Sunday, November 25, 2007

D’Angelo Stylie

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly) To crib from Burns: most filmmakers would be content for Domino to be the most retarded entry on their résumé… Tonally a miscarriage. Kelly thinks he’s a lot funnier (more probing, more insightful, more original, etc…) than he really is and this pastiche of stunt casting and fanboy wankery is 2.5 hours (!) of one idea smashing on the rocks after another only for the director to quickly move onto something else equally stupid and ill-conceived. This is why second drafts and strong-willed collaborators are encouraged. If you look in the rear-view mirror, you’ll see Heaven’s Gate. Grade: D

Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy) God Bless Clooney. Aesthetically modern (plot device attached to GPS for cryin’ out loud) but so entrenched in a bygone era of conflicted heroes, sparse visuals and storytelling efficiency it runs laps around pretenders like American Gangster. Not really *about* anything per say (I’ve largely forgotten everything about the film) but it’s a real hummer as it unspools. BTW, in my version of the film he takes the money. Grade: B+

The Savages (Tamara Jenkins) Credit where it’s due: the film doesn’t pull any punches with Philip Bosco’s aging father, never reducing him to a lovable, huggable curmudgeon (Little Miss Sunshine syndrome) and following through on its premise to the bitter end. Fact is this is all perfectly fine (Linney and Seymour Hoffman are so good together it’s a wonder they’ve never shared the screen before) but the whole thing plays so right down the middle, flattering the audience’s intelligence without ever really challenging them (Jenkins, it’s worth noting, is married to Sideways co-writer Jim Taylor and the influence is impossible to miss). Frankly I’d probably cut this one a lot more slack if I didn’t see it the same day as Margot at the Wedding which took hyper-articulate dysfunctional grown siblings into a much more provocative direction. Still… Grade: B

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet) Yuch, we get it: ugly people doing unflattering things to one another. Time capsule of every shitty spec script that was written in 1996, complete with Fargo-esque caper gone horribly wrong and arbitrary Tarantino-inspired chronology hijinks that seems to exist simply so every scene shot can be used in the film to go with stark-black nihilism which has never really gone out of style. The film never quite kicks the direct to video feel; once you get past the leering and plotting there’s no spark of personality or uniqueness to the film (save for a brief exchange with Michael Shannon who seems to have wandered in from a far more interesting film). And did I mention “ugly” and “unflattering?” Tomei waits for *this thing* to spend half the film parading around nude? This thing may set digital photography back twenty years. Grade: C

Beowulf: IMAX 3D (Robert Zemeckis) I was about to discredit the film as an achievement in storytelling and focus purely on the visuals and the experience of IMAX 3D (I couldn’t imagine seeing the film in flat 35), but that’s not fair to what the film accomplishes with what has historically been a difficult, and according to some, impenetrable text. Much credit to writers Avary and Gaiman for creating a narrative through-line that turns a story where simply the protagonist dies at the end (we all knew this going in, yes?) into an honest to goodness tragedy. The film is eons more entertaining than 300, presenting an epic story in all its bawdy, drunken, larger than life glory. Films like this are supposed to be fun and this one is damnit. Zemeckis also takes full advantage of the technology available to him, inching closer and closer to photo-realism, almost seamlessly incorporating recognizable movie stars (especially Jolie, who even without nipples is truly a sight) into impossibly elaborate set pieces. As for the 3D, it’s not so much a must for the gimmicky, Jaws 3D-type projectiles sent hurtling at you (although unavoidably, they’re present as well), but for the depth of field it generates, creating an inclusive sweeping feeling, like you’re inside of a mead hall or a dank cave yourself. I don’t usually go in for bells and whistles but color me impressed. Grade: B+

No comments: