Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Alex Cross (2012)
Up to the release of the latest installment of the Alex Cross movie franchise, author James Patterson had already produced eighteen books in the series.
By the time this film was available on DVD in early 2013, two more books - Merry Christmas, Alex Cross & Alex Cross, Run - will have been released, The films have not been nearly as steady, only getting its third cinematic treatment and the first since 2001's Along Came a Spider. Patterson's busily stalked protagonist did fairly well at the box office if not inspiring critics into believing he was worth following for another eighteen adventures. Fans of Patterson's airport fiction might disagree despite whatever objections they had between the films and the varying text. New fans are being sought out for the franchise reboot though and they should be mostly pleased. Considering they are used to ham-handed acting, amateurish fimmaking, cartoonish villains, hypocritical motivations and a touch of old broad sass, they should be right at home watching Tyler Perry take the lead.
As the new era begins, Alex Cross is once again chasing down another psychopath and saving a battered white girl. Along with his select team, childhood friend Tommy Kane and Monica Ashe - Who are secretly hooking up behind the boss' back - they investigate crimes of some unspecified nature in the greater Detroit area. Their special unit is hardly defined by anything other than Alec being such a master of deduction that he can tell his wife had coffee based on the blouse stain big enough to be spotted by a Fisher Price telescope from Pluto. Other than dealing with the occasional crime scene, life is good for "Detective Doctor" Alex Cross who is on the short list for an FBI job in Washington and he has just been told there's another little Cross on the way.
Also on the way is another psycho. This one, played by Matthew Fox, is a professional assassin who calls himself "The Butcher" but is referred to as "Picasso" by Tommy based on him leaving a drawing at at recent upscale massacre. There is a mystery benefactor behind The Butcher's recent spree which includes getting into underground MMA fights, paralyzing women with a special drug, and concocting elaborate break-ins to take out a French financial specialist. When Cross and Co. disrupt the latter, The Butcher takes to being bullet-grazed worse that being punched in the face.
There is a momentary fascination with the film in figuring out precisely what Fox's psychotic villain is really up to. How does buying one's way into a brutal fight connect to a stolen laptop, what's on it and how it leads to international finance? Just who is Jean Reno's one-scene millionaire is not only superfluous suspect available to be funding The Butcher? Do professional mercenaries go off-script so often to take on personal vendettas after getting a little boo-boo from their adversary For ever answer revealed in Alex Cross - and few are really offered - it opens up ten different logical conundrums over just how brilliant the particular cat and mouse really are. Loosely based on Patterson's prequel novel Cross, the screenplay by first-timer Kerry Williamson and Marc Moss - whose only previous credit is the adaptation of Patterson's Along Came a Spider - actually gets less complicated and more boring as things get pieced together. What begins as a ludicrous police procedural becomes an even more ludicrous revenge thriller that asks viewers to believe this morally-principled Sherlock-wannabe is not just ready to turn into The Punisher but also possesses the superskills necessary for an over-weight, out-of-shape, dopey, doughy detective to take on a cage fighter who overreacts to taking a single punch. There has not been a less convincing avenging angel that Tyler Perry's Alex Cross since Thomas Jane portrayed the comic world's Frank Castle by interrogating a suspect with a melting popsicle.
The stakes in Alex Cross are raised even further with the kind of vengeful horror that most professional assassins would admit is against the code. Both of the Taken films pushed the boundaries of the ratings system but did so under a kind of unwritten guide that throat-punching is less graphic than the more macho-violent fare that Sylvester Stallone has done in his Rambo and Expendable films. Alex Cross will never be confused with those, but its violence is shocking for an MPAA-rated "PG-13" mystery thriller. The connection between sexual fetish and murder is pushed during a torture scene. No less that two other crimes are committed towards women with one worthy of a funeral and the other nothing more than a cell phone snapshot. Patterson's specialty of bruising-up the fairer sex received an "R" rating when Kiss the Girls came out. Fifteen years later, viewers are apparently so numb that it can be extrapolated even while being dumbed down for those used to Perry's cartoonish portrayals of man-on-woman crimes.
All such shocking moments of Alex Cross could be all part of some calculated plan for Perry to prove that he is going hard in trying to prove what a serious, demonstrative actor he can be. Most would recommend a stint in acting classes for starters which co-star Matthew Fox is more than happy to teach. First lesson: Act with the eyes. Bug them out as far as possible to prove the depth of the character's villainy. The originally cast Idris Elba as Cross would have had to take the class on keeping a straight face in the middle of this nonsense. Lesson two goes to director Rob Cohen. With no competency as an action director and stars was wooden as Perry and Burns, shake the camera as much as humanly possible to justify urgency. James Cameron could not make a call to OnStar more dramatically riveting. Mainly because he would never create and action sequence around a call to OnStar. Alex Cross is equally silly, boring, offensive and implausible which are also its best qualities if the viewer is in a mocking kind of mood.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
At first glance, the cameras that surround the studio of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei appear to have been placed by the man himself as a mode of security.
It is not until the lens of Beijing journalist Alison Klayman pulls in for a closer look that the troubling truth is revealed. These cameras in fact represent the ever-watchful eye of a frightened government that Ai Weiwei views as his opponent in an eternal chess match.
Moviegoers unfamiliar with the fearless titular muckraker of Klayman's invaluable documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, are practically guaranteed to become instant fans after seeing this richly involving portrait. There is perhaps no greater champion of individuality and its inherent power than this controversial icon, whose distinctive works powerfully function as both art and political statements. Consider his famous photographs in which he shatters a Han Dynasty vase, thus conveying that the past, however sacred, must be done away with in order for necessary reform to be achieved.
Ai Weiwei's field of 100 million individually-made sunflower seeds represent the diversity of ideas that remain repressed by the bureaucratic regulations of his country's communist party. No doubt some of his revolutionary spirit rubbed off on Klayman, who utilizes various clips from Ai Weiwei's self-made documentaries that he distributed for free online. The footage chronicles his activism and the abuse that he has endured at the hands of government officials. Klayman has echoed her subject's philosophy by openly admitting in interviews that she hopes her film will be pirated, acknowledging that such a crime could help spread Ai Weiwei's message past the boundaries of American art houses.
This is not the sort of stuffy, pompously ponderous doc that audiences view as the cinematic equivalent of nutritious yet tasteless vegetables. Klayman has made an immensely entertaining picture that garners a great deal of its mileage from the irrepressible charisma of Ai Weiwei himself, who subsequently appeared in his own send-up of PSY's "Gangnam Style" video. He is not above poking fun at himself, but he is immensely serious when it come to the message that he intends to convey through his work. There is a visceral thrill in watching him thrust his middle finger at corrupted monuments such as the White House and the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium for which he served as an artistic consultant. He quickly turned his back on the Olympic Games in protest upon learning of the migrant workers being forced out of Beijing prior to the festivities.
One of the most powerful sections in the film centers on Ai Weiwei's enraged response to his government's utter refusal to investigate the faulty construction that may have dramatically increased the number of schoolchildren who perished in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. To further avoid sullying China's image, the government did not even make an effort to release the names of the deceased children, a disgrace that prompted Ai Weiwei to collect them himself. After posting the names on his blog to commemorate the one year anniversary of the tragedy, he displayed them in the form of a massive list accompanied by the audio recording of citizens reciting the names. Suddenly, the simple profession of the children's' very existence became an act of rebellion in itself.
Klayman's film takes the form of a thriller as it explores Ai Weiwei's failed attempt to testify at the court hearing of Tan Zuoren, a fellow investigator of the student lives claimed by the earthquake. Audio was captured of the violence the occurred when Chengdu police broke into the artist's hotel room and bludgeoned his head, causing a cerebral hemorrhage that required emergency brain surgery. With a boldness evocative of vintage Michael Moore, Ai Weiwei confronts one of the officers who beat him while being followed by his trusted crew. It is clear to him as it is to the viewer that justice will continually evade his grasp, but that is not reason enough for Ai Weiwei to give up on his righteous crusade. He may not receive an apology from the cop, but at least he will capture his sorry face on camera.
The story that Klayman unspools is so compelling that it registers as somewhat of a disappointment when it ultimately proves to be unfinished. Ai Weiwei's 81-day incarceration where he endured psychological torture at the hands of police received an international outcry in favor of the artist's release. Following his bail in 2011, Ai Weiwei was unable to give interviews and was not even permitted to leave the country. Klayman's decision to end her film in the midst of this dire crisis was perhaps unavoidable since the artist's unquenchable hunger to provoke ensures that his troubles with police will continue until his dying day. Though police claim that Ai Weiwei was arrested purely in the basis of tax evasion charges, Klayman's film makes a thoroughly convincing argument to the contrary.
At an effortlessly watchable 91 minutes, the film does leave certain aspects of Ai Weiwei's life underdeveloped, particularly his complex relationship with his devoted wife, who conspicuously vanishes from the film after it is revealed that her husband had a child with another woman. This detail may seem irrelevant to the film's central subject matter, but it is crucial in portraying Ai Weiwei as a flawed human being rather than a larger-than-lie saint. He has no desire to be worshipped, anyway. His single hope is that the vital truths his work illuminates will resonate with the multitudes, and that is precisely what has begun to happen. Ai Weiwei's status as a close runner-up for Time's Person of 2011 parallels the triumph of Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize soon after being sentenced to 11 year in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." If these extraordinary activists prove anything at all, it is that one's power and influence can indeed transcend the boundaries of a governmental gag order. Ai Weiwei is more than a mere artist or activist. He is an indomitable force on nature.
Act of Valor (2012)
The tricky thing about propaganda is that the more it is engaging and entertaining, the more effectively it sells its cause
The fictional action movie Act of Valor is pure propaganda - though not officially produced by the United States Navy, the project rose out of short Navy recruitment films created by co-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, the success of which led the filmmakers to ask the Navy to use not only real military equipment but also active-duty Navy SEALs in a feature-length narrative film.
Act of Valor exists for one purpose: To make the Navy, particularly its elite SEAL teams and their weapons and methods, seem so exciting, cool, and noble that viewers will, if not want to actually sign up, at least come away with an elevated opinion of and support for such military personnel and their country's endeavors. The film reinforces its message with plenty of visceral appeal, drawing both on the excitement and heroism of an action film and an emotional appeal based on the warrior tradition of honor, sacrifice, and brotherhood - all of it underscored by the fact that these are actual SEALs using real tactics and weaponry.
As military action entertainment, Act of Valor come with all the contrived premises and plot mechanics of the sub-genre. A Chechen Islamist has teamed with an opportunistic, hedonistic international smuggler to launch a massive suicide-bombing campaign in the United States. The film's elite SEAL team heroes are called forth and sent rushing around the world to thwart the attack. Peppered with military jargon and slang, the action unfolds either with awestruck panoramas of American firepower or from the gun-barrel point of view of a first-person shooter video game.
There are several visual moments in Act of Valor that grab - real Navy gunboats laying down a deadly field of fire, a real submarine slowly submerging - but they rely almost wholly on the filmmakers' access to genuine equipment operated by actual sailors rather than any inherent skill from the director. Otherwise, the movie is often a sub-par, uneven effort - for every scene that benefits from the verisimilitude, there are several that suffer from a lack of film-making and story telling skill and a slavish devotion to cliché. For the most part, McCoy and Waugh rely on an all-too familiar excess of people, places, and things getting shot and/or blown up in big, orange fireballs and then making Big Speeches about the nobility of it all. Beyond the bullets and explosions, Act of Valor's real message is about the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women operating all that cool weaponry, with plenty of solemn talk about codes of honor, tradition, and warrior blood being passed down through the generations. The film's plot and characters remind us, "There are threats everywhere,: therefore America need the man and women and military might and firepower so dazzlingly on display.
While Act of Valor's brutal villains are sneeringly played by professional actors, the film's Navy heroes, including its main protagonists "Chief Dave" and "Lieutenant Commander Rorke," are portrayed by unnamed, real-life "active-duty" SEALs reportedly ordered by the Navy to participate in the film for promotional purposes, despite a prior history of strict operational secrecy. The SEALs are not good actors, and the film's hagiographic context and deferential direction does not allow the sort of naturalism that might have let the non-professional actors come off less stilted. The trade-off for using real SEALs and their to-be-expected lack of acting ability is that no one can accuse Act of Valor of sporting "pretty boy actors playing with guns," but everything the "real" characters say and do feels heavily filtered through both action-film tropes and the Pentagon's public relations department. As characters, Dave and Rorke are not just good men, but good family men - they have human problems, but no real weaknesses, flaws, or failings. The heroes and the actions of the nation they serve are completely sanitized in the flames of ideology, sacrifice, and honor.
While the dramatic interactions in Act of Valor feel as stiffle staged as a 1980s corporate training film, the combat scenes with all their visceral, manipulative power are intended to play at some emotional level as documentary - the film opens with the claim it is "based on real acts of valor" and closes with the names of every Seal killed in action since September 11, 2001. As an action film, Act of Valor may be clunky and clichéd, but the moments that do work as gut-level entertainment thrills only help sell the propaganda's message. For all the film's "realism" and talk about bravery and protecting America's freedom, this is still a war fantasy, intended to sell combat as a thrillingly dangerous adventure where even those who make the ultimate sacrifice do so in beatific slow motion and a ushered into the hallowed halls of Valhalla, their names and memories draped in honor.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Among Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's problems - and they are legion - is not its inherently goofy hook: The 16th president spent his early years dispatching the undead fiends that had infiltrated the new republic, only to later find himself back at odds with Confederate undead during his famed Civil War administration. In a year that also brought filmgoers another serious, high-minded Lincoln film full of award-ready performances and lofty ideas, the notion of Abe slaying vampires is a perfectly fun and welcome basis for big, summer-blockbuster silliness.
However, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, producer Tim Burton, and most of all director Timur Bekmambetov take their Van Helsing version of Lincoln far too seriously, treating the vamp-dusting proceedings not like a cheesy, campy flick, but an essay prompt on a social studies exam. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opens with a solemn quote from the Book of Genesis when it would have been better off taking a page from Roger Corman. Cleaved of a sense of tongue-in-cheek camp or humor, the film that follows is smothered in faux nobility as the Great Emancipator mows down bloodsuckers with grim determination.
Bekmambetov's never been a model of stylistic restraint. First with the spastic Russian fantasy-action epics Night Watch and Day Watch and then in Hollywood's Wanted, the director explored new ways of making his ADD-edited action films feel ponderous despite his trademark visual seizures and penchant for slo-mo, sped-up, slow-again action shots. That leaves Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film full of restless kinetic energy but no juice. There is an intentional artifice to Bekmambetov's cinema that gives it a faded one-dimensionality, as if his films are grim lithographs. They are full of spraying blood, but no beating heart, with no room for humanity amid the arch monochromatic tableaux.
The director's much-ballyhooed fight visuals are impressive in small doses, and he can execute a dazzling batch of shots, but there is no grasp of scene, and the CGI-staged stunts have no emotional heft - they are just eye-popping tricks lacking a gut-punch. All is constant titillation with no giggling exploitation flavor - it is spectacle and sensation, epic chintz and chutzpah, none of it making much sense. Bekmambetov loves to pan over iconography, from stovepipe hats to the Washington Monument, but his characters feel as though they are also carved in the sides of granite tombs, frozen forever astride destiny but not really going anywhere. It is not the best approach for a film that must already carefully straddle and draw cinematic friction from two very different genres.
As Abe, Benjamin Walker keeps striving for charisma beneath the top hat, but is continually interrupted by training montages in which he leans to twirl his silver-edged ax. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead also does her best as a coquettish Mary Todd, but the moment she and Walker start to fan flames of courtship chemistry, Bekmambetov yanks Abe back to work at the frenzied, nonsensical vampire slaying. The cast is rounded out by Rufus Sewell easily tossing off snooty, aristocratic villainy without spilling his brandy. But as Abe's mysterious mentor in the vamp-combat arts, the very talented Dominic Cooper seems further doomed to play supporting characters in Hollywood fantasies. Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson are also on hand as a couple of Lincoln's long-time compatriots.
As with so much Hollywood escapism these days, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter mistakes premise for plot - disjointed and scattershot, the film feels fuller of ideas than sense. About two-thirds of the way through, having run out of things to do, Abraham Lincoln gives up on having the Young Man with an Ax routine and rushes through Lincoln's political rise - the narrative economy no doubt encouraged by a disappointing lack of beheading during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Suddenly, the film arrives at the Civil War and Gettysburg where Bekmambetov plays at historical melodrama, slapping awkward faux glory on civil war scenes. There are also attempts throughout to blame the Southern slavery culture on vampires, which might be offensive if the filmmakers cared about what they were saying. Offensive or not, played the right way, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter could have been howling, eye-rolling fun. But Bekmambetov cannot figure out how to wink at his audience through the deadpan, and so the film feels so much duller than its catchy title promises.
The eminent actress Jeanne Moreau made her directorial debut in 1976 with La Lumiere, the story of a fifty-year-old actress facing the crisis of aging. She decided for her next project to make a film about the perils of passing from girlhood to womanhood in the summer of 1939 - a time, in Moreau's words, of "false innocence," marked by a "refusal to accept the dark tragedy to come." She met Henriette Jelinek soon after the idea for The Adolescent took root. Jelinek, whose novels Moreau had always admired, was born in the Landes region of southwestern France and was closer than Moreau to country life. The two women had endless discussions, probing deeply into the intricacies of life in the French provinces and into the mysteries of a child's heart and mind. The director did an enormous amount of research, on customs in the French provinces and found many aspects life there unchanged since the 19th century. What finally emerged from the screenplay written by the two women was a detailed portrait of French village life with many of the familiar characters from the classic French films of Jean Renoir and Marcel Pagnol.
The Adolescent is largely anecdotal, but the central theme of a young girl's first glimmers of love are at its core. Moreau was extremely well-served by her excellent cast which features newcomer Laetitia Chauveau as the blossoming Marie. An actress of great charm with a coltish sensuality Chauveau is both appealing and convincing in her role. Simone Signoret, in an all-too-familiar role, plays Marie's wise grandmother, the owner of the village inn, who is determined to pass on to the child some of the important rituals that have sustained her. One of the most subtle portrayals in the film is achieved by Edith Clever, the German actress who was so brilliant in Eric Rohmer's The Marquis of O. Clever's role as the passionate Dutch mother of Marie is not a very large one - she is often on screen but says very little - but Clever manages to convey in her posture and her facial expressions the picture of a woman who has found herself perhaps ten years to late. At the same time, she is believable as a mother, a wife, and a temporary villager. The wife of a butcher, she is very much in lover with her husband but can sustain another grand passion while he is away.
The setting is France, on the brink of World War II during the summer of 1939. Marie, age twelve, and her parents, Eva and Jean leave Paris for a vacation in the Ardeche, a region which Marie's grandmother calls "the land of extinct volcanoes." Everyone in the village listens to news of Adolf Hitler on the radio but life goes on much as before. The inhabitants of the village are stock characters from French films - the bind blacksmith, the local bicycle repairman, the coquette, the simpleton, and the smiling farmer's wife "always so generous with her milk." Marie's family stays with her grandmother Mamie, who runs the local inn and is the wise woman of the village - she sees, hears, and understands all. Marie's mother and father have been married for 13 years and are still very much physically involved with each other. The only newcomer in the village is a thirty-year-old Jewish doctor from Paris, Dr. Alexandre, who is taking over the practice of the village doctor for the summer. Handsome and skilled at his profession, he receives the full voltage of Marie's first crush. Dr. Alexandre is understanding and treats the young girl with tenderness and respect, aware of how bewildered she is by the transformations taking place within her body. But matters become complicated when Marie's father storms off after a quarrel with her mother. He finds a job in a neighboring village helping with the harvest, while Eva initiates an affair with Dr. Alexandre. Marie is torn when, in the film's climactic scene, she discovers her mother's romance. Her father returns and is reconciled with Eva, while rejected Dr. Alexandre is visibly hurt. All the while, Mamie, the wise grandmother, tries to assuage the pain of her granddaughter's first love by distracting her with activities that have a symbolic meaning for the older woman, such as gathering moonbeams. It is this combination of village myth and present-day reality that gives the film its strange attraction. When the film ends, the family is leaving for Paris, and one realizes that this summer will live in their memory as their last peaceful one for a long time.
In an interview with Cinema Francaise in 1978, Jeanne Moreau stated that her film was not meant to be pessimistic. She said that everyone must go on living after the loss of innocence, even though sometime the moment of realization comes as a devestating experience. She feels that children cannot understand adult relationships, especially sexual ones, and so live in a world of semidarkness. When this darkness begins to lift as they grow up, they may make terrible mistake, but these mistakes are not irrevocable.
Moreau's film was not generally well-received by critics or the public in Franc or abroad. Most reviewers found it to be cliché-ridden and weak in both the screenplay and the direction, but all were united in their praise of Edith Clever's performance as the enigmatic Eva. It is apparent from her first two films that Moreau is interested in the nature of womanhood, and its various stages of development. Moreau's is an original voice. She brings to her craft the experience of years of working with prominent directors; she claims she learned the technical aspects of directing by asking the right questions. Her films give a promise of the rich diversity of new perspectives which women directors would bring to cinema in year to come.
Film socialisme (2010)
Freedom doesn't come cheap
The first screening of Film Socialisme was filled with people presumably expecting some kind of grand artistic summation along the lines of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny & Alexander or something equally conclusive. Not surprisingly, Godard instead presented them with an odd meditation on the current state the the world utilising a free-wheeling blend of digital video ranging from the gorgeous to the grungy with a near-total disdain for even the most basic conventions of cinematic storytelling. Inevitably, the critical reaction was sharply divided between those who were convinced they had seen a masterpiece and those who dismissed it as pretentious twaddle from a once-great director who had long since taken leave of his artistic senses. While it certainly pales in comparison to the landmark works which he first made in the 1960s, the film is a flawed-but-fascinating work that, if it turns out to be Godard's finale, concludes one of the most fascinating filmographies on an appropriately oddball note.
The film is divided roughly into three separate sections that deal more or less with Europe's dark, war-driven past and uncertain unification- driven future. The first and longest section takes place on a Mediterranean cruise filled with a cross-section of elite passengers as they blithely indulge in all the ship's comforts while the more ethnically diverse members of the crew quietly keep things moving along. The joke, of course, is that the passengers rubbing shoulders at the exercise classes and buffets are the descendants of ancestors who used to be at each other's throats and every once in a while, that history bubbles to the surface in the form of old World War II newsreel footage and the like that comes out of nowhere like a bad memory. The second part of the film is a more conventionally structured episode set in and around a remote gas station in the south of France where a now- conservative couple are questioned by their increasingly radical young children about their history in a manner meant to suggest that they represent all of Europe's political and historical failings as they stagnate while living off of the fruits of Third World resources. In the final movement, Godard returns to the more free-form approach of the first segment in which he briefly chronicles some of the grim failings of the West via newly-shot footage juxtaposed with clips ranging from The Battleship Potemkin to the Steve Reeves version of Hercules before enigmatically concluding with a title card reading "NO COMMENT."
For most viewers, even those few who have kept up with Godard's output since his initial artistic heyday in the Sixties, the mere experience of Film Socialisme will prove to be strange and occasionally frustrating. Having flirted with a return to straightforward storytelling with his last two features, In Praise of Love and Notre Musique, Godard has returned to the frankly experimental narrative approach that has marked much of his work over the last couple of decades. To make things even more perplexing, the dialogue is spoken in a number of different languages and while there are subtitles to be had, they serve as yet another form of commentary by coming across as abstract condensations of what is actually being said and unless one actually speaks all of the languages, it is impossible to fully determine what is being said and further underlines Godard's uncertainty about how the very languages that they speak - in his eyes, even the seemingly universal language of art can separate more than unite. The closest thing the film comes to a non-enigmatic statement occurs when the first section concludes with the rueful statement "Poor Europe. Corrupted by suffering. Humiliated by liberty." and even that is kind of pushing it.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Godard once again demonstrates his ability to create rapturous symphonies of sound and vision. Visually, the look of the film, the first feature that Godard has shot entirely on digital video, veer wildly between lushly beautiful images featuring colours that appear ripe to bursting to shabby, artifact-riddled bits that appear to have cobbled from deteriorated VHS tapes or defective cell phones, but often are just as beautiful to look at. In addition, there are numerous individual moments that are striking to behold as well-the young son from the gas station family cheerfully goofing off in the kitchen while his mother does the dishes is among the most touching on display. There are even occasional bits of levity as well, such as the cuts during the second section that almost suggest a strange homage to the blind camel in the immortal Ishtar.
At an age when most filmmakers are either dead or worse-trapped on a never-ending awards circuit receiving the Lifetime Achievement awards from industry colleagues who a perfectly content to offer up empty platitudes about past achievements but who would most likely blanch and the thought of helping to put together a new project-Jean-Luc Godard doggedly continues his reign as the world's oldest infant terrible by continuing to create films that test the boundaries of what can be said and done with the tools of the craft and continuing to test the patience of even his most loyal supporters by challenging and provoking them and their ideas about cinema at every turn. In other words, he is somehow still making the films of a young man-works that are by turn energetic, earnest, pretentious, and borderline silly-and even if they do not always work, there is still something about them that makes them more fundamentally interesting and intriguing than the efforts of a more mature talent whose sense of daring has dulled over the years. Godard may be one of the last living godfathers of the French New Wave but based on his work here, he is still a punk through and through, and while they may not always appreciate that, the film world continues to be all the better for it.
The Beaver (2011)
Go ahead. Laugh. It is to be expected. The movie, after all, is called The Beaver.
It is about Walter Black, who copes with depression by speaking in a Cockney accent through a beaver hand puppet that he affixes to his left hand and leaves on at all times-whether Walter is in the shower, at the office or having sex. The movie's name and plot generate all sorts of connotations, and none of them suggest what the film actually is: A delicately told, insightful drama about metal illness that stand as one of the biggest, best surprises of 2011.
Something that was not a surprise, however, is how few people found out first-hand what an unexpected marvel they were overlooking. Aside from its name and subject mater, The Beaver had another major road block in its box office outlook: Mel Gibson. So much of an actor's career relies on likability, and the Oscar-winning actor did not help himself in that department by having numerous, widely-covered incidents that suggest he is an angry, homophobic Anti-Semite. Those characteristics have made some people want to have nothing to do with him of his work, no matter what the movie.
If people are ever willing to give Gibson another chance on-scree, The Beaver is the time to do it. Gibson gives on of his best performances as Walter, who opens the movie floating on a raft in a pool but does not look relaxed. Walter looks drained. This is not a man who has thrived in the two years he has worked as head honcho of his dad's toy company, since his father's suicide. He has been worn down by a job for which he was ill-prepared and that has driven him to a state of depression which has alienated his sons Porter and Henry, and left his wife Meredith wondering if the man she loves will ever return to the way he used to be.
Cue the title character, a hand puppet that Walter spots in a dumpster, and, for whatever reason, feels compelled to pick up and put on his hand. It does not stop Walter from trying to hang himself from a shower rod in a hotel after he leaves his house, but, after that suicide attempt doesn't work, Walter's attempt to jump from his hotel balcony is thwarted when the beaver talks to him. Of course, that is Walter talking for the beaver, who, in the aforementioned accent, tell Walter that he is here to save his "god-damn life." Foster's direction and Kyle Killen's script treat this very unusual situation with exactly the right tone: What begins with the slightest bit of humour, as Walter cheerfully speaks only through the beaver and Henry delights in spending time with both, quickly becomes far more serious and urgent as the family accepts that this is really happening. Some mild comfort comes from the index card that Walter provides, explaining that the beaver is actually a prescription puppet as recommended by a mental health professional in order to establish a psychological distance between Walter and negative aspects of his personality. Too bad the card is a lie, and Walter actually has not been to see a doctor in more than a year.
As all of this is happening, Porter continues to chart all the ways in which he is like his father in an effort to then eliminate them from his life. While many teenagers feel detached from and annoyed by their parents, Porter hates his father for the things that Porter hates about himself. The adds even more weight to Walter's struggle to regain his mental health and perhaps reestablish a bond with his firs-born. Until the, Porter is occupied by his commissioned task to write a graduation speech for the valedictorian Norah, who feels she does not know what to say or how to say it. The fact that she is beautiful increases Porter's interest in helping her, even though she also agrees to pay him $500 for the job. Though some viewers may doubt the progression of Porter and Norah's relationship, it is actually an intelligently crafted dynamic between a girl with bottled-up emotions and a guy who is bold and articulate enough to help her release a huge weight from her shoulders.
Perhaps it is a stretch that Henry's excitement about the beaver inspires Walter to develop a new, company-saving kid's toy, which in reality might not even be moderately successful. Walter's colleagues' lack of protest about their boss' new style also seems far-fetched. The achievement of The Beaver, however, is not necessarily in crafting an air-tight realistic story. It is about chronicling the way that depression eats away at the self and that person's support system-this is reiterated in that the Blacks' house is literally falling apart, a metaphor that is a bit too obvious. One of the reasons depression can be hard to recognise is the same reason it is hard to portray on screen: This is an illness that is very hard to identify based on physical changes. Yet Gibson and the film dare to acknowledge the anguished emptiness that comes from depression and the lack of easy answers. Meredith tells Walter she needs to know that his old self is going to come back, and she even shows him photos of their 20th anniversary dinner to try to help him remember how happy their lives used to be. The beaver, dressed in a tiny, custom-made tuxedo of his own, is not having it. He reminds Meredith that Walter does not have amnesia, he has depression. It is a sickness that can not be fixed by flipping a switch, but it is one that can be better understood through daring films like The Beaver, whose blissful last scene is a fantasy of the way a person with mental illness, or a person who loves a person with mental illness, dream their lives might someday be again.