Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Tower Heist, J. Edgar

In varying ways, Tower Heist, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, and J. Edgar are all three tired, silly, and lacking sufficient reason to exist; when not treading ultra-familiar territory, they're embracing their own inconsequentiality. Such a tactic works more in the favor of Harold & Kumar, a third weed-anthem, perhaps their most inspired yet, if self-negating in its persistently ephemeral, reflexive demeanor. Problem is, there's nothing about this duo (nor the filmmaking) that resonates beyond the male-bonding ritual satire, which, since the pieces are so disparate (faux-gay Neil Patrick Harris, a snatch seeking bestie, a doped-out, CGI baby, to name a few) is as much a hindrance as a boost to imbuing the proceedings with a genuine sense of the Carnivalesque, rather than a run-through of potential subversion only to complacently arrive at adamant, male-assertion affirmation. There's little more ridiculous than a film that lampoon's consumerism, advertising, yet is released in surcharging 3D (the film has gags which merely poke fun at the extended medium, rather than using it for truly homosocial commentary/critique). Like the similarly disappointing Jackass 3D, ample potential is squandered on empty provocation. The joke's over, at this point. Same could be said from the intro gags of Tower Heist, "a Brett Ratner film" that can be esteemed only by ranking its effrontery to political sense slightly above In Time, though both heedlessly lurch along, paying lip service to "class warfare" in some bizarre, perversely-tuned denouement of economic revenge/wish-fulfillment. Were Ratner even slightly attuned to the inherently problematic ironies of an assembly-line film ineffectually preaching the detriment of assembly-line political unconscious (In Time even more so), perhaps there would be an inverse effect/pleasure to be had - instead, there's mugging all around, very little laid on the line, even less restoration of comedic dignity to the careers of Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, and Matthew Broderick, if one cares about such things. Speaking of careers, Clint Eastwood may have the most overrated directorial oeuvre of all contemporary directors. Sure he's made some good/very good films (High Plains Drifter, A Perfect World, Mystic River), yet these are merely a few gems amidst other ridiculous, insulting, haphazard efforts. His prolific work ethic isn't helping either, turning from the shamelessly pandering Invictus and the wholly risible Hereafter, to J. Edgar, a biopic whose artistic and political sensibilities are indicative of a film made five decades ago. To call this thing nostalgic and anachronistic wouldn't begin to explain Eastwood's regressive tactics (along with hack screenwriter Dustin Lance Black), using a flashback structure to problematize historicity (Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio) dictates his memoir while pontificating on the struggle to differentiate "heroes and villains"), yet indulging Oedipal hilarity (including an especially hilarious scene where mother Judi Dench flatly tells Edgar she'd rather seem him dead than become a homosexual, then proceeds to teach him how to "dance"), latent homosexual desire (Eastwood only has the balls to show hand-holding and a kiss amidst a violent struggle), and the often monochromatic, nearly black & white cinematography (capping a retrograde trifecta). On top of this is DiCaprio's worst performance since Gangs of New York, yet that matters little when Eastwood refuses to use the material for subversive/political means. Questioning historical authenticity? Not exactly provocative, especially when Edgar's words ("a country is doomed once it forgets its history") merely pay lip service to postmodern crisis (though the claim that "America must never let down its guard," when spoken in DiCaprio's twang, sounds a good bit like "we must never let down our God," an amusing contrast). Problem is, Eastwood's too busy pacifying (who exactly?) to muddy the waters, providing not a single, memorable cinematic flourish amidst 137 minutes of cinema fit only for those who have trouble remembering what year it is.

1 comment:

  1. While I thought the direction in J. Edgar was rather assembly line (like most of Eastwood's films because he makes nearly two a year), I thought the script was actually one of the best adapted screenplays to come out of Hollywood in a while. When adapting the life of someone as strange and infamous as J. Edgar Hoover, the temptation to drive in and focus on the sensational details of his life had to have been huge. But rather than portray him as a flaming homosexual as he was in Oliver Stone's "Nixon," Dustin Lance Black actually created a stranger portrait of Hoover by portraying him as repressing his true nature. There were also all of the weird ways in which his insecurities played out. When he builds a replica of Robert Kennedy's fireplace in his own office, and then the rather heartbreaking scene where he dons women's clothing. I think Eastwood will get a lot of credit for this film, but all of it truly belongs to the cast and to Black. While Eastwood was never exactly a hinderance, he was not on par with the other elements present on this particular motion picture.

    Eastwood picks interesting stories, and in this case, had an interesting script. It almost makes me wish that instead of being a director, he would work more as a producer, using his name to link talented directors to projects that might not be made otherwise.

    Also, I am rather excited about H&K 3-D. When Rachel and I went on our first date almost eight years ago, H&K 1 was the movie we went to see due to the fact that at that time, I had seen all of the other movies at the theater. You don't always know that you are picking the "first movie" you will see when you meet the person you will share the rest of your life with, but after that experience, we've had the chance to see a lot of films together that were great. H&K 2 was completely forgettable, so while I have low expectations for the third one, I kind of view these sequels as a renewing of our vows, so to speak.

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