Part 2

The Virgin Suicides to The Blair Witch Project (May - August 1999)

by PopMatters Staff

23 March 2009


Run Lola Run and more

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Run Lola Run

Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri, Armin Rohde, Joachim Król

(Sony Classics)
US theatrical: 11 Jun 1999

Run Lola Run Director: Tom Tykwer

From the philosophical musings that begin the film to the fast-paced narrative set to techno music, Run Lola Run is a film that entertains on a variety of levels. This German film is internationally acclaimed for good reason. It appeals to audiences as a film about crunched time and the possible alternate realities that might be affected by split second decisions, as a postmodern, post-WWII love story, and as an action film that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. The animated sequences, snap shot realities, and techno score (which includes lyrics by the star of the film, Franka Potente) gives this film a unique and trance-like flavor.

Lola (Franka Potente) literally runs for much of the film as she races to find 100,000 francs to save the life of her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). Manni is being tested by his mobster boss and, in a moment of panic, leaves a bag full of money on a train, which is picked up by a bag-man. His trouble begins when Lola stops for cigarettes and her moped is stolen, making it impossible for her to pick up Manni as planned. After losing the bag, he calls her, frantic and desperate, blaming her for the problems and begging her for help. If he doesn’t have the money in 20 minutes, he will be dead.

Lola begs him to wait for her and promises that she will somehow find the money to pay Manni’s boss. She racks her brain and decides upon her father and then dashes out the door. The first scenario does not work out well for Lola. Her father reveals that he is not really her father and that he is leaving Lola and her mother and Lola ends up shot in a robbery gone wrong when she does not make it to Manni in time. The second scenario also does not end well as she is forced to rob her father’s bank at gunpoint and arrives in time only to watch Manni get run over by an ambulance. In the third scenario, Lola secures the money through luck and Manni rediscovers the original money through the help of a fateful glance. Manni saves himself in this third scenario, unaware of all of the trouble Lola has gone through to help him. Thus, rather than ending in tragedy, Lola and Manni walk away from this scenario with a bag full of money—a prize that will, no doubt, change their lives.

Not only do the pieces of this film—the three versions of Lola’s attempts to secure 100,000 francs in only 20 minutes—weave together with interesting variations, but the characters that Lola touches (literally or figuratively) or, in some cases, breezes past, are connected by forces beyond our immediate understanding. Split-second differences in Lola’s run reveal the alternate realities for a woman pushing a baby carriage, a man on a bike, a friend of her father’s pulling out of a garage, a woman making copies, and a homeless man toting his bags.

Run Lola Run includes unreal elements that make the action possible and give the film a magical yet realistic quality. For instance, Lola’s screams have the ability to break glass and this talent may or may not help her to win the necessary money by hitting black 20 twice in a row in a game of roulette. And while the first two scenarios the film presents end badly there is somehow a shift that allows Lola to make her mad dash until the end results are not death for these two lovers. Further, there is no rhyme or reason to the characters’ fates; characters who behave badly (like the woman who cusses Lola) wins the lottery in the scenario where she is the nastiest and ends up spreading the word of God in the scenario where she is most benign. And some events, like the car crash of her father’s friend, happen (with different results) regardless of the scenario.

Despite the unrealistic or magical qualities there is a realness to this film that we see, for instance, in the scenes between the action. Bathed in red, Lola and Manni lie in bed and discuss first love, and second death, before they get a chance to start over. There is also a realness to the characters like her father, who is at one moment cruel, another moment loving, and another moment detached. Although we see many of the characters only briefly, we see their vulnerabilities and snatches of their stories that bring them to life. And Franka Potente delivers a brilliant performance whether she is running or reflecting.

All in all, Run Lola Run is worth watching again and again if only to catch the details that might be lost in the quick cuts and fast pace. Sarah Hentges

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American Pie

Director: Paul & Chris Weitz
Cast: Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Eugene Levy

(Universal Pictures)
US theatrical: 9 Jul 1999

American Pie Director: Chris & Paul Weitz

In recent years Wedding Crashers and Knocked Up have been credited with mixing chick flick plotting with gross-out gags to achieve immense success (both commercial and critical). But what is easily forgotten is that nearly ten years prior, American Pie was honing this very mold (using the tools laid out for it by There’s Something About Mary) to create a runaway, word-of-mouth box office hit.

In chronicling the efforts of four teenage best friends who make a pact to lose their virginity by their high school prom, American Pie is ribald but not repulsive, sweet but not sentimental. One moment the film has you laughing riotously over the prospect of a teenager simulating intercourse with an apple pie and then the next moment has you heartened by the tenderness of a loving (and forgiving) father-son relationship.

This balance of extremes is crucial to the success of American Pie, as the film masterfully walks the line between schoolboy fantasy and genuine high school memoir. This dichotomy is evidenced in the culminating prom night couplings. Jim’s wild night with a geeky nymphomaniac is countered by Kevin and Vicky’s forced awkwardness; Finch cavorting with a sultry single mother is contrasted by Oz and Heather’s soulful, discrete union. The set pieces for which the film is famous for—bodily fluid-spiked beer, webcam mishaps, and the infamous apple pie tryst—may be played for broad laughs but they are rooted in the familiar.

The old rumor goes that the film was met with skepticism in certain foreign territories because foreigners didn’t find it believable that any American 18-year-old would still be a virgin. Whether or not there’s any truth to the rumor, such a response would likely have generated from the sex-driven advertising and marketing that gets exported from the states. But anyone who watches the film will quickly realize that these teenagers—and the film itself—are obsessed with the prospect of sex, not the reality of it. Consider the scene where Heather visits Oz at work after hours. They don’t scurry to the back for intercourse, rather they talk about their families and where they plan on attending college. It’s the kind of unforced relationship-driven scene featuring what could be considered peripheral characters that you don’t generally find in a sex comedy (or even in the Pie sequels for that matter).

But the real glue that holds the film together is the palpable bond of teenage friendship. The four central characters exercise a kind of fraternal devotion that is infectious and believable. They’re the kind of friends who support Oz’s bizarre decision to join the school choir, put up with Finch’s many eccentricities, and will even be seen talking to Jim in school the day after the whole webcam debacle. High school friendships this strong? Hard to swallow on paper for sure but the performers make it look natural.

Let’s not forget the film’s long lasting cultural impact either. Ten years down the road and we can thank American Pie for giving us the screen debut of Seann William Scott, popularizing the comic styling of Eugene Levy (which paved the way for the success of Fred Willard and John Michael Higgins), raising awareness of the primarily northeastern-viewed Lacrosse, and dispersing the cheeky acronym MILF upon the world—a contribution to adolescent lexicon that I daresay will survive from generation to generation. Stephen Snart

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