March 2014 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

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Give it to meAn old axiom of movie viewing, which you may or may not have heard, goes that you shouldn’t watch a film that features your profession.  Sure, Indiana Jones cuts one heck of a figure, but his cavalier attitude toward artifact retrieval has sent a few serious archaeologists chuckling away from his films.   So, as you might imagine, movies about writers tend to skew my eyebrows up as they tend to be filled with cut bodies and dashing wordplay.  Rarely will you find a film where, met with serious writers block, the protagonist will raise his/her pet to the ceiling and start singing selections from The Lion King because that would be crazy, and crazy isn't attractive.

So imagine my delight at the scene when Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) goes crazy in his block.  Desperate to finish his writing he hits his body, ingests drugs, runs horizontally in bed, and otherwise subjects his body to extremes to hit that alchemical high that gets that words churning.  This scene, like many that come before and after it, do not show the creative process as some mystical journey filled with bright lights and beautiful prose.  The creative journey is sometimes a painful and excruciating experience that doesn’t endear itself to the creator, or those doing the consumption.

Kill Your Darlings is a title that serves as a hint of the multitude of experiences in the film.  There’s the overarching plot of a men trying to free themselves of the muses that once guided their creative expression.  It speaks to their way of life as they find new palaces of thought and experience before moving on to the next cathedral of sensation.  Most of all it’s a sad reminder of the deaths, both literal and metaphorical, that are necessary for transformation and communication of that destruction.


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

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My walkIt seems that the production of a biopic is the sign for whoever it is about to pass on.  Both the American films Ray and Walk the Line were released shortly before the deaths of, respectively, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.  The same night Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had its premier was also the same night that Nelson Mandela passed away.  The two-minute silence that followed the announcement of his passing at the premier in London ended up being far more respectful than anything presented in Long Walk to Freedom.

Ray and Walk the Line both benefited from productions that had close relationships with the people they were intended to present.  Johnny Cash was so invested in his that he insisted on meeting the person who was cast as him, eventually Joaquin Phoenix, to give him his blessing before the project commenced.  Long Walk to Freedom did not have such a luxury and instead of relying on a close relationship with the titular focus of the film instead relied on a schoolboy's recitation of the events that guided Mandela from his days as a professor, to the prison he spent years occupying, before finally becoming President of South Africa.

A schoolboy's approach also helps explain the undue focus to the grandstanding speeches and explosions that surely punctuated the conflicted Mandela's life, but have little to do with the man.  Long Walk to Freedom treats Mandela's parabolic rise as destiny and denies Mandela agency in his own story, instead treating him as an impassioned narrator to the events that surround him.  This doesn't mean that Long Walk to Freedom should have focused on the warts of Mandela's life, but treating his story as a successive series of set pieces means that this could have happened to anyone.  If that's the case, why make the biopic at all?


Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

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Some delightful afternoonIt's been well over a decade since I last visited the world of Mary Poppins, so the referent to Saving Mr. Banks was lost on me.  I remember the one-man band, Mary flying in on her parasol, the delightful fusion of animation and live action, but aside from Mary and Bert everyone else faded to the back of my mind.  So why, in a film focused on tumultuous relationship between Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), is the title fixed on the man who barely bliped in my memory and scarcely has two minutes of time in the film?

Because he's that unattainable ideal that Pamela couldn't recreate through her words and Walt strove toward through his visuals.  He's the idea that, no matter how badly we are treated or rough our upbringing is, we can find comfort and redemption in art.  This idea comes in a film that arrived at the tail end of a very strong year for cinema in general, and an unusually superb resurgence of creative energy and on-point commentary from Disney.  For better or worse, and I will always fall on the side of better, Pamela and Walt were two people who created worlds that people could escape to.  What isn't always apparent, and here is where Saving Mr. Banks makes that tiny but astronomical hop from superb to brilliant, my redemptive heaven is not yours, and even if we use the same language to describe it, we won't end up in the same world together.

What's so beautiful about Saving Mr. Banks is, despite this gulf that language creates, there will be people who keep trying to bring us to those points of connection that exist beyond language.  This isn't a film about the warts in Disneyland or the personal problems of Walt and Pamela.  They existed, and what bits of unpleasantness appear on the periphery of the scenes underscore just how damned important it was to the both of them that they create these fantastic illusions about themselves and others.  Whatever it is - Disneyland, Heaven, Nirvana, Slaughterhouse-Five...Endtroducing - these are worlds formed to help suffering people cope with their pain and make sense of the unreal.


Kathryn Bigelow – Blue Steel (1990)

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Kathryn Bigelow's first major studio film enlists Jamie Lee Curtis for Blue Steel, a film that tries to cover all the psychosexual, financial, slasher, crime, romantic, buddy-cop influences that the '80s had to spare.  Like Frankenstein's monster it means well even if its intentions get a bit muddied in the presentation.

Survival through rageAndrewCommentaryBannerKyle, this week feels like we're taking a slight step back for Kathryn Bigelow.  I think I may have been spoiled because of how many films I've watched, even in the past year, that try to put to rest the harmful gender stereotyping of slashers.  But Blue Steel fuses that with a romantic drama, business potboiler, and suspense thriller all at once, so it feels like the kind of mess I'd expect a first film to be, not a third.Kyle Commentary BannerYes. There are a couple of reasons for that I think—one very specific one I want to get to later, but then also on a more general level, which is that Bigelow plows through (and sometimes then back and through again) so many of those narrative elements you mention that it becomes difficult to root the subversive elements in a character-driven story as opposed to a device-driven one.

We get a few scenes that try to genuinely develop Jamie Lee Curtis' character—the barbecue scene where her friend introduces her to a guy, the dinner scene establishing her abusive, disapproving father—but these gradually get pushed aside to make room for more and more (and more) scenes where she's manipulated, scoffed at, etc. The movie seems intent on pushing her over the edge at times simply so we can watch it, rather than observing how she as a person reacts to the situations she's put in.


The Hungover Games (2014)

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NopeSometimes, when I tell people what I’m reviewing for the week, they stare back in a sort of horror and ask why I would do that to myself.  Some of the films I’ve reviewed look so terrible in advance that it’s a legitimate concern.  I don’t like watching terrible movies because I’d rather watch something that enriches my life instead of detracting from it.

But I like writing about bad movies.  Not boring movies, but bad movies – like The Hungover Games.  On a surface glance it looks to be another entry in the ongoing parody film series that the Friedberg–Seltzer alliance kicked off with Scary Movie many years ago.  It’s a terrible film, but caught in a transitory time for cheap productions trying to score pitiful laughs.