REVIEW: Eden

21 10 2015

EdenMia Hansen-Løve’s 2012 film “Goodbye First Love” might have been awash in cliches, but her latest directorial effort “Eden” feels refreshingly free of them.  The film follows Félix de Givry’s Paul Vallée, a DJ on the cutting edge of the Paris EDM scene, as success constantly eludes him while pursuing the dream.  While Daft Punk makes it big, Paul scrapes the bottom of the barrel just to keep hope faintly visible.

An easy temptation might be to play into tropes about starving artists, yet Hansen-Løve shows no interest in such a story.  In reality, the momentum of the film is never predicated on Paul’s forward – or backward – progress.  “Eden” is more a landscape of an emerging youth music scene in the 1990s and early 2000s; Paul is merely our access point through which we can experience the soaring heights and crushing disappointments of the cultural moment.

This desire to take it all in gets reflected in her visual schema, too.  Hansen-Løve’s shot of choice in “Eden” is the long pan, which allows us to filter and select information from these massive concerts on our own.  Rather than dictating the specific details for our focus, she liberates us to find a personal point of interest.  The camera becomes like the sober friend at the party, capturing everything on behalf of those who might not remember anything later.

The pacing of “Eden” maintains a similar steadiness, mimicking Paul’s journey rather than the music he creates.  Heck, sometimes it even feels like that Hansen-Løve and editor Marion Monnier were on downers assembling the final product.  But in their more measured approach, they find an interesting morsel of wisdom.

Sure, Paul never makes it big.  Is that an excuse to wallow in self-pity?  They seem to argue that it is not.  The end result was not optimal, yet the process and the ride were fun while they lasted.  Perhaps most importantly, he got to create music that mattered to him.  To some extent, isn’t that what art should be?  External validation is nice, but it’s nice for movies like “Eden” to remind us that it should not be everything.  B+3stars





REVIEW: Escobar: Paradise Lost

26 06 2015

EscobarDespite what the title might imply, “Escobar: Paradise Lost” is not really a film about Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.  The name must have its roots in a marketing meeting because Benicio del Toro’s titular figure shows up about as often as Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone in “The Untouchables.”

For the uninitiated, writer/director Andrea di Stefano provides a little more information about the drug lord than season 3 of “Entourage” can give.  In lightly sketched detail, Escobar’s appeal to the dispossessed in his country becomes a little more clear.  Whether willfully or naively, the film implies most Colombians remained in the dark about his lucrative illegal enterprises but were not asking questions so long as the money kept flowing.

The true protagonist of “Escobar: Paradise Lost,” Josh Hutcherson’s Canadian surfer bro Nick Brady, encapsulates this journey from tentative acceptance to fearful resistance.  Nick falls in love with Escobar’s niece while working in the forests near the Colombian beaches, and he graciously accepts an offer to work on the family farm rather than face harassment from armed thugs.  He suspects something might be awry with his relative and employer but remains silent, to his ultimate detriment.

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REVIEW: While We’re Young

6 05 2015

If you mentioned the phrase “my generation” to people my parents’ age (straddling the Baby Boomer/Generation X boundary), they might start humming that hopelessly catchy song by The Who.  Ask millennials like myself what those two words signal and a combination groan and eye-roll will likely follow.

By this point, I have learned to take bulk criticism of people my age in stride, though biting my tongue on the gloom-and-doom predictions made about us does bother me quite a bit.  So long as there have been independently minded youth, there have been an older vanguard of adults sneering at the perceived ruin brought about by change to the establishment.  The lyrics may change over time, yet the melody remains the same.

While We’re Young,” from writer/director Noah Baumbach, arrives whistling that tired tune fearing the slow-dawning apocalypse of those darned kids these days.  What looked like a fascinating examination of intergenerational differences, rivalries, and friendships wound up playing like a cranky old relative or professor erecting a soapbox for themselves to rant about their monolithic conception of millennials.

Whether a running gag about a younger character not offering to pick up a check or Adam Horovitz’s Fletcher ranting about cell phone dependency, Baumbach barely conceals his personal disdain behind the veneer of his fictional creations.  His stance seems to imply the twentysomethings of today are uniquely self-involved, duplicitous, and dishonorable.  Has he forgotten that the Greatest Generation and the older end of the Baby Boomers said the same things about his cohort?  Rather than let his age provide a vantage point of wisdom on the issues he explores, his advanced years appear only to ensconce his bitterness.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (April 30, 2010)

30 04 2010

Opening today in theaters is the latest “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, which will surely provide the same old horror movie shenanigans.  But why settle?  You want to see a movie that can scare you in new and unexpected ways.  Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” is a different kind of horror, and it proves to be absolutely terrifying.

In fact, terror might be a better word than horror to describe the movie.  It’s not heavily plotted, and it is driven by the sheer terror of the situation that an average family finds themselves in one day at the lake.  Out of nowhere, husband and wife George and Ann (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) as well as their son Georgie are held captive inside their own vacation home by two sadistic young neighbors (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt).  They play cruel games with the unsuspecting family and even wager that the three of them will not live past 9:00 AM the next day.  What unfolds is hardly funny as torture, violence, and manipulation make for a truly unforgettable evening.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, this is not a movie for the squeamish or faint at heart.  “Funny Games” is a movie designed to terrify you and make you very uncomfortable, and it succeeds in that regards.  The events that take place are like a worst nightmare for so many people, such as domestic terrorists violating the privacy of a home.

Haneke uses a very different style than the show-it-all shenanigans usually employed by American horror filmmakers.  He is much more restrained and particular about the way he portrays the terror, but it works because of the painful realism that he uses.  I won’t ruin the key quirk of his style, just keep a close eye out for oddities.

Nowadays, movies are quickly divided into “art film” and “mainstream film.”  The beautiful thing about “Funny Games” is that it dabbles in both.  It plays like an art film with its nihilism and deliberate pacing (including one ten-minute shot that will scare the living daylights out of you), but in the middle are drops of that ridiculous American horror that has given us six volumes of “Saw” and eight installments of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”  If you can muster up the courage to sit through Haneke’s two hours of harrowing terror, you’ll find it refreshing to see a movie that can straddle the line between the two camps of film.