Monday, April 17, 2006

The Squid and the Whale

Ten years after launching his directorial career, Noah Baumbach's 2005 breakthrough feature, The Squid and the Whale, has rightfully earned its "critically acclaimed" status. In one of the most esoteric films I've seen since his partner Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, Baumbach has created a poetic storyworld of a family at its breakingpoint. The film is so human, so realistic, that it's frightening to conceive that such a place exists in the homes of our own tree-lined streets. Even more so, it's sobering to think that the children at the center of the emminent divorce in this story, are really as mature as they are.

Jeff Daniels is back on point (after a dreary dry spell of lousy films) in the lead role as an egotistical professor / washed-up author, and sometimes father to his teenage son (in all accounts bent upon becoming his father) and astute younger son (virtually self-destructing from neglect). The great Laura Linney plays the searching mother who's finally had it with her husband's self-centeredness and decides to make it on her own. In the process of separating, the four of them must ultimately come to terms with what it means to be "authentic," no matter what the cost. But, make no mistake about it, the reason you see this film (as it becomes abundantly clear when you watch) is the roles played by the children. Keep an eye out for Owen Kline, the youngest son - the way he got into and portrayed his complex character so knowingly, this kid is going to be huge. And no, William Baldwin isn't as cute or commanding as his brothers, but he might be a better actor, at least in this film. And yes, you're right, it is kinda weird that Anna Paquin plays Jeff Daniels' love interest given that they were father and daughter in Fly Away Home just a few years ago, but maybe it's serendipitously creepy for a reason.

The writing is stellar. The pacing is excellent. Set in 1986, it feels as though it's from another time and place (even if it is only Brooklyn). The camera work is spot-on and intelligently shot. My suspension of disbelief was upset only a couple times when, bearing in mind the storyworld is set in the eighties, I saw a number of cars and products clearly from the current day. But that's the joy of an indie, low(er) budget feature. For more insight to this end, have a look at the "Behind the Scenes" featurette on the DVD - it's a perfect glimpse into the process and plays nicely after viewing. This is a film that touches the heart and doesn't let go.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A History of Violence

Small-town diner owner Tom Stall becomes the local hero when he saves the patrons of his restaurant from a thuggish duo travelling through podunk America on a killing spree. But the exacting manner in which Tom conducted himself in this takedown has investigators questioning his identity after members of the Philadelphia Irish mafia come to town for a visit to Tom's diner.

David Cronenberg's latest offering is one of the more thrilling and unbelievable pictures I've seen in recent times. Thrilling in that it sent my blood pressure through the roof with some intense family drama and uninhibited graphic violence. It's unbelievable in that, to this viewer, it failed to convince me that what was going on, despite being down-home in many respects, was actually "real." Critics of the film praised its cast's performances (Viggo Mortenson and Maria Bello are indeed outstanding in their roles - although I disagree that William Hurt deserved an Oscar nomination, I found his performance laughable at best), and the gritty texture of the overall storyline. Fans of the graphic novel, on which the film is based, complained that too many liberties were taken in presenting the story (e.g. the relationship of Joey to Richie was altered, and there wasn't a glimmer of the Hollywood-style sexual charge this film lapses into meaninglessly at two distinct points). I was disappointed, my wife on the other hand was not!

3 out of 5 stars

Paradise Now

What it is the price of dignity? Paradise Now follows lifelong friends Said and Khaled, two young Palestinians who've been chosen with the dubious honor of becoming martyrs to the cause of an activist faction carrying out a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. In one of the most compelling and well-wrought films I've seen in quite some time, director Hany Abu-Assad presents the humanity and horror of the contemporary status of the widening rift between the Palestinians and the state of Israel with knowing honesty and sensitivity. The photography is gorgeous, the acting is superb, the writing is concise, intelligent and convincing. I can't imagine a more appropriate or timely film for this conflicted moment in time.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 06, 2006

May Film Discussion

The Film Group's next meeting will be Wednesday, May 5, 2006 at 7pm in the library's meeting room. We will be discussing Jim Jarmusch's 1989 slice-of-life Mystery Train.

When ordering your copy of the film, be aware that there are 3 separate title records for the film in the SWAN catalog. Each record contains the same film, but there are 2 records for the VHS (with one copy on each), and 1 record for the DVD (only 3 copies system-wide) - making that a total of 5 copies available through the library. As we're still a relatively small group, I think these few copies should be enough for all of us, but order early for best results. If you're desperate to see the film before we meet, and your library copy hasn't arrived in time, the film should be available at your favorite video store for rental.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact me or post a comment to this post. I look forward to seeing you all next month!