Tag Archives: D-

WOODSHOCK

Proof positive that skill in designing dresses does not ensure an ability to fashion a good film, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters who founded the successful haute-couture firm Rodarte, deliver a filmmaking debut that offers a few striking individual images, but in a package so opaque, repetitive and dull that few viewers will have the patience to endure the entire thing.

Kirsten Dunst plays Theresa, who works in a medical marijuana shop run by grower-owner Keith (Pilou Asbaek), who apparently cultivates different strains of the drug that he keeps in nifty little bottles arrayed like fine wines on the glass shelves of the place. Using some of the inventory, she laces a joint with poison for her terminally-ill mother (Susan Traylor). The act sends her into deep grief that even her handsome, supportive live-in boyfriend Nick (Joe Cole), a logger in the surrounding forest, can’t prod her out of. In her distraught, sleepless state she hallucinates and wanders about, sometimes banging wooden posts into the ground around their house and—if the visuals are to be literally believed—occasionally levitates by the redwoods.

She also makes a terrible mistake when she prepares another fatal drug cocktail, this time for a sad-faced, ill customer named Ed (Stephen DuVall). She gives Ed a perfectly harmless bag instead, and passes the one intended for him to young Johnny (Jack Kilmer), a pal of Keith’s. Johnny’s death causes consternation, of course, and Ed is none too pleased either.

This scenario might have been the basis for a tight little modern noir—especially if one brought a cop into the picture—but the only suspense the Mulleavys seem to be interested in engendering in the viewer appears to be challenging them to decipher where, if anyplace, the story is going, and why we should be at all interested in it. Most of the plot, to use the term loosely, involves the camera—worked by Peter Finckenberg—following Theresa about in a haze (at one point she removes a full carton of eggs out of the refrigerator and crushes them in the garbage disposal; the fridge also contains, it appears, a half-eaten cake that attracts a bunch of insects over the course of the film), or watching Keith as he dances to the jukebox at the local bar and tries picking up girls there.

Some of the widescreen images the Mulleavys contrive, and Finckenberg captures, have a dreamily intoxicating effect—the levitation sequence is certainly eye-catching—but overall, as edited together by Julia Bloch and Dino Jonsater, they don’t convey much beyond Theresa’s moroseness, her status as one of the walking wounded. Perhaps the cutting between shots—from the redwoods, let’s say, to the poles Theresa keeps banging into the ground—is supposed to mean something, but if so it’s hard to tell what.
Of course, art is a very personal thing, and some artists prefer to keep their purposes unclear. Certainly one thing that’s obvious from “Woodshock” is that the Mulleavys consider themselves to be artists. All too obvious, in fact—their film winds up feeling like one of those insufferable “experimental” shorts one encounters at festivals from time to time and wishes you hadn’t—except in this case it drags on for an interminable hundred minutes.

It remains to add that none of the other actors shine here. Asbaek overdoes the zonked-out business, and Cole comes across as a cipher. No one else makes much of an impression—not that they’re afforded much chance.

The Mulleavy sisters, along with Christie Wittenhorn, are also credited with designing the costumes for “Woodshock.” They seem fine. Might one suggest that they consider sticking to what they do best and leave the filmmaking to others?

FALLEN

If you thought the “Twilight” saga was ridiculous, just wait until you get a gander at Scott Hicks’ “Fallen.” Lauren Kate’s 2009 YA novel—the first in a popular series, of course—was an obvious rip-off of Stephanie Meyer’s romance-with-a-vampire saga, but was even more ludicrous than its model, replacing the bloodsuckers with fallen angels and adding reincarnation to the mix. On screen the concept becomes even goofier than it was on the page, especially when played with such overripe earnestness as here.

The hapless heroine is a girl named Lucia, or Luce (Allison Timlin), whom we meet as she’s dropped off by her parents at a Gothic style castle serving, it appears, as combination reform school and psychiatric facility. Luce is haunted by visions and refuses to take meds to control them; she also was apparently involved in a deadly fire.

She’s immediately pushed around by a sullenly strong mean girl with blazing reddish hair and what appear to be superhuman powers. More important, she draws the attention of another student, leather-clad bad-boy Cam (Harrison Gilbertson). But she’s more interested in a blond stud, Daniel (Jeremy Irvine), whom she thinks she remembers from somewhere but who steadfastly puts her off. The environment is indeed a strange one: among other odd occurrences, a huge stone gargoyle topples from the roof and nearly crushes Luce, who’s pickling up leaves from the grounds as a punishment. Only Daniel’s intervention saves her. At another point, the students are given a fencing class in which they have at one another with a vengeance, though Luce herself questions the wisdom of giving troubled kids swords to play with.

Eventually the truth about Daniel, Cam and a few of the other students is revealed; it involves the story versified by John Milton in “Paradise Lost”—apparently the sole text taught at the place by Sophia Bliss (Joely Richardson), who describes herself as the instructor in religious studies—though with a curious addendum (it appears that in addition to the angels who remained loyal to God and those who fell with Lucifer, there was a third group, which was rejected for failing to take a stand and for whom Love was the prime mover). Luce turns out to have a central role in that struggle of good against evil and those who remained unaffiliated in it, which is where the idea of continuous rebirth comes in.

“Fallen” is a nearly incomprehensible farrago of the tropes of young adult literature and pseudo-religious myth, hobbled by a trio of uncharismatic leads and exploding at the end with some hilarious not-so-special effects. It’s directed without any perceptible style by Hicks, a director who once worked on substantial material (“Shine,” for example) but, on the evidence his last film (“The Lucky One,” based on a book by Nicholas Sparks) and this, no longer cares. Of the young actors at the center, Irvine (of “Warhorse” and “Stonewall”) has presence but little more, while Timlin, whom we’re supposed to care about, barely registers, and Gilbertson poses amateurishly. Richardson, meanwhile, is simply embarrassing, but Lola Kirke is likable as Luce’s loyal roommate Penn. Barbara Ling’s production design, Alar Kivilo’s cinematography, and Scott Gray’s editing are all okay, but the goofy wing effects in the climactic battle showing off the budgetary limitations that apparently plagued the production.

That doesn’t stop “Fallen,” however, from having an abrupt, unsatisfying ending that effectively turns the movie into a prologue to a sequel that is unlikely ever to materialize. It is, of course, an adaptation of the first volume in a quartet, so the inconclusive finale was probably foreordained. But that won’t make it any more agreeable for viewers unfamiliar with Kate’s books. Meanwhile, those who do know and appreciate them will probably not be much taken by the filmmakers’ subpar effort to transfer them to the screen. The result is not angelic in any sense.