Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: Bottle Rocket (1996)

You could construct a pretty good view of the 90s using Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Wes Anderson. They even make a nice triumvirate of Rock & Roll, Country Western, and Punk Rock. If Tarantino makes films about Rebels (Rock & Roll), Anderson makes films about Losers (Country Western). This would leave Smith, who, of course, makes films about the Rebel Loser (Punk Rock). Anderson's losers in Bottle Rocket possess potential energy with no direction and wield no discernible skills. They are "innocents" with a love for diagrams, just enough of a support system to be dangerous to bystanders, and who, maybe, have seen too many movies. They could have been played by 12 year-old actors.

Much of the film is air, a two-part joke with a large subplot sitting in the middle to facilitate a feature runtime. It would be more predictable if it ran the tropes at a constant speed, like most other films, but Bottle Rocket is variable. It gears up, pumps the brakes, then floors it. Its characters and its rarity (read: its charm) save most of it, but let's face it: this shit be jagged, bro. These are humble beginnings.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Inception (2010)

Time to make good on that sweet, sweet Dark Knight money and spend studio equity on the riskiest of all ventures: a smart action film. Something genuinely exciting, thought-provoking, and emotionally affecting. Something engaging. Something visually stunning and mentally stimulating. In short, something rare.

It could be the film that Christopher Nolan has been building towards all along. All of his usual tools are there -- objects, ticking clocks, The Plague on Thebes is You -- now with a budget large enough to fold cities and rotate hallways. The usual mistakes are there too, as though he refuses to learn from them. Motivations are stated, not shown, and as airtight as the mechanics behind the heist, the excuse for it is flimsy if you look at it too long. There are times Inception could benefit from slowing down (some "Quiet Time" to Super Bunnyhop) and others where we straight-up pause the momentum of the heist to get through some vital information about the dead wife, information we could have learned in that memory elevator ride. And at one point was the story going to be told out of order? Is that brief flash-forward in the opening from a previous draft? Jettisoning a puzzle box in favor of a triple-layered action scene is probably best.

Movie's great, I don't care what Rick & Morty says.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige is less of a tale of revenge and more of a love story that expresses itself through sabotage and violence, where a goal of supremacy is so seductive that one magician lives half of a life and the other forgets quickly the tragedy of his wife's death and refuses to hear Michael Caine screaming the solution to the trick halfway through. And though we yearn for it, because think of the tricks the "two" of them could perform, our two romantic leads will never come together. This story is told through three layers of narration, two diaries and what we can assume is Caine's final assessment, and its success is the kind you only see in novels, rarely in film. It's... "the greatest trick I've ever seen." If magic is a lie that everybody knows about, this is something else. A movie about the lifelong desire to perform miracles manages to exist as a miracle in its own right. It is one hell of a breathtaking ride, both inspiring and suffocating. You will never do anything this good in your life, and Christopher Nolan might not either. What a gift.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Hooooo boy, there's a new least favorite Nolan Batman in town. Remember that whole thing I said about 'distance'? Its harshest lesson lies within a movie you thought was good, not great, and finding out much later that you were sorely mistaken. I owe a very small apology to Batman Begins.

We pick up seven years after The Dark Knight, a timespan too short and a movie too early. Batman hasn't appeared since that whole Joker incident (??) and after a brief shame-explosion directed at Nolan's cancelled Howard Hughes project, he and Goyer cut up select pages out of The Dark Knight Returns and try to fuse it with sequel requirements and some shockingly terrible instincts. A world where everyone seems to know Batman's identity, where a magic rope can cure a broken back, where Bane inexplicably is political mastermind as well as a brute, where we spend too much time on an ancillary character we don't like and don't care if he gets redeemed in an already crowded script. Where scenes are interesting one time only.

Those who thought the second Batman went too far and indirectly resulted in an actor's death are in luck: this film takes no risks. Gotham isn't left out in the cold for too long, Batman's fans are numerous in spite of the last film ending with a different assertion, the opportunity to kill Bruce Wayne is not taken. "We couldn't get the actor playing Two-Face to return, but don't worry, we have something just as good: a note!" Nothing offensive happens, therefore nothing exciting happens (unless you, like me, were offended by Levitt accidentally killing a guy with a ricochet and then throwing his gun away... the fuck?) Even the execution of these simple story tasks feel like they were done from someone yawning at the wheel. Nolan has been taken to task previously for not being much of an action director, and this film provides the perfect ammunition for that theory. Sparks go off when guns aren't pointed at them, a motorcycle chase somehow lacks kinetic energy, the minimal effort of one-punch knockouts, Hathaway nowhere near able to break that prisoner's hands, and -- dear god -- keep your eyes on the two leads and away from the crowd of Pennsylvania amateurs playing pretend in the giant brawl.

At least there's the skeleton of a great story in there somewhere. Peace as complacency is a fertile theme -- crime can bide its time while you get old and weak, or like they say in The Wire, "Nothing kills cops more than boredom. Make it boring out there." There are select moments that succeed on an emotional level, but all of which belong in a better film that you can easily write in your own head.