Sunday, November 8, 2009



First off I want to shout out to the charming Gillian Jacobs who plays a small role as a babysitter in this film. On the NBC show Community (my favorite new show) she plays the outspoken female lead Britta. If you haven't seen Community, check out this hilarious show; disappointment is not an option. 

This is the third movie from film maker Richard Kelly. He is well known for the cult classic Donnie Darko;  his splash onto the Hollywood scene. His sophomore film Southland Tales was so bad that it was booed during the credits at the 2006 Cannes Festival where it was debuted. Though Southland Tales contains some star power and some really dense concepts and story lines (which was interesting), it was so poorly constructed most of the audience had no idea what was going on. Kelly is one of those film makers who wants viewers to watch and re watch his movies to try and understand it all. The only problem with a movie like Southland Tales is it has very few redeeming features to make viewers want to see it again.

To show how much people hated Southland Tales, here is the defining statistic. The movie had a $17 million dollar budget, and only grossed $364,607 worldwide. It didn't even gross half a million dollars. In its defense, it was only released on 63 domestic screens, but--that was because no one wanted to see it.

Moving on from the lengthy background of Kelly and onto what I consider a nice rebound from his past failure. The Box, which Kelly wrote and directed is based on a short story entitled Button, Button. The first thing I want to say about this movie is how creepy it is. The advertisements and trailers do not shed light on this fact, but this movie has scenes that will downright make your skin crawl. Similar to Darko, but in a whole new way.

As dumb as the title sounds (fairly stupid), The Box is actually an intriguing and sinister story set in one of Kelly's favorite backdrops, suburbia. The story features a normal 1970's suburban family struggling to make ends meat like most in the middle class. James Mardsen and Cameron Diaz are Arthur and Norma Lewis, a married couple with a young teenage son. Finances get even tighter for the family when the private school "little Lewis" attends cuts his tuition aid, and Arthur fails to achieve a needed promotion at his job.

Enter Arlington Steward played by the amazing Frank Langella. Mr. Steward's grotesque appearance is not the only unsettling thing about him. He offers the couple $1 million dollars cash to push the button on "the box" that will kill someone in the world they do not know. The conditions of the agreement do not allow the Lewis couple to ask any questions, approach the authorities, or keep the money without pushing the button. If they choose to not push the button, the box will be taken back, reprogrammed, and offered to another couple.

As you can guess they push the button, and in return receive the cash payment. Upon payment the couple has second thoughts, but it is too late. In their hastened reconsideration they break some of the set rules which brings consequences... strange and unpredictable consequences.

The cast turns in a fine performance from the acting aspect of production. The emotional scenes jump out at you and the terror experienced by the characters can send shivers down your spine. Frank Langella is stellar once again coming off his Oscar nominated role in Frost/Nixon. The only complaint is Cameron Diaz's oftentimes faltering southern accent.

The Box is probably the most understandable of Richard Kelly's three movies and that is not saying much. This plot is rich with elaborate and deceptive story lines, dialogue, and the explanations to each question posed by viewers. And trust me, you will have a lot of questions. The first half of the movie draws the audience into all the questions that surround this mysterious box, the man who delivered it, and the people who work for this man.

Then the second half when all the first half questions are supposed to be answered, Kelly's writing just keeps posing more questions for the audience instead of answering them. Some elements are expanded upon, but others are made more confusing by the concluding portion of the film. Just like Kelly's other work, nothing is clear cut. No question the audience has is clearly explained. If this seems confusing to you, trust me, it is even harder to try and explain all this without discussing or revealing what happens in the second act of this film (to be honest I am not sure I even really know anyway).

I did like how the movie progressed for the most part; but there were just so many times when I sat there thinking, "Wait...what?" The first half is so enchanting and exciting because the audience is so lost to what is going on it keeps us feeling in the dark for answers with no possible idea of what the ending could entail. That is the beauty of a movie like this and a writer like Kelly. He keeps viewers on the edge of their seats for what could happen next or desire for some light shed on the storyline.

Unfortunately, I never feel like Kelly does a great job of fulfilling the audiences longing for answers or even basic explanation of what just happened during one of the many crazy scenes. That could be part of his style as a filmmaker, but some refined elaboration similar to the refined complex construction of his storylines would prevent confusion being the theme of every viewer who walks out of a showing of Kelly's movies. But like I said earlier, he wants us to re watch. As my friend Kyle put it as we walked out of the theater, "I want to re watch that movie and write everything they say down so I can try and piece it all together." Perfect summary right there.

Though I have some disagreements with Kelly's writing, I honestly believe he is a brilliant filmmaker. The shots he uses are not only visually pleasing but complementary to the story. Kelly creates environments that are never comfortable for the viewer or the characters to be in. The looming fear of someone watching or what could happen next accompanied with some of the most basic but terrifying music is genius. It never allows the audience to enter a zone of comfort outside the first 15 minutes of the movie. This is why the first act is so compelling. 

The disturbing nature of this film is magnified by the excellent ominous score. The tones were slow and unnerving to assist the visuals and create a veil of uncertainty and fear. The music worked perfectly with the scenes. Just another element of beauty in this film. Real quickly, I also wanted to point out how Kelly used television programs, costumes, settings, and other matter from the 1970's to immerse the audience in the time period and culture.

Overall, The Box is a pretty solid project top to bottom. I loved the production standpoint of this film. The cinematography, the editing, the music, the settings, the visual effects, and the acting were all top notch. If you have a keen eye for what makes movies good these elements will stand out to you. As much as I enjoyed the story and watching it play out however, the story telling is what left a sour taste in my mouth.  I left the theater with no real sense for how the movie concluded, and partly how the conclusion arrived there. But this is Richard Kelly; the audience is not necessarily supposed to understand but just enjoy the ride.

I do not think this is a film fit for the mass audiences because most movie goers today are not looking for a challenge or to be confused, but merely looking to be wowed with effects or action. Because of that I do not foresee a bright outlook for this film's box office receipts. But if you love Richard Kelly, movies with an eerie feel and deceptive plot, or just a movie that is not a cookie cutter Hollywood production, then this film is for you.

Any thoughts on the film?


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