if our pattern holds true, today should be an improvement over yesterday. let's open her up and take a look.
first out of the chute today is chris robinson's ATL (2006).
it follows a group of four friends who are facing the variety of life-changing possibilities that we are all presented with as our high school careers come to an end. they struggle with learning the difference between what's valuable and real in life and love and what's not, working out their frustrations from the workweek/schoolweek on sundays at the rollerskating rink. i was really prepared to not like this movie based upon the fact that i have an extremely low opinion of T.I., who plays the lead here, and his litany of real-life weapons/drug charges and his dubious "charm". it didn't turn out that way, though. at worst, it was just cliched and amateurish. a number of the participants, both in front of and behind the camera, were making their first feature and it really shows. robinson's previous directorial accomplishments were in the world of music videos and that couldn't be more obvious. as a result, the rollerskating sequences are edited in the same sort of jumpy way that most dance/drum/et cetera battles are. it always seems the filmmakers that do these pictures are under the impression that this is the only way to make it exciting. they fail to realize that longer takes that actually demonstrate prowess and give you more of a chance to appreciate a performer's skill are far more impressive and exhilarating (and build more tension than a series of frenetic cuts). the screenplay contains no surprises. it plays like a particularly bold after school special, with its rote lessons about the lure of ill-gotten gains, the value of education and the benefits of being true to yourself. the performances are forced a lot of the time, as you might imagine from a group of first-timers without an experienced hand to guide them. T.I. doing voiceover narration throughout the film is probably what i would say qualifies as the worst creative decision they made. if your narrator's primary consideration is maintaining an air of cool detachment then you are already at a major disadvantage. if the person telling the story sounds like he doesn't care about telling it, why should i care enough to listen? in its favor, though, the film always maintains a good heart. for a bunch of kids that are essentially raising themselves, most of them still adhere to the values of family and community. the self-reliance their experience has spawned in them is almost always of the type that includes lifting others up with you rather than an "every man for himself" ethos that it seems would be easy to fall into without an ever-present parent or mentor. they still are overwhelmingly concerned with status, but i guess that's just an adolescent thing that people relate to? at least, in this case, it's channeled into creative expression via the rollerskating, rather than something destructive or mere idleness. lauren london is another particularly bright spot as T.I.'s love interest. she has a natural, easy presence, a great deal of charisma and shows a great capacity for communicating a lot with a single look. i wouldn't say you should necessarily go out of your way to see it, but it had redeeming qualities.
what's next? billy bob thornton's daddy and them (2001).
thornton returns to the dysfunctional, rustic territory of his debut sling blade (1996), albeit with a darkly comic approach this time. he and laura dern are husband and wife, as embattled as they are enamored of one another. a family emergency - the incarceration of an uncle on attempted murder charges - and their return to the homestead for the resulting legal proceedings provide what little plot there is here. it's really more of a character study than anything else. a caterwauling, boozy character study. i am completely convinced that caroline put this movie in the queue for no other reason than to make me watch the sainted andy griffith say "cornholed". all those memories from my childhood of the first time i saw the episode of the andy griffith show where andy is sitting on the front porch after work, playing guitar and SMOKING A CIGARETTE came flooding back. i was never the same. i have seen a lot of things in the ensuing years. i am made of sterner stuff these days but this still knocked me back a step. i soldiered on, though, undeterred. as for the rest of it, it seemed split down the middle. my favorite scene illustrates what is best and worst about the film, simultaneously. early on in the film, there is a scene where billy bob finally makes it to his folks' house after a blow-up earlier in the day caused he and dern to make separate traveling arrangements. it's late and she is the only one still up, fresh out of the shower and painting her toenails. she talks quietly with him for just a minute about how she likes the feeling of being the only one up and how nice it feels to be clean. it's honest and, even more important, simple. it demonstrates very clearly that thornton, as both screenwriter and director, has a firm grasp of the importance of simple. good simple, guthrie simple, sandburg simple. unfortunately, the scene also inadvertently underscores the fact that the majority of the first half of the film he ignores simple in favor of the simpleminded. the last act cuts back on the screeching and dipsomania considerably and simple becomes the preferred approach. it helps, but not enough to make this more than just decent. definitely not enough to take away the mild twinge of disappointment of knowing what the film could have been if it was consistently as good as its high points. it was an improvement upon the first film but still resides squarely in don't go out of your way to see it-ville.
i just realized i have never watched this many films from the twenty-first century in one go ever before. feels a little weird. not entirely encouraging.
caroline's dvd collection apparently consists mainly of three categories - movies made for broadcast by her best friend television, kid's movies of the magical variety and the category that our third entry today belongs to, the heartwarming documentary. ladies and gentlemen, let's saddle up and ride with michèle ohayon's cowboy del amor (2005).
trick! it's not so much heartwarming as skincrawling. ivan thompson is a sixty year-old "matchmaker" (read: pimp) that specializes in setting up lonely american men with mexican wives. for three thousand dollars apiece, ivan has been taking men who find american women "too demanding" across the border to find more "suitable" (read: docile, subservient) brides for sixteen years now. ivan is a particular brand of west texas good ol' boy that i am sure a lot of you are familiar with - skinny as a rail, ruddy face with veins popped in his cheeks, glasses so old the lenses have yellowed. the type can usually be found working at a stockyard or running a one-man real estate agency out of a dingy, badly lit office. if you grew up in a town like i did, one of these guys was on your school board. his office, hair tonic and attitude all smell strongly of 1958. he's a "modern guy" but as soon as the coast is clear the first thing he will do is tell racist jokes. if you're a woman, get used to being referred to as "little missy". you know him, he is utterly repellent. loneliness makes people do crazy things, though, like pay this relic three grand to introduce them to women. ivan is eminently qualified for this job, as he was a rancher his whole life and it's apparently just a short step to the side to be in, as he puts it, "the women business". the women, for their part, are in search of an opportunity for a better life. they're often in dire economic straits or dangerous domestic situations and are looking for escape. they all seem to be under the impression that life in north america will be better because the men don't use women the way mexican men do, they treat them as equals. it's a recipe for disaster that they are being set up with men who are expressly looking for doormats via this walking liver spot who sees them as nothing but commodities. ivan was his own best customer, too, as it turns out. he took a mexican bride as a younger man and it was all going swimmingly until she went and got "americanized". you know, wanted to learn english, drive a car and make friends. one of his customers, a disabled veteran far more advanced in years than his new wife, has a plan to avoid that. he isn't going to learn spanish and she isn't going to learn english. you can't fight that way! har har har, ding dang ol' communication barrier! one couple actually seems like they might make it work. they at least had their needs equally met. his loneliness was alleviated and she got the opportunity to build a new life and it seems like there is at least a slim chance that what they have might grow into love and a true partnership. overall, though, nothing has made me feel this bad this week. my heart feels sick and gray after this.
i would say that there's always a chance that something to restore my faith in love is right around the corner, but i've already looked around the corner.
it just isn't fair.