Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Gus Van Sant has been on a serious roll as of late. He's been alternating between small, personal, highly-stylized movies like ELEPHANT, GERRY, and LAST DAYS while still finding time to mix in studio product like GOOD WILL HUNTING, FINDING FORRESTER, and the upcoming Harvery Milk biopic, MILK. With PARANOID PARK (***1/2), he's made another one of these tone-poem films which revolve around disaffected youth which fits right in with his work in ELEPHANT, which centered on a Columbine-esque story about troubled high-schoolers. In PARANOID PARK, Van Sant focuses his attention on skate-board culture, and in particular, one teen who happens to be at the wrong place on the wrong day at the wrong time. Casting the film via Myspace and using non-professional actors (like he did in ELEPHANT), he gets fairly solid work out of his young cast who at times can't help but feel a bit stiff. But that might've been the point Van Sant was trying to make; kids can be awkward and stiff and unsure of themselves, especially when confronted with the many intricacies that life has to offer. Alex (Gabe Nevins) is an emotionless high schooler with a few skating buddies who are all afraid of boarding at a spot referred to as Paranoid Park, where all the top skaters seem to hang out. Alex's parents are splitting up and he's got a sexually forward girlfriend named Jennifer (Taylor Momsen, very good) who's only interest seems to be in losing her virginity just for the sake of it. Alex has another female admirer, Macy (Lauren McKinney who is a natural), but he's too blind to recognize her affections. One night, in a moment of sheer teenaged stupidity, Alex hitches a ride along the side of a freight train. He's chased after by a security guard who starts hitting him with a flashlight in order to get him off the side of the train. What happens next is shocking, sad, and very brutal. Alex's natural reaction to the situation inadvertently leads to the guard's death. The film, with its super-long stedicam shots and long takes, is more about atmosphere and attitude than it is about plot points and structure. The film has an austere but rich visual texture which is the real highlight of the piece. Running less than 90 minutes and basing the film off of a young adult novel, Van Sant and his extraordinary cinematographer Christopher Doyle (2046, RABBIT PROOF FENCE), paint a portrait of a confused, scared, and paranoid kid who's life is forever changed by one moment of action. Because Nevins barely hints at any emotion with is portrayal of Alex, it's tough to muster up any real sadness for him, but that was probably the direction that Van Sant pushed Nevins in as an actor. We remain detached from Alex psychologically yet somehow we still feel his internal pain. While not as emotionally draining as ELEPHANT, PARANOID PARK works a considerable spell on the audience, and by the end, leaves you with a feeling of pent-up dread.

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME? (***) is a cute-enough French sex comedy that happens to feature a mostly-naked Monica Bellucci for much of its running time. That in and of itself means you should rent it. Bellucci, a decent-enough actress, has been blessed with some of the finest physical features of any actress in the history of cinema; she's simply gorgeous to look at. So it's no wonder that the director Bertrand Blier would craft a story such as this one around her seemingly impossible beauty. Francois (Bernard Campan) wins the lottery and enters a Paris brothel where he makes an offer to the sexy prostitute Daniela (Belluci): come live with me and I will pay you $100,000 per month until my winnings run out. She asks him how much he's won -- he tells her $4 million. She says lets get outta here. The one catch is that Francois has a heart condition, thus making their relationship highly dangerous. What's a guy with a weak heart doing with an uber-hot woman like Daniela? What follows is a highly theatrical comedy where the characters learn to live and love. It wouldn't surprise me if someone attempted to adapt this movie into a play, as the setting is mostly confined to a few locations, and there are only a handful of key characters. There's lots of sex and nudity but all of it playful and tasteful and rather romantic at times. There's a twist (I a'int telling...) but the movie is mostly about what drives people, both financially and spiritually. It's a fast-paced movie with a few flights of narrative fancy and it all goes down pretty smoothly. It's not a great film, but you'll be entertained. And if you, like me, can appreciate the female form, then it'll be something you'll want to check out at some point.

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