Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Aggressively feel-good movie that doesn't so much tell an inspiring story as hold your face down in the snow, step on your neck, and tell you that you're an unfeeling bastard if you aren't moved by the plight of three whales trapped in the ice and suffering the indignity of starring in a movie with John Krasinski in full Golly-Gosh-Gee-Whiz-I'm-Adorable mode. A true story that briefly united every single person in the entire world in 1988 (and which I don't remember at all despite being 12 and seeing the news break into my programming every time a glass jar fell over in the USSR or a cat was frightened by Ronald Reagan's eerily plastic visage), this relentlessly-yet-blandly caring film doesn't so much build its emotions through character as kick you in the guts to let you know when and how you're supposed to feel. Director Ken Kwapis--who previously brought us License to Wed and He's Just Not That Into You--seems to aim for nothing higher than being mistaken for Garry Marshall as a director, enough that you expect Hector Elizondo to show up in yet another wig. I'll tell you what really offends me with this flick, though: throughout this smarmily teachable moment where everyone comes together in order to rescue trapped whales, the film only really tears into the media. The media here is represented by Kristen Bell, who is apparently evil because she's worried about her career and because she tells John Krasinski--quite correctly--that as reporters their duty is to objectively report the story and not get emotionally involved. The film really oversells it by giving her what appears to be a greedy smile filled with evil glee when the baby whale appears to have died; it's the falsest moment in a movie that tries too hard to be even-handed with what each character represents. The movie is so cutesy in its handling of the media aspect, then suddenly turns on this one character because she's using the situation for her career gain, but so is almost every other character--it's just that they can all be redeemed. Seriously, if this movie tells you one thing, it's that anyone can be sympathetic and their emotions can be appealed to in a crisis: whale hunters, opportunists, the military, big oil, the Reagan Administration, the Soviet government. But this one reporter apparently goes too far. In a movie so manipulative in such obvious ways that you can practically hear the gears grinding, it's a giant misstep. And after the big emotional orgy, putting a cap on it with that one line of narration is truly puke-inducing. There's some documentary footage from the actual event woven through the end credits that just makes me wish I'd seen a documentary about it instead. I like the whales, though. Too bad they're just pawns in this movie's calculated blitz to make you feel. **1/2

TWIXT (2011)
How to even describe this movie? Francis Ford Coppola has constructed a sort of Hitchcock-invoking trifle about a guy who writes novels about witches and who, in one of those small towns you see in movies that is as creepy as you'd expect any place where Bruce Dern is the sheriff to be, stumbles on to buried secrets and ritual murders, a luminous Elle Fanning and creepy goth kids who may be devil worshipers or who may be creepy goth kids who are so unemployable that they just rove about in a big camp. However, I liked this flick. Don't get me wrong, it's a dumb little movie, but it's a silly, fun style exercise with a joke ending from a once-overrated filmmaker who forgot long ago how to make small movies. This one doesn't even hit 85 minutes. That's the way it's supposed to be, man: if you don't have anything to say, don't oversay it. *** reflects my level of enjoyment more than the actual quality of the film.

Seriously, watch it if you haven't, it's very different from most Disney cartoons. I have no idea why they buried it for so long. A funny, witty short about a Big Bad Wolf who just can't get over missing out on Red Riding Hood and builds a time machine in order to have a second shot. And third, and fourth, etc. Interesting style, and love the jazz score and voice cast. ***/12

A recently-made-available UPA cartoon made for US Navy recruitment, it's propaganda of course, but it's well-animated propaganda. ***

This Walter Lantz cartoon introduces the character Space Mouse, who had been appearing for a little while in Lantz's comics. It would've been neat to see more of him. Too bad there's so much yellow-face in here; every moment that Space Mouse is disguised as a "no-honorable-suh-ah-so" Siamese cat is cringe-worthy. **1/2

I see this film has quickly become another one of those polarizing movies that fanboys are fighting about all over the internet. I had no idea what to expect with this movie, so my expectations weren't shattered by whatever peoples' expectations are being shattered by (though a lot of it seems to be a basic inability to understand that this flick doesn't take place on the same planet as Alien and Aliens). I thought this was a masterful science fiction epic, and easily the best film Ridley Scott's made in 30 years (though some of those are almost impossible not to top). I see where a lot of people are frustrated that the movie doesn't provide answers for the questions it asks, but that's one of the things I like about it: it knows that sometimes the search for answers leads to more questions, and that the search never ends. I think the movie sets that up in the beginning with a sequence about faith, which is a way of preparing the viewer for ambiguity. The story concerns a search for the origins of human life on a far-off moon, and I appreciate the way the film jumps right into the story and just keeps going, revealing bits of character along the way, unfolding rather than explaining. I didn't have any problem understanding what characters were doing or why--motivations are, as in life, fairly simple; the complexity of life really comes in what a person is or isn't willing to do to achieve their goals. At the center of this is Noomi Rapace as a woman who wants to have her faith rewarded, but not so desperately that she can't keep her head when things go horribly wrong. I liked the determination of her character; it's rewarding to see in science fiction a woman character who is driven by determination (to survive, to question, to seek) rather than just making her a superhumanly strong action character (which was also the strength of Sigourney Weaver in the first two Alien movies). She undergoes one of the most horrifying violations and attempts to regain control over her body that I've ever seen in a movie. And Michael Fassbender as the android David is chilling and so compelling; his performance is one of the greatest strengths of a film I found impossible to look away from. It's not the action thriller or sci-fi horror movie people wanted, I guess, but I like that it's not. I like that it's a pastoral, agoraphobic, visually and aurally stunning, deliberate movie that recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey much more than it tries to be another, say, Alien Resurrection. It's not about the answer to the question "Why?" It's about the search for the answer, and the search can be rewarding on its own. For me, I think the worst you could really say about this movie is that it might have too much faith in the audience to intuit what's going on and to be satisfied with not manipulating you. I found the whole enterprise exceptionally gratifying. ****

UPDATE: I don't mean the Prometheus review to sound so confrontational. It's hard not to have a reactive opinion when you're being told over and over again something you enjoyed is bad. I think at heart there's a disconnect between what viewers expected--a visceral thriller--and what the film actually is: a sometimes-cool-to-the-point-of-detached intellectual science fiction movie. I'm not saying if you didn't like the movie you're stupid or unintelligent, and I hope it doesn't come across that way. But I do understand it may not be the movie people wanted to see.

LOGAN'S RUN (1976)
I didn't realize Michael Bay's shitty The Island ripped off this movie so heavily. In this movie, future citizens live a hedonistic lifestyle in domed cities where their every need is catered to, but who are also expected to be "renewed" at the age of 30, at which point they believe they'll be reborn into another cycle of life. Of course, the truth is much more chilling (I mean, come on, it's a 70s science fiction movie). Michael York stars as Logan 5, a "Sandman" who catches runners, people who don't want to be renewed and try to escape, thereby threatening the equilibrium of society and its resources. It touches on sweeping themes of love, freedom, humanity, and the consumption demands of the population, but mostly it's a gripping, at times silly, grand adventure. With an exceedingly lovely Jenny Agutter. The special effects and hairstyles are dated, but the adventure is not. Great sets and a score by Jerry Goldsmith. ***1/2


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Logan's Run was one of those movies they showed at the base movie theatre many times over when I was a kid. I still enjoy it. How can you not love Boxx - great voice but clunky, junky execution.

jaundicedi said...

I haven't seen the film yet, but would prefer the sort of film you describe as opposed to another "Aliens". In fairness to those who are angry, the trailer looks like another action thriller and gives no real indication that it will be an intellectual speculative fiction film. This is where Hollywood screws both the viewer and the film maker all too often. They make something different but market it as the same old thing, pissing off the audience they attract and missing the audience that film would otherwise draw.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I think "The Island" stole more from the 70s sci-fi shlock film "Parts: The Clonus Horror", about a clone farm grown for replacement organs.

Its pretty bad, but its got Peter Graves and Darrin from "Bewitched" (the second Darrin anyway), so thats something. Plus it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Check it out:

Tallulah Morehead said...

I saw Logan's Run when it came out, and hated it so intensely that I've never seen it a second time. I particularly loathed Peter Ustinov's shamefully shameless over-acting, a disgraceful performance from a great actor who clearly needs a strong director to tell him "Cut the bullshit, Pete." (Oddly enough, one of his finest performances was self-directed in Billy Budd)

It won a Special Oscar for its wretched special effects. The next year Special Visual Effects were reinstated as a regular, in-competition, Oscar category, which is why the crappy effects in Logan's Run have an Oscar and the great effects in Close Encounters of the Third Kind a year later does not. Close Encounters lost to Star Wars. Had they not changed the rules that year, both films could have won one.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on Prometheus and I respond quite well to this style of SF cinema. In a sense it is equivalent to the intersection of literary fiction and SF, where it is the SF that is more literary, rather than the other way round, where it is more thoughtful, more... Classical(?)... in execution than Romantic. The way certain Lovecraft novels are, understated, fluid, elegant, defying the easy fallback on ropy tentacles and luridly exotic names (ATMoM, CDW).

If you haven't already, hunt up Tarkovsky's SF (Solaris, Stalker) and you'll see a similar level of stillness and contemplation in execution.

Mind you, there is that strain of understated lyricism running through Prometheus that few have remarked on.

Roger Owen Green said...

Haven't seen it since, but remember liking the Logan's Run at the time,

And thanks for the tip on RRH!

GarrettCRW said...

Well said with Prometheus: it's a smart movie and seems to rather clearly reflect Scott's desire to "take back" a franchise that has been rather ruthlessly interfered with by Fox since production started on Alien 3. I'm not sure if Scott intends to make a sequel to Prometheus, but the room is there, and Rapace and Fassbender were damn good in this.