Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Director Report Card: Mary Harron (1996-2005)

1. I Shot Andy Warhol
All of Mary Harron’s features seem to revolve around a single, very interesting individual. None of them have a particularly strong narrative but are instead driven by the personality of their lead character. Wither it be the delusional serial killer Patrick Bateman or the good-natured pin-up Bettie Page. Or, in this case, the volatile misanderousist Valerie Solanas.

Miss Solanas was probably a crazy person. But I’ve always had a stern belief that crazy people can say a lot about society that a “sane” person wouldn’t and are often the spring well for our most creative ideals. Solanas, at least as she is portrayed in this film, which is apparently accurate in a lot of respects, proves to be a captivating protagonist. (Or, as it is, perhaps antagonist?) She’s always ranting, screaming, writing, fucking, injuring someone. She is brought to life with conviction by busy character actress Lil Taylor, whose mannerism and speech pattern make a perfect match for her subject.

The small cast is a solid bunch. Jared Harris plays Andy Warhol as a vapid, opportunistic, stand-around who seems to rarely show any genuine opinions about anything and usually appears to be stoned out of his gourd on something. The film takes a very negative view at the Factory scene as image obsessed, drug-addled hacks. All things considered, Warhol actually comes off the best compared to his followers. Stephen Doriff is completely unrecognizable as drag-queen Candy Darling.

I’m not exactly sure of the genre goals of this film, but a great deal of it is very funny. Perhaps its just me, but as the film goes on and Solanas’ beliefs and rants become more delusional and more violent, I found myself laughing more often. It may not go on to become a recognized classic of American independent cinema, but “I Shot Andy Warhol” is captivating throughout and highly entertaining throughout.
[Grade: B]

2. American Psycho
I’ve spoke before of films that would not have worked without a certain actor in the lead role, their acting is so pivotal to the success of the picture at large. Christian Bale’s performance here is one of those. Bale is one of the best actors working today and he is astonishing. Perhaps he really gets the character, how much of a dork Patrick Bateman really is. This element as well as several of the psychological twists it takes towards the end gives the film so many layers as a character study.

The film is successful on other levels as well. It’s an obvious, vicious satire on eighties materialism and capitalism. It’s also a hilarious black comedy. I mean, there are several screamingly funny moments in this. People seem to overlook just how funny this movie is at times.

Harron’s direction is solid and her use of color and attention to detail are very important. An excellent supporting cast including ChloĆ« Sevigny, Willem DaFoe, Reese Witherspoon, and Jared Leto gives Bale great support. Probably gory and twisted enough to appease horror fans but the film is ultimately a character study and should be observed as such.
[Grade: A]

3. The Notorious Bettie Page
A charming little film. Most of this is due to Gretchen Mol’s portrayal of the title character. Bettie is played as a genuinely good person, not so much naive as just understanding and accepting. Here is someone who doesn’t look at the bondage set-up as something abnormal, just as a scene to do, a little harmless fun. The rest of the cast is solid though I can say any performances really stand out.

Harron makes some interesting directing choices. Her decision to shoot the majority of the film in black and white, while other parts are in bright fifties Technicolor, leads the movie a sort of authenticity, as if the film is less about the time period then it was made in that time period. There is definitely some commentary on the fifties censorship and obscenity laws, though this falls to the background far too much. The FBI investigation angle is purposely played down, it seems. The film is ultimately just about Bettie and what an interesting person she is/was and it definitely succeeds at being as interesting as it’s subject. [Grade: B]