Homage or remake, Hateful Eight has grandmaster Tarantino in a reductionist frame of mind, somewhere between Sleuth and Deathtrap rather than the film he's consciously trying to ape (also another film set in 70mm on release), John Carpenter's The Thing. The plot is mercenary whodunit, the patron saint of the spoiler, that fumes into projectile bloodbath. Framed in the insanity of Ultra Panavision (the only anamorphic boost of widescreen), this dark chamber pot has all the pieces but not the connectionist constructions Tarantino used to be known for. Despite the airtight plan for the takeover of Minnie's, visually built out of brilliant touches like the door missing its latch, the candle Tim Roth's Oswaldo Mobray lights to set the stage, plot leaks sprout up everywhere. Maybe we'd excuse Major Warren's late remembrance of Minnie's anti-Mexican maxim that sets off the whole explosive ending, but impossible to ignore is the Daisy Domergue backstory hide-and-seek that's played with the audience. It's meant to be a sleight of hand rendered real by sexism in an overarching framework of racial fear, but we're in 2016. We know women can be dangerous, and anyone with a 10K beheading fee takeaway has got to be a little dangerous. We're supposed to believe two hard-nosed bounty hunters let their guards down long enough to miss clues that lead to their demise. Hiding her and her gang's history from us amidst all the bullshitting that's going on is a poor play for interference. And that's how the film tailspins. We're conscious to the mechanical distraction once the big reveal happens, we can tell the magician is working too hard to call our attention away from the lady in question just to hide the Domergue Gang's history. Sure it's got the misidentified villain, the only death before the intermission curtain is the one 'innocent': the sole survivor of the slaughter at Minnie's (a fair distraction from the real danger). But that's just like the 'ignoring miss Daisy' routine we've been spoonfed, just like all the lies and deceptions these boys practice. Lincoln-penned letters, hangman milleu, diaries of a cowpoke, etc. all are bags of tricks we've become accustomed to. Props for a play within a filmed play. Compare it to the razor-edge fears of The Thing, where anyone can be anything, and the reveal of Blair as infected let's us backdate his clues as coming not from a human, but from an alien planting effective tools to tear apart the remaining humans: his diary, his warning about Clarke, his booze-soaked destruction of the base's radio; even his 'post-mortem' lecture about the remains keep us confused as to who is and who isn't. We need another point of ruse from Tarantino, not this same old/same old. A pity this chance for an optical high point was abused for filming a 3 hour Playhouse 90 remake of the far more cinematic Resevoir Dogs. Note to Robert Richardson: please stop beaming miraculous skylight onto tables because you're too lazy to create realistic fill.
Goodbyes to the Ziegfeld, the east coast's great cultural beacon of cinematic language, 1969-2016. From the G-rated/1975 pot scent filtering from the loge's smoking section (yes, there used to be smoking sections in movies) during semi-perennial re-release Fantasia, to the might-have-been closing film Hateful Eight (a fitting end: taken over by Disney's Force Awakens), this post-roadshow movie palace transported moviegoers to the best alternate realities: Close Encounters, Cabaret, Barry Lyndon, Apocalypse Now, Inglorious Basterds, Episodes I-III all premiered here. Raiders, Episodes IV-VI Sp. Ed., Vertigo, Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, Blade Runner, even Jaws and On Her Majesty's Secret Service all revived here for brief moments. All in a 60's faux 1920's gilded box covered in red velvet. Anyone needing a largescale optical fix will have to visit their local Imax.
We can see the film Lucas was going to make. It's hidden in Rey's flashback, turning it into spoiler milleu. How do we know? Arndt tells us weaving Luke into the tale was too difficult...and that's what the flashback is really about. How maybe Rey, certainly Ben knew Luke...the writers employ the oldest soap opera trope in the manual: amnesia. That's the film's key trope: risk-free storytelling convention.
To Abrams credit, he's solved a central problem in blockbuster technology, he's proven you can launch a series with mysterious characters, never reveal who they are, and make even better money... forcing the audience to return for the clues in the dialogue.
(Spoilers). For The Force Awakens, it's medieval passion play meets serial TV (2nd generation Obergammerau, the annually repeated Christian retelling in rural Germany, by way of Alias). Though it feels experimental at points, like a Bond film revealing the identity of Bond at the film's end, Awakens never centers the myth. The story's needlessly rushed to hide all the plot holes that might really bother people (and enough fist pumping to sound like a corporate retreat gone haywire). It becomes apparent quickly that Abrams and Kasdan have opted for a 'greatest hits' compilation instead of carefully assembling a conceptual engine for the new trilogy. Problem number one: they take Lucas and his tales at face-value. They think the depth in everything Star Wars is limited to plot detail, not motivation. They're creators of movies, not mythology, their aspiration is out-doing set-pieces not increasingly calibrating emotions by juxtaposition. It doesn't matter to them why a religious figure like Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael), just that he was about to. They treat the plot as fait accompli until explanations become absolutely necessary to make sense of it. That's what theactors are hired for: to deliver the plot like newsreaders. It's all a big gloss. The dialogue isn't their only problem: everyone's winking at each other, the actors seem all in on the joke (Rey smirks at Finn's guise yet she has no real reason to) even as they try their best faces at solemnity. To the actors Abrams seems to be coaxing: "Remember, you're all mysteries, and though we know that Adam, you're Han and Leia's son, the audience has no idea what happened between the three of you and Luke. I'll leave that out of the plot and keep them guessing." With all that mayhem hiding backstory, the audience comes out winded, thinking that's what exaltation feels like? Here heroes are born, they aren't made. An off-the-shelf mythos.
In a huge departure from the Lucas myth, the spoken word has lost it's paradoxical subtitling effect, here speech is just banter and noun-filler for exposition. (Vader's solemn 'the circle is now complete' statement in Star Wars is not only a metaphor for the story, is quite literally physical, as they're within a just completed Death Star. Abrams and Kasdan trade the complexity Lucas obssessively crafted for brute force symbols like light and dark). And because they're cipers, new characters make little deep impression, they're all lightly sketched, waiting for someone to fill in myriad blank expressions. Spunky Rey (Daisy Ridley) is Luke's heir(ess), they give her the full brunt of battle, she's a wiz with weapons and spaceships all within a few days (how?=THE FORCE AWAKENS). FN-2187 gets named as Finn, is the stormtrooper that couldn't, he's a neurotic deserter. Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo) is the wannabee baddie, and we know he's just a poseur when he takes off his elective, voice distorting helmet, a personal homage to original bad-guy Vader. That they're obviously mirrors of each other (no one is their real name) is only affectation. They're the new protagonists for the mythology, and they're so similar to the updates of Kirk, Spock etc. in his Star Trek redo that we cringe. These three don't seem fated to their adventure, they're fans of the myth. With hearts on their sleeves, they behave more like candidates for a past lives therapy retreat; or they could be cosplayers practically picked off the street, given wide-berths to let their Star Wars fantasies roam. That's what gives the film a certain new-agey ring to it (only Ridley hints at chops rising above the role-play, in British thespian pout mode, she plays the Leia we missed out on in ROTJ: why wasn't Luke's sister/Vader's daughter allowed at the mayhem in front of the Emperor?). This intentional neuroses is a brilliant touch of Abrams, this is his master-stroke, he puts the whole audience in the driver's seat emotionally by stressing the heroes out, letting the women role-play a mind trick in the middle of it.
The problems stem from Abrams's belief myth comes from secret backstories and shocking outcomes. Like the wagon-trail mythology he evaded in Star Trek, he runs over the carefully plotted Star Wars opera and brings a televisionary run-on sentence to the emotional effects of woven myth. Lucas made 'A' stories hiding in B-movie constructs ("The Phantom Menace") here the switch is on: an 'A' facade hides a low-grade pulp B plot in Awakens. Added to it is a high-minded PC veil overtaking the film on arrival at the new fangled cantina bar, repurposed as a kind of decision-crossroads. It's here Lucas's paradoxical mythology is finally abandoned. The depth/contrast triangulation between character, action and setting vanishes into a 3-D perceptual depth that can't make up for it. The soap opera traded for space opera becomes a momentary National Lampoon Vacation film at the cantina run by Maz, a kind of proto-Yoda, Matrix Oracle hybrid. Skipping over Leia, the female force has finally arrived in the link between Maz and Rey but it's all a big secret. Her palatial establishment, an interior doomed to be replicated as a theme-park eatery, more resembles a stopping point in an RPG, and it behaves like one, we pan through it like a cut-scene. And like any game: it's an all-purpose place for about-facing the way players test gaming outcomes. It's here the young leads split-up non sensically, a deus ex washing machina. The saloon's keeper, Maz, 'somehow' knows more about the plot than anybody else in the film, but she keeps her mouth shut, offering only cheap fortune cookie advice - more withholding from the writers: amnesiac style. And it's here that Abrams's perennial mystery box jimmies it's way into the plot - now anything goes.
Placing Rey square in the center of a whatsit, and not a knowsit, Abrams forces the audience to guess: it's the kind of tale-pivot that behaves more like a spinning wheel than a mythic plot. Were Rey and Ben trained separately? Is Rey a stop-gap measure? Another midichlorian repository like Anakin? How does Rey see the locale of a Vader-Luke duel? How does she fantasize about Luke's hiding place? (in a film of exponential coincidences, how can Kenobi and a Solo heir both have the same first name? Answer: it's a low cost way of making the Solo heir a convenient mirror to Kenobi...the makers don't show this, that's too difficult for them, they just wink at us). The real film sits in the Rey-Ben backstory, yet Abrams has discarded the next-gen story for a mere reconstruction of Episode IV. And that's the difference between baby boomers like Lucas and the Gen Xers like Abrams. Lucas solved his storytelling issues by showing you everything, but not explaining them. Letting the audience figure it out, if they want to. He answers their very distant questions outside of the film, even giving answers with multiple outcomes, discrete variables with apparently throw-away plotlines creating the real framing of the myth (a kind of an anonymous story within mythology). He's a weaver in the traditional origin of visual narrative. For a closer look, explore the story of Darth Plagueis in Lucas's ROTSITH.
Abrams tacks opposite, he calls attention to the mystery, as if it's a maze with only one solution (just like the nonsensical route to Luke's hiding place: all you really need is a point on a map, not a trail). He negates the mythic effect of the film by aiming us for closure (not in this film, in the next; the witholding delay heightens the internet's awareness of authorial control; the spoiler is a divergence-device turning us away from the blockbuster-screen back to reality). Myths don't hinge around explanations, they come to life in interpretation. Yet Abrams doesn't know this, he spends the film showing us scant details, then throws a spotlight under Rey's 30 second vision and subtitles it: Pay attention, you slobs, this is the most important information in the entire film. And then he (or Rian Johnson - is he listening?) gets to choose exactly what it means. The benefit of writing a memory-lacking orphan into a mythology is the audience has no idea who she really is, if you want to have a mooring, you just guess. And that's what's called a spoiler, where our tales are now. We're in what you might call the desert of the SPOILER. Where Plaguesis was a background mystery, Rey is the key to the entire film(s). She, like any spoiler, is just an "X". Part of a binary code. One of many. (Spoilers reveal filmmaking as a kind of proto-A.I., in this case one not very interesting). Whereas background suits the woven system of Lucas's, Abrams plays his variables with characters front and center, everything else, his new version of the myth, is throwaway. He's constructing a literal version of what Lucas made hazy, ghostlike. Lucas's weird vs. Abrams's rational. Take your pick.
And another flipmode that Abrams and team deliver to the strwrs_sys is the demoting the heroes to ordinary, all who default into self-congratulation. And maybe he's got a point, that's the millenial spirit. Lucas's heroes were confident, these are scared-stiff. The neurotic children of the saviours. Their battle is against parents, not planets, that's the revelatory program. Finn's battle is against his 'parent,' the First Order. Kylo fights his parents, while longing for his grandfather's glory. Is Rey (hah - ray of light - creepy Indo_european centered symbolism) a reversal too, a Sith offspring? Grafting parental war out of mysteries...there were plenty of Othos for every Augustus, can they warrant a visual change in optics, their stories of conflict? Remember that Anakin fought a brother figure that segued to father in contrast to his far more elderly Sith father-figure; Lucas created relative conflicts that only appeared simplistic. On second and third glances, the complexities reveal themselves.
Out of left-field, the new twenty year-olds have endless tantrums. There's something slightly bipolar about their behavior since the reactions seem abrupt (see Drama of the Gifted Child). Worse, they do get what they really want, after throwing fits about their fears and insecurities; mentally, Abrams has carefully engineered the film for current-day telephonic 20 year olds. It's their Star Wars, finally, an anxiety-ridden, high-octane, adult-leaning fable swiped from kid's hands. An ur-Lucasfilm for the post-Transformer generation that also manages to rope in the GenX with the sheen of nostalgia; in all, a remarkably perfect marketing strategy (yet it forces shock-counselling for the non-targets, the pre-teens Abrams abandoned; fathers take their children and have to face the aftermath explanation: eyewitnesses to a son killing a father). Sure it's amplified from the master-apprentice duels of earlier SW films, but is it psychic? No way, it's just a large-scale mirror, a piece of evidence for sociology papers in 2100 AD. With no fleshed out conflict, Han's death is far from Oedipal. It's nearly stagnant. He dies taboo (a son who doesn't want to replace his dad), Han is killed for only vague mysteries... meanings his son doesn't seem too sure about... light and dark? divorce and inability to commit? For letting Luke train him? for picking Rey over him? Death by his estranged son who was "sent away" by his parents, was he rejected by both his uncle and his father? The movie veers so steeply into cheap, withheld soap-opera, the audience should be tuning in next week like any old Lost episode but instead they'll wait their two years as obedient consumers.
By grafting parts of their ideas to Lucas's to hone the conflict for millenials they create an effective audience venn-sandwich three generations deep. They bridge the wisdom of baby boomers (discrete linear narrative) to present-day millenials (literal hypertext narrative). Problem is, they're aiming for a slightly older crowd than Lucas did; this is no longer kid-friendly fare (blood is now continuous), instead this aims for teenagers (ie: the people now in their 20s... of all ages). And that's the naked reveal of the switch between regimes, we start to miss the old trilogies, clunky as they seemed: Lucas built complex cinematics with a child-like mind (like Disney), Abrams forces chaos like a teenager rattling off events. Adults can still synch with teenage-level rage, that's what's here, but not with child-level rage that defined the Prequels or Original Trilogies. The plot is quick an' easy, just like swiping your phone at a roadside express mart, instead of intricate and cerebral made simplistic. Get abducted? Try the Force, it always helps.
Lucas was interested in testing the litmus between good and evil, and successfully built films with multiple levels of both per character, he was moving fast past biblical-koranic-talmudic codes. Here, the son is dispatched to evil as a banishment in an act out of basic, uncontrollable animal rage. A veer to 10 on the emotional V.U. we'll have to forgive him for just before he's dispatched in number nine (no doubt before Luke has to redemonstrate the prone behavior of true heroes - call this a reboot of the whole original trilogy). This is a descent into pre-biblical logic. There's no mythic connection to the act (yet, but that's the new format). This isn't a step forwards in the spiritual attainment of the series, it's a droop to the ground of simian violence. Worse, Abrams adds the film's most overwrought framing to cap off Han's death, romantic frosting on a quietly pitiful moment. Here the emotional hook is violent, Lucas's goal was bonded closure. It's inadvertantly a fantasy gift to all the Adam Lanzas in the audience, glorifying and vilifying all at once, and it's what we shrink from unconsiously, knowing it's not an act in an immense fabric, but isolated in a deeply private, interpersonal exchange between mother, son and father: almost anonymous violence that cannot be stopped. Weirdly glorified in slow motion. And it's the kind we read about each day.
And Lucas's caution with death offered a logic that served victor, loser and audience. You can't hate momentary villains like Kylo, because they aren't in control of their violence (that's precisely what Lucas-Star Wars is all about: control, especially in violence affording outcomes). You mourn them, pity them. Lucas was a master-builder of a post-mythic potential, a godless world where the apprentice war was slowly becoming outdated (that's what ROTJ was about, a son, liberated from a master, who demonstrated the post master-apprentice world. Luke was finally the evolution out of that system, he was unwilling to fight both his father AND his father's master, that was the key to the future.) Abrams has made everything Lucas created irrelevant. He's flatlanded the heroism without giving it any connection to the villainy.
By giving the darkside no discernable goal outside of low-level rage, control and mayhem, the First Order villains are basically invisible psychically; meaningless. Their behavior is shown to us as unilaterally incoherent (the way the West views Nazis or ISIS). They're not even humorously deranged the way Vader rolled in Empire (the humor came from purposeful rage). And that method was Lucas's subtle seduction. These villains are just stand-ins for some vague idea of evil. And that makes Chapter VII irrelevant. The most obvious metaphor for Han's death is the Abrams-Lucas exchange: Lucas thought he was leaving his story in the hands of a team with mythic aspirations, instead they slay his tale in a coarse effort to reboot it.
Can we fault Abrams or any director who tries to play in the space-opera sandbox? Lucas's myths began with apparent simplicity that was disproved wholesale across all levels in his Prequel Trilogy. Here the myth of Han, Leia and Luke are revealed as true but there's no relationship between the myth and the villains (except, maybe familial violence). They're just amodal, necessary to provide scales of impossibility. Snoke (Andy Serkis) is so clearly a hybrid derived from LOTR/Harry Potter mythos, it now seems baddies trounced in other blockbusters come to Star Wars to get killed again. Strangely, this clash of the Atlantic takes root here. The U.K. myths like Potter feed restorative power to the English castle-structure, it's center, The Star Wars galaxy is about destroying it, robbing the villains of their control. Taking away our center. Adding a Sith on a throne from the Potter mythos is powerfully weird, it's now a battle drawn from the greybeard cultures of LOTR/Harry Potter. Metaphors for the English upper classes battling 'the others' takes root in Star Wars. Star Wars is basically an inter human war against mostly men with British accents, the upper class. You can tell, vestigially, Lucas was about to enter another level of mythmaking: the sons, daughters, orphans of the previous age have to rebuild a new galaxian quest based in lost history verging on legend: how their elders pass the torch composes the outcomes. That's why it's as likely that Rey is Sith, or First Order (she's got the accent and she apparently is phased into the theme of fighting-your-parents).
The visuals stress the physical aspects of the production at the expense of the digital, a reactionary anti-technophilia that humiliates the genre and wraps it in nostalgia. That's the worse sin of any movie, making us desire the past back in a swing for the hills analogue, filmed in 35MM and polished in digital forms of all outputs, but the effect is gimmicky. It's an either/or conflict that constrains the film's imagery. The resistance base seems puny, the freighter Han pilots endless. Major set-pieces are a slightly improved lot from their previous testing ground in the Star Trek films. Though the action at times works, there's more tension building between events. A kind of "what fits here" cognitive game pops every time we find a calm before the storm. Can't wait for the Treverrow finale (#9). Best format to see it in? The 2-D Imax Domes or the exquisite Dolby Cinema/Atmos theaters (also 2-D). Avoid the latter if you hate bass.
Colin Treverrow's Jurassic World returns the mighty hand of the Kennedy/Marshall/Spielberg peak decade of Amblin. The themes are recurrent and so are the steady readmissions that shot this one to number three on the all-time domestic list. Siblings band together to face divorce and death defying events (see E.T. through War of the Worlds). Here the romantic leads carry their threads across other plot points, no less absurd than any other film this summer, yet deadpan is nimbly alternated with hysteria, like an RKO 1930s adventure, and the film never let's off. Unlike every other film this year made in U.S.A., World pushes a very smart visual plot that it doesn't have to explain. Droll teens try playing it straight; heroic outlier does the scowl of wisdom; villainous privateer his smirk; by the numbers Jane tries her hand at fun, finally the Billionaire fantasist goes out on a phoenix note. All get their five to twenty minutes of emotional resonance, and however diagrammed it is, Treverrow manages to convince us not to hate the archetypes, he's a humanizer; no one is mean for means sake. It's more under the surface romantic than even Spielberg, with divorcing parents getting one last postcard in before the credits roll. Treverrow's generous to characters, nothing is in itself threatening because we're taught through the basic biological tale. Death is pointed, not abstract, and continual. And the on other side of the glass, he manages to instill a slight amount of characterization to the dinosaurs. "You can see it in their eyes." says billionaire Masrani, and we can. They behave, at moments, cognitively. And they communicate. The Jaffa/Silver pairing naturally follows the retooling of Apes, here suddenly aware and subtly realized prehistoric reptiles work in coordinated ways, and Treverrow and his team instinctually know how to build it without lecturing or explaining us to sleep. From the film's opening pairing, we're offered baby dino talons breaking through an egg followed by a super macro of bird's feet thunderously slamming on snow. Visuals make the case; gesturally he's got the Spielberg deontic down, maybe a little too eerily. The optical geography is controlled: when he's offered a cookie-cutter moment, Treverrow manages break the visual mold. Coming across a discarded tracking pinger, a group of sacrificial Dino containment guards are picked off ingeniously until the camouflaged gigantor finally pops into frame.
When Hammond successor Masrani takes a good look at his Indominus Rex, he realizes it's chameleon-like "You didn't tell me it's white*." (we never really see it being white). Cut to a hazy, defocused Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose ghostly face materializes in the security glass's reflection doing her best coy-girl offering "is that bad?" and we've just been cued to the buried motif: the monster under this all is the white-girl. Her spreadsheet efficiency, servicing the goals for more of everything. She's the mirror to this monster. (Later on ghost stories are retold). Clever visuals punctuate the story non-stop; I-rex puncturing its eggshell with tiny talons flips later when the fully grown one pierces a lexan transporting sphere.
And that's why this is the best film of the year. It's visually orchestrated. You take any of the best Marvel, it's still a jumbled mess visually, the hideous potpurri everyone gets at the holidays. Here the metaphors get locked in a progressive pattern. The first full screen glance at the unleashed I-rex's jaws is juxtaposed against the familiar logo's T-rex, on a jeep's door, turned upside down and black and white. Anyone wanna guess what that means metaphorically?* Action is built out of descriptive structure rather than the typical explanatory lecture that afflicts blockbusters nowadays. A junk food crunching watchman is crunched himself seconds later, every act has its follow-up, it's the clever rube goldberg yellow-pages of kinetic antics Spielberg can deliver, now somehow coming out of a late protogee gangbusters. He's learned his lesson well, the audience wants a laugh. So he does to World what Carl Gottlieb brought to Jaws. A sense of humor. When meeting Claire, we see her reciting descriptions of the people she's about to meet. It's a snippet tour de force, duplicating what we're doing with her: she describes the impending two men by their appearance and the lone woman by her experience, she subtitles advice she'd never tell her to her face: "Deserves more." Another direct look in the mirror. Here's the student it took Spielberg three decades to find, and he comes with the master's comparative skills down cold. The elder teen has the biggest arc; he says goodbye to his girlfriend who's a dead-ringer for his mom, then he spends the film eyeing other girls at the theme park, triggering his brother's fears of the divorce. Cleverly we're shown dad's probable behavior triggering their split through his son's. Then the brothers go rogue, sacking domestic anxiety for thrilling fear, leading them to an Indiana Jones-level decipherment scene from Jurassic Park (a film-set posing as a never used theme park - the kids are like Treverrow - students of his: this is gonzo media archeaology at play); the ruins are Park's climax Lobby. They reverently touch an image of a raptor, offering it like a religious icon to two modes of memories. Using a plastic dino bone, for a torch, they set fire to the banner that ended Jurassic Park; later they'll hurl a pressurized air tank, a la Jaws, at pursuing Raptors. For a finale, the triumphal T regains the view from the same spot villain Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) did mid-second act. The whole flick spouts visual structure and breakneck characterization, more so than even the series's first film. The star here is the genetic hybrid, the mosaically defined Indominus Rex, who always seems to have a plan running. Worse than any reptile, the I-Rex (clever, aint they) plays Jurassic World as slaughter videogame, inflicting maximum carnage by prompting the zoo to revolt, only to have the zookeepers and members restore order as a team. It's a dark tale told swift enough, nobody has to fell the weight of its choices. Corporate abuse, rank commercialization and environmental issues play the greek chorus of warning, but it's mostly ignored. Why? We know a sequel is inevitable to a film this tight, those warnings are all directed to the moviegoers, challenging them to ignore the dual corporate/studio-speak mantra: the audience always wants bigger things...and besides, the sub-rosa monster chick has escaped. She's just paired off with the film's hero. She'll be back for more carnage they'll both be taming. Jurassic Park defined the digital age, and heir this is the heir that bends analog just enough to scare. It's got the nightmare down, laughing at it and with it.
The tepid message-ism of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes starts with its title. Dawn comes after Rise? The context of both labels mislead in their order. In the tale's mythology, ape rule is inevitable, so why not impart something to the mysterious nature of great titles? It doesn't have to be cubist ("March of the Planet of the Apes"), just don't take a step backwards in the definition. Unlike it's dementedly off-kilter predecessor, Rupert Wyatt's zany and affecting Rise, Matt Reeve's Dawn is strictly rote. It's practically a checklist disguised as blockbuster. Undeveloped human characters are passed onto the audience as underdeveloped, muted while an absurd game of connect the dots is played through a series of linear, contrived grand gestures. As the ultimate film of the twitterverse, Dawn wants its thematic potential reduced to blank stare messages: guns are bad, hate is bad. This is the ultimate blockbuster of the PC-era, aimed directly at our 2nd amendment conflicts. And it overtakes our understanding of the apes, transitioning them from complex to noble. All is sacred yet no sacrifice occurs to validate it. That's the diffusion, when the political issues of our era's are grafted onto the holistic ones of the film's, projecting our simple conflicts onto their future 'complexity.' The worst part of the film's mythology is Ceasar hasn't learned his lesson, in fact he's regressed. Maybe the inetlligence drug stopped working (that'd be too subtle a jab at the new Bourne era). The most stifling realization is Ceasar doesn't seem to be the same chimp we last met walking into Muir Woods "ten" years ago, this isn't the brilliant adapter-adopter who chessmoved his way out of Brian Cox's grips. Ceasar's devolved to concilliator and his take on humans verges on 'plain dumb' or 'real-stupid.' He under-reacts to the shooting of a fellow chimp (mechanically so the script can evince rebellion within), then marches his whole gunless brigade to confront heavily armed humans in their hangout in a decrepit San Fran. The brilliant strategist who outlasted corporatocracy and animal welfare imprisonment in Rise walks into the crosshairs apparently hoping the absurdity of a chimp on horseback might stun the audience. His bargaining chip? A dropped back-pack. Jason Clarke, fumbling after his suave torture style in ZD30 can't seem to decide if he's suicidal or overconcerned father (he's both: a split-personality that doesn't register). Which character decides in nearby breaths that his teenage son has "seen too much" then capitulates when the teen wants to join his dad on what appears to be a suicide mission back to the ape's homeland? Sure, logic is never a foregone conclusion in blockbusters, but here, the story is served only with cherries and no true villains (leaden sarcasm: how modern). Of course nothing is purely realistic in film events, but the reality building has to have enough internal paradoxes so we can look easily past contrivance. Here, there's no main course. No appetizer. No one to root for, no one to revile. No pleasure, just messaging. Even reality TV can clumsily manufacture personalities, here we're in 70s realism redux, only Reeves has no tricks to let us emote. Moments feel like bravura museum dioramas of these same events. They flash by. It looks like the exhibit Anthropocene, late decline. And dioramas by their nature condense the most simplistic essence of the occurence. This is an anti-human, anthropocene warning nightmare, without an emotional overhadow. Just plot turns in search of emotions that can't keep any logical flow. Each decision only serves a purpose for a moment and then it's gone, each turn of the plot functions at what seems to be an entirely different emotional horizon. And because the characters are so minimal, so glacial, their interconnections are largely gear-like, stiff, written only into dialogue, not evoked visually. The dam's trigger-happy engineer, a laughably forgettable character, shoots off his gun in the first scenes and then, on the second trip north, he's handed a gun as if the first scene never occurred. In what movie-logic do you rearm the guy that almost started a war of annihilation? Answer, in this movie, where anything goes if it makes humans look foolish and yet there's no clear-cut villains or heroes to receive the overspill. That's the dunderheadedness of Blockbuster 3.0 (or is this 4.1?), a return to the film rhetoric of the late fifties/early sixties, the return of the Stanley Kramer 'message-picture.' How's it work? Reduce the emotions to words, pretend it's real.
Despite the dour pedagogy peddled, it's must see for the effects alone, as it's filmed in true 3-D.
This taut exercise in Blockbuster reductionism-revisionism is the best film of the summer. Actors and gestures of the golden age of blockbusters meet their younger generation in flip-mode. Aliens's Bill Paxton graduates from grunt to sarge (the squad seems cloned private by private from the Sulaco's), while usual leader-like Cruise enters cowardly, praying he'll just survive the day. Restaging Normandy starring Joan of Arc over and over even loads a perverse comment on the immutability of anniversaries by way of timelessness. Here everyday is D-day. Edge's Joan is Rita, a name copped from Groundhog Day inhabited by an actor from a recent looping film, Emily Blunt, who managed to avoid any loops in Looper. Here in Tomorrow she's a recent looper herself. Although the filmmakers keep the plot as simple as possible, they let the overlap and gaps in the repeat let us fill in the blanks for much of the film. Certain mutations are seen on their first go around, others on the umpteenth, and that's how the weaving gets us, we don't know where we are in the loop numbers (and neither do the other actors). We're in Cruise's Private Cage's drama, whose keeping some kind of headcount, it's his 'film.' Unexplained arrivals are left just that, that's where the film's magic sits. When we piece together the logic, the audience guesses Cage can't succeed unless he goes off-the-grid: the humans (likewise us audience members at first) don't have the imagination to realize Cage's value vs. the alien Mimics inability to use the gift of their own being, and maybe the human adds the transporting, multiverse simultaneity. Maybe it's something about the infection: Cruise is bathed in mimic blood causing a human trigger, the dna, the cell life of his begins a repeating as a chain reaction of the poisonous meeting between both's composition, a 'broadcast' (remember, everyone who repeats is shown only in his proximity...his 'aura' is sustaining this new path). The resultant contrast, how Cage is treated on arrival at the first lair (far behind enemy lines, also involves a liquid, though it's Cage who chooses his, he drowns himself instead of allowing the Mimics to drain a slow death) contrasted against the hunt on him and her after stealing a choice weapon: Liman's stating pretty bluntly that innovation has enemies on both sides. Realizes the in-between is the only smart place to fight a war of time from.The Mimics feint their head honcho as a lure, it's their stopgap that Cage barely grasps the set-up in time. These touches like the Dam-lure verge on abstraction proving Liman's ability to slide underexplained phenomena into what seems to be a pretty straight story (despite the daily loop, the narrative pretends to be videogame simplistic). Creativity is about riding a particulary dangerous edge with unlimited outcomes. The best part is the cake-and-eat-it ending, which plays coldly impossible at first, but slowly worms around in the gray matter pushing a profoundly cinematic impact. The crescendo's Spielberg ape (from the very parallel War of the Worlds) is its funniest homage, you realize Cruise was meant to be reborn. It's some aura he's earned, and now it's more popular in export than stateside.
When will the scourge of 3-D post-conversion be over? This film is FAR SUPERIOR in 2-D.
Addendum: Somebody wrote and asked why Looper was never reviewed here...except in rare cases like Edge, overt time-travel flicks never seem to support their weight in ideas. For all the cleverness in Looper, each chess-move creates far more holes. Go to the basics in the story. If a young looper erases his escaped elderly version by dying (demo'd at the end), why create Old Seth's body-part subtraction game in the second act? Just kill him, right? You're not letting noseless Seth go off to finish out his life. But of course, that erases the film's choice gimmick of messaging-by-scar. Now take the ending at face value: if the 'Rainmaker' was so all-powerful, instead of his focused goal killing loopers in revenge, wouldn't he have just sent a team to head off his mom's death? Time is obviously mutable in the film's logic. The loopers that headline then become sub-plot players in a story centralized later on Mom-saving. The implications there are far more absurd than the play we're shown (and might have lead to a more adventurous film). But Johnson is wedded to his genre-stablizing version, with the self-Oedipal conflict posed by 12 Monkey's Willis vs. Young Joe strung out against a parody of Matrix-like 20th century crime tropes. Imagine a showdown using four timeframes converging instead of the three we're shown. That's the loop we should have seen breaking. A son that didn't need saving against a backdrop of two versions of the same person fighting for an identity, one of whom wanted to save that son. There's a far nuttier movie hiding in the dry logic of Looper. And beyond plot and structure, there's the retrograde females in the film: strippers, mothers, waitresses and idealized saviors. That's the residual effects of Lynch on the generation, a fifties view of gender stuck to millenial anxieties. This isn't Kubrick where women's roles are explored through male collapse, here they're ecclipsed. Johnson has the storytelling skills for the decade, he knows how to build ghastly tension, but his overall approach peels conservative, maybe even nostalgiac. And the trouble is it's both conscious: the time-travel expediency, and unconscious: the calcified gender roles.
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Requires the input of many minds: Ernst Cassirer is one of them
Lee Smolin's great, all over the place pursuit of current theoretical implications in physics (particle, wave, and of course quantum). Smolin edges us towards the possibility "space" is an illusion and that "time" is an evolving word that may house the eventual meaningful measuring of 'now.' Right now though, it seems illusory. His book is more than a clearinghouse of recent research into a pivotal tangent inside physics. It's also a warning that as we destroy mathematics in our physical world, we deform it psychically in parallel realms like academia and worse, media. That by distorting equilibrium to make a buck, we may be proving equilibrium wrong in other fields. From the epilogue:
"Neo-classical economics conceptualizes economics as path-independent. An efficient market is path-independent, as is a market with a single, stable equilibrium. In a path-independent system, it should be impossible to make money purely by trading, without producing anything of value. That sort of activity is called arbitrage, and basic financial theory holds that in an efficient market arbitrage is impossible, because everything is already priced in such a way that there are no inconsistencies. You cannot trade dollars for yen, trade those for euros, back for dollars and make a profit. Nonetheless hedge funds and investment banks have made fortunes trading in currency markets. Their success should be impossible in an efficient market, but this does not have seem to have bothered economic theorists."
- pg. 260
What Smolin suggests, without stating, is that our markets are eccentric, they thrive and die on minute eccentricities that traders pounce upon, like tears in reality.
Here's James Gleick's review in NYRB.