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This is an excellent film that’s designed to engage the viewer in the complete disorientation of the protagonist.  It presents the audience with a completely disorienting sequence of detailed events for a nominal 8 minutes, while the hero (and the viewer) struggle to make sense of what the hell is  happening.  Then the 8 minute interval ends in a wildly-disorienting round of orders, desperate requests for grounding information, and disorienting explanations that circumvent and sidestep the protagonist’s getting a fucking grip, and the original 8 minute sequence recommences.  And it goes on like that, with the hero (and viewer) ferreting sense out of the welter of circular and linear junk that transpires in the gradual revelation of an enormously-important mission in which the life or death of the central characters is secondary.

In spite of, or because of, the massive barrage of confusion, this film is wonderfully riveting as it progresses; not unlike a movie company shooting and re-performing and reshoting an 8 minute set piece, with choices and discoveries and improvizations and errors and consultations and no fourth wall.  And it moves like an anvil dropped from a speeding helicopter; but it’s less predictable.

Frost, Denoff, and Rutledge lust after the same pathetic objective, internet celebrity; quantum geocentric catholicism: Galileo’s Epistle to the Corinthians (And one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it…) or They get paid, We get paid because We’re all in this together.  Yahoos, heelots, and most billionaires are on the same incorrect and unheroic page in the universal playbook; Number One.

Spectacular speculative fiction created expressly for film.

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19 Jul 12 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

The Artist

This film and Singin’ in the Rain are the two best, most loving and reverential/subversive versions of A Star is Born that anyone’s ever made.  This one’s smarter, while the other is slightly more entertaining.

15 Jul 12 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

John Carter

comes very very close to being insanely great, but then, I became a Burroughs freak at something like 12 years of age, 50 years ago.  It lasts.  Dipping into this film was inevitable for me, so I paid very little attention to who stepped up to make it.

Kitsch, Collins, Dafoe, Church, Hinds, West, Cranston, Schwimmer?, Favreau, and Malik.  I knew Tim Riggins had enormous chops, and Lynn Collins’ delivered a Quality of Mercy soliloquy as Portia that absolutely blew me away, and I have tremendous, amply-justified faith in Andrew Stanton — but I wasn’t expecting tons of celebrated talent submerged in tiny, even miniscule, roles.  The credits are littered with easter eggs, marking trails that lead in two dozen directions, trails I fully intend to follow.  Jewels from many crowns converged to make this one deceptively deep.

The Wire reminded us all to “follow the money”.  I’m glad I’ve learned, since Firefly, to follow the people.

Don’t get me wrong.  The plot of this film isn’t just bizarre, it’s Burroughs-bizarre.  That’s like Africa-hot.  Stuff happens because of speeches I failed to understand, action abounds for reasons that remain unclear, and I’ll have WAY too much time (to pore over subtitles and commentary, reread the novels, and pick over the bones of this remarkable film) while waiting for the next one in the series.  (It is fervently hoped!)

Cheese?  You bet!  Must have more!

27JUL2012 — Third pass.  I bought a 720p copy from iTunes because the full-boat refused to download to my Windows machine, and it’s $5 cheaper.  So here’s why I’m glad I made the purchase:

Beans.  The first item is beans!”  It’s an oversized, emphatic delivery that didn’t make much sense on the first couple of passes, but what if the journey to Mars is a beanstalk and Captain Jack Carter is Jack!  That would be an interesting transnarrative bridge into the realm of allusion that just sets my imagination tingling.  Hey!  Maybe there’s more going on in this story than a shitload of humor, action, plot twists, character development, scenic splendor, poetry, mythos, worldbuilding and buttkicking special effects.  Maybe there’s also a bottomless well of story-wonder into which one can endlessly dip.

Also, it’s clear that Carter’s fruitless search for the fabulous Spider Mine of Gold isn’t just common knowedge in them thar parts, it’s a source of infinite mirth for the local dickheads…but The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Deadwood led me to believe that a down-on-his-luck prospector’s very last idiotic choice would be to flap his jaws with regard to the location and value of his objective of quixotic quest, so how do the dickheads know so much?  Chatty therns?! or perhaps this first first film is an emergent kind of hybrid longform-blockbuster that invites the viewer to view it repeatedly, raising more questions than one film can answer  —  so it really ought not to be approached as though it were bristling with self-contained answers and explanations, but far more like an immensely-enjoyable pilot episode than a season’s-worth of deconstructible puzzle-fragments in a single box.  And Carter ends the grocery transaction by tossing a tinyl brick of refined gold (with an engraved spiderlike emblem) onto the shopkeeper’s counter; not ore or a nugget — but there’s really no time for anybody to think, “What the Fuck!” because the humor, action, plot twists, character devolopment, exposition, and all that other stuff I mentioned a moment ago) just keeps right on happening at a wonderfully-satisfying pace.  So therns are powerful, manipulative parasites, but are they lawyers, priests or derivatives traders?

“Populations rise, societies divide, wars spread, and all the while a neglected planet slowly fades.”   Why doesn’t that sound like “big, dumb fun”?  Dejah Q.

Colonel Powell of the 7th Cavalry in 1867 isn’t Captain Powell of the CSA, and he clearly isn’t Carter’s friend&fellow prospector, but I don’t mind.  The liberties this film takes with the details of the novel(s) aren’t cheap, exploitative nor careless.  I’m confident they matter.  Paraphrasing Powell, who’s attempting to recruit Carter into the 7th, “Folks are being attacked in their homes by Apaches!”.  It’s an interesting irony that Sherman invented Total War (waged against entire, noncombatant populations [and Virginia Carter’s family]) on his way through Georgia before Custer brought that terrorist stratagem agains the red people of Earth.  Carter, the war-weary cavalry officer responds by saying (in paraphrase), “Fuck you all.”  On the other hand, new departures from the literary identity of Carter simply enrich and deepen the novel’s central character, who says:

“I do not believe that I am made of the stuff which constitutes heroes, because, in all of the hundreds of instances that my voluntary acts have placed me face to face with death, I cannot recall a single one where any alternative step to that I took occured to me until many hours later.  My mind is evidently so constitued that I am subconsciously forced into the path of duty without the recourse to tiresome mental processes.  However that may be, I have never regretted that cowardice is not optional with me.”

The darker, torn, more-contemplative, even Hamlet-like Carter who appears in the film has fought his way (and lost his family) to a wonderfully-bitter, adult realization of grudgingly-obstinate pacifism, in spite of his reflexive impulses to answer heroically the immediate call of duty.  He’s more interesting and four-dimensional than Burroughs’ original character, and far more likely to say something cynical, like, “Stupid are the brave”, before bounding off reflexively to do the right thing without regard to tiresome mental processes.  Same guy, better darknesses, deeper pain.  And just when you expect the reversals to end in a cavalcade of trumpet fanfares, ticker tape and fluff; they don’t.  Stuff dovetails, gathers and ramps the resonance UP!

There are also historical allusions to The Battle of Five Forks and Carter’s nearly turning the tide of battle that resulted in the award of The Southern Cross for conspicuous gallantry…and stuff like that.  And Jack kills a nine foot Thark with a single blow.  And althugh Carter’s inert physical body is revealed to be back in a cave on Earth, the Ninth Ray medallion telegraphed a copy of him? to Barsoom in form of an emale.  Obviously, I don’t object to (my own) ridiculously-tortured interpretations, so long as they result in MORE of this exceptionally-delicious cheese.  And don’t forget, there’s dip.

Subtitles help with grasping exposition in the relatively-rare instances when knowing exactly why what-the-hell’s-happening actually matters, unlike one hell of a lot of movies (in which sound effects and score are ruinously-louder than dialogue).  Here, most of the humor and pith is VISUAL!

I no longer like this film (which, much like Casablanca, isn’t getting any older/staler with each successive pass, just richer and more flavorful, and more intriguing).  I love it!

13 Jul 12 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

The Grey

It’s a well-told tale of an enormous blank, white sheet on which several very-dark souls try to say their piece.

The cosmoloogy of this film is explained by the narrator at the very beginning as he writes and reads a letter he’s writing to a loved one who’ll never receive it.  It’s a tale of a handful of evil (lone wolf) men exiled to the frozen north; a tale told by their defective protector, who’s only sure of one thing, that he belongs in the company of discards, omegas and rejects.  His narration is like a suicide note, written in blood, on a rest-stop bathroom mirror by a soulsick guy in transit, who truly belongs exactly nowhere.

And the airplane that’s meant to transport John Ottway (and his similarly-impaired companions) “home”, crashes in the middle of an enormous page of absolute tabula rasa, where the crash, the storm, the cold and the pack of pretty-darned-plausible CGI wolves reduce the size of his company until the film concludes in the final confrontation of Ottway and the alpha wolf in a gentlemanly contest of champions — to which Ottway brings a fistfull of tiny broken bottles, electrical tape, and a woefully-inadequate hunting knife.

This is a story that’s mostly-told.  It’s told very well, within the confines of the mythology it fabricates, leaving Ottway plenty of time to repeatedly consult the suicide letter that reminds the viewer of the warm&loving side of the mirror from which Ottway’s personal choices (and pathological predispositions) divorce him.

But it’s a told tale (and possibly also a tall tale) that felt the usual Hollywood-conventional need of multiple camera angles, inserted music, and a wealth of spoken words to tie the viewer into the precariously-suspended lives and deaths of several men whose almost-constant companions are a pack of enormous wolves who make Ottway & Co. seem profoundly-insignificant snacks in their BigBad (hu)manly badass bravado, by comparison.

I think it would have been a more effective film if it were shot through the eyes of the hometown team, from the points of view of the natural (CGI) predators.  STILL, it is, nonetheless, an effective, engaging, suspenseful adventure that I’m glad Sam turned me on to.

As a NetFlix rental disc, all the special features are completely unavailable, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and a movie executive’s got to make a buck somehow (ScottFree and Inferno); disappointing.  When the wolves aren’t at the door, I might actually buy myself a copy of this one.  Easily 80% of the film incorporates effective elements that worked very well in Jaws, The Flight of the Phoenix, ConAir…it’s only in the very last reel that the relentless, ubiquitous menace of The Pack abates for several minutes while the unrepentant “lone wolf” humans focus the viewer’s attention on more important things than their sociopathic survival; like family, relationships, theology and various bits of wholly-unrelated bullshit.

This film reminds me of Joss Whedon’s assessment of Air Force One because I spent 117 minutes watching a character study in which there is no recognizable change in any of the characters.

What do I have to do today to make it a good day to die?  It was an excellent question when it was posed in Little Big Man 42 years ago.  Still is.

 

Second pass, 09JUL2012:  In 1908, Jack London published To Build A Fire, a short story that built Yukon cold, and newbie hubris into a classic tale of human stupidity witnessed by a dog.  There was no pressing need for wolves.  The Grey probably needed them.

The film doesn’t quite work as a realistic portrait of seven survivors of an Alaskan plane crash because significant details get in the way of a literal reading; Ottway is attacked early, but arterial blood spurting in heart-pulses from his right lower thigh requires only a wrapping bandage to permit instantaneous healing that lets him take the lead in a desperate march from the wreck through the snow to the relative safety of the trees the very next morning.  Later, there will be desperate floundering in a river from which Ottway emerges in dry clothes.  A desperate 30foot leap off a cliff into a treetop with the aid of a tether made of knotted rags, rope and clothes while The Pack waits at the base of the tree for Talget, and not at the edge of the cliff.  Diaz spits blood, as though he might have been more seriously damaged, during his attack, than he let on.  Maybe that’s meant to make his decision to resign from the trek and life more plausible.  I don’t think it did.  Burke just quits breathing.  Henrick drowns.  Hernandez and Flannery pissed them off and straggled.  Wolves just raised the stakes, most of the guys died of their own ignorance.  As would I; not to throw stones.

It doesn’t really work as a fable, either.  The alpha’s eyes are lime-colored.  The charcoal gray of his coat makes an awkward comparison with the deep steely blue of Ottway’s eyes — unless the title of the film pertains to the uncertainty of the survors’ survival; the life&death struggle in a gray area involving Ottway’s belated exhortation for God to prove His existence by intervening in behalf of a suicidal widower whose father once proclaimed the virtue of NOT going gentle into that good night.  No.  That also stinks.  There’s zero uncertainty in my mind concerning Ottway’s survival of the final confrontation with the alpha.  Seven pairs of  outraged, shining eyes glared back at the five remaining crash survivors on the second night.  That Ottway stole all the way home is an ironic tribute to Hollywood bullshit.  That it was the wrong home is actually pretty damned interesting.

 

07 Jul 12 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 9 Comments