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Archive for August 26th, 2008

Jeez, there’s nothing like crying like a little girl to make your night complete.

The Secret Life of Words starts out with Hanna, a quiet factory worker who keeps to herself and lives a life of solitude and repetition.   Her bosses order her to take a holiday after fellow workers complain that she’s anti-social, so she takes a small trip and instead finds herself volunteering to become a sick nurse on board an offshore oil rig during her holiday.   A detached person who seems to have little connection to anyone or anything, she arrives on the rig which is full of assorted, colorful characters.  Her patient is Josef, a rig worker who jumped into a fiery blaze to save a fellow worker, and Josef’s off-color remarks and jokes thaw Hanna a bit.   However, both of them turn out to be very broken people who have trouble reconciling their lives.

The Secret Life of Words is very, very good, make no mistake.   Instead of telling you everything, it shows you bit by bit, piece by piece as the true stories of Hanna and Josef unfold and are far more compelling and tragic than anything I could’ve imagined on my own.   You can see the thought that went into the movie, right down to the minor details of Hanna’s job to examining what she eats every day.   It could well be tedious, but the scenes are framed so that they’re a very intriguing look into the structure an emotionally demolished person gives her life.

I never understood the Sarah Polley love before now.  I’d seen her in a couple of assorted roles and I had always felt fairly underwhelmed by her, but now I get it.   I get it one hundred and ten percent – she is, quite frankly, astonishing.   Not only is she playing a survivor of the Balkan Wars, complete with accent, but ninety percent of the movie there’s no dialogue for Polley to rely on as a crutch.   There’s no overbroad gestures or emotional hysterics for her to play up.   Everything Polley does in this movie comes from her eyes and the extremely subtle, extremely rare affectations she gives her character.   In short, Polley’s performance as Hanna is about as good as it gets.

Tim Robbins has always been a weird actor to me.   I don’t detest Robbins by any stretch, but I found him tiring at best.   Even when people played up how utterly great he was in Mystic River, I had no idea what all the hullabaloo was about.   To me, Robbins was just kind of…there.

He does very well in this one.  He takes an equally challenging part of a bedridden, burned oil rig worker who’s a bit rough around the edges and slowly peels back the layers of his character so that before you know it, Josef is a completely different person than you thought he was without jarring or disturbing the viewer.    He gives as good as Polley does, with one small slip-up, in my opinion, but it’s a negligible one at best.   Robbins is seriously impressive and astonishingly good; he is far better than I ever gave him credit for.

The direction is an odd thing because it’s noticeable, but simultaneously it’s not.   You feel as though you’re almost totally an observer but at certain key moments the direction breaks to highlight some small detail, like an apple or a bar of soap, which is a tiny thing that speaks largely of the characters themselves.

Normally I have issues with bits of dialogue in movies like these, for films in this vein usually have hackneyed or wince-worthy moments that completely take me out of what’s happening.   In the entire film, there was just one scene like this, and it was the negligible Tim Robbins scene I mentioned above.   In truth, I’m sure lesser actors would’ve made some of the lines seem a lot more wobbly, but Robbins and Polley are so extremely good at what they’re doing that the words don’t sound hollow or staged.

Mainly, The Secret Lives of Words examines several things and examines them well:  What does one do when you’ve suffered trauma so great that life will never be the same?   How do you live with yourself?   How do you stop existing and go on living?   There’s an enormous difference between saying words and feeling them, and The Secret Life of Words is a tremendous film about two people attempting to heal in so many ways through their actions, rather than their words.

It’s excellent and well worth the time to watch.

A big round of thanks to J.D. for recommending it.

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I fell asleep way early tonight, hence why I’m up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m. writing a post on something random I came across on the Internet.

Mathieu Kassovitz has unexplainably earned my undying love of some sort.   Really, you just have to have his name on the poster for me to sit through it, whether he’s directing or acting.   I actually really enjoy The Crimson Rivers, which he directed, even though it’s chock full of problems and all sorts of flaws that normally would make me needle a movie endlessly.   My love, the sense it does not make, what can I say?

It probably doesn’t hurt that Kassovitz has worked in tandem for years with Vincent Cassel, who I would steal in a heartbeat adore, so that’s probably working in his favor too.

And even when Kassovitz has made some crap — which he has — I understood why, I suppose.  No director can have a perfect track record.   Gothika got made, I suspect, so that he could have a shot at bigger/better projects outside of France.   He might have needed the money.

Whatevs.   I can deal with that.

And then came the whispers about Babylon A.D., a movie that’s very him and very not him all at the same time, and it was exciting!   And fun!   And you could feel the bad-assery just jumping off the very rumors at you!   But then, it got confirmed!   And casting rumors started floating around, and Vincent Cassel was being bandied about and oh, I was all over that.   You know it.

Then I started getting that sinking feeling in my stomach like things were going sour when I read this article from Twitch a while ago.   Excerpt is from that article:

we read that Cassel said that he lost touch with Kassovitz in “an ego accident.” He laughs. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but he is different from the man I met years ago. I built my identity with Kassovitz…. Which is true, some would argue that Kassovitz’ 1995 film La Haine was the film that catapulted both men into the spotlight.

Emphasis from Twitch.

Awww, hell.   That’s so much wrong.  They hung up their “Best Friends” necklaces and stopped writing “VINCENT + MATHIEU = BF4EVA” on their scripts, I guess.  Sadness.

Regardless of what happened, it started to become pretty clear that Cassel was not going to be involved in anything on this one, and then came the news that Vin Diesel had been cast.

Crap.

You know that’s no good when Vin Diesel is cast.  It reeks of “Oh, shit, this dude is making something potentially unmarketable and we need name recognition.” And then someone went and wrote a memo about interfacing and corporate togetherness or something.

I really hate to rag on Vin Diesel.   I’m sure he’s a very nice man.  In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed both Pitch Black AND The Chronicles of Riddick.   But let’s face it; Diesel’s career has been targeted to your gearhead, late teens/early twenties American male.   Between The Fast and the Furious and crap like A Man Apart, he’s not stretching much.    Casting him was like putting the Black Death on this movie for me.

Months went by and I didn’t hear much, aside from the usual promotional buzz.   I wasn’t really feeling very good about what I was seeing, but I was holding out some small sliver of hope.   I wasn’t going to let my candle go out, no sir — I sat through Birthday Girl for this fool — and then I read this:

“I’m very unhappy with the film,” he says. “I never had a chance to do one scene the way it was written or the way I wanted it to be. The script wasn’t respected. Bad producers, bad partners, it was a terrible experience.”

“It’s pure violence and stupidity,” he admits.

OH HI, THAT’S SO NOT GOOD.

While Kassovitz is pointing fingers at everyone but himself, you can’t help but think that maybe some of this is his own fault.  Or maybe not.   Who knows?  Either way, it’s a very bad, bad thing when the director of a film is telling the press, “Guess what?   My movie blows so hard it’s not going to make any money.”

Yeah.

What’s worse is when Vin Diesel notices.

Having just completed production of the fourth installment of The Fast and the Furious, he had not seen a cut of the film in six months. “Am I even in the movie any more, or am I on the cutting room floor?” the actor joked. Fox could not be reached for comment on this story.

Uh…good feelings gone.   Seriously, all Fast and the Furious cracks aside, when Vin Diesel is all like, “Hey, dude, what the hell happened to me in this movie?” said movie probably has some really glaring issues.   Anvil-sized issues.

And finally from Monsieur Kassovitz:

“I’m ready to go to war against them, but I can’t because they don’t give a s–t.”

I don’t think there’s any good way to spin that, really.

What’s sad is that the whole project seemed really messed up from the beginning.   It’s like a perfect storm of sucktastic badness that you know will never be fixed, not with a “Director’s Cut” or anything like that.  How awful.

What’s really disappointing is that I had such high hopes for poor Mathieu.  Now?   Not so much.   Boo.  As far as Diesel goes, ehhh.   And with regards to Vincent Cassel?   Call me, Vincent.  Merci.

(Note to Mathieu:   Send Vincent some candy and flowers or something, Jesus.  Kiss and make up already.)

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