August 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Passion (2013)

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Not hard to figure out what she wantsAndrew LIKE BannerNew Brian De Palma films are comfort food for voyeurs who aren't peeping from inside the closet, but not proud gazing through someone's window either.  It's difficult to find one that isn't intentionally sleazy in some way.  Rarer still is the De Palma film that doesn't have one or two plot points directly hinging on one character watching another character watching someone else.  The gaze is not the indirect subject of a De Palma film, but the reason for the plot.

At their best they're outlandish exercises in style, and when they're poor they become insufferable.  Passion is a different breed.  It has a climax that tries for the same kind of twisty, sexy tangles that punctuated his sexier thrillers.  But the way it gets there is through a paint by numbers approach where those comfort food voyeur elements feel routine instead of titillating.

Despite the perfunctory feel of the film it still succeeds at being a pretty good time in the cinema.  The brunt of this success is due to Rachel McAdams, who is having the best of times biting into an antagonistic role for the first time since Mean Girls.  De Palma takes advantage of that comfort by putting her squarely in the middle of the kinkiest scenes of the film.  She makes the arrival of a man dressed in leather while panting like a dog seem like the most wonderful and natural thing that could happen to a girl.


Andrei Tarkovsky: Andrei Rublev (1966)

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"Простота без процветать."

Andrei Tarkovsky's follow-up to Ivan's Childhood is a biopic about the icon painter Andrei Rublev.  The movie takes place in several movements over the course of Rublev's (Anatoly Solonitsyn) life, from his simple wanderings for inspiration, to the violence and despair that led him to abandon his art.

RiseAndrewCommentaryBannerWatching Andrei Rublev, I was slowly getting the sense that the saint is an onscreen avatar for Tarkovsky, a sense that was further enhanced by the technique and events of the film.  It's incredibly contemplative in a way that embraces the physical realities of Rublev's world to the point where they become transcendent.  One shot sums this up incredibly well when milk is spilling into a stream.  The thick, wavy texture of the milk, enhanced by the black and white, slowly dissipates into the larger stream and becomes indistinguishable from the water.

We're constantly reminded of this physical reality but it's always in moments that place the limitations of existence into a larger framework.  I loved Andrei Rublev partly because it refused to give an answer for just what that structure is.  The film is a biopic of an artist that does not contain a single scene of him painting an icon.  Compare this to a film like Red Beard, which I do love, that's a collection of messages and lessons wrapped in the framework of two doctors living out their life in a country village.  Tarkovsky is trying to capture the essence of creative inspiration in the divine nature of existence here, which is a lot harder to do than present a tale with a moral at the end.


Super Buddies (2013)

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The buddiesAndrew DISLIKE BannerI grew up on a steady diet of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  While I don't plan on ever having kids of my own I've encouraged in others the same practice my mom adopted when I was little.  Bullwinkle would come on in the wee hours of the morning and I watched it while my mom and dad slept in.  When they got up I would ask them about the show and if there was something I didn't understand I would ask them about it.  It was a show packed with old cultural references and glorious Cold War humor, so it was both a greatly educational and entertaining experience.

One great thing about having friends with kids is seeing the reactions that the little ones have to different bits of culture that their parents grew up with.  Every supposed kids film that they watch has tons of stuff to please adults at the same time.  But for each one of those movies I know that there is a separate industry that caters in films designed expressly to keep kids pacified for a little over an hour and nothing more.  Sometimes I'm surprised and I end up with a film like The Revenge of Kitty Galore that seems to be in this camp and ends up having more going on with it.  Then, other times, I'm watching Super Buddies and getting really depressed.

Somewhere in this country this DVD is going to be popped in and a little over an hour later nothing of value will have been imparted.  Characters with nothing to worry about will stay the same, broad stereotypes reinforced, and children assaulted by severely ugly creature and effects designs.  If all fiction is a form of escapism, pity the place any kid watching this movie will be escaping to.


The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013)

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Pray for usAndrew LIKE BannerI can't fault what The Reluctant Fundamentalist is trying to accomplish.  It's not easy trying to show immigrant experiences after what this country went through after 9/11.  But for all the heart in The Reluctant Fundamentalist there are severe flaws that almost sink the film.  In the end I enjoyed it, but it left me with questions wondering why this film was made in this way.

The problems start straight off with a story structure that robs the thriller of any potential thrills.  Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber) is an American journalist working in Pakistan trying to get a story on the life of Changez (Riz Ahmed).  Changez is under investigation as he is possibly part of a new terrorist cell trying to fill the void left by gaps in the diminishing Al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan.  On the surface, Changez seems to be living a life close to the violent fringe as he teaches a class known for spreading violent rhetoric among the members of the community.  But as Changez asks Bobby, we must pay attention, because putting any life into easily identifiable extremes is not the way to live.


At Any Price (2013)

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Buried aliveAndrew LIKE BannerRamin Bahrani has spent the last eight years making films mythologizing the hard work of being a citizen of the United States.  But it's not the stars and stripes forever or the ne'er-do-well upstart that he's been crafting stories around.  Instead he's been telling us about the people who can't bootstrap their way to success.  People who, for many reasons, are trapped in their mode of production and can't escape.  He tells their stories, the people who seem desperately close to losing what little they have, and how by inching forward they achieve greatness known to few.

Perhaps this is why his films have never quite obtained the audience in America that they should.  He's interested in the stories of the people who work behind the scenes to make us great as a country.  The heroes aren't poster-ready, but tired foreigners and beaten down minorities who were sold on a dream and given endless labor.  By this regard, Bahrani's latest film, At Any Price, with the likes of Heather Graham, Dennis Quaid, and Zac Efron, comes as something of a surprise.

It shouldn't have, and when it ends we have found ourselves at the end of another collection of dreamers who have had their wishes usurped.  For every Mud in the world, there's a family like the Whipples. They're a family that can barely keep the venom away, stewing slowly in the same plots of land for generations, convincing themselves that they're doing the right thing.  When wounds form in these areas they don't go away.