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Sin City (2005)
empty, empty, empty
SIN CITY is an okay movie, but bothersome. It's just empty, vigilante nihilism, basically, except for Bruce Willis' character. It's a set-'em-up, knock-'em-down kind of movie -- establish protagonist, establish villain, establish heinous deed(s), kill villain heinously; next story. The three main stories which make the lion's share of the movie are also pretty similar, so it gets repetitive and feels too long. There are lots of acts of violence, but for the most part they're very cartoonish, so we can squirm happily and know that nothing's really at stake -- certainly not our notions of the world or anything.
This is the part that bugs me: stuff like this and Kill Bill are these constructs, these exercises, just as much as something like Wimbledon or Summer Catch are. It doesn't bother me so much that we as an audience will go see a fluffy romantic comedy as it does that the better directors in the machine are now cranking out vengeance scenarios with witless but kind of inventive brutality, and that's our popcorn. I'm not thrilled with what that says.
There's nothing there; it's not like the constructions of, say, the Coens or Kubrick, which you can argue are cold, but at least are recognizably informed by life and thought; this stuff is informed by movies, basically, so you get hallmarks of characters without any fleshing out which really lets you get lost in that world. There's not a lot to think about when it's over (except how empty it is). And I know the argument against wishing for more is "it's just entertainment." Well, okay: then that turns it back to us. What are we seeking out as entertainment? But, yeah -- I bought my ticket, so I contributed. I should have gone with my instinct.
Yep -- it looks good, but that pleasure disappears pretty quickly. It's not Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow -- which was ridiculous in a whole other way -- but it suffers a similar effect: good technology just can't take the place of a gripping story. If this movie had been as cleverly plotted and populated as, say, Blood Simple, and we actually gave a damn about the characters except as action figures, it could've been a masterpiece; it had all the elements except for some bad acting here and there (Jessica Alba, and especially Michael Madsen, who is just awful).
It's just sad.
Poor, poor movie: poor characters, poor plot, poor writing, miserable direction
I'm not amazed that people enjoy this -- there's always been a market for lowbrow entertainment with a sheer poverty of imagination (as opposed to lowbrow entertainment which really soars); still, it's almost an affront that the name "Kevin Smith" and the word "genius" are sometimes found together.
JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK is soulless comedy, almost entirely devoid of wit (that prologue with the two as babies saves the day, in this case). Comedy without wit gets trotted out anew for each generation, so maybe one can forgive thirteen year olds who don't realize that this sort of pairing -- the hyper-verbal lead coupled with the silent but sage second banana -- is a conceit older than Shakespeare. It's been done to death, folks, and it truly does take a genius to make it work for just walk-on parts; Preston Sturges himself would have been hard-pressed to squeeze 90 minutes out of it.
Nevertheless, these are the central characters, so let's see what they're up to. Ah yes: an entire movie devoted to making the mediocre feel superior to the mediocre. Lots of self-referential back patting going on. Inferior direction that could only aspire to blandness. Imagine Ed Wood stretching out to three or four takes, and you get the idea.
Fine, haunting movie
Boy, I like this movie.
Two guys out on a hike get lost. They're less than ill-prepared for anything like an overnight outing, and they make one huge "gerry" -- their slang for a mistake -- and they get so, so lost. The movie simply follows them as they succumb (a bit too easily) to nature. There's a bit more to it than that, but I won't spoil anything.
Some people refer to "the title character" (both men are named Gerry); I couldn't help wondering if the movie's name was a noun or a verb.
I don't see it as pretentious at all. It's so simple that I think the effort to read anything oversized into the movie is probably the stroke of death. Does it have to mean anything? Aren't people interesting enough anymore? If Bergman can make a chamber piece like SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (tons of dialogue and largely medium or close shots of actors' faces), why can't we have a story about two guys who screwed up and found themselves dying of exposure?
This is a movie that insists on slowing things down to life-pace -- not to say real time. But I thought it captured boredom and drudgery so well that I was constantly engaged. I like the long silences of two folks who know each other (and perhaps a little resentful of one another) and don't have to banter. Most humans, in real life, don't try to be "on" all the time for some imagniary movie-going public; I think it's great that we aren't insulted or asked to be charmed by our desperate Gerry's "witty banter."
-- not that the film is without humor, either. There's an oft-mentioned long take in which one Gerry, stranded on a rock, is coaxed into jumping. The camera doesn't move, and the scene is a masterpiece of economy, suspense, and wit. It's a beautiful mini-movie inside the larger film, and, as mentioned elsewhere, is alone worth the price of admission.
I think the best way to watch GERRY is to let it dictate its own terms and not demand that it function the way movies usually do. Meet the film on its own terms, and I hope you're as riveted as I was.
8 out of 10.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Pretty good film; likely to be murky for the uninitiated
Judged as a film alone, The Passion of the Christ is wanting: there's not a lot of context for why this man is submitting to martyrdom. Yes, a shrouded figure whispers that "one man can't take on the sins of the world alone," but that's about all the viewer gets to hang onto for the two-hour ride.
Judged as a spiritual piece -- well, it strikes me as much more religious than spiritual. It's probably going to be remembered as a pretty effective footnote for illustrating, to some extent, the pain that Jesus or many other political prisoners have gone through; but there's not much of a sense that this man is really anything More. So when Pilate utters the crucial line, "Behold The Man," it sounds like Jesus is being given Honorable Mention in Scourging, since he survives an awful lot without much of a squawk.
In Scripture, Pilate's utterance is much, much more resonant. We have the sense that this Jesus, by the governor's estimate, is the very epitome of perfection of Man, and that includes the spiritual aspect which is part of our fabric. Pilate sensed that this Jesus truly did have it all, so to speak, and he was amazed.
Scripture brings me to another problem I have with the film. Why, when time and again someone sets about to "get it right," do they continue to add to the text? This film is littered with scenes which do not appear in the Gospels, if, indeed, in Scripture at all; it seems to me that artistic gifts of faith like this movie actually show a marked LACK of faith for not trusting that God has told the story the way He intended it to be set down. Christians, time and again, try to "help" God by fudging details of what happened, what was said, or "the hard sayings." -- What they really need is to heed the great editor mark, "stet."
For God's sake -- if this is for God's sake -- can we quit adding the jots and tittles to the whole of our faith?
I'd give this a C+.
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Dull, and hardly as provocative as the filmmakers must have hoped
I sat through RULES OF ATTRACTION and thought it was very, very poor. It's an adolescent idealization of sorts of college sexual experience, barely connected to reality. The characters are so unenlightened and, within the film, unmotivated, that it's really difficult to care; there are plenty of despicable characters in films out there which don't undermine sympathy toward the filmmakers' vision, so it's more than a bit disingenuous to argue that if someone doesn't like the movie in spite of its anti-heroes (ahem), that there's a generation gap or they're Missing The Point. Maybe folks who DO like this film are missing the point: there's a soggy symbolism at work in this movie ("Viktor: The test came back positive!" everyone at the door fails to register), and a cheapness in motivation which undercuts any good will the movie almost gets going. The girl's suicide is the result of myopic obsession, and we never noticed her because the film didn't either, until it's too late (and if that implies OMNISCIENT UNDERSTANDING or EMPATHY or TRAGEDY, then why are we spending so much time with the three leads?); people who are barely even introduced suddenly feel the world will come apart if their lust is unrequited; and the final stroke betraying the Lauren character as equally unaware as the rest of these folks is either a crime pulled on her character or a revelation that her performance wasn't so hot after all, since absolutely NOTHING pointed toward Lauren as delusional. Undoubtedly the film was supposed to be something of a bludgeoning sledgehammer, and instead it's more like being asked to watch as a second-year film student (I'll give Avary that much) performs with a moist towel. The worst film I've seen this year next to FULL FRONTAL. Pseudo-hip fetish-worship regurgitation. 3.5 out of 10.
The worst Star Wars film to date
I'm stunned that so many people like this movie. Lucas has linked a few psuedo-set pieces together, drained all of his actors of the least shred of charisma, and used horrible dialogue, motivation, and plot advances as the mortar. Yes, an awful lot of the dialogue from the earlier movies was poor, but folks like Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guiness, James Earl Jones, and Peter Cushing made it work. Here, none of the story works -- everything is absolutely on the nose.
SPOILERS: There are huge problems with the characters behaving inconsistently with the framework. Amidala needs to go into hiding and so hands her vote over to the one person who has proved most unreliable in the past? Anakain was a fiesty but basically okay kid in PHANTOM MENACE, and now ten years of the universe's most elevated spiritual training has turned him into an insufferable, reblious brat? Obi-Wan stumbles onto a planet which is hatching a conspiracy, and the aliens basially just lay out the welcome mat and guide him through everything, entirely unsuspicious of his obvious ignorance? -- after they haven't seen any money or had any communication with their employer in ten years? Yoda suddenly turns into a rabid ferret, incredibly agile and limber, only to sigh and return to limping about with his walking stick when the fight is over? Monsters just happen to attack the prisoners' chains first, freeing them for a fight?
I could go on and on. This was the first Star Wars movie in which I was actually bored the entire time. The only thing that kept me from walking out was that so many people had written about the last thirty minutes or so being incredible. It wasn't, except in terms of hubris. RETURN OF THE JEDI was a silly, hammy mess, but it had drive; PHANTOM MENACE was terribly flat, but it was at least interesting; ATTACK OF THE CLONES is empty, soulless, and visually packed in a way which cries desperation.
There is one moment of wit -- one. Obi-Wan encounters a man in a bar selling deathsticks (subtle, eh?). He performs his mind trick on the man, sending him home to rethink his life. That was funny, and that was all.
Chasing Amy (1997)
Not bad, but still sad
It's hard for me to remain objective about this movie. Kevin Smith has his legion of followers, and the why of it is inexplicable. His direction is largely of the point-and-shoot variety which some do well but he does not; his occasionally-good dialogue indicates that he is much smarter than he allows his movies to be; the acting all seems to be winking at the audience in a manner of pseudo hip self-congratulation. Lots of talking is done about emotions we're supposed to be seeing rather than emotions actually emoted. (For instance, Holden and Banky, we're told, have been friends for ages -- a companionship Banky says they've been "building;" I never believed there was any depth beyond an actor-fake repartee -- Smith and Lee were entirely unconvincing as soul mates.)
So there were a few chuckles and now and again a nicely turned phrase or thought. But mainly I found myself angry that this filmmaker is fashionable and admired. I'm angry that this attitude -- being intelligent but uncommitted to that intelligence; instead, glibness rules -- is popular, considered desirable and hip. Yep, I'm upset because I write rings around this guy but can't land a deal. There you go. Which makes my criticism no less valid.
Rating: 6 out of 10. Objectively.
Great looking exercise
"Winston" is a terrific looking black and white short Soderbergh shot, and is a sort of dry run of themes which arrived full blown in SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. Here, the exploration is a little awkward, and the strained relationship isn't quite believable; there's not much chemistry between the characters in the sense that they have a shared history. It's better than a curiosity, however, and most young directors would be pleased to have this as a calling card, however oblique it turns out to be.
The Deep End (2001)
Stretches plausibility 'til it breaks
This is the story of a woman who manages a coverup for her son at great expense; this is set in motion by a decision in which she must choose to cover tracks or report an incident to the police. The problem is that the tracks are neither hers nor her son's, and we are expected to empathize with a woman who essentially covers up an accident, and then the coverup spirals out of control. I sat the whole time wishing she'd simply been honest and brave enough to let the incident stand as fact. Instead, she comes off as rather stupid, or at least horribly foolish.
The movie's subject matter is pretty unpleasant -- a 30 year old man has been having sex with her perhaps-of-legal-age boy (the movie skirts this issue, but we know he's ready for college) -- and the mother can't bear for her son's ever-absent father to find out. I can understand a mother's disgust at being shown video footage of what a criminal calls his "blossoming sexuality," but I simply never believed that a mother would commit some of the acts which she does to protect his privacy or reputation or whatever.
Indeed, the audience is insulted: The son is portrayed mainly as a simpering fellow, his eyes always on the verge of tears; his lover is a club owner with enough vanity to drive a swell car and wear nice clothes, but apparently pride not sufficient to remind him of the occasional brushing and flossing. In short, no one needed to yank my chain to make me feel this boy is puppy dog vulnerable and incapable of facing adulthood ramifications of his actions; no one needed to make sure the older lover was slimy enough that I'd be aware of all levels of inpropriety. It's always much more interesting if characters are played against type, but instead we have a club owner who, in every exchange with the boy, must address him with a pet name like "Precious." (But never the same pet name -- we'd hate to risk characterization.)
I had a surge of hope when the mother confronted the blackmailer with the reality of her situation -- how she was going to "try harder" to raise the $50,000 he wanted to steal from her -- and for a little bit, the movie kicked into a nice gear. Suddenly it was fresh and plausible.
But not for long. I won't reveal the ending, but it's like the anti-deus ex machina, even allowing lips to gently brush one another in the wake of tragedy. There were titters in the Oakland theater at the contrivance, and audience members were sort of looking around -- "Do you believe this?"
No, I didn't. I believed a few minutes of the story -- the acting generally is not the problem here -- but those few minutes just weren't worth it. As overrated as GHOST WORLD, this one will soon be forgotten. 5/10
Ghost World (2001)
Unsatisfying story of detatchment
GHOST WORLD could have been so much more than it is; quite a disappointment.
Enid and Rebecca are disaffected young ladies facing (or not facing) life after high school graduation (or near-graduation). Quietly superior to the strip mall folk around them, they sit through life sort of enjoying kitsch and irony. Fine.
The movie fails because it centers on Enid, who so stubbornly remains detatched that she can't even engage with those she wants to engage with: she can't follow through on a crush and instead terrorizes her object of affection; she can't commit to as simple a dream as sharing an apartment with her best friend; and the man whom she calls her hero she ignores as soon as she beds him.
The problem is that the film remains almost as detatched as Enid, who eventually drifts off into her ghost world of non-commital. There's a terrific film of great humor and pathos to be mined from this subject; GHOST WORLD, however, is not that film.