Kathryn Bigelow jumps from adapting novels to dramatizing history with K-19: The Widowmaker. The film details two Soviet captains with opposing worldviews colliding over how to command a malfunctioning nuclear submarine during the height of the Cold War. Andrew and Kyle find themselves at different ends of whether K-19 is an interesting film that is well-served in Bigelow's canon, or a capably assembled potboiler with Bigelow's genre blender dicing the results.
K-19: The Widowmaker has put me at an odd place this week. One thing I hope you'll agree with, it's scads better than The Weight of Water, and there's a lot that I have to say about it. But what puts my mind in a twist is that if I were watching this film for the first time, completely divorced from the rest of Kathryn Bigelow's filmography, I would have little to say about it outside of some positive notes about the lead performances and the occasional witty shot. Putting it in Bigelow's canon almost subdues those accomplishments though, because with the attention to detail and criticism of national conflict as a measuring context make it clear how this is a dry run for The Hurt Locker in many ways. I want to focus more on the former and less on the latter, but this makes me feel weird as I don't like damning with faint praise, and that's all I feel as though I can do in the context of this project.
It is much better than The Weight of Water, though I don't know if I have as much to say about it as you do. I was shocked to see when I sat down to watch it that it was over 2 hours long, because all I really remembered from seeing it long ago was that there is a lengthy sequence with sailors forced into dangerous radiation exposure. Having watched it last Friday, I still don't recall a lot more than that. Here it seems like Bigelow is held down by some tired conventions, making for a movie that falls into that "perfectly fine for what it is" category.
I like your idea of focusing on the "national conflict as a measuring context" idea though — let's go there first?
Five years after the ambitious and flawed Strange Days Kathryn Bigelow returned to the big screen with her first literary adaptation of The Weight of Water. Kyle and Andrew struggle to find something good to say about this story of unhealthy desires told between people separated by a century.
Kyle, we've entered a lengthy period between films by Kathryn Bigelow. Now, you said that you'd seen The Weight of Water before, and I'll be relying on you to pull something, anything, from this movie. I hardly took any notes during it and looking at the last thing I wrote down, "Time-lapse photography of clouds," I hardly have anything to say other than it seems Bigelow came out of her five-year hiatus to make a slightly better budgeted episode of Masterpiece Theater.
To start, I'll address your first point—it was quite awhile ago when I saw this first, probably 10 years, but I did still remember a few things. For instance, Sean Penn is in it. Elizabeth Hurley, also in the movie. At one point, there is a boat. Also water.
Oddly enough, until the movie started, I did NOT remember that it cut back and forth between two stories in two centuries-apart time periods. When its first scenes opened set in the past, I thought I must have been mistaken and in fact hadn't seen the movie before—it turns out I just didn't remember half of it.
So here's the question that may help us get into why Bigelow would have wanted to make this movie, apparently an adaptation of a novel, where for all I care it could have stayed: Why have the two stories unfolding simultaneously? What is the audience supposed to get out of that, and where does it go wrong?
The Paranormal Activity movies still have no reason to change the formula quite yet. Comparatively speaking, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is not a success, but on its own still made back seventeen times what it cost to make it. That's an impressive return on any investment. Too bad all of this money is going to the most creatively bankrupt and increasingly cynical series of films outside of the Marvel Universe.
Three times now I've made my distaste of the Paranormal Activity series known. Found-footage horror, because it crams us so directly into the viewpoint of (typically) one person, requires a number of creative shocks or strong personalities to see its conceit through to the end. The series has taken that to mean making sure its annoying main characters from the first film are crammed into the later chapters for forced continuity and maintaining the tired practice of limiting movement in the frame so that any disruption counts as a shock. This is the same basic plot and scares repeated five times now with only a slight indication that it's slowing down.
The decline in inertia comes in this volume stood as good a chance as any to change the course of the series. The Marked Ones was preceded by another storm of media quotes, talking about how it's going to focus on the barely tapped Latino market for film and will reinvent the formula with it's new setting and characters. One choice phrase said that the market will be terribly appreciative about the 20% of the dialogue that's in Spanish. I shouldn't be surprised, then, that the result does alter the Paranormal formula but not in any good ways, and certainly in no ways that shows this series will ever have respect for its target audience, even if it barely did to begin with.
Kathryn Bigelow, with Strange Days, puts her studio-backed creativity in a nauseous, sprawling, and pessimistic view of the future as technology, memory, and experience fuse into one. It put off audiences then, and is due for a revisit now.
Buddy, before we go too in-depth on Strange Days, I have a question. Which film do you think would have benefited more with tighter editing - Strange Days, or Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds?I will go wholeheartedly with Strange Days on that one. This is a movie that, while I really like it, starts off with such promise that to see it veer into the various territories (and sometimes, seemingly, genres) that it eventually becomes muddled up in is a little disappointing. I don't begrudge Bigelow & co. the audacity to tackle a sprawling story, but I'd have liked to see one that maintained the ambition of the opening act and not branching off in so many unrestrained directions.
Kathryn Bigelow had a mainstream hit with the philosophical heist film Point Break. Kyle and Andrew's back-and-forth seeks to settle an important question - is Point Break better remembered for it's iconic struggle, or best left behind as a detour in her career?
So here we are at what was probably Bigelow's most famous film prior to The Hurt Locker. Point Break was always one of those movies I knew of growing up because it came out just before I hit the age where I was firmly within the demographic movies like that were (and are) totally inappropriately marketed to. It never quite registered as a pinnacle of late '80s/early '90s action movies, but it was always there lurking in the shadows.
It doesn't seem right to call it a cult classic (maybe it is—I have no idea how much it made on release), but it seems to be remembered that way. All of this mostly makes sense to me considering how much of the movie seems to fit the familiar action movie tropes of the era while still managing to undercut some of those in sometimes interesting ways. It's important to emphasize "sometimes" there. What was your impression this time around, and did it differ from how you remembered the movie from whenever the last time you saw it was?It's really difficult for me to get a proper context for the movie because of how much it's been referenced since. The biggest one for me is Hot Fuzz, where the blend of philosophy and action in Point Break seems to have given the bumbling cop his entire focus in life. But, honestly, I didn't have much of a reaction to it outside of that funny reference before watching it again, and now that I'm able to put it into a bit more context with the rest of Bigelow's career it's unlikely that it'll be a film I revisit.
Point Break isn't plain, exactly, but it's not that impressive either. The same kind of genre blending that punctuated Blue Steel and Near Dark is in play, but it's like the idea of mixing philosophy into action films directly is the start and stop point for the film. So instead of this complex mix of images bouncing off one another we end up with a bunch of pretty people basically sitting around between action scenes going, "Man, isn't thinking great?" before stuff happens.