Since January, nearly every film I've gone to has forced me to watch one of the same two repetitive trailers for Oblivion. Here I am, the trailers said, the movie you didn't ask for, the movie in which Tom Cruise plays a human Wall-E and flexes his Everyman muscle by putting on a Yankees cap and talkin' football on a post-apocalyptic planet. I resented those trailers just as I tend to resent Hollywood's insistence in casting Tom Cruise, repeatedly, as an action figure-sized hero. Resentment, though, only goes so far when you're a cinephile with a taste for science fiction. From Oblivion I sensed something other than just another repetitive, robotic action film, and so I surprised myself by deciding to go and see it. As the film wore on, I surprised myself further: I liked it, really, quite a bit even as I immediately recognized some of its more obvious flaws or was irritated by its rigid adherence to generic conventions. Since seeing the film, I've been trying to sort out exactly why it is that I can't seem to hold the film's faults against it, and why it is that my sense of its winning qualities seems to be a very unpopular opinion. Critical audiences seem to actively want to hate Oblivion, but their quippy loathing seems oddly misguided.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Terrence Malick is enjoying a fit of productivity, and judging from the results he's either had a major epiphany or has been having a crisis of existence while dabbling with psychotropic drugs. As readers of this blog likely already know, in the span of forty years, Malick has released a mere six films. The fifth was 2011's breathtaking The Tree of Life, my pick for the best picture of that year and easily one of the most stunning (aesthetically and experientially) of the last decade. With Tree of Life, Malick's already rather floaty interests seemed to officially break free from the confines of traditional narrative. He'd always been an impressionistic director, one interested in capturing an ethereal vision of the Earthly -wind blowing through a field, a watercolor sky, sunlight broken by patterned leaves- and To the Wonder is a romance in theory, but more of a cataloging of picture postcards in practice. The film is Malick's first of a whopping four films slated for release by the end of 2014, and where The Tree of Life read as the director's philosophical dissertation on the relationship between man and the cosmos, To the Wonder is something different: bite sized, enclosed, beautiful, and a little empty.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Trance is the type of film you shouldn't know too much about before watching, so please excuse the vague tiptoeing I'll be doing here. Loosely, the film is a thriller constructed around the flexibility of memory and the untapped potential of hypnosis. James McAvoy stars as Simon, an art auctioneer who finds himself involved with a group of dangerous criminals anxious to recover a targeted missing painting. The work is Francisco Goya's curious Witches in the Air, a piece that depicts a man in the midst of being spirited away (or torn apart) by a gaggle of male witches. There's more to it than that, of course, but the subject matter seems quite relevant to Simon's plight. Torn from his seemingly average life, Simon finds himself tortured and carted around by the criminals searching for the painting. He was the inside man. He was supposed to make things easy. Instead, the Goya disappeared. They believe he knows where it is, but a nasty blow to the head has left him with no access to those memories. Head honcho Franck (Vincent Cassel) decides to wire Simon and send him for hypnotherapy sessions in a last, desperate bid. Simon sits in Elizabeth Lamb's (Rosario Dawson) office and falls under her gentle spell, the boys wait outside, ready to pounce. From there, the film transforms from your average heist thriller to a rich, dizzying unraveling of our accepted reality.
The characters grow in surprising ways, aided by the actors' (McAvoy, Cassel, Dawson) understated abilities to play up initial genre archetypes and, therefore, ease us into something other than the dizzy free fall we're about to enter. In that respect, Trance reminded me quite a bit of another thriller released this year: Side Effects. Both work within certain modes while actively pushing against expectations, and each yields a sort of guilty pleasure level result aided by bouts of weird, lurid sex and violence. Though neither is the type of film a director would roll out come awards season, each is smart and satisfying if only because it seeks to frustrate some unwritten cliche. Trance announces, for me, a return to form for Danny Boyle. It's risky, raw, colorful, and fractured; imperfect, but damn entertaining.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Yes, The Place Beyond the Pines is, sneakily, sort of three films all at once. This accounts for its lengthy run time, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, is what's great about the film even as it's what's absolutely terrible about it. Cianfrance is taking very real structural risks throughout, here, and though the film is looped, bridged, and tied together into one very neat, clean narrative package, it's tough not to acknowledge that the second half of the film drags in ways that the Luke sequences do not. We move from a quick burning crime story, a world with guns, motorbikes, chase sequences, and creeping darkness, to the stories that follow the inevitable happily never after. Cianfrance's problem, of course, is that crime pays too well when pitted against real human drama. As savory as the storytelling is in the later sequences (though sometimes melodramatic), it can't compare to the rush of those earlier, Suicide-scored rides. Of course, a too good beginning is far from the worst problem a film can have, and all things considered, The Place Beyond the Pines has the makings of a very strong, lasting piece of American cinema. Cianfrance strikes a curious balance between the film's sprawling formal ambitions and its very personal, very intimate nature. We get to know the characters not merely through dialogue and action, but via landscapes, lingering shots, and the film's hauntingly atmospheric score. We switch vantages, we change stories, we move across decades, but we always, always, come back to the same split seconds.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
passed away today after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was a mere 70 years old and a tremendous influence to any and all who go to write up their thoughts on the cinematic arts. He will be sorely missed.
The balcony is closed, there are no words.
The balcony is closed, there are no words.