Greetings and salutations, squirts. Hans here delivering your weekly dose of Below Radar shenanigans.
So Knowing rocked the shit at the box office this past weekend. I wasn’t terribly surprised, but a bit disappointed that the bromantic boy toys of I Love You, Man were less appealing than the Nick Cage sci-fi vehicle about armageddon and shit. Few comments could be as dismissive-sounding as that past one, but I have to say, based on Quaid’s enthusiastic review, I will probably be checking out Knowing in the near future–if not in theaters then probably in my film-watching apparatus at home.
I’m sure Cage is great in the movie and everything (I’m not that down on Cage; he rakes in the sheckles with a box office vehicle and, every now and again, he finds time for a film like Matchstick Men or Adaptation) but I’m much more psyched for the film’s director, Alex Proyas. Proyas was advertised in the Knowing trailer as “the director of I, Robot,” which he is (though he probably didn’t have much involvement in the “how many times does Will Smith get to say ‘ah-hell-no’?-conversation) but is probably better known for the critical recognition he garnered in the 90s for films like The Crow and Dark City.
Both of those films, and I, Robot as well, demonstrate the great visual style and imagination that Proyas possesses. There are some shots in Dark City that feel like they belong in film by Murnau or Lang. There are others that, quite frankly, should be hung on museum walls. It is a thrillingly well composed film, the kind that makes your jaw hit the floor when certain images are revealed. Proyas showed an artist’s attention to detail in this film which, despite its shortcomings as a narrative, was truly a visionary achievement.
The same is true for The Crow, a dark, brooding super-hero movie where the undead return for vengeance amid a rainy, depraved cityscape. At times, I had the same respect for I, Robot, but I remember a lot of the film not working for me. That being said, it was also much more than I was expecting from a Will Smith summer action vehicle. Proyas really took the story as far as it could go and made a very entertaining film that even had the benefit of being able to make you think. More than we usually get from studio sci-fi thrillers.
All four of these films exist very much in the same dark vein, but it is Proyas’ most underseen and, by far, most light-hearted film, Garage Days, that is the subject of today’s review. Few films seem as aberrant to a director’s filmography. It sports a goofy, adolescent tone that would be more at home in the work of John Hughes. It tells the story of a very, very, very low rent band in Sydney, Australia, struggling to make it despite their own personal (and musical) limitations.
I worked at a video store for a couple of years and this was a movie that I would always pass on the shelf, kind of curious but not all that enthused about checking it out. The box advertised it as a Proyas work, but it looked like an early film he would have made to get noticed–something low-rent that he made with his friends to show he had the goods. I was surprised to find out that Proyas made the film in 2002, four years after Dark City, as a love letter to his early artistic endeavors back in Sydney, Australia. He remarks on the film’s commentary track about his experiences as a young artist and the friends he made, people he met, chances he took, etc. Many directors looking back at those early days adopt an air of cynicism or condescension, as if those times existed in another dimension entirely. Not Proyas.
The victory of Garage Days is that it whisps along on a constant high, feeding off the energy of its rock star-wannabe heroes but refusing to judge them as adolescent or silly. Chief among these wannabes is Freddy (Kick Gurry), the blond lead singer trying to propel his band (never named in the film) into superstardom. His band mates are his girlfriend, Tanya (Pia Miranda), a bass player very into piercing and strange sex, Joe (Brett Stiller) on guitar, and the very spacey Lucy (Chris Sabrinna) on the drums.
These characters are all, obviously, in their twenties but seem forever frozen in early stages of high school dating. The partners in the film, only loosley defined at the beginning, criss cross relationships throughout. The main romantic thread follows Freddy, a sort of blindly optimistic man-child, as he pursues Kaye (Maya Stange), Joe’s girlfriend, whom Freddy starts a conversation with one night outside a club and is, before he knows it, engaged in a long kiss. So begins the romantic fencing that will engage much of the story.
Proyas never shows the band actually playing, which doesn’t so much create heavy anticipation as confirm what the audience probably already knows. When the band ultimately do take the stage in a huge outdoor concert , we sense that the victory wasn’t to be heard, but to actually win the opportunity. The film is obviously skeptical about the motivations of the characters and does, in some ways, show Proyas glowering at the reckless abandon of his youth, but also understands the power of dreams, and the intoxicating effect they have on overgrown children like Freddy.
So much of Freddy’s existence is dedicated to getting onstage, and very little is concerned about what to do once he’s there. We suspect that, for him, achieving the dream is no where near as cool as just trying to achieve it. Freddy is, in many ways, the boy that never grows up, but Proyas isn’t certain he should have to; the opening scene of the film shows him, mid-coitus, fantasizing about pounding out a rock track to thousands of screaming fans. As he moves closer to orgasm, we aren’t sure of the clear catalyst. The happiness of this moment is echoed in the film’s last line: “just because your not a rock star doesn’t mean you can’t feel like one.”
Proyas may look at his characters with a raised eyebrow, but he clearly has a tender place in his heart for them. They represent the best of what it is like to be in your early twenties and ready to chase your dreams, even if what to do with their realization is a bit beyond you at the time. Adult responsibilty and practical concern clearly haven’t entered into these characters’ vocabularies, but that seems beside the point; the film celebrates a way of life that Proyas clearly has affection for and whose energy he is desperately trying to recapture.
I really, really liked this film. The psuedo-bohemians that occupy it aren’t militant or aggressive about their way of life. In fact, they don’t seem to get behind any ideology at all. They are carefree, honest, and a lot of fun to watch. It would be easy to call the movie frivolous, and it is in a way, but some times all you want is the opportunity to hang out with some really cool characters that you care about in some bizarre way. It is also the mark of a very talented director that Proyas was able to stretch himself and make a good movie out of such lighthearted material. Watch this guy. I have the feeling that he is going to make a movie that totally blows us away when we are least expecting it, just like Danny Boyle did with Slumdog Millionaire.