Wristcutters: A Love Story

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Goran Dukic
viewed: 04/22/08

An oddball romantic comedy, pretty much made with a guaranteed cult following, Wristcutters: A Love Story came and went pretty quick, but I am willing to guess that it’ll find a following on DVD like many other such films.  Saying “other such films” is a bit of a misnomer, though.  It’s offbeat, funny, morbid, black comedy, but with a love story that will probably allow for its popular adoption.  Though it’s nothing like them, the films that come to mind in comparison are Alex Cox’s Repo Man (1984) and Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001), films in which the off-beatness is hard to put a finger on, some parts the narrative choice, some part the tone, the humor, the elan.

It’s not that I think that Wristcutters is brilliant, but I do have to say I did like it overall.

The film starts with a suicide.  Then it turns out that all suicides end up back in a world much like the one they left, only it’s a little bit worse.  Everything sucks a little more and no one can smile.  Everyone has a story of “how they offed themselves” and everyone is a little intimidated to do it again for fear of what comes next.  And our lead, who slit his wrists over a girl, finds out that she followed him into the abyss only a little while later.  The film becomes a road movie of sorts.  A road movie with just road, no destination.  And Tom Waits.

He also falls in love with a girl.  None other than Shannyn Sossamon, one of my little favorite actresses for physical attraction and overall not-so-goodness.  Actually, this is the first film in which she’s actually not so bad.  It’s redemptive for her.  She’s very pretty and here she gets to play in a fun, weird little film, something perhaps more suited to her potential.

Adapted by writer/director Goran Dukic from a short story by Etgar Keret, it’s just the sort of thing that you wished there was a little more of, films that do actually take a different route, a different tone, try to depict a different universe, that play and have fun.  Again, it’s not that it’s brilliantly executed, but it does work, and I do like it.  And I have actually been recommending it to a few people.

You too.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Shane Black
viewed: 06/26/06

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is pretty darn funny and enjoyable. Ultimately, I think it’s due more to a good script and good performances by Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan. I say this because I think the direction is pretty awful and clutters what could have been potentially a great film with over-stylized visuals and cluttered sequences that are often also poorly lit. Not everyone can be Christopher Doyle.

The film is a riff on the pulp detective genre and adapted (one guesses loosely) from a Brett Halliday novel. It pays significant homage to the genre and potentially directly to Halliday and his protagonist Mike Shayne by featuring a trope with a fictional version of the same thing.

Ultimately, it’s about Los Angeles, too, and Hollywood, and it references Raymond Chandler significantly by titling each “day” of the film with a title of one of Chandler’s novels. Not subtle if you are familiar with his work.

The film works because of the acting performances and some genuinely funny moments. It could be frustrating because it really had the potential to be a better film in the right hands, but because I wasn’t expecting much, the whole thing grew and grew on me in the duration. It’s a fun piece.

The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Roger Avary
viewed: 02/25/03

Published in 1987, Bret Easton Ellis’ novel The Rules of Attraction addressed itself to its contemporary world, in particular to the luridly hedonistic “reality” that lie behind the facade of the priveleged lives at an ivy league university of the time. In apadting the book, Roger Avary opted to not make a period film, but to rather set the film’s events in the “present” of the film’s production, assuming, I guess, that the world depicted had not changed dramatically in the ensuing 15 or so years. However, Avary scores the film with a good deal of music from the book’s time period (lots of late-80’s pop music), perhaps a minor nod to the book’s original setting. The result has a weird effect, seeming creating a time period somewhere between the book’s contemporary world and the one contemporaneous with film’s production.

Avary uses the soundtrack to comment on the action of the film, punctuating numerous scenes with snippets of lyrics and refrains that often make an ironic statement on the situation of the characters and events. In one scene, Paul, who is in love with Sean, is shown in split screen, on one side fantasizing (masturbating, actually) while on the other side the projection of his fantasy is played out. Since there is no dialogue occuring, the music floods the soundtrack with Love and Rockets’ “So Alive,” panting “I’m alive, oh, oh, so alive.” Though Paul’s fantasy is alive, Sean is passed out on the floor right in front of him, the real experience is not alive at all. This might not be the best example of what I am talking about, but it’s the one that comes to mind.

The film’s attitude towards its characters is a mixture of contempt, sympathy, and humor. The characters all suffer from an inability to connect emotionally with one another, though in many ways, they are a classic love triangle, longing emotionally for one another. To different extents, they seem to have some self-awareness, but are so addled with sex, drugs, and their unfulfilled desires that they only wind up humiliated and demoralized. Avary uses a sort of “re-wind” on their deepest lows that they hit, playing a scene backwards and in slow motion, as well as from a slightly different perspective, suggesting a sense of regret and that things could have happened differently, if…

Roger Avary has quickly become a point of trivia in having shared Quentin Tarantino’s co-screenwriting Oscar for Pulp Fiction (1994), which is pretty much his claim to fame. His only other feature film, 1994’s dire Killing Zoe, was awful. The Rules of Attraction is considerably better, but still not that great of a film, I would say. But I did find it more tolerable than I was expecting, which I think is due to the fact that the film maintains a sense of humor in its lurid depictions.

40 Days and 40 Nights

40 Days and 40 Nights (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Michael Lehmann
viewed: 02/07/03

In referring to Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious in a very recent diary entry, I noted the film’s potential reading as something of a very contemporary anachronism. Not to repeat myself too widely here in the film diary, but director Michael Lehmann’s 40 Days and 40 Nights is a film set among a very recently departed period in American culture, the dot-com “boom,” and as a result purely reeks of anachronistic cliches. This film is much less a product of its period, as I might suggest that The Fast and the Furious might be, but rather simply a weak comedy that attempts to situate itself in a “contemporary” world, but merely missed the boat.

I have maintained a soft spot for Lehmann’s film Heathers (1989), though judging by his other output, one might surmise if there is anything still worthwhile in that late 1980’s teen film, it may just be a coincidence that he directed it. I didn’t even realize when watching 40 Days and 40 Nights that he was the director. In fact, the main reasont that I wanted to see this film was that I had once seen a picture of Shannyn Sossamon, the film’s female lead, in a magazine and had thought that she was pretty cute.

If a diary demands brutal honesty, there you have it.

The movie itself has a heavy religious undertone that seems to critique the characters and the world of the film (their “meaningless” sexual obsessions) and at other times seems to endorse it. Inspired by his brother who is training to become a Catholic priest, an over-sexed web designer decides to forsake all forms of intimate pleasure for the duration of Lent. Visions of doom during his casual sexual encounters trigger the psychic crisis that leads him to his fast. At the height of his “test,” the protagonist, Matt (played by Josh Hartnett), literally figures himself in a Christ-like pose. There is even a strange “immaculate orgasm” sequence that could even seem to suggest some bizarre sort of abstinence-related non-physical sexual epiphany.

In this sense, the film seems to want its abstinence and have its sex, too. Purporting Matt’s experience as some sort of “spiritual” journey, the journey teaches him the evils of casual sex (more or less). And though the film seems to lampoon this notion at times, its narrative certainly seems to ultimately endorse the goodness of his abstinence. Oddly though, the film is essentially a sex farce, a comedy whose major humor is derived from its sexual content, and so this attitude seems somewhat ironic.

The film is set in San Francisco, and though it’s not set in a specific time period (other than the implied “present”), the internet design company that Matt works for truly seems to be a figment of a very recent past, as I mentioned before. The city is nicely used in the film. In catching some familiar locations, I probably warmed to the film somewhat through seeing my beloved town in a recognizable image.

As for Shannyn Sossamon, who lured me to this film, she was neither good nor bad (as a screen personality/actor) in my opinion, though still quite attractive to my way of thinking.