The Last Seduction (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) was slapped by her husband, Clay (Bill Pullman), for calling him stupid. So, while he was in the shower, Bridget took Clay’s drug money of over five hundred thousand dollars, left New York City, changed her name to Wendy, and settled in a small town. There, she met Mike (Peter Berg), a man who was recently divorced, in a bar. Convinced that the repercussions of her recent thievery was far from over, Wendy figured that she could use Mike to get away with the money once and for all. Written by Steve Barancik and directed by John Dahl, “The Last Seduction” was a sexy, smart, and fast-paced neo-noir with an edgy main character. The film made all the men in the film look completely idiotic which had very amusing results. I didn’t think it was unfair because how many times have movies made women look like complete bimbos? It was easy to label Wendy as “evil” because she was not above committing murder to get what she wanted. I argue that if she was a man who wore dark shades and a black suit when she schemed, she would be considered as “cool.” I perceived her as a survivor with a sharp tongue. In some ways, she reminded me of myself. When Wendy met Mike and she bluntly told him that she wasn’t interested, he bragged that she was missing out because he was as hung as a horse. Instead of allowing the conversation to end, she called him over and insisted that he showed her what he was so proud of. I had a laugh because I would have done the same. She was the kind of person who liked to push the envelope and, if necessary, make someone question his self-confidence. She had her own way of getting to know a person. The dark comedy worked because two completely opposite characters took center stage. Mike liked to discuss sensitive things like feelings and have deep conversations. Wendy just wouldn’t have it. It wasn’t like she didn’t want anyone to know her. She was just rarely in the mood. When Mike confessed that he felt like a sex object, Bridget suggested that he lived it up. What I admired most about the movie was the balance between the twisted relationship and the stolen money. Fiorentino’s fiery performance allowed the two spheres to converge without resulting to painful typicalities like a shootout in the end or someone drastically changing the way he or she saw the world. In reality, people don’t really change all that much despite personal crises. The screenplay was focused in naturally allowing the characters’ behaviors to speak for themselves. I relished “The Last Seduction” because it was stripped of sentimentality. Its bravado in turning gender roles on its head was both charming and unexpectedly hilarious.
The Square (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
Ray (David Roberts) was having an affair with a much younger woman named Carla (Claire van der Boom). One day, Carla found a bag full of cash in the attic which she knew belonged to her husband (Anthony Hayes) and his crooked friends. Ray and Carla planned to get the money, burn the house to the ground, and run away together with the help of a hot-tempered third party (Joel Edgerton). Naturally, the plan didn’t go the way the cheating couple expected. “The Square” took a lot of risks with its tone and various twists in the plot. It reminded me of the Ethan and Joel Coens’ masterful “Blood Simple.” but far less realized as a whole because it stumbled on its way to the finish line. Rising action was abound. Ray became increasingly desperate as the body count started to rise around him. It didn’t help that someone kept sending him cryptic letters involving blackmail. Unable to confide in anyone, he needed an outlet to his frustrations. It was like watching someone playing Tetris. It’s a very practical game (as practical a simple stealing can be) but one mistake can lead to another especially when panic sets in. Carla was frustrated as well because Ray was reluctant to leave his increasingly suspecting wife. She also had to mollify her guilt due to an accidental murder in which she was directly related. But a great rising action is only as great as its payoff. Toward the end, I began to feel confused with the way Nash Edgerton, the director, tried to steer the characters away from their respective predicaments. The strand about the blackmailer was immediately dismissed when it should have been tackled head-on because the picture spent a solid amount of time luring our curiosity to the person sending the letters. In a way, I felt slightly cheated. I felt as though the filmmakers didn’t know how to sufficiently end their story so the project eventually imploded. The characters failed to think critically and act practically. There was not one person I wanted to see succeed. I wasn’t necessarily looking for an archetypal good guy but I wish I didn’t feel so detached during the final few scenes and apathetic when it ended. “The Square” was a modern noir with a somber tone that started off with a roar but ended with a barely audible whimper. It needed to work on its themes regarding tragedy, guilt, and betrayal. It dealt with such themes separately but the more important exploration was how the three were interconnected and the pressures our characters went through that could explain why they played the final hands they’ve been given the way they did.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and Corky (Gina Gershon) met in an elevator. They eyed each other despite the fact that Violet’s boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), who worked for the mob, was right there with them. Violet knocked on Corky’s door, offering her a cup of coffee. Their romance started off like a bad porno movie, Corky being a mechanic and all. Violet confessed to Corky she wanted to escape the mob life so both concocted a plan to steal two million dollars from the mob and pin it on Caesar. The film was a success because it relied on very strong writing and three superb performances. Gershon epitomized seduction. She had a perfect balance of the feminine and the masculine. Pantoliano was sublime as a raging bull–the masculine figure. Tilly, the feminine, was funny, sexy, and compelling in every frame. I’ve seen her in many independent features and I believe she’s more than capable of mainstream success because she’s such a wonderful actress. “Bound” wore its modern noir tone on its sleeve; it rivaled Ethan Coen and Joel Coen’s “Blood Simple.” in terms of nail-biting tension that never lets go until the final shot and Quentin Taratino’s “Pulp Fiction” in terms of complex characters with questionable morals and multilayered motivations. It was able to do a lot with a simple shot. For instance, I’ve never seen a gun sliding through white paint looked more elegant and beautiful. The lesbian eroticism may attract some but may repel others. Some could argue it had elements of sexploitation, which I don’t necessarily disagree with. But my counterargument is that the picture did not show anything offensive. It may offend certain individuals either due to homophobia or fear of sexuality in general, but I perceived the images through a feminist scope. For me, it was about two women who had complete control of their wills and bodies. I would even go as far to say that the sex and seduction scenes were necessary because the picture depended so much on the trust between Violet and Corky. Their attraction with one another was the reason we wanted them to get away with stealing without losing any finger, or worse, their lives. Written and directed by Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, “Bound” was a ferocious and unpredictable neo-noir thriller. I loved how it prevented me from thinking ahead because I was so engaged with what was currently happening on screen. That is, how the characters could possibly extricate themselves from an increasingly hopeless and dangerous situation. I suppose two million dollars had to be earned but at what cost?
The Ghost Writer (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Adapted from Robert Harris’ novel, Ewan McGregor played a ghostwriter who was hired to help complete an ex-British prime minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoir. Suspecting that something wasn’t quite right in the former British prime minister’s stories compared to what was said by the media and those around him, The Ghost did an investigation of his own which led him to endanger his life. Directed by the controversial Roman Polanski, what I liked most about the film was the director’s ability to take material that we’ve seen before concerning the dangers of politics and inject just the right mood and pacing to create something quietly sinister. I must admit that I did not immediately understand what was going on because it felt as though the protagonist was thrusted onto an island where he had barely any idea what he was doing or why he was really there. He tried to convince himself that he was there for an assignment (with great pay) but his instincts made him question until he couldn’t bear his curiosity any longer. The characters such as the former prime minister’s lead assistant (Kim Cattrall, whom I would love to see more in serious roles), wife (Olivia Williams), and even the housekeeper made me feel uneasy so I could not help but suspect them of hiding something key that might lead to the big revelation. Another interesting layer was the question of whether The Ghost was really on an assignment involving politics, or personal revenge, or possibly both. The questions were difficult to answer and the answers were vague. But I liked the fact that the movie chose to challenge its audience by allowing us to read between the lines. Since the real answers were elusive, we couldn’t help but question whether our protagonist was truly on the right track in terms of solving the mystery or whether he was merely putting together random information and forcing himself to make sense of them. “The Ghost Writer” thrived on subtlety and often reminded me of the underrated “Breach” directed by Billy Ray. Like that film, what kept the film together was not the extended action scenes but the strong acting and constantly evolving atmosphere. Perhaps I am giving the movie too much credit but I did notice some references to noir pictures in the 1940s, the most obvious one being Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing.” My only minor complaint was I hoped Polanski used Tom Wilkinson a lot more. Wilkinson managed to do so much with how little he was given and it would have been interesting to see how much more he could have turned the main character’s life upside down if he had been given more material.
Assassination of a High School President (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I’ve read reviews about this film and a number of people think that this will eventually be a cult classic. I highly doubt it. Directed by Brett Simon, “Assassination of a High School President” stars Reece Thompson as Bobby Funke, a high school sophomore journalist with dreams of getting a summer program at Northwestern. Assigned by Melonie Diaz to write about the school’s student body president (Patrick Taylor), Thompson stumbled upon secrets which involved stolen SAT exams. This movie reminded me a lot of the indie gem called “Brick” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It has a certain post-noir feel to it, but the difference between “Brick” and this film is that this one is less complex and not as exemplary when it comes to its style. At times I found myself wondering whether it wanted to be a true modern noir film set in a private Catholic high school or an edgy romantic comedy about a kinda-sorta loser who wanted to date the most popular girl in school (Mischa Barton). That indecision took some of the focus away from the story and so it became less intriguing. However, although the picture wasn’t as provocative as I thought it would be (I imagined “Election”-level snarkiness when it came to the dialogue and desperation of the characters), Thompson’s geek-chic charm made me want to keep watching. I saw him on the underrated “Rocket Science” and was highly impressed so I was interested to see if he could bring the same sort of neuroticism from there to this movie. I must admit that I guessed incorrectly on whoever was really involved in the whole SAT fiasco. But what I liked about it was that there wasn’t really a big twist in the end; there was actually a culmination of hints and evidence that eventually led to the final revelation so I ultimately didn’t feel cheated. If the whole romance angle between Thompson and Barton was completely taken out and Thompson was all business without taking any prisoner, this probably would have been a slam dunk for me. The movie definitely had pop during the investigation scenes but it became lazy and typical during the courtship scenes. This is a pretty decent rental on an uneventful Saturday night because there were some witty dialogue but watching it shouldn’t be a priority.