Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Ghostboy’s got a great track record here at AICN as one of those guys who sees and reviews all sorts of smaller films for us, and he’s got pretty impressive taste. Today, he’s got two movies I definitely want to see. If you can set aside your mania for everything MATRIX related for a moment, there’s some good stuff here...
I'm back again with a review of a small indepedent movie called X2 - wait, I mean - crap! X2 is awesome. Quint, you're totally wrong about the last shot. I really want to write a review of it, but by the time this gets posted, I imagine the movie will have already opened and - damn it! Okay, I'm just going to stop thinking about how cool it is and get on with these other films, which in a summer of what will hopefully be full of even more awesome action spectaculars, still deserve your attention, and money. So to begin with...
A Decade Under The Influence
Now, the coolest thing about this movie is how Nightcrawler... oh wait. Sorry!
This is the documentary that Ted Demme was working on when he died. He and Richard LaGravanese came up with the idea of doing a documentary after spending long nights discussing their favorite films from the seventies; at the time, in late 2001, Hollywood was under the threat of a Writer's Strike, so it seemed like as good a time as any to make a documentary. They set up interviews with some of the biggest names from that decade - Scorsese, Schrader, Friedkin, Altman, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Julie Christie, just to name a few. And then Ted Demme died in the spring of 2002, while the project was still in production. That the finished film is so wonderful, practically overflowing with a pure and unadulterated love of movies, makes it about as fitting a career capper as I can imagine any director wanting.
From the vaguely misleading title, I assumed the movie would sort of cover the same drug and scandal fueled material of the book 'Easy Rider, Raging Bulls.' What it turns out to be is simply a meditation on seventies cinema, and why it was so great. These filmmakers tell stories about themselves and others, and we see clips from so many wonderful movies that you may want to stop by a video store on the way home and refresh yourself on those you haven't seen in a while, if at all.
It's noted that most of these movies are not exactly feel good cinema; Paul Schrader jokes at one point that his mother refused to go see anything that might make her sad. From 'Midnight Cowboy' to 'Putney Swope,' 'Targets' to 'M*A*S*H' to 'The French Connection' to 'The Conversation' to 'All The Presidents Men,' the seventies represented a change in cinema. The original studio heads were all dying or dead, and no one knew what people wanted to see. Big budget spectacles were failing. Along came these maverick directors, inspired by directors like Godard and Fellini who had already shaken up the European scene, and trained on low budget stuff from AIP pictures (i.e. Roger Corman), and they made the movies they wanted to make - which turned out to be exactly what audiences wanted to see.
If you are a fan of film or film history or of the seventies in general, this movie is a must see; it's like spending a few hours in a treasure trove. Watching Friedkin describe how he shot 'The French Connection,' or seeing Bruce Dern do his impression of Jack Nicholson taking on Hollywood - there are so many priceless moments here. There's a montage of directors naming their biggest influences, ending with Altman explaining that "the movies that had the biggest influence on me, I don't remember their names, because I sat there and hated them and thought I can do something so much better."
It leaves one wondering if there could ever be another cinematic revolution like that. The answer is probably not. Back then, there wasn't an indie scene like there is today - all those great movies were actually financed by the studios. Sundance and the independent revolution, and the digital revolution in particular, has changed all that. And there are plenty great movies being made, by indies and studios alike - there's just a lot more crap clogging the screens, too. In the Q&A after the film, LaGravanese said that the studio will make whatever people will pay to see, and that all we need to do is stop sitting at home while kids who don't care about film pay to see the same Freddie Prinze Jr. film five or six times with their friends, and just go see more good movies. I couldn't have put it any better.
All right, moving on, we come to my review for a movie that is not titled X2, but...
For the first third of 'Whale Rider,' I was content thinking this was an good, if familiar, family drama. By the second third, I realized this was something a little different, and when the stunning climax of the film rolled around I knew that this was something strange and wonderful and new. This is a great film. Will it rank with the year's best? It has a very good chance.
It is set in a small Maori village in New Zealand. The Maori, indigenous to the continent, are beautiful people fallen on hard times, much like the Native Americans here in the United States. If you've seen 'Once Were Warriors,' you've seen them at their worst. 'Whale Rider' has a more optimistic point of view.
This is the story of a little girl named Pai whose family lineage leads straight back to the original Maori chiefs, the ones born from the whales. She's been raised by her grandparents; her mother died in childbirth, along with her twin brother, and her father (Cliff Curtis) has long ago left New Zealand to start a new life in Eurpope.
Her grandfather (Rawiri Paratene) loves her, gruffly, but when she was first born he refused to acknowledge her; her dead brother was who he wanted, a grandson who could take up the family heritage and lead his people once more. Pai herself takes her ancestry seriously, and when her grandfather begins training local boys in the ways of the chiefs, she tries to join in. He forbids her to, but she finds a way around him. Her uncle, a good natured carouser, remembers enough of what his father taught him to instruct her. And when all the other boys fail the final test the old man sets for them, she passes it - in secret.
This is more than a tale of a girl triumphing over the odds. There are mythic properties at work here; this is magical realism at its best, although it may not seem so at first. There is a difficult balance films like this must have, so as not to become surreal or too fantastical. This one plays it perfectly.
And perhaps the most magical thing about the movie is also the most real. Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young actress who plays Pai, gives one of those performances that has to be seen to be believed. She's quiet and reserved for much of the film, but wait for the scene where she gives a speech at the school play, dedicated to her grandfather who she thinks has chosen not to come. Words can't really convey the delivery she gives up on that stage.
And, lest I forget to mention, this is film that anyone of any age can enjoy. If I could liken it to anything, it would be John Sayles' 'The Secret Of Roan Inish,' another wonderful family film about rediscovering ancient folklore. Now, there may be some good childrens' movies this summer, but there are also certainly going to be some truly awful ones (Eddie Murphy, I'm looking your way). Parents, I implore you – challenge your children, and youreslves, and take them to see this film. It's the kind of movie that will make anyone a little better for having seen it; it's captivating, enriching and unforgettable.
I saw the film at the USA Film Festival in Dallas. It was mentioned before the screening that writer and director Niki Caro couldn't attend because she's expecting; I wish her all the best, and would like to congratulate her on that, and on her excellent film as well.
All right, that's it. If you actually WANT to read another raving X2 review, mine is up on my website, www.road-dog-productions.com. And, as always, support indie film - go see one today!
I'm outta here
Thanks, man. I hear nothing but good about both of these, and can’t wait to get a peek m’self.