Jan 222019
 

One of the most moving films I’ve seen in a long time. The narration—multimedia, impressionistic—was thrilling and the performances offered up by the youngest son and his father are just extraordinary.

On a personal level, I have near unbounded sympathy for young, lonely characters who, naively and without pretensions, live a rich imaginative life and are made to suffer for it. The final scene of the boy collecting his journals and drawings from the garbage and then walking off across the field broke my heart.

Jan 202019
 

What I didn’t know going into this movie was that it was a kind of docu-fiction: real people playing characters with different surnames who live the experiences the actors have lived themselves. It’s an interesting set-up: not, I think, because of grand epistemological implications but because it creates a context for non-actors to give extraordinary performances within a crafted narrative.

The star here, Brady Jandreau, resembles a very young Heath Ledger often enough for it to be unsettling yet he brings enough depth to his role to keep the resonance from obliterating him (as by all rights it should). This is a western, which means it’s a film about being a man in American culture, but the familiar generic iconography is held at bay. The landscapes are beautiful but seldom soar and seldom feel metaphorical. Brady is just a young man in the middle of nowhere with no money and few prospects, who’s had the one thing he loved and was good at, taken from him by bad luck. Now he’s got to figure out what to do.

I found two aspects of his story extremely moving. The first was the two scenes where we see Brady training horses: the first horse had never been ridden before and was terrified; the second had been badly trained and now bucked fought. In both cases, Brady’s attention to their expressions, his patience and his steady hand, look like love. Genuine, full-blown love. The care he shows these animals reveals that he is a good man. This is the ballast for the film.

The second set of moving scenes is of Brady working in the local pharmacy or grocery store. As he explains to an acquaintance, money wasn’t coming in so he took a job. This is what was available. Despite the situations thrown at him by people who see him as he works—for example, when he’s recognized by two boys who have watched him ride and view him as a hero—Brady’s reactions have little to do with pride. He’s working and seems to feel no embarrassment over the kind of work he does. Instead, his exchanges with other people at work, which I’d expected the film to frame as humiliations, serve as reminders of the work he loved which is no longer possible. The emotions at play are sadness and grief rather than shame or anger. The film’s realism is grounded in this choice of emotions.

All of which is to say that this film is beautiful and I enjoyed it a lot.

Dec 062018
 

So this movie came out and was a bit of a thing and so I watched it (over three or four days, because…sigh) and it got better, bit by bit, and by the end, I thought, “this is pretty okay” and I was moved even and inspired and put a picture of the Beav as my phone’s wallpaper (because, love) which turned out to be a revelation.

Because it was weird to have my phone light up as it was sitting on my desk, and suddenly, there’s the Beav—“Hi Beav!”—with a notification across his face. And then I thought, is this what the teenagers in love today do, put a pic on their phone?, or is this just a movie thing? Because it’s weird.

So I changed my wallpaper to a photo of sunrise on the river in fog and experienced the peculiar pleasure of being age appropriate.

  •  December 6, 2018
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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.

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.

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
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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.)

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.

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.