Monday, January 18, 2010

Current Sins of Sinema

I didn't like The Book of Eli trailer much; did I need another post-apocalyptic tale set in a familiar looking world already well trodden by Sergio Martino's 2019: After the Fall of New York, I Am Legend, The Road Warrior, The Road, A Boy and His Dog (which the film references directly), and Ravagers (to name a few)?

It's unfair to judge a film by its trailer, right, even though we make decisions based on trailers all the time? It is unfair to filmmakers, but it's not always unfair to ourselves. With so much cinema out there, one has to be somewhat choosy sometimes. Despite that reasoning, I still chose to see this film.

I liked the Hughes Brothers' Menace II Society very much, didn't care for Dead Presidents, was bored with From Hell, and really enjoyed their American Pimp doco; that's one you have to see.

The sincere The Book of Eli, with the ultra-sincere Denzel Washington, started to wash over me about half an hour in. It's been compared to The Road Warrior by critics who either didn't see The Road Warrior or didn't appreciate its many virtues. One major difference between George Miller's masterpiece and this is energy levels. The Road Warrior had energy to burn; Eli sits on its energy supply and never gets up.

It's not a terrible film and it's not without craft, but the desaturated look and cliched bursts of slow motion bury its assets. The action scenes are so self-consciously staged and stale, there's no sense of danger or peril. When a house in the desert is assaulted by gunfire, the camera creeps leisurely towards a spitting Gatling Gun and stops right in front of the exploding barrels, reminding us that this isn't real; if it was, the camera would be destroyed. The lack of freshness is evident in a lengthy fight scene that is lifted directly from Old Boy (I'm sure you know which scene); Washington takes on a gang of desert thugs in a tunnel, triggering fountains of CG blood. Owning up to some of its references, a character whistles Morricone (Once Upon A Time in the West), and a poster of A Boy and his Dog inexplicably hangs on the wall of a decrepit house.

On paper, this probably looked like a post-apocalyptic flick with an edge, that edge being The Book (The Bible) that Eli (Washington) is carrying and how the prospect of it falling into the wrong hands will spell doom for mankind. Well, there's not much Mankind left to doom here, and Eli just gets annoying after a while; he's such a smug cunt. Gary Oldman, playing a slightly toned down version of his 'Stansfield' character in Leon, is merely passable as the man who wants the book that Eli holds. There is an attempt to wedge a female (Mila Kunis) into the proceedings, but it is a contrived, desperate attempt, and it hurts the movie.

A couple of revelations pop up at the end, and one of them is rather ridiculous. The other is acceptable.

Ultimately, Washington's Eli is too much of a Nobody to command our attention. When Eastwood played Nobodies and Men With No Names, he always carried a dry sense of humor and unholstered it when necessary. Washinton's Eli carries no such weapon. He wears oh-so-meaningful sincerity around his neck, and it's dull.

This Jason Reitman film has been the mainstream cause celebre this year, and last night it won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, ousting The Hurt Locker, which was my pick.
Up in the Air
is a perfectly pleasant film with a perfectly predictable lead performance by George Clooney. I enjoyed the experience of watching it without enjoying anything beyond that. That's why I came away from it feeling nonplussed. I did, however, respect the way the writers chose to wrap things up. Although I saw a particular revelation coming, the concluding pieces of Clooney's character's journey felt natural.

Worth seeing.

Life is compromise. In that spirit, I accompanied my romantic other to this awful pile of shit. Meryl Streep plays a divorcee who was once married to a serial killer/rapist (Alec Baldwin). Baldwin is just out of jail for his life of crime, and decides to get back with Streep in order to get intimate and incestuous with his teenage daughter. Unfortunately for him, Streep is dating Steve Martin, a reformed drug trafficker who's secretly screwing the daughter (who has a killer heroin habit). Can't say I wasn't pleasantly surprised and invigorated by this plot. From a studio?

I must confess that only the first sentence in the above paragraph is true. The rest is where the movie could have headed, but it chose the boring route instead. In truth, the film is about a divorcee (Streep) who has an affair with her cheating (is there any other?) ex-husband (Baldwin). At the same time, Steve Martin (a boring architect with a plastic face) is trying to get into her pants. In fact, everybody is trying to get into Streep's pants in this flick. I'm not sure guys in the audience were quite as keen. We're supposed to find it entertaining that Streep see-saws between Martin and Baldwin and fucks Baldwin a lot while in the process of deciding. After a while, it became excruciating watching her.

The film runs way too long and populates its frames with annoying teenagers and spoilt twentysomethings so boring, I couldn't figure out why Streep didn't post-abort the lot of them.

Where are the more realistic movies where guys leave their wives because their wives are boring?

Recommended if you're undecided.

Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, which won a major prize at Cannes in 2009, is an intelligent, disturbing, slow paced drama about the genesis of evil (pre-World War I). Its small town setting is a microcosm for Germany, and each character represents a larger social and political group.

To avoid spoilers, the less I say about it the better. It is the first from Haneke since his Funny Games remake and it's it's totally involving, beautifully acted, and shot in stunning black and white.

Let it bleed all over you.


  1. When I read your line about "more realistic movies," it made me want to rip your eyeballs out and feed them to my dog. But then I watched your "trailer." I had a good laugh, and didn't loathe you quite so much.

  2. Anonymous -- thanks for stopping by (despite your best intentions!)

  3. Too bad they didn't hit you up to write the screenplay for It's Complicated. It sounds more abhorrent than I imagined from the TV spots.

    Your description of Eli makes it seem deadly boring, and for me there is no greater sin for an action film than to be boring. It also sounds like it's been touched by the Tarantino virus, where a game of "spot the reference" is what's supposed to keep the intelligent viewer in his seat rather than strong writing or good ole entertainment value.

  4. d -- spot on. Lots of spot-the-reference. 'Complicated' was an abhorrent sins.

  5. You sit through 'em so we don't have to.

    I had no intention of seeing the Baldwin Streep thing; the poster alone made me cross the street to avoid, as sure as if it had a 'Hazchem' warning label plastered across it.

    But then, the ladies seem to need that type of thing.

    (to be fair, some work OK; "Somethings Gotta Give"- although no classic- was perfectly serviceable. Anything with Hugh Grant gets an enormous amount of leeway, and if he just sticks to his doe-eyed schtick- his stranger in a strange land routine- I am happy enough.)

    Maybe I don't ask much from certain movies these days. If I want class, I know what to choose. The history of cinema is littered with class. If I want junk...

    I finally watched 'Friday 13th' remake after many warnings not to; I thought it was better than the original. I think the original is grossly overrated, albeit influential. I don't know what people want from such a thing...Jason turned up, slaughtered a number of objectionable youths in unpleasant ways, then went away. I don't need much more from a 'Friday 13th' remake. Just like, I guess, I never expect much from most of the chick flicks. Give the people what they want...)

    So...I guess I avoid the cinema, & watch my DVD's. At least there, I can puke in the privacy of my own home. I walked along 42nd street recently, and of course all the vomitoriums are gone. Or are they? Are the cinemas playing the above stuff the new vomitoriums?

    In any case, I find at home, for some reason, my dissapointments are far less. I trawl the bargain bins for stuff, & find many buried treasures. My dissapointments at home are few and far between. Is that the quality of the films, or my lowered expectations? Or the venue? I have no idea. But I loathe the cinema experience nowadays, & love the home theatre experience so much more.

    I watched "Flash Gordon" the other day, and the film is OK, but what really trumped the experience was Mr Hodge's interview and commentary. The thrill of his gems of wisdom far outstrip any magic I have felt in the theatre in the last ten years.

    This is the world the powers that be in charge of entertainment have made...for many...

    But good or bad, I get the feeling you still get a kick out of the theatre experience.


  6. Im waiting for Book of Eli on DVD, cause I like religious themed movies (specially when they bash religion) and I love end of the world movies (when they are done well).

    I agree with you, there are way too many "end of the world" movies out there, hell, one is being released simultaniously with this one! Im talking of The Road, which looks to me like it will be superior to Eli.

    Post apocalyptic movies are the same as zombie movies, they reemerge every ten years or zone. And they dissapear when they are done to death.

  7. mandingo -- you make a very good point about FRIDAY THE 13TH. I also think the original is overrated, which is why I wasn't against the remake. For God's sake, it's not like they're remaking a cinematic treasure; it's nostalgia, and there are sentimental reasons for the reverence attached to it.

    I felt the same way with the LAST HOUSE remake. I liked the remake a lot aside from the stupid ending).

    Yes, perhaps I do see these films so you don't have to, but I can't say I enjoy the cinema experience too much these days. The use of phones during the movie is proving too much for me. Such disrespect -- for other audience members and the movie.

    Films like FRIDAY are playing at mainstream mulitplexes now.


    TFC -- yep, it's a cycle. And they will disappear. I'm sure we're due for the next cycle. Werewolves perhaps?