Thursday, July 31, 2014

Boyhood



Open on the sky, the strains of Coldplay's "Yellow" flaring up as the childishly scrawled credits segue into a type of stock image: a fine-haired young boy staring up at the clouds.  This is the humble beginning of Boyhood, a gesture towards something like universality so mundane as to be almost off-putting. There's something clunky and homemade about the opening minutes, as if in launching his ambitious project, Richard Linklater wasn't quite sure how best to guide the action.  So we're lead slowly through a series of searching moments between between Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his struggling mother (Patricia Arquette); the act of being picked up from school, the act of overhearing conversations one shouldn't, the act of being baited by his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).  We find that something begins to build slowly out of these strung together bits of naturalism.  Scenes feed seamlessly into one another, bound by a sense of developing purpose or small wonder.  We're treated to short continuous arcs detailing a day Mason and Samantha spend with their newly reformed father (Ethan Hawke), perhaps, or later, a relationship from beginning to break-up.  Always, though, Boyhood dwells in the moments that add up to a life.  

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.
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