For Reel

Metropolitan (1990)
October 2, 2015, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Whit Stillman
3 Stars
MetropolitanUtterly unclassifiable, Whit Stillman’s debut film recently saw a rerelease 25 years after the fact, but it is a film where what is contemporary is almost irrelevant. The world of Metropolitan is entirely its own, with characters speaking in dangerously literate talk and having more in common with the Jane Austen novels they discuss rather than any specific period in the last century. What’s interesting is how matter-of-fact Stillman’s treatment of them is–it is easy to make clowns out of characters who come to call themselves the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie, but Stillman recognizes some essential truths in their delusions. Anyone who has been through grad school will appreciate the scene where Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) elaborates that he doesn’t read books, rather literary criticism. It’s curious that the picture never shows the debutante balls that are so essential to the plot. Had they behaved and spoke in the manner that they do at a ball, perhaps the posturing would be mistaken as appropriate. Occupying apartments and removed from these occasions, however, these characters are only further alienated from characters that we’re used to seeing on screen, posing at an cultural ethos that is defined by half-truths to begin with.

Trust (1990)
August 16, 2012, 6:57 am
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Director: Hal Hartley

One might have expected that Hal Hartley’s suburban dystopias would have found an audience in the disaffected twenty-somethings of any generation, but unlike fellow American indie pioneers of the 1990s (such as Jim Jarmush), Hartley’s popularity has waned since finding cult success over two decades ago. His distinctly stylized dialogue, in addition to his penchant for complimenting deadpan with the absurd, has perhaps proven too inaccessible to transcend the arthouse crowd, but nonetheless one can’t help but think that Hartley’s dry, postmodern irony is well-met with the cynical, often surreal comedic sensibilities shown by Louis CK’s television series, to name one example. Trust, the New Yorker’s second feature, follows a pair of misfits who attempt to navigate a world driven insane by suburban malaise – she, a pregnant teen (Adrienne Shelley); he, an electronic repairman who carries a grenade with him at all times (Martin Donovan). The destructive potential of the grenade might suggest the necessity of rebuilding from the ground up, but strangely the film doesn’t wallow in such nihilism. Instead, it is a relatively agreeable story about overcoming such miseries – the asexual relationship that the leads find is, as they put it in a sort of mantra, a love based on mutual “trust, admiration, and respect.” That is not to say that Hartley’s vision is in any way precious – his peculiar fondness for using radical melodramatic devices is overpowering: unexpected detours include a threatened rape, an abortion, and a patricide.

GoodFellas (1990)
April 17, 2011, 8:59 pm
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Director: Martin Scorsese

Revisiting GoodFellas, which has enough of a reputation that I don’t feel the need to defend its artistic merit, the one question that I kept asking myself was whether the film was mocking or romanticizing the gangster lifestyle. As Henry and Karen make their way into the Copacabana through the club’s back door, is this a denotation of celebrity and respect or is it instead one of shame? Henry himself is among Scorsese’s sleaziest characters – although Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin are despicable, atleast they show gumption and never compromise their own dignity in the way that Henry does at the trial. In fact, within this world of “wiseguys”, it is perhaps only Jimmy and Paul who come out with their virtue unscathed. Does the film, by depicting Henry’s shame, suggest that he is the anomaly in an otherwise respectable, functional world, or is the environment itself satirized by suggesting that gangster “truths” like loyalty are only paper-thin?