Saturday, January 30, 2016

Review: Upstream Color (2013)

The movie is a rape drug the size of a volleyball.

Carruth takes a different approach to his Primer followup, taking all of that heady sci-fi exposition and going outside-in, primarily through the characters' actions, match-cutting and dream logic transportation. Like his last film (a mere nine years prior), every second is important so you better be paying attention. Unlike his last film, Upstream Color is void of questionable technical decisions. This is still a micro-budget production but there is no parallel equivalent of setting an important dialogue scene in the middle of a goddamned fountain.

A sonofabitch of first act shows us the bizarre life cycle of a hallucinogenic organism and how you can use it to destroy a woman's life. Much of the film afterwards is a near-montage of two characters, still in a strange daze, trying to rebuild. On a faster track with more viscera, this is a horror flick, a painting of an impersonal universe that doesn't care what you've built, what you've lost, or how much you suffer.

The result of all this is an intensely emotional experience, one that arouses your sympathy for human beings and also pigs. It stands against Primer in that regard, a movie you had to really fight through to get any bottom-up sentiment out of, but does lose on any top-down surprises. Watching the slow rise and fall of a confusing relationship is a necessary part of the movie and the direction it heads, while emotionally satisfying, is not so much logically.

Dip me in medicine and watch me smoke.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Review: The Monuments Men (2014)

We have already arrived at Clooney's Space Cowboys phase and his team should have told him that in order for this movie to work, the mission needed to involve something bigger, like human life for instance. Involving a number closer to the 345 actual Monuments Men and Women, doing less campaigning for the importance of art, refraining from mentioning consistently that a painting is more important than a life (thus, the paintings are a metaphor and driven home in that money shot of the flamethrower torching the Renoir)... any of that would have worked. Even small measures like telling us where we are when a scene changes or how it fits in context with the rest of the war would have at least functioned as a history lesson. Is this a tax break for the equity he's accumulated? Is the fun he has its own reward for spending a bunch of time and money on NOTHING? Is the director aware that culture comes from people and not the other way around? Somebody should show him Children of Men.

Review: The Ides of March (2011)

No plot? No problem. Put a bunch of selfish people in a room together and there's yer movie. There must be inherent difficulty in centering your story around a political candidate -- you have two choices, one will come across too obvious, the other too harsh. The option they go with means the fictional Democrat can't end up being too evil, so the action he's caught up in is kickstarted by a childish, puritanical overreaction to a relatively benign piece of information. Usually, a tragedy to leverage a weaker man is used fairly early on, not halfway through. This is not enough for a story. Even as a play in a box theatre, I doubt this would work. At the end, do we cheer? Do we boo? Unknown. It's hard to be conflicted about everyone getting exactly what they want when there don't appear to be any stakes on the other side. What the hell happened here? We miss the guy with all the flashy, passionate camerawork in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and the guy with the smoky, classical atmosphere of Good Night, and Good Luck. Is that guy dead already?

Review: Leatherheads (2008)

Clooney's version of a tribute to 1920s screwball cinema is more like a spiritual companion to Robert Redford's directorial efforts, specifically the part worship-part indictment of the huckster\outlaw spirit. The film picks no side except for whatever side the director happens to be on at that particular moment. If I had to guess, I'd say he actually hates football, which makes it all the more confusing that he'd strong-arm the script away from an ESPN writer. I guess you'd have to in order to have an inexcusable misuse of John Krasinski at the height of his popularity and a love story approaching Intolerable Cruelty levels of tedium. All of the zaniness and shenanitry, even if it were effective, works against the film thematically when it's put against the dry seriousness of an impending bankruptcy and a massive buyout. These idiots aren't saving an orphanage, they deserve to have their league formalized. The man with the low angles and dark shadows saves them. Well, destroys them if you darken the whole affair by pretending it's a prequel to Concussion.

Review: Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

The director catches fire, quickly. In what it a series of smart decisions made one right after the other, Clooney gathers a remarkable cast of actors -- David Strathairn, the best smoker in the world, Ray Wise, exuding his usual air of world-weary tragedy, and Jeff Daniels, beginning a new chapter of his career of playing characters who stand in front of a lectern and tell you not to do things -- and crams them into tight office spaces and films them with a telephoto lens. It's a slam-dunk marriage to the material itself, immortal by virtue of the very human desire to micromanage civilization. There will always be a McCarthy.
Much of the driving suspense is in what we don't see, the enclosing circle of mass hysteria and the threat of a powerful government swinging its sword with no restraint. The intensity of the first broadcast unfortunately means that the rest of the film can't really measure up. We brush past many months of turn-based combat through televisions and satisfy a subplot that feels more like filler than an example of the witch hunt's body count, stealing money and time away from our star newsman. The film's engine slows to a stop.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Clooney's flashy, endlessly cynical debut is a mixed bag. Its purpose is to undercut any notions you may have about spycraft (a total crapshoot, where stratagems are improvised just before they are needed and anybody can be recruited) America in the 50s (no such thing as 'the good old days'), television (manufactured joy, made by elitist sycophants) and sex (women don't fuck you because you're good at it), told through one of entertainment's most eccentric eccentrics. Many of the things that make it worth watching are in the final 30 minutes, including vital information regarding our main character that would have gone a long way in humanizing him. The payoffs end up working way too late in the game. Far from incompetent, but mostly a chore that arrests your attention for two minute stretches.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Two writers work out more of their feelings about their neglectful, conniving intellectual parents. Their surrogates run away with each other, are surrounded by the usual focus on objects, tableau, titular wordplay, and are eventually rewarded for all of the trouble they caused. Surprisingly, when this elevator pitch is cut short halfway through, you realize you could have watched this portion for four more hours (in theory -- looking at you, Standing Up). The story ends up being very simple on the face of it, getting so much accomplished with what seems like nothing but air. No, heavier than that. Maybe propane? It's a sustained joy, feat after cinematic feat tightly packed together.

All these spinning plates that Anderson has over his head begin crashing to the ground towards the end of the film, resulting in a pretty sloppy climax -- a sudden binocular contrivance, a teleporting crowd of kids after a lightning strike that is quickly brushed past, some time devoted to completing an arc in Edward Norton's character that we didn't know existed, a verbal confrontation in a church that sounds a lot like a first draft -- though it doesn't end up ruining the rest of the film, thankfully. It may even works towards its benefit. The messiness contrasts it with The Darjeeling Limited's clean ending. It's okay that these two kids achieve a victory even if they didn't earn it. Life is chaos, and they made love work within that chaos. It's a summer romance that burns hot and bright but -- let's face it -- will run out of fuel come winter. The time they spent together will be a rare moment of beauty they'll remember forever, but is now lost to the tide.