Mujubius (mujubius) wrote in dark_preachers,
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Smart People and Teeth Reviews (Spoilers)

Smart People

Smart People is a nice film that stars some very talented performers who carry a script that at times dangerously lacks insight. It deals with a cynical, bitter and cranky English Professor (Dennis Quade) who injures his head in an accident of his own making, thus leading him to hospital where he meets a pretty doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker) and decides to attempt to date her. Due to his injuries he can't drive for six months, leading to his ne'er do well adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church) to move in completely unbidden and act as his chauffeur.

If you've seen the trailers for this film and thought "this comedy doesn't look like it would be funny" then you'd be right - the marketing tried to package it as a comedy, but it's really part of that quirky-character-study-set-to-indie-folk-music genre that's kicking around everywhere right now. It isn't nearly as self-indulgent as Wes Anderson's "slow-zoom-centre-framed-close-up-montage" style (see The Royal Tenanbaums to understand what I'm talking about and get swiftly sick of it) though, and because it chooses to stay with the characters and portray them as humans more than many of its genre-mates, Smart People fares better than most of them.

Ellen Page plays a character that is fascinating - I like to think of her as repressed Republican Juno, as both Juno and her character in this film are strange kinds of mirrors for one another. Her relationship with the ne'er do well uncle is the best and most interesting part of this film, and it's bravely performed by the pair. I wonder honestly if the Uncle was originally an adopted son when the script was written, or he was conveniently made a non-blood relative to make certain plot developments slightly less... uncomfortable.

In any event, this is nicely made, but a little tamer than it should have been, with a few too many loose ends to be completely effective. Good performances make up for a largely bland script.

6/10

Teeth

Teeth was a very effective film for me - it played on fears of sexuality and gender very well, bringing some wonderful Freudian psycho-imagery and channeling a lot of Classical cultural fears. The film is about a girl who has a toothed vagina. She's part of a Christian Youth Movement, a collective expression of chastity. When a seemingly nice boy tries to force himself on the girl however, her vagina takes matters into its own... errr.. teeth. Thus begins a peculiar but very clever tale of empowerment and awakening sexuality.

I watch a lot of films that are filled with lots of inadvertent phallic imagery (go see Troy for some of the most blatant "Cock" imagery you'll ever see). This film therefore delighted me for its use of cunnic imagery. Narrow caves, hollow tree trunks... nature and the female genitalia, all utilised in the cinematography very deliberately.

If I had a complaint to make about the film it's that sometimes it's too obvious. The explanation of fear of a toothed vagina, and its cultural history starts subtle before becoming a voiceover that beats you in the face with the point. The characters can be complex, but at times drift into blatant stereotype territory. The Chaste Christians are sometimes well drawn characters, and other times sexually frustrated kids who only let themselves watch G-Rated Disney Musicals for fear of seeing too much heavy petting in the PG-Rated films. The men in the film are all bastards - each of them is revealed to be somewhat reprehensible (besides the Father interestingly).

The one character that isn't a stereotype however is the central heroine, the carrier of the vagina dentata. She's beautifully played, and even when the script makes a few sudden leaps in logic and motivation, she carries the film forward. It's a bold performance, and for many reasons it's a brave one.

The film makes a wonderful statement too about the inconsistencies of sexual representations in media. The students at school have full diagrams of the penis in their textbooks, it being perfectly okay to see male genitalia. The picture of the vagina though, is covered by an massive obstructive sticker. It seems like high farce, particularly as the Christians try to justify the validity of it to the class - the farce dissipates however, when you start to think about contemporary gender representations and nudity in media. The film plays on this idea in the most fantastic way - it lets you see cocks. Cocks bitten off and left dripping in pools of blood, bleeding stumps of cocks, lumps of penis flesh being eaten by dogs. You will see much violence enacted upon the male sex organ. What you will not ever see is a vagina. The film plays coy with the toothed vagina, a horror invention that the fans at home probably want to see more than anything. Instead, the film plays to convention and only lets you see the penises. Bitten off. It's a subtle message represented in a rather... how shall we say... vigorous manner.

The film will not play well with everyone. As someone who has studied classical theatre and culture though, and recognises the historical significance of vagina dentata and the innate fear that men have of sex, I enjoyed it. I think it was a well-drawn, and innovative idea that has broken from the traditional boundaries of the horror film (you all know what I'm talking about - big masculine figures that hunt down young girls and penetrate them with their large phallic knives) to tell a different kind of horror with a different direction. It's not perfect in execution but goddamn if it isn't important for what it attempted.

8/10.
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