Friday, July 08, 2011

Friday Forays in Fiction: Film Review--Powder Blue

Powder Blue

written and directed by Timothy Linh Bui
May 8, 2009
106 minutes

It's not for Pollyanna's or prudes, pedandicts or puffed up peacocks who are so tone deaf they compare all music to their own mating call and find it wanting.

Those who have been cradled from birth in the suburbs, college campuses and high rise cubicles and thus have never tasted of the poverty of choice created by the poverty of means or spirit that pummels hope to a putrid pulp and convinces one it was only ever an illusion will find it hard to connect with this story.

And those who have never sipped of the cup of despair or experienced that profound loniness that paints life with the patina of a nightmare or have never when in such a place made poor or even depraved choices they find impossible to live with may find it impossile to connect with the characters.

And those who look upon such people with contempt rooted in self-righteiousness or misguided piety and judge them unworthy of care or redemption (as did the elitist Priest and Levite of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan their fellow Hebrew lying unconscious, robbed, bludgened, naked and bloody by the wayside and who passed by with their noses high thanking God they were not such sinners as that, leaving his rescue to the despised Samaritan) will see only the contemptable in this story.

And those who believe that even looking upon such 'loosers' let alone offering help, kindness or compassion is tantamount to approval of their choices and permission to continue 'living in sin' and fearing contamination will likely turn away from the screen, walk out of the theater or press stop on the DVD remote inside of five minutes.

If you are any of the above you will likely find this film depressing, hysterical, over the top, clueless, disgusting, manipulative, unbelievable, overacted, poorly written and directed and of little to no entertainment, cultural or artictic value.

It's too bad that 90% of the reviews and comments on this film I could find online were all written by those with one or more of such characteristics because they are the clueless ones unable to comprehend the meaning of this very profound, heart-wrenching, dark story, a modern parable that delves into despair and finds its way back to hope.

Most by their very own confession had made up their mind in the first five minutes to hate it whether out of confusion, disgust or disdain. Many even inadvertantly admitted the source of their confusion was lazy viewing when their complaint, what ever it might have been, could easily have been proved spacious by a three second clip five to fifty minutes before the 'offending' moment. What, were they fumbling after straying popcorn or simply impatient for the Jessica Biel exotic dance/striptease scenes finding everything else irrelevant?

Nearly all of the professional critics hated it and the audience review ratings run only 44 % positive. I sm still a newbie at critiquing film and still feeling insecure about writing reviews so I was at first mysitfied and chagrined upon reading all those pans immediately after giving Power Blue five stars on Netflix after streaming it in the wee hours of this morning.

At first I lost confidence in my favorable opinion, wondering why the stark difference. Do I not recognize crap when i see it? Or am I seeing something real that everybody else missed and if so what makes me special?

I considered turning away from my intent to post a review but found myself so worked up about it my head was spinning with all I wanted to say and that eventually overrode the reticence and motivated me to keep working on my review.

I still feel incompetant to say much more than 'I liked/disliked, it worked/didn't work for me about the aspects of a film related to it's making (screenplay, cinematography, acting, directing, editing, soundtrack, casting) but I know story so I will keep my comments to that level for now.

The story is about four (actually I see six) individuals in severe life crisis whose paths intersect over the four days before Christmas Eve in the seedy and seamy sections of LA. 'Dream Town America' for these four is a nightmare of lonliness, desperation, grief and despair.

Jack Doheny played by Ray Liotta is fresh out of prison after serving a 25 year sentence and has just learned that the love of his life has recently died and that he has gastric cancer and only weeks or less to live. In an attempt to make some ammends for the mess he'd created of his life and the harm that had done to the lives that touched his, he went looking for the daughter he'd left behind as a toddler and who believed he'd died before she was born.

His daughter, Rose John aka Johnny aka Scarlet, played by Jessica Biel, is an exotic dancer at a sleazy strip club to support her son who lies comatose in a hospital. Her boss, Velvet Larry played by Patrick Swayze is dispicable and depraved, a user of people, a taker who won't give and a scrooge who insists this mother of a dying child must work on Christmas eve.

Forest Whitaker plays Charlie grieving over the loss of his wife in a car acident (on their wedding day?) for whom he'd thrown over his vocation as a priest and thus now was unable to find solice in the faith he once depended on and blaming himself (he was driviing) believed himself unworthy of happiness or love. He spent the bulk of the movie attempting to give his life savings ($50,000) in exchange for the trigger finger that would put a bullet through his heart as he was unable to overcome his Catholic compunctions to do it himself.

One of those he propositioned for this was a young mortician, Qwerty Doolittle played by Eddie Redmayne who was so painfully shy he was more comfortable with corpses than living, breathing people. He's awkward and clumsy in social situations and when they involved women they would often trigger his asthma. But he had a good heart, spending much of his free time in charitable activities and often not demanding payment for his services from those truely unable to pay. Which last had helped to bring him to the brink of bankruptsy and the certain foreclosure on the business which had been his late father's by the end of the month.

Qwerty and Rose John crossed paths after Qwerty had hit her runaway dog with his hearse and taken him home to nurse back to health and upon seeing the Lost Dog/Reward posters then contacted Johnny to reunite them and found himself smitten by her.

Those are the four whose stories are recognized as the primary ones while other characters are considered supporting. But I would add Sally the waitress played by Lisa Kudrow who was in the midst of a divorce and Lexus played by Alejandro Romero, a transvestite pining for love and obsessed with having the sex change surgery which he imagines would make him loveable. Both of these characters intersected with Charlie. Lexus was the first one Charlie offered the money to and Sally was the waitress in the dinner he hung out in who was profoundly affected by his obvious sadness and lonely herself, reached out to him only to be repeatedly rebuffed.

These stories played out on the screen very fast paced, surrealistic, and dark in mood and palette. Some scenes seemed to flicker in the way of a dream. There were touches of what might be magic realisim but one of those might be more real than magical:

The powder blue snowfall on Christmas eve representing the miracle of hope returning to their hearts and the love blooming there opening it up to the possibilities of life. Some considered this silly and unbelievable. Snow in LA? And what's with the blue? Who's ever seen blue snow? But I wonder how far fetched it really is in a place known for its heavily chemical laden smog and the dumping of the toilets by landing jets that creates blue ice chunks that have done damage to people and property on the ground. I was made aware of this recently by a Six Feet Under episode in which the opening sceen death was caused by such a blue ice chunk. So blue snow does not seem that far fetched to me.

Powder Blue has been compared to Crash and The Air I Breathe for this interwoven stories form but mostly found unsatisfactorly executed, confusing, trite, contrived, gimmicky and just a wannabe in a genre already so last year.

Maybe I don't know enough yet about the making of a movie to be able to contradict them but I can say that it all worked for me. I did not get confused nor find myself feeling manipulated. Nor did I find it melodramatic. The suggestion that these stories featuring the intersecting lives of strangers who impact each other's future in ways unimaginable to either beforehand are passe because they'd already been done and done better dismays me for I discovered this story form in novels and short story collections over 25 years ago and have sought them out ever since whether film or novel and in fact knowing this about a story will convince me to try it even if nothing else I'm told about it had appealed to me.

I believe that far from being overdone or having had its day, this form is still in its infancy and still struggling to find its foothold in the culture as the novel and film forms had themselves to do in their beginnigs.

I see this story form as literary as opposed to mainstream or genre pop culture forms and believe it is reflecting our society's slow awaking to the fact of our inter-relatedness and utter dependence on each other; and the realization that isolation and lonliness, the bane our bootstrap philosophy has inflicted, are a cancer of the soul and that only in relationship do we feel whole; and the dawning understanding that our every action has an infinite ripple effect across our world spreading faster than a plague and piling up faster than snow in a blizzard.

The hero/quest, and the single protagonis/point of view stories have dominated our culture for over a century and many believe they are the only legitimate fiction format now and therefore are disturbed by the still developing forms like this.

I would like to go point by point to contend all of the negative criticisms I found to be more indicative of the critics own lack of insight than of any faults in Powder Blue (not that I'm claiming it has no faults) but time constraints and difficulty in making my case without giving spoilers prohibits it.

Some of what I looked at while preparing this:

Blog Critics This was the only review that came close to seeing much of what I saw and not only approved but predicts that someday it will be recognized the the work of art it is.


Rotten Tomatoes


Huffington Post

Meta Critic

Film Critic


Movie Review Intelligence


Big Hollywood

DVD Talk

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