Saturday, March 18, 2006

New Directors, New Films series

The "New Directors, New Films" series at the Museum of Modern art is considered one of the top film festivals in the US, and last year, two of the films here got an Oscar nomination. So here we are again, today, we've got two features:

HALF NELSON USA, 2006; 106 min.

Directed by
Ryan Fleck

“I am not now, nor have ever been…”
“A communist.”

So says our hero Dan Dunne(Ryan Gosling) when he arrives to a colleague's
(Monique Gabriela Curnen) apartment in order to apologize and get laid.

This is not the pivotal moment in what's basically misbegotten look at education and what redemption means. Actually, Dan is indeed a communist of sorts. He's a history teacher working in an inner city school, where he tries to indoctrinate his students in the truth of the Hegelian dialectic, that shows history will inevitably wind up with a Communist government led by the party.

What is, is very near the beginning of the film, when Dan gets caught smoking crack and is caught by his student Drey (Shareeka Epps). He's far more damaged than she is, and even so, he decides to “save” her. Obviously, she's the one to attempt to save him.

Dave's former girlfriend Rachel (Tina Holmes),; who he, of course, met in rehab; is engaged to someone else, his mom keeps demanding that he come to dinner, and his boss wants him to teach the curriculum instead of Marxism-for-tweens. It's enough to drive one to drink or worse.

Dre is a typical stereotype. Extremely precocious, she and her mother(Karen Chilton) is raising her alone, as Dad is off somewhere, and, with few friends except a local drug dealer named Frank (Anthony Mackie), she's into basketball and wants to make something of herself.

They make a bit of an odd couple these two. The problem is that there isn't much chemistry between the two leads, and this is primarily due to Miss Epps, who despite her age, is a terrible actress. Secondarily, it's the script, which is overly sanctimonious, especially with the use of archival footage, to give the appearance of Dave's methods being somehow true. It's not.

This is the usual waste of celluloid that many in the indie world like so much for some reason. This isn't worth the bucks.


Directed by
Auraeus Solito

One of the reasons people go to film festivals is to see exotic films from distant lands, and this qualifies as such. Maxi (Nathan Lopez) is an extremely gay twelve-year old who lives in the slums of Manila with his widowed father Paca (Soliman Cruz) and brothers Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) and Bogs (Ping Medina). Dad and the two older brothers are minor hoods, trafficking in stolen cel phones and pirate DVDs. It's not that bad a life for the area, Maxi likes to hang out with the local girls and participate in their activities. In fact, for the first third of the film, this is pretty much a comedy.

Then it begins to turn dark. Maxi is attacked by some local tuffs, and is rescued by a new local cop named Victor (JR Valentin). It's love at first sight…or rather a girlish crush on a hunky guy. Even though Paca and his older sons are more than okay with the fact that Maxi is as queer as they come [he does the cooking, cleaning and the like], they don't really like that the crush is a cop, and when Bogs accidentally kills a robbery victim, Things begin to turn ugly very quickly and poor Maxi is soon in a quandary, should he stay loyal to his family, who loves him, or follow his heart and stand by his crush, who clearly doesn't.

Okay, aside from the gay angle, this is actually a rather conventional film. Had Maxi been a girl, no one would have even thought of exporting this thing. But it isn't and it's saved by the brilliant work of young Nathen Lopez, who swishes and preens his way into our hearts. The relationship between him and Victor is a complex one, and Victor begins as all white and then turns distinctly grey.

One can see why it made it into the international festival circuit.

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