Beautiful Ohio (2006)
★ / ★★★★
Chad Lowe’s directoral debut is rather difficult to get through because it doesn’t rise above the stereotypes regarding depressing suburban drama. William Hurt and Rita Wilson have two sons: David Call, a certified genius in mathematics, and Brett Davern, who is rather ordinary. Michelle Trachtenberg complicates the storyline by filling in the role as the not-so-girl-next-door who the two brothers happen to be attracted to. The first part of the film is rather interesting because it explores the jealously between the two brothers–mainly Davern struggling to live in his big brother’s shadow versus stepping out of it. I could relate to the two brothers because they pretty much have nothing in common except for their unconventional parents. Things quickly went downhill from there because the dialogue mostly consisted of the characters discussing theories, influential musicians and citing quotes from renowned individuals. Their pretentiousness created this wall between me and the characters. Therefore, when something dramatic happens to a particular character or a revelation occurs, I found myself not caring. I didn’t find anything particularly profound that drove the story forward either. Lowe really needed something above the whole parents-not-really-caring-about-their-children idea because it’s all been done before by better films. Davern reminded me of Emile Hirsch in “Imaginary Heroes,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but without the nuances of pain and complexity. If Lowe had explored the common theme of characters not understanding each other (literally through language or emotionally) in a more meaningful and not a heavy-handed manner, this picture would’ve worked. The revelation about a certain character in the end felt out of place. Don’t waste your time with this one.
In Paris (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
There’s a lot of complex dynamics between the characters in this film but most of them were not explored enough. The best scenes were when the two brothers, Romain Duris and Louis Garrel, would talk to each other about women, the value of life and their childhood. I also found the father (Guy Marchand) interesting but he wasn’t given much to do except hover in the background like some sort of annoyance for the two leads. Duris returns home after a bad break-up and stays in bed all day. Garrel tries to find ways to alleviate his brother’s depression by–strangely enough–sleeping with other women. That statement doesn’t make sense but after seeing the entire picture, in a strange way, it does have some hidden meaning. I wouldn’t have gotten it either if Garrel’s character didn’t literally voice it out to his brother in the final scene. Still, this film is very uneven. In the beginning, Garrel talks to the camera and he claims that he’s going to be the narrator. As the film went on, that narration was completely thrown out the window. It would’ve been wiser if Christophe Honoré, the director, was more consistent about the narration because the film got a little confusing at times. One minute we’re looking at something that happened a week ago and the next we’re looking at something that happened a few months ago. The fact that this film is in French (I have no problem with that; I love foreign films) is another issue because there were some dialogues that do not directly correlate with the subtitles. (I know a little bit of French.) Given that handicap, jumping from one moment in time to another makes it that much less accessible. I liked that this film referenced other great filmmakers from the likes Jean-Luc Godard (scenes outside the home) and Bernardo Bertolucci (scenes in the home). Plus, that one scene when Garrel was looking at movie posters of “Last Days” and “A History of Violence” made me laugh due to the fact that Garrel looked at Michael Pitt’s picture with a certain recognition. (They worked together in one of my favorite films “The Dreamers.”) Little tidbits like that made me enjoy this movie despite my frustrations with its techniques. This is definitely not for everyone but if you’re the kind of person that likes to see movies which honor certain signatures of other great filmmakers, check this one out. (I still say it should have been more character-driven…)
Cold Mountain (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★
This film, directed by Anthony Minghella, would’ve been a masterpiece if it hadn’t been so uneven. One of the things that bothered me most was the lack of a real relationship between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law’s characters prior to Law leaving to participate in the Civil War. I felt like they just met, instantly fell in love, and the audiences are supposed to buy it so easily. I get that faith is one of the driving forces of the film but, with its running time of about two-and-a-half hours, it could’ve left room to establish a concrete relationship between the two leads. Renée Zellweger deserved her Oscar as Ruby Thewes because she had a great comedic timing, energy, and she came at the right time when the film started to become too depressing. Even though her acting is (arguably) over-the-top, I thought it was necessary because her character is supposed to contrast of that of Kidman’s. Kidman and Zellweger’s little adventures in the farm made me smile. As for Law’s adventures that are bigger in scope, it was nice to see some familiar actors playing very colorful characters: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Cillian Murphy, Jena Malone… I didn’t like this film as much the first time I saw it. But upon giving it a second chance, I realized that Mingella provides a plethora of beautiful images that reflect how a character is feeling and thinking. Not to mention the soundtrack manages to elavate those images and feelings on an entirely new level. He also has a talent of telling a story that spans for a long period of time. In fact, one of my favorite scenes was when Kidman and Law were finally reunited; that scene was smart enough to linger a bit because it gives the audiences a chance to look back on how different the two characters were from when the film started. With a little more improvement on its pacing, this romance epic would’ve been more memorable. Charles Frazier, the book’s author from which the film is based upon, should be proud of this picture because it got pretty much everything right.