Tag Archives: Fairuza Balk

Personal Velocity (2002, Rebecca Miller)

Personal Velocity: Three Portraits. Writer and director Miller (adapting her own collection of short stories) ties together three very different stories, each with its own structure, each with its own narrative approach. Velocity is short too–under ninety minutes–so Miller is fast to establish her protagonists. The biggest disconnect, of course, is the narration; John Ventimiglia narrates these three women’s stories. It’s a close, omnipresent narration too. Otherwise, even though men both pervade and infect the film and the protagonists’ lives, the film’s entirely from its female protagonists’ perspectives. Even when the narration is doing fill-in exposition on a male character, it’s always from over the female protagonist’s shoulder. Even if she’s not present. Miller and editor Sabine Hoffman go wild on the summary flashbacks in the second story.

The film starts serious and sincere. Kyra Sedgwick is a thirty-four year-old, low income housewife with three kids and an abusive husband (David Warshofsky). Miller’s even cruel about revealing the abuse. She and editor Hoffman introduce it as a glance, something for the viewer to fixate on or ignore. Michael Rohatyn’s music–maybe the most affecting in the first story–doesn’t slow down, doesn’t change tone. They may be poor but they love each… then it stops and Miller throws the viewer for Personal Velocity’s only “loop.” Less than five minutes into the film, she dismisses the idea she owes the viewer any expectation for the narrative. The rest of Sedgwick’s story, where Sedgwick’s shockingly unlikable, is about dismissing the viewer’s expectations for characters as well now.

Personal Velocity is digital video. It’s very digital video. Ellen Kuras does light the heck out of it, but she and Miller are going for specific level of verisimilitude. The first story takes place in upstate New York. There’s an expectation of Americana and Kuras and Miller make sure it works as an appropriate setting for Sedgwick’s performance. Because Sedgwick doesn’t tear up the film, she slow burns. For the first story, the film is about seeing what Sedgwick’s character is going to do (Velocity is like eighty percent hard character study) and how Sedgwick is going to essay those actions.

When Sedgwick’s story ends, there’s a feeling of “time’s up.” The sturdy first act Miller gives to the segment doesn’t come with a third. She sort of slices into the second act and pulls the narration higher. Sedgwick’s left a bit of a mystery.

Then Parker Posey’s story. It’s the most different in the film. Its narration is very different, its editing is very different. It’s a light romantic drama set in New York City with book editor Posey and her doctoral student husband Tim Guinee. She’s a disappointment to high-powered lawyer dad Ron Leibman, but then she becomes a success. The narration walks Posey through almost every action, every decision. The editing becomes far more creative–freeze frames, both for action and summary, building on the first story’s occasional usage–the pace is different. The tone is different. Different, different, different. Why is the difference important?

Because the differences between first and second stories help set the film up for the third. The second story isn’t just less dangerous than the first one, more erudite, it also changes how Miller’s going to have the protagonists relate to the viewer. Miller changes how she’s portraying these characters from story to story. The second story is the closest the film gets to having fun–Miller, Kuras, and Hoffman are doing slow motion, they’re doing the freeze frames, there’s flashbacks; there’s a lot of enthusiasm. By the end of it, the film has held the viewer’s hand into getting inside Posey’s perspective. Thanks to the filmmaking, thanks to the writing, thanks to Posey, Miller has gone from outside the protagonist’s perspective to inside it and then turned it around. The viewer understands the character’s decision-making without the narration to explain it anymore.

It’s an important change because the third story mostly drops the narration. It also speeds up a lot. Fairuza Balk has a lot of action, not much summary. Some quick flashbacks, but the third story is all about Balk and what’s going on in her head. A fifth of it has got to just be Balk in close-up, thinking. As the viewer gets to know her better, they get to know what she’s thinking too. It’s a very gentle story. Miller keeps all three acts intact, making it different from the first story, but the lack of narration makes it very different from the second story. But Miller’s really just leaving room for reflection in the third story. It’s about the viewer identifying, relating, considering. Miller sort of uses Balk as a guide. The story even starts out in the city and then goes to the country. It’s completely unrelated–narratively–to the first two stories. Yet Miller needs the viewer to make the connections to succeed.

She does, thanks to Balk, thanks to the crew, thanks to David Patrick Kelly, Patti D’Arbanville, and Lou Taylor Pucci. Everything works out really well, which is something since Hoffman changes up the editing style yet again in the third story. These stylistic changes mean Miller and Hoffman have to introduce them and establish them while the stories are already trying to get the protagonists and ground situations set up. Personal Velocity moves very fast, very pragmatically. But only in the pace. Visually, Miller’s an exuberant director. Lots of visuals, lots of imagery. She’s setting up the best angle into her individual protagonist’s stories.

Acting-wise–Balk’s best, then Sedgwick, then Posey, or you could reverse it, or just mix it up and pick one. The viewer’s relationship with each protagonist is so different, they’re all three just phenomenal. Ventimiglia’s narration is great. Supporting cast is all good. They’re not as essential in the first two stories as the third. Though Leo Fitzpatrick does get a touching monologue of sorts.

Personal Velocity’s fantastic. Miller, her cast, her crew, all do awesome work.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Rebecca Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on her book; director of photography, Ellen Kuras; edited by Sabine Hoffman; music by Michael Rohatyn; production designer, Judy Becker; produced by Lemore Syvan, Gary Winick, and Alexis Alexanian; released by United Artists.

Starring Kyra Sedgwick (Delia Shunt), Parker Posey (Greta Herskowitz), Fairuza Balk (Paula), Ron Leibman (Avram Herskowitz), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Gelb), David Warshofsky (Kurt Wurtzle), Leo Fitzpatrick (Mylert), Tim Guinee (Lee), Patti D’Arbanville (Celia), Ben Shenkman (Max), Joel de la Fuente (Thavi Matola), Marceline Hugot (Pam), Brian Tarantina (Pete Shunt), Seth Gilliam (Vincent), Lou Taylor Pucci (Kevin), Mara Hobel (Fay), and David Patrick Kelly (Peter); narrated by John Ventimiglia.


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The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog)

At some point during this response, I’m going to say nice things about Eva Mendes. Just a warning.

I used to hate on CG, starting in around 1996 and ending about six years later, when I just gave up caring. It wasn’t ever going to stop and it had gotten to a point where there was good CG (Star Trek is a fine example). I rail against digital video a lot too. I think it’s now, with Port of Call New Orleans, gotten to the point where I need to give up that fight too.

It’s an ugly looking film. It looks cheap, it looks amateurish. There’s absolutely nothing scenic to its setting, nothing picturesque. It’s not even visually horrific in the way other post-Katrina stories are done. It’s simply disinterested.

It’s also brilliant. Herzog’s made maybe the finest American cop movie a German’s ever made, but I’m sure having William Finkelstein (veteran of many a fine cop show) write it helps. Nicolas Cage turns in an amazing performance, an irredeemable bad guy surrounded by worse guys, and shows why he’s such a waste most of the time.

It’s a shame he doesn’t get these good of scripts more often.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Val Kilmer and Mendes. Kilmer isn’t in it much but he’s great when he is present, but Mendes is always around. The quality of her performance’s shocking. Brad Dourif’s great. Xzibit and Jennifer Coolidge too. Not enough Fairuza Balk though.

It’s amazing stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Werner Herzog; screenplay by William M. Finkelstein, based on a film written by Victor Argo, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrera and Zoë Lund; director of photography, Peter Zeitlinger; edited by Joe Bini; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Toby Corbett; produced by Stephen Belafonte, Nicolas Cage, Randall Emmett, Alan Polsky, Gabe Polsky, Edward R. Pressman and John Thompson; released by First Look Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Terence McDonagh), Val Kilmer (Stevie Pruit), Eva Mendes (Frankie Donnenfeld), Jennifer Coolidge (Genevieve), Fairuza Balk (Heidi), Brad Dourif (Ned Schoenholtz), Michael Shannon (Mundt), Shawn Hatosy (Armand Benoit), Denzel Whitaker (Daryl), Shea Whigham (Justin), Xzibit (Big Fate), Katie Chonacas (Tina), Tom Bower (Pat McDonough), Irma P. Hall (Binnie Rogers) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (James Brasser).


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The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996, John Frankenheimer), the director’s cut

Looking over his filmography, one could argue John Frankenheimer stopped making significant films at some point in the late sixties or early seventies (I haven’t seen Black Sunday so I don’t know about that one). But by the eighties, he was already someone whose best work was clearly behind him. By the nineties… well, it’s hard to believe he got jobs. Especially on something like The Island of Dr. Moreau. Obviously, being quickly brought in after the studio fired the original director might have something to do with it. It’s not like Frankenheimer was busy and, if it did anything, all his experience did make him a guy who could get a movie finished.

Dr. Moreau, as I recall, wasn’t supposed to be a bomb or a piece of crap. It was supposed to have rising stars Val Kilmer (following Batman Forever) and Rob Morrow (who had left “Northern Exposure” to do movies). Morrow dropped out. It was also Marlon Brando, earning a buck. Brando’s incredible in the film, because there’s so little left. He’s so unconnected to it–you can see some of the talent in his gestures–but he’s delivering this dialogue, this terrible dialogue, and he’s just not connecting to any of it.

Kilmer’s a different story. He’s fantastic–the scenes were he’s imitating Brando are hilarious–and he manages to turn this underwritten mess of a character into someone who, well, is at least consistently amusing.

David Thewlis (who took over for Morrow) turns in a fine performance. His character is dreadfully underwritten, but Thewlis overcomes. He’s not a good guy, which is interesting, and it gives the film the air of complexity.

Who I realized I really missed, thanks to the film, is Fairuza Balk. She holds her own with Thewlis and when she does scenes with Brando, it’s too bad he isn’t delivering on her level.

The script doesn’t do anyone in the film any favors. Thewlis comes off as a twit and a jerk, one of the worst protagonists I can think of. Kilmer’s character sets off the film’s chain of events, but it’s never clear why, since it’s all so predictable. Brando… jeez. The less said about that disastrous character the better. Balk gets the shaft too, though her character really is just a love interest.

Stan Winston’s make-up is good and the scenes with the crazed animal people are a little creepy. But it’s a piece of garbage and it’s impossible to care what happens next because there’s no one in the film to really care about.

Gary Chang’s music is surprisingly decent.

Technically, Frankenheimer can fill a Panavision screen. With constantly interesting content, no, he cannot.

The best part of the movie is the beginning, when it’s Thewlis and Kilmer, because it gives Kilmer the chance to be really crazy.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Richard Stanley and Ron Hutchinson, based on the novel by H.G. Wells; director of photography, William A. Franker; edited by Paul Rubell and Adam P. Scott; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Edward R. Pressman; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Marlon Brando (Dr. Moreau), Val Kilmer (Montgomery), David Thewlis (Edward Douglas), Fairuza Balk (Aissa), Ron Perlman (Sayer of the Law), Marco Hofschneider (M’Ling), Temuera Morrison (Azazello) and William Hootkins (Kiril).


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