Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Twelve and Holding (Michael Cuesta, 2005)

I was expecting good things from Twelve and Holding, as Michael Cuesta's debut, L.I.E. was an interesting, fearless portrayal of pedophilia. I was hoping for the same daring intellectual approach to children's lives in the twilight of young adulthood. Instead, I got a Hollywoodized, stereotypical view of all these children's lives, one that does not allow the audience to get to know and empathize with them.

The film revolves around Rudy Carges' (accidental) death by fire by two local bullies. His twin brother Jacob (who has a birthmark covering half of his face, and is obviously the quieter one of the twins), and friends Leonard and Malee are left to deal with the tragedy. Actually, Jacob is the only one who really deals with it directly; he becomes obsessed with getting revenge on the boys who killed his brother, visiting them in prison to tell them what he's going to do to them when they get out. As Jacob, Conor Donovan is convincingly paradoxical in his emotions, as he seemingly starts to forgive the imprisoned boys, yet still hates them and his family as well. I would have appreciated a lot more insight into Jacob's motivations, his life with Rudy as well as without.

The two problematic and stereotypical characters are Leonard, a fat kid who wants to lose weight, and Malee, a sexually precocious Asian preteen. I'll probably reveal more than you might want to know plot-wise in my discussions of these two kids, so if you want to remain spoiler-free, stop here! Leonard is so out of shape that the high school football coach tells him that if he can get into some sort of shape, he'll be on the team next year. A touching gesture, but Leonard becomes obsessed with weight. Here comes my problems with this. Obviously, we are supposed to see Leonard's obsessive weight loss as a good thing, but Leonard starts to look down and hate his fat family because they're fat, and again, the audience, I think, is supposed to agree with him. Leonard's family is hardly ever (perhaps never) shown doing anything except eating, as if that's all fat people do. Leonard hates his fat and his family, and we are supposed to as well. Even after Leonard almost accidentally kills himself and his mother (long, somewhat silly plotline), his mother forgives him immediately and agrees to lose weight. Leonard's plotline is disappointingly fatphobic, when it could have been an intelligent discussion on the nature of family and self-image. I was disgusted.

Malee deals with Rudy's death by becoming obsessed with a patient of her mother-psychiatrist's. It's touching and very sad that Malee believes that Gus might love her, despite him being in his early 30s and she being 12. I was touched by her blooming love for this man, because I remember what it was like to be on the verge of womanhood and thinking that I was a real woman now. But, like Leonard's story, Malee's takes a disappointingly stereotypical turn. Malee sneaks into Gus's house one night, makes him dinner, cleans his house, and puts on a kimono and puts her hair up in order to make him happy. One on hand, it's intentionally sad because that's what Malee believes a man wants from a woman, but on the unintentional side, Malee becomes eroticized by being the "other," the Asian geisha-girl of men's dreams. Malee, being an Asian woman, obviously, to Cuesta at least, cannot express her sexuality in a way other than this eroticized other. It was sickening to my feminist, women's studies concentrator self, to see this little girl forced into the stereotypes of Asian sexuality. I think that this is unintentional, and not Cuesta's point.

All in all, a somewhat infuriating, definitely frustrating movie with an ending I saw coming a mile away. A definite step down for Cuesta, whom I hope can regain his indie consciousness and ear for reality in his next film.


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