Tag Archives: ensemble

Boogie Nights – Review

7 Jul

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most distinct voices in modern film, and I doubt that anyone would diminish the scope and power of his vision. There Will be Blood and The Master are so well photographed and told, while Magnolia tells a surreal, yet human tale. Before all this, however, there was Boogie Nights, Anderson’s break out hit from 1997. Not only was this the start of a career for Anderson, but also for Mark Wahlberg, who was known more for his rap music and work as a Calvin Klein model. To say the least, Boogie Nights is an epic film that hearkens back to the earlier films of Martin Scorsese, but it also stands alone as a singular visionary tale with P.T. Anderson’s style written all over it.

1997-boogie-nights-poster2

In the late 1970s, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is one of the leading names in the pornography industry, after directing numerous successful porno films. His real dream, however, is to hook the audience with the story instead of the sex. One night at a club, Horner stumbles upon Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young guy with a seemingly non existent future and some really special talents. Adams is soon recruited by Horner and changes his name to Dirk Diggler, a name that will soon be known throughout the porn industry as the greatest male actor to grace the screen. Along with his best friend, Reed Rothchild (John C. Riley), Diggler takes the world by storm, but is soon introduced to a lifestyle of hard drugs and decisions without consequences. This takes a toll on his life, and the lives of everyone around him, and by the time the 1980s hits, it becomes time for Diggler to make some serious decisions about who he is and who he wants to be.

From the very first shot, I knew that I was about to watch a masterfully shot film. The first three minutes is a long take that starts on the marquee of a theater, travels through the street, and finally into the nightclub where we meet Jack Horner and Eric Adams, soon to be Dirk Diggler. I’m a real sucker for long takes like this, and it reminded me very much of the famous long take from GoodfellasBoogie Nights is made of quite a few of these long takes, with another in particular happening about halfway through the movie, which switches gears into overdrive. Other than that, this is just a really nice movie to look at. The outdoor scenes are very bright and really set the tone of the success that Dirk and his friends are feeling. Once the 1980s hits, a lot of the scenes are shot at night which also signifies a massive tonal shift. The way Anderson shoots this movie isn’t just artistic and technically proficient, but it also helps tell the story, and that’s awesome.

boogie-nights

While this is a story about Mark Wahlberg’s character, it’s important to note that it also tells the story of many other characters who come to be associated with Diggler. Other than Burt Reynolds and John C. Riley, Boogie Nights also stars Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I would much rather look at this movie as an ensemble pieces about a time period and the consequences of that time period, with the rise and fall of Wahlberg’s character as a catalyst. Anderson pays such close attention to period detail that it’s hard to argue this movie isn’t about the period in which it takes place. Each character has a different problem or situation that reflects a part of that time, and it gets even worse when the 1980s arrive and they have to come to terms with their past choices.

I keep mentioning the 1980s like it’s some ominous presence looking over the sun drenched horizon of the 1970s, and that’s sort of what it is in this movie. It also marks a point where Anderson makes some poor storytelling choices. The first half of the movie that takes place in the 1970s is note perfect, and I don’t have single complaint. Things take a turn for the worse right when the 80s arrive. This is when the fall of the characters begin, and it’s handled well for the most part, but some of it is just way too over the top and kind of pulled me out of the movie. There’s a really powerful sequence during this part that is followed up by a striking moment with Don Cheadle’s character. This scene alone is really cool and odd, but fitting it in after some really disturbing stuff was like sticking a Spider-Man comic into the Book of Revelations. This scene is really what I’m talking about, and it pulled me out of the movie so much that I just kept seeing all of the over the top moments as individual scenes that could have been turned down a few notches to make a better fit. These are really only a few scenes in a movie that’s two and a half hours long, so it doesn’t hurt the movie too bad, but I felt that I had to mention it.

Boogie Nights is simply a movie that can not be ignored. I consider Paul Thomas Anderson to be one of the best film makers working today, so seeing the movie that kick started his career was a real treat. This film is more than the pornography industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a film about the kinds of decisions that were made by a kind of people that led to a decade of serious trouble. It’s a rise and fall story with a time period that sort of act like characters themselves. This isn’t exactly a perfect movie, but I’d recommend Boogie Nights to anyone and everyone.

Advertisements

Happiness – Review

21 May

Every so often I watch a movie that shakes me to the very core of my being. The reason I got so interested in Happiness was because I kept hearing so many great things about it, but also so many warnings that it is one of the most disturbing films I’ll ever watch. I thought to myself that I’m gonna have to check it out, so that’s exactly what I did. To put it briefly, Happiness is a remarkable movie in terms of everything that exists that makes a movie good. It’s literally all here. That being said, there are many things that are disturbing about this movie other than the obvious one, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see this film go down as a classic in the years to come.

29 - Happiness Poster

The story in this film is a collage of different, every day people whose lives collide due to their obsessive crusades to find happiness in their lives, even though the lack of true joy is their own fault. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams) is the youngest of three sisters, and has recently been feeling lonesome and unfulfilled. Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle) is the middle sister, and even though she has made a successful career as a novelist, she still has a hard time connecting with people on a true emotional level. When her pathetic neighbor Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) anonymously sexually harasses her over the phone, Helen becomes desperate to find the caller and begin a relationship. The eldest sister is Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Stevenson) who is happily married to Bill (Dylan Baker), a wealthy psychiatrist with a few dark secrets of his own, most of which involve pre-pubescent boys. Finally, Mona (Louise Lasser) and Lenny (Ben Gazzara) are the parents of the three sisters, and are now going through a separation which Lenny refuses to end in a divorce.

What’s really interesting about this movie is both how unapologetic it is, but also how real it is. Life, even for average, nothing special people can be darkly comedic and deeply disturbing, just like this movie. There’s nothing in Happiness that is so over the top you wouldn’t believe it could really happen. Everything in this movie can and does happen, and that’s what makes it so hard to watch at times. I found myself cringing and shifting around uncomfortably even when I was laughing at humor that may be darker than any movie I’ve ever seen before this one. There’s a great line in this movie where Helen leans over to Joy and says, “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” To this Joy responds, “But I’m not laughing.”

vlcsnap-2011-02-02-00h43m44s239

That little line of dialogue sums up the movie better than I ever could. We’re watching the lives of these people suffer from enormous pressures, all in the guise of some twisted comedy. So, it’s a comedy and we’re supposed to laugh at them… Right? When I think of comedies, I normally think of films that are pretty light hearted and goofy, and sometimes I laugh at things that I feel like I shouldn’t. Even those movies where the laughing comes with guilt maintain a certain sense of silliness or an upbeat tone. Not Happiness. There is nothing upbeat here, and yet we still laugh. That may be the most disturbing part of the movie. Sure, the pedophile is disturbing enough to keep many viewers away, but this one has real world consequences. We’re laughing at these people, but you don’t see them laughing.

I’ve been told that if you’re going to write something weird, it has to be done in such a way where the writing doesn’t become aware of the strangeness. That’s where Happiness finds it’s footing. There’s nothing especially remarkable about the way this movie is shot. It could easily be a stage play, and sometimes that’s what it feels like. The writer/director of this movie, Todd Solondz, writes this in such a way that is weird, but made me believe like I was watching reality. Perhaps that’s what this movie is really about: a sad reality that we all live in.

The characters in Happiness are pathetic creatures and I’m a son of a bitch for laughing at them, but who could blame me? This movie is dark comedy and it’s darkest, but it’s also drama at it’s most dramatic. This film mostly takes place in the suburbs of New Jersey. Not some bustling city, but a quiet suburb. Much like American Beauty (although this film preceded it by a year), we get to see the suburban dream completely shattered by evils and despair. Recommending this movie is hard due to a lot of the content in it, but if you can stomach some truly disturbing stuff than Happiness may provide you with the strangest and most uncomfortable laughter you’ve ever felt.