Monday, June 13, 2005

Catching up: High Tension, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, Sharkboy and Lava Girl

Haute Tension (note: I have not seen the domestically released version of this film. I viewed the original, uncut film via an imported DVD) - Haute Tension is the epitome of manufactured terror. A 90-minute genre experiment, Haute Tension succeeds greatly in its first two-thirds, but the contrived, implausible climax leaves much to be desired. I'm not sure why so many genre directors feel the need to deliver "twist" endings, but they rarely work. As I don't like to offer up spoilers, I won't reveal the surprise ending of Haute Tension, but I will say that it didn't surprise me all that much. In fact, I guessed the ending when I saw the 30-second domestic theatrical trailer. Tension has style in spades, and I wish Alexandre Aja had followed through with a more gutsy denouement. Grade: C

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl - Robert Rodriguez continues his tradition of charming children's films with this new potential franchise. It's essentially a retread of the Spy Kids films, though with fewer gadgets and more fantasy. The performances are iffy in spots, but perfectly suitable to the material. Most of the film's charm comes from the delightfully imaginative story, which was conceived by Rodriguez's son. I hope Rodriguez lays off the 3D soon, and, though I appreciate his cost-cutting approach to filmmaking, I'd love to see him invest the kind of passion he displayed in Sin City into one of these children's films. He's got a classic in him somewhere. Grade: C

The Ballad of Jack and Rose - Rebecca Miller comes out the other side of this astonishing films as one of the few contemporary directors with a truly distinctive individual aesthetic. What makes her films (I've only seen this one and Personal Velocity) so breathtaking AND confounding is that her rigorous formalism calls nothing to mind. She's a writer/director who does each from seemingly different personalities. Her films are stunningly crafted, yet there is no discernable trickery or posturing. Indeed, The Ballad of Jack and Rose bears a haunting economy of style that appears as near-minimalist. Yet, volumes could be written (and hopefully will be) on her graceful and intelligent image-making. Jack and Rose's narrative is densely written, and Miller realizes her own screenplay with a stunning lack of self-consciousness. It helps that her husband happens to be, quite possibly, the greatest actor alive right now (she's married to Jack and Rose's star, Daniel Day-Lewis). But this is, quite clearly, the Rebecca Miller Show, a film that will grow and evolve in my memory. Grade: A

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