What movie was that...?

26 July 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

directed by Benh Zeitlin

I love me a good allegory, and Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature is as stunning an example of a modern allegory as you will find. Set in a fictional region of Louisiana named The Bathtub, Beasts of the Southern Wild might as well be set “once upon a time, in a land far, far away,” where nature co-mingles with the slim trappings of modernity in a nearly seamless, organic tapestry of existence for The Bathtub’s denizens. In his main character, Zeitlin has found a true talent in Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy with enough grit and temerity to split stone. I am jumping on the Wallis bandwagon (there’s room enough here for you too, Academy), for she was a true marvel as the Vardaman Bundren-esque soul around which the calamities, mysteries and misfortunes of world orbit. To say the film is surreal, or even magically real, is to discount the very true to life bulk of the tale. Bandying those terms about can imply a certain type of filmic weirdness that makes some people uncomfortable. Those surreal elements do exist in this film (the aurochs exodus, pour example), but think Gabriel Garcia Marquez, not David Lynch. Rookie cinematographer Ben Richardson is triumphantly fantastic in managing to make each place in The Bathtub (and beyond) come alive and to remain in my mind long after I left the theater. The inevitable comparison to David Gordon Green’s phenomenal George Washington may draw a certain type of interest to the film, and just like George Washington, the beauty of Beasts is its ability to articulate truths that are cosmically universal and to give them to us like a kind of gift. Beasts is big old thing of a film, a precious thing, and it would be a shame if you didn’t experience it for yourself.

23 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

directed by Christopher Nolan

There seems to be very little in-between when it comes to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy ending Batman film, with haters on one end dashing its preposterous plot progression (which bordered on silly, honestly) and fan geeks on the other end extolling the virtues of Nolan’s ability to instill his films with “grand themes.” While I admire Nolan as a filmmaker and find him to be very capable, and I surely respect the divergent opinions concerning TDKR (what kind of snob would I be if I didn’t?), I found my already wary optimism quite deflated this evening after having finally watched Mr N’s whale of a comic book film. Is the film bad? Well, that depends on how you look at it, and frankly I’m not one to bestow such a moniker on a film like this, but it there were more moments in this film that culled a sigh and a head shake from me than I had fingers (and possibly toes, yeesh) to count. Even so, I would not say it was bad, either. But I am getting ahead of myself…

16 July 2012

Rampart

directed by Oren Moverman

Oren Moverman’s film about a racist, bigoted, hateful, chauvinistic Molotov cocktail of an LA police officer is a stunner in every sense of the word, and the brilliant filmmaker has given the world another glimpse of the truly astounding heights Woody Harrelson can achieve if given the proper material. Harrelson plays David “Date Rape” Brown with an intensity you can practically measure empirically, a force of corruption long shadowed by a dubious career tainting slaying of a suspected rapist (hence the nickname). As he sucks down cigarette after cigarette, drink after drink, Brown’s self demolition seems eternally pulled between the magnetic poles of destruction and desperation, though to say that Moverman’s film is nothing more than bleak piled atop bleak would be a gross oversimplification. There is fury there, and always the prism of violence (physical, emotional, psychological, you name it) looms, but there is something else that compels you to watch and to be moved by Brown’s backslide. No doubt it’s the tremendous, tremendous talent that has been gestating inside Mr Harrelson all these long years (you have come a long way since Money Train, Mr H. Don’t ever go back.), wakened from its dormant state and loosed upon the earth. Sure, we saw glimmers of genius in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, and even in Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, but ever since he wowed me in No Country for Old Men, Harrelson has been turning out magical performances like gangbusters, and his brutally honest turn in Rampart is the kind that should have most actors out there hanging their heads in shame over their inadequacy. And Oren Moverman is pulling away from his contemporaries with each subsequent endeavor, creating worlds that affect us in both painful and profound ways. One of my favorites scenes is the first conversation between Brown and his retired cop buddy (an amazing Ned Beatty), specifically the shot choices Moverman makes when filming that exchange. Supremely interesting...

PS I would be remiss if I didn’t sing the praises of Robyn Wright, who magnificently  played a kind of dark counterpoint to Harrelson’s Brown, and the stellar talent that is Ben Foster, who achieves a Guy Pearceian feat of making very much out of very little as the decrepit General.

11 July 2012

Magic Mike

directed by Steven Soderbergh

Say what you will about Steven Soderbergh and his filmmaking choices, but his canon clearly shows that he is an artist dedicated to following his own vision, wherever that may take him. And whether it’s the visual and metaphysical beauty of Solaris, the mumblecore-esque reality of Bubble, the razzle-dazzle good time of Ocean’s Eleven, or the quiet magic of Che, Soderbergh films are always competently filmed and astutely realized. So, when I went to see Magic Mike with my wife the other day, I had high albeit wary expectations about his newest endeavor. And though I had expected a lot of things about Magic Mike, I never expected to be let down by generic, banal narrative. Magic Mike tells the story of Mike (credibly played by Channing Tatum), a jack of all trades slash male stripper who takes Adam, aka The Kid (Alex Pettyfer), under his wing. The problem with this movie, however, is not the premise or the acting, for all involved do a wonderful job of bringing their roles to life, from the self-obsessed scumbag rockstar strut of Matthew McConaughey to the slacker turned party monster transformation of Alex Pettyfer (props, Mr P). And it sure isn’t the directing. The problem with Magic Mike is that it starts off with a certain trajectory in its sights, a trajectory that may have been dark, but at least interesting, but by the end it had jumped the tracks and landed back in familiar, safe territory where there’s hope for Mike and all the snooze inducing crap that goes along with such bland films. I thought you knew better than that, Mr S. Too bad.