Shotgun Stories - dir. Jeff Nichols - 2007 - USA
Like a gothic Midwestern Greek tragedy, Shotgun Stories unflinchingly looks at the family rivalry between seven men of the same father, separated by their father's ignorance toward the eldest three, who are conveniently named Boy, Kid, and Son. Michael Shannon (Bug) is remarkably good as the eldest of the first three, and even if the film sometimes goes where you expect it to in terms of plot, it's still rather remarkable in tone. Co-produced by David Gordon Green.
Bungalow - dir. Ulrich Köhler - 2002 - Germany
The aimlessness of youth has always been a cinematic obsession of mine, and Bungalow, from first-time director Köhler, is a fine addition to said sub-genre. Paul (Lennie Burmeister) goes AWOL from the military (out of boredom, we're lead to believe), only to spend two mundane days avoiding the military police, fighting with his older brother (David Striestow) and sort-of girlfriend (Nicole Glaser), flirting with his brother's Danish girlfriend (Trine Dyrholm of The Celebration), and doing a lot of swimming. Bungalow is constantly unassuming and keeps Paul's ambition and desires at an enigmatic distance, making his every move that much more fascinating. Köhler directs Burmeister with minimal emotion all to the film's benefit.
Mad Cowgirl - dir. Gregory Hatanaka - 2006 - USA
Whew. There's a lot to say about Mad Cowgirl, a black comedy/satire/slasher/martial arts film about a woman (Sarah Lassez of Nowhere and The Blackout) who works as a meat inspector and develops a lethal brain tumor, which may or may not have been caused by her meat consumption. This tumor spirals her into obsession with a kung-fu actress, a seedy sexual affair with her brother (James Duval), tormenting her former lover, a priest (Walter Koening), and going on some sort of killing spree. I refer back to the kitchen sink reference, as Mad Cowgirl really has it all, and some of it's dull, some of it's not. I can't fault it's ambition, or Lassez's strange performance, nor can I scream its praises... however, I can't resist applauding it for, at least moderately, succeeding in all its excess and blasphemy. You might also note that Lassez and Duval are joined in the cast by Devon Odessa and Jaason Simmons, all four of which starred in Gregg Araki's Nowhere. Hmm. If you get inspired to see Hatanaka's other films afterward, I can safely tell you to avoid Until the Night, which stars fellow Nowhere alum Kathleen Robertson, as well as Sean Young and (gag) Norman Reedus.
Summer Palace - dir. Ye Lou - 2006 - China/France
Oh, the sexual awakening of college. Summer Palace follows Yu Hong (Lei Hao) as she enters university in Beijing, starts fucking around with boys, writes in her journal and witnesses the massacre of Tiananmen Square. Director Ye Lou (Purple Butterfly, Suzhou River) paints Summer Palace like a dream, swirling and drifting as youth, but when the film ends up continuing for another hour and a half, it perhaps looses some of its merit. Instead of focusing simply on a young girl's sexual and political awakening, Lou spreads the film over the course of her young adulthood as well. As for the sex, I never thought I'd say so, but the prevalence of so many couplings so many times actually begins to wear. It's not a film with something intellectual to say about sex as much as it is how sex shapes the people, so in seeing the act so frequently, we might be lead to believe that they only exist in the film for shock value (which caused the film to be banned in China).