Posts Tagged ‘winona ryder’

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I’m sure that if you’ve been following my —ahem! — “byline” both here on my own site and over at Through The Shattered Lens in recent days, it’s become painfully obvious that I’ve been on some sort of massive “Generation X” nostalgia trip lately, but rest assured, I think I’m pretty well cured of it and am more than ready to get back to yammering on about the kind of flicks we normally talk about around here.

How can I be so sure of this, you may wonder? Well, last night I watched 1994’s Reality Bites on our local cable on-demand menu (oh, and in case you were wondering why I didn’t provide any DVD/Blu-Ray specs for either of the Before films, or why I won’t be doing so for this one, either — now you know), and if there’s one thing — and I stress it’s only one thing — this movie’s good for, it’s for readily disabusing ex-slackers of any romanticized notions of our past.

Not that nostalgia is, in and of itself, all that bad a thing —- at least in limited doses. After all, reminiscing about one’s wasted youth makes for a nice change of pace from contemplating the state of one’s wasted adulthood. But honestly — if either myself, or any of my friends, were even half as self-absorbed, shallow, preposterous, and downright annoying as anybody in this flick is, it’s amazing that no one older and wiser decided to shoot any of us dead when we were 22, because we certainly would have deserved it.

Notice I used the carefully-chosen words “anybody in this movie,” rather than calling any of them proper characters, because they aren’t — the roles written by screenwriter Helen Childress are merely disjointed stereotypical collections of bog-standard “Gen X” tropes that are about as interesting and “authentic” as a Goo-Goo Dolls or Matchbox 20 album. Consider :

Winona Ryder plays Lelaina Pierce, a recent college grad trying to get her TV pilot project off the ground, who’s torn between two “romantic” interests — guitar-strumming “soul of a poet” dreamer Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke ), and not-as-cheesy-as-he-seems-at-first cable network producer Michael Grates (Ben Stiller , who also directed this mess — and of all this film’s sins, launching this almost pathologically unfunny, untalented cretin on the road to Hollywood superstardom is perhaps its greatest). She’s joined in going nowhere fast by her kinda-sluttier-than-you’d-at-first-expect best friend/roommate Vickie Miner (Janeane Garofalo), who’s only here to sweat the results of an AIDS test, and amateur cameraman pal Sammy Gray (Steve Zahn), who’s here to check the box marked “gay character included,” and together they try to navigate their way through the early-90s social landscape of noted slacker capital Houston, Texas. Renee Zellweger turns up in an early and largely pointless part, and the genuine talents of the likes of John Mahoney, Swoosie Kurtz, and the great Joe Don Baker are completely wasted in dull-as-unbuttered-toast “parents (and other older people) just don’t understand” roles.

If it all sounds vaguely insulting and aggressively uninspired, that’s because it is. I mean, my friends and I were capable of devising some pretty insipid ways to waste time when we were that age, but having rooftop sing-a-longs of “Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?” and playing Good Times-themed drinking games didn’t even cross our dying-for-something-to-keep-us-preoccupied minds.

Still, I think it’s fair to say that the most perplexing thing about Reality Bites is how completely out of touch with its own subject matter it seems. Stiller was still in his late 20s or early 30s at the time, and Childress was an “X’er” herself, yet the whole thing plays out like a movie that was made by 50(at least!)-year-olds who were trying to cobble together a story based on what they’d heard the younger (at the time, mind you) generation was like. The only thing missing is a “who would you rather fuck, Ginger or Mary Ann?” conversation.

Anyway — sure, I’m still looking forward to Before Midnight. Who in their right mind isn’t? But I think I’ve had my fill of memory lane for awhile. Frankly, even imagining that I may once have been anywhere near as unbearable as any of these spoiled troglodytes is just too depressing a prospect to spend very much time considering.

"Black Swan" Movie Poster

I’m just gonna come right out and say it — am I the only person who was just a little bit disappointed with this flick?

I know, I know — after Natalie Portman walking off with the best actress award at the Golden Globes last night this hardly puts me in the “popular opinion” camp. And I don’t want to slag her performance off in the least. She’s really solid as a hyper-competetive ballerina losing herself into the darker side of her starring role in “Swan Lake” and trying to hold onto her sanity as she explores a side to her nature she’s always kept under control. When she truly lets herself go and become the titular black swan, the resulting transformation from calm, cool, and collected to ferociously alluring is downright incredible . And so was everyone else in it, to be honest. Mila Kunis is terrific as her possiblly-looking-to-usurp-her “friend.” Vincent cassel is by turns understandably creepy and flat-out creepy as her boss at the ballet. Winona Ryder — who I didn’t even know was in the film — is great as the mentally-and-physically broken former lead dancer of the troupe. And Barbara Hershey turns in possibly the stongest performance in the entire film as Portman’s neurotic mother.

In addition, director Darren Aronofsky is back in top form here. After losing himself underneath heaping mountains of auteurism in The Fountain and then reigning in his strong visual and stylistic instincts a bit too much with The Wrestler, he really seems to have found his voice again here and turns in his best directorial effort since Requiem for a Dream. Aronofsky has a very real talent for bringing out the best in all his performers — always has — and that’s never been on display more grandly than it is here.

So why did I leave the theater feeling  a bit flat about the whole thing? Good question.

Maybe it’s just that my expectations had been pumped up so high — in fact, I’m sure that’s a big part of it, and it’s not fair in the least to judge Black Swan based on all the incredible buzz that’s been swirling around it. Hey, they can’t help it if people loved the movie and have been saying so at top volume. But mostly, I think, what left me feeling a little bit lukewarm to the proceedings was the fact that this type of story has been done before and, frankly, better.

Both Roman Polanski’s criminally-underrated The Tenant and, more recently, David Lynch’s Inland Empire dealt with similar subject matter — sure, in The Tenant the title character was “turning into” his dead predecessor in the apartment, aided and abetted (perhaps) by the other residents of the building, but the idea of losing oneself in another persona was the same. And with Inland Empire the parallels are even more striking, as Laura Dern and Justin Theroux literally find themselves becoming the characters they’re portraying in a film production.

So I guess my main “beef,” if you will, with Black Swan is that this isn’t particularly new thematic territory to be mining, and it’s following in the footsteps of some better — if less universally-lauded — work that concerned itself with largely the same type of thing.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here — I definitely think this is a film most folks will enjoy the heck out of and that everyone should see. the striking performances alone are more than worth it. But if I could offer just one piece of advice, it would be this — temper your expectations a bit. There’s plenty to enjoy here, but there’s nothing actually new going on.