Saved! (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #78

Heaven Help Us.

Country: USA & Canada
Language: English
Runtime: 92 minutes
BBFC: 12A
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 11th June 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 29th October 2004
First Seen: DVD, 2005

Stars
Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember, Tangled)
Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone, My Girl)
Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, Wristcutters: A Love Story)
Eva Amurri (The Banger Sisters, The Life Before Her Eyes)

Director
Brian Dannelly (Struck by Lightning, Scream: The TV Series)

Screenwriters
Brian Dannelly (He Bop)
Michael Urban (Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?)

The Story
When teen Mary learns her boyfriend is gay, a vision of Jesus leads her to attempt to cure him through sex. Unfortunately for her, the only result is she gets pregnant, which she decides to keep secret from friends and teachers at her ultra-Christian high school. As Mary questions her beliefs, she falls in with the school’s misfits, while her former friends endeavour to aggressively restore her faith.

Our Hero
Mary has “been born again her whole life”, but has her eyes opened a bit when her attempts to cure her homosexual boyfriend don’t go as Jesus promised.

Our Villain
Hilary Faye, the ‘perfect’ Christian who mainly uses her devotion to God to be the school’s queen bitch.

Best Supporting Characters
Hilary’s wheelchair-bound brother, Roland, and the school’s only “Jewish”, Cassandra, who come together with shared cynicism, but at heart better embody Christian values than some of their more militant schoolmates.

Memorable Quote
“Why would God make us so different if he wanted us to be the same?” — Mary

Memorable Scene
At the first assembly of the school year, cool headmaster Pastor Skip flips onto stage (“Give it up to the Lord, Jesus is in the house! Let’s get our Christ on, let’s kick it Jesus style! … Who’s down with G-O-D? Alright! Jesus rules! Jesus rules!”), before prayer time gives an insight into what everyone’s thinking (“thank you for sparing me from the eternal hell fires of damnation, I’m sorry I let that Promise Maker guy touch me in the rectory”), and then Cassandra starts ‘speaking in tongues’ (“mah puhsah issa hot puhsow”), though Hilary Faye sees through it (“she’s saying she’s got a hot p—!”)

Awards
2 Teen Choice Awards nominations (Movie Hissy Fit (Mandy Moore), Movie Sleazebag (Mandy Moore))

What the Critics Said
“Dannelly and Urban, first-time filmmakers, don’t have the ruthlessness of dedicated satirists like the writer-director team of Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne, whose movies Citizen Ruth and Election are modern classics. But satire can sting without being ruthless. Saved! is a minor work, yet it has a teasing lilt to it, and to make it at all took courage and originality. […] Saved! is not an attack on Christianity; if anything, the movie wants to reassert the Christian spirit. But it goes after pious hypocrites, the kind of people who never stop speaking of love yet find an unaccountably large number of folks to hate.” — David Denby, The New Yorker

Score: 61%

What the Public Say
“many moments [are] screamingly funny but also sad in Brian Dannelly’s incisive, but not entirely irreverent, send-up of Christian fundamentalism. The title’s exclamation point isn’t for show, but questions Christianity’s constant urgency: Is salvation really unattainable for these kids if they’re not seeking it this second, every second, 24/7? […] Dannelly and Michael Urban’s script could’ve settled for empty-calorie satirical slapdowns, but instead posed thoughtful, challenging questions about the relative worthlessness of forced value systems.” — Nick Rogers, The Film Yap

Verdict

Mixing “mean girl” high school comedy with religious satire, which initially seems more cutting than it perhaps is, Saved! triumphs by having something to say but saying it very amusingly. Some criticise it for pulling its punches, not going all out in its damnation of religious types, but — conversely — that quality of mercy arguably makes it a better, more intelligent movie. It’s not saying having religious faith or sharing those values makes you inherently bad, but applying those beliefs hypocritically kinda does. Whatever your position on that matter, the screenplay’s gentle irreverence and the cast’s quality comic performances make it an often hilarious delight.

#79 will be… a lot of bother to rescue Matt Damon.

Tangled (2010)

2011 #69
Nathan Greno & Byron Howard | 100 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

TangledDisney’s 50th animated feature is Rapunzel in all but name, for no particularly good reason. It seemed to be met with universal praise on its release last year, critics hailing it as a return to Disney’s previous quality after a run of lacklustre releases, in particular the underwhelming return to 2D in the year before’s The Princess and the Frog.

Well, to get that comparison immediately out of the way, Tangled isn’t as good as The Princess and the Frog in my estimation. I’m not sure why it seems to have been more widely praised — it’s solid and good fun, but I thought Frog had more going for it.

Which isn’t to say Tangled is bad. It’s funny, which is its biggest asset, and exciting at times — as usual, the highly moveable camera of CG animation adds fluidity, speed and excitement to the action sequences, making them one of the high points.

It’s not all good and shiny though. The setting — a comedic-ish fantasy-kingdom world — can come across a bit like lightweight Shrek, lacking the anachronistic postmodern real-world references that made that film zing. Worse, the songs are distinctly unmemorable — I’d forgotten some of them by the time it came to their own reprise. A gang of thugs singing about their dreams is the best thanks to its comedy, but I couldn’t hum or sing any of it for you now. I especially lament the lack of a decent villain’s song, Why not just call it Rapunzel?a number I usually particularly enjoy. It has one, I suppose, but it’s one of the weakest examples I’ve ever heard.

Tangled isn’t bad by any measure, but I don’t feel it should be the praise-magnet it became. There are certainly better Disney musicals — it can’t hold a candle to those; and there are better funny fairytales too — but at least it holds up as a solid addition to that sub-genre.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Tangled is on Disney Cinemagic this Sunday, 23rd October, at 5pm and 9pm.

Southland Tales (2006)

2008 #63
Richard Kelly | 139 mins | DVD | 15 / R

Southland Tales

– confusing mess? or profound experience?

I won’t go into my full “how I discovered Donnie Darko” spiel [save that for whenever I finally watch the Director’s Cut!], but ever since I saw Richard Kelly’s first writing/directing effort way back on its original UK release I’ve been waiting eagerly for his second film. It’s a testament to the negativity of the reviews it received — and, perhaps, the influence of reviews in general — that I skipped Southland Tales at the cinema, left it five months after release before getting it on DVD… and even then it was only a rental.

At some point, Kelly split his story into six parts and, in a Star Wars-like move, the film was to be Parts 4-6, while the first three would be told in accompanying graphic novels. “The film will work fine without reading them,” he said (I paraphrase here), “but reading them will lead to a deeper experience.” Southland Tales: The Movie begins with a long recap of events from these books, going so far as to include images from their art. “Oops”?

You have to wonder, if you switched “Directed by Richard Kelly” for, say, “Directed by David Lynch”, would the critics’ reviews have suddenly jumped up a star or two? [some of it is certainly very Lynchian in feel — not a normal film with bemusing aspects, like Donnie Darko, but an all-out muddled weird-fest]

  • David Lynch fans may find this more entertaining than most. Or they may hate it for trying to be Lynchian but failing, or perhaps like it as an example of why Lynch is so good and others fail when they attempt similar feats. I don’t know how they’d use it like that, but I expect they would know.
  • the clear IV, V and VI presented at the start of each chapter — as well as showing I, II and III blatantly on screen during the recap, and having the narration have to recap bits of them — seems to hammer home that this is really for people who are prepared to invest in the whole thing, not people who just watch the film

** raises the question, should you ever have to go further (e.g. reading companion books, comics, websites, etc) to understand a film? Yes and no. If it’s consciously part of a wider ‘experience’, labelled and marketed as such, then why not? But if it’s sold as a film in its own right — or, at least, potentially in its own right (as this was) — then it should really work that way too.

  • narration: tries to explain everything, though does very little to help (difference between Kelly and someone like Lynch, who just leaves it all up to the viewer?) — at times almost uncomfortably over-explaining — you wish it could’ve been done properly, rather than with narration
  • Kelly spent months re-editing, following the critical panning it got at Cannes, trimming the length and restructuring it. And it seems to show, as it feels like a failed attempt to construct something legible out of a mess of half-thought-through scenes and subplots
  • one feels a good director’s commentary and/or the original cut might shed more light on things — this is the sort of film that could benefit from a decent DVD edition, that it probably won’t get due to its lack of popularity… unless it gains surprise critical acceptance years down the line, which isn’t unheard of… though I wouldn’t bank on it here. Perhaps, one day, when we’re all watching Data Crystals, Kelly will have gained enough reputation that a 20th anniversary release will finally explain the damned thing
  • seems to become clearer toward end — there are some answers, at least — but ultimately a lot is left out
  • too many of the ‘underlying ideas’ in the climax feel like a Donnie Darko rehash; odd musical numbers and long takes add to this feeling — almost like Kelly’s taken what he did in Darko and tried to expand it into some ensemble epic kinda thing

i thought, with respect to the film’s crazy half-constructed mess of half-ideas, i’d copy&paste my notes rather than a normal review. so at least that’s one answer at the end for you.

when it was originally conceived, it was set a couple of years in the future; now, it’s just set ‘now’; and soon, of course, it will be set in a fictional past — the copyright year on the film is 2005; it’s credited as 2006 on IMDb (which is when it turned up at Cannes); it was finally released in 2007; and it’s set in 2008

I really wanted to like Southland Tales, in spite of the critical mauling it received, and because I loved Donnie Darko and actually enjoyed Domino too (which Kelly wrote). Maybe — maybe — with time to invest in reading the prequel graphic novels, and exploring whatever official sites or crazy fan theories may be out there on the web, I could get more from this film. Personally, I don’t have that kind of time to invest right now, but I might give it a shot sometime. Until then, it will just remain a largely disappointing mess.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405336/faq

this is the way the review ends, not with a bang but with a whimper

2 out of 5

Southland Tales featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2008, which can be read in full here.