Thursday, April 22, 2010

Movies I'm Watching: The Best Movies I've Never Seen (April 22, 2010)

In the past few days, I've seen more of the films recommended in Leonard Maltin's 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen. As noted in my previous post on the subject. I didn't think that much of any of them. So far, I remain generally unimpressed by the recommendations in the book. This post looks at Aurora Borealis and Better Than Sex.

Aurora Borealis (2005, written by Brent Boyd, directed by James C. E. Burke, starring Joshua Jackson, Steven Pasquale, Donald Sutherland, Louise Fletcher, Juliette Lewis, and others) has been much praised, I see, but it struck me as being on the level of a decent made-for-TV movie, no better. Despite some good performances, particularly by Juliette Lewis, the whole was unpersuasive. Much as I like Donald Sutherland, and despite a very convincing Parkinson's disease tremor, I found his performance uneven. 

But the script is the real problem here: Would Duncan (Joshua Jackson), a man unable to shoot a deer, really give his aging grandfather a loaded shotgun to commit suicide with? I found myself unable to accept the incongruity. Duncan's brother is a cliché. The ending of the film is more than a little too pat--how nice that the Donald Sutherland character dies on cue so that his grandson can fly off to San Diego to get back together with Kate (Juliette Lewis). If only life were so neat.  

Better Than Sex (2000, written and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, starring David Wenham, Susie Porter, and others) is at least a little bit different. It approaches falling in love from the perspective of two people trying not to fall in love--two people surprised they have fallen in love. 

Josh (David Wenham) and Cin (Susie Porter) meet at a party, they aren't especially attracted to one another at first, but they talk some and end up sharing a taxi home. He's staying in town for only three days. During the taxi ride, both Josh and Cin begin to think about a quick fling--knowing there'd be no strings attached. Inevitably, she asks him in when they arrive at her door, and one thing leads to another. The rest of the film is a chronicle of a one-night stand that ends up lasting three days (and then some). What was supposed to have been no-hassle sex turns into emotional attachment on both sides.

We can't help our feelings. Sometimes we fall in love in spite of ourselves, in spite of everything.  

The story is told through straight narrative intercut with documentary-like interview segments, portions of phone calls between secondary characters, musings we understand to be the thoughts of the main characters (sometimes during the action, like theatrical asides; sometimes with the character sitting against a studio backdrop as if being interviewed), and through wry comments from the taxi driver. The taxi driver keeps showing up in the right place at the right time, always encouraging love, like Cupid on wheels. The creative editing keeps things moving, keeps the sex (essential to the story) from playing too dominant a role or becoming gratuitous, and it keeps the audience at a distance. We are voyeurs, but voyeurs invited to see the show and the players know they are being watched and we know they know. Despite the somewhat obtrusive devices (especially the taxi driver) and a falling back on cliché in some scenes (notably the girl-takes-forever-to-get-ready-to-go-out-and-doesn't-have-anything-to-wear scene, which is quite long, and the guy-never-bothers-to-flush-the-toilet scene), Better Than Sex was mostly intelligent and entertaining. 

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