Sep 122018
 

Imagine: Ted is a gorilla not a teddy bear.

Imagine: Walberg is The Rock and not from Boston.

Leave the rest.

So: these life-long friends have a special bond but suddenly fall on rough times and can’t get along. At. All. Eventually though, they work it out. Yeah, they’re rude to each other, vulgar even, but that’s how guys are together when they’re buds and need to say “I love you” but can’t. And before the credits, Walberg—I mean The Rock—gets the girl!

In this way the film ends: two buds and a babe. Happily ever after.

 September 12, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Sep 122018
 

This movie is so much better than Prometheus, and, as my brother said to me over the summer, it makes that earlier movie appear better in retrospect than it was at the time. This is fairly hesitant praise though and begs the question, what’s the problem with these new Alien movies? My thought is that they suffer from real confusion about their subject and their narrative obligations.

The most obvious of these obligations is that Aliens movies are about the xenomorph chasing humans in a labyrinth. The first two films and the director’s cut of the third stick to this subject and excel by offering variations on it. The second increases the numbers of monsters and people. The third explores the perversity which leads some people to empathize with a monster. The three later films, however, all stumble in their attempt to vary or enlarge that basic principle.

Alien Resurrection is, in a sense, the most confused and the most honest about its problems. Its representation of the xenomorphs approaches parody, which I read as an implicit, perhaps unknowing acknowledgement of the limits of the series’s basic monsters-in-a-maze premise. It gasps for air in an ultimately failed effort to develop story material from the veneration of Ripley and the ongoing ambivalence toward the inhuman android looming over each of the previous films.

Prometheus jettisons all of this in favor of origins and creation mythology. It aims to take a series based on a sci-fi revision of the dark house movie and turn it into “cinematic universe.” It is, in other words, what an Aliens movie looks like in the age of three (and counting) Spider-man reboots and The Avengers.

To the extent Alien: Covenant surpasses its predecessor—and it does—it surpasses it by overtly returning to the narrative touchstones of Alien and Aliens, repeating the iconic moments of those films as a narrative collage, as if these moments were established paroles in a generic discours. Ultimately though, I don’t think the film cares much about these moments or even its xenomorphs. The face huggers and chest-bursting and the slobbering, metallic beasts are more-or-less instances of the film pandering. What seems genuinely to interest the film but what it is too timid to embrace as its subject are the dangers posed by an uncanny and out-of-control synthetic intelligence, a motif found in every Aliens film since the first but that here seems to beg to be exploited as primary material.

It seems clear to me that in Covenant the true threat, the true parasite, is artificial intelligence lodged in an android body. This threat is a legitimate source of felt horror in our contemporary moment. The Aliens movies offer a vehicle for representing and exploiting it. But this latest film doesn’t do so, choosing instead to place its narrative chips on new stagings of familiar scares.

So as the credits roll, I feel relief. Finally, a real Aliens movie. Yet I also feel genuine disappointment because in this film, the true monster only shows—what?… itself?… himself?… the uncertain status of the artificial is part of its monstrosity, and it is this monstrous anti-humanity that seduces and captivates. Yet it reveals itself in only two or three scenes. So I walk away from the movie wishing that it had been different than it was and better.

 September 12, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Aug 262018
 

The darkness of this movie isn’t in the villain-protagonist’s victory. It isn’t in the deaths of major characters. It isn’t even in the obvious cynicism of those deaths as a set-up for the next film and their take-backs. It’s in the movie’s bleak view of love.

Thanos seizes the soul stone because he loves Gamora enough to make killing her a sacrifice. The heroes on Titan fail to defeat Thanos because Peter Quill loves Gamora so much that he lashes out over her murder rather than helping his teammates. Thanos can step back in time to pull the final stone from the Vision’s forehead because Wanda Maximoff loves him too much to risk his life by destroying it when she had the chance.

Love ruins everything in this movie and that fact runs contrary to a core tenant of the ideology of the action-adventure genre Marvel’s films sit nestled within: that in moments of danger, your love for a spouse, a child, or a buddy will give you strength enough to keep going, to do the impossible, to win.

Not this time.

 August 26, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Mar 092018
 

I don’t really love this film. I maybe don’t even really like it. Mostly I just don’t care.

The problem is that here the Marvel behemoth feels like it’s busily dragging a few of its many feet forward as it lurches toward the Infinity Wars extravaganza where it plans to (and wants us to know it will) emit a thunderous bellow. And I find that exhausting. As I’ve said before, this massive studio-as-story-world is fascinating from a film history perspective and I’m curious about the technical aspects of project development and coordination, but the films themselves often feel like a burden, something to keep tabs on lest you miss a set-up or fail to grasp a winking reference to what’s come before, but mostly they come across as just fastidious and stale.

Without being anti-genre, anti-superhero, anti-sci-fi or -fantasy, I’m tired of them and wish they’d stop tying up talent that I’d rather see doing other work.

(Or maybe this is a better way of thinking about it: in this film, we watch Thor’s iconic hammer be destroyed, watch Odin die and Thor become King of Asgard in his place (after killing Death herself), watch the complete destruction of Asgard and the migration of its survivor’s to Earth. We also bask in the happy-making fanboy scenes of Thor and Hulk engaged in a battle royale and of Jeff Goldblum in high form. And yet, all of this—every last bit of it—is really just set-up for the only 30 seconds of the film that matter: the post-credit encounter with the purple guy’s space ship as it heads to Earth. When your entire film experience is demoted to a footnote by an ad in the final moments of the film, you’ve wasted your time watching.)

 March 9, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Oct 262017
 

I more or less randomly watched this movie on Netflix and was happy to discover that it was shot in Montreal and is full of beautiful images of the skyline and the mountain.

The film isn’t great—only a few minutes after watching it, the story is fading, and I don’t remember much from the performances—but scene after scene took place in recognizable places around town and it was great fun to location-spot: the Olympic stadium, the Lachine canal, Old Montreal, Parc Lafontaine and others were on display.

Seeing the city on screen, I suddenly realized how much of its beauty I’ve come to take for granted.

 October 26, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Aug 052017
 

This film was surprisingly boring. The problem? Almost every major plot point turns around arbitrary events that have no basis in what came before or will occur after.

For example, the alien’s caught outside and they’re going to keep it from getting back in by burning the engines. What? No fuel? Oh no!

Or they’re creating a trap and the doctor, for some unknown reason, sees the alien nearby but doesn’t say anything. He just pretends everything’s fine. Oops! Now it’s eating his leg.

Or the tech guy decides to open an airlock. Or there’s high-speed debris. Or there’s a malfunction in the __________. And don’t get me started about the tracker that works for precisely one scene.

In short, the story is confused about what its problem is: a dangerous monster loose on a ship or a fragile and failing shelter adrift in a deadly environment? The film thinks it’s about the first, but it’s organized around the second. That mash-up could work but doesn’t here.

And so by the end rather than being horrified (or even interested), I felt certain that these people were inept enough and their equipment shoddy enough that even if it were just the rat they kept in the lab that got out of its cage (not the alien), they would’ve still wrecked the station trying to catch it.

 August 5, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Aug 012017
 

I first heard about Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name early last winter and have been waiting on pins and needles ever since. And by waiting I mean, hanging on any bit of news or interview that pops up and that I happen to find. The first poster dropped a week or so ago, and it looks great:

And now there’s an official trailer:

Watched alongside the clip, that was released a couple months ago (below), it’s clear that Guadagnino is both respecting the source and making a great movie. Which means I’m more excited than ever.

 August 1, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Jul 252017
 

This film has a great premise, good effects, strong performances and exciting set pieces. Its story presents, on the one hand, a credible account of two people’s experiences (and emerging relationship) in an ethically provocative variation on desert-island scenarios. On the other hand, it creates a large scale (but neither mythical nor apocalyptic) problem that must be solved by two ordinary human beings. The final shots, which leap forward ninety years and offer a backward glance at the traces of their two lives—lives lived in solitude and out of sight but lives lived also, by all appearances, happily—are powerful, moving, and they’ve stuck with me.

Yet the reviews leading up to the film’s release were terrible—so much so that I waited to see it as a rental—and it seems to have done badly at the box office. And yet, this was not a bad movie at all. (Lesson relearned: don’t trust reviews!)

Popular judgments this bad aren’t a canary in the coal mine. They’re you watching with stinging eyes and burning nose as the miner a hundred feet down the shaft keels over.

Because if science fiction storytelling like this isn’t exciting enough to be worth seeing, then Marvel’s colonization of our mind-screens is near complete.

 July 25, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Jul 252017
 

Equals is a Gattica rehash insofar as it uses mid-century (read: old fashioned) modernism to represent a medicalized and bureaucratic dystopian future. Here though, the architecture is more central (and beautiful) and the love story is between seemingly younger characters. (The apparent youthfulness of the protagonists is important in the final act which cleverly cribs the last act of Romeo and Juliette.)

Although there are specifics to the story—it’s a postbellum world in which emotion (and so war) has been eliminated—these details don’t really matter because this is a love story about the allegorical possibilities blankness. Blank walls. Blank faces. Blank narratives. As a result, the movie is self-consciously “about” anything you read into it. Sexuality. AIDS. Depression. ADHD. The psycho-sociology of illness. I’m not sure any of this is very interesting and suspect that to the extent any of it is, it’s because the topic (rather than the movie) is interesting and that the movie therefore serves as a useful example or object for discussion.

As I watched I was caught up primarily in the acting. Blankness is hard to perform in film because, at it’s base, convincing cinematic performance involves creating a mildly blank expression that can be read by the spectator through projection. Yes, there are big scenes and “Moments” where the screen actor plays large and loud and broadcasts a feeling. But most of the time, actors underplay and merely suggest. Making the blankness that they normally use to create an effect visible as the effect itself is clearly difficult, and in the first act, I didn’t find Hoult and Stewart very engaging or convincing. However, once they are allowed to become people, they bloom (beneath the still blank surface of their faces) and things pick up .

As a side-note, Kristen Stewart playing blank and emotionally dull looked like Kristen Stewart playing Bella from the Twilight movies. When suddenly she began to play a person in love and happy, it was like watching a completely different actor. Seeing this film has convinced me she’s a real talent. I’m actually looking forward to seeing her in other movies now.

Jul 092017
 

This movie refuses to pretend to be anything other than precisely what it is: a camera that stares. In practice that means it risks being mistaken for a beautifully photographed but stuffy exhibit of period costumes and decors.

It’s not. It’s a camera staring with limitless curiosity at the face of Jean-Pierre Léaud.

A good example of this is an extremely long-take from early in the film. The movie sets its gaze upon a moment of Léaud’s performance, shooting him in profile in extreme close-up as he holds a smile for the members of his court attempting to entertain him in his bedroom. At first the smile is natural and pleasant. But then subtly the joy drops out of it, and it becomes a mask for fatigue. Nothing—and yet everything—has changed. And then a tiny muscle lying under the loose skin of Léaud’s cheek begins to twitch, intermittently at first but then insistantly. The smile never drops, the eyes continue to shine, but by the time the courtiers leave, the cost of the performance—the king’s and the actor’s—has registered.

More generally though, the film stares at a face made famous when it was young. The face has aged, but the movie and those of us watching it remember that it once looked like this:

The movie stares at this face, studying how it has changed with age, and searches for what of the youth remains.

The beauty of the film is that as it stares at the aged face, it discovers (and shows) that all of that remembered beauty is still there. Changed but there. And still compelling.

 July 9, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,