This Great Evil

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Belated thoughts about the Spring Film Festival

I wanted to wait for all of these movies to get uploaded before writing anything, but that may still be a ways off. Besides, all except two of the spring films are currently available on YouTube. Without further ado, thoughts:

potionx

I really, really, really dug the first half of it. It’s one of those instances where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: there’s something alchemic and utterly beguiling about the writing, the performances that elevate intentionally goofy cliche and questionable production value into a film that’s genuinely delightful. The second half, however, dampens my enthusiasm for the movie. There’s nothing wrong, per se, but it never quite captures the magic of the beginning. The rivalry that gets introduced for sake of plot is at odds with the rest of the movie and too many obviously fake high school backdrops get reused.

[Blurred]

Until it gets uploaded, you’ll just have to take my word on this: Blurred is an extremely gorgeous movie. Reflections off of car windows creating a double exposure effect, precisely overexposed doorway lighting, vivid blue sky reflecting off of a puddle…ah. Stupendous.

That, unfortunately, is also pretty much the extent of the movie. Though it was pitched as taking place entirely in a coma/fever dream, the final cut of Blurred jumps back and forth between dreams within the aforementioned coma and the dreamer’s memories to confusing and baffling effect. Blurred is less of a story driven movie than a character portrait, but it’s held back by its lead character being so uninteresting and so vaguely defined. As a result, too much of Blurred just feels like stuff happening purely for the sake of having stuff happen.

shadow

Allow me to speak out of my ass for a moment. Shadow is (probably) an interesting case study of what happens when a director and a writer diverge in vision. I get the feeling that Shadow‘s script is a largely straight-faced affair about a woman being stalked by a creep. The final product is a slightly jokey, fairly cheesy, kind of deeply uncomfortable movie about a woman being stalked by a creep.

Tone, as always, is everything. If the movie had played completely straight, it would have probably been a complete failure. Shadow never quite figures out whose perspective we’re following – that of the thinly sketched stalker or the even more thinly sketched stalkee. The stalker exists entirely to stalk the woman, who in turn exists solely to be stalked. One big, vital question (why the stalker is obsessed with this one particular girl) goes completely unanswered.

As is, however, Shadow gets a lot of power from how uncomfortably funny and cheesy pieces of it are. It’s almost in the vein of Funny Games where the movie’s daring you to chuckle nervously about watching this creepy dude plot murder and possibly rape after being rejected. At the end of it, you feel a little weird and a little ashamed.

closure

The two central performances are magnificent. Lived in, confident and without any hint of artifice. Fantastic. Most deserving winners of the festival. The movie itself is largely the same, save for one pretty unfortunate wrinkle. Closure shines when it’s happy to simply observe the couple work through a potentially relationship ending argument. When Closure tries to work in a major plot twist, the movie’s far less successful.

Spoiler warning for a 10 minute movie: it soon transpires that the husband is actually dead and the wife is dealing with feelings of remorse and bitterness because she never got the chance to make up with her husband. The twist plays much better on paper than it does in the movie, in part because of how jarring the very artificial reveal is against the very naturalistic majority of the movie.

astate

Not a lot of say about this one. The director was going for a mix of Hitchcock and Lynch, and the result…it speaks for itself.

kungfu

The real coup of the festival was programming Kung Fu Cop: Enter The Dragon Fist immediately after Closure and A State. This was exactly what the audience needed – a completely irreverent, gloriously cheap love letter to B-movies. Some of the magic is undeniably lost on the second viewing (the low rent Guy Ritchie thing, for instance, feels more stupid than inspired now), but Kung Fu Cop: Enter The Dragon Fist is made with such abundant energy and vigor that it’s hard to not get swept up in its trashy fun.

12angry

This was probably my favorite film of the festival. It’s expertly timed and very, very funny.

amanbehind

A lot of folks were keen on this film, but I couldn’t get into it. The decision to film much of it with long-ish single takes distracted me more than anything else. It doesn’t have the tension actually filming the whole shebang as a real time single take would have, while the camera acrobatics needed to capture those long takes got in the way of an otherwise minimalist, two-hand riff on Reservoir DogsA Man Behind certainly wasn’t bad; I just wasn’t particularly engaged by it.

watched

It didn’t occur to me the first time I saw it, but Watched is one ferociously edited movie. The graceful way Watched bops between the “flashback” and the present footage meant that this ten minute movie felt like a five minute movie all the while delivering the intended deeply chilling atmosphere. It’s not quite my favorite movie of the festival only because it falls into the same trap every found footage movie does: that all of the movie’s characters continue filming in spite of all the crazy shit happening around them stretches credulity to near breaking point. Still, the tight pacing of the film means that you don’t have much time to think about plot holes.

[Something Fishy]

Mixed feelings about this one. I like how it’s pretty much a direct sequel to Library Lovers without ever overtly mentioning it, and there’s one killer gag in the movie. On the other hand, all of the problems Library Lovers had are all present in Something Fishy. The movie is, again, way, way too long and incredibly overwritten. The final product is charming in fits and bursts, but a much more satisfying movie clearly exists in an editing bay somewhere.

What I watched in May

  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron [1]
  • Where the Wild Things Are (rewatched)
  • Ex Machina [2]
  • Blue Velvet [3]
  • Mulholland Drive
  • After Hours 
  • Mad Max: Fury Road [4]
  • Enter the Void (rewatched)
  • Visitor Q 

[1] – I came into this with very low expectations (more or less hated the first Avengers), left with confused, mixed impressions. Probably a worse movie than The Avengers overall, but it’s much, much more interesting: every character gets an actual arc (for better and for worse), the collateral cost of all the city leveling mayhem is explicitly dealt with/part of the story and Stark’s preoccupation with replacing the Avengers with robots is a neat extension of his character’s journey through the Iron Man and Avengers movies.

That said, holy fuck is this movie overstuffed. The entire barn sequence was ripped straight out of some awful Avengers sitcom spinoff, and what the fuck was up with the Black Widow/Hulk romance thing?

[2] – Surprisingly undramatic. Points for not going with the obvious plot twist, but that also means not much about Ex Machina is unpredictable. The experience of watching, then, is more cerebral and intellectual than emotional or guttural. It’s a cold, cold movie. Major props to the production design team for the meticulously crafted mansion and props to Oscar Issac for giving my favorite villain performance of the year (so far).

[3] – Honestly, didn’t really like it. Better in parts than as a whole. Mulholland Drive was a much better fusion of Lynch’s surrealistic impulses and semi-conventional narrative design.

[4] – If I saw this movie when I was, like, 12, this would be my favorite movie of all time. Admirable commitment to showing not telling. Not wholly perfect – Max’s hallucinations were distracting because they weren’t the same kind of crazy as the rest of the movie and some of the movie’s sparse dialog was poor. Also have the sneaking the suspicion that a good chunk of the movie won’t hold up to repeat viewings. Even so, it’s damn near the platonic ideal of a summer blockbuster.

What I watched in April

Not a lot this month. Spent most of my free time working on a movie.

  • Blackhat (rewatched)
  • Miami Vice (theatrical cut, rewatched)
  • Jupiter Ascending [1]

[1] – I have a feeling this will be a future cult classic. Weird, weird movie that probably was even weirder before studio notes. Half of it feels like the Wachowski’s stab at making intergalactic Brazil while the other, lesser half consists of curiously uninvolving CG-driven action shit. Would have definitely played better as a comedy through and through.

What I watched in March

I watched most of these during the 48 hours I spent riding airplanes in March.

  • Foxcatcher [1]
  • Into the Woods [2]
  • Interstellar (rewatched)
  • Wild [3]
  • Gone Girl (rewatched)
  • Nightcrawler (rewatched)
  • The Imitation Game (rewatched minus all the boarding school flashbacks)
  • 22 Jump Street (rewatched)
  • Gone Girl (rewatched)
  • American Hustle (rewatched)
  • Magic in the Moonlight 
  • Boyhood (rewatched)
  • Birdman (rewatched)

[1] – Like spending two hours in a dank, moldy, vaguely homoerotic mansion. Comparisons to There Will Be Blood make sense on a thematic level, but Foxcatcher lacks pretty much all of There Will Be Blood‘s dynamism. This is one immensely undramatic drama.

[2] – Into the Woods is a perfectly fine cocktail of fairy tales and a perfectly fine critique of those fairy tales. Trouble is the combination of these two disparate halves only serves to undermine the whole. I would have been entirely satisfied if the fairy tale retelling was only 15 or 30 minutes, instead of the entire first half of the damn film.

[3] – I liked Wild way more than I would have expected. Turns out that Eat, Pray, Love is infinitely more palatable if the protagonist is getting her ass kicked every second she spends on screen. It’s true that when taken out of context the protag’s epiphanies and life lessons are the same breed of pat, bullshity new age mumbo jumbo as Eat, Pray, Love, but the protag earns every single word in the ounces of blood, sweat and tears she expends on her hike.

What I watched in February

  • Sisters (1973)
  • The Thin Red Line (rewatched)
  • Gone Girl (rewatched, commentary)
  • The Social Network (rewatched, commentary)
  • The New World (extended cut, rewatched)
  • Interstellar (rewatched) [1]
  • Paths of Glory
  • The Better Angels [2]
  • Death Proof 
  • Minority Report (rewatched) [3]
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (1/2) [4]

[1] – Wanted to catch it one last time in 15/70.

[2] – One of the more convincing Malick imitations I’ve seen. Of course, if you watch more than 10 minutes of it, you can pretty easily figure out that it’s not the genuine artifact: A.J. Edwards doesn’t quite have Malick’s grasp of visual poetry and storytelling. Even so, I don’t think Malick could have made The Better Angels a good movie. The film seeks to create a portrait of Lincoln through the accumulation of tiny, mundane details while Malick’s aesthetic involves abstracting away the mundane. Combine these two opposing impulses, and you get an inert film that is more The Tree of Life fan fiction than Malick does Young Mr. Lincoln. On the other hand, Edwards and his cinematographer do some seriously gorgeous black and white photography that comes impressively close to feeling like something Malick would make. Props to them for that. Shame about the absolutely dreadful voiceover, though.

[3] – Some of it (Janusz Kaminski’s photography, general set design, Tom Cruise’s performance) has aged well. The much vaunted user interfaces, however, look cumbersome and tacky by modern standards. The holographic, gesture control stuff was mind blowing back in 2002, but not so much in 2015. Thanks Kinect.

[4] – Bailed after about 50 minutes. Still, what I saw was much, much better than the page or so I’ve read from the book.