Holy Motors

November 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes
Directed by: Leos Carax (“Tokyo!”)
Written by: Leos Carax (“Tokyo!”)

It’ll take some time to realize what exactly is going on during a trippy ride via limo in Leo Carax’s drama/fantasy film “Holy Motors.” Once it all comes together, however, most moviegoers will do one of two things: brace themselves for another stretch of bizarre narrative until they get to the finish line or toss themselves out of the moving vehicle before his or her brain explodes.

The latter will more than likely be executed by those who cannot appreciate the unique style, artistic beauty and downright madness of Carax’s vision, which might ultimately be undefinable to the masses. It’s an easy film to cast aside if one is not up to the demands it makes to its audience. Still, if you are a moviegoer who accepts the challenge Carax offers, “Holy Motors” is still not very fulfilling when all is said and done.

In the film, Carax takes us on an avant-garde expedition through Paris with Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a mysterious man who is in some kind of weird role-playing experiment in which he portrays a number of different characters in interesting scenarios. For example, in one scene (they are called “assignments” in the film), Oscar plays a zombie-like creature traveling through the sewer system. In another he is a crippled old woman begging in the streets. In another, he is the leader of an accordion troupe performing in a church.

Don’t expect any of these vignettes to come together at the end. These are separate scenes Oscar is involved in, so nothing ties together without digging a bit deeper. Metaphorically, however, the stories behind “Holy Motors” could mean a lot more depending on what you deduce from Carax’s message about identity and fantasy and the art of cinema itself. The film begins inside a movie theater with patrons staring at a screen and Oscar gazing at them from the back of the cineplex. It’s an open-ended way to introduce the film’s main character without making a solid statement about his inspiration or intent.

There are no easy answers to “Holy Motors.” Lavant is amazing enough for those who refuse to wrap their heads around the script, but his performance can only go so far. What’s left is a thought-provoking and wild piece of filmmaking unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Girl in Progress

May 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Cierra Ramirez, Eva Mendes, Matthew Modine
Directed by: Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”)
Written by: Hiram Martinez (debut)

It’s a term every high school freshman English class has covered since teachers started passing out copies of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Whether reading Charlotte Bronte’s original novel “Jane Eyre” or watching director Cary Fukunaga’s dark and elegant film adaptation from last year, the coming-of-age story has outlined the transition from childhood to adulthood for a countless number of literary and cinematic characters over generations. Adding itself into the already crowded film genre is “Girl in Progress,” a sort of meta coming-of-age tale that attempts to stand out from the pack by making its lead protagonist self-aware of her own maturation. It’s a sometimes clever albeit limiting little concept from director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) and first-time feature screenwriter Hiram Martínez that never rises above the initial setup. There may be a serious need for more well-structured, Latino-themed movies of this brand (consider “Raising Victor Vargas,” “Real Women Have Curves,” and “Quinceañera” admirable examples), but “Girl in Progress” is sadly not one of them.

Meet Ansiedad (newcomer Cierra Ramírez in a likeable role), a frustrated teenager living in Seattle who is tired of being treated like a kid by her often negligent mother Grace (Eva Mendes), whose current relationship with a married doctor (Matthew Modine) doesn’t make her an ideal role model for her daughter. When Ansiedad (Spanish for anxiety) learns what a coming-of-age story is in school, she decides she will fast-track her way through adolescence by checking off a list of things she must experience to reach adulthood (first kiss, bad-girl phase, loss of virginity, running away to NYC, etcetera).

The approach “Girl in Progress” takes might’ve worked if it didn’t play right into the hand it wanted to avoid. By giving Ansiedad the freedom to map out her own transformative journey, there aren’t any scenes of insight or ambition except on an artificial level. Instead, Martínez fashions the script in the same manner Ansiedad would if she chose to ever document her unrealistic strategy on paper, cliché after cliché.

In one particular scene that had the potential of being a very sweet moment between mother and daughter, Grace kneels at the base of a bathtub to wash Ansiedad’s hair and have a heart-to-heart talk. The scene is interrupted by Grace’s ringing cell phone, which she promptly answers to unnecessarily reiterate how self-involved her character is. It’s only one example of the many pointless plot devices misused in “Girl in Progress,” a family film that defines the word epiphany so someone can actually have an epiphany. If that’s considered forward-thinking filmmaking, here’s to always staying a step behind.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

January 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner
Directed by: Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn”)
Written by: William M. Finkelstein (debut)
It’s much easier to take an actor like Nicolas Cage seriously when he’s not making movies just for the paycheck. While many in Hollywood are certainly guilty of being hypnotized by the mighty dollar, there’s something about Cage doing it that makes it even more offensive. Maybe it’s because when he stars in films like “Bangkok Dangerous,” “Knowing” or “The Wicker Man” it’s evident that he’s simply going through the motions and hoping his star power will be enough to make the project watchable. Or maybe it’s because when Cage is truly at the top of his game (“Raising Arizona,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Adaptation”) it’s so hard not to be mesmerized by his on-screen presence you wish it wasn’t such a rarity.

With that said, Cage’s new film “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans” is fortunately another of those diamonds in the rough. A bizarrely interesting film by director Werner Herzog (“Rescue Dawn”), “Lieutenant” is the exact role Cage needed to get out of his three-year slump. It’s a manic character study brimming with high-energy dialogue and sarcasm perfect for Cage’s exaggerated tendencies.

In “Lieutenant,” which is very loosely based on the 1992 film of the same name (sans subtitle), Cage takes on the role of Terence McDonagh, a drug-addicted police detective investigating the murders of a Senegalese family living in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Hopped up on pain killers and cocaine, Terence blazes through Sin City using his badge to get whatever he wants. Whether it’s cutting in line at the pharmacy or having sex with young women he pulls over for traffic infractions, the lieutenant has a nasty streak.

Despite his moments of lunacy, there is some goodness in Terence that he just can’t seem to exude any which way but raw. When he befriends a group of drug dealers lead by kingpin Big Fate (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner), who may be linked to the brutal killings, it’s really not certain whether Terence is actually infiltrating the gang to solve the crime or to get a fix. His relationship with prostitute Frankie Donnenfeld (Eva Mendes) doesn’t help clean up his image either.

“The Bad Lieutenant” is a deranged and humorous film and Herzog knows how to get the best from his leading man. While we watch Terrance snort, fidget and space out and see him hallucinate iguanas and self-destruct, it’s evident that there is a method to all of Cage’s madness. In “Lieutenant,” he pushes his limits and the results are quite impressive in a kind of freakish way.