Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
PM me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Suicide Squad (2016)
Half-finished retail space
By now you know this is the second in a row of collapsed artefacts by this studio. The sole reason they exist is that they woke up one day to realize their rivals had built a mall across town that was hoovering up all demand. So belatedly they rushed to built their very own but built haphazardly and by skimping on planning. On opening day, you note lights that don't work, wires still hanging from ceilings, ladders left behind by the construction crew, the place still half- finished.
This is even less of a finished film than the one before. For long swathes it feels as if we're simply watching what could be salvaged at the last moment, what they had to go forward with after they couldn't tinker any longer. Still their choice for a narrative engine makes it far more watchable. This is the 'group band together for a common mission' format that goes back to Seven Samurai. There's a lesson here on narrative dynamics.
The blueprint itself establishes forward momentum. We get the requisite scenes of introducing each one along with their oddball skills; it sets up the anticipation of seeing them in action together. The added irony is that they're bad guys who have to reluctantly do good. The rest is a bunch of action scenes en route to facing this month's super villain who threatens all life on earth.
The only other thing I found interesting was Harley Quinn, this particular version of her anyway. She's the only one who manages to intrigue. Not this Marilyn Mansion version of the Joker, no, who is all tacky rockstar and no embodiment of whimsical chaos in the gears of the world like Ledger's.
I'd like to think that someone in company meetings raised the idea of a William Friedkin-style love film about the two of them going on a spree of havoc first but was overruled by impatient bosses. They were apparently in a bit of a rush to give us another Joel Schumacher debacle.
Reflects corporate need
This was probably never going to be a very good idea to begin with. Having a vs film with these two be a watchable version of itself must be a nightmare of logistics of story and world. By now you know they failed, bitterly so.
You probably knew the moment they announced Affleck. It was the strangest piece of news, the kind I would expect to read in an Onion parody. I remember wincing at the time. Someone like Depp who has actual acting chops wouldn't do either so it's not acting ability. It's because actors are embedded into contexts of how we've known them, how they've been defined by prior work. Sometimes that's why you cast them, hoping to mine that context.
So when he's your choice and no one in the room bats an eye, it's the kind of creative choice that to me presages a certain way of doing things in that room. It told me that executives in charge thought any known face would do or he was the best they could land on short notice. It told me they had no idea what they had in Nolan's Batman. They weren't going to extend that world or work with Nolan's blueprint of prolonged anticipation. It promised a Joel Schumacher style debacle.
It's really as bad as this. You're going to read more acerbic barbs in other comments. I'll just rest with the observation that it has all the marks of a film where company employees sat through meetings trying to come up with a film for no other reason than the company decided it must have this particular product to sell. No one is particularly in charge of overall vision or has some particular creative interest in bringing it to life. Everyone is an employee who simply has to deliver by Friday on the company memos of Monday. Affleck will do. All they probably had in front of them was a timetable of when they had to launch.
What actually happened is their arch rivals beat them to something that proved lucrative, opening up market possibility they were late in noting, so they're now rushing a product to market to avoid falling behind. It's as simple as this and the sole reason this whole filmic world exists. It's the cinematic equivalent of Microsoft realizing they've been squeezed out of the new ecosystem of mobile connectivity and trying to quickly patch their own together, throwing around mountains of money to make up for lost time.
They tried to squeeze a bunch of things in here at the same time as patching together the platform; reintroducing Batman and his world, the story arch the title promises, an Avengers of sorts with joined heroes trying to avert doom while also setting up an Avengers proper for down the road. They bungled it up so bad that Wonder Woman was squeezed in here as introduction while her own film proper was a year away. But that's how rushed they must have been.
I even hunted down for the longer version. No dice. I do happen to think of Snyder as a dull mind; Michael Bay with simply different lists of movie and music favorites. But I don't think him to be this incompetent. This is the work of management.
You'll see the circumstances of its making in the fabric of the film itself. It feels as if different segments have been carted into place upon completion while other departments are still working on theirs; the assumption being that when everyone's finished, the result will be a film.
Everything we come across has potential to enlighten. Watch this to see the result of trying to substitute creative concentration with committee work, how something looks when born out of need rather than immersion. They should have had the patience to sit this round out. Me-too-ism is the path to gaffe.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
Pelts, no secret life
I saw this together with the latest from Pixar. Both are animated, feature talking animals making crazy getaways and trying to retrieve loved ones, so you might think they're going to be somewhat in the same ballpark. How significantly lesser can one be? Let's see.
Pixar begin with small, memorable pockets of world that they expand, pulling back to reveal larger vistas. The effort is to have the narrative expansion in as much visually flowing ways. There is thoughtful engineering to this flowing; sequences have been choreographed and given room to unfold. There is an element of discovery. Characters retain a certain human gravity in their wants.
These guys just plop us here and there. The place is an unimaginative New York, simply digitized, poorly discovered. The unveiling of the larger world leaves us with an animal mob in the sewers plotting revenge. Sequences, ostensibly the very same chase scenes, are choppy and without any flow. We just bump on a bunch of things on our way out. Characters are sketchy, one is a wimp, the other is a bully, then we change them around to be caring. The hawk as villainous predator then our hero's girlfriend tells him they could be friends, so as of right now he wants to help.
We're talking levels of difference between Singin' in the Rain and an SNL skit that features song and dance.
And do you ever get the impression some movies simply have lame personality? I find this usually in how characters are presented, in the change of heart they have, in how they pursue what is deemed important. Oddly I never seem to notice the opposite in movies that engage me. Even when I disagree with what I'm being presented with by Noe or Trier but I'm being engaged by a view of the world, not a personality. It seems a certain kind of bad movie reduces the exchange to how things rub me, not having been conceived to do anything else. Well, this is one.
It makes little difference that this was festooned with Oscars this year. I would have come to it regardless for its promise of a youthful look into back streets that we don't get to see very often. I would have come to it eager, for the same reason I've been to Killer of Sheep and Shadows before.
It would be about young people, young black people in Miami. It promised both hardship and discovery as movies about youth ought to. Any opportunity to inhabit a time and place, explore the horizon that life acquires for people that could be ourselves, is invaluable to me, exhilarating. It counts as education of the highest order for me, the visual and intuitive kind.
It does take place in those streets, Miami here but you can imagine it goes on the same way across America. It does offer hardship and discovery; one centered on broken family, the other on sexual awakening. It has a lyrical camera, some marvelous music. Viewers looking for a film that castigates social ills by looking for who's to blame will be disappointed. It's not the vehement kind of film, the Spike Lee kind. We're better off for it. Anger is a meaningless waste of energy, its grown up versions are cynicism and bitterness, not awakening.
In spite of best intentions however a movie must stand or fall with the awakening of gaze it permits. We see not particularly far here; not farther than the cycle of becoming his drug dealer mentor because it's the only decent man he knew in childhood. The filmmaker has plucked a few broad threads and unspooled across time until pain and irony are revealed. An abusive addict mother who years later regrets it. The sexual relationship becomes a handjob by the beach and the awkwardness of meeting again years later. I find overall that it streamlines to a Lifetime movie hook; can we begrudge him becoming who he does?
I do think we're all richer when people reflect on their own worlds from within those worlds. But when faced with a film like this I also find myself hankering for more filmmakers like Cassavetes, black or otherwise. Real souls who will not settle for things being so or in some other way, who can send us back home with none of the comfy words we try to explain with. It's a noble attempt here but I urge you to know Killer of Sheep at some point.
Finding Dory (2016)
No walls in the ocean
I've never been into animation and my comments probably reflect it. Not for any silly quibbles about real cinema versus not, kiddie versus adult; it's simply that the real world that threads itself around us is too marvelous and fantastical, too full of myriad possible worlds to envision, to forego the opportunity. Okay, but this leaves me free to observe these few things here.
It really has taken a quantum leap the last decade in trying to replicate our world after that business with dead eyes was over. Is there anything more extraordinary than texture and light falling a certain way? An audience of Disney's time would have been baffled by what kind of reality this film shows.
The most fantastical quality of reality is that I can open the door and go wherever. The thinking mind will hold me back nine times out of ten, but the fact that our lives play out against the possibility is behind any life worth being lived. Spontaneity. It lies at the bottom of all the other structures we observe around us and at the bottom of almost every great film I know of.
Pixar's main structure in building world - and what sets them apart from previous studios - is finding a small corner of our own world to animate, say toys in the attic, we can then have the delight of secret lives right under our feet. The more ordinary and familiar this corner is, the more often we can imagine passing through it, the better. It's the difference between Toy Story and Cars. It lets them filter in the following way; the larger surrounding human world retains its quality of callous indifference as we think of it ourselves, our gaze is directed to the magical world-within where fragile beings have to struggle with predicaments like ours.
The primary thing to note in tandem with this is how the rest has been engineered around spontaneous expression. Pixar are something of a master in how things flow, how walls can be moved around to facilitate experience. It's all about turbulent motion that zig zags over barriers; through ocean streams, a bird flying us overhead, through tubes inside the marine park, hijacking a truck. Things magically work out, even when our heroes don't land in the right place, they do.
And you'll see this in the story about a narrator who continuously forgets, has no plan about how she's going to accomplish what she wants other than the urge to find her parents, but makes her way by rubbing against limits of where she finds herself, spontaneously opening ways.
Tied to the same place
With Burton I usually pass through with some curiosity without being engaged more. He lauds the sticky-sweet qualities of imagination and nostalgia, gives us struggles of light versus dark; I find myself drawn to filmmakers who cultivate the transience and non-attachment that reconcile opposites in their films. He pumps warm emotional tap water, I would rather be taken to springs in the deep forest.
He offers storytelling as retreat to a purer place than the callous world out there, fantasy will often do that. I perceive storytelling as a tool - one of the most important - for untying knots, knots created by our attachment to things making story-sense a certain way only, it's where so much of our troubles begin, so that our whole world becomes a purer place, purer because we can roam with an unfettered mind.
It comes down to the larger view of how we make sense of the world and our place within it, as both viewers surrounded by narratives and narrators of our own. But I happen to share enough common ground about the value of storytelling, the same one that brings me to Raoul Ruiz on the farther end, so I make it a point to visit now and then.
This is his most poignant since Big Fish and driven by a similar story of uncovering emotive truth in the ramblings of an old storyteller's fantasy. It has some of his most exciting fabrics of world since Ed Wood, particularly the beginning in sunny Florida where mysterious nightmare lurks after sundown outside the suburban home of an old man who is anxiously peering through blinds, later the Blackpool funpark by the sea in the end with a mischievous fight against evil right under the noses of an unsuspecting audience.
So it has enough going for it to make me, who was never a fan but am always rooting for anyone who tries to stir the illusory world to awaken the sense of horizon, regret he has wasted precious time and energy being in charge of Hollywood projects that have as much to do with the art of imagining as decorating Walmart for Christmas. It means he has missed the opportunity to go off on his own to delve with quiet and single-minded passion into what interests him above all. Ed Wood best exemplifies this and is what the film was actually about, someone who is free to play and work with the fabrics of illusion.
Watching this I am reminded of Wes Anderson, someone who also became known for his peculiar inflection, the way colors and symmetries hang, but finally realized he was simply wasting it on skits that amuse. These days he's busy exploring ways to make language fluid and spontaneous, untying knots that stand in the way. He's finally giving us marvelous journeys about escaping bounds because he began by escaping his. I was never a fan before, now fully embrace him.
I have Burton grouped with Peter Jackson and Tarantino as filmmakers who at some point gave up on this journey.
Queen of the Desert (2015)
Pilgrim, Jalāl ad-Dīn's tomb contains no body
Important to acknowledge at the outset that Herzog is not a young man. He's the same age as Scorsese and note how long it's been since Scorsese settled on being an illustrator, a lifetime. Herzog as recently as a few years ago was still venturing out in search.
Having said that, it's hard to fathom this was made by the same man who gave us Stroszek and Fitzcarraldo. In those, the place was real. The protagonists were actual lost souls, not actors feigning. The journey was about actually going where we did to tug for transcendence.
He has a female lead this time, the very first time if I'm not mistaken. He has been hobnobbing with Hollywood people for a decade, perhaps the question was put to him, perhaps he thought he had been remiss himself all this time. No matter, like so many of his characters, he gives us someone who yearns to venture outside maps, explore hazardous edges of the world.
But he has everything else be conventional and streamlined this go round. Actors stay actors whether they're playing Turkish gendarmes or Druze rebels. Oriental music swells over sand dunes like you would expect from any other film. He filmed in Morocco sets standing in for the Middle East.
So yes, atypical for Herzog, a letdown, not one of his high marks. Others fret in comments about Herzog not getting the trivia right, right to left writing and such. What's really the trouble for me is that it dulls the edge of dangerous discovery that set him apart. We're in the Lawrence of Arabia timeline anyway and the film is cut from that Hollywood cloth. We're always more or less safely ensconced.
The film has been so gracelessly attacked in reviews however it makes me want to take a step back. All or some of this would have been obvious to him while preparing anyway, so the question is, what got him out of bed and across the ocean to make this?
No answer is going to be particularly lucid I feel or avoid sounding like excuse. Maybe he couldn't resist the opportunity of going on cinematic adventure, knowing he has only a few more left. It does have the feel of those tail-end films by aging filmmakers who were past their prime but still mounting epics in the 60s.
Maybe he would explain that we're seeing through the narrator's eyes, the world as Persian poem on evanescent love, arrested love as a deeper kind of love. Ridley Scott was briefly considered to direct, no doubt there would be sweeps of battle. Something he couldn't do and Herzog does, in a strange coup, is that it's a very sweet film about yearning.
I would like to rest here. I wouldn't trust the film to be stating too much but for what it's worth; here's a Herzog tract that swaps feverish ego in the pursuit of futile escape from the confines of the world with a heart that submits to the world being confined thus and so and this doesn't stop it from journeying freely.
Islamic poets make a big deal of this, acquiescing to be simply a vessel for luminous mystery. Maybe re-read on that Rumi than get it here.
One last word. Herzog's work is done really. His journey has been vast but is coming to a close. Rather than pounce on him for a film like this, take from his legacy. Don't be a tourist of being, a sherpa of other peoples' reality. We're living in interesting times that require courageous clarity.
And I write this after finding out that IMDb have decided to close down their message boards. It has been a decade for me, more for others. I'm not one for goodbyes, but maybe this one time. Something by way of farewell to people we won't be seeing each other in some time.
Friends, visiting the Mausoleum of Poets in Tabriz wouldn't make you one, not visiting wouldn't stop you. There comes a day when you are called to the back door, going out, you will never be seen again. Learn how to move towards, how to move away, there's no other art. A tree is useful for someone who comes to chop it for firewood or turn it into furniture. May you come to rest in the shade of having less use for things that don't make the heart grow fond :)
Stand high in the base of your mountain
Shackleton's third and last journey to the Pole in this documentary. We avoid talking heads and instead immerse ourselves in the arduous experience of traversing icy wastes. It has all the staples of polar exploits as have seeped into the popular imagination; valiant human endeavor, pitilessly harsh nature that cares none for our feeble attempts to cross it, scenes of increasing despair and privation, endured nonetheless with stoic composure.
They were the moon landings of their time. Crews setting out with lofty aims of expanding the map of human knowledge, broadening horizons. What captivated audiences back home was either more prosaic or more poetic; will they make it alive, human bravery in an alien cosmos, the attending mystery of venturing in uncharted territory.
One part of the film comprises actual footage of the expedition shot by a cameraman who was among the crew, really exciting (silent film) footage of the ship being crunched by the ice, desperately futile attempts to haul it out, playing with their trusted dogs, their makeshift camps as they have to go out on foot. The second part shows modern enactments, presumably captures views like they would have stumbled through, whether or not the very same locales. It's actually South Georgia later. But how different the visual regions when charged with knowledge that we're actually seeing into things as they happened.
I remember being enthralled as a kid by a book on polar misadventures. It was about an earlier expedition - the Discovery - but very much the same grimly claustrophobic experience. (What I couldn't know as a kid was that so much of my book's power came from the notion that these were things that actually happened.) It was the kind of story that makes you freeze simply to read, glad for home.
I have a quite different response these days than simply being aghast at what a cold universe it is out there.
See, these people ventured full of dreams. They were broken just as they were starting, shipwrecked in the early stages. Can you imagine the kind of disappointment that shakes you to your core? To know your dreams are quashed, your expedition is a complete failure. The same tortuous effort you expected to muster in the course of making history will now have to be spent just making it back alive.
So, you expected life to go one way, it went another. What now? Now dust yourself off and come back to us with a story of making a full return from the edge.
Herzog is one of few I trust to snap my eye open with just an image, he's done it a few times by this point. When he won't, he will still intrigue, invite me to swims unknown. He has powerful intuitions, will venture where the ground trembles with disorder and once there is spontaneous enough to let it climb up through the soles of the feet.
It's a German kind of duende that colors his world; the urge or passion a singer cannot quite put to words and responds to with song. I may disagree with him on conclusions of that duende about the cosmos and the futility of endeavor, but I trust him as explorer and soul.
He's in Antarctica here, another desolate landscape outside of maps that beckons in a most primal way. It's where Scotts and Shackletons wrecked themselves, and why. He enters as as anyone else might these days; by plane, one more sleepy traveler among dozens.
If you know a bit about him, you will observe a few things.
He is pleased to find McMurdo base looking like a drab construction site with machinery tearing up the ground, confirming his views of a fundamentally wretched humanity that fouls the earth. He is as pleased to find a forklift operator on the scene who very poetically describes his presence there as a desire to fall off the edge of the world. It's why Herzog has been in most places.
He is enormously pleased to find that all Antarctica newcomers must be drilled on white-out conditions by wearing buckets on their heads and stumbling after each other while tethered to a rope. You can almost feel his exhilaration when they have to reach a certain point in this state but find themselves in a jumble in the opposite direction.
He includes a tidbit about researchers studying seals, extracting milk from the mothers while claiming they want to be able to study the animals in their natural state. It mirrors Herzog's own endeavor of perturbing to extract truth about it. He tickles us with these researchers; the milk is being collected for studies on weight-loss.
He has the researchers lay down with their ear pressed to the ice, harking for calls of seals from below that sound like Pink Floyd (which are artificially edited on top of the scene). There is a whole world down there that ebbs and calls. It's the world Herzog has sought to portray.
An oceanologist had previously explained that the Antarctica - standing for a broader cosmos - is not a big, inert slab of ice as thought in Shackleton's time but an organic entity that is rippling out change. He mentions icebergs the size of Texas that will one day head north, saying this with a mad glint in the eye.
He finds an entry into that world below via divers. He gives us fluorescent jellyfish undulating in eerie blue silence. This world is constant struggle, one of the divers confirms. The link is made to a precarious humanity, perched on the outer layer of unfriendly chaos, this time via sci-fi movies.
So far we haven't had ecstatic truth of the kind which he favors. He finds it in a disoriented penguin that heads inland towards certain death all by himself.
I have still only described parts, there is more to see. It points altogether to a certain cosmology.
Yes, he has constructed on the way, intruded upon the subject, made it a point to include the bits we have while omitting others. You can imagine that he has sifted through a lot of otherwise unexciting footage. He has staged most of what you'll see. You can tell how well he has (or not) by noting that he first encountered the lone, intrepid penguin and then went back to set it up by filming the exchange where he asks the penguin researcher about insanity among penguins. It couldn't have taken place the other way.
I would disagree in parts, or with the temerity of the physicist who explains on camera about neutrinos as coming from another dimension. It's up to us anyway to choose how to perceive ourselves and our struggle, the universe neither cares nor doesn't. It simply provides the building blocks and vistas.
But he's a trusted explorer with good intuitions and here's why. This isn't the natural world of Koyannisqatsi, fundamentally pure and being imbalanced by us. Herzog finds a world with disorder and transience built right in, and welcomes the fact. He's more spiritual than he would admit.
Melodie der Welt (1929)
There is no fathoming our modern world for me outside the invention of the camera, this newfound ability to take up the world in terms of timeflow and shuffle it in reflection. It is the world standing on the precipice of modernity that silent cinema uncovers after all, looking a little damp and sunless from the centuries, but also a little startled and excited as it prepares to make the leap and finds all around it wondrous tools for that leap, automobiles, trains and cinemas.
The impulse would have been simple for silent makers, simple but no less exciting for that. All these things waiting to be documented as if for a first time. It was so in that Leeds film about traffic some thirty years before and so it is here. Ships, streets, structures, activities from the bustle of the modern city to native dances, the film is a travelogue that celebrates the swirl of being able to now have views of all these things in the same space. Among them now are sounds; the film is offered as the first German sound film. They were making so called 'city symphonies' at around this time; the filmmaker behind this being responsible for one of the very best I know. We would call this a world symphony.
All told, it isn't particularly worthwhile other than as a cachet of images from the time when our gaze was beginning to go global. The impulse for this type of film hasn't gone away of course but rather undergone a shift. This mode, more evidently symphonic, continues in films like Koyannisqatsi only the modern world is presented there in the cautionary light of having strayed too far and contrasted with the sanctity of the natural order. The modern lunge is here celebrated with wide-eyed eagerness. Still the eye is as rather dull as it would later be in Koyannisqatsi. Contrasts between old and new, far and close.
Because after all the camera is a marker of modernity in another sense as well. It's not simply that far and close could be shuffled now, past and present, it's that the whole unraveling of appearances - all this motion in every direction of perception - being facilitated by the modern surge forward, reveals a narrative eye with the ability to leap and surge itself, an eye that gives rise to world.
This is what more erudite filmmakers of the time, in Paris and Moscow, were busy exploring, the mechanisms that control that surge of the eye. I would rather pick up the thread there. The vital distinction is between the camera as device that records and as soul that surges through to animate. Such efforts were running parallel to a good deal of modern thinking about how the world is put together; I'd like to imagine, somewhat wistfully, that an alert mind of the time would have been as stimulated by news from Solvay as by the dreamlike uncertainty of Menilmontant.