Cosmopolis

August 30, 2012

I have never read Dom Delillo’s Cosmopolis (or, indeed, any of his novels), so approaching David Cronenberg’s film version is something of a tricky prospect.  It’s the first screenplay Cronenberg has written himself since eXistenZ, and I imagine an awful lot of it was lifted wholesale from the source.  There’s certainly no attempt to translate what seems to me to be a stilted, idiosyncratic voice into anything approaching naturalistic, and I can’t help but assume that is intentional.  That is not to say it isn’t cinematic, because quite the opposite is true – a lot of work has gone into the crafting, and for a very ‘talky’ film, it never suffers from the visually drab, stagey qualities that similarly wordy (usually play) adaptations so often do.  Still, many have written that this film is dull or asleep or, at the very least, “not for everyone”, and I can see why they came to those conclusions (I even agree with the last of those).  However, the dreamy, talky nature is part of the point, and it’s expression is cinematic despite its heavily reliance on the words. Read the rest of this entry »

The Newsroom

August 28, 2012

I’ve been over a lot of this several times before, but it’s worth keeping in mind when discussing The Newsroom.  HBO has arguably been the prime mover in solidifying the showrunner’s place as the auteur of a television series.  As with film, this is a tricky thing to determine just because of the many different ways people run a television show and the impact the writers as well as the cast and even the directors have on any given episode as well as a season and series as a whole.  Still, David Chase was instrumental in creating this new paradigm with The Sopranos, and he was followed by David Simon and Alan Ball and even David Milch, perhaps the most distinct voice on the network (when he has a show there, anyway) even though he’s firmly rooted in the broadcast traditions from his time on Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, among others.  All of which is curious in a way because HBO dramas have a very distinct feel to them.  They are often guided by moral grey-areas and characters of questionable values as well as a penchant for moving into dark territories.  Deadwood might be the most positive show ever aired, but it doesn’t exactly feel that way in any given scene as they tend to be mired in grit, filth, and violence.  The Sopranos started in 1999, and though its impact wouldn’t be fully understood for a few years, that was also the same time that Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing premiered on NBC and became a bona fide broadcast television hit.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Amazing Spider-Man

August 17, 2012

There have been too many cynical studio cash-ins to count.  If they see a proven franchise sitting in front of them, executives will do whatever they can to milk it for all its worth.  The Amazing Spider-Man is one such property, although instead of milking it for every last cent, the motivation here was simple: keep the rights.  Due to a deal with Disney and Marvel, Sony had to produce a film featuring the Spider-man character before a certain amount of time for them to retain the rights, and here it is.  As a result, there’s a somewhat antiseptic quality to the film.  However, it feels less like a blatant cash-in a la Alien vs Predator than it does a protective measure.  The studio handprints are all over it, but they’re more concerned with protecting the property (and not messing up a new version of a popular franchise) then they do with duping the public into a hastily thrown-together profit squeeze. Read the rest of this entry »

Ruby Sparks

August 17, 2012

Calvin (Paul Dano), is an author who has yet to properly follow up his breakout first novel, published when he was only 19.  He has, as these things usually go, a significant case of writer’s block compounded (or because of) his significant self doubt.  He sees a therapist (Elliot Gould), where he clutches a plush dog toy and calls his ex-girlfriend a ‘bitch’ and complains about a lack of inspiration.  He’s instructed to write a very bad one-page story about the kind of person who might like his dysfunctional dog Scottie and bring it back to the next session.  In the process of attempting to write he manages to hold onto a vision of a girl and write it down.  The character’s name is Ruby Sparks, and she will eventually materialize in the form of Zoe Kazan. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dark Knight Rises

August 15, 2012

As one of the biggest films of the year, and certainly one of the most talked about, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bother writing about The Dark Knight Rises a full month after its release.  I was sick to death of critics and bloggers and message board nerds even before I saw it.  Still, it’s out, and I have thoughts, so here we are.  It is a testament to the film that even though I wasn’t a big fan of it (I enjoyed it well enough, but it is rife with problems and is certainly the least of a trilogy that has seen some degree of diminishing returns with each successive installment – yes, Batman Begins is quite easily the best of the three), it is too interesting to ignore.  Read the rest of this entry »

If you’re going to make a film that’s baldly poetic, you’d better be damn sure you know what you’re doing.  It can seem unfair to castigate anyone who drops all cynical pretenses to “let it all hang out”, as it were, but there’s a serious danger of inducing the kind of eye-rolling in the audience that can kill a picture dead in no time at all.  It’s why there’s a cliché about coffee house singer/songwriter types.  There are elements of the song and the performance – just the right lyric or turn of phrase, a melody, the sound and inflections of the vocal delivery – that must work together to push through the cynicism or, perhaps more correctly, the ‘bullshit detectors’ of the audience to tap into that zone of pure emotion for which the artist is striving.  Most, as anyone who has ever been to an open mic night can attest, fail miserably.  Really, though, I’m overstating it.  “Cynicism” isn’t solely the problem, or at least it isn’t the easy answer as to why this sort of work fails.  There are basic realities we live in – political, cultural, and social, etc – that are ingrained in us, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Arguably great art should take all of these into consideration and still reach that emotional place, but some can pull it off without all of that.  Read the rest of this entry »

Magic Mike

August 3, 2012

Steven Soderbergh’s inherently objective style of filmmaking has served him well in recent years, even as the coldness can occasionally subdue emotional engagement.  He is generally interested with processes, which he can portray in subtle and effective ways without ever crossing into boring, obsessive territory.  When it works, and the human element is palatable, the deepening in understanding can elevate scenes are whole films into something far better than you would imagine by just reading a synopsis.  Magic Mike reads as fairly typical backstage genre fare on the page, and the basic elements of the narrative don’t deviate much from what is to be expected.  It’s in the execution – in the marrying of visuals and editing, in the performances, in the writing, and especially in the approach to the practicalities and the world within which this story is taking place – that Magic Mike is elevated into not only one of the best films of the year so far, but perhaps Soderbergh’s most assured work in a decade.  Read the rest of this entry »