Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dakota Delirium

You may, by now, have noticed that I am currently experiencing an obsession with the young actress (and all around pretty girl) Dakota Fanning. I've known of and admired Dakota for years now (more on that here), but my recent quest to recover some photos of her that I had lost has gotten me rather absorbed. As a result of my current focus, I decided it would be as good an opportunity as any to do what I had been meaning to do for some time now - watch many of the films Dakota has starred in that I had not yet seen. Indeed, I have already accomplished the viewing of two separate double features, and I still intend to view more. So stick around as I delve into the lovely Dakota Fanning's film career, as it stands at this point in time!

Double Dakota Features:
Push (2009) & The Secret Life of Bees (2008)
I Am Sam (2001) & Man On Fire (2004)
Hide And Seek (2005) & Fragments (2008) [Bonus: Cutlass (2007)!]
Charlotte's Web (2006) & Dreamer: Inspired By A True Story (2005)
The Cat in the Hat (2003) & War of the Worlds (2005)
Sweet Home Alabama (2002) & Uptown Girls (2003)
Trapped (2002) & Nine Lives (2005)

Hounddog (2007)
The Runaways (2010)

(I think I'll wait on watching The Twilight Saga until after the final installment is released).

Monday, May 30, 2011

Double Dakota Feature: I Am Sam (2001) & Man On Fire (2004)

For this Double Dakota Feature, I decided to go back and check out two of Dakota's earlier titles. I Am Sam was her very first feature film. In it, she plays the seven year old daughter of a mentally handicapped man who is stuck raising her on his own. Trouble is, she's at the stage where her development is progressing beyond her father's own intellectual capacity. So, after a little mishap, the state gets involved and takes her away from him, while he does everything in his power (which he doesn't have a lot of) to try to get her back.

It's a touching story that brings up the question of what it takes to raise a child, how important love is to that equation, and whether or not it's true that "all you need is love". One of Sam's fixations is on the Beatles, who are adequately represented in the soundtrack (albeit via covers), and which actually leads to the naming of Dakota's character, Lucy [in the Sky with Diamonds]. Speaking of, Dakota is crazy young in this movie, but she's adorable, and a total presence on the screen.

Man On Fire was an exciting, though tragic, action-packed revenge film. The setup of the plot is that many kidnappings are occurring in Mexico, to the point that rich families have taken to hiring professional bodyguards to protect their children. Denzel Washington plays the washed up ex-assassin, Creasy, tormented by the demons of his past, who takes up a job protecting young Pita, our beloved Dakota Fanning. Creasy is unfriendly at first, but Pita's affection (and natural charm) breaks through his defenses and they quickly form a bond before she is inevitably, and tragically, kidnapped. The bloodshed that ensues is par for the course, but poor little Pita's fate is less certain.

I liked Denzel's character in this movie, though I'm partial to tortured souls seeking redemption. But Dakota holds her own alongside him, and is eminently likable, which makes her kidnapping all the more tragic, and really drew me into the story. I sensed that, although still very young, Dakota had that sort of spark to her personality that I recognize from her later roles that I've seen. I'll watch anything with her in it (and I plan to :p), but I suspect this film will rate among the better titles.

"In the church they say to forgive."

"Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Double Dakota Feature: Push (2009) & The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

Push is more or less an average action flick with a great concept that seems to come up a little short. It's essentially a story about a small group of psychic warriors fighting against a government agency that wants to use them as weapons.

The psychic abilities are fun, and it's cool to see them in action (the movers are perhaps the most visually impressive, but the pushers are more dangerous). But what should have been a brilliant labyrinth of plot twists designed to fool those who can read other's minds and predict the future ends up being too convoluted and too little detailed for it really to be the brain puzzle it could be. Instead, it's just the exciting climax to an action film that doesn't expect you to think too much - and maybe for some people, that's enough.

In any case, it's worth watching just for Dakota Fanning's character alone - a feisty 13 year old oracle with something of a punk aesthetic. I like the pink streaks in her hair. The best visual effect in the entire movie is the amount of leg Dakota shows off, between those stylin' boots, and a pair of pleated shorts that look an awful lot like a mini-skirt. ;-)

The Secret Life of Bees is a rural southern tale that in part recalls Hounddog, but tells less of a sensual, and more of an emotionally dramatic story. Dakota plays Lily, a strong girl who nevertheless has a hole in her heart, who runs away from home in search of her place in the world, and a family that will actually love her. Needless to say, she finds just that, but not without experiencing some bumps before settling in.

The film depicts a time in history when the civil rights movement was just beginning to gain ground, and there's a good amount of racial tension involved. Yet Lily (aptly named) sees through the irrational hatred between the races, and forms a strong bond with the colored family that takes her in.

A little bit of research reveals that although The Secret Life of Bees was released before Push, it was actually filmed after it (argh), so Dakota is slightly older in this film - albeit not by much. But, while she's still got some growing left to do, I get the sense in this role that her body is just beginning to catch up to the maturity she's possessed for so long.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Teeth (2007)

With a movie like Teeth, you can never be quite sure what you're getting. It's a great premise, but its outrageousness puts it at risk for being a low quality or comedic affair. Teeth starts out as being pretty bad, but once you settle into it, it becomes hilariously awkward. After I got over its general badness, I found myself being entertained.

The lead, a high school student and staunch abstinence crusader who discovers (intially to her horror) that she possesses vagina dentata, straddles the line between being average and pretty in a curious way, but her charisma sells the movie. She wears these hilarious anti-sex shirts ("WARNING! Sex changes everything") that I would love to wear ironically. I'm not even sure there's any merit in going into the morals of this movie (the inefficacy and general hypocrisy of promise ring crusades, the feminist underpinnings and misandry of male violence/female retaliation), because the film doesn't seem to take itself seriously enough; it's more of a 'sit back and enjoy' kind of affair.

As for the nudity, I was rather surprised by the emphasis on male nudity. The film's approach in this respect can be summed up by the scene where the sex ed teacher, after discussing the penis in detail (complete with diagrams), is incapable of even speaking the proper name for the "female privates", and the students all turn the page to find that a huge sticker has been systematically placed in their textbooks censoring the diagram of the female (but not the male) genital diagram. With one half-assed exception, you see lots of penii, but no real female nudity at all - and certainly not the titular orifice. I wonder if that has anything to do with the suspicion that this is a "feminist" movie and may either a) be targeted towards a female audience or b) be calculated to piss off exactly the type of macho homophobic males that typically perpetrate the sort of sexual violence the lead in this film is equipped to defend herself against (once she gets the hang of it).

But if there's an up side to this girl's gift, it's that she's still perfectly capable of being a stunning lay, as one romantic scene shows (until a bomb is dropped and the shit hits the fan) - she just has to want it. Which, for most men, is probably asking too much, but for a guy like me, that sounds just about right. And I guess that's the moral that counts, in the end.

(Though, as the one character's fate demonstrates, waiting patiently for years won't make a difference if you are, however, a supreme douchebag.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Man From Earth (2007)

The Man From Earth isn't so much a film as it is a discourse. But while the production values are relatively cheap and unpolished, the premise is fascinating, and its exploration makes the film worth viewing. The subject is immortality, and the question is, if a person from prehistoric times had managed to survive through the ages, what would he be like today, and what would he have to say about his life?

A retiring professor admits that he is such a person, in a small company of his friends and colleagues - mostly professors - before moving on to assume his next identity, in an effort to avoid raising suspicions over his lack of aging. The film concerns itself entirely with this man's story, his colleagues' struggle to either accept or deny his outrageous, but intellectually firm, claims, and the implications of doing either.

The result is a captivating examination of an intriguing hypothetical, that brings up many basic questions about life and religion and humanity - unfortunately, to go into detail would spoil the discovery. It is a very dialogue-heavy film, focused on concepts rather than actions, but if my description has piqued your interest, then I would definitely recommend giving it a watch.