2013 Resolution: Movies Watched This Week (8.26.13)

After a month-and-a-half hiatus, I’m continuing with my resolution to watch more movies, here’s what I took in this past week:

Elysium, dir. by Neil Blomkamp, USA, 2013.

This was one of my most anticipated films of 2013. I was a huge fan of Blomkamp’s District 9 and his earlier Halo shorts, which were nothing short of remarkable. Blomkamp is one of the driving forces behind my world building in my next feature, Paul Pope’s The One Trick Rip-Off, and we keep going back to him as a reference.

Elysium is as impressive as ever from a sci-fi world standpoint, its details are remarkable and deftly realized. The production design is ace, but unfortunately that’s about all the film has going for it. This despite Blomkamp’s obvious visual talents and Matt Damon’s earnestness.

Where to begin with this mess of a film? Well let’s start with just that - it’s messy and sloppy. Feels like it was edited by a 6-year old on an iPhone, and the ADR on Jodie Foster’s wonky accent takes something that was already bad to downright appalling. Foster - who is likely one of the greatest actresses of her generation - totally phones it in with a lazy, one-note performance. The only time we see any depth in her character is in the seconds before she dies, and that too is contrite and boring.

I also don’t understand the casting of Alice Braga in this or any other Hollywood film. I just don’t think she’s got what it takes to carry big budget films. She was a revelation in City of God and set the screen on fire in Lower City, but her ventures into Hollywood have been flat and uninspired. I can’t put my finger on it, but for some reason I just don’t buy her in any of her roles. Could be just me.

But as is the case with most current sci-fi, the film fails at the script level. An inane story is further dragged down by silly dialogue and a complete disregard for any common sense. Technologies are provided that literally act as god machines, easy fixes that have zero credibility. In one sequence, a completely incomprehensible Sharlto Copley gets his face blown off and in a completely stupid leap-of-faith gets his entire face reconstructed within seconds. Sure it’s sci-fi, but any science within that universe must be rationalized. In Elysium, it’s all effect and zero plausibility.

The fault of all this lies squarely on the shoulders of Blomkamp, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s so overwrought with social metaphors and cloying left-wing politics (and I say this as a bleeding heart liberal myself) that it comes off more as a political parody than social critique, a lefty version of Atlas Shrugged. Ouch. Can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s very, very hard for me to like this film. There’s very little going for it other than pretty visuals.

Murder on the Orient Express, dir. by Sidney Lumet, United Kingdom, 1974.

Hercule Poirot is one of literature’s truly wonderful characters - uptight, snooty, wholly inappropriate and a complete badass. Albert Finney’s version of Agatha Christie’s intrepid inspector is one of the all-time great screen characters, and bolstered by Paul Dehn’s Academy Award-winning screenplay and Sidney Lumet’s impeccable direction.

This is classic Lumet and movie that would never be made today because it is loaded with dialogue and balances a small army of characters with equal aplomb. Poirot digs and pokes and prods each suspect of an overnight murder on a stranded train, using humor and Gallic charm to piece together the evidence. Features an all-century cast with Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, and a lethally radiant pair of femme fatales in Jacqueline Bissett and Vanessa Redgrave, this is a pure treat of performance and impeccable direction. The ending is shocking and morally ambiguous, which makes it all the more memorable. We just don’t see movies like this anymore. Sad.

TRON: Uprising, dir. by Charlie Bean, USA, 2012.

Joesph Kozinski’s TRON: Legacy was a visually stunning letdown. It’s improved over repeat viewings but there was just something missing from it, and after seeing Disney’s otherworldly animated series TRON: Uprising I finally realized what that missing factor was: edge.

Kozinski’s film, like his Oblivion is simply too smooth, too slick, and as a result it reads as mechanical and cold. What the original TRON captured - and what the animated series has recaptured - is a hard cyberpunk edge that infuses heart and blood into a cold, mechanical world. This visually stunning animated series is one of the very best things I’ve seen in a long time, cartoon or live action feature combined. And that’s not hyperbole, it’s just that fucking good. Superb voice acting, hyper-stylized animation, impeccable sound design and amazingly solid writing all contribute to what science fiction should be in our age of visual technology, and TRON: Uprising is just firing on all cylinders. It’s violent, sexy, thought-provoking and amazingly executed. Definitely flying under the radar and undeservedly so, this is sci-fi at its very best. Seek it out, support it, and make sure it doesn’t get cancelled.

Archive:

June 6, 2013 - The Invisible War, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Fast & Furious 6.

May 26, 2013 - Upstream Color, Star Trek: Into Darkness.

April 21, 2013 - Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum), The Art of the Steal, Repo Man

April 4-14, 2013 - Gate of Hell, White Mane, The Holy Mountain, Scenes From a Marriage, Homeland

March 31, 2013 - Room 237, Strange Circus, The Darkest Hour.

March 24, 2013 - Spring Breakers, The World According to Dick Cheney, Hope Springs.

March 17, 2013 - The Loved Ones, Pink Ribbons Inc., The Seducers.

March 10, 2013 - The Master, Sound City, Perks of Being a Wallflower

March 3, 2013 - Holiday, L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot, The Woman in Black, Savages, Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles

February 17, 2013 - Les Miserables, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste; Galaxie 500 1979-1991,

February 10, 2013 - La Marge (The Margin), The FP, Kill Bill V2

February 3, 2013 - The Night Porter, Gantz, Bitten

January 26, 2013 - Eames: The Architect & The Painter, Luck By Chance, School of Rock

January 19, 2013 - Silver Linings Playbook, We Are Legion, Zero Dark Thirty

2013 Resolution: Movies Watched This Week (3.24.13)

Continuing with my resolution to watch more movies, here’s what I took in this past week:

Spring Breakers, dir. by Harmony Korine, USA, 2013.

This was one of my must-see films for 2013, for more reasons than one. I’ve long been a fan of cinematographer Benoit Debie, ever since I saw the horror film Calvaire I had this feeling that he was going to be the next truly great maverick cinematographer behind Christopher Doyle and Darius Khondji. After seeing Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void and Spring Breakers, my hunch was confirmed - Debie is the real deal.

Conversely I’ve never been a huge fan of Harmony Korine, but I’ve always had immense respect for him because he’s a filmmaker without fear. He’s raw, uncompromising, and is one of the few taboo-smashers remaining in film. We need more people like Harmony Korine to blow the lid off of what we can and cannot discuss in art. For that reason alone I will always support and see a Harmony Korine film whenever it comes out, and to have Korine’s explosive polemics, Debie’s epic camera, and James Franco (whom I respect immensely) all collide in Spring Breakers, well that’s what got me dizzy with anticipation to go see it.

I came out of the theater angry and frustrated, primarily at Korine. Spring Breakers is a technical marvel - its visuals are stunning, the score and soundtrack by the duo of Skrillex and Cliff Martinez is one of the best of the year, and Franco is absolutely Oscar-worthy as Alien, a hip-hop MC / drug pusher with a heart (and grill) of gold. But Spring Breakers has nothing to say, it’s neither a story or a satire/ critique of society. It has absolutely no idea what kind of movie it wants to be, and seems completely devoid of a script. The only two characters we remotely invest in are Alien and the god-fearing Faith, played with impressive nuance by Selena Gomez. We care about Alien and Faith because they are the only two characters in the entire film that are given at least five minutes of backstory. The remaining three breakers - Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson and a resoundingly talentless Vanessa Hudgens - and the antagonist played by Gucci Mane, are all meandering without purpose, spewing lines that sound like dialogue that have absolutely zero context. The film, because it lacks a cohesive story or purpose, repeats itself endlessly, even literally rehashing lines of dialogue in progression. It reeks of an editor’s nightmare, which is to be handed a ton of absolutely beautiful footage and having no idea what to do with it. The default ‘dream fugue’ is a result.

It’s a shame that the work of Franco and Debie are drowning on this sinking ship. The failure of the film lays squarely on Korine as a writer and director - Spring Breakers is a movie that deserved to be made, but only with a competent script and a director who actually knows what he wants to say. I say see it for Franco and Debie’s camera, but know you’ll walk out frustrated, laughing at the movie and not with it, and feeling completely cheated of something that had the potential to be truly great.

The World According to Dick Cheney, dir. by R.J> Cutler, USA, 2013.

Dick Cheney is evil. We all know that. He can’t be killed, won’t die (four - count ‘em - FOUR fucking heart attacks), and has an incredible ability to rationalize the most heinous and self-serving of actions as being done for the greater good. It’s all these things that also make him one of the most fascinating human beings on the planet, and while we all are aware that it was he who commandeered the Bush presidency, to hear it from his own mouth would be absolutely fascinating as an insight into the nature of pure evil. Curiosity abound with this one - did he have regrets? Have the clear, inarguable failures of the Iraq War humbled him? This documentary promised to be “the world according to Dick Cheney,” and we’d get to hear it all from his mouth, warts, horns, bifurcated tongue and all.

This is where the documentary falters, in that we’re given only a dose of His Evilness allowed to speak from himself, and we get a whole lot of Cheney historians and critics commenting on his tenure. Unlike Errol Morris’ brilliant The Fog of War, which served as a one-on-one confessional for controversial Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Cheney is about as open as Fort Knox, giving us the same nonsense spin that he gave us for eight years of tyranny. If the message is that Dick Cheney has zero regrets, has not changed one iota, and would do it all over again the same way, then why watch a two hour documentary to reiterate what we already know? A noble attempt and exceptionally well made, but we’re treading water here.

Hope Springs, dir. by David Frankel, USA, 2012.

A fluff romantic dramedy about an older couple who’s lost that flame of passion for one another. It’s anchored by two of history’s greatest actors in Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, and despite a predictable, well-written screenplay, there are genuine moments of sincerity between the leads throughout the film. Steve Carell delivers an earnest but ultimately one-note performance as a sex therapist in a small, idyllic Maine town, and his character has no arc or transformation. He’s just the Dungeon Master. Hope Springs is classic Hollywood studio feel-good filler, and doesn’t harm anyone unless you’re sensitive to seeing older people trying to give each other blowjobs. For real. Equally puzzling is the appearance of Elizabeth Shue - a legitimate highly paid actress - who shows up for all of two minutes in the film. It reeked of the bloated, agent-driven approach to studio filmmaking. All I kept thinking was how much money this VERY simple little film cost to make. I looked it up. It cost $30 million. Kill me now.

Archive:

March 17, 2013 - The Loved Ones, Pink Ribbons Inc., The Seducers.

March 10, 2013 - The Master, Sound City, Perks of Being a Wallflower

March 3, 2013 - Holiday, L’Enfer d’Henri-Georges Clouzot, The Woman in Black, Savages, Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles

February 17, 2013 - Les Miserables, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste; Galaxie 500 1979-1991,

February 10, 2013 - La Marge (The Margin), The FP, Kill Bill V2

February 3, 2013 - The Night Porter, Gantz, Bitten

January 26, 2013 - Eames: The Architect & The Painter, Luck By Chance, School of Rock

January 19, 2013 - Silver Linings Playbook, We Are Legion, Zero Dark Thirty