O Lucky Man! (1973)
★★ / ★★★★
Malcolm McDowell and Lindsay Anderson team up once again in “O Lucky Man!” a sequel to the exemplary “If…” McDowell plays Mike Travis, an ambitious and enthusiastic coffee salesman whose main goal is to attain financial success. I thought it was very interesting how he seems like a force to be reckoned with in the beginning of the film, but as it goes on and meets quirky, greedy and insightful characters, he seems so insignificant in comparison. Although its premise is a commentary on the evils of capitalism, the dry and dark humor are consistent. Although I didn’t understand some of the jokes because I don’t know much about business and economics, the ones I understand are clever and have a staying power that’s still relevant today; especially now that competition is at its peak and the American economy is not doing so well. This film’s strength lies in its surrealism: some of the actors play multiple characters (Ralph Richardson, Rachel Roberts, Arthur Lowe…) and the events that unfold are extremely out of the ordinary and a bit random (such as the medical facility that use human subjects). I also enjoyed listening to Alan Price’s songs because they reflect what Mike Travis is going through yet at the same time comments on where he should be going. However, I felt like the film digressed too much. Despite Mike Travis’ adventures all over England, I feel as though he didn’t make any genuine human connection that could potentially warrant his change-of-heart during the film’s third act. Yes, he did have inspirations from poets and philosophers but I feel like those aren’t enough to change a person, especially a person who’s obsessed with climbing the economic ladder despite everything that’s put on his way to distract him from that goal. The most interesting character, other than Travis, was Patrcia (played by Helen Mirren) and I wanted to know more about her. In the end, I feel a certain disconnect from this picture–which is strange because, when it comes to films that run for about three hours, I usually feel a certain inclination for the project. “O Lucky Man!” is an unfortunate exception despite its intelligence and brilliant acting from McDowell.
★ / ★★★★
I wasn’t amused by this indie dark comedy based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. This movie was about a medical school dropout (Sam Rockwell) who pretends to choke in restaurants so that he’ll be given money by people who save him. He does this because he needs money to keep his mother (Anjelica Huston) who’s suffering from dementia/Alzheimer’s in the hospital. It’s too all over the place for my liking. I felt like it does have the potential to be great but it didn’t really establish and focus on its emotional center. Instead, the movie focused too much on Rockwell’s empty relationship with Kelly Macdonald. The little twists that happened in the second half felt unconvincing and forced. I could feel the dialogue wanting to impress its audiences but it ultimately felt dry and meaningless. There’s no character that one can root for here because all of them are self-indulgent, addicted to their own misery, and they don’t care about hurting others. Its random and somewhat narcissistic nature made me hope that there would be an apocalypse in the end so that all of the characters would no longer exist. I wanted to slap them silly because they were so one-dimensional. Half-way through the film, I questioned why the movie was even made. The story made absolutely no sense. I wish it was more about purposely choking in fancy restaurants (and the comedy that comes with it) instead of the lead character feeling sorry for himself. If you couldn’t already tell, this was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while.
★★ / ★★★★
This second part of the trilogy confused me. It started off with promise because it focuses on the ugly divorce between Julie Delpy and Zbigniew Zamachowski. Even though I thought the story would revolve around Delpy, Zamachowski is interesting because he’s vulnerable but he’s not above not taking revenge for the hateful things that Delpy did to him. After the divorce, Zamachowski ended up back in Poland and began acquiring wealth. He then hatched a plan to answer the questions that have been bothering him and decided to return to Delpy’s life. The first and last part of this picture were effective because it embraced its atypical way of telling the story. One moment it’s a marriage drama but the next it’s a well-told dark comedy. However, the middle portion was too aimless for my liking. I constantly found myself trying to figure out where the story was going or if it was even planning on going anywhere. Zamachowski’s character who has been kicked around like a homeless puppy by a handful of individuals spent too much time feeling sorry for himself. It works in some segments of the film because it makes the audiences root for him, but spending too much time in a depressed state can lead to audiences’ ambivalence. Even as he started to gain wealth and power, he still felt sorry for himself. Whatever happened to a depressed but strong protagonist like from its predecessor (played with such craft by Juliette Binoche)? I also missed the astute use of music and color in order to reveal certain layers of a character. This one barely had any and that frustrated me. If one is looking for an unconventional film that straddles the line between drama and dark comedy, this is the one to see. But if one is looking for something that’s rich in implications and technical ways of revealing certain aspects of characters without using words, avoid this one because it will disappoint.
Burn After Reading (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
There’s something profound in this picture but Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, who wrote and directed the film, failed to eliminate the distracting elements that dragged this movie down. What I love about “Burn After Reading” is its clear thesis: characters mistaking other characters’ identities and intentions, resulting in one big mess on top of another. It’s really too bad because this film is full of talented actors: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt and J.K. Simmons. McDormand really steps up to the plate whenever she’s asked to play an extremely quirky character. The last time I’ve seen her this good was in “Fargo.” Another stand-out is Pitt, as McDormand’s co-worker and partner in crime. Both of them gave this film a much-needed life and humor. I wanted to see more of them as the movie progressed but we get scene after scene of Clooney messing around Swinton–physically and psychologically. To be honest, it made me look back on “Michael Clayton,” when the two of them are at their prime. In this movie, they are pretty one-dimensional; when the occupation of one of them was revealed near the end, it felt all too forced, as if the Coen brothers were trying to milk the irony. Malkovich is another character that could’ve been explored more (I love his random over-the-top outbursts) but he’s only portrayed as an angry guy who was fired from his job and lost everything. I love dark comedies because there’s a certain smugness to them that other people won’t understand no matter how many times they see the film, but this one felt way too into itself. But, really, in the overall scope of things, this isn’t necessarily a bad follow-up of “No Country for Old Men.” The style is there; it’s just that it could’ve been edgier and more involving.
★ / ★★★★
For some weird reason, ever since I saw David Sutcliffe in “Gilmore Girls,” I knew he’d be a good actor to play a gay character. However, this is not a good movie by any means. The plot is convoluted because of the many manipulative characters and plot twists. I found it hard to feel for Sutcliffe because there wasn’t enough backstory for me to know what really is at stake. His character is the definition of one-dimesional because the only factor that drives his character to do what he does is the mere fact that he’s searching for a boyfriend that left him for no apparent reason. If someone leaves you, you don’t go all the way to Argentina to find out why (and acting like a stalker). You do some soul-searching and hopefully come to a conclusion that the person that left you (if you’re a good person) is not worth it. The main character is just too illogical to be believable. However, I did like that the picture looked like it was filmed in South America. On a different note/problem, I’m all for the fusion of genres but this one tried way too hard to be both comedic and thrilling. I feel that since it couldn’t even master being amusing in the first place, it had no reason to pull the rug under the audiences and suddenly become a thriller. It gave me the feeling that David Moreton, the director, had no idea what he was doing. The only aspect I truly loved about this movie is the casting of Sonia Braga, who played Jennifer Garner’s evil aunt in “Alias.” Every time the camera was on her, I could feel her passion and dedication. It made me wish that the movie was all about her instead of the (boring) gay main character. I should’ve listened to the reviews on Netflix because this really is a horrible picture.