Lately, Disney has achieved a level of brand synergy that feels almost supernatural. Its star houses are fully aligned: the Pixar world's emotional resonance has rubbed off on the Disney in-house animation studios, Marvel has built a type of cross-generational magic, and that Star Wars trailer? It is on point, my friend. Disney can do no wrong (Planes: Fire and Rescue excepted), and as they tear through this winning streak they're doing so with an emphasis on heart and raw entertainment that's damn near unprecedented. No string of companies can make you cry as much as you laugh quite like them, and if one proves it can it's certainly not likely to repeat the formula successfully a second, third, and fourth time in as many releases. All that is to say: Big Hero 6 is good. So good. Squee-inducing good. It's everything one could wish for from a family film; a feel-right movie that pulls off its hat trick without sacrificing the action and humor that has made so many of the recent Marvel franchises critical darlings.
Friday, November 14, 2014
A washed-up ex A-lister sinks his name and fortune on a production of a Raymond Carver story. He's rented the theater, written the script. He will direct, star, and hold interviews with the press until opening night arrives and puts his life on the line. He's the man known for three superhero franchise flicks, recognized on the street as "Birdman" and in his personal life as a failed husband, an inattentive father, and a frail mess of ego-wrapped nerves. This is Riggan Thomson as brought to life by Michael Keaton, one time Batman, long time missing-in-action character actor. Much has been made of the way Birdman plays, at times, like a sort of meta-narrative driven by our associatons between Keaton and Riggan. More has been made of Keaton's return to a leading role, but there are things that Birdman is and things too that give it more credit than it perhaps deserves.
Monday, November 10, 2014
Let me begin with the condemning negative, for it can only go uphill from there. While watching Interstellar a part of my brain - as happens with most films - tried to come up with how best to describe it. There's always a pitch-style formula, and with Interstellar the nice version is that it's what happens when you mate Kubrick's 2001 with a greeting card. The mean version is that it's basically the best possible version of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. If both of those sound damning, they are and they aren't. Even when paired with a greeting card, 2001 connotes an epic property -- and Interstellar is indeed that. The film never struggles to evoke real scale and succeeds in allowing us to understand our insignificance. It runs big, shows us hours of massive, grand images while speaking in distances and times that build a sense of urgency in the viewer. Then it does that other thing. The greeting card thing. Out there amid the wormholes and mysterious planets we find a repeated refrain: love will guide us through. Love is a magical power. Love "is the one thing that transcends space and time." Happy Valentine's Day, human race, we're gonna combat this slow-burning apocalypse with the power of love.
I don't like to throw out terms like 'master' or 'genius' on the regular. In a collaborative medium, especially, it's tough to truly pin those titles on the bulk of directors. Gone Girl, though, makes one thing very clear: David Fincher is a master of adaptation. Specifically, he's quite possibly the best and most qualified person to direct any and all psychological thrillers adapted from bestselling literature. If you're agreeing with me so far, let me push this just a little further: I'm actually 99% sure that even The Silence of the Lambs would be significantly improved (or, at least, more temporally dislocated) if Fincher had made it. Controversial opinion, right? Really, though, just imagine how much more haunting those prison scenes would be through Fincher's lens. Try to attach a Trent Reznor score and revel in the clarity and hue of those close-ups.
Whether you buy into that or not, Fincher's way with thriller novels seems to be second to none these days. If Fight Club was a prelude (now contemporary classic), the one-two punch of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl seals the deal: these are adaptations that feel definitive. It doesn't matter how popular the original text was, Fincher's film versions bind and replace them in our minds. They become the text, they mesh with it, they are somehow what we wanted them to be. Or, more precisely, they are what we didn't know we wanted them to be. In the case of Stieg Larsson, Fincher's manipulation of the basic pigments can transform a generic, blandly written procedural so that we understand the rage beneath its surface. In the case of Gillian Flynn (who, wisely, wrote the script here), Fincher draws out the tension from a character driven work. He fills in the spaces; with silence, with madness. He makes them haunt us. [Spoilers ahead]
Begin with a rhythm. With a pulse. With sweat on the snare drum, blood discoloring a set of sticks. Make us feel the mounting speed in close-up after close-up. Hands keeping time, blisters opening as we advance to 2x, 3x, 4x, more. We understand the callouses, we hold our breath and make fists as the rhythm speeds up, our hearts in our throats. The worse the suffering is on screen, the better it becomes. This is the sweet torment of Damien Chazelle's brilliant Whiplash, a jazz drama that crackles with the anxious energy that can only come from true desperation.