Celluloid Stories (October 2012)
So if you’re inclined, head over to Badmouth for the full reviews. After an artistic note from Adam, I’ve got short, story-focused takes on these flicks, saving the best for last.
Jayzus, who knew Ben freakin’ Affleck would turn out to be such a gripping director? This guy shamelessly, SHAMELESSLY ratchets up and telescopes the tension, and even as you recognize it, you’re totally engrossed. Virtuoso storytelling.
And to Adam’s point about the fictional jacking up of the tension: A movie can’t communicate the fear those people lived under for months, nor the way every minute in Iran would’ve been terrifying for Affleck’s character. I viewed the fiction as a reasonable condensation of extended tension. Kind of the way that Moulin Rouge‘s modern take on the can-can was the only way to convey to us how audiences a hundred years ago would’ve seem the actual dance numbers, which were incredibly tame by current standards. A key to good storytelling is knowing when, and why, to go over the top.
What most impressed me about the script was the way the story is played very realistically, as a procedural, never overstating the stakes, and counting on the real drama and the strength of the acting to make it work. To its detriment, I think that at times when the film overstates the drama of the incredibly dramatic real-life story, it edges toward going over the top. Nonetheless, excellent in sum. My favorite movie in some months.
And hell yeah, would a Jack Kirby theme park be cool!
This movie does a really good job of creating a good and engaging story from a time travel premise. Trouble with time travel is that if you think it through, it never works as a story. Time travel, as a theory, results in one of two anti-story scenarios:
The Loop: I go back in time and kill Hitler. Resulting in a future in which there’s no Holocaust. So I don’t go back in time and kill Hitler. Resulting in the Holocause. So I go back in time and kill Hitler. Resulting in a future in which there’s no …
The Branch: I kill Hitler. A new history is created in which Hitler didn’t exist. Probably I, as a specific person, am never born, because the odds of my parents meeting and conceiving me in exactly the same way/time is immeasurably remote. But even if they did, I live in a different world with different motivations, making it difficult to connect my story to the pre-time-travel me. In other words, time travel ended one story and started a different one.
In Looper, Bruce Willis very self-consciously tells the audience not to worry about the paradoxes. And while the film sets some loopy rules, and randomly introduces psychic phenomena, it goes on to focus on character and create a gripping tale. A lesson in making your premise the backdrop for a human story rather than the foreground gimmick.
Unfortunately, this movie made me think up a brilliant concept for a time-travel flick that “plays fair” with time travel … and three weeks later I saw Cloud Atlas. My idea is superficially, and metatextually, similar enough to that reincarnation-centric story that everyone will assume I’m just ripping off Cloud Matrix–with a twist! Sigh.
Ugh. Missed the critics screenings, had to pay for this awhile after release. Which I regret. So much talent, ultimately squandered because it all adds up to a massively long character sketch. The story doesn’t cohere, and all its best ideas were lost to plot threads that were never developed. Yes, brilliantly acted, and for all the flaws of the script, that script is brilliantly realized on the screen. For all the complainers who said Cloud Atlas‘s themes were too simplistic, I present this movie as the opposite extreme.
Fun. Fun fun Christopher Walken Tom Waits sweet baby Jeebus FUN. But the script is an unholy mess that is only saved by the cast. It’s a movie about a Hollywood writer writing drafts of a film called Seven Psychopaths, and you can really see the result as a hodge-podge of ideas cannibalized from discarded drafts. I did like the move, but only because I forgave its lack of polish, and admired its desire to be crowd-pleasing yet original, to be something different.
Really liked it. A lot of critics are saying its themes are shallow and it runs too long. Those bastards need to get bigger hearts and bigger bladders. When a story is extremely complex in its visuals, world-building or narrative complexity, simplified themes is a lifeline to the audience. That’s why the kid-with-crayons story of Avatar works in contrast to its literally overwhelming effects punch.
As I suggest in the full review, if “We’re all in it together” is too facile for you, take it as a metaphor: People keep struggling lifetime after lifetime with the same issues, and the cycle doesn’t end until they get them right. Sounds like my dating history. So take the film as a sci-fi/fantasy metaphor for the journey we each take in our own lifetimes, as we try to learn the lessons we need to thrive.
Y’know, I enjoyed The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods, and I thought Soderbergh’s Haywire and Magic Mike were both worthy films, but I have to say that, so far (with the usual Oscar-bait season not quite launched), Argo and Cloud Atlas are the best movies I’ve happened to see in 2012.
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