Offbeat Movie Corner 2

I like to check out movies that are off the beaten path, and I'm usually pretty happy with the experience. Here are some recent viewings:
  • Brick (***1/2):Sam Spade goes to high school. Either the concept of a high school noir film intrigues you, or it doesn't (or you're not familiar with noir...)

    This is a remarkable film. It's high concept, and it could have easily fell on it's face if it didn't get the tone exactly right (which it does). The Cinecast podcast described it thusly:
    ...[it] sounds dumb. I think that's because, even though we haven't, it feels like we've seen it before, maybe on a very special episode of Saved by the Bell, filmed in black and white; Zack and Screech in trenchcoats, smoking cigarettes and awkwardly delivering bad Dashiell Hammett parody.
    Well, none of that here. Writer/director Rian Johnson has done an excellent job creating a stylized modern high school world where the students talk like characters out of The Maltese Falcon. There is a lot of humor in the movie, but it plays the story straight, as if teenagers really talk like hard boiled detectives. All of the noir archetypes are there too, including the troubled detective, the femme fatale, the Kingpin and my favorite, the Brain.

    The story is decent as well, though you will need to pay attention. The plot is very dense (though perhaps a bit too derivitive of classic noir), and I look forward to picking through it again (and again) when it gets released on DVD. Direction and cinematography are done well. Acting is great. All in all, an excellent film. Highly recommended for those familiar with noir (and only a little less for those who are not).
  • Hard Candy (***): This was surprisingly good. Not brilliant or earth-shattering, but a quality filmgoing experience. It's about a pedophile and a 14 year old girl. It's difficult to describe without giving away too much (potential spoilers ahead), but let's just say that those are really the only two characters in the movie (there are 3 others whose combined screen time probably doesn't top 2 minutes) and that 90% of the movie takes place in a house. And yet this manages to be pretty riveting stuff. With the subject of the movie being pedophilia, you really can't expect to have a pleasant experience. But I will note that there is no actual sex in the movie and that expectations are consistently thwarted. The only thing that struck me as odd was that there are times when you could root for either character, because neither one of them is likeable (though I suspect most people would not choose to root for the pedophile). Also, the ending puts a little strain on credibility, though it's about as well done as it could be... Still, the screenplay is excellent (it's a very dialogue heavy movie), the direction is good, and the acting is great, especially Ellen Page (playing the 14 year old Hayley). If you don't mind the subject matter and are prepared to be more than a little grossed out, this is definitely worth a watch.
  • The Squid and the Whale (**): Honestly, I don't even know if this really deserves **, but I'll give it that because what is there is pretty well done. It just doesn't amount to anything, which is a big problem for me. It's about a family that goes through a divorce. It's another movie where I didn't particularly like any of the characters. For instance, father is an extremely unlikeable pompous ass and a portrait of how not to be a good father (though I have to admit that Jeff Daniels gives an exceptional performance). I suppose I should draw a distinction here though. The characters were all well written and portrayed (with the possible exception of the mother), I just didn't like them as people. I didn't really care about them much, so there wasn't much of an emotional connection for me. There are a lot of good moments in this film though. The writer/director nails some of the subtleties (I think it was partly autobiographical, which probably explains some things), but none of these subtle moments ever really amounts to anything. Thus I can't really recommend this. The one lesson I took out of this film: Don't get a divorce or your kids will become sexual deviants.
That's it for now. If you're interested, check out the previous installment of Offbeat Movie Corner.