Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saw IV

The things you do for love.

Score: 2.0

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gone, Baby, Gone

The best part of Dennis Lehane's detective novels, of which, Gone, Baby, Gone is the most heart-wrenching, is that they deal directly with moral questions, and refuse to offer satisfying answers. Characters make tough choices, and live with the consequences, never knowing if they've done the right thing and content to just be able to sleep at night. The best part of Ben Affleck's directorial debut in the film adaptation of Gone Baby Gone is that he keeps that sense of ambiguity and moral confusion intact. The other thing that Affleck's adaptation has to recommend it is a deeply felt sense of place. One of the main characters in this story, and in Lehane's work in general, is the working class neighborhood of Dorchester. Affleck does a much better job of conveying the sights, sounds and people of that location than Clint Eastwood's critically acclaimed Lehane adaptation Mystic River. River, like most of Eastwood's movies, felt like it was filmed in a coffin, not a real place. Affleck trains his camera on the rugged faces of the Boston white working class, paying special attention to the kinds of manly rituals that define social relationships in that kind of environment. One thing that blunted my enjoyment of the film is the fact that the wrenching moral quandaries at the heart of it were already familiar to me from the book. Also, some people have complained that the plot machinations in the middle of the film are less-than-clear, and I don't feel that I can honestly evaluate them having read the book. My only real complaint about the movie is that Bubba Rogowski, a larger-than-life mad dog behemoth who looms large in all of Lehane's novels, who is practically a mythic figure in that world, is reduced in the film to a fat reject from the White Rapper Show.

Score: 8.4

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

All of the things that make Wes Anderson films interesting, as well as predictable, are here in abundance, but with more 90 degree pans and more Indians. The one significant thematic difference between this film and Anderson's earlier work is that the "father" part of father/son dynamic that dominates the character interaction has been dead for a year. His three sons, played by Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody, take a "spiritual" trip to India to hash out their feelings. Along the way there are hijinx, terse exchanges, furtive romances, and sudden explosions of violence, all of it culminating in a moment of catharsis that set off a tuning fork in my heart, even though I should have known better.

Even with Anderson working at the top of his game behind the camera, and even with me being a huge sucker for what he tots around in his bag of tricks, The Darjeeling Limited failed to resonant fully. I think that a large part of the problem is that Anderson's characters are so closed-off and withholding that the film relys on visual metaphors to do the heavy lifting of depicting character development. In those moments the artifice of the film is revealed: you can see the wires, as it were, and it reminds you that the characters are really just puppets.

Still, there are sequences from the film that resonate deeply, and it contains some of Anderson's most assured, captivating visual filmmaking, and the "exotic" setting adds both a sense of novelty and some great opportunities for satire at the expense of the brothers, who think that they can buy "spirituality" in India as easily as bootleg shoes in a bazaar. More than anything else, though, The Darjeeling Limited left me wondering what Wes Anderson could do if he chose to move out of his self-constructed, Salinger-esque cinematic ghetto. What if, instead of documenting rich kids dealing with their asshole parents, he depicted spaceship pilots dealing with giant alien robots? It could be really cool: I'm sure he could work in a Kinks song somehow.

Score: 8.1

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Into the Wild

I'll put it right out there at the jump: this movie made me cry. Not the slight welling around the eyes, the single trickling tear that sometimes blindsides me while watching a Pixar film, I'm talking about full on, wrenching sobs. Just like the last film that did this to me, Children of Men, I thought I'd been relatively unaffected during the actual was during the end credits that the enormity of the thing crashed into me. It's not just that the fate of Chris "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless is devastating to behold and tragic. Director Sean Penn creates a sense of identification with the character that makes you care deeply for his fate. What made the film so astoundingly effecting for me was that, after watching the film, the reality of the amount of LOVE in my life crackled through my body. While the movie deals with themes of alienation, self-mythology and the value of self-reliance, and while the visual grammar emphasis the enormity and majesty of nature, the most resonant themes of the film are all about the double-edged nature of human relationships. We let down those we love, and are let down by them in turn, we long to trust other people, and when that trust is abused, we build walls....walls that we pray will come down as soon as possible. Why? Because relationships are what give life meaning. And as the Eddie Vedder tunes played over the rolling credits to this painful, joyous, insightful film, I mourned Chris McCandless, and I celebrated the life that I have built, because of the love that I feel for others, and the love that they feel for me.

From a technical aspect, Into the Wild is nearly flawless: the only things I would have lost were the narration from Jena Malone, playing McCandless's sister, and the use of that damn song with the high-pitched male singer that gets used in every single movie (and commercial) about road tripping. In both cases, the choice is just a bit too on the nose: this movie, rendered in beautiful, subtle peformances and lyrical cinematography, doesn't need its themes underlined so blatantly.

Score: 9.4