Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: The Cell (2000)

Jennifer Lopez and her booty have to travel through Hirst, Nerdrum, Giger, various Tarkovsky films, and the Losing My Religion, Closer, The Perfect Drug, and Bedtime Story music videos in order to find the location of a comatose serial killer's final victim, in a situation so specific that it's hard to imagine the Dreamsharing Institute ever getting its own television show. Nonetheless, our reward for all of those directors learning their craft at MTV at the height of its power is the occasional art film/genre picture hybrid, where it's hard to tell if one side is elevating the other or if one side is a weight dragging the other down.

It would have been so easy for The Cell to be a run-of-the-mill Silence of the Lambs clone where the science fiction element is wasted on someone who doesn't know what they're doing. Tarsem Singh was definitely the person to hire for the dreamstuff, but his craftiness bleeds into areas outside of the money-shots; the killer's victims are given proper, horrific detail, D'onofrio's arrival to the institute is a thing of vaguely unsettling beauty, and the implication of Vince Vaughn's molestation as a child is later used as a seduction technique. We got really, really lucky.

The weights come in the form of clear outside interference, boxing gloves and shoulder pads. A woman's life hinging on Jennifer Lopez's success is infinitely more important than proving her worth to the parents of a comatose child. The dramatization of D'onofrio's ridiculous dragonlike seizures cruelly undercut the kinetic, purely pornographic FBI siege on his home. Dylan Baker's folksy explanations of the dreamcloths to the detectives (therefore, the audience) become embarrassingly superfluous when the director has already done such a bang-up job conveying it visually. And there's not much we can do about the ending, where a connection established with a child pre-murderer through a mercy drowning had to also include a crossbow showdown(?).

There should be a cut of this with the handholding excised. The insane visual effects, the fusion of Howard Shore's Naked Lunch/Se7en score and the inclusion of Fantastic Planet on a television screen all belong in full-throttle surreality, where the genre trappings are cemented closed and the gunshy studio notes are set on fire. You don't have to perform gymnastics for so long (40 minutes) just to get to the juicy stuff, and we can understand braindiving in this universe without too much justification. We came to a goddamned movie, after all.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

James Bond went through this already. The series had its popular watershed debut, misunderstandings of it that spawned cash-grab sequels, and recasting that came a bit too soon. All we have to do now is wait for Jason Bourne to drive an invisible car.

This isn't good for us but it could be worse, I suppose... we could be watching Duplicity again. Maybe that's why: this is a For Hire gig. We could congratulate Gilroy for doing a competent enough job or scold him for withholding any personal flourishes that could engage us more. There is a pretty cool gunfight inside of a house and one or two memorable moments (Renner reloading his rifle in a single as a drone explodes in the background) -- rare occurrences that are no match for the time and special effects wasted on nothing, and here and there, the bafflingly stupid (that ridiculous scene where Renner wrestles with a wolf to shove a tracker bug into his mouth... did Gilroy want to avoid the put-the-bug-in-raw-meat-and-let-the-wolf-eat-it cliché that much?). I'd tell you to skip the first hour but then you'd miss out on some Oscar Isaac, and I cannot in good conscience do that.

It isn't like the Bourne series is anything special but it's really beginning to spiral out of control here. There's Earworm Cinema and there's Teflon Cinema. Legacy's incomprehensible plot about supersoldier drugs, its lack of risks and the apologetic nature of its producing staff make sure we won't remember too much about it. Would remaining inoffensive be its own reward, in this case? It is if they have to restart it again in four more years.

That Gilroy/Ray/Johnson parallel weakens. Rian Johnson is still on top and looks to remain there with the help of the Star Wars pedigree, and Billy Ray's trajectory looks more like a slope than a check mark. We should be more concerned about Renner. One of these days, he's going to be more than a sidekick or an A-Lister's ill-timed replacement. Maybe he'll have a franchise of his own.

Review: Michael Clayton (2007)

A strange tiger of a legal thriller that stays a respectable distance from true Lawyer Porn (Anatomy of a Murder). Killer dialogue, an insane inside man muddying the Erin Brokovich style shit at the center, plot elements that proceed in slight abnormal order, and what Gilroy probably meant to do when he wrote The Devil's Advocate. The film is a lot of air; the big scenes are when characters try to interact with each other, yammer on about a metaphorical computer game, or stare longingly at horses and wonder how it all got to this. The smaller moments are when the plot moves. Move too fast and the movie is over.

It's damn good but it ain't perfect. Not only does it suffer from the shitty '4 Days Earlier...' cliché that could have easily been excised with a couple of quick script edits, it treats the idea of a Manic-Depressive committing suicide as WEIRD and a goddamned car bomb as NOT THAT WEIRD AT ALL. Most important of all, Tom Wilkinson burns it down so hard that when his character is absent, the film suffers. Not enough that it matters so much in the end, not with Sydney Pollack picking up the slack and that final shot bringing us home. The integrity is its own reward.