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 sit-com seems to descend from this key screwball comedy, a comedy of errors and manners, with switched identities and classes, with a chorus of domestics who provide the narrative mortar. Writer-on-a-fishing trip Aherne shows up looking for a phone to use and is lured into becoming the chauffeur for a daffy, wealthy family who happens to have a senator arriving for dinner. Hal Roach, whose early Our-Gang series provided filler for TV's early open scehdule, delivers a powerhouse comedy to MGM, leading to laughs, box-office and Academy Awards nominations.
The best film released in the U.S. in 2013 was Upstream Color, its runner-up is the gaudy and relentless Welcome to the Space Show (A-1). Produced in 2010, U.S. premiered a Otakon, finally 'released' for a week at IFC Center's GKids Fest, this anime of insane proportions is a witty, impatient visual overload cramming enough updated Disney gags to fill three movies. Unlike Miyazaki's somber, mouth-covered humor, Koji Masunari paces comedy and tragedy and pet-ophilia unevenly (no joke there), but some of the transitions achieve sublime levels. A mythic "Pet Star" remains unseen, while a mystery surrounding the Universe's biggest broadcast, the titular "Space Show" is slowly uncovered by a dog-like alien named Pochi who is found by five young students on a hike searching for their lost pet rabbit in the hills above their school. Quickly things turn crazy as space travel becomes an option and the film's mad dash for conflict delivers split-second sit-com like moments in the middle of what might be the best space opera since Star Wars. Wise beyond its years. Forget about the plasma, this one deserves a theater. And try for the subtitled version.
Best of 2013
Welcome to the Space Show
Room 237 (Rodney Ascher and Tim Kirk's tour de force opens up the next stages of movies: cog-sci)
Bioshock: Infinite / Last of Us (same two archetype pairings fight through landscapes far too cinematic to ignore, not the best vidgames of the year, among the best movies of the year)
The Wind Rises
47 Ronin - a dour, hopeless, antithesis of 2001's Fellowship of the Ring, where in feudal Japan sunlight aides duplicity and darkness reveals it, Ronin strives to evolve past the simplified otherness that's curtailed the blockbuster's psychic growth, but the butchering-by-edit robs most of the set-pieces of their lead-ins, and though the rhythm is obliterated, the probable masterpiece in here still shines at moments. Let's hope Universal sweats out the director's cut for the bluray. Now to the spoilers: You have to remember that Kira fails his first attempt to kill Asano, using the witch's beast, which creates dishonor, destroys harmony, with Kai not being given credit. And it's obvious that Kai is a demon. A penitent demon. Kai (Reeves) is neither the central character nor secondary, he is a major part of an ensemble. The burden he carries isn't merely otherness, it's his identity as part western. The Buddhist/Tengu underworld demon who procures magical swords Kai goes to meet treats him like an son, owed the rites of any challenge. He beats this demon to a sword. And the film is essentially about a suicide squadron led by a demon [it's Kai's plan, he spots the troupe]. As suicide assasins, they're disruptors of the power, of the elite's hierarchy, they take revenge and then are offered ceremonial purification by the non-heroic Shogun. They're successful, their target is met, yet their heroism is invisible to western thinking, it's antithetical in our cultural climate. That accounts for the reviewers' bloodbath, who seem to swarm over perceived failures in message (between a failed release strategy that broadcast positivist taglines and a film that held to it's fatalist vision steadfast) and the stagey delivery of lines. This is the same spell cast by reviewers over other gloomy, fatalist visual extravaganzas of the past that have earned their keep, starting with blockbusters like Blade Runner or The Thing. It's hard for the audience, maybe specifically the reviewers, to swallow endings that defy sequalization. Is their connection to movies literary in nature (a connection through the careful crafting and delivery of dialogue), rather than the spectral or visual types of languages? That disconnect of expectation seems to have turned reviewers into assasins, the bloodbath occuring across the internet is the slashing of Ronin with endlessly repeated sentences.
From the historical view, this Ronin is far expanded past the realist 47 Ronin (a real event that occured), here it's a Lady MacBeth/Throne of Blood ghost-story pieced together with Kaneto Shindo's supernaturalism by way of Lovecraft, the flick is alive visually. It's a true global blockbuster. This is the next pulse of the genre, however fatal. We want more from 47 Ronin, and it appears there's much more on the cutting room floor. It's a film that looks like a film even digitally shot and projected, even in 3-D, and in this day of visual homogenization, these are achievements all by themselves. And Rinsch seems to know it's better to show parts of things. Let us see a detail, then withdraw, he's shaky at times but that's likely the effects of editing, the craft is there. It's building towards a brilliant climax. When the final battle erupts, it happens at the edges of a freewheeling bravura performance as Kira's compound is breached. In other, broader hands, the set-up (the Ronin impersonate a travelling theater troupe) would have made the suave impersonation comedic ("letting us in on the joke"), instead it's played straight. When Kai lights a refracted candle in unison with the other stagehand Ronin, we're only adjusting to how far embedded the Ronin are. The physicality of the performances are dead-on. Rinsch slyly wants us outside full narrative knowledge (while most present day blockbusters work on a 'reveal' hiding one pivotal, lynch pin piece of info e.g: The Mandarin's unmasking in IM3). He's not explaining all his visuals with endless clever one-liners that all other blockbusters rely on. And the final duel pairings are symmetric, in every way, right down to the cuts between them, right down to the sword strokes. We quickly discover the witch's only equal was Kai while Oishi's is Kira. Nothing obvious draws them to one another for their duels, yet the organization and outcome seem effortless, invented in the heat of battle. Maybe the film's deadpan lines are stoic, even out of rhythm with Kai's cadence, but the story isn't there in the dialogue. It's all visual. It's in the gestures.
Post Tenebras Lux (Reygada's out of body experience, mistaken as a museum piece; thanks to Bryce for mentioning)
Blackfish/The Act of Killing (two films about the extremes of human paradox)
Somehow, the full recordings of Harrison Fords barely used V.O. in 1982's initial release still exist, as does the material necessary to elongate the film to let it fill scenes between dialogue and action. The opening titles synch to the 'tears in rain' motif, Leon discovers Gaff's first sculpture, and the Vesper sequence is more elaborate and less mysterious. An uncanny lesson for editors.
Anthology builds the first festival of great Franco era horror films, almost all unseen on big screens for 30 years (unless they've been at the Spectacle). Far more brutal than the Italian parallel horror, here fascism breeds fanatical repression that explodes in bizarre alle-gory(s). Miraculously: all in celluloid.
There are no completely paved roads to or in Lajamanu; in the rainy season, December to May, it can be hard or impossible to travel.. An airplane, one of seven owned by Lajamanu Air, a community-managed airline, lands on the village’s dirt airstrip twice a week carrying mail from Katherine, and once a week a truck brings food and supplies sold in the village’s only store. A diesel generator and asolar energy plant supply electricity. The development of the language was a two-step process. It began with parents using baby talk with their children in a combination of the three languages. But then the children took that language as their native tongue by adding radical innovations to the syntax, especially the use of verb structures, that are not present in any of the source languages.
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.