Friday, November 25, 2011

Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011) -- B

Any viewer that has an invested interest in the future of cinema, as it becomes obfuscated with television, digital media, and assorted forms of technological emergence, must view Martin Scorsese's Hugo with equal parts enthusiasm, apprehension, and castigation. Let's parse through the film's outwardly jejune interests (Dickinsian abbreviation, wonderment, isolation) to Scorsese's core interests, as artist and filmmaker: the emergence of technology, a nostalgic view of the past, and, ultimately, synthesizing the two using altered apparatical forms (3D) with classical cinematic mise-en-scene (deep focus, tracking shots), to explicitly reconcile the early days of sound (the contemporary parallel obvious) as progenitor of progression and inhibitor of expression - in other words, a reductive, derivative view of history and technology that filmmakers have been grappling with for the better part of the last half century. Moreover, in Scorsese's first attempt to confront these apparently engrained emotions, he does precisely what a thoroughly modernist filmmaker would: instead of anything slightly askew or avant-garde, he makes an accessible film, a potentially simplistic one, though beautifully rendered and played, in the traditional sense.

Here's how we know Scorsese has devolved into a filmmaker that's merely a level or two ahead of someone like Tarantino (a back-handed compliment) in terms of text: he likens his use of 3D in Hugo to the emergence of technicolor in the 1940's, an aesthetic tool that has no explicit ties to theme or form (color does not alone comprise form), much like 3D simply tightens the frame, but provides very little by way of altered affect, at least in how contemporary Hollywood is using it. Meaning, Scorsese's awe at the new technology (he has since claimed he wants to do every subsequent film in 3D) reflects his artistic regression, wishing to engage an inherently consumerist cinema that offers little by way of depth, personality, or subversion. Sure, there's potential subversion in the way Scorsese reintroduces silent cinema, in 3D, full clips from A Trip to the Moon or The Great Train Robbery, but only in the sense that it reinvigorates the potential for interest in repertory cinema. Hugo is not a political, personal act. It may reveal Scorsese's unfortunately nascent state of filmic adoration (much like Shutter Island merely afforded Scorsese the chance to make a film noir, devoid of conviction), where the enchantment, the awe, supersede the desire to engage pure expression without didacticism, which Hugo nearly packs to the brim in its lecture-heavy second half.

Furthermore, there's something purely middlebrow about screenwriter John Logan's situation of personal failure, particularly in Papa George (Ben Kingsley), whose ultimate dissatisfaction lies in self-pity, that his illusions and predilection for performance are no longer valued by a rapidly evolving society. Logan purposefully seeks to induce empathy via isolation and Scorsese misinterprets Jacques Tati by turning rigid artistry/satire into sentimentality and lament, stuck in a psychological stasis, unable to move past his debilitating focus on the past, in both form and content. Critics and others can claim Scorsese has done that by embracing 3D, but that's little more than wishful thinking; those who view cinema-love through a Spielbergian lens are very likely to hail Hugo as a masterpiece; actual cinephiles, who view the cinema as more than simply a facilitator of child-like awe, will smile sporadically throughout, but on the whole, be left with more than a slight sense of suspicion at Scorsese's aims, dubious of his CINE 101 historicism.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) -- C+

The Descendants finds Alexander Payne caught between a rock and a hard place; dealing with, by far, his most ambitious thematic material yet, in which nearly every scene, to some capacity, deals with jilted, multi-millionaire father/husband Matt King's (George Clooney) dying wife, a confrontation of her infidelity, and what that may suggest for Matt's teetering sense of worth and individualistic purpose, there's little room to claim Payne's opting to play it safe - he's undeniably dealing in weighty themes, approaching each scene with a deftly cynical hand, obscuring and problematizing any sense of cues for easy laughs (the trailer displays the most obvious of these moments). Though the material remains vaguely/adjacently close to a sitcom-esque realm, Payne does an admirable job of steering clear from obvious pratfalls, wrangling excellent performances from Clooney, Shailene Woodley as conflicted daughter Alexandra, and Robert Forster as a begrudging father-in-law. By all conventional accounts, Payne's sensibilities are well-guided, walk a fine line between offensive and placating, never falling too sternly on either side of the line. In other words: he has nuance.

Unfortunately for Payne, the script itself, yields very little; the material is inherently flawed, in that it implicitly ignores the issue of class or, at least, obfuscates its characters' titular, unearned privilege by reducing their dilemmas to unconvincing humanist pap, though Payne does his best to understate these moments (namely Clooney's intended, penultimate announcement that he doesn't wish to sell his family's numerous acres of inherited Hawaiian land). Moreover, early voice-over work nearly tanks the film immediately, as when Clooney claims: "Everybody thinks Hawaii is all-day sunshine and paradise, but the divorces sting just as much and the cancer kills just as fast." Such bittersweet-cute reductionism appeals to the film's overall sense of guilt, which cannot be assuaged merely by asserting remorse, much less from the vantage point of a character whose humanity allegedly comes from his familial interests, seeing his daughters avoid harm, etc. Whenever it's necessary for Payne and company to confront these issues head-on, they balk in favor of re-affirmative pandering, much in the same way that The Kids Are All Right and Little Miss Sunshine use stereotyping/caricature as a means of abstaining defeat - there is nothing subversive about these films. In fact, Payne's usage of Hawaii isn't more than a click or two away from the Peter Segal/Adam Sandler trainwreck 50 First Dates (those who will immediately scoff at this suggestion should be reminded that Payne co-wrote the screenplay for Sandler's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). Comparisons to the Farrelly Brothers wouldn't be out of line either, particularly in the way background, bit parts, and passerby characters are played by non-actors, who are treated with equal parts "ain't they cute" admiration and condescension. Finally, the film's closing scene, in which the family trio come together, under a blanket, in front of the TV, is perhaps the most risible ending since Clooney's previous Michael Clayton.

What's perplexing about all of this contrast is that Payne had a hand in the script, and likely a significant one. Yet, his comedic tone and sensibilities as director seem completely at odds with his touches as writer, a conflicting wound that inevitably bleeds The Descendants dry. Nevertheless, Payne has assembled a film that, in spite of all of its plentiful flaws, gets as close as any film that comes to mind in addressing the ever expanding generation gap, one that, paradoxically, may suggest the kids are now more sophisticated than adults, as Clooney's character almost plays protege to his savvy daughter. Without making these scenarios gratingly obvious, Payne still can't shake a greater sense of insignificance, that his barely afloat material yields pathos beyond simplistic ironies and normative familial anxieties.

Melancholia (Lars Von Trier, 2011) -- B-

Lars Von Trier...ah yes, Lars Von Trier. Every time I sit down to evaluate the Danish provocateur's latest faux-opus (here the term is more appropriate than ever), I find myself of two minds, often fascinated by Von Trier's bravado, artistry, compositional knack (these qualities are relatively undeniable), yet infuriated by his outward, bratty sense of artistic self-worth, amplified by his so-bleak-it-borders-on-sadistic-farce material. Thus, in Melancholia, that border has almost comprehensively been dissipated, projecting Von Trier's material, especially in its second half, into a hysteria-driven, lushly photographed bit of empty insanity, assuaging claims that the director lacks a sense of humor. Almost undoubtedly, Melancholia is high farce, a film stretched to a 136 minute runtime with so little to say, that one can only imagine the most aristocratic cinephiles will even be able to conscionably endure it, out of some completist masochism, to possess the "knowledge."

That, indeed, may be a strange way to suggest that Melancholia is likely the best film Von Trier has ever made, though it only strikes that way since it's the first time, in his entire filmmography, that he imbues the admittedly hacky material with a visual, aural sense so symphonic, so driven by affectual interests, that it consistently propels the mundane, repetitive narrative anxieties (Kirsten Dunst plays naked and hysterical, Charlotte Gainsbourg is again obsessive and neurotic) towards a useful, contrapuntal experience. In using the latter word, perhaps Von Trier is, and would always have been, best suited to embrace his films as spectacle, not just of grandiosity, like here, in the film's stunning prologue, but of the body, of human pain, of corruptive, venal power. Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville: these films all inextricably fail because of their Dogme 95 gimmickry, a fake manifesto, propagated by minds that can't think beyond the literal, that see cinema as a basic set of tenants, not an organism that breaths, lives, and imparts feeling. With Melancholia, Von Trier convincingly retraces many of these formal steps, but his material, as unabashedly cruel as ever, relishes destruction for its own sake, gleefully nihilistic, but lacking sincere conviction in its stance. That's what makes Von Trier a hack; not that he's incessantly nihilistic, but that his preferred discursive method is wholly unconvincing, "punkish" in its irreverence, lacking experiential fortitude. Von Trier isn't even making films for human beings anymore - who could embrace this, beyond those who valorize weird, strange, thoroughly kinky disjointed behavior? Since I include myself in this latter category, I suppose that may partly be Von Trier's point, that rationality, the conscious denial of his material/aesthetic modes on purely moral grounds, constitutes an inherent act of nearly primal reckoning (this film being the yang to Antichrist's yin), where any rejection or attempt to make concrete, oppositional sense of what's being seen hangs the viewer by her prejudices.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011) -- A

Martha Marcy May Marlene breaths not just life back into American independent film - it oxidizes the tenants that have plagued Indie films for the better part of the last two decades (precious-cute attitudes, ironic-detachment pathos, callow, dysfunctional family neurosis). While first-time director Sean Durkin may not entirely escape the confines of the latter (though, given his thoroughly rigid, airtight narrative (De Palmaesque in its efficiency), scoffing away such an impedance is more than effortless), his gut-punch artistry, in terms of mise-en-scene and temporality, displays a toughness, a resistance, that only the greatest of filmmakers are able to achieve in any of their films, much less the first. In fact, if one has to align Durkin's debut with another, perhaps the best comparison is with Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, because of similar themes in the narrative, yes, but even more so, a patience, a guiding, propelling directorial intuition, coupled with an eviscerating knack for directing actors - there's nary a moment in Martha Marcy May Marlene that seems to allude Durkin and this mastery ultimately cleanses any minor defects his comprehensively original vision might hold.

Alas, the latter compliment would be sufficient only in expressing a command of personal vision (an impressive, but not particularly lofty feat), were Durkin's aims not so remarkable. Modest at first, then hauntingly revelatory, the truth of Martha's (Elizabeth Olsen) past becomes clearer during her stay with bourgeois sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and hubby Ted (Hugh Dancy) on their lakeside, Connecticut vacation home. Piecing differing chronologies proves less a means of misdirection on Durkin's part, but an intricate means of questioning the medium itself, often using match cuts to switch between time-frames, a choice which inherently convolutes a clear sense of linearity, memory dictating narrative, rather than an explicit causality. Martha's past with a cultish, Manson-esque leader named Patrick (John Hawkes) provides the facade of genre thrills, the consistent mixing of time frames suggesting a degree of "sorting-out" will occur to alleviate the psychological fracture. Yet, Durkin never succumbs to these lesser impluses, refusing to give-in and degrade his loftier aims, a mix of the metaphysical and social, deftly, almost satirically mounting a Bergman-esque country house farce (Smiles of a Summer Night) or drama (Through a Glass Darkly), amidst an Altman-esque hybrid of irreverent humanism and the fantastic (3 Women). Reducing Durkin's achievement to a paradigmatic alignment with previous filmmakers is not my intention; rather, by pointing out these potential reference points (my subjective cinematic lineage), once can begin to discuss Martha Marcy May Marlene outside of its connotations, ranging from the Sundance stigma to the 60's-European Art House similarities.

Durkin's does not intend to valorize the ugly, the poor, the geographically "imparied" (to explain poverty-porn critical hits like Frozen River, Winter's Bone, and Precious, all of which received a Sundance stamp of approval). It takes sly aim at not simply class (the aforementioned films are not about "class struggle," but the exploitation of class to assuage liberal, humanist anxiety guilt), but the deeper-rooted tenants of exploitation: ideology. Absolute power, in all cases, corrupts, no matter if it dictates the unconscious need to own a lakeside townhouse (Martha hilariously asks aloud, perplexed, why the couple are the only people occupying the large home-away-from-home) or the disingenuous philosophy of Patrick, whose "family" is literally patriarchy in crisis, turned horrific. Equally irreverent recent films like Dogtooth and The Woman focus less on striving for social commentary than understanding a humanist ontology; Durkin's tongue is planted so firmly in his cheek here, that his biterness, pessimism, and antipathy towards human nature, in general, threatens to propel his film into utter misanthropy which, given Durkin's compelling argument, may be just the place it needs to go. Perhaps the director's only misstep is in partially satiating his otherwise ascetic aesthetic with far too literal presentations of rape and murder (choosing to simply "show" the deeds proves Durkin still has some growing to do), but these scenes don't sully the piercing effect of the film's larger implications, schizophrenia as human condition, less about the suffering individual, than the fractured, false consciousness whole. Like any great philosophical piece, the "right" answers aren't so readily available, morality seemingly more opaque at the end, than when the film began.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Woodmans (C. Scott Willis, 2011) -- A-

Encompassing the holistic experience of viewing The Woodmans must begin with a reconciliation of its often suffocating moments – some filled with joy, others with pain, the majority somewhere in between. It is, indeed, a film of moments or, perhaps better stated, moments of refracted memories. Francesca Woodman, at the age of 22, took her own life after years of struggling with both herself (her body) and the means with which she was (un)able to satisfactorily express a passionate artistry, emotionality. Director C. Willis Scott situates her struggle within a moderately conventional documentary framework, using talking heads of friends and (primarily) family. Willis uses this form to abstractly emote Francesca’s truly unknowable essence – that being her disembodied consciousness, still pulsating from within her raw, mature art works.

In terms of said artistry, there’s no mistaking that Francesca was a wunderkind, possessing a “rock star quality” as one of her former classmates puts it. Parents George and Betty, lifelong artists themselves, marvel in recalling her resolve, persistence. Often baring her entire body for the art, but as a means of rejecting explicitly heteronormative, patriarchal expression (she denies absolute scopophilia, as seen in this piece), she shares qualities with the work of Cindy Sherman in how history, art, and mise-en-scene (the collective hell of connotation) refute bourgeois practices of advertising, consumerism.

Nevertheless, The Woodmans is really about family dissolve, the ways in which recuperative, repressive memory seeks to grapple with death and guilt, especially the suicide of a young one. Betty Woodman perhaps states Willis’ enigma best, speaking about Francesca’s fractured self: “She was vain but also masochistic – how can they co-exist?” Willis lets remain implicit that Betty’s artistic pursuits, detachment from emotional support, approval, cultivated Francesca’s desperate seeks of approval, affirmation, and worth. Moreover, Willis brilliantly correlates art, memory, and emotion, seeking Francesca’s lost humanity, attempting to reify an essence through testimonials and art. He excavates personal moments of history without motives of psychological reduction or succumbing to that dreaded Indie valorization of dysfunctional family neurosis – disorder is not celebrated. Willis seeks unity, without the pretense of seeking absolute knowledge, total understanding. How to speak the confluence of haunting, confined energy, amidst a society that’s unreceptive to difference, pain, and irreducible yearning? Willis enables a direct confrontation with Francesca’s attempted expiations, perhaps no more eloquently than in the sparse use of voice-over entries from her private diary.

Willis has a gentle, but unsentimental touch. There’s nary a sense that he’s milking the material, nor simply paying reverence to artistic martyrs – he’s not motivated simply by ideology. Isolation motivates much of his selected material, made complete by a late quote from George Woodman, now 77, struggling to choke back tears, lamenting the fact that Francesca will never get to see the later stages of life. George’s conclusion, that “to stay alive is a pretty good thing to do,” pierces with its potentiality for ambivalence, suggesting language does not equal art, but that the two are inextricable and must be reconciled – Francesca is alive in her art, but only in a cultural sense, her person (like her art) in a persistent, unknowable limbo.

The Woodmans will play @ Roxie Theater in San Francisco from Friday, November 18th – Thursday, November 24th.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, 2011) -- B+

The body, a locus for transgression/transformation, has always been Pedro Almodóvar's central thematic concern - he peels back the layers of sexual difference, embracing (or, at least, striving towards) a sensual cinema, textually concerned with anatomical identity, but visually, it's like Vincente Minnelli meets Dario Argento (meticulous, virtuosity, haunting). Moreover, Almodóvar shares a common link with Brian De Palma, in that each use the frame as boundary, the separation between outside/inside, too intelligent to merely be meta, their frames pulsate with affect. Now, it's of my humble opinion that De Palma (the master) should belong a couple rungs above Almodóvar, but then my taxonomic preferences essentially negate the cinema each yearns to create. In a recent interview, Jean-Luc Godard says, speaking on the films of Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol that, "This was not the cinema we had dreamt of." The same could not apply to either De Palma and Almodóvar, who both literally and figuratively dream of an alternative cinema; they do so with the image.

The titular skin, for Almodóvar, is cinema. He lives in cinema, much like De Palma. Hence, they speak from within the elements inherent to the medium. Such a distinction should not be confused with filmmakers like Tarantino or the Coen Brothers, who use cinema rather than speaking it - they do not feel in the same manner. Thus, almost as a confession, Almodóvar grapples with a similar claim made by Michael Powell, when asked about his visual style. He replied: "I do not have a style. I am the cinema." Such seeming arrogance (only to those short-sighted enough to care about semantics) becomes validation when, in his films, Powell does indeed speak with (moving) images.

Thus, arriving to The Skin I Live In, certainly Almodóvar's most impassioned film since Bad Education, the contorted, almost amorphous body of Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) stretches, bends-backwards over a couch. Her body becomes the locus of filmic (image) obsession, seeking to capture (enclose) through understanding, mechanism, form, flesh, reconstruction, (re)imagining, the means by which touch, contact (and perpetual, existential isolation) construct an understanding of individualistic worth, coded through patriarchal sexuality. Though perhaps more explicit than ever before, Vera's eventual plight is essentially that of any Almodóvar protagonist, male or female - a line dissipated here. To say Almodóvar has finally made his horror film is to miss the message - he's always made horror films, the horror of confinement, the border, the frame, the limits of corporeal control. Striving for liberation, Almodóvar remains among the most refined, progressive, thoughtful contemporary filmmakers.

The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson, 2011) -- B+

The Rum Diary may lack for the appropriately gonzo filmmaking of Terry Gilliam, but Bruce Robinson's no slouch either and, through his socio-contemporary use of hedonism, satire, and adulthood, might have even made a film that tops Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In what initially seems to be a conventional, episodic narrative meant to playfully indulge Hemingway-esque male adventure, Robinson slyly inverts perception through cheekily allegorical musings on adolescent yearnings for autonomy, brazenly denying the efforts of filmmakers like Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, and Dennis Dugan to infantilize the male ego. Not so with Robinson, who uses the Hunter S. narrative to embrace rebellion and burgeoning adolescence, not shun it via sexually inept sociopaths (this should be a catch-all for the aforementioned directors), nor merely use it as hero-worship (here is a film that's finally not so bloody obsessed with reaffirming the individual). Moreover, the use of fourty-somethings Johnny Depp and Michael Rispoli to play the good-natured dupes is brilliant, implicitly suggesting the film's fallibility/construction, a bizarro expiation of Superbadian mythmaking - The Rum Diary romanticizes drunken/drug-induced excess only to the extent that it has to, in order to achieve it's desired symbiosis of product/critique, recognizable in relation to its puerile counterparts. Furthermore, the ingenious casting/scenario becomes compelling when subterfuge turns to violence by the presence of local gangster/lothario Aaron Eckhart, especially in a scene that's a direct homage to Roger Vadim's ...And God Created Woman, the tenants of progressive, politically correct rhetoric a failure when it equally facilitates a uniquely American retardation, the inability of children to leave the nest and assimilate into the world, on their own. Tis' a double-edged sword, the line between excess and self-sustainability, but it's a valid question, pressing in its sociological implications, and one that Robinson slyly configures as inherent to the Thompson legacy.

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.

Immortals (Tarsem Singh, 2011) -- C-

Question One: The image. Question Two: Montage. Both questions fail to be answered in Immortals. Instead, we're left parsing through the dialectics of Tarsem Singh's obvious, traditionalist narrativity. Those expecting more of an impressionist, silent, visually driven opus of slo-mo, color, and synecdoche - look elsewhere, since Tarsem's avant-gardist sensibilities appear only in flashes; Immortals is more 300-esque pap for kids who still get their rocks off on blood, tits, and puerile affect - not real artistry. Unfortunately, the opening image teases with its eloquence, starkly framing the stunned, frozen faces of a dozen Titans, trapped in a cage, holding the bars with their teeth, the body in place of structure, architecture as intertwined with human subject. Such a breathtaking introduction gives way to meddlesome, "arise a knight" oppositions, any sense of visual style and/or personal infiltration consistently squashed by a script chock-full of frustrating, meaningless, empty exchanges, nearly all of them too asinine to remember (or even pay attention to). Tarsem could be working to bridge the gap between screen and viewer, but instead he's content to assimilate with the same trite, "storytelling" methods as nearly every "filmmaker" to come down the pike. There's nothing remotely subversive, affectual, haunting, sensual here. The image doesn't speak - it's stunted amidst a confluence of regressive inclinations/forces.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Time (Andrew Niccol, 2011) -- D

Praising In Time would require considerably ignorant joviality, a demeanor so pleased and amused to merely be in the presence of a film, that its searing, painful deficiencies become carelessly subordinated to "ignorance is bliss" securities. Andrew Niccol proves the literalist, absent-minded douchebag his eariler efforts (Gattaca, Simone, and Lord of War) only hinted towards. Regressing to consumerist fetish par excellence (just look at that fucking poster), Niccol engages reactionary "political" filmmaking of the most fickle variety, exploiting real-world economic crisis and amping individualistic savior nonsense into an action concoction whose most compelling dimension is Justin Timberlake's always two-day facial hair, even when he and fembot squeeze Amanda Seyfried have been on the run for days (time-space ceases, latent dysmorphophobia persists). Never clean shaven and not quite growing into a beard, his face remains ever so slightly scruffy, rugged. Perhaps it's the year of the stubble. Ryan Gosling sported a similar no-shave (but always trimmed) look in The Ides of March. Does JT have a little tool in his coat-pocket, using it between shoot-outs to keep everything just so? If such is the case, why would Niccol keep such a detail hidden? Hidden. That's where Amanda Seyfried's dignity remains throughout, trotting along, doting, without agency (JT lets her perform a few times -- mostly on him). JT, metonymically standing in for some displaced, absent, condescended to, forsaken proletariat, Niccol succumbs to every worst instinct, sexualizing his aesthetic, indulging sentimental entropy, then lazily offering a triumph of the individual (class) over systematic disavowal and repression. Few films work this hard to slap viewers on the ass and in the face simultaneously.