Monday, July 14, 2003
Charlottesville's LiveArts has begun its Summer Theater Festival in earnest, premiering four of its ten contemporary-theater offerings over the past weekend. Tickets range from $5 to $9 apiece, and production values seem slightly higher this year than in years past. The plays themselves have been hit-and-miss affairs so far (though performances have been consistently good as local theater goes). Still, with ticket prices so ridiculously low it seems churlish to complain. If you live in the greater Charlottesville area, skip the movies and take in a live play instead.
The festival runs weekends through August 2.
From Justin to Kelly: It's too late to see From Justin to Kelly in first-run theaters, alas, though it may be hitting the second-run circuit soon. But I genuinely enjoyed myself during its eighty-minute running time, which is more than I can say for many a flick this year. This is a throwback to what summer movies used to be, before blockbuster action pics were the norm. The boys-meet-girls plot is laughably thin, requiring at least a dozen musical numbers to pad the endeavor to feature length. Echoes of Where the Boys Are and all those horrid Frankie-and-Annette movies abound.
Those of you who aren't fans of the TV series American Idol won't have much trouble figuring out who the eponymous "Justin" and "Kelly" are: They're the only ugly people on screen. Kelly Clarkson, winner of last year's American Idol karaoke competition, may prove a perfectly decent actress in time, but the camera does not love her; in her many close-ups she always looks snub-nosed and frumpy. Since some of my friends think she's handsome, I suppose I'll have to blame her appearance on incompetent (or perhaps deliberately sabotaged) lighting. Justin Guarini, however, is a fright no matter how you try to look at him. Like this year's runner-up Clay Aiken, he's a boy-band experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Ordinarily, the romance between these two would be heartening (as Daniel Clowes remarked in Ghost World, it's always nice to see ugly people in love with each other), but these two have absolutely no chemistry. They seem to be playing in different movies, both of them bad. Supporting characters -- even the alleged "nerds" -- are easier on the eyes and more interesting than our two alleged leads. One Black teenager even has a class-conscious relationship with a Cuban waiter, which could be (and has been) the basis for a very good movie.
Of course, in the world of From Justin to Kelly, women are always in the right, while men are almost always in the wrong -- an offshoot of the ideologically privileged position American "tween" and teenage girls currently inhabit. The object, as with many an American romantic comedy of late, is to compel the men to accede to the desires of women, in the realization that men are mere children and women always know best. Self-righteous American feminism must come from somewhere, I suppose. But no one who truly observes teenagers' social lives can claim this sort of infantilization is good for young men.
My comments about bad films often run as follows: The best thing I can say is that the shots match, and the worst thing I can say is that the film would be better if they didn't. But no worries, gentle reader, for in this particular film the shots don't match at all. The editing must have been done with a Cuisinart, and the film is all the better for it. A simple disregard for basic cinematic technique can make even the most hackneyed story at least moderately surprising (if not always in a pleasant manner).
In a particularly hilarious touch, the film's opening credits look pasted in, probably with a MacIntosh computer and a PhotoShop program. Reportedly, this film cost $12 million to make. So where did all the money go?
Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later has often been compared to Night of the Living Dead. A better comparison would be to Lord of the Flies, since Alex Garland's screenplay is focused -- nay, fixated -- on the thin line between civilization and chaos. A "rage virus," the actual workings of which are unclear and inconsistent, may be the agent of the inevitable breakdown. But in the end uninfected humans prove no less feral and savage than the mad zombies. The climax revolts and disgusts, just as it should. It even includes a graphic eye-gouging -- perhaps the most disturbing punishment one can depict onscreen. An eye-gouging renders those of us in the audience acutely conscious of the physical organ we use to perceive the cinema; it serves as an uncomfortable reminder of our own physicality, and makes dramatic detachment from the action well-nigh impossible. See the opening scene of Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou for a particularly nasty example.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen may look like a vanity project for Sean Connery, but it's not nearly as self-indulgent as you'd expect. The characters are well-conceived on the whole, and the story is potentially solid. Alas, the script had several drafts to go before a good film could come from it; the result is a collection of interesting moments and fascinating ideas, none of which go anywhere. And did someone tell the writers that you can't take a submarine to Paris (or into the canals of Venice, for that matter)? In Stanley Tucci's The Imposters, the idea of "sailing to Paris" was a sly joke; here I'm afraid it's taken quite seriously.
Sunday, July 13, 2003
I've been cleaning house for the past week and a half: for the next several days I'll be on a grand tour of the Deep South. Barring calamity or catastrophe, regular postings will resume on July 23rd.
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