It’s been quite an inane week here at The IFC Blog; we blame it on this week’s releases, as it is, after all, the week of the Crazy. We’d planned to catch "Shadowboxer" (because Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. is the most awesomely strange romantic pairing we’re ever come across) but couldn’t make the screening, so no reviews from us either. Well, we’d advise you to skip "Azumi" â€” even with Jo Odagiri in makeup twirling a rose, it’s not that fun.
+ "Clerks II": Kevin Smith‘s follow-up to the 1994 film that made him famous is apparently surprisingly melancholy or at least touching; A.O. Scott, who notes the "buried spring of pathos that bubbles ever closer to the surface as the movie wanders toward its end," writes that "what makes ‘Clerks II’ both winning and (somewhat unexpectedly) moving is its fidelity to the original ‘Clerks’ ethic of hanging out, talking trash and refusing all worldly ambition. If anything, the sequel is more defiant in its disdain for the rat race, elevating the white-guy-doing-nothing prerogative from a lifestyle choice to a moral principle." At the Village Voice, Dennis Lim says much the same: "hanging over the proceedings are the melancholy musings of a filmmaker
revisiting old haunts while trying to leave them behind for the promise
of something different, if not better." Of course, he’s less forgiving:
This is the kind of movie one expected from Smith after the middlebrow sitcom "Jersey Girl," in which he found himself smacked down by the fans who wanted nothing to do with his move toward domestication. He had little choice but to go back to the Quick Stop; that’s what viewers wantedâ€”another prolonged dick joke sprinkled with comic-shop small talk. Smith’s heart is in it, but it’s sort of a broken heart now; "Clerks II" feels as though it was made by a man who needs a change but isn’t permitted to make one.
Scott Foundas, in the review/open letter we’ve cited before, wishes Smith would venture further than the comfortable, fan-buttressed universe he’s created for himself, but still likes the film a lot.
[T]his is the umpteenth movie Iâ€™ve seen this year about guys in their 30s who arenâ€™t quite sure what they want to do with their lives, and itâ€™s the only one that strikes a real chord, because itâ€™s neither an exaltation nor a condemnation of slackerdom, but rather just a sweet little fable about how sometimes the life that you think could be so much better is actually pretty damn good already. Thatâ€™s a sentiment, Iâ€™d wager, as coveted by you, Kevin, as it is by Dante and Randal, and thereâ€™s certainly nothing wrong with it.
+ "Lady in the Water": Ah, yes. Here we go, mean-spirited quote style.
Dana Stevens at Slate (and officially the film critic now?): "I don’t hold it against Shyamalan that his plot is completely preposterous, that his characters (except for Heep) are cardboard constructions in service of the story, or even that his ending traffics in glutinous New-Age clichÃ©s about owning your demons and embracing your inner child. I will hold against him that Lady in the Water isn’t scary, that its own inner logic breaks down at countless points along the way, and that its ending is disappointingly literal and just plain stupid."
Stephanie Zacharek at Salon: "’Lady in the Water’ challenges us to believe in the power of myth. But the big challenge here is surviving the tedium of Shyamalan’s meandering inventiveness. What’s supposed to be fanciful storytelling is really just audience punishment."
Scott Foundas at LA Weekly: "’Lady in the Water’ isnâ€™t awful, mind you, but it is a failure, and one that carries itself with such chest-puffing pomposity that many will take pleasure in shooting it down for sport. Conceived as a movie about the power of storytelling, it is a far more revealing (if unintended) study in the power of ego â€” the work of a filmmaker who has become convinced that his every whim should be abided, and who believes sinister forces are conspiring against him."
Michael Atkinson at the Village Voice, in what’s probably the harshest review of the film: "Nothing will prepare youâ€”not his previous films, not any reviews you may read, not even a lifetime spent watching PokÃ©mon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cartoonsâ€”for the rampant foolishness of Lady in the Water. The Village, his last, distended elegy for Rod Serling, is, well, Rod Serling by comparison. It’s as if on some semiconscious level, Shyamalan, who I do not doubt is a serious and self-serious pop-creative original, is calling his own success into question and daring his audience to gulp down larger and spikier clusters of manure, just to see if they will. Or he’s lost his mind."
And Manohla Dargis at the New York Times: "’Lady in the Water’ is one of the more watchable films of the summer. A folly, true, but watchable."
+ "Shadowboxer": We couldn’t stand "Monster’s Ball" or "The Woodsman," but producer-turned-director Lee Daniels earned our love with the following quote from his interview with Lola Ogunnaike in the New York Times the other day:
His decision to cast Moâ€™Nique, the proudly plus-size comedian, was met with raised eyebrows all around. Her character, a crack addict, was originally written for an anorexic white woman in her early 20â€™s who dates a handsome young doctor. Casting Moâ€™Nique, he said, prompted the filmâ€™s writer to remove his name from the credits.
Mr. Daniels remained unrepentant. â€œMy sister was an obese crack addict,â€ he said. â€œShe had a chicken wing in one hand and crack pipe in the other, and she had the finest white men lined up waiting for her. This is a real person to me.â€
Hee! Also, apparently, Mo’Nique plays the love interest of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which earns a double hee: Hee! Anyway, the film seems to have left critics a bit bewildered. Stephen Holden in the New York Times writes that "As it gleefully smashes boundaries and blurs the line between comedy and melodrama, it dares you to collapse into laughter." He goes on to ruminate that:
The intensity of Rose and Mikeyâ€™s passion goes way beyond conventional Hollywood sex, and the fact that it is interracial and intergenerational (Ms. Mirren is 22 years older than Mr. Gooding) lends it an extra transgressive kick. I havenâ€™t seen a black man and a white woman make love like this in an American movie since Ellen Barkin and Laurence Fishburne tore at each other in â€œBad Companyâ€ in 1995.
Dennis Lim has this to add:
"Shadowboxer" appears to have been willed into existence through a potent intermingling of ego and checkbook. To watch it is to ponder howâ€”not to mention whyâ€”one even begins to get seasoned, ostensibly self-aware professional actors to perform certain acts onscreen. This is a movie in which at least two people are fucked to deathâ€”one with a pool cue, the other by Cuba Gooding Jr.