Film Review: Joe (dir by David Gordon Green)


Joe and Cop

A lot of people have given up on Nicolas Cage.  I’m not one of them but I can understand the sentiment.  After all, it was hard not to feel a bit frustrated watching an obviously talented actor continually give performances in films that were so obviously beneath his ability.  For every Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, there seemed to be a dozen generic action films in which Cage seemed to be mostly concerned with positioning himself to get a supporting role in the next Expendables film.  To many viewers, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that Nicolas Cage just didn’t care anymore.

Well, for everyone out there who has given up on Nicolas Cage, I recommend that you make the effort to track down and watch a film called Joe.

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Cage plays Joe Ransom, an ex-con who is struggling to stay out of trouble.  As the film quickly makes clear, that’s not always easy in Joe’s case.  Joe is in alcoholic with a quick temper and a thing for prostitutes.  He’s been arrested enough times that he’s on a first name basis with every single cop in the backwoods Southern town that he calls home.  Interestingly enough, the film doesn’t go into the details of Joe’s past.  Even when he explains how he ended up in prison in the first place, both the script and Cage’s performance gives us reason to believe that he might be lying.  In many ways, Joe remains an enigma throughout the entire film but Cage gives a performance of such power and focus that we feel like we know who the character is even if we don’t always fully understand him.  One need only look at Cage’s haunted expression or watch the brilliantly acted scene where a drunk Joe searches for his dog to understand both the character’s demons and his heart.

Joe is in charge of a group of laborers who, under the direction of the local lumber company, spend their days poisoning old trees and planting news ones in their place.  As the film makes clear, Joe may be a fuckup in his personal life but “professionally,” he’s a hard worker and a good boss.  When Joe hangs out with the members of his work crew (all of whom are played by nonactors, which brings a good deal of authenticity to the film), he’s confident and responsible in a way that he can never be in the “real” world.

When 15 year-old Gary (Tye Sheridan) and his alcoholic father Wade (Gary Poulter) join the crew, Joe starts to find it difficult to maintain his usual detached attitude.  Despite his attempts to remain aloof, Joe becomes a bit of a mentor towards Gary.  Once he discovers that the alcoholic Wade is both beating his son and prostituting his daughter, Joe is forced to take matters into his own hands.

Joe

As good as Nicolas Cage is, the rest of the cast deserves a lot of credit as well.  Gary Poulter turns Wade into a pathetic but frightening monster, a man who shows hints of his former humanity even while doing some truly disturbing and viscous things.  Wade is a terrifying villain because he’s real.  When, halfway through the film, Wade commits one of those most shocking (and pointless) acts of violence that I’ve ever seen, it’s effective because we all know that there are countless real-life Wades out there right now.  Gary Poulter, himself, was a homeless street performer who was recruited off the streets of Austin.  He made his film debut in Joe and sadly, he died before the film was released.  Those who assume that Poulter was just playing himself are doing both him and the film a great disservice.  Regardless of how much his background may or may not have mirrored Wade’s, it takes genuine talent to give a performance as effective and thought-provoking as Gary Poulter’s work in Joe.

Gary Poulter in Joe

Gary Poulter in Joe

Joe was directed by David Gordon Green, who comes from my hometown and who obviously has a feel for and an understanding for the type of rural community that most film directors either ignore or treat with the usual yankee combination of condescension, fear, and loathing.  As directed by Green, Joe is a moody and atmospheric southern character study.  It’s also one of the best films of 2014 so far.

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(Interestingly enough, this is actually the 2nd film called Joe that I’ve reviewed for this site.  You can read my review of the 1970 Joe by clicking here.)

 

 

AMV of the Day: Strangers Like Us (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet)


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It’s been a month since Anime Boston 2014 and I’ve decided to put up the third AMV to win one of the categories from the con.

This particular AMV won the Romance category and for once it uses an anime that I’m not familiar with, but after watching the video I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out once the blu-ray comes out sometime this year.

The AMV in question is “Strangers Like Us” by davenfonet who uses the Phil Collins song of the same title and the mecha series Gargantia on the Verdorous Planet. The video itself doesn’t go for the usual ballad-like tone, but instead goes for a much more fun romance vibe that doesn’t seem to win many Romance category contests. This time this type of romance AMV wins and the fact that it makes me want to watch the series after never having heard of it til Anime Boston means the creator succeeded.

Anime: Gargantia on the Verdorous Planet

Song: “Strangers Like Us” by Phil Collins

Creator: davenfonet

Past AMVs of the Day

 

Chopping the Log #4 Special A part 2


So, I’ve fallen way behind on my posting.  But let’s face it, I never really intended to make this a truly regular column.  If I had to blame something, and let’s face it, blaming something besides myself is much more fun, I’d blame going to Anime Boston with site founder Arleigh.  I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it?  It kept me preoccupied for a time, and it’s a very convenient excuse.  Hey Arleigh, where’s the rest of the Anime Boston AMVs?

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Alright, now that the focus is taken off of me, I’ll come back to the last set I watched before I stopped actually posting, and that’s the final set of the anime Special A, or more informally known as S.A.  This is based off a shojo manga, or manga made with girls in mind, by Maki Minami.  It basically follows the exploits of Hikari Hanazono in her super rich and super privileged high school class consisting of the best of the best.  Of course, Hikari comes from a very modest family, so naturally she is the hardest worker in the group because she knows what it’s like to not be born from a family that’s going to automatically give her an eight  or nine figure inheritance.

And that in a large part is the problem I have with the show.  It’s all about Rich People’s Problems.  Yet another show showing us how rich people are just the same as us, they have all the problems us commoners have, just magnified because they’re rich!  Yeah, sorry, not buying it.  Frankly if I’m in line to inherit a couple hundred million dollars, then I don’t really care what sort of responsibilities I might have to deal with.  Oh no, my parents want me to marry someone worth millions of dollars to make our family worth billions?  Cry me a river.

That episode is just a taste of what they go through.  Frankly, I don’t care about Rich People’s Problems.  I don’t relate to it at all.  Look, I don’t want my anime to be realistic.  I want my heroes to kick ass an take names.  I want them to struggle a bit, but come out winning in the end.  I WANT SHINJI TO GET IN THE GODDAMN ROBOT!!  Ahem.  Sorry about that.  Anyways, this show just did not resonate with me.  Some of the side characters were quite interesting, such as the pairing of Megumi and Yahiro.  Now that was interesting.  Hikari and Kei?  Couldn’t care less.  It probably doesn’t help that Maki Minami doesn’t do a great job of drawing distinctive characters, and  the anime reflects this.  Yes, you can tell them apart, but they’re so similar that it can be hard at times.  All in all, this comes across as a series drawn by someone who’s basically saying “wouldn’t it be awesome if you were a clueless normal girl who got to go to a super elite rich person school just because you were fairly smart, and the richest smartest boy in school fell in love with you?”  Yes, yes it would, but that doesn’t make for a particularly compelling story, especially for people that just don’t get or care about rich people’s problems.  I don’t care how much you want it to be true, rich people do not have the same troubles us thousandaires do, and nothing you do can convince me otherwise.

All in all, I say skip this series.  The anime can be had for cheap, provided you don’t care about English dubs, and even if you want your dubs you can have it for half the price of the manga.  The manga does expound a bit further upon the story than the anime (obviously) but the ending is completely obvious from the beginning, so there’s not much need to put yourself through it all.  If you want to see a better story of Normal Girl in Rich Person School, then I totally recommend Ouran High School Host Club instead.

Guilty Pleasure No. 19: Tart (dir by Christina Wayne)


Dominique Swain in Tart

Dominique Swain in Tart

If you’ve watched Encore over the last few month, you may have come across a 2001 film called Tart.  I did and, despite some pretty glaring flaws, I enjoyed the film.  However, I then checked out a few of the reviews that have been posted online and I discovered that I may very well be the only person in the world who doesn’t hate this movie.

Tart is a coming-of-age story.  Teenage Cat (Dominique Swain) lives in Manhattan with her divorced mother and her bratty younger brother.  Cat attends an exclusive private school with her best friend Delilah (Bijou Phillips) and has a huge crush on William (Brad Renfro).  After Delilah is expelled from school, Cat befriends the snobby Gracie (Mischa Barton) and starts to reinvent herself as one of the popular kids.  Along with being popular comes drugs, sex, and, eventually, violence.

There’s no telling how many dirty old men were shocked to discover that DVD cover art is often misleading.

I will be the first to admit that a lot of the negative criticism of Tart is justified.

Is the film largely plotless?  It is indeed but so is life.

Are all of the film’s adults presented as being one-dimensional jerks?  Yes but then again, we are seeing them and their actions through the eyes of a teenage girl and, when you’re a teenager, most adults do seem to be jerks.

Does the film get a bit heavy-handed when it comes to dealing with casual anti-Semitism?  It sure does but then again, anyone who thinks that anti-Semitism isn’t on the rise in this country obviously hasn’t been paying attention to the news.

Does the film’s melodramatic conclusion seem to come out of nowhere?  Yes, it does.  However, when you’re a teenager, everything eventually becomes a melodrama.

Does Brad Renfro seem to spend the entire film wishing he was somewhere else?  Yes, he does.  In many ways, his performance is painful to watch,  both because his character is fighting the same battle with drugs that would ultimately cost Brad his life and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be all that invested in his performance.  Watching the film, you’re struck by just how detached Renfro is from the material.  It’s easy to criticize the lack of chemistry between Brad Renfro and Dominique Swain but then again, who hasn’t had a crush on a self-destructive bad boy?  Who hasn’t thought that she — and she alone — could see something hidden away inside a damaged soul that only she could understand?  Who hasn’t dreamed of understanding (and saving) an enigma?  Sometimes, detachment is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Does Bijou Phillips play the same role that she seems to play every time she shows up on screen?  Yes, she is playing another wild best friend here but then again, she plays the role well and who hasn’t had a friend who refused to conform?

Does Mischa Barton give a rather broad and over-the-top performance in this film?  Yes, she does but then again …. well, sorry.  I can’t really think of any way to turn that into a positive.

Shoplifting is fun!

Shoplifting is fun!

And yet, despite all of the film’s many flaws, I couldn’t dislike Tart.  Tart is one of those films that totally misses the big picture and but manages to get so many of the small details right that I couldn’t help but relate to Dominique Swain’s character.

It was the little scenes that worked for me, like the scene where Cat shoplifts for the first time and runs out of the store knowing she’s done something wrong and yet still feeling exhilarated to have gotten away with something or the painfully (for this viewer, at least) accurate scenes of Cat waiting for her father to call on her birthday and then spitefully lashing out at her mother when he doesn’t.  I’ve had best friends like Delilah and it was impossible for me not to wince a little at the scenes where Cat and Delilah argue over Cat’s new friends because, seriously, I’ve been there.  Even the scene during the opening credits, in which Cat’s skirt is blown upward just as she happens to walk by the boy she likes, felt painfully familiar.  Who hasn’t been embarrassed in front of a crush?

It’s the little details that allowed me to relate to this massively flawed film.  It’s the little details that make Tart a guilty pleasure.

My bedroom used to look a lot like this.

My bedroom used to look a lot like this.

Previous Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class

Trailer: If I Stay


Earlier this week, the trailer for If I Stay was released.

An adaptation of Gaye Forman’s excellent young adult novel, If I Stay tells the story of Mia (played, in what would seem to be a case of perfect casting, by Chloe Grace Moretz), a talented cellist who, after being involved in a horrific traffic accident, finds herself forced to literally choose between life and death.  The book was a poignant and thought-provoking work that transcended the conventional limitations of the YA genre and it will be interesting to see how director R.J. Cutler translates the material for the big screen.

If I Stay will be released on August 22nd.