Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Ostensibly, the simple answer is yes. Lincoln is a neatly groomed bit of Civil War cinema that manages to be grittier than expected while still keeping its Spielbergian corners tucked safely in. It's a good film with a better cast, and while worlds seem to revolve around the bureaucratic dealings of Abraham Lincoln, a better title for this might have been "The 13th Amendment," as the real battles are fought by Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) in the House of Representatives. This is no biopic, but is instead a slice of carefully chosen time marking the dawn of the president's second term in office to the moment of his untimely assassination. It's roughly a year in the life, and it's a strange, heavy year of backhanded political deals, massive human rights issues, bloodshed, and big questions as to just when dubious, ethically unsound behaviors may become justifiable.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
With the 'relationship' and the bad rep on their acting abilities, what I'm wondering is: what do we see happening with these two now?
Here's one possibility: Stewart and Pattinson break-up just before Christmas, by early spring they're hinting in interviews that they were never really together in the first place and that their time dating was a largely platonic union during which they each saw other people. Pattinson and Ashley Greene step out in public a few times before going their separate ways and the tabloids really run with the talk that they have been having casual sex since the production of the first film. Stewart becomes noticeably happier and after deciding to back out of Snow White 2 (for fear of another lifeless franchise) she sticks to indie roles for a few years and eventually grabs a supporting actress nomination for a role as a mentally imbalanced young woman. She does not win in America, but is lauded overseas and as an appreciation for her once again builds she takes the opportunity to announce in a print interview (after being spotted out by tabloid reporters) that she is bisexual, but largely keeps her relationships out of the public eye. At age 30 she decides to retire from acting while mumbling that while it's been fun, her heart was never in it. Much later, she writes a serious book many hail as "surprisingly decent." Pattinson tries to step out of his heartthrob box with some dark indie dramas before stumbling into an ensemble comedy and winning some surprise success. He gets jobs, but almost always in a supporting role. His roles and life decisions get weirder, but always seem surprisingly balanced. He begins washing his hair regularly and laments his inability to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Depp.
I know, right? I don't even know why I decided to speculate on this. Regardless: place your bets, give me your best scenarios...
Friday, November 16, 2012
City of Bones, on the other hand, is a series I know very little about. I worked with some folks who were completely addicted to it, and from what I understand it's about battling half-angels and demons who operate in a parallel world most humans are incapable of seeing. Which, of course, means there has to be one special Bella Swann type who can see it and then all of the supernatural business goes full-throttle and shit gets crazy. Mirror Mirror's Lily Collins plays that character here, and it would appear that Jamie Campbell Bower is the warring angel she gets mixed up with. Add some Jared Harris and Jonathan Rhys Meyers into the mix and it actually looks like a pretty fun summer adventure film. I could get behind this, guys. It's definitely possible.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Of course, you shouldn't let all my talk of pain, psychological depth, and relationship issues convince you that Skyfall is something other than the action film it should be. No, it's simply a superior version of that action film. Skyfall is serious fun, often beautifully photographed, and oddly feel good in its progression. After 50 years and 23 films, 007 can still find ways to surprise us, and if that's not the mark of a great thing, I don't know what is.
Monday, November 12, 2012
We're used to referring to certain kinds of horror films as 'torture porn'. It's a brand of the slasher that seems to relish in the undoing of its sexualized characters. Attractive teenagers are slowly dismembered or forced to endure painful, unthinkable, Inquisition-style devices as we look on. There is something troubling and depraved about this sort of catharsis, yes, and many of the films that attempt to scrape new depths fall critically flat. The Loved Ones, however, is a strange success. The Australian film (released there in 2010) is a rare blend of torture horror and actual teen film, a sort of twisted John Hughes coming-of-age interested in acting on wildly oscillating emotions instead of dealing with them. Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks Brent (Xavier Samuel) to the prom, but he already has a date. Frustrated with his rejection, she has her creepily loving daddy (John Brumpton) kidnap him and drag him back to their house for a mandatory, housebound prom. Daddy buys her a pink dress, Lola is the queen, and together they begin to play a very disturbing game at poor Brent's expense. It's a bizarrely comic scenario that embraces heavy gore as much as it relishes the weird, tongue-in-cheek growing pains beneath the surface. Director Sean Byrne has a way with violence, and while the film involves a fair amount of it: it knows its limits and understands the points at which the camera must pull away if the film wants to retain any hint of levity. The Loved Ones is dead on. It strikes just the right balance and is, somehow, a truly likable torture horror film that redefines the possibilities within the sub-genre. File this one under: new cult classics.
If you have the slightest bit of interest in pop music as artifact, Part of Me is innocuous enough and very much in keeping with Perry's branding. While it pretends to be a backstage documentary, it's a fairly clear confection. Here, Perry seems to be attempting to publicly reconcile the disparate parts of her persona: she is a sex symbol and an innocent, a bubbly personality from a very Christian upbringing who made a mark exploiting an act of intoxicated lesbianism ("I Kissed a Girl"), her songs promote horrific acts of self destruction (listen closely to "Last Friday Night") and yet she's a hardworking woman, she's an overgrown child who married (and divorced) one of the most notorious personalities in comedy. She is a paradox: in control and yet perhaps not aware. Where Gaga plays with her fame to make herself a benevolent, protective mother monster and Rihanna explores a 'don't give a damn' aggressive sexuality, Katy Perry seems to just want to play. Part of Me cuts through the pin-up image and shows us a construction of Perry as girl The concert footage is boring as hell, but the backstage cuts between Katy out of makeup and Katy in character offer a fascinating contrast. When she tries to prove that she's sincere, she comes off as phony, when she isn't trying, she seems completely sincere. The quiet moments away from tabloid fodder are the most revealing, and while the film talks a big game about living your dreams, what I saw was a woman who has done just that and discovered that her dreams are much more complicated than she imagined. There's sadness hiding in the ebullience. Katy Perry is unsure, she acknowledges that she is still growing, she admits that she does not see herself as an adult (though she's 28). And while the preteens may fall harder for the pop idol projection, I found myself liking the girl behind the cartoon, the personality committing to making these decisions.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
We open on an island in the distant future, "106 winters after 'The Fall'," according to the film's lore. Here we are introduced to Zachry (Tom Hanks) who belongs to a tribe of people who speak in a cultural mash-up of stylistically broken English (a bit of UK street accents, Jamaican, creole, southern drawls, and Jar Jar Binks). Zachry is plagued by visions of a demon (a Baron Samedi leprechaun, basically, played by Hugo Weaving) who urges him towards a loss of humanity even after he decides to help a technologically advanced stranger (Halle Berry) on an important quest.
Before we know any of this, really, we're warped back into a 19th century sailing drama built of mysterious ailments, slave trades, and searing sun. Here we follow a young lawyer (Jim Sturgess) attempting to take care of the particulars of a complicated business arrangement. It's all terribly Melville.
From there we jump out of Melville and towards Waugh and Isherwood: our 1930's UK-based story follows a dandy Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) as he pens lilting love letters to his secret boyfriend Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) and composes the "Cloud Atlas Sextet" as amanuensis to an established, slippery old master (Jim Broadbent). So follows a direct connection in which a much older Sixsmith participates in a 1970's conspiracy narrative involving a nuclear plant. He recruits Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a hard-nosed journalist who picks up Sixsmith's cause when he meets an untimely end. They're after the truth, dammit, and the genre stylings mirror every espionage thriller of the day. Chronologically, after the 70's we move to a present day sideways commentary on the literary world, in which we're given a delightfully wacky sort of British prison-escape comedy in which an editor (Broadbent) becomes unwilling prisoner at the hands of his own brother. The themes here lead us indirectly towards the final, heavily science-fiction influenced section set in 'Neo' Seoul. I won't reveal too much on what's happening here, but, uh, if you like the dystopian sci-fi flicks of the 60's and 70's...you'll probably love this.
As we get to know Maggie, as we get to see her maybe fumble or maybe not, as we first doubt her than wonder, as her possible motives may be revealed, the film carries itself with a cool intellectualism that seems, almost, to trick the viewer into subjugation. The Sound of My Voice seems as though it's doing something clever, as though it's saying something new, but ultimately the ending belies its own uncertainty. Where I don't have a problem with an unsatisfying or sudden conclusion, The Sound of My Voice has an ending that reads as though the filmmakers themselves actually couldn't decide which possible ending they wanted to run with and decided to try instead to leave it up to the audience. Problem is...usually there aren't this many threads left hanging at the moment of supposed resolution. See it for the middle section, don't say I didn't warn you.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Five-Year begins on with a few promising notes. Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) are a young couple in love. They mix well together, and we sense we'd be alright seeing them tie the knot. Life, however, has other plans. Five-Year runs 20 minutes too long and becomes hampered by the worst parts of reality infringing on what could otherwise be a slick piece of celluloid. Tom and Violet move, they're underemployed, they have accidental affairs, they go to graduate school, they breakup, they makeup, they become bored with one another, they change their minds again. The writing isn't smart enough to sustain the twists and turns, and the story collapses in on itself. There's a great moment or two (Brie and Blunt have a Cookie Monster and Elmo-voiced heated discussion worth a look), but they're tucked under the nonsense. Tom and Violet are, basically, the couple you know in real life who you start to hate to hear about and you're just like do it or don't, but let's move on.
People Like Us tells us right off that this is his sister. Somehow, Sam just knows, and he spends much of the film trying to get closer to them without revealing this information to his secret sister. This is, I think, perhaps creepier than if he tries to get closer to them to solve the mystery. Why can't he go along thinking this is a young mistress instead of knowing it's his sister? Why can't he tell them? Why doesn't he think it's kind of weird that he's getting close to this unstable woman who maybe is starting to have a crush on him? Why wouldn't he just be like: look, so it turns out you're probably me sister, I didn't like dad either, you wanna try and make a decent family out of the ashes of his awfulness? These are real problems the film is content to draw out for no apparent reason. There are compelling elements here, but they're ultimately not arranged in a way that's satisfying.
Innocuous? Maybe. Vacuous? Yes. Irritating? Beyond. So far beyond. Who did they make this movie for? How is it possible, I wonder, that Hollywood was able to round up this many actors for a film in which not a single joke reads as funny? In delivery the lines are a cloying mess of spittle, but even on the page I cannot fathom a point at which any of these lines 'worked'. If you're not aware of the basic premise, What to Expect is actually 'based on' an instructional non-fiction text (first possible mistake) and seeks, apparently, to explore some of the different symptoms one may experience during pregnancy. What you may not realize about this complete pile of shit is that most of the women you see on the poster do not even have storylines that intersect at all, let alone in a constructive way. Instead, this is a film that bounces between characters (mostly white, too-privileged ladies) over the course of nine months and somehow thinks it's achieving something revelatory when its unmarried couple suffers a miscarriage or it throws Elizabeth Banks on a stage to have her bitch about how she's actually quite miserable being pregnant. I mean, that tired old scene is the closest that What to Expect When You're Expecting gets to the apparently alien concept of 'humor', and is so forced its actually painful. I won't even get started on what Cameron Diaz is being forced to do in this so-called 'film', suffice to say that it's pretty bad when Jennifer Lopez manages to be among the least annoying components of a movie (these days). What to Expect is so mindbogglingly vapid that I'm convinced the producers must have had serious blackmail leverage on all of the actors involved. Short of saying that, you know, maybe it's actually just a side effect of these actors selling their souls to the devil, there can be no other reason for its existence.