Films of Yesteryear
I’ve only occasionally gone in-depth with some films, and I certainly intend to do so again, but right now I’ve got an increasing list of films I’ve seen over the last year or so, and because I’m bad about writing them down and even worse about noting what I do and don’t like, I decided over the weekend to do these little capsules. There’s nothing really interesting about them—you’ll get a few spoilers but it’s doubtful you’ll glean anything insightful—but I figure if I’m going to watch these films I might as well say something about them. So here’s six flicks from 2013. Plenty more of these ‘reviews’ to come in all different shapes and sizes.
Gravity (dir. Alfonso Cuaron, 2013): What made Children of Men such a success was Cuaron’s ability to render a completely believable future not in flying cars and jumpsuits, but in dilapidated apartment buildings and makeshift internment camps. It was the environment that made that world feel so real, so far from our own yet undeniably prescient. Being set in space, Gravity inevitably lacks that advantage, and instead must rely on overt gestation imagery to signify the rebirth of Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone. There are probably about a million ways to interpret every aspect of Cuaron’s critical darling, and maybe it requires viewing in 3D, because at home on the TV it just doesn’t cut it as narrative. That’s not to say I disliked this film—I didn’t, really—but an endless stream of Murphy’s Law manifested seems like an awfully flimsy pretense on which to base a movie. So I’ll simply rest my case by saying this certainly is something worth seeing more than once, but its artistic value far outweighs its entertainment value, on par with Kubrick’s 2001—and 2001 had a book to clear up all the muddiness.
Her (dir. Spike Jonez, 2013): Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly, a lonely divorcee who comes across the brand-new Operating System (OS for short, voiced by Scarlett Johansson) which serves as a companion of sorts. What’s best about Jonez’s direction here is his ability to both create a completely believable non-post-apocalyptic future that exists in the background with subtle touches (such as the OS being a sort of impulse buy on the part of Twombly) and that his characters don’t come off as pathetic or their relationships with their OSes weird. A real triumph for the film’s leads, too, with Amy Adams and Chris Pratt also delivering great performances in supporting roles.
Only God Forgives (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013): Was interested to see this since it re-pairs Drive’s director and leading man (Ryan Gosling). Only problem is Refn tries to rehash the same formula but to an extreme—where Gosling’s unemotional performance was counterbalanced by the very human portrayals of everyone else in Drive, Only God Forgives sees every major and minor character (save for Gosling’s incestuous mother, played by Kristin Scott Thomas) emote with the intensity of a potato. It’s a revenge story confused by beautifully lit dream sequences-of-sorts, but the overarching and heavy-handed motif (you guessed it, that only God forgives, and that police Lt. Chang [Vithaya Pansringram] is that somewhat but not terribly forgiving God) coupled with the endless array of blank faces renders this emotionally inert. Regardless, I’d still applaud Refn for pursuing what I assume are artistic curiosities he’s harbored for a while. Strange as this film may be, it’s probably worth seeing, then considering, then reconsidering.
Pacific Rim (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2013): I wasn’t really expecting Starship Troopers-lite, instead thinking this would be a gritty yet silly examination of what the world might be like under constant attack of sea-emerging hellbeasts. But unlike Starship Troopers, this has no satire, unless you consider the riffing of every conceivable action flick cliché to be satire. Personally, I don’t even think it’s droll. Hard to tell what del Toro was aiming for, but he’s a better director than this unimaginative script, and Charlie Day is funnier than his oft-annoying super-nerdy scientific persona allows.
The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance, 2013): If you’re okay with having a bit of mystery in your life, ditch this movie after Bradley Cooper’s chapter. A film divided into three acts, it first features biker sideshow stuntman Luke Glanton (Gosling), who decides to use his riding skills to rob banks when he can’t provide enough cash for his accidental family. Killed by officer Avery Cross (Cooper), it then switches to the policeman coming to grips with what he’s done and witnessing firsthand police corruption of a kind to which he’s morally opposed but ultimately uses to his own advantage. There’s plenty of detail to fill in the gaps, but what’s unnecessary is the third act, in which Glanton and Cross’s kids become best buds and wind up in a predictable predicament. There’s a magical feeling to this film in Gosling’s opening feature, grounded in reality when Cooper comes center stage, and comes damn close to being destroyed when the children take the spotlight.
The Wolf of Wall Street (dir. Martin Scorcese, 2013): So yes, Leo deserves an Oscar. This three-hour tour-de-force sees Jordan Belfort instantly turn into a sleazy penny stock dealer who starts a company with a bunch of riffraff, going on to launder more money than any sane human would know what to do with. The film’s too long to summarize any more effectively than that, at least not in a single paragraph, but what should really be said is that Scorcese’s signature tropes (leading man narration, the rise and fall of empire) are employed exceptionally well, and the all-star cast—including an unlikely performance from Jonah Hill—surprises to no end. A film that truly provokes you to consider just what these wolves in NYC are up to.