Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lucy



Lucy is a special kind of disappointment. It's the sort of disappointment best reserved for overblown action movies. You know the ones, the bright, promising looking ones that lure you in with a sharply cut trailer and convince you there's a glimmer of self-aware possibility below that glossy surface.  When you get there, though, you sink further and further into disappointment.  The sentience never shows itself, so you resign yourself to being simply disappointed and to trying to enjoy the fact the film is so much of a letdown. That's what Lucy is: disappointment with a creamy chocolate center of more disappointment, and if there's a word for this, the Germans surely have it. In the meantime, the film is a train wreck of overblown pseudo-scientific philosophy and good old ultraviolence.  It's maybe the stupidest movie about hyper-intelligence, and so bizarrely straight-faced in its approach that it's hard to tell whether the film doesn't get its own joke or simply isn't including the audience.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Snowpiercer




Rumor has it that when South Korean director Bong Joon Ho decided to adapt the graphic novel La Transperceneige, what attracted him most wasn't the potential for action or the text's overarching social commentary, but the setting. Snowpiercer takes place entirely on a transcontinental train.  From car to car, tail to engine, we find society represented in miniature; the remaining population of a now frozen Earth bound to an extreme class structure. They circle the globe once a year, never disembarking.  At the head, the engine's godlike creator shrouds himself in mystery. He's built an arc, and on it collected a traveling show of civilization's political nightmares.

In his wake, each car plays a role in an intricate, life-supporting system. The wealthy ride towards the front with their clubs, spas, and gardens. The unlucky bring up the rear, packed like sardines into a rolling tenement.  Here they feed on gelatinous protein bars, bound together by circumstance as they're mercilessly controlled, counted, and picked off without reason.  Many of them have missing limbs, some have been separated from their children, all are caked in dirt and on the verge of revolution.

The improbability of the self-sustaining engine is part of Snowpiercer's beauty, and one Bong Joon Ho clearly understands as a type of character; a true mechanical god for the characters on board. The fact of the train, of the constant forward momentum, the things it contains, the spaces it opens up and decisions it necessitates, are what makes the film a truly special work of dystopian science fiction. Rules matter more than they might in open spaces. Continuity matters, progress matters, and world-building becomes inseparable from the story.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ida



It's almost difficult to watch Ida and understand it as a contemporary work. It feels at all times like a first look at a lost treasure, like a salvaged print from some unknown master.  That Ida is a film produced last year, that it's the work of the rather un-prolific Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowki (of My Summer of Love and Woman in the Fifth) seems almost impossible.  If you'd shown me this film without introduction, I'd have tremendous difficulty carbon dating it. Ida bears the mark of Bresson in its black and white austerity, in its use of faces.  It has DNA pulling from quieter moments in French and Czech New Wave. At times, it's starkly neo-realist.  That it's set in 1960s Poland tells us nothing, as the film's relationship to the pasts and presents of its characters is always emotionally immediate. While I'm sure there are plenty of marks that would read as temporally incongruous, if you told me Ida was from 1967, I might buy it.  What I'm saying is that somehow the experience of watching Ida is one of viewing an artwork out of time. There's something of it that makes you conscious of the difference between experiencing a work you understand as 'new' and one you approach as a sort of pre-ordained, already canonized work of 'classic' cinema. Ida feels like it's already a classic.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

22 Jump Street



Part of me feels like the best way to review 22 Jump Street might be to simply copy and paste my write-up from 21 Jump Street with minimal alteration. They're essentially the same movie, after all, and most of the comments still stand.  So, yes, you know by now that 22 Jump Street is good. You've heard it, you've seen it, your friends keep recommending you check it out.  Because yes, it is awesome and yes, it is cramp-up-your-side funny.  And yes, once again, what's perhaps most remarkable about it it is isn't that it's tremendously successful as comedy, but that it's one of those rare cases where blatant repetition benefits the final product.  If 21 Jump Street was already a weird case of film industry recycling cause gone right, 22 Jump Street takes the formula and purifies it into one of the most smartest pieces of meta-narrative in recent cinematic memory.  So, Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) return, this time with even more consistent jokes.

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