Friday, April 27, 2012

AT TRIBECA: SLEEPLESS NIGHT


The last couple/few years have seen an atypically high number of awesome thrillers coming out of France. Maybe it's just that I've seen all of them and it isn't actually all that atypical, but Tell No One was great, Point Blank was awesome (unpopular opinion alert: it was better than the John Boorman picture), and now there's Sleepless Night (original title: Nuit Blanche) which is both everything that you'd ever hope to want from a cop/gangster picture and yet one that almost seems like it was made by someone who'd never seen one before. In the best possible way.

Sleepless Night unfolds in a way that renders assumptions about what kind of picture it is and who its characters are absolutely worthless. Apparent stick-up artists turn out to be cops. Friends are covert enemies. Gangsters feel remorse about the dirt they do. People hide in plain sight. Brilliant plans go awry. Utterly fucking ridiculous extemporizing actually works. Pretty early on, you realize the only thing to do is just sit back and bask. Well, if the way you “sit back” is on the edge of your seat chewing your knuckle to keep from shattering glass with high-pitched “what the fuck . . .?”s. Because while it may not follow conventional diagrammatic thriller beats, this shit is fucking intense, dude.

For such a complex and nuanced movie, the basic premise is quite simple: Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manu (Laurent Stocker) pull a rip and run on a couple coke dealers, one of whom gets got, the other of whom gets away. Vincent catches one in the crossfire, but tis but a flesh wound and in any case they get the coke. It then transpires that Vincent and Lauren are cops, with an eye out for a mean-as-a-snake Internal Affairs bull (Julien Boisselier, at times bearing an eerie physical and vocal resemblance to Aiden Gillen). Vincent's son (Samy Seghir, who gives an excellent kid performance) busts his balls because all his police work has him a bit distant and mercurial. Vincent barely has time to reflect on how just the ball-busting is before the gangster whose coke he and Manu ripped kidnaps the kid and holds him in his massive demimonde multiplex (I mean, shit, there's a disco, a bar, a restaurant, a pool hall, and a whorehouse all in separate parts of the building under the same roof; if the place wasn't crawling with angry French people with guns I'd totally fucking hang out there). Vincent's task? Bring the coke, trade it for the kid. If you put twenty euros on “there's no way it's that simple” then you backed the winning horse.

Almost the entire movie takes place in that massive club, and after a while, Vincent gets a real feel for the place. In one of my favorite ongoing plotlines, he becomes kind of weirdly friendly with the kitchen workers, even though he never says much of anything to them that isn't yelling or cursing. But there's a bond that forms when you corner a man and demand in Franglais that he help you fill up a couple dozen plastic bags with flour to pass it off as temporarily missing cocaine. I like to think all the kitchen staff looked at Vincent as he had them do that and went, “Wow, that guy's fucking awesome.” And so when he stops back in they're almost like, “Hey, it's that awesome guy again.”

I wouldn't dream of revealing how all this shakes out. The hour-forty one spends with Sleepless Night is a mesmerizing, dream-like time. Director Frederic Jardin is the truth. The action is absolutely top echelon, with copious, brutal, relatively naturalistic ownage abound. The acting's great. The camerawork is killer. It's cut almost perfectly. Actually, there's only one thing wrong with the movie, and it's not anything cinematic. There's one scene where an ostensible good guy goes a little far in getting information out of a woman who's a lot smaller than him, and not one of the bad guys. Granted, the guy in question was under a bit of stress, and to the best of his knowledge the woman in question was working against him, but there was a moment there where it was a little uncomfortable. No “yeah, but” with that either, it's a definite debit.

That said, it's just about the movie's only one. Sleepless Night's highs rank with the best action cinema's seen. Almost the entire picture is a high. Oh man oh man this fucking movie is good. It's an absolute must-see for anyone who likes cop movies, gangster movies, action movies, and who likes it when all the above keep it fucking French. I know it's not just me, y'all.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

REJOICE ALL, FOR THERE IS NEW STATHAM: SAFE

Statham can't even be on a movie poster without reminding you you're basically fucking dead.

Chris Sarandon: “You got some balls.”
Jason Statham: “I know,  it's amazing I can even walk.”

--the most self-aware line in Statham's entire oeuvre, in Safe

The advent of new Statham is always a good thing, and a sign that the universe is still capable, despite its massive fucking foibles, of good. Statham pictures are refreshingly devoid of subtext, and empirical in their simplicity of purpose: there are bad guys, those bad guys need to get owned, and Statham needs to frown a bit, growl, and maybe take his shirt off. Also, under normal circumstances, he gets laid. Safe, his latest, obviates any getting laid by having Russian gangsters kill his wife in his first scene, and giving him a 12-year-old female co-star. Fortunately, the most crucial elements of his skill set, the ones relating to the ability to deal violent and stylish death to many, many men, are left intact. Which is why Safe is fucking great.

Though, to be perfectly clear, as a movie qua movie, Safe is a gigantic pile of shit. The little girl's backstory is repetitive and takes forever, Statham's “character” is motivated by asequentual causality (Ed. Note: it's okay, you're not crazy, “asequential” isn't a real word, that's the point) and the twists, of which there are a couple medium-rare humdingers, don't have any resonance because they're not built on anything. It's really kind of bizarre that Boaz Yakin wrote this movie, because he started as a writer, and a pretty good (if nowhere near great) one once upon a time. Safe is not a well-written movie. The structure is like someone hacked Boaz Yakin's copy of Final Draft and reprogrammed it to be some kind of stochastic action movie plot point generator. All the stuff happens that's supposed to happen in a stupid action movie—and, at a certain point, the movie almost reluctantly embraces its own stupidity, which helps—but a lot of the stuff not directly concerned with Jason Statham murdering extras is stunningly bad.

One thing that carries Safe through a lot of those slow points is the cast. Safe is an object lesson in the perfect way to cast a stupid action movie:

—Obviously you need a star who brings the ownage (in this case, Statham, who meets this requirement with the ease of breathing).

James Hong always helps, because James Hong is the fucking greatest.

—Then, although this might sound counter-intuitive, you want a non-Russian to play the Russian mobster. Sándor Técsy (who sadly died after the movie was completed), a Hungarian, meets this qualification; Russian heavies need fake Russian accents, and if there's one thing the entire world can agree on, it's that doing a fake Russian accent is massive fun. Look at John Malkovich in Rounders. Hell, look at the Russian dudes I used to lift weights with back in the day, they even liked doing fake Russian accents, and they were Russian.

—Another very important element is the random dude who used to be good on a TV show, which role is filled with élan by Prison Break alum Reggie Lee (for reference, see also Jon Hamm in like ninety supporting roles recently in things like The Town, Sucker Punch, and A-Team, where you're like “what the fuck is Jon Hamm doing here?” and he's always great, no matter how dumb the movie is) who takes the massive risk of attempting to bring nuance to his role as James Hong's man on the ground in New York, fulfilling the “ruthless fuckface” aspect of the role that should be all there is to it, except he throws the curveball of actually caring about the little girl in his evil motherfucker kind of way. Sure you have to grade him on a bit of a curve because the script is dumb and subtlety always seems more subtle when Jason Statham is running around emptying clips into people at point blank range, but still, Reggie Lee should be in more movies.

—Similar, but not quite the same, you need a “That Guy” who's good enough that you remember his name in the future. What's good, Robert John Burke?

—Very important, the kid has to not be annoying. Christina Chan pulls this off pretty well, although admittedly, the bar is low. Still, she's convincing as a smart kid, which, ya know, doesn't grow on trees.

—You need some random dude who when he shows up, you're like, “Whoa, wasn't this fuckin guy just in high school movies, like, last week?” This is known in certain circles as the Judd Nelson in New Jack City part. Anson Mount, as the Mayor's aide-de-camp, fits the bill with an entertainingly reptilian flair once he shows up two-thirds of the way through the picture (we could have used him earlier, for reasons that become clear towards climax time).

—And, essential to this entire enterprise (recall, if you will, the invaluable contribution of Powers Boothe to Rapid Fire) is the distinguished veteran of stage and screen who pretends like he's slumming it, whom all involved including the audience have to humor on this point, but who secretly knows he isn't really slumming it and so, in a manner of speaking, puts his hip into the performance. Chris Sarandon earns immediate induction into the Evil White Guy In A Suit Hall Of Fame here (he would have been a snap for The Princess Bride except for the technicality of him not actually wearing a suit in that due to it being fantasy), as DA MAYOR O' NOO YAWK FUCKIN CITY, complete with goatee, shameless 9/11 exploitation, and a complete absence of ethics or morals. He also does a perfect New York accent. Absolutely perfect. He makes the genius choice of not overdoing it, which is where everybody else on the planet who isn't from New York fucks up.

The story is about who gives a fuck, here's the hero, here's the kid, here are a whole lot of bad guys, and we're going to keep changing the rules every ten minutes until Statham just says fuck it and kills everyone. The whole point to a movie like this is that Statham kills everyone, and this is where Boaz Yakin, fight coordinator Chad Stahelski, and editor Frederic Thoraval (who cut Pierre Morel's classics District B13, Taken, and From Paris With Love) really shine. The action sequences are thumbs-up, a-ok, righty-o Sunny Jim. Statham kills a lot of people in this, very definitively (at one point, emptying the whole rest of his clip into a guy who was pretty much fucked anyway just because, at a certain point, you have to let motherfuckers know who's Statham and who's dead), and the filmmakers don't hang him out to dry in the slightest. The shittiness of the non-action parts are counterbalanced damn near perfectly by how dope the action parts all are. Let's, once more, have a round of applause for Chad Stahelski and Frederic Thoraval, as fight coordinators and editors don't get nearly enough love, and these two dudes are really fucking good at their jobs.

It's not a slight, even if it is a touch tautological, to say that Safe is for the kind of person who wants to see Safe. If you're already the kind of person who goes “fuck yeah, new Statham!” you'll be in good hands, especially with the picture's relative brevity; the running time's listed at 95 minutes but it isn't a second over 90. Non-initiates may find wading through the bullshit to get to the ownage a bit taxing, though Safe absolutely delivers once you get through the clunky expository parts. Statham is a singular entity. It's absolutely fucking hilarious to see him play a New York cop without making the slightest apparent effort to hide his English accent, but Statham don't change his accent for a motherfucker. He is to be beheld, not nitpicked.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

AT TRIBECA: UNIT 7

Grupo Siete: Sí, somos badasses. 

Spain's always been pretty hip. They were Islamic less than a century after the Prophet (before everyone else was into it, etc etc), you gotta love any country capable of winning the World Cup AND a gold medal in Olympic basketball—which could totally happen if Dwight Howard's back is actually injured; for bigs, Spain has the Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka, the latter of whom represents a truly awesome blatant bit of underhandedness, as Mr. Ibaka is from the Congo, and the only reason he plays for Spain internationally is because fuck you, that's why—and there's Ibiza, Gaudi in Barcelona, Elena Anaya, Penelope Cruz. Basically what I'm saying is, Spain's really going out of its way to ingratiate itself to me. That opening shot in Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone just fucking basking is like the whole country is like “Hey, minus the accent, acting talent, and ability to not shit yourself when Ian McShane is pissed at you, THIS COULD BE YOU, BOWES!” The latest in Spain's outreach campaign is director Alberto Rodriguez's cop drama Unit 7 (original title: Grupo 7). They have Elena Anaya, basketball, and ownage? I may have to emigrate.

Unit 7 tells the story of a special police detail, assigned to eliminate (or eliminate the appearance of) the drug trade in Sevilla in preparation for the 1992 Expo. They've got four years. Over the course of those years, the unit's ruthless pursuit of its goal causes them to run afoul of Internal Affairs, the media, their significant others, and, of course, the dealers. It's a pretty standard cop movie scenario, because there are only so many cop movie scenarios to choose from, but like the best cop movies, it uses its policier aspects as a template, into which it fills in its real concerns. In this case, that's the observation that institutional power values appearances over reality, and that in the pursuit of those squeaky-clean appearances, the cops are even more in danger of losing their souls than their lives.

Inescapably, any urban cop story (especially one with parallels this direct) is going to be compared to The Wire, though Unit 7's cynicism about institutions bleeds down to color the foot soldiers as well. Grupo Siete don't blink at stealing heroin to suborn junkies into snitching, or beating the living fuck out of unarmed suspects to make a point, or straight going rogue and lighting recalcitrant dealers up like Nochevieja. On the other hand, though Grupo Siete pulls some pretty skeevy shit in the interests of eliminating Sevilla's drug problem, they're not bad guys; it's a little hard to root for them at times, but ultimately one gets the sense that their circumstances bear a lot of the responsibility for their bad deeds.

The two main cops in the unit, the young, ambitious Angel (Mario Casas) and the hardened, volatile veteran Rafael (Antonio de la Torre) end up gradually turning into one another: Angel starts out the naïve young kid with the pretty wife and kid and ends up becoming consumed by an ends-justify-the-means attitude toward his job and ambition. Rafael, on the other hand, is mean as a fuckin snake at the outset but finds some degree of serenity in an unconventional and unexpected relationship. Both actors are goddamn outstanding at conveying all this, and the story does a beautifully economical job of doling out exposition, doing a better job telling a story through what it omits than most movies do leaving everything in.

So the acting and narrative parts are all excellent, but ho boy the ownage sequences are fuckin outta sight. As ownage goes it's naturalistically derived, so you don't get the weaponized refrigerators of The Raid: Redemption, the sliding down the bannister with a toothpick in your mouth two-gun-shooting dozens of bad guys of Hard Boiled, or Albert Finney's fuckin Hanukah tommy gun in Miller's Crossing that kept continuously firing for eight days and nights. But those movies all exist, so you can watch them if you want to see that kind of thing. When people get owned in Unit 7, it's pretty much like someone getting owned in real life, except boosted by a factor of 1.2 or so because the sound design provides a subtle (and, frankly, necessary) heightening so that there's no mistake about the fact that whoever's getting owned is getting fucking owned, but it doesn't strain credibility.

When Unit 7 ends, it kind of feels like you just put down a James Ellroy novel. It's not exactly a happy feeling, but it's a feeling of having been in the presence of something really fucking well done. And, you know, the occasionally disturbing violence (there's one scene in particular just over halfway through about which dog lovers should be cautioned) and the overwhelming cynicism that comes invariably from spending too long pondering the realities of institutional law enforcement. Though, it should be said, a movie as well-done as Unit 7 carries with that slightly melancholy feeling an undercurrent of exhilaration, of having come through an adventure alive.

A well-done character study has its own reward, as is a well-done ownage picture, but both at the same time is occasion to take notice. Unit 7 is being distributed by Warner Bros, so keep an eye out either in the trades or my Twitter, whichever you prefer, cuz the second I hear about when the rest of y'all can check this out, I'm going to be urging anyone who likes cop movies and/or ownage to go see this joint. It's really fuckin good, people.

AT TRIBECA: EDDIE, THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL

Dylan Smith as the title character

Taste in comedy is one of the most subjective things there is, right up there with music and the way one takes one's eggs (Douglas Adams was right, everybody in the fucking universe takes their eggs differently, it's uncanny). Some people like goofy comedy, some like fart jokes, some repartee, some odd people even find bald men smashing watermelons with hammers funny. Me? I like all the aforementioned except the watermelon business, even though I'll concede it a point or two on pure strangeness. But one particular thing I love is really, really dark deadpan shit deriving from and intertwined with graphic violence. Another particular thing I love is lots and lots of levels and meta out the fuckin wazoo. A third, truly special thing I find hilarious, are titles that are both elaborately on-the-nose and insane. That last is a bit of a stretch intended as a segue into the glorious, sublime fact that there is a movie that exists in the world that people can go see called Eddie, The Sleepwalking Cannibal.

The title was what initially intrigued me. Then I saw this enthusiastic recommendation. And I thought, hey, what the fuck. What's the worst that can happen? Even if it sucks it'll be over in an hour twenty. So I decided to give it a whirl. And oh boy oh boy lemme tell ya. This picture's fucking great. It's funny, it's dark, it's fucking fucked the fuck up (in the best sense of that exalted designation), and it's kind of a brutal “stop frontin, you know this is pretty much the way it is” critique of the “tortured artist” mythos that hits the center of the bulls-eye.

Our protagonist is a Danish painter named Lars Olafssen who, in the midst of a creative dry spell, takes a teaching gig way out in the middle of goddamn nowhere in rural Canada. On the way out there, he hits a deer with his car, a situation he deals with in a way that is . . . well . . . kind of strange. His fellow art school teachers welcome him with varying degrees of warmth, and almost immediately Lars is warned about a student named Eddie, a fairly innocuous looking dude (apart from being a mute) whom they let sit in provided he doesn't disturb anyone. Lars hits it off with Eddie, who comes to live with Lars in his house.

In fairly short order, Lars comes to discover that Eddie has a nocturnal routine you can probably guess from looking at the title of the movie: left unchecked, Eddie walks in his sleep and eats people. Lars is a little nonplussed (I mean, dude, somnambu-cannibalism is some ya-don't-see-that-every-day shit if ever there was such a thing) but he soon finds that Eddie's wanderings and snacking is inspiring him to paint for the first time in ten years. And because he wants to keep painting, Eddie has to keep eating people.

And yeah, all this insanity is really fuckin funny. Thure Lindhart is equally adept at playing Lars as endearingly alien, weirdly creepy, and someone who is his art, in a terrific lead performance. Dylan Smith has an even steeper difficulty curve as Eddie, not overdoing the simpleton aspect of his waking repose or the mania of his tormented, ravenous sleep, and making us care about Eddie even when he's gnawing on someone's neck before they're dead. Stephen McHattie shows up in a smallish role as the craven representation of art as commerce and, as the devil always does, has all the best lines. (Ed. Note: he doesn't play the literal devil, he's just a guy. Gotta clarify with a picture this strange.)

Eddie, The Sleepwalking Cannibal works as a horror comedy even if it isn't exactly that thing, primarily because its setting, atmosphere and tone are so utterly fucking weird. The violence is kind of matter of fact, and only one person seems to really give a shit that Eddie's running around eating people. Everyone else is far more concerned with Lars and his art: no atrocity so great that it cannot be swept under the rug in the interests of A Great Man engaged in the process of making Great Art. The movie makes something of a point of never showing the audience any of Lars' paintings that everyone oohs and ahhs over, nor the sculpture his “love interest” shows him. The concern here is more with the artist and the way people enable artistic turpitude. The picture's conclusion ties that point up nicely, in both form and content; if it's a smidge too neat, that's a minor quibble.

The important point is, holy shit this movie's good. If you've been waiting for a movie about a Danish painter in rural Canada whose roommate eats people—and I know you have—you're going to want to check this one out, and keep an eye on writer-director Boris Rodriguez, because this cat knows how to make movies.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

AT TRIBECA: ALL IN


An entrant in the World Narrative Competition at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, All In (original title: La Suerte En Tus Manos, literally, “the luck in your hands”) is a romantic comedy from Argentinian director Daniel Burman. It's not a bad one either, even if it's a little wonky structurally and features my least favorite trope in the history of cinema—the rom-com character who lies to impress his/her romantic partner. Those two irritants aside, the picture's quite charming and engenders the generosity to overlook the problematic aspects.

The male lead, Uriel (Oscar-winning songwriter Jorge Drexler, in his acting debut, which is amazing because he's fucking great in this) is in a fairly decent place in his life: he's making tons of cash playing poker and doing some kind of shady though technically legal business (I couldn't quite make out what it was with the rapid Spanish and occasionally unreliable subtitles; the vague shadiness did kind of seem on purpose, though). He's got a couple adorable kids. And since his wife left him he's been getting laid so often he's considering getting a vasectomy.

The female lead, Gloria (Valeria Bertuccelli), is back in Argentina after having been abroad, and is dating some wanky, pretentious dude with a goatee, who keeps being wanky and pretentious when she's trying to mourn her just-deceased father. Gloria's mom (long divorced from pops) is awesome: she has a radio show where she holds forth in just about the tweediest way imaginable about literature—for real, NPR looks like fuckin Opie and Anthony compared to Gloria's mom—though off the air she's fairly normal for someone prone to making literary references every five minutes.

Being the kind of movie this is, Uriel and Gloria are bound to get together at some point. The fact that they used to “date” (or fuck constantly in motels) adds a nice wrinkle, as it means their meet-cute is actually kind of plausible. Symbolically it's pretty funny too, because Uriel sees her and goes to make his move at the exact moment Gloria's telling the wanky pretentious goatee dude to hit the bricks.

So they start to date, and some intermittent hilarity ensues. Everything was going fine until Uriel, for no apparent reason whatsoever other than to inject some artificial drama into the whole thing, lies to Gloria about what he does for a living. There's no reason whatsoever for him to do so, and it's really fucking annoying for about twenty-five minutes until, in a nice twist, fate starts ironically lending some truth to the lie, part of what makes the ending so satisfying.

Part of what makes All In fun is in trying to figure out whether, since the movie is kind of torn about whether it's being a serious meditation on relationships and romance between adults and being an industry-standard Hollywood rom-com, it'll end the way the latter always does, or whether it'll throw a foreign art-film curveball. So, I won't spoil that surprise. It should be noted that the story does have time for the following:

--Facebook stalking
--critiquing the gender binary
--Kabba'listic extrapolations of the concepts of luck, lying, and fate
--high-stakes poker
--an all-rabbi metal band
--a more laid-back, less internecine cocaine civil war Argentine version of Fleetwood Mac

I mean, come on. That's a movie with its heart in the right place. Only problem is, its head is a little out to lunch at times. There are a few too many scenes where people tell each other things that we've just seen happen (frequently two scenes in a row with the same exposition), which is part of what makes the movie, which runs an hour and fifty-three minutes, feel about three hours long. The pace is really, really slow, especially in the first act; it picks up a bit after Uriel and Gloria meet but it's still entirely too much of a slog. It's a few judicious edits away from being fixed, though, so if when this gets acquired for U.S. distribution and you hear it's now an hour thirty-five, disregard this stuff about the pacing and overlength.

Even now it's not that much of a problem. Jorge Drexler and Valeria Bertucelli are terrific together, a couple one genuinely wants to see work it out. And, as mentioned above, there's just enough legitimately apeshit atmosphere that even as you're checking the time and going “Jesus Christ, there's still an hour left?” you're still like, “I wish this wasn't this slow, because fuck if I haven't kind of fallen for this movie.” That is, presuming you talk like that.

So, yeah. Pretty fun little movie, all things considered. Keep an eye out to see if this gets picked up, or check it out at the Tribeca Film Festival, if you can.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"BACK OFF, MAN, I'M A SCIENTIST": THE ENDURING APPEAL OF GHOSTBUSTERS


I'll spare you the details, but I had the kind of day Wednesday that makes one go, “fuck it, Ghostbusters is on Instant. This is what's required.” You've all been there. Maybe it's a different movie, but the stars aligned just so where I was like, “I need to fucking watch Ghostbusters right now.” There was a bit of a delay between the decision and actually being able to start watching, which of course meant I had time to wonder if it would hold up. It's been a while since I actually watched it—the last time I saw it, in 2009, is inadmissible, as it was at about two in the morning under extremely do-not-operate-heavy-machinery circumstances—and so the possibility that the experiential memories of the movie may have outweighed its actual quality had to be taken into consideration.

Because I have many happy memories of watching Ghostbusters. The first time in the theaters I don't remember so well (I was 5, I think) but I remember liking it enough that I was very excited when my elementary school got a 16mm print and made kids get permission notes from their parents to watch it after school; as not everyone's parents signed off, I was one of the “cool” kids—a fleeting pleasure in 2nd grade, believe—which only added to the enjoyment. Then there was that most recent time, whose aforementioned inadmissibility is in large part due to the thing I remember most about that viewing was successfully blowing pot smoke rings during the scene where Sigourney Weaver's levitating in that off-the-shoulder red thing (pot smoke is difficult to blow rings with, due to its texture, which is why I was so proud). Still, fun as all that is, it still begs the question: is Ghostbusters still awesome?

It is with great pleasure that I report back that the answer to that urgent and essential question is: of course Ghostbusters is still awesome, what the fuck did you think? One of the great things about having grown up with Ghostbusters is that all the parts that I dug when I was young—Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis being co-gods of all nerds, Sigourney, the ghosts sliming everything, “Yes, it's true, that man has no dick,” and all that—are still great. Even better than that, though, is that all kinds of little details that flew right over my head as a kid (or stoned to the point of mental regression) landed perfectly as an adult.

The thing about being the age that I am (born in 1978) is that I was around for all of the 1980s, in all that decade's loud, ridiculous, head-up-its-ass splendor. For most of it, though, I wasn't in a terribly culturally aware place (to put it mildly; I didn't start reading the paper on a daily basis until the '88 presidential election, and even then stuff went over my head, and even then it was the Post, so there's that too) but I was still physically present experiencing and observing. I'm able to piece together through analysis and context what feels “real” and what misses the mark from cultural artifacts of the era. You can sit there and go “oh, what the fuck do you know about Ghostbusters' capturing the early-mid 80s zeitgeist, motherfucker, you were in kindergarten?” all you like. In so doing you forget a couple things: a) I'm really, really, really fucking smart, b) I was then, too, as well as observant c) even if a) and b) make you roll your eyes at my egotism, they're irrelevant, because lots and lots of other people will back me up on this.

Movies become hits—genuine hits, not just marketing-driven box-office numbers—by resonating with large numbers of people. They do so by tapping into universal truths, and by getting people to react, rather than think about what they're seeing (which is not to say that when you think about it, said hit doesn't hold up, it's that the feelings are running point and the intellectually substantive stuff is the fleet trailing just behind). One way to do that, as Ghostbusters does, is to ground things sufficiently in the given place and time, and by having a fundamental understanding of that place and time.

Ghostbusters was written, produced, and released during Ronald Reagan's first term, which is the early 80s (his second term, even though it mostly spanned the years one would normally think of as the mid-80s, was the late 80s; Reagan was president for the entire 80s in cultural terms). The early 80s were a time when the number of people who thought Reagan was a dangerous asshole who was cavalierly playing nuclear chicken with the Soviets was comparatively small, and where a whole lot of people, whether they want to admit it now (or even five years later) totally bought into the whole gung-ho money is everything trip. Also, it's important to not that depiction does not always necessarily mean endorsement, so the fact that Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis get their asses booted out of “Columbia” (the university isn't named in the movie, but it's totally shot there) for reasons more economic than academic, leading them to have to quickly figure out a way to monetize their paranormal knowledge is perfectly in keeping with the time. What helps audiences in less avaricious times (if any such indeed exist) identify with this profit motivation is the fact that the lads have a marketable skill: Harold Ramis does some math with his cool little gadget and figures out that they can in fact imprison ghosts, if they can catch them. So, taking out some ridonkulous mortgage on Dan Aykroyd's family house to raise some quick capital actually isn't suicidally stupid, it's just risky (also, as Scott Tobias pointed out, the way Dan Aykroyd says “You didn't even bargain with the guy” afterward is hilarious, and points up Bill Murray's immature recklessness perfectly), especially because, conveniently enough, the library specter in the first scene was the herald of a lot more paranormal activity in New York.

We all know the rest of the story. Bill Murray's hare-brained idea and the unethical way he shanghais it into existence makes them celebrities (another extrapolation very much of the movie's time; the branding of the Ghostbusters, like this iconic image—


—was part of the movie's central creative process rather than being subcontracted to a marketing department), and requires them to hire Annie Potts (who's great, and does a perfect if caricatured NYC outer-boroughs accent) to answer the phones and Ernie Hudson (who replaced Eddie Murphy when he had to go do Beverly Hills Cop instead, but who brings a lived-in prole-y world-weariness to the role that Eddie simply wasn't old enough for at that point) to help with the workload. And of course there is Sigourney.

Sigourney Weaver is very important not only because she may have laid the groundwork for my lifelong passion for refined, slightly repressed brunettes, but because she brought a very formidable feminine energy to science-fiction/fantasy in the 80s. Her role in Ghostbusters is less groundbreaking in that regard than it is as Ripley, and she does veer a little close to a kind of damsel in distress business that's beneath her, but what saves it (to the degree it needs saving in this context) from collapsing into a sexist mess is that she represents an aspirational goal for Bill Murray. Not in the dumb sense of him “winning” or possessing her or any of that fuckin shit but because she's an actual grownup. And he's not. Ghostbusters is a companion piece to Stripes in a number of ways (Harold Ramis, being really fucking funny), most importantly as pertains to Bill Murray specifically in that he's playing another puer aeternus wiseass who has to, by hook or by crook, grow the fuck up before the Commies or Gozer win. While part of Stripes' charm is that he manages to squeak by without maturing past the age of 12, in Ghostbusters the stakes are a bit higher, where that Ziggy Stardust lookin ass Sumerian demigod is literally going to end the universe (which despite what Ronald Reagan would have had you believe is a little more severe than driving Bulgarian cars and wintering in Irkutsk). Fortunately, the desire to impress Sigourney leads Bill Murray to kiiiiiiiiiiiiind of grow up (enough, anyway) before the shit hits the fan.

One great benefit Ghostbusters has had, as any movie must that would become an enduring classic must, is the advantage of the culture evolving along with it, and/or meeting it halfway. In the case of Ghostbusters, it was one force among many driving that evolution, being as it is one of the movies that would be on Mount Nerdmore, were there such a thing, and were reification such that a movie could have a face. The reason for Ghostbusters' nerd appeal is simple: the Ghostbusters are giant, giant, giant nerds. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis represent two distinct genera of nerds here: Aykroyd the effusive, guileless enthusiast and Ramis the otherworldly, super-serious obsessive. Bill Murray doesn't seem to fit within this immediately, but for all his glib charm he doesn't fit terribly easily in society, and if you'll recall he has to go to rather extreme lengths to get that nice blonde girl by herself in that early scene and does absolutely horribly in his initial attempt to hit on Sigourney. He's kind of a nerd too, just in a very Bill Murray sense of the term.

At the same time that a certain degree of continuing relevance benefits a would-be classic, there's also (complicating the already near-impossible balancing act even further) a requirement that the given movie recall a distinctly irretrievable past. Ghostbusters fulfills this with room to spare in two ways: one, the pre-CG special effects, which look fake in a far more appealing way than all but the most perfectly-done CG (and, because the filmmakers understood that special effects are, you know, special, they made sure effects shots were only there when they absolutely had to be), and two, its portrayal of pre-Disneyfication New York City. New Yorkers complaining that New York isn't like it used to be has probably been going on since some old drunk Dutch dude in the 1700s bored the tits off English colonists telling them shit was only real back when Peter Stuyvesant was around. But there is an actual difference between the New York City before Rudy Giuliani's take-the-good-with-the-fascism reign as mayor and after, at which point the violent crime that had long lent a “once more into the breach” air to every venture outside one's apartment in New York was no more. It was, however, replaced by a Manhattan by, for, and of the extremely rich, which is even still rapidly expanding to Brooklyn and Queens, a place that is safer to live unless one disturbs the moneyed elite, but arguably missing that ineffable quality that made New York New York once upon a time. None of Ghostbusters' three primary protagonists have anything even remotely resembling New York accents (to be fair, it is never concretely implied that any of them are actually from here) but they—and the many locals they encounter, like Annie Potts, and the “that must be some cockroach” guy with the cigar waiting by the elevator, and Ernie Hudson—all have that kind of “what the fuck” swagger that New Yorkers all like to think they possess even now. Whether or not that's real or illusory is beside the point: it's a shared positive perception of what New York was at the time, at just the right pitch to resonate with audiences far and wide.

All of which is to say, man, Ghostbusters is still really fucking great. It's just lovely. Even if the parts that are loveliest go from “tee hee hee Bill Murray” to “wow Laszlo Kovacs sure knows how to use the wide screen and man Elmer Bernstein's a god with the tunes,” it's still about as good as pop cinema gets. The fact that the best parts change over time too is another sign that Ghostbusters is one of the great classics of its decade. Long may it reign. Who ya gonna call.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

ON THE CABIN IN THE WOODS AND SPOILERS (WHICH THIS CONTAINS)



(Seriously, DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS until you've seen The Cabin In The Woods, unless you don't mind knowing about what surprises it contains. The subject of this post requires discussing them a bit, but it's really a movie best seen completely blank, because even the trailers don't reveal much of anything really important about it. So, if you haven't seen it, STOP RIGHT HERE and DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER. Check out my review at Tor, which is light on specifics, but long on reasons why to see it. Alles klar? Okay, let's continue. But do not say you weren't warned.)

Yesterday, the long-delayed (for reasons having nothing to do with quality and everything to do with its initial distributor going tits up) Joss Whedon-Drew Goddard collaboration The Cabin In The Woods finally came out. For most of the week leading up to it, there was a furious argument online about a number of reviews and whether or not they were in the right, divulging as much of the picture's plot as they did. Here is, in broad strokes, the situation:

1—The trailers and official plot synopsis focused mainly on a group of five stereotypical-ish horror movie characters: the two hot girls, representing the “virgin/slut” (horror's terms, not my own) dichotomy, and three dudes, the jock, the intellectual, and the stoner. HOWEVA, there are oblique hints that All Is Not What It Seems (the movie's poster, aside from the tagline, featured a cabin floating in a void, unmoored to the earth, the trailer had a shot or two of a control room-type space). But, it must be stressed, those were not explained any further than serving as an indication that there was probably something up and that it was not a paint-by-numbers slasher picture.

2—That last observation could very easily be reinforced by the presence of names like Joss Whedon (and to a lesser extent Richard Jenkins and Brad Whitford) in the cast/crew listing.

3—It screened at South by Southwest to a borderline unseemly amount of critical fapping; between it and The Raid it's amazing hospitals in Austin weren't working around the clock reattaching penises that had accidentally snapped off.

4—Since point 3 was in large part related to point 2, the kind of film critic whose formative years predate the assimilation of fandom and criticism (meaning, very roughly, people who were too old, be it chronologically or otherwise, to have grown up with Star Wars) looked at all those tweets and advance reviews and some of them bristled; “Ah, shit, here we go, another one of those fuckin' nerd movies.”

5—Whether as a reaction to their younger (chronologically and otherwise) counterparts' enthusiasm or simply because it wasn't their kind of picture, people like Rex Reed wrote things like this.

6—Eric Snider, Scott Weinberg, and other members of said younger generation, hit the fucking ceiling. Not only because Reed spoiled plot elements, but because a lot of his scorn, like that absurdly gratuitous “writing on crystal meth” swipe, was so disconnected from the reality of what the movie was. I've never done crystal meth, but I've done old-fashioned speed, and let's just put it this way, speed writing is nothing like The Cabin In The Woods. Not to mention the fact that he indiscreetly yaks about a number of plot points that would be surprising if he hadn't told you about them.

7—But, because neither life nor the Internet is simple, an increasing number of people coming out of Cabin are taking, if not in its bitchily irresponsible totality, a similar side to Reed and other critics' seeming belief that there is nothing in The Cabin In The Woods that really merits caution about spoilers.
It's a big fucking mess. Although I'm more on the Snider/Weinberg side of this particular fence, having thoroughly enjoyed my near-clean-slate viewing of The Cabin In The Woods the other day, the non-Rex Reed contrary opinion is equally valid, and one that I personally find myself on more frequently than not. A lot of plots don't spoil. But The Cabin In The Woods is a bit of a unique case. (Seriously, I'm about to start talking about it, so if the opening spoiler warning paragraph didn't chase you away, going any further is your own damn fault.)


(I'll give you another minute.)

Okay. What makes Cabin a bit of a rara avis in terms of the whole spoiler discussion is the fact that the very first scene is something unexpected, based on what the movie was obliquely hinted to be. A lot of the people making point 7 in the above list do so because, hey, if the first scene gives away the alleged “surprise”, how the fuck's it supposed to be a spoiler? Well, that's the thing: when I saw that opening scene of Richard Jenkins and Brad Whitford being awesomely loose office douchebags, I was like “whoa, holy fuck.” Because that had nothing to do with anything I'd theretofore heard about The Cabin In The Woods. I thought it was a movie where a bunch of kids go to a cabin in the woods. WTF are Richard Jenkins, Brad Whitford, and the foxy WASPacita in the lab coat doin up in this piece, yo?

So, yes, the first scene makes it clear that the subsequent stuff where the girl dancing around in her underwear, her newly-blonde friend, the NBF's jock boyfriend, the dude the NBF and JBF are trying to get the girl dancing around in her underwear to shtup, and the stoner with the bong that collapses into an apparent travel coffee mug is all in some way being controlled by Richard Jenkins and Brad Whitford. Fine. But that opening scene is just an opening scene if someone tells you there are control room guys. How the fuck were we supposed to know there were control room guys? That one tiny insert of a lever with a lit-up button next to it in the trailer?

Since everyone still reading at this point has already seen the movie (RIGHT?) we know that it subsequently transpires that Jenkins and Whitford are manipulating the cabin-bound college kids into a situation where they enact horror movie plots in a ritualistic fashion, only to be killed off one by one in true horror movie fashion, to placate the dormant (for now) “Ancient Ones” with blood. If the kids don't get killed, the Ancient Ones will, presumably, rise and end life on earth as we know it. The Final Girl, or the Virgin as she's called here, is allowed to live only if everyone else dies.

It is thus that The Cabin In The Woods manages to be both horror and meta-horror (even if it succeeds far more decisively as the latter), light and dark, observer and the thing observed, and have any number of either/or dichotomies both ways. Most importantly, with regards to the spoiler question, it's simultaneously completely upfront about what it is and yet consistently surprising. This is why, however Richard Jenkins/Brad Whitford-y that first scene might be, it's kind of shitty to tell people who haven't seen the movie that it's about Richard Jenkins and Brad Whitford manipulating stuff. First off, because spoilers, fuckface. But second, because over the course of the movie you see the extent to which the two of them halfass their jobs, and because they're gradually laid bare as a couple dorks who play God to hide their own impotence, describing The Cabin In The Woods as a movie about Richard Jenkins and Brad Whitford controlling shit is patently inaccurate. They don't control shit. And the movie isn't about them. It really is about horror, and the rules of the horror genre. The movie's (inevitable, really) conclusion serves as a darkly tongue-in-cheek warning against violating those rules (when comrade Final Girl neglects to murder the stoner Fool, the Ancient Ones do indeed rise, in the form of a giant fist rising from the Earth and coming right at the camera, ending the movie and thus the world), a firm reinforcement of the picture's theme, which is, again, genre and the rules thereof.

Now, that might not be everyone's cup of tea. Because I am, however scruffy and foul-mouthed, an intellectual and an academic (especially when it comes to genre), The Cabin In The Woods was basically Joss Whedon gift-wrapping a movie to me. And I'm thankful, not to mention relieved that there aren't any lingering hard feelings about the time Hudak and I set up camp in the TV room at Bard's student center to watch the Knicks and pre-empted that evening's Buffy conclave. But I am not the world, and the world is not me. So I understand people maybe not being so thrilled by the fact that it's more meta-horror than horror-horror. I could even understand the movie losing people when it goes bugfuck at the end of the second act when ALL THE MONSTERS come out. Shit, I could even understand people feeling cheated by the ending when the Giant Fucking Hand eradicates existence. I loved all three, to be clear, but if things like that are gonna bother you, they're gonna bother you.

Where I have a problem is in the unilateral decision that because the genre being deconstructed isn't one's personal cup of tea that said deconstruction is without merit. I'm not, comparatively, really a Joss Whedon fan. I've seen a couple episodes of Firefly and Dr. Horrible, and as above I've gone to extreme measures to not see Buffy and antagonize its fans; the Joss Whedon piece I'm most familiar with is his script for Speed, which he wrote approximately 95% of the dialogue but was ineligible for credit because the WGA requires any writer subsequent to the original to have created a certain percentage of new scenes as opposed to “merely” doing dialogue rewrites. But fan or no fan, I can recognize that the guy's extremely intelligent, a master of genre, and really goddamn fucking good with characters. I'm probably never going to see The Cabin In The Woods again, and will have to check out of the kind of massive fan geek-out conversations that'll result should it become the classic it's being heralded as, but I'd be staggeringly disingenuous if I were to claim that it didn't succeed almost perfectly in being the kind of picture it set out to be, which is the most important metric in determining if a movie is good or bad. “I didn't like it” and “It's bad” are not the same thing.

This is why, however entitled we all are to our particular opinion, criticism is more than simply I liked it or I didn't. It's about looking at what a thing is, rather than what we want it to be. If a picture you're reviewing is outside your frame of reference, do a little research. It's not going to kill you. Google exists. Shitting all over something for the sole reason of it not being within the realm of one's own personal taste is irresponsible criticism. If one doesn't particularly care for horror pictures (for example, since we're talking about Cabin), when reviewing a horror picture one is nonetheless responsible for determining how effective the given picture is within its own context. And if one is unable to properly determine how well a given horror movie is within its own context, one should offer the disclaimer that one is out of one's depth as a critic in the given instance. But hey, who the fuck wants to confess fallibility.

Empirically, this all comes down to one thing: consideration. All spoilers aren't created equal, and there is a point, undefined though it may be, when one can take the cultural temperature and begin to publicly discuss things like “she's got a dick” or “he was dead the whole time,” or “holy shit, Woody Harrelson really does need a stepladder to dunk a basketball.” But before a picture's release, when there is a clearly stated desire within the community for whom (almost exclusively) the picture in question was made, maybe shut the fuck up about its reveals. Even if you personally think those reveals are done really early. Just don't be a dick. Especially if the way in which you're going to unzip is by accusing the writers of a movie of being on crystal meth, when you clearly have no idea what that drug does to cognition.

Oh, by the way, feel free to ram this post straight up my ass if I ever fuck up and spoil something in the future. Even I'll admit I deserve it. Until then, though, I'll just stick a “This Machine Kills Fascists” sticker on the side of my soap box and enjoy the view from up here.

A DISPATCH FROM OUR ANDHRA PRADESH OFFICE

So, yeah, basic run-of-the-mill Telugu love story . . . then . . . WHAT THE SWEET LIVING FUCK? I actually want to see this without subtitles when it comes out, just because I don't want the experience to be sullied by actually knowing what's going on. (Oh, and this has no apparent connection to the Richard Kiel MST3K classic Eegah, as far as I can tell; maybe the thing with the bug is a metaphorical inversion of Richard Kiel's height or something.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

BETTER LIVING THROUGH NETFLIX VOL. 9: IN TIME

I'm telling you nothing new when I say, and you no doubt have guessed from the enthusiasm that pervades my writing over at Tor.com, I rather like science fiction. As literature it provides an excellent framework for everything from social commentary to philosophical meditation. We're long past having to defend science fiction as serious literature. Kurt Vonnegut put a hollow point behind the ear of that argument, after Robert Heinlein tied its shoelaces together and Ray Bradbury kicked it to the ground. Stanley Kubrick similarly made the case for science fiction as serious cinema, for all those people with short memories who forgot about The Day The Earth Stood Still (to say nothing of Metropolis, or shit, Journey to the Moon, aka one of the first fucking movies ever). But SF cinema is a slightly iffier proposition. It's not that it can't be great (see Kubrick and many, many other examples) it's just that the difficulty curve is high; a book can stop in its tracks and take a couple paragraphs to explain shit, but too much of that kind of thing can make for a really dull movie under the wrong circumstances. This is why there's an occasional disconnect whereby SF movies can be good SF or good movies while failing somewhat in the other half of the equation. Sometimes, to quote The Wire gratuitously, things just be that way I guess. But, on the upside, that means, in a way, that SF movies have two chances to be good. That's why it's a shame that Andrew Niccol's In Time flunks both halves of the equation, in a weirdly reciprocal (to say nothing of paradoxical) fashion: it's bad SF because it's too committed to being a movie, and is a bad movie because it sacrifices too much of its connection to this world out of a mistaken belief in the profundity of its one-trick SF premise.

It's not like In Time has nothing to go for it. It sucks, but it sucks in a way that demands in examination into exactly why that is so. IN A WORLD that, despite being at least a hundred years in the future, still looks pretty much exactly the way downtown Los Angeles looks today (I kind of blame a recent viewing of Thom Anderson's fascinating Los Angeles Plays Itself for making me as sensitive to that; the only thing really wrong with the way Niccol uses his locations is that it simply doesn't look like it's that far in the future in any appreciable or convincing way), science has completely conquered the process of biological aging. Everyone, once they reach the age of 25, stays 25, in perpetuity. The catch is, everyone's given an allotment of time, which has replaced currency. Goods and services are exchanged for their value in time. When one's clock—located in a glowing green subcutaneous LED readout on one's left arm—reaches zero, one's body functions immediately cease, and one dies on the spot. There are haves, who are essentially immortal, with hundreds and occasionally thousands of years on their clocks, and have-nots, who labor daily for enough hours to be able to wake up alive the following morning.

Our hero here is one Will Salas, played by Mr. Justin Timberlake, a working-class lad living with his ma, Ms. Olivia Wilde, who due to the nature of this whole eradication of aging, looks basically JT's age, because she is. A few minutes of world-building ensues, until one evening out at the bar with one of the guys from The Big Bang Theory, JT encounters a rich guy on a bender throwing time around like a drunken sailor. Some dudes come in, led by Alex (I Am Number Four) Pettyfer (who can, amazingly, be seen to be giving progressively less of a fuck in every single one of his scenes in this picture) and make like they're going to fuck the rich dude up and roll him. For no apparent reason whatsoever, JT intercedes and helps the rich dude escape. Once they're clear of Alex Pettyfer and his thugs, the rich guy lays a suicide trip on JT, who doesn't quite know what to make of the guy and his angst; not having to worry about suddenly dropping dead at any moment is kind of a First World Problem. They drink some of the rich dude's good booze out of his schmancy flask and pass out. JT wakes up, alone, to find that the rich dude has transferred all his time (over a hundred years) to JT's clock, and JT looks out the window to see the rich guy's clock expire, after which he swan dives into the L.A. River.

The cops, led by the always awesome (he walks away with this movie, twirling it on his finger like a gun) Cillian Murphy, show up and immediately conclude that JT rolled the rich guy, just like Alex Pettyfer's dudes were planning on doing. A series of events that includes one of the most shamelessly melodramatic scenes ever filmed (I'm not exaggerating; “the scene when Olivia Wilde starts running” should replace “Lilian Gish on the ice floe” from D.W. Griffith's Way Down East as the cliché shorthand for melodrama) leads JT to the utopian New Greenwich, where all the rich fucks stay. JT encounters an intriguing young lady in a truly horrible wig (Amanda Seyfried), who it turns out is the daughter of the head evil white guy in charge (Vincent Kartheiser, reinforcing his ability, as first demonstrated in Mad Men, to wear the fuck out of a well-cut suit), who initially rather likes JT, and is impressed by his ballsy pursuit of wealth. Evil White Guys In Suits are drawn to their own kind, after all. Only JT's not evil, and Cillian Murphy's a good cop, which means in short order everything and everyone goes apeshit.

Now, none of the above is anything that wasn't in the trailer, so I'll stop the plot recap there. In any case, everything the movie is trying to say about the importance of living one's life in the moment and being appreciative of all life has to offer, and about social justice and how Evil White Guys In Suits manage to adapt to any sociopolitical scenario and stay in charge fucking over proles is all set up by that point in the narrative. The rest of the picture is just noise anyway (and a half-reprise of the above mentioned Most Melodramatic Scene In The Fucking Universe) until it ends in kind of a limpdick sequel setup, with nothing really resolved and no particularly deep conclusions to any of the picture's Big Questions. It ends up being silly and disappointingly fluffy given the potential beard-scratcher posed by literalizing the time-is-money conceit. And though the cinematography is pretty sweet (by the great Roger Deakins, natch), the things being photographed are kind of unimaginatively conceived; put it this way, I was really surprised to find out that Andrew Niccol had a $40 million budget, as it looks like he's trying to scrape by on about 10 at most. 

More than that, though, the thing that really fucks In Time up is the way things happen because the story needs them to. When JT saves the rich guy, okay, let's say he does it out of the kindness of his own heart, all right, maybe I'm just cynical. But him subsequently being able to outwit, outrun, and make fools out of a bunch of armed gangsters is a little convenient. As is the fact that apparently the cops of the 22nd or 23rd century or whenever this is, despite having far more reason to reinforce the societal status quo, have inferior surveillance technology to what would be at their disposal today. Even if you presuppose that, having essentially conquered death, the ruling classes would stagnate intellectually and pursue nothing but their own pleasure, you have to think that self-interest at least would lead to them setting up some kind of at least half-assedly fail-safed system to ensure that any potential Justin Timberlakes who might come along and challenge their hold on power at least have to sweat a bit. Because, come on, when Timberlake decides to go to the Evil White Guys In Suits' motherland, he gets all the way there and almost fully insinuated into the good graces of the most Evil and Whitest of them all before anyone even knows who he is or what he's done. Not only would it make more logical sense for it to be a lot more difficult for JT to do so, it would make the movie more suspenseful too. Even if, as it begins to appear by the third act, the whole time thing and the movie in general is just a parable for living in the moment, it'd still be nice if details rendered secondary by that being the case to not be as dumb, or as brushed past. Having the villains be this incompetent and weak weakens JT as a hero.

And yet . . . in spite of the fact that it fails as a movie and as SF and has The Single Most Melodramatic Scene In The History Of Cinema (not only once, but twice) In Time isn't that much of a chore to watch. Justin Timberlake does a damn fine job with what he's given in the lead; his getting-there-slowly-but-surely acting skills are more than up to the task here, as what the role really requires is star power, which he, of course, has in spades, though his character's so thin it isn't really worthy of his talents. Cillian Murphy is so good as the cop, now I want to see him play the hard-bitten grizzled cop with weekly heart attacks and monthly divorces and all other essentials in a good movie. And, of course, I'd watch Amanda Seyfried read the phone book. It's not just pretty and talented actors, either. Despite the movie's bilateral failure, it has its moments that work in between the things that don't. At times, when the lo-tech future isn't presenting fundamental challenges to the entire premise of the story it allows for isolated, engagingly real moments with the characters, specifically between Cillian Murphy and his other cops.

All of which leads to the kind of reductive kind of contradictory state of affairs where In Time sucks, but I didn't hate it. I don't know what to tell you. Timberlake can carry a picture even if it isn't necessarily this one, and I'd rather see a good director (see Gattaca for reference) swing and miss than see a shitty director's best. Sometimes things just be that way, I guess.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"HE TRIED TO MAKE LOVE TO ME, SO I SHOT HIM."

It's the 104th anniversary of her birth, so celebrate by watching one of her pictures. When she was good, she was great. When she was bad, she was better.