"Elephant" by Gus Van Sant is Powerful and Shocking

Elephant
4/24/2011


Four years after the Columbine High School shooting, Director Gus Van Sant tackled the issue of school shootings in his shocking and heart breaking drama Elephant. It was awarded the Palme d’Or (Best Film) at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. It also brought a Best Director award for Van Sant.

Filmed in a documentary like fashion and using all non actors. The extreme realism makes it all the more effective. The camera roves and follows the students in long continuous takes. We get to know these kids as we sort of tag along on a seemingly ordinary day. Like every high school there are cliques and loners, jocks and outcasts. They are all represented here but are not your average stereotypes.



As with all school shootings the main question is why? What drove these two kids to do this? There are never any easy answers and the film doesn’t pretend to know them. In the movie Alex and Eric (the Columbine shooters were Dylan and Eric) are seemingly normal angst ridden teens. They play violent video games but also read and play piano. The parents are nowhere to be found and it is strongly hinted that the boys might be lovers. This could also be apart of their need for people in their life who understand them and won’t judge them. Part of the blame also falls on society itself as they are easily able to buy their high powered assault rifles over the internet.

When the moment arrives to execute their plan they are cold and unremorseful. They roam the halls taking down anybody that gets in their way. After getting to know the victims throughout the majority of the movie it hits you like a ton of text books. There is no Hollywood ending, just a bunch of unanswered questions. It is the Elephant in the room at schools across America.

"The Life Before Her Eyes" Uma Thurman & Evan Rachel Wood

The Life Before Her Eyes
4/19/2011


This film is a beautiful and lyrical meditation of what could have been. What if things would have happened differently? The Life before her Eyes is the second film from director Vadim Perelman, whose first film The House of Sand and Fog brought wide critical praise. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, including best lead actor for Ben Kingsley.

The Life Before her Eyes stars Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood playing the same character of Diana. As a teenager (Wood) she is a free spirited girl who is caught in an unthinkable situation. When a boy at school goes on a shooting rampage she and her best friend become trapped in the bathroom with him. The story then flashes forward and we see Diana all grown up with a husband and a young daughter. She is continually haunted by the events of that day and the kind of person she was back then. She tries to protect and nurture her daughter onto a better path but she looks to be failing. Her husband is a professor at a local college and could be having and affair.

The plot swaps back a fourth between the young Diana and her best friend Maureen, played by Ava Amurri and the older Diana and her family. It chronicles the building of young girls’ friendship and how they have arrived to the point when they are facing down the gunman. While Maureen is religious and chaste, Diana is quite liberal and currently seeing an older man. They are complete opposite personalities, but as friends they were made for each other.

The movie is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. As far as casting goes even though Evan and Uma have similar looking faces, their body types are quite different. The time lines of events for Diana are also a bit sketchy. There is a big twist ending that is a quite debatable and could turn some people against this movie. It could also explain some of the inconsistencies. It deals with some pretty heavy issues to the point of being overstuffed, but it is a good experience overall. The DVD contains many special features including a director’s commentary.

"The Burning" Classic 80s Slasher w/ George Costanza

The Burning
4/16/2011

"The Burning" is a vintage ’80s slasher movie known more for its cast and production team then for its mediocre material. This is the first film by mega producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films. It also marked the screen debuts of Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens. The gore and effects were also done by the all time great Tom Savini.

Like Friday the 13th and many other films like it, The Burning takes place at a summer camp in upstate New York. The story follows the campfire story of Cropsy who years back was horribly burned in a prank gone wrong. He now roams the woods getting his revenge on future generations of campers. Cropsy’s weapon of choice is a pair of hedge clippers. As a character Cropsy is pretty weak and could use a lot more development but without any sequels this is all were going to get. The kills really aren’t anything special with the exception of the raft massacre. It has everything you could expect from a typical 80s teen slasher. A girl takes a shower, a couple skinny dips late at night; two kids have sex in the woods and are immediately killed.

If horror and nostalgia is your thing you’ll love this one and it’s currently available on Netflix Streaming.

"Fish Tank" A Film by Andrea Arnold

Fish Tank
4/5/2011

"Fish Tank" is a raw and unflinching look at a teen girls coming of age while living in the cold, dank housing projects in Essex, England. The girl is Mia and she is played by first time actress Katie Jarvis. A fifteen year old who spends her time dancing in an abandon apartment. This isn’t your Black Swan type dancing but hip hop. This film was directed by Andrea Arnold who won and Academy Award in 2005 for her short film Wasp, which takes place in the same world as Fish Tank.

Mia is you average angst ridden teen. She is constantly fighting with her mom and younger sister. She doesn’t get along with other girls her age and her future is a fog. Her mother (Joanne) wants to send her to a boarding school to straighten her out. Joanne has a new boyfriend (Connor) played by the brilliant Irish actor Michael Fassbender, who forms an immediate connection with Mia. He is simultaneously a father figure and a teen crush for her. He is the only person that supports and encourages her dancing. He lends her a camcorder so she can make a tape to enter a competition. All of this seems too good to be true and it is. Mia’s trust is betrayed by Connor and she goes to extreme lengths to get back at him and teach him a lesson.

She is called in for an audition for the dance contest and this is also not what it seems. The whole film sparkles in the way that things are not always what they seem or what you think they should be. Everything is painfully similar to real life and not some sort of Hollywood fantasy. Earlier on in the film Mia meets Jimmy a boy more her age while trying to free a sickly looking white horse from a junkyard. They develop a more natural and real relationship. Mia decides to leave home and go with Jimmy to Wales. Her mother can see Mia has no future where they live and doesn’t put up a resistance.

The Fish Tank DVD and blu-ray is available from the Criterion Collection.

"Thriller: A Cruel Picture" 70s Sexploitation Epic

Thriller: A Cruel Picture
AKA "They Call Her One Eye"
AKA "Hooker’s Revenge"
4/1/2011

“Thriller” is a classic example of a ‘70s sexploitation film. It stars famed Swedish sex kitten Christina Lindberg, who stared in many other such films. This film is similar to my previous review of “I Spit on Your Grave” in that is a rape revenge thriller.

Lindberg’s character of Frigga is molested as a little girl and from then on never speaks. Even throughout the movie as she is grown she never says a word. One day she misses her bus and is offered a ride from a slick city guy in a nice car named Tony and she takes it. Mental note: never miss your bus! Of course Tony has some pretty awful things in store for Frigga. Over the course of about a week she is beaten and addicted to heroin against her will. She is one of many girls that are being held by Tony in a sex slavery business. After Frigga’s (now named Madeleine) first client is a disaster, Tony gauges her eye out with a knife. This was done with a real eye from a real corpse.

This movie is quite pornographic when it comes to Madeline and her Johns. She also has a go with one of the other prostitutes. For some bizarre reason Tony lets her roam around the town on her “off” time. Since she is now a heroin addict, she has to come back for a fix sometime, right? With her off time she prepares for her revenge. She takes kung fu classes, rifle practice and stunt driving lessons. After finding her prostitute friend murdered she decides that it is time to strike back. All of her kill scenes are done in slow motion, quite cheesy but it fits in with this perfectly cheesy movie.

Frigga seems to be a very strong inspiration for the Daryl Hannah character in Quentin Tarintino’s “Kill Bill” movies. She changes her eye patch to match her wardrobe and her mood, which is a nice touch. She is a bad ass chick getting some serious revenge from the people who literally screwed her over. This movie is packed with everything you would expect from a sleazy 70’s exploitation flick, with its gratuitous sex and nudity, brutal violence and nothing but sick and twisted fun. Watch this movie with your parents :)