Thursday, May 30, 2013

Killing Them Softly

I’m talking about that most arrogant of self-centered people. The guy who cops a dated style but wears it like he invented it. His whole attitude a transparent grab for attention. And when he talks, every subject leads back to him. Sure, you hate him, everyone does. But there’s a small bit of respect for the conviction put into the whole charade. It being hideous may be part of the intent and definitely part of the charm.

I’m not sure I can call Killing Them Softly a good or bad movie. I can say I couldn’t help but stare and appreciate. The main reason I kept watching was that each character felt whole and independent. Instead of characters moving in to press a theme or plot further along, it felt that the narrative gets waylaid by these people. The audience gets a mini-character study while ideas / concepts trace through them. But the power came from each of these people not caring at all what came before them. It became their movie as soon they got the camera. Really, it was so arresting that had I been told how the whole thing ended, I would have kept watching to see these characters.

As for these ideas / concepts / themes, Killing Them Softly comes out really over-the-top. I cringed at the naked stretch towards “art house”. It screams “I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY”, but then leaves the audience alone after that to supply the “what”. Brad Pit has a fun monologue at the end to summarize the one undeniable message of the piece. You know, in case everything that came before was too subtle for you (it won’t be).It’s tough not to see the willful self-destruction of every character and the demonization of corporate America / corporate culture. The idea is fun to turn over in your head, “organized crime has gone to the dogs”. It reminds me a quote from my father (I don’t know where he got it), that  “___ could screw up a dumpster”.  Citing corporate America as the source of all the nation’s ills isn’t new, but tracing it this far down is. Or like the mobster who robs his own games of poker, there’s this wink Killing Them keeps giving out. How serious / self-aware is the movie? Because robbing your own game of poker that is entirely attended by gangsters is both the most clever and dumbest thing a person could do. It’s a mind-game you play with yourself. (I recognize how stupid that sentence can sound. That’s the point)

It’s way too easy to throw this film out based on a surface understanding. The opening invites it, but then the acting is so good. You can take one glance at that self-absorbed person and know everything, maybe, but for me the idea keeps lingering… Is it a play on expectations or just willful blindness?

This film felt no need to justify itself. It simply did what it wanted. I approve. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cloud Atlas

Atlas got off to a bad start with me. It spouts off some Junk about how all stories are the same; they express some human commonality blah blah. I was offended both as a person who enjoys stories and one who writes them. Obviously the reverse is true, right? Does it not slight every story, including this one, to think they’re all different dressing on the same idea? Credit to Atlas for slowly winning me over.

At first it seemed like there were a dozen narratives and none of them have anything to do with each other. Then the irresistible thrill and challenge of solving a puzzle took over. When next I reassessed my general like / dislike I found myself engrossed in each little story. The offensive opening acted as the key, and I had to, grudgingly, agree with the claim.

I can see the potential turn off, though. For being all about the human condition, none of the stories feel real. They all take place on Earth, sure, but have a weightlessness to them. The only thing that matters is the Moral. Like a folktale or myth, everything feeds into the final lesson with such a hyper focus that there is nothing else but a condensed nugget of “truth”. And going through multiple climaxes was somewhat grating. Relieved somewhat by nobody being “safe”. The characters are instruments of the end message. So long as that’s served it doesn’t matter what happens to them.

The revealed Mysteries of the Universe aren’t going to astound. This is more touching celebration than breaking news. The connection between disparate narratives invites personal branching of the core idea. How important are stories to actual human loves? Deeply. And examining how personal favorites fit into this much larger Work is the loving send-off to this beautiful piece. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Star Trek

I think the proper metaphor for this film is some slight of hand card trick. Very slick, with lots of movement, that ultimately doesn’t go far. These reshuffled stories, stories that acknowledge in some post-modern sense that they are stories already told but mean to realign the pieces in a new fashion, hit a deeper nerve than New stories. Expectations are met, challenged, and played with. I’m sitting there feeling like the story is talking to me. But Star Trek just teases at a reshuffle. Big changes are either killed early by other big changes or the “change” remains functionally the same as before. It’s all talk. Early on, Kirk is stripped of his captaincy . All the possibilities that bloom are beautiful to consider. I want to see how Kirk gets his ship back, how he grows under Pike (who is just one of the coolest guys in the film), what the rest of the crew do in his absence. Yet functionally, Spock still calls him captain, he still gives orders, and another big change comes through that knocks this one apart. The big movement in the beginning is a referendum on Kirk’s “go with your gut” style but before that can even get a hold everything switches and Kirk’s “just go” method is the only thing to save everyone.

Spock. He’s broken here. Beaten from one end of the film to the other by every major character, it’s no small wonder. He comes off as arrogant not confident, dismissive not calm, and the puzzlement he’s always had about emotions balloons into a willful ignorance. The Spock that approached problems from inventive new angles? Now he’s simply an asshole. His absence rips out a good chunk of the heart and humor of the series. Honestly, I spent so much time waiting for him to come around I feel I owe the film a second watch to see if I missed anything.

Cumberbatch, the main bad, is horrible. Every line he takes way over-the-top. And every ounce of that bad acting he channels through his mouth, forgetting the rest of his face, and contorting his mouth strangely for each word. His character’s name and associated history carry more weight than any action he takes. Meant to convey an unstoppable threat, it’s up to the rest of the cast talking about how serious he is to make the reputation stick. It doesn’t help he still looks and moves like Sherlock.

I also have to subtract substantially for an ending that anybody, anybody, is going to see coming a mile and a half away. The moving words are drowned out by the audience screaming “get on with it”.

Action-wise it feels very samey. Stunts repeat from the previous film or just seem similar conceptually to each other. How many times is Kirk going to fit one fast moving object into a small section of another, larger, one?  Credit to the computer-effects wizards for making the same tricks feel a little fresh. It’s not boring, just disappointing.

And then it’s over and I wonder what it meant. The villains wanted a war, Kirk wanted a family, and for being the smart guy out there, Spock is still playing catch-up. They take off sure of themselves and lessons learned but I’m not. The film that began reviling in change slots all the pieces back where they’re supposed to go and takes off. Better luck next time Enterprise.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

The trouble with a reviewing on Zero Dark Thirty is that it wasn’t a movie. What you’ll get here is a series of news articles acted out. Acted well, sure. I don’t mean to be dismissive of the talent and skill on display here, as it’s considerable. But scenes come and go like all they were meant to do is tick off another signpost on the way to bin Laden’s head. Each ends with a “and here’s the general feeling of what just happened”. People were scared, then angry, but then they got really scared again, but then they got really angry. Those are the depths this film plumbs. Each event is just evidence, justification, for the ending everyone knows is coming. How did anyone get upset about the torture? All the film says is that it happened and the public didn’t like it. There is no defense or condemnation. Characters are likewise pushed along a flat progression. How did the same director do this and The Hurt Locker?

There really is no nuance here for me to write more about. The story is as you, no doubt, know it. Nothing new was added. Should a passionless reminder of what the hunt for Osama entailed, this is just the thing.