Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Drew, you go on and Whip It, grrrl

Roller Derby? No thanks. But wait! Drew Barrymore directorial debut AND Juliette Lewis is in it?? Hang on. Ask me again.

Whip It, despite the fact that the film follows a traditional narrative formula as a typical 'coming of age' dram-edy, manages to tow the Hollywood line but with an unlady-like crispiness. Rural Texas debutant pageants just just don't float Bliss's boat, so she becomes Babe Ruthless, queen of the 'whip' at the Austin roller derby, despite being underage, lying to her parentals and eventually alienating her nearest and dearest. It all works out nice and neat and clean in the end, but not before getting in a few riot grrrrl jibby-jabs.
Despite being formulaic, Whip It is certainly a story I haven't heard before. Roller Derby in Texas would not have been enough to get me excited. What impressed me was the honesty of some of the narrative choices, and the feminist-for-a-new-era quality of several plot points. For example, a film of this kind, centering on a female lead, generally comes to a well rounded, feel-good climax by some sicko interpretation of classic Disney narratives. Prince Charming enters the scene and somehow everything works out fine and dandy, all of her wishes become reality, and angst bleeds away into candy-crap fulfillment. Either that or dem' other bitches sabotage our heroine to a degree of greater suffering, which she and her Prince then overcome together (how nice). Whip It, however, is having none of that watered-down over-indulged fairytale Prince shit. While Bliss does have a love interest, its not the approval of this man who saves the day. In fact he provides an opportunity for her to say "I'm better than this. Get lost ya' loser". And instead of being a story of female rivalry in which one bitch devourers another, it becomes a caustic little female bonding film. There does exist a rivalry between squeaky Ellen Page and the seriously bad-ass Juiliette Lewis, aka Iron Maven, but as Iron says "I don't wanna beat you with rumors, I wanna beat you on the track with ma' skates".
Drew Barrymore has made a worthwhile Indy-rock n roller-Derby film. But, unlike Indy's that go all the way down the feelin'-bad-just-like-real-life-do scale, the brilliant screenplay leaves ample room for feelin' nice and cheery when the credits roll.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

50 Dead Men Walking

Intro: I loved this film. And not just because my very dear friend Kris Edlund is in it. She totally rocked, by the way, and yes, I have already asked her for all the juiciness on Jim Sturgess, who is "an absolute sweetheart". You could tell by looking at him that this would be true. Anyway, I digress. After having lived in Ireland for 3 years, 50 Dead Men Walking filled in many of the gaps in my "outsider" knowledge of Northern Irish history. It was well made, well told, and of course, very well cast.

50 Dead Men Walking, staring the beautiful and talented Jim Sturgess, unravels the story of Martin, an IRA Volunteer turned British Army informant during the ongoing "troubles" of late 1980's Belfast.

Right from go the audience knows this double-lifestyle is not going to work out well for Martin. Borrowing from the flashback narrative structure of several other famous Irish fight-the-system films such as The General and Veronica Guerin, Martin is bloodied in a hail of bullets during the first 2 mins of the film. We are transported back through time, after a fade to black, to the police state known as Belfast during the troubles. Martin, an industrious young lad is recruited by the British for his street survival instincts and access to the community at large. He quickly becomes a trusted volunteer of the Irish Republican Army before he is double crossed by MI-5 and must leave his girlfriend and small child behind to believe he has been killed in IRA retribution.
Sounds like a rusty old recycled action/thriller plot, and in many ways it is...but what makes this different and intriguing, is that its all true. A highly disturbing yet matter-of-fact portrayal of life inside the communities of Belfast during a time of suppression, oppression, revolution and counter-revolution, 50 Dead Men Walking weaves a gloriously gritty and simultaneously warm story of love and survival, heroism and betrayal. Ben Kingsley, who plays the British agent who recruits and advises Martin, is brilliant as the haggard and war weary Londoner.
I want to say, Jim Sturgess is the next big thing. I have now seen him play a Liverpool lad in Across the Universe, an American in 21, and a Northern Irishmen with a perfect Belfast accent. He is an amazing actor and I fully expect to see him pursue many more challenging roles.
For all of its violence, and despite the fact that the filmmakers ruined the ending by placing it at the beginning, 50 Dead Men Walking is film worth seeing, especially if you have any interest in Irish History, or you are in love with Jim Sturgess!