Focal Curve

Twin Warriors, The Girl Next Door, Velvet Goldmine

Ok, I’ve been slack, I admit. I’m renaming this category, since “Weekly Netflix” was quickly becoming a misnomer. I’m just not the type to keep up to a strict posting schedule. Now I’ll just write my capsule reviews whenever I get around to it, but still regularly I hope.

Twin Warriors

The plot: Two best friends (not actually twins) are expelled from their local Shaolin temple and must make their way through the conflicted society of feudal China.

I picked this film with the assumption that Jet Li + Michelle Yeoh + Yeun Woo-Ping = cool kung fu flick. In the end I was entertained, but not terribly impressed. It doesn’t compare at all to the majesty of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or the artistry of Hero, but Woo-Ping’s martial arts sequences are enjoyable enough to make up for the choppy, disjointed story. The film passes through several chapters, but the transitions between them are clumsy. It feels as if it was cobbled together out of scenes from a much better series, sort of a highlights reel rather than a cohesive story.

One of the twins (Jet Li) is kind-hearted and peace-loving, while his buddy (Siu-hou Chin) is rowdy and ambitious. Chin joins up with the Chinese army to seek fame and glory while Li falls in with a band of rebels. Needless to say, they wind up at opposite ends of the spectrum and must battle each other. The only reason to see this movie is for some pretty cool martial artistry. Woo-Ping’s pioneering wire-work is on full display. Michelle Yeoh is underused. The numerous comedic interludes are ham-handed. Jet Li kicks ass.

Rating: 3 stars

The Girl Next Door

The plot: Awkward high school senior meets a retired porn star, falls in love, messes everything up, puts it all back together, and lives out every geek’s fantasy by nailing Elisha Cuthbert.

Hm, yeah that’s a pretty good summary. This movie is pure adolescent fantasy: social outcast finds a smoking hot girl who loves him for who he is. Oh how often I have dreamed that dream. Sure that’s oversimplifying, but it’s a simple movie. Perhaps my biggest complaint is that the age difference is never really addressed. Obviously she’s still young (though over 18 I hope), but one would have to presume she’s been in “the industry” for a few years at least, unless she only did a few movies and got burned out fast. It’s just never explained, probably because that would ruin the whole adolescent fantasy thing. Nobody wants to get creeped out by statutory rape when they’re busy lusting after a hottie. Maybe it’s in one of the deleted scenes, which I didn’t watch. But all in all it was an amusing diversion. I saw the “unrated” version, which has extra gratuitous nudity, so that’s always a good thing.

Rating: 3 stars

Velvet Goldmine

The plot: A reporter digs into the variegated past of fictional glam-rock star Brian Slade, tracing his rise to fame and ultimate descent into obscurity.

I’ll start the review by just saying that I love this movie. I’ve seen it a few times before, but never have gotten around to purchasing it. This was probably my fifth or sixth viewing and each time I discover some other little detail or reference, it’s that kind of film. The storytelling is structured very much like Citizen Kane, seen through the eyes of a journalist piecing together a biography through a series of interviews. Christian Bale portrays Arthur, the interviewer who—in a departure from the Citizen Kane model—is himself part of the story he’s piecing together. Arthur was a starry-eyed fan of the enigmatic glam star in early-70s London, at the crucial time in his life when he was sorting out his own sexual identity. He idolized Brian Slade as a messianic figure bringing about a new age of sexual freedom and creative expression. The stories are told in tandem, with Arhur’s own flashbacks to his angsty youth intermixed with the recollections of those who knew Slade in his prime. The film skips around in time and viewpoint, a patchwork tale seen through the dreamlike fog of memory.

Velvet Goldmin at first seems like a biopic of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (with Iggy being represented by the aggressive American junkie rocker Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor)) but really the characters are mere composite archetypes of an era in music/pop culture history, when the world was beginning to get over the earthy love of the hippies and move on to the image-conscious artifice of disco. The glam craze never fully caught on in America, but its influence could be strongly felt in the “new wave” of the early 80s. But this movie isn’t strictly a docudrama of glam; it’s a human story of self-discovery. Slade isn’t even the central character, just a catalyst, a nexus of influence and personality that touches the other people around him. Everyone has distinct memories of Slade, yet nobody seems to have known him very well.

This is a great movie, but may not appeal to everyone. It can be a little confusing and hard to follow, what with all the time-hopping and musical interludes (great soundtrack) and fantasy vignettes. But it all pulls together in the end with enough ambiguity to keep you thinking, and it’s really better on a second viewing. Or a sixth. Unfortunately the DVD is annoyingly devoid of extra features. I’d love to hear a director’s commentary on this one.

Rating: 5 stars

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