Monday, March 03, 2008

# 3 - Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling is without question the best working actor under thirty, and I’d even say one of the top five living actors of any age). I would of course point to his performance in Half Nelson as a thoughtful but drug-addicted, inner city junior high history teacher (quite the mouthful) as back-up for that statement. The contrast between his passionate lectures which emphasize understanding the social forces behind major historical events (why they happened, rather than the who/what/where/when) and his drug abuse is heartbreaking. He is ultimately a good person with big ideas who wants to make the world a better place. His drug habit stemmed from his disaffection with the world, created by the realization that he’s just a small fish in a big pond and that he’ll ultimately never influence much of anything.

Much of the film focuses on his relationship with Drey, one of his female students who has found out about his dependency. She is also jaded, having grown up in a broken home in one of the more violent areas of Brooklyn. Both characters are extremely real, due to amazing acting and a script that doesn’t indulge the typical Dangerous Minds-esque clich├ęs that most ‘amazing teacher inspiring students in the ghetto’ films fall back on.

However, I will say that it’s scripted and shot in a wistful, introspective style which reminded me a bit of Lost in Translation (my favorite movie ever, in case you’ve forgotten!), so if you didn’t enjoy that film, you might not appreciate this either. You also need to be willing to accept that you’re not going to completely love the protagonist – he has a lot of human shading, shall we say.

Finally, if you’re not convinced yet … It also has one of the best jokes I’ve heard in years!

Girl: Knock Knock
RG: Who’s there?
Girl: Interrupting cow
RG: Interrupting co----

Okay maybe my sense of humor isn’t quite as good as my taste in movies. Anywho.

# 4 - Pan's Labyrinth

Roger Ebert declared Pan’s Labyrinth his favorite of the films he saw during his recovery back in 2006. I think there are a few (three, to be exact) better entries from that year, but I wholeheartedly agree with his 4-star rating. In case you’re curious, this is the first movie on my list that I believe deserves that rating (V for Vendetta is a 3-star film, numbers 5-9 are 3 ½ stars).

Pan’s tells the story of a young girl burdened with tumultuous family life in Spain in the 1940s. She retreats to an imaginary land (or a real otherworld, if you prefer) in reaction to the violence surrounding her. Here she must complete tasks in order to prove that she is the princess of this world.

The brilliance of this film lies, I believe, in Guillermo Del Toro’s direction which identifies the symmetry between the fantasy land and the fascist regime of the era. It couldn't have been easy to balance the (albeit extremely weird) fairy tale with incredibly graphic war scenes, but he pulls it off seamlessly. He is aided by fabulous art direction / cinematography, and great acting from the little girl and that creepy guy with eyes on his hands (see above!).

It’s kind of akin to Mirrormask, another good film about a young girl that uses fantasy to escape her life, but Pan’s is so much better because it is – in the end – cemented in a more adult world that doesn’t shy away from very real, devastating consequences.

I will never marry a man that ... (pt 8)

Drives automatic.