have come to the conclusion that this ambiguous combination serves as a reminder that life in general is never black and white and this film does not need to shove a message down your throat to say something. Overall, I have very little to no gripes with this film; I thoroughly enjoyed it and I look forward to watching it again and again. It is not perfect, but honestly I don’t think I would like this film if it was. Ya dig?

P.S.
: Going back to Cobain, with the characters in this flick I could totally see a little Kurt in some of these kids- before you know it they will be at their first Minor Threat/Black Flag show!

Grade: A-

Classic Film Review: Mister Lonely

Full Title: Mister Lonely
Director: Harmony Korine
Year: 2007
Comments:”I just wanted to make a sequel to Caddy Shack”(1980). That was the explanation Harmony “Harmful” Korine offered David Letterman and his audience for why he wrote the screenplay for the controversial film Kids (1995). Anyone who has seen Kids knows that clearly Korine was pulling a fast one on the Late Show viewers. Kids follows twenty-four hours in the lives of a few teenagers in New York City as they have unprotected sex, consume copious amounts of alcohol and drugs, and commit various acts of anti-social behavior. Suffice to say both films share the common trait of having people in them, and that is about it. His next film Gummo (1997) was even more notorious. Gummo was an altogether new kind of film with images and sounds coming from everywhere. The movie has no real linear plot, but rather serves as a collection of highly impressionable and memorable scenes/vignettes. What we see and hear is almost always unsettling and more often than not downright vile. Following Gummo, Korine made one more full length feature film, Julien Donkey Boy (1999) before falling into a nasty drug habit and overall feeling of disenchantment. Eight years later, Korine bounces back with his biggest film yet, Mister Lonely (2007). With this work he pulls back a little bit and makes somewhat of a more conventional film. This time there is a narrative, in the traditional sense of the word, and more professional actors participate. Do not worry though, Korine still maintains his peculiar aesthetic as the story follows the life of a Michael Jackson look-alike (Diego Luna) living in Paris. One day the celebrity impersonator meets a fellow impersonator in the form of Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), who invites him to live with her and other celebrity impersonators at a commune in the hills, where everything seems to be perfect.
I would wager that for Harmony Korine, making Mister Lonely is akin to a bizarre, obscure band finally making that album that is more commercially viable and not as strange, but still retains its weirdness. The album may hook in some new fans, it may push away long time devotees, but overall not much changes because the band is still too bizarre for most mainstream fans. Well, this sums up what ML does for Korine. Unlike his previous works, ML does not rely on the shock factor, but instead takes a more sensitive path, conveying an extreme care for its characters. Overall, the film displays themes related to isolation, self-hatred, withdrawal from reality, search for one’s dreams and one’s purpose in life, America’s obsession with fame and Hollywood, and ultimately the desire to be someone else. These issues are affectionately communicated to the audience, in stark contrast from the brutal, sometimes offensive nature of his previous films. There is far less ambiguity here and as a big fan of Korine, I cannot say this is a positive attribute. What I precisely loved about films like Gummo was the chaotic, seemingly message-less tone of the movie. In other words, one creates their own message, whatever is presented is there, but everyone is free to interpret their own meaning. This true of ML, but the film has far too much of a linear story for this to have the same effect. It feels as if Korine is attempting to make a more mainstream film and this is somewhat obvious because of the larger budget and so forth.
The look of the film is a significant departure from his previous works. The cinematography is mostly conventional and does not stand out as anything different, which is not necessarily a bad thing and perhaps will appeal to viewers that detest Korine’s usual style. His camerawork is as top notch as ever and certainly one of the strengths of the film. There are dazzling shots of nuns flying in the air and riding bicycles through the clouds. These shots offer strong imagery, but not nearly as evocative or as memorable as in the past.
Overall, this is a really good film with fascinating characters, excellent shot selection, and incredible use of music. The film has more strengths than weaknesses, but it is surely not without its share of flaws. It lacks cohesion and not in the good old Harmful sense for you fans out there. We have a (comparatively) normal structured film with a clear narrative, so when some randomness is tossed in, it does not quite fit, at least for my taste. In his previous movies, the scenes were filled to the brim with randomness to the point that it would be pointless for me to bring up cohesion as a flaw. Lastly, I will say I mostly found myself invested in the story and the characters, but at times I felt like it dragged on or appeared aimless, so for most viewers there is a good chance this will be far too vapid. With that being said, I recommend this to fans and non fans alike and I dare everyone to challenge themselves with a film they may otherwise overlook.

Grade: B

The background information in this review was taken from one of my past posts “Harmful For All Ages.”

Classic Film Review: Welcome to the Dollhouse

Full Title: Welcome to the Dollhouse
Director: Todd Solondz
Year: 1996
Comments:
Being a huge fan of Todd Solondz’s later film Happiness (1998) I had high expectations for this flick and fortunately they were more than satisfied. WTD follows the life of a bespectacled, nerdy, awkward, and lonely Junior Highschooler named Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo), who is the victim of excessive abuse from her peers, parents (verbal, neglect), and teachers. As usual, Solondz presents this over the top mess with dark, acerbic humor and quirky, colorful characters. Yes, for some the humor might be totally lost as I warn you now, this is not for the weak at heart. It is quite disturbing and may be extremely heart wrenching for those who actually suffered from bullying, sexual harassment, abduction, amongst other torturous activity. With that being said, this film is not a drama in the traditional sense; Solondz himself labels his movies as “sad comedies.” Haha, I couldn’t agree more! For me though, I didn’t find this as funny as say Happiness, which leaves me in stitches despite or because of the lurid subject matter of that film. Perhaps, it is because this is my first viewing, after all it took me at least three times around to really get past the fucked up nature of Solondz’s movies to truly appreciate the comedy of Happiness. So, who knows maybe after a couple more screenings (which I guarantee will happen) I’ll crack up at WTD. All in all, this is a great film that is rich, unique, and always keeps you curious what will happen next. I don’t like this as much as Happiness because it focuses more on one character than several characters, but that isn’t much of a flaw. Overall, this is a “no bullshit” film, so to speak; it sticks with it’s harsh, black comedy style and never lets up like most other movies with the same subject matter would. These characters are far more realistic and are not simply cliched two dimensional specimens. The main character Dawn, the victim, exploits people, makes fun of others and is incredibly self-centered. Yet, we sympathize with her because, well, everyone fucking hates her and torments the poor girl to no end. Solondz never dresses up this horrible situation, but rather provides merciless satire and a really fascinating storyline. KLYAM RECOMMENDED? You know it.

Grade
: A/A-, highly recommend!

This musical number from the film and Dawn’s reaction to the performance (great acting by Heather lol) clearly demonstrates the off kilter, quirky nature of the movie.

Classic Film Review: Small Town Ecstasy

Full Title: Small Town Ecstasy
Year: 2002
Director: Jay Blumenfield
Comments: Small Town Ecstasy is a documentary that offers us an up close and personal look at the perils of a modern suburban family: divorce and the resulting custody issues, generation gaps between kids and their parents, oh and a father that attends raves and does ecstasy with his children and other young people. Whattttttttt?! you must be thinking. But, it’s true. This man is cuckoo for E and we watch as it tears him apart from his beloved ones. His son, an experienced drug user, questions why his father is acting the way he is and why he does not feel the need to intefere with the well being of his children (i.e. them experimenting with E and other drugs). Despite what you have just read (and yes it is nauseating and uncomfortably laughable) this man in many ways is a good father and clearly loves his children, but because of his increasing drug use and resulting loss of custody, he sees them less and less. That’s one thing I dig about this doc, the fact that he has redeeming qualities; in most of such videos, the parent steals their little babies’ lemonade money and buys crack with it on their birthday or slaps them senseless in the midst of a vicious meth binge… Here, instead we see a different kind of dysfunctional family. Overall, this is a good doc, highly entertaining and fascinating, but at the same time, I always asked myself, “where is this going?” It didn’t move that much, but it was a nice slice of life, which is exactly what this kind of documentary should do. A spin on the mid-life crisis hoopla! If you want to find out what happens to the man and his family, then see the film, part one can be seen below.

P.S. All seriousness aside for a moment, wouldn’t this premise of your clean cut, forty something, dad suddenly dropping E and attending raves make for one helluva of It’s Always Sunny style sitcom?! It could be called “XTC Dad!” as Glen referred to the leading man. Producers reading, take notice, I think I have something up my sleeves!

Grade: B

Chris

Classic Film Review: Anarchism In America

Full Title: Anarchism In America
Director(s): Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher
Year: 1983
Grade: B
Comments:AIA is a good starting point for those that want to learn about Anarchsim, because (as displayed in the documentary) most people have little to no idea of what it really is. The doc does a good job of explaining to viewers that anarchism is a strong social, political, economic, and spiritual philosophy and/or movement built on individualist principles and the belief that society would be better off without the state. The filmmakers distinguish this from the narrow minded view that anarchists are just about chaos and throwing bombs, which unfortunately most folks believe. The film features various anarchsits including, Emma Goldman, returning to America after having been deported for years in rare video footage, veteran Murray Bookchin, tax resisting, “market” anarchist, Karl Hess, the Dead Kennedys (interview and performance), amongst other famous and unknown anarchists. The film also shows various implicit anarchists including American workers committed to the rugged individual ideals of America and they associate this with anarchism, or at least the filmmakers do as well as a sowing company in which the workers run the show a la Chomsky! Speaking of Noam, he is nowhere to be seen and other prominent anarchists and related groups/organizations like the trailblazing paper, Fifth Estate>. I suppose they can’t document everything, but still they focused too much on the implicit Americanism rather than the explicit characteristics; albeit a nice feature. In addition, we see footage of the Liberatarian Party and how this connects to the anti-government (or anti-state power) stance of anarchism, historical events such as the Spanish Civil War, Russian Revolution, and the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Lastly, my only other complaint is the fact that they didn’t include any anarchists that used violence or force as a political means, justified or not. Granted, this might reenforce the negative connotations of the philosophy that naive viewers have, but at the same time, it would be nice to provide a balanced picture, considering some anarchists are violent. Overall, it was worth a watch and I would recommend it, not for those who want an in depth history of anarchism, but rather for those who are curious or unaware of it and want to learn about the philosophy/movement, at least the American aspects up to the early 1980s.

The following site has a lot of information on this documentary as well the film itself, which can also be viewed on Youtube as seen below.

http://alexpeak.com/art/films/aia/

Here are some cool quotes from the movie, which also appear on the above site.

“Almost anyone, I suppose, can call himself or herself an anarchist, if he or she believed that the society could be managed without the state. And by the state—I don’t mean the absence of any institutions, the absence of any form of social organisation—the state really refers to a professional apparatus of people who are set aside to manage society, to preempt the control of society from the people. So that would include the military, judges, politicians, representatives who are paid for the express purpose of legislating, and then an executive body that is also set aside from society. So anarchists generally believe that, whether as groups or individuals, people should directly run society,” Murray Bookchin

“My understanding of anarchism has as part of its element a connection between ends and means. To me, if one is an anarchist, then, from my point of view, one also must be nonviolent, and if one is nonviolent, one must be an anarchist—I see the linkages very clear[ly]. A person who believes in nonviolence is a person who believes that the sort of society we want to achieve is a society without violence, without wars, and without injustice; and to use wars, violence, and injustice to achieve that society is to be counterproductive,” Ed Hedaman

“Well, it’s hard to tell on the basis of the Party’s rhetoric, after all they’re running for state office, but my experience is that most people who are in the Libertarian Party have pretty decent anarchist impulses, even if they do not say they are anarchists—most of them will say they are libertarians, at any rate. And one thing that is useful is that they have a fairly well-refined analysis of why they aren’t conservative. It took the New Left to do a proper analysis on American liberals, it seems to me, and I suspect that the libertarians are doing the best analysis of American conservatives. I think that they are quite good people, and that the Party contains within it probably more people of an anarchist tendency than any other organisation in the country,” Karl Hess

Here’s Part I

Chris