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I found Bridesmaids lovely, within limits it set up for itself. It had chemistry between actors and believable plight so we had an entry into someone's home before we started slipping lewdly on the floor; it was anchored into something.
This one is by the same maker but he built this time using the most tired formula imaginable; the spy cartoon where we swap Bond's suaveness for goofy incompetence. It seems they make one of these every year. McCarthy has to be the unlikely spy and in her own bumbling way of course makes it. The joke is that she has to look like a cat lady from Iowa.
The moral is that that is just the disguise foisted on her by society as part of a narrative and she must learn to assert herself. But the jokes are only stuck in movie cliché and along the way we get guns, fights and chases, all of it needless boredom.
Nothing stands. See, if you want to make a cartoon where nothing is anchored, you have to continuously assail our expectation so we don't have time to notice we're just flying through stereotype - Naked Gun. They try to bother with a plot here.
I don't think McCarthy can be the center of a movie. Because she's so good at antics and it comes so easy (I imagine a lot of ad libbing from her), it seems the desire to turn her into Will Ferrell overpowers anything else.
The seer who brings vision
I thought I was going to be confronted with minor Pasolini here. I was wrong. The same caution applies here though for casual viewers. With Pasolini we come to the foot of a cave where a sage lives, we can either turn back because there's no ornate ceremony, go back to where we can be told riveting stories about heroes wrestling fate; or sit and listen, enter and divine vision.
It opens with young intellectuals in a lush villa ruminating on their exasperations like out of Godard, from the time when revolutions were felt to be afoot. Oh the cause may be worthy in his eyes; but he shows the modern self secluded from it in idle comfort, obsessed with analyzing himself in the scheme of narratives, dissatisfied.
In a separate medieval story we see man as only one more beast of prey alone in the wilderness, reduced to eating a butterfly to stave his insatiable hunger. We see what lurks behind that civilized self that always expects to be pleased, or better, all that had to transpire for endless time in wilds like these. It's important here to see both the contrast and the continuity.
In a breathtaking scene we're sent scurrying through windswept volcanic rock to see the human beast confronting itself in the crossroads, someone else much like him. There are few scenes more primal than this in cinema.
Back in the modern portion, the same meeting between rivals takes place now with a lot of coy evasion, irony and duplicity, in a palace instead of the wild, over drinks. We see how human structures in place foster collaboration in the end; but it's a corporate one for profit that puts the beast in fine clothes, changes his face even, but leaves the hunger intact.
Pasolini gives us the same barbs about capitalist life as he has elsewhere, relishing the opportunity, but he's not a sweeping fool; in the medieval portion he makes it a point to show that it's civilized structures, church and army, that go out in the wild to punish wrongdoing, install a semblance of order.
We could be talking for days about what he has woven here. Sin that you control and sin that you don't. Law as necessary civilization. Bartering as control over the narrative (pigsty / WWII in the film). Love that you provide for versus the abstract calling from inmost soul.
So okay, his camera seems sloppy from afar; he wants it to be you who has the chance encounter in these wilds instead of something bled of its reality on a lavish stage. You'll see near the end some marvelous fractured narrative as he conjures visions, no accident of sloppiness there.
And he's aghast at the base nature he sees in him and things, impurity weighs him down; the whole film says, I have these things gnawing inside of me that I will pay the price for even if I didn't put them there myself. Pasolini at his rawest makes the rocks crack open.
The most riveting thing about it is that we have this seer in the wild of soul, who can bring vision back. He is the one who can't stay for love because something more abstract calls his name. He is the one who strays in the pigsty at nights, who has sinned in the wilds, ate the flesh.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Poor engineer job
The thing most glaringly shown here is this, there is nothing real surrounding the making of such a film, it's not centered in commitment to anything; so the whole thing is size that commands attention and does nothing better with that attention than scatter it with slapdash noise.
It's one cg environment after another erupting around familiar faces in costume. It's kiddie stuff in the most simple sense; kids don't care how their playing amounts to a world, that's something that happens (or doesn't) as they make bumping noises.
Nothing here matters so when we get snark lest we take it too serious, that begs the question. What could we take serious here? People are shot with lasers and walk it off, a whole district is torn down as Iron Man and the Hulk duke it out but that's just the video game background. This was a main issue the Nolans pored over in their Bat work, how to create a world where choices have gravity.
The whole is bloodless (in the other sense), has no reality of any kind, no sense of world. It all crunches together every few minutes in heaps of plastic image, everything fake-looking. Faces, jokes, are crammed in but that's just more debris scattered about. Even the main dilemma in the story, about do we try to make everything safe or do we lose ourselves in the process is the exact same mechanical cog bandied around from one Marvel film to the other.
The Expendables is a nadir in worldbuilding these days as far as I'm concerned, this is close behind.
True Detective (2014)
The world as veil, hidden selves behind
It was the best decision they could make to create this in the mini- series format where each season is its own story of several hours, it means things are built with an approaching end in sight, limits. I don't like the prevalent series format that drags on for years, the sense that it's just a product and a weekly habit being prolonged and not a narrative.
Once inside I find a writer (this is his project) who likes to harp on about his pessimist view of life as some meaningless void and that keeps me at bay. It's not 'too dark' for me in the sense meant by some, a sign of weakness to face truths. I find 'too dark' as fundamentally untrue as 'too light', an unnecessary distortion of life, only one more veil. The universe neither cares nor doesn't and we either want to see the makings of things clearly or pick from a bag of philosophies that justify the anxiety.
But we also see a maker (the original writer) who is not content to envision life as a capricious maze full of dead ends, broken marriages and frustrated clarity. There has to be a lurid monster on the other end of that maze, a conspiracy for evil. The Louisiana story with the ritualistic murder of girls is reported as more exciting; but that's an admission that we want to be secretly titillated by an inane evil to keep our interest, Silence of the Lambs territory.
I prefer the LA story in terms of world it creates. It does take place in much the same world as Ellroy writes about, another one who titillates, it does also begin with a violated corpse, ends with conspiracy that goes all the way up. But we lose the sophomoric rebuttals of the protagonist, we lose the backwoods monster, the riddle solving, and get instead the big city and weary burnouts clutching at last hope. The first one still has better actors, structure and sense of place and of course titillates more.
The relationship between the Vaughn gangster and his spirited woman is the most profound thing I saw in the whole thing so far.
So this is held up as great television, I see it as fine, some things I care to see, others not. I'll come back to it at some point. When it comes to making choices of what to carry going forward, I'll still gravitate back to The Long Goodbye and Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
A riot: Gwar meets Pasolini meets Cirque du soleil
Okay, no reason to mince words. This is a total success in what it does and how it upholds the legacy, a riotous success. How unexpected that Miller, the original filmmaker, came from animated penguins and obscurity a few years back to barrel through superhero-dominated Hollywood with all this verve. Where others see no story and just another action fest, I see exhilarating freedom from the formulas of Marvel and Nolan.
How samey for example to have dragged our feet through another origin story, setting down some convoluted saga. How boring to have turned Max into another 'chosen one' saving the world. We get instead a man spat out by the dust, a schmuck buffeted around, a grunt along for the ride; Hardy's reimagining of Max is great. Instead of the same dishwater look as any other apocalypse these days, we get colorful swirl. We do get a few plaintive looks and music, but few.
The new Terminator we got this year, the latest stab at an Alien with Prometheus, they miss the whole point thinking we wanted someone to smear some more with the mythology. It was never the myth and explanations, always the immersion in a world. Mad Max benefited from never having a sturdy mythos, a Skynet or Weyland Yutani, we just roamed around the sands and came upon odd bits of world. Another enclave here, a Gas Town somewhere, things that just exist around for no deeper point.
The sense of avoiding the trivial extends in another way. The film is a long chase practically, they could have just made a Fast and Furious rig crashing through desert. The film is a pendulum instead that swings to the edge of craggy desert and back, and in the movement we soak up different tribes, worlds, oddities of custom and ritual, details that show someone lovingly tinkered with this. How great e.g. that we don't need to have sophomoric explanations about Valhalla or the spray paint, we see all that we need to know in action.
Sure, it's what GWAR is to music, provided you only look at it as a piece of gnarly show business. For me it evokes a bit of Pasolini; exhilarating spiritedness as a way of moving beyond the familiar limits of vision, toothless peasantry flocking to divine water.
It's important for me to see works that jolt from the routine of fictions, enliven. It's why I seek Herzog and Pasolin. And there's a whole flying circus around the chase this time, chainsaw-wielding acrobats on poles et al. It's what Verbinski tried for in Lone Ranger. And those vehicles! It's all very wondrous to me even in this gnarly shape. I can appreciate the work it took, actual work you do with your hands and have to choreograph around bodies (instead of a Marvel team doodling away on computers), to construct all these rigs and film in Africa.
How do you go from this to staid Tarantino in a few months? Only bringing him up as someone who likes to skirt the absurd. I imagine him, Verbinski, Scott, Snyder, the Marvel makers, paying their respects to this guy. This is the most furious comeback of a franchise I have seen ever.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
This is silly and disjointed for those who found the second mean and rampaging, Spielberg had intervened, there's a kid friendly dash of Indiana Jones, Lone Ranger. But Mad Max for me is two things, the edges of world we discover in the sands and the chase.
I don't take to the Bartertown portion of the film, it may be closer to Road Warrior in spirit but all I see here is rushed spectacle for a boorish audience, contraptions. We do see a bit more of the Max world in this place but not in any way I care for. It feels like this part was bolted on when they decided to turn a separate script into a Max movie.
No, I'm oddly captivated by the Lord of the Flies portion. I see glimmers of magic in the way the narrative of something that crashed from the skies one day has been preserved in the minds of kids, the way it's revealed through a screen that frames remnants of half- remembered story, the chorus of awestruck kids for whom all of this has profound meaning.
It does open up a window to a whole swathe of Max world but this time with deep feeling, as myth the kids have vowed to keep in memory and bide their time for. Sure, we are in Goonies territory and again in the end with the city, but there's hushed yearning here, an almost Biblical kind.
The rest is in the chase, a train this time, briefer than usual and over before it really exhilarates, as if more by obligation than keenness for it. They would eventually build a whole other film around it, extending it to an entire circus around the rig, but that would have to wait for 30 years.
Mad Max 2 (1981)
Something endears about how this almost never became a franchise, or didn't become one until after this. The first was another exploitation movie about a man seeking revenge, only more riproaring than most. The character was brought back for this and it was also not supposed to lead to more.
They had more of a budget here, still none of Lucas' engineering a whole world, with trajectory and conclusions. Here more than the first, they created a sense of world, an edge of which we happened to explore in this episode and left behind in the dust upon conclusion.
A lone antihero (no longer a cop) steps out from the sands, becomes embroiled in a squabble between rival clans, the plot around an ambush, the circling savages. In western films it might have been a carriage of gold, or people besieged in some outpost, but everything here recalls westerns.
I always thought it amusing how this is a world where gas guzzling beasts are driven around the outback for miles in search of scarce gas. Baddies are dressed in bondage and punk attire, figments of what would be menacing to 80s viewers I guess. It did create a whole futureworld as much as Bladerunner and Star Wars (and with a fraction of the means), rival gangs roaming a wasteland is now firmly entrenched as one of possible futures for mankind in the pop mind.
It's really the barreling heavy metal of the action that makes it, more so when you think it's from the time before computers when it was all something you actually crashed. Amazing to think that the filmmaker was just a doctor before embarking on the first one. He proved to be an able mechanic of image, some masterful editing in both.
Okay, so I'll take Alien, Bladerunner, Terminator, when in the vicinity, in that order. But for me this is like giving the edge to Lethal Weapon over Die Hard; both effective, but one cinematic world appeals to me that much more. In specifics it has little to offer me. The way we're placed inside of that world still captivates, stretches of dust that scavengers roam and where the odd enclave may be.
Mad Max (1979)
The power of motion
Imagine a tribesman wandered in from the wild, given paint and canvas, asked to paint something, and he starts flinging paints around, smearing it on himself, on the walls, the floors, some of it lands on the canvas. It's not painting in any sense we happen to know, it's still performance art of its own, the whole room as the canvas.
And this one's so utterly bizarre it gives me some of that sense. They had little money to make it, they made a cartoon so they could cut corners of reality as needed. It's exploitation around cars, with a story of simple revenge, later retrofitted to be the first chapter of a saga. Gibson is not an actor at this point. The worldview is crude, offensive even. The whole world of the film, the change of scenes, why some characters do things, these are at times almost random.
Their filmmaking material was as primitive as paints and canvas. But everything here is the tribesman's manic energy as he flings paints around, shards of image flying everywhere. It means little in the sense we understand meaning. The power of motion and editing, roads being gobbled up by barreling cars, the heavy metal of crashes, it's all so visceral, it manages to transfix anyway and stand above most exploitation, because it has put all this energy in.
This must have been a huge influence on Raimi and Jackson, then about to start on their paths towards gonzo frenetism.
Tune for Two (2011)
Young makers have it drilled in them that shorts are their calling card in the business, the whole gambit in that circuit that starts from film schools and ends in festival screens is to show you're competent enough to take on work, and somehow manage to stand out from the pile.
Here's a perfect example; in little over two minutes, a scene of one man dragging another in the woods to show competence in stitching together a minute of film, it could be taken from any crime TV show, and interrupt the usual crime scene with song, to stand out from all the other things screened that night.
It's fine, and the scene of making films is wide enough to allow for all sorts of fields to exercise it, I hope the filmmaker is where he wanted to be or getting there.
What lingered in mind though as a personal view; if I had to look for what's the matter with the state of filmmaking nowadays, I'd begin in the numbing routines of Hollywood and crime TV, end with the short film circuit and the whole culture it fosters.
Voice Over (2011)
I was sent a link to this as an example of excellence and imagination in the short format. It is wholly competent indeed, humorously inventive; a series of interlocked vignettes where characters struggle across time with insoluble dilemmas as a narrator juggles through them trying to settle on a story worth recalling.
A look at accreditation shows a well connected young maker who could mobilize resources to create and this is as much a filmmaking lesson as anything. It didn't just happen, a lot of work was poured into it (a lot of it over festival cocktails I assume), the work of convincing you are ready and able, that enabled him to be in position to make something like it.
That's all fine; this maker lacks nothing that would keep him from taking on the feature format and that seems to be where he's headed already, making the transition from the pile of hopeful dreamers to the few given the keys to the room where dreams are created.
But when all the work of surrounding yourself with the right tools and being technically proficient in them has taken place, the real work of drawing life is yet to begin. And all concessions made to young filmmaking, there's just so little here that looks like it has been arrived at by a process of maturation, worldview, the quest for personal expression. Age has little to do with it, openness to what happens to you has everything, the desire to use that as your eye, opposed to looking for a postcard view. This leaves me with a perfectly refined confection, and praising refinement is always faint praise. It just means that this maker is lucky to have already attained skills he can use to grow.