HE GOT GAME
Directed by Spike Lee
Seen May 7th, City Cinemas on 12th St. & 2nd Ave.
HE GOT GAME is really two movies in one: a fairly interesting one about a difficult father/son relationship and a fairly bland one about a basketball prodigy who discovers that everyone wants a piece of him. The first one benefits from an excellent performance by Denzel Washington as the father, who's let out of jail (for killing his wife in a fight) for a week in order to convince the boy to go to the warden's favorite college. The second doesn't benefit from the performance of real-life basketball player Ray Allen, who seems pretty uncertain in front of the camera. HE GOT GAME isn't helped by its adolescent view of women, who are either saintly mothers or whorish sluts, with the latter category subdivided into hookers with hearts of gold and evil temptresses. And I'd be happy if Spike could get through a movie without jumping on a soapbox (here, against the evils of malt liquor.)
Directed by Manuel Poirier
Seen at advance screening, May 12th
A friend summed up the appeal of WESTERN pretty well: "For a few hours, it creates a world where the guy who steals your car could become your best friend and you could end up moving in with a woman whom you meet when she hits your leg with her car door." Set in Brittany, the Westernmost region of France, it tracks the unlikely friendship between Paco (Sergi Lopez), a Spanish traveling shoe salesman, and Nino (Sacha Bourdo), a Russian immigrant, which begins when Nino makes off with Paco's car. The two end up spending a three-week road trip together, traveling around the region's small towns and countryside, which are beautifully framed by Poirier. Plenty happens, but the film privileges character over narrative incident and moves at a relaxed pace. Maybe too relaxed a pace; it's been cut by about 15 minutes for U.S. release, but Paco and Nino still overstay their welcome a bit. Nevertheless, WESTERN is a pretty pleasant place to spend two hours.
Directed by Benoit Jacquot
Seen at advance screening, Film Forum, May 14th
This is an existential teen pic: French to the core, down to the Rimbaud quotes and a final shot of a character in motion. It follows Beth (Judith Godreche), a 17-year-old high-school student who lives with her bed-ridden, ailing mother and 8-year-old brother. She has a boyfriend called Whatsisname, and the family is, for reasons that remain mysterious, supported by a middle-aged man called Sugardad. Whatsisname dares Beth to pick up the ugliest man she can find, and this dare triggers a 3-day series of ambivalent encounters with creepy, potentially dangerous men: a nerdy high-school student, a thirtysomething writer (the most benign of the three) and Sugardad. While Jacquot is clearly enraptured by Godreche and tends to idealize her character, he also has a clear, sympathetic view of what women have to go through in a male-dominated world. However, the film, although always compelling, never quite seems to add up to more than the sum of its parts, and its narrative ellipses and lapses in and out of naturalism sometimes feel coy.