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Cheap eyewash for the true drones of television
This made-for-television documentary develops a simple premise, and it develops it so simply that anyone with a basic familiarity of film and American culture will likely not learn anything that justifies the time it takes to watch this.
The underlying problem is that the film exists on a plane of rigidly narrow superficiality, unvarying in tempo or tone. Its rapid editing leaves only enough time to register the existence of costumes or fashion presented, not study or contemplate them. The same is true for all the interviews. The comments are kept light and quick, and never leave the commercially viable zone of the self-evident or non-challenging. The same opinions by different people are voiced too many times, either due to editing oversight or as if the filmmaker thought he were honing in on some documentarian's profound discovery of truth. E.g., movies influence fashion and vice versa.
The student of fashion and costume will find nothing of interest here. Who will? I suspect it's the grotesque species of American--the six-hours-a-day television watcher, an obese couch slug, globally clueless and utterly unaware of the fact.
This is television, will be the retort. What do you expect?
I and others expect that some modicum of resistance will be offered to the machine, that in this short life you'll somehow find it within yourselves to dare to imagine a media environment that rises above sugary nothingness and the ever present commercial drive to dumb down. Do you always like taking it from The Man, or have you come to share his assumptions?
Oops, we forget to create an interesting story
First, it must be said that the artists did a great job on this film. Their talent was betrayed however by the absence of an interesting story or engaging characters.
So weak is the story that if Renaissance were done in live action, there'd be little reason to watch it. The film seems to spring from and is geared toward the techno wow factor of male adolescence, the obliterating fascination with the display of speed, power, weaponry and machines. At age 15 it's enough to see, as we do in Renaissance, a car flying through the air, its flat tire going "whoosh, whoosh" in mid flight before it crashes into a wall. In a film that took narrative seriously, flourishes like this serve to add to the totality. In this film, that's almost all there is.
Cop clichés are foundational to Renaissance--the non-verbal tough guy; the principled law man suspended from the force but so dedicated that he pursues the investigation on his own. If the character of the cop was actually memorable, say, spoke in an interesting dialect, had some inner conflict or flaw, something, then these tropes could be forgiven. As it is, the entire project feels flat, a formulaic exercise carried alone by its graphical artistry.
I wanted to like this film. I enjoy dark themes, artistic innovation, and sci-fi. I'm always more than happy to give the independent, the unknown filmmakers a chance or several. But Renaissance was a big disappointment. Sure, story and character are the hardest things to do well, but these are the body and blood of a good film. Beauty is only skin deep.
10 Items or Less (2006)
I'm stunned anyone would put up money to produce this...
Some of the most stilted dialogue I've ever heard, scene after scene that that didn't work, humor that fell flat to the floor, the emotional depth of a skit of SNL--I don't exaggerate with any of these criticisms. I can't believe Freeman agreed to do this. I can't believe this production was able to raise $2 million--this could have funded 4 indies with 10 times the talent. Is there that much of a shortage of good material in Hollywood!? I really wanted to like this film, but couldn't. In the end it verges on artistic fraud. For about the 5th time in my life I was tempted to stop the DVD, but then I realized that this might be instructive for all of its errors. It wasn't even interesting on this level. The only level that remains is that of the sociological--how can something like this get made in the first place?
Barry Dingle (2005)
Of 1200+ movies I've seen in my life, this joins a handful of the unwatchable
About 20 minutes was all I could take. Name a technique of good film-making that underlies sound story structure, dialog or characterization, and this film seemed oblivious to nearly all of it.
I'm the kind of film lover who seeks out the unusual, the unknown independent, the challenging. I've seen enough movies to know to hold on for a little bit if the first 10-20 minutes is struggling to break into something of interest. But not this film. So clumsy and tone-deaf was the writing (the actors did an heroic job with the limited material), it defies comprehension how such a film could get any funding whatsoever.
I hate having to write reviews like this since I know how hard it is to put any feature length film together. I'm loathe to rain on another's dreams. But, for hell's sake, this is the kind of drivel that--I'll forgive myself for saying this one time--makes me yearn for the next Hollywood flick.
Top notch writing and performances.
First, let me say that the regrettable number of "1" votes for this film cannot reflect anything other than incomprehension or spite. The qualitative reality of this film is that the writing, story and acting are better than 95% of anything available. The writing alone for this film is such that I'm puzzled why the writers/directors haven't had awards piling up in their living room since its release. (Maybe they have and I just don't know about it.) Perhaps the most remarkable thing to me about this film is how much complexity of character and conflict is revealed in the writing, all the while maintaining that elusive blend of masterful control and natural expression. Some screenwriters will be inspired by this film, others will ask themselves, "With this kind of competition, why should I bother?" How can great independent films like this get larger audiences? My sincere hope is that the writer/director duo go on to make many more films.
The Safety of Objects (2001)
An Unfortunate Wreck of a Film
Minimally savvy students of film know to not be dogmatic about the rules with which you evaluate a new film, since a new film may break the old rules and break them well, causing you to expand your notion of what's possible in a good film. To say that I tried to stretch my appreciation for what's possible when evaluating The Safety of Objects is to entirely miss the point. In other words, this movie was not attempting to break new ground. No re-thinking of ones aesthetic assumptions is necessary. In fact, they're reaffirmed--great films inspire a sense of the possible; bad films inspire the sense of what should not be possible.
It's a movie of cloying Hallmark Card life lessons, built upon a script so weak I'm honestly astonished it got within a studio light beam's distance of production. Loose story ends abound. The film is desperately cluttered with too many characters and mini-plots in a failed attempt to remain true to the book. The characters' stories fail to elicit either viewer sympathy or comprehension, and shortly into it I found my patience severely tried. Some strong acting performances are not able to salvage this embarrassing work.
The writer/director did a likable job with "Go Fish." Let's hope this is a bump in the road.
Psy Show (1999)
Nearly Perfect - Spoilers
This is a film so well conceived in every detail it excited me about the possibilities of the short film medium. If you're not a fan of the short film, this one might change your mind. If you are, then you should consider adding this to your collection.
The story involves a man approaching middle age, a fragile soul who becomes the plaything of his psychoanalyst who surreptitiously re-positions his quiet motorized chair as his patient lies on the couch. When the patient notices the new chair positions, the analyst is determined to convince him it's all in his head.
Whatever the intent--a statement about the inherent potential for abuse in authority (it vaguely reminded me of the infamous Stanley Milgram experiments), questioning the validity of the psychoanalytic tradition and its impact on patients, or exploring the fragility of subjective reality--it's a clever premise and its narrative is delivered with perfect timing and believable performances.
If you're a fan of Cronenberg and Lynch, as am I, then Psy-Show will surely be worth your while (It should be noted that Psy-Show was on a DVD with 'Dans Ma Peau" and "Alias"--both worth watching as well). I came away from this thinking that de Van is a great talent. I very much look forward to seeing her other work.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Incompetence misconstrued as talent.
With my expectations raised after the praise this movie received at Cannes, and based on some of the glowing reviews to be found on this and other sites, I was prepared for a challenging and innovative piece of filmmaking. Instead what I saw was a work teetering on the edge of incompetence, whose bare integrity was bought through the inclusion of the talented Bjork.
The jittery camera work, location lighting, rough editing, video tape(?), and unconvincing writing are all parts of Trier's purported desire to get beyond Hollywood production values, beyond the slick and high-dollar setups whose economics (usually, anyway) go hand in hand with dumbed-down and empthy themes. The idea apparently is that once you've freed yourself from the constraints of traditional filmmaking, you free yourself up to capture more spontaneity and authenticity. Also, this allows the independent film maker to pursue his/her vision without the compromising and everpresent threat of running over budget, a notorious problem with most film productions.
Nice in theory, but in von Trier's practice, an execution that ruined his film, in my view. The camera work continuously calls attention to itself and often defies the natural attention of the viewer. Instead of presenting us with a new attentional logic (an interesting idea in theory), the effect is that of a 10 year sneaking his dad's camera out of the house to film his friends play the role of actors on a set. The point is to have fun at the moment, not worry about how the film will look when it's shown. It's as though the camera operator hadn't previously seen the script. Once again, an intriguing idea in theory, but in this case it had a decided feeling of amateurism.
The script was remarkably poorly written at points and immediately envinced memories of grade B movies and first draft scripts I've read and critiqued. Situations and emotions at a number of points were thrown in either unearned or outside of any inherent logic in the story.
But then, here's the biggest mystery--it's popularity with some critics. This can be explained in part by the common desire on the part of the sophisticated film watching public to experience greater authenticity, truer drama, better acting and risk-taking in the making of films. von Trier's violation of standard film making practices has the theoretical appearance of such a film, and this "optical illusion" probably swayed some early critics, but this appearance is easily confused with the reality. Sometimes what passes for originality is merely a series of mistakes.
von Trier's iconoclasm is not matched by an equivalent directing or screenwriting artistry. Maybe he has it in him yet, but this film is a showcase of how NOT to make a film.