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Archive for the ‘YOUTH DRAMA’ Category

Donnie Darko

27 Apr

Donny Darko – directed By Richard Kelly. SpookyDrama. 133 minutes Color 2001.

★★★

The Story: A teenage boy sleepwalks his way into a unlived life.

~

The Gyllenhaal kids are in this one, she the easy one, he the difficult one. Which is not to say he is the bad guy and she is the good girl, she nice, he nasty. No, they do not exist in these realms at all. One day fifteen years or so from now, when they are pushing fifty, they may play the brother and sister in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, but until that time we shall simply have to wait. Nice and nasty doesn’t apply to them. Her face is raised to the world, his face is hang-dog. There’s mystery enough in that.

If she delights to have fun, and he is reluctant to have fun, well then, there lurks in him a smile withheld for a more honest and more understanding gathering. Drew Barrymore as his English teacher offers it. So does Katharine Ross as his therapist. But the only one giving him the quality of attention his frown demands is his girlfriend, nicely played by Jena Malone.

The film is one of those messes written by the man who directed it. Will people never learn? Do not direct what you have written, because you will invariably direct everyone but the writer. But another reason prevails for its being a mess.

The director is by nature conventional and to try to be unconventional makes a movie about time-travel – not realizing, time-travel is a thing conventional directors conventionally try.

So what is a conventional persona supposed to do?

What they had better do is don’t try to be unconventional, but to adhere rather to the gift of conventionality they have been given, and, if they are no brighter than this director, what that means is to honor the strength of a strong story line, and seek out a strong story line to honor. That would set the matter of conventionality and unconventionality aside with an iron hand.

As it is, we have a foolish film about an oddball adolescent, played when Jake Gyllenhaal was 20 and just the right age. Gyllenhaal’s personal recalcitrance carries the picture. The picture does not carry the picture. It simply presents weirdness pretending to significance.

Inside this is cocooned an interested personality biding his time for a role more generous to his gifts, as, say, in Nightcrawlers.

He is well supported by Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, all women you will note. Females rush to protect Jake Gyllenhaal. Men steer clear of him, you will note. It is the abiding subtext of many a Gyllenhaal film, most pronounce in his most renowned one, Brokeback Mountain.

 

Young America

12 Mar

Young America — directed by Frank Borzage. Melodrama. A small down Peck’s Bad Boy gets into worse and worse Dutch every time he does a good deed. 70 minutes Black and White 1932.

★★★

The 8th of Spencer Tracy’s pre-MGM feature films, and it is interesting to see him, aged 32 already cast as a middle-aged Babbitt with a grouch. Essentially the film is about the boy, played by Tommy Conlon and his pal Nutty, played by the penny-whistle voiced Raymond Borzage. Ralph Bellamy does an odd turn as the judge who lets all the boys off, even though Conlon borrows folks’ cars at will. They are all open convertibles and in driving them no one seems to notice that he is only 13. A local lady of good intention, played by Doris Kenyon, figures Conlon isn’t a bad boy after all and, against her husband Tracy’s incensed objections, decides to take him into her home. More than this you have not sinned enough to be told. Interestingly, though, most of the film is focused on the boys, particularly in scenes with Borzage’s grandmother played by a sterling actress, Beryl Mercer, who really knows how to hold the screen and to hold her emotion in check while draining us of ours. She gives us a lesson in screen craft. As does Tracy, of course, for he never hedges his bets; he is relentlessly mean and hard-headed; he is furious with his wife and the boy; he uses his instrument honestly and thoroughly, and never asks for popular sympathy. How he did this, without histrionics, is a secret he brought from his cradle to his craft. For, it is perfectly easy to go berserk with a feeling, or to milk it, or underplay it, but to find the right key for it and hit it – not as common as Tracy makes it seem. These films are interesting particularly because Tracy is the leading actor in all of them, a situation which did not prevail when he signed with MGM and became Clark Gable’s sidekick. It was only after a good while at MGM that Tracy took leading roles, but when he started in film at Fox, leading man’s how he was cast and that’s what you’re seeing here.

 

Lilies

17 Jan

Lilies – directed by John Greyson. Drama. An old bishop is forced to relive a youth triangle between himself and two other boys. 95 minutes Color 1996

* * *

Undermined by an over-translation into English of the French play, a group of very competent actors cannot rise above the diction of the script, which causeth them to utter as no mortal before hath uttered ever. The actors play it, nevertheless, as realistic, which is smart and which makes their effort valiant if seldom effective. I also could not tell which of the three young men ended up as the bishop and which as the prisoner until the final scene, which kept me watching, I suppose, to have my curiosity satisfied, but curiosity is small feeling next to what might have been identification with the human situation before me. It starved me of it. The prisoners who perform the reenactment of the youthful betrayal play female parts as well, but this is very hard to do without camping at all, and this they succeed in doing only sporadically. But what really is at stake here is the veracity of youthful homosexual love, and the story is based on an essential lie. The two adolescents are having a mad affair in an Edwardian convent school. One of them, after bad punishment for it, decides to go straight. However, he decides he loves his young friend more. This decision, worked out on a symbolic level, does not take into account the reality of the heterosexual mating strain in him, particularly as he grabs the first passing dish, a rich heiress of great character, played with admirable complacency and a completely flat chest by a black actor, Alexander Chapman. With her the young man makes the decision that he does not love her enough to mate with her, which is to say he must be 100% gay because he does not fall deeply in love with his first straight date. So the male love affair reads as agit-prop for homosexuality, and, since it does not address the central and true issue the polemic is flimsy. What does work is the relation at the end between the bishop and the lover he has betrayed, who is now a prisoner. The director surely has been influenced by Fellini, which is not a bad thing, but extravagance cannot really shroud a corpse.

 

Hugo

11 Dec

Hugo — Directed by Martin Scorsese. Drama. An orphaned boy winds the clocks of a huge Paris railway station as he seeks his true parentage. 127 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Asa Butterworth plays the 12 year-old and hits a homer. His performance is simple and ingratiating, for he lets his impression of his situation carry him, and Martin Scorsese lets Asa’s fine blue eyes carry him the rest. He is mated with another 12-year-old well played by Chloë Grace Moretz. The two of them take us along on their adventures in early 1930s Paris, adventures which are imperiled by the train station guard, a victim de la guerre, played with a crazy Martin Short accent which is supposed to be comic but is not, by Sacha Baron Cohen. The problem with the material lies not with them but with the special effects which clog and over-lengthen their tale. These effects which are 3-D and which at first impress and amaze, fade in power as they supplant the story and the human interest of it. For instance, two of the greatest actors alive, Richard Griffiths and Frances de La Tour (remember them in The History Boys), are sidelined, while the sequences in the towering stacks of a bookshop owned by Christopher Lee displace the narrative with a plot device that could have been handled more briskly another way. Virtuosoism will attack narration every time. For the entire film is manufactured by computer. All we see, save the actors themselves, is fabricated with the doomed magic of an application. It even opens the picture carrying a character moving through a maze, duplicating a famous opening sequence in another Scorsese film of years ago. But these elaborate and highly detailed fabrications steal breath. What first impressed now fails to. The forgotten passages of the huge old station bring us into the power of the secret mischief of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera, but with them the special effects of the station itself eventually cannot compete. The film almost loses heart – but not quite, for the heart is that of Martin Scorsese, and the story is that of the Ben Kingsley character, an old great silent film fantancist/magician/inventor, Georges Méliès, now superannuated and inutile and running a toy store in the train station. We hope our Master Scorsese does not fear to become like this director, outdated, his work lost and forgotten. The old director is restored to praise, and, when I saw it, the audience applauded Hugo, as I did myself. A good whole-family picture.

 

 

Full Speed

25 May

Full Speed –– Directed by Gael Morel. Youth Drama. A cluster of friends works out their relations to one another and their futures. 85 minutes Color 1998.

* * *

I don’t want to see another film about homosexuality which ends in death. Why is that the recipe? Certainly all the actors are attractive, although the director does not seem to have much grasp of the actor’s medium, for the dialogue never passes beyond mechanical recitation. This tends to thin and monotonize the characters, and reduce the weight of the drama to plot and spectacle of which there is plenty. But why is death the outcome for homosexuality? Death and misery. Humiliation and degradation. Always the same. Or. Or, if the love affair works out, it is worked out on strictly bourgeois lines: marriage, picket fence, and baloney sandwiches for lunch. I’m tired of baloney sandwiches for lunch and death.

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