Whatever germ of a good idea existed in the films of the extended Marvel universe has been completely extinguished with Thor: The Dark World. The writing was on the wall with the nonsensical plot-line and retread themes of Iron Man 3 and the drab disappointment of The Avengers, but those films had the luxuries of Robert Downey Jr. in front of the camera with Shane Black and Joss Whedon behind. They may have been dull, but at least they came with the odd chuckle now and again.
The Dark World does not have that luxury and is the Marvel equivalent of Green Lantern, a soulless and drab film that aims for the lowest hurdle of storytelling and still can’t clear the mark. It’s gross and general critical response is proof that the audience for these films isn’t interested in any kind of quality entertainment or evolving story. Instead they are empty reassurances that the characters they watched in better films still exist and will be back in the future. They’re feature-length Skinner Boxes with diminishing returns, and I have to wonder when people will stop consuming this empty nourishment and move elsewhere.
The film starts sometime before the events of Thor and after the events of The Avengers. Anthony Hopkins’ voice gives the details of a race of Dark Elves that did battle with Asgard and hoped to harness an ultimate weapon to destroy their rivals. Already the basis of this plot has elements appeared in Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, and also the upcoming Guardians of the Universe. It’s no wonder the heroes of The Dark World seem bored as the Dark Elves managed to harness but one of hundreds of devastating weapons – what’s one more to add to the mix?
"I suppose it is possible that one day we will meet again and it will feel as if nothing ever happened between us. This seems unimaginable, but the fact is that it happens all the time. 'No whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory / of whiteness,' wrote Williams. But one can lose the memory of whiteness too."
Maggie Nelson - Bluets
We lose eternity the first time we fall out of love. Those new sensations, physical and otherwise, that threaten to overwhelm our daily routines go into overdrive until suddenly there is nothing there but them. The songs, smells, and pleasures stretch seconds into years and we lose ourselves. That's why the decay, the eventual realization that this feeling is routine, hurts so badly. We are not permanent, these sensations don't last, and eventually we realize that routines can be abandoned, and forever ends - just like that.
I lost myself in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a film dedicated to the physical connections and mental betrayals that form and decay the love between Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux). We never leave Adèle's side as director Abdellatif Kechiche takes us through years of her life, skimming the surface of her dreams, and focusing on the connections that form the core of her being.
It's a rare film - a romance told with zero concerns about being overly sentimental and blown up to an epic length. I've seen romances that take place within epic-sized events, such as The English Patient or Gone With the Wind, but not even the intimacy and eroticism of a film like The Unbearable Lightness of Being comes close to touching the open nerves of Blue Is the Warmest Color. Kechiche realizes that the core of this lost romance, that emptiness that it leaves, is all the film needs and hones in on that sensation with startling accuracy.
The collective groan that greeted the trailer for Spike Lee's retelling of Oldboy amused me. A few decades ago it would be unlikely that many people in the general population would have known that the film is a remake of the great Korean film of the same name. Instead we would have watched the trailer, possibly been intrigued by the scenario, and wondered what a stylist and social-conscious director like Lee would have done with the material. Now everyone gets to cry foul about Hollywood running out of ideas and people nurse imagined wounds about their favored product getting ruined.
Now that I've watched Lee's take on Oldboy, I am left with a few thoughts. Most of them are positive, as Lee managed to successfully convert the culturally specific taste of the original film into something that Americans can consume. But with that success comes an important question about adaptations since Park Chan-wook's original story was itself an adaptation of the manga. Is this version of Oldboy needed when there's a perfectly good one barely a decade old?
I have a hard time saying no, because there's not enough different with this version of Oldboy to completely justify its existence. I still enjoyed myself, and there's an awful lot of skill in the performances Lee coaxes from the players as well as his own twists to the material. But this is one I can only recommend to those unfamiliar with the source material and looking for a sadistic time with a movie, or for the ones who withstood any cynicism about the remake and are still curious. It's a small cross-section of the movie-viewing population, but they're likely to be pleased in the same way I was.
The Oscars have wrapped up and it's time to face the fallow period between holiday awards and summer blockbusters. This means continuing on our projects, picking at new DVD releases, and finding new ways to engage in cinema.
Look forward to reviews of Spike Lee's Oldboy, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Thor: The Dark World topped off by Kyle and Andrew's look at Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark this week. The 300 prequel, reboot of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel are all in theaters this weekend.
No podcast this year for our Oscar picks so we won't be as all-encompassing, but we didn't want to let the ceremony go by without some thoughts. So check out the full list of nominations here, then read on as we make our picks for the major categories and who should be attending the ceremony as a nominee. Our votes in each category are in bold.
What will happen at the awards - There are only two clear contenders in this year’s Oscar race, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Both were critical and commercial successes that look to have a staying power well beyond this year. Still, there’s the chance that American Hustle or The Wolf of Wall Street could come from behind – but only if this was the year Occupy Wall Street was making headlines. Between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, I have to hand it to 12 Years a Slave with a centimeter of breathing room.
What should have happened – Looking down the list of nominees I immediately wondered where the hell Lee Daniels' The Butler is. It was a smash hit, making over five times its budget back, and while it didn’t receive universal critical acclaim it was a modest success with the critics. It should have hurled Philomena off of its nomination so we could have a better nationwide discussion about how modern racial tensions are being reflected in film. It’s likely that Lee Daniels’ The Butler lost out on the nomination for this reason and not for the unwieldy title.
What will happen at the awards – 12 Years a Slave will get it. While Gravity has been successful at building up a narrative around itself as a technical masterpiece that pushes the limits of film, I think all of the appreciation for that part is going to go toward earning Cuaron a Best Director win. Impressive as the film-making is, the Academy is going to gravitate toward a movie with a loftier moral purpose, and Dallas Buyers Club simply isn't good enough to win. That leaves 12 Years a Slave, and it doesn't hurt that it genuinely is the best movie on this year's list as well.
What should have happened – Inside Llewyn Davis and Frances Ha both deserved spots on this list more than several of the others nominated. I would also give the win to Cutie and the Boxer, which for my money is the best of the bunch, but since that got a nod for Documentary (which is going to see an unjustified win for the idea behind the The Act of Killing) that will have to be good enough.
What will happen at the awards – 12 Years a Slave will squeak by with the win. I think a lot of people might love one of the other movies more but they feel that the very well made 12 Years deserves it for the story and how powerful it is.
What should have happened – My favorite film of the year was The Wolf of Wall Street so I am glad it was nominated and wish it had any chance of winning.