Dakota Fanning in the Controversial "Hounddog"

Hounddog
8/9/2015

Dakota Fanning was one of the great child actors of her generation, from her film debut opposite Sean Penn in the 2001 film "I am Sam" to "Hounddog" in 2007.  Appearing in over 10 feature films in that period and working primarily with A-list directors and upstaging many of her older co-stars, like Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro.

Directed by Deborah Kampmeier "Hounddog" was a turning point in her career, at the ripe old age of 12.  The independent film about a preconscious young girl living in the rural American South in the mid to late 1950s drew criticism and controversy for scenes of sexual abuse involving Fanning's character Lewellen.  The whole atmosphere of the film has a lingering lusty feel to it.  It's the stereotypical gothic fairytale view of the South.  Lewellen lives with her brutish drunken father (David Morse) for whom she has a love/hate relationship.  She even says she would like to kill him one day. She also lives with her grandmother, who acts as sort of a surrogate mother but still doesn't give her the attention she needs.  When her father has a falling out with his latest girlfriend (Robin Wright), he leaves his daughter to go on a drunken bender for a period of time.  Lewellen grew close to her and took the split harshly.   He only salvation is in the music of Elvis Presley and running around with Buddy, the neighbor boy.  She also strikes up a friendship with a local black man, who introduces her to Blues music.  This allows her to cope with her situation and later on brings her back from a terrible event.  When her father finally returns, she is all to happy to see him but shortly after their reunion he is struck down by a bolt of lightening turning him into a kinder gentler giant with a mind of a 5 year old.  Lewellen now  has to take care of him.  Lewellen's yearning to leave her situation blinds her from some real danger that's up ahead.


Word spreads around town is that Elvis will be giving a concert nearby and she will do anything to get her ticket to see him.  Her naive and trusting nature soon leads her into a situation that will scare her for life.  She seems surrounded by boys and men all to willing to take advantage of her from her father, the teenaged milkman and eventually even Buddy.  Her father's old girlfriend swings around again, but this time only to see Lewellen, in the film she is credited as "Stranger Lady", but is this her biological mother? and more importantly her ticket out?  "Hounddog" is decent movie with a few good performances including that of Fanning, but as a whole is a little too mellow dramatic and a bit unreal, it's like a storybook or fairy tale with tall tales and larger than life characters.  I do however recommend you check it out and give it a chance.


"Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present"

Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present
7/16/2015

With over 200 reviews in the rear view this is the first documentary to be featured in long history of the Rockport Review.  It took a doc like "Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present" to break in.  It is simply an event to behold.  Its simplistic, bizarre, and extremely moving.  It's the world performance art.

This film documents the MoMA retrospective exhibit of Marina Abramovic a controversial and boundary crushing Eastern European performance artist.  Now at 63 she launches her newest performance, also the name of the exhibit, The artist is present.  For the whole length of the exhibit which is 3 months she will be sitting silently across from members of the audience in a shared experience.  6 days a week, 7 hours a day in a squared off space.  Two chairs facing each other with a table in between them.  An electric and bizarre atmosphere envelopes the two strangers who lock eyes in a sort of starring contest for an indeterminate amount of time.  It's a monumental achievement in self discipline and how she can control her own mind and body for such long periods of time.

We are also given a retrospective on her career as well with videos and interviews.  She has been performing since the early 1970s and her work explores a wide range of human dynamics and the relationship between the artist and the viewer.  She has performed many works with her now former lover Ulay and these are prominently featured here.  Her work leaves many people asking "Why is this Art?" Ah the question that has plagued mankind for centuries, What is art?

Her massive exhibit features other performance artists recreating many of her previous works, but at the heart of it all is Marina herself in that chair staring back at you.  The exhibit, which took place in 2010, looked to be quite the cultural phenomenon with people waiting for hours are even days for their chance to sit across from her.  It was like she took on this Christ like figure, as people where weeping and worshiping her.  Marina's eyes gave out a sort of unconditional motherly love that drove many of the people to tears.  As the exhibit wore on people got more and more desperate to see her.  It also brought to light the nature of celebrity and how groups of people can be enchanted and mesmerized by a single person.  I'd highly recommend taking a look at this film as it is quite the experience, it was produced by HBO and can be found on DVD.


"White Bird in a Blizzard" a Gregg Araki Film

White Bird in a Blizzard
6/29/2015

A little while ago I reviewed the film "Mysterious Skin" by indie auteur Gregg Araki that stared a young Joseph Gordon Levitt in his latest film "White Bird in a Blizzard" another hot young actor in Shailene Woodley of "Divergent" fame takes center stage.  Araki's films are character driven dramas that push the boundaries of mainstream Hollywood.  This film also stars a number of great actors in Eva Green, Christopher Meloni and Angela Bassett. It currently can be found on Netflix Streaming.

This film is all about Woodley's character of Kat Connors a 17 year old girl whose mother, Eve (Green), ran out on her when she was young leaving her to deal with her uptight milquetoast father Brock (Meloni).  The first line of the film is from Kat saying "Mom are you Okay" which is absolutely perfect, it says so much about the upcoming narrative in a mere four words.  Although Kat had a rather stormy relationship with her mother, she still loves and misses her.  As mentioned before Brock is an emotional blank slate working a menial job, completely unavailable for anyone.  Even when she was around her parents were constantly at odds with each other.  Eve looked to be trapped as an unloved under appreciated housewife dying a slow suburban death.  When she disappears Kat drifts further away from her family and intensifies her relationship with the only person that pays any attention to her, the neighbor boy Phil (Shiloh Fernandez).  It was actually quite surprising to see multiple nude scenes from Woodley who has built her career on big budget family friendly movies.  Its great to see her taking risks and putting her self out there, something that most actors her age would normally turn down.  Although that being said it is a Gregg Araki film so pretty much anything goes.


Kat graduates from High School and goes to Berkley where she meets new people but is still in a sort of mental funk.  "The future bores me" she says at one time.  Upon coming home for spring break her dad has landed a new girlfriend, that she could care less about.  Kat and her friends start to wonder what really happen to her mom and some pretty wild theories pop up, but exactly how wild are they?  Could Brock have killed his wife?  The film then turns into a kind of strange Nancy Drew novel as Kat begins to suspect that her father know more that he is telling her.  He starts to show a more angry dark side, but he's already kind of strange to begin with.  The ending unleashes a twist that is perfect for an Araki movie.  It's shocking and a bit funny at the same time.  Hopefully Kat can move on from her tragically damaged family life and create a peaceful existence of her own.  Hopefully she won't disappear in that blizzard.


"Josie and the Pussycats" Rock the House!

Josie and the Pussycats

7/1/2015

Every so often you'll come across an older movie that you've never seen but always wanted too and it turns out to be completely different than you though it would be.  "Josie and the Pussycats" is just such a movie.  Released in 2001 and obviously marketed to teenage girls, it's actually a darkly satirical and sarcastic laugh riot.  Although maybe not so much in 2001, the last 14 years or so has given it time to mature like a fine wine and be even more cheesy, campy and ridiculously funny.

Adapted from the "Archie" comic books from the 1960s, "Josie and the Pussycats" are an all girl rock band brought into modern day reality.  Josie is played the down to earth and electric Rachel Leigh Cook, which was the main reason I wanted to see this movie in the first place.  Rosario Dawson is Valerie the tough and smart bass player, while Tara Reid is Mel the ditzy blonde drummer.

Remember this was a time period when boy bands like "Nsync" and "Backstreet Boys" ruled the charts.  The movie opens with such a band called "Du Jour" and there number one hit single "Backdoor Lover".  Their record label Mega Records has created them and molded each of their personalities and their music to sell to their adoring fans.   Although if they become aware or what's really going on behind the scenes they can replace them in a moments notice.  The bands interaction on their private jet is priceless, the petty arguments and celebrity whining all ring true.  This bring another clever part of the film to the fore front or shall I say background.  Product placement in movies and TV is quite the shameless epidemic and the filmmakers take this concept to soaring new heights.  Every single shot in the film has been arranged to show some sort of blatant product placement.  Dujour's jet is plastered with Target logo's and bottles of dish soap? Must be because of their squeaky clean image.  This sort of tongue and cheek satire is littered throughout the film.


Okay back to the girls.  When Dujour's jet mysteriously crashes. Mega Records executive Wyatt Frame (played brilliantly by Alan Cumming) needs to find the next big thing, and just happens to spot "Josie and the Pussycats" crossing the street.  He immediately signs them and within a week they are the hottest band in the country. The girls find this a bit odd but fame and celebrity can be pretty awesome.   When the group learns that Mega Records puts subliminal messages into their music, they must fight the power and save legions of teenage fans from wanting to drink Zima and buy Puma sneakers.  Josie and the girls have remained grounded and skeptical until Josie is given a CD from Wyatt that turns her into a selfish bitch.  He also enlists Carson Daly to kill Mel and Val, this is actually how Carson and Tara Reid met in real life and almost got married.  The girls then must deal with the evil Fiona (Parker Posey) the head of Mega Records.


Filmmakers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan could have gone a few different ways with the material but went all out in crafting a witty, thoughtful and fun piece of cinema that could have been so much worse.  I can now definitely say that "Josie and the Pussycats" are totally jerkin'.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is "The Lookout"

The Lookout
6/4/2015

Two years after the success of "Brick", Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in another indie film called "The Lookout" with another first time director in Scott Frank.  Although Frank has written a number of hit films over the past twenty years, it was his first shot at getting behind the camera.  It would be easy to say that "The Lookout" is a heist film, which it is, but its more of a character study of a young man named Chris Pratt.  Not to be confused with the actor Chris Pratt who was in "Guardians of the Galaxy"

While in high school Chris was a stand out hockey player without a care in the world.  His whole life ahead of him until one night while cruising through the back farm roads in a convertible with some friends, a magical moment is turned tragic.  To better see the clouds of fireflies with his girlfriend he turns his lights off, it's a surreal moment until reality literally hits them in the face.  The car crashs head on into a giant tractor and the friends in the back seat are killed.  Chris and his girlfriend are thrown, but survive. 

Flash forward 4 years and Chris is still learning to live with the brain injury that has turned his life onto an unexpected and frustrating path.  His short term memory has been severely damaged and must keep clear notes.  Due to this disability the only job he can get is a nighttime janitorial position at a small town bank.  Although its a long drive from his apartment it forces him to drive by the scene of the accident twice a day. 


With the financial support of his upper class family he lives in a small apartment with the pragmatic and father like Lewis, played by Jeff Daniels.  Lewis is blind and has learned to live with his ailments.  Chris lives a quiet and solitary life and doesn't have any friends his own age.  So one night at the local bar a childhood friend introduces himself, Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), he doesn't immediately recognize him but goes along with it.  Gary hooks him up with a hot girl (Isla Fisher) and introduces him to a bigger group of shadier looking people.  After a short honeymoon period Gary comes clean with his intentions.  Him and his crew rob banks and need Chris's help to hit the one he works at.  Chris is torn, he's a good guy at heart and it doesn't seem like something he would even consider, but he also feels trapped.  Yearning for freedom from his domineering family and the chance to realize some of his lost dreams.  He agrees to be the lookout, hey that's the title of the film!


Chris is a lost soul and his life has been defined by one bad decision he made as a teenager.  Will he learn from that experience and continue improve his life inch by inch as he has been or will he be lured by the devil-like Gary into another life altering choice?  A person's poor decisions will often unknowingly hurt the people around them, but is only realized in hindsight.  While the last act of the movie does suffer a little bit from a case of convoluted bullshit things are resolved.  While the first two thirds of the film does a great job in creating Chris's world and developing its characters it might be a little too slow for people expecting a classic heist film, this is made up for better or worse with the finale.  It's still a film worth seeing and the DVD includes a commentary track for those who like that sort of thing.  Check it out!