Film review monthly: April 2013

1 May

From now on I’m writing the film review monthly. I’m pretending you’ve seen all these movies. There will be spoilers.

Spring Breakers Redux
I saw Spring Breakers again, and I have a couple new things to say. Before I saw it the second time, I spent a few minutes on the internet looking at pictures and videos so that I knew what Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson looked like. Being able to tell them apart definitely added a new dimension. Hudgens was the better of the two. I was impressed by her.

There has been a fair amount of criticism of the treatment of race in the movie. I want to make a point about said criticism. I think a lot of people get confused when they say that something is racist or “problematic” or whatever. I won’t be able to remember the source, and this might be a misquote, but this is the general argument of a lot of people: “Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers says that black lives are worth less than white ones.”

When people say this as a criticism of the movie, or to imply that Mr. Korine is a racist, what they mean to say is “Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers says that black lives should be worth less than white ones.” That’s a totally different statement. If Mr. Korine believes that, then that’s a problem. BUT. I think Mr. Korine’s objective with the film with regard to race is that first statement–with are instead of should be–and I think that’s a pretty valid statement about race relations in America. The truth of it is plain as day for anyone who lives in East Oakland or any other place in America like East Oakland. If you want to disagree with that or talk about why that opinion is wrong, go for it, Mr. Critic, but I haven’t seen anyone actually try to do that.

The other race-related criticism I’ve seen is that Mr. Korine is simply oblivious to issues of race and his blindness on the issue results in all the main characters being white and the only black character dying and Mr. Korine not even considering the implications of that. This is a stupid criticism. The guy wrote a novel about a race war set in Florida, for Christ’s sake. And did you notice the girls were in a lecture about the civil rights movement in the first scene? Mr. Korine is very obviously–to me, anyway–aware of how his movie is seen and interpreted in terms of race.

To make a long point short: Spring Breakers obviously has a particular point of view about racial politics, and I’ve seen no one anywhere make an intelligent point about said point of view. Furthermore, the stupidity and laziness of professional writers sometimes surprises me.

The Silence
I didn’t like this one so much. A pretty good concept that didn’t work out so well in practice. I don’t want to give a plot summary, but a lot of the movie surrounds a police investigation of a sex crime and a very closely related sex crime from twenty years ago. The characterization of the police officers in question was so ridiculous and not believable that it was hard to take anything here seriously. They all seemed to be deranged in one way or another. The idea has the potential to be a great thriller, but it just didn’t really work.

To the Wonder
I love Terrence Malick. I think he’s the best. I wholeheartedly applaud his approach to making movies. I just want to say that before I start.

Before I saw To the Wonder, I scanned the first paragraph of Dana Stevens’s review on slate.com. I think I was biased by reading it, because Ms. Stevens made note of the “mockery it’s receiving from some quarters.” Going in knowing that some movie people thought it was laughably bad kind of took me out of the experience. Or maybe not. There may have been a couple other contributing factors, which I will mention. This was certainly not his best movie. Its runtime is 112 minutes, which is notably shorter than any of his movies since Days of Heaven. It was kind of in a weird middle area. It lacked the relative narrative tightness of Badlands and Days of Heaven, but it also lacked the kind of sprawling grandeur that his more recent movies have had.

Malick films all have voiceovers. Extensive voiceovers. Sometimes poetic and/or pretentious voiceovers. In To the Wonder, these voiceovers are almost exclusively in French. You have to read them in subtitles, which takes away a lot of their impact. I think the whole experience of the movie would be different (better) if you spoke both English and French and saw it without subtitles.

The star is Ben Affleck. I’m not a huge fan. He just didn’t work for me. I’m surprised he was cast in the first place. He doesn’t really fit with Malick’s other leading men. They all have had an easy, natural physicality. There’s not a lot of dialogue, so a lot of Malick acting is just being on camera in different situations. Mr. Affleck looked uncomfortable throughout the whole thing. He looked like he was tensing all the muscles in his shoulders a lot. He just doesn’t have it in the same way that Brad Pitt or Martin Sheen have had it in better Malick films, or even in the way that Javier Bardem has it in this one.

I thought the Javier Bardem scenes were strong. There should have been more of him. More of Olga Kurylenko, too. She definitely has a presence. Rachel McAdams also had a couple good moments. Maybe I disliked Mr. Affleck’s performance so much because I thought he was clearly outshined by his supporting cast.

There was a lot of self-reference here. Wheat fields everywhere. I don’t know how much of it was supposed to evoke Days of Heaven, but that was the main effect for me. A lot of the domestic stuff felt like a 2013 version of The Tree of Life. Some of the church stuff felt similar too. IN FACT, you eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed a little piece of info in the credits: “clips from The Tree of Life courtesy whoever”. I’ll be trying to figure out which shots were recycled the next time I see it. I also thought I noticed a couple nods to Badlands. I wonder how much of that was intentional.

It was kind of jarring to see a Terrence Malick movie set in the present day. He’s never done that before. Scenes in supermarkets, etc. I liked the supermarket stuff. That famous Malick style worked better there than I thought it would.

Everyone go see Badlands

The Place Beyond the Pines
This was a great movie. It was 140 minutes or so long and I was totally spellbound to the point that I was disappointed when it was over. Structured almost like a Greek tragedy. Another shoutout to Dana Stevens, who got to the Greek tragedy comparison before me. Although I thought of it before I read her review. So there.

Essentially three acts. Act I: Ryan Gosling. Act II: Bradley Cooper. Act III: their kids. I thought that was an interesting way to do it in retrospect. In the moment, I was very disappointed when Mr. Gosling’s character died. He was terrific. He’s probably the best actor (male category) around these days.* Bradley Cooper was OK. I had hope for him after Silver Linings Playbook, and he wasn’t bad or anything in this, but he didn’t match Mr. Gosling. Of course that may be unfair. Not many can match Mr. Gosling. I thought Dane DeHaan was great as the grown-up Jason.

*The best overall, of course, is Michelle Williams. Go see them together in Blue Valentine, the previous movie of TPBTP director Derek Cianfrance.

Emory Cohen as AJ was tougher to figure out. His character was an obnoxious guido douchebag with not much depth. It’s hard to gauge an acting performance when a character doesn’t call for much of the stuff that we think of as acting. Call this the Betty Draper problem. Betty doesn’t have much easy surface emotion and has petulant, exaggerated reactions and only seems to have two facial expressions. A lot of people think this is because Ms. Jones is a bad actor. Or is it that she’s a great actor because that’s how Matthew Weiner intends Betty to be? Hard to tell sometimes.* Same with Mr. Cohen here. He was certainly the most unlikable character. Unlikable because of bad acting or good acting? You be the judge.

*Count me in the pro-January Jones camp.

Reviews for TPBTP have been mixed. A lot of critics thought it was overambitious and self-indulgent and unfocused. I can see that. I think in a sense it has a lot in common with movies like Les Misérables. You need to be able to give yourself over to the movie and turn off the part of your brain that says, “this is emotionally manipulative and/or implausible and/or artificial.” English teachers call this willing suspension of disbelief, but I think there’s something more than that. It’s not just accepting the reality of the story, it’s accepting the director’s authority over your emotions. That’s hard for a director to do. Derek Cianfrance did it pretty flawlessly. This, combined with the superb Blue Valentine, makes me a big fan of his.

Apparently Mr. Gosling did a lot or all of his own motorcycle stunts. The opening shot is an awesome long tracking shot that culminates with him riding his bike in a sphere-cage with two other bikes. It was a really cool shot, especially to open the movie. Tracking shots like that can be distracting when they’re used too often or self-consciously. It’s an easy way for a director to show off. But this one worked perfectly.

I thought the ending was great. Really great.

Advertisements

One Response to “Film review monthly: April 2013”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Film Review Quarterly: 2013 Q2 | The Pensive Years - July 30, 2013

    […] The Silence Blah. This could have been such a good movie. Needed a rewrite. Some of the characters were pretty far from believable. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: