Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Capsules Part I

Destroy the past.  Make the future.  Much of David Cronenberg's COSMOPOLIS takes place within the resplendent interior of 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer's opulent stretch limousine.  Characters float in and out of it, pontificating ornately about "the glow of cyber-capital"and monetary speculation, while nestled inside of it remains Packer –an immured pillar of the self-interest and order that capitalism seeks to project upon the world.  What makes the film great is its insistence on ripping Packer away from his own self-command and the seclusion and of his limousine and vomiting him out into a refracted world that simultaneously fascinates and bewilders him.  COSMOPOLIS could essentially be described as a journey from the desired structure of capitalism to the "unstructure" of the world it produces.  In a bizarre and hilarious scene in which Packer discovers that his prostate is asymmetrical we are given a glimpse into the uncertainty that will eat away at Packer and the foundations of capitalism itself.  Packer becomes obsessed with discovering the truth of asymmetry and disunity (reflected in his half-haircut and "single-handed" act of self-destruction) to the point that he drags himself before his own tribunal among the slums.

Though I wish Cronenberg had ending the film on an emphatic rather than ambiguous note, I think the totality of it works because of Cronenberg's commitment to the hyper-reality of it all.  There is no realism per se to be found in the world he presents, but an elevated and highly stylized flux of information, ideas, and bodies.  It's a brilliant piece of filmmaking that seems like quintessential Cronenberg for its surreal, dark humor and threats of violence, but still modern and incisive for its trenchant commentary on the territorializing nature of capitalism.

DJANGO UNCHAINED is a droll and occasionally exhilarating experience, albeit a disappointing one in comparison to some of Tarantino's past work.  I won't deny the pleasure of seeing Waltz and Foxx riding on horseback with distant mountains resting like monoliths against the horizon (it's always welcome to see a modern film that understands the formal beauty and aesthetics of the western). Nor will I deny the many humorous, intense, bloody, and boisterous moments that make it a worthwhile entry in Tarantino's oeuvre.  I will, however, say that it feels hastily assembled, underwritten, and downright sloppy in its execution of genre pastiche when measured against something like INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.  What made BASTERDS so great was Tarantino's fastidious attention to building tension and delivering pay-offs.  It's a film that is so tightly composed (while also seeming gleeful and wild) with a verbal dexterity that seems vital and effortless.  DJANGO isn't nearly half as well written.  It has only a few scenes that seem prominent for their composure and memorability, but none that seem as towering as the handful that anchor BASTERDS. It moves too freely through the silliness of BLAZING SADDLES and retro swagger of SHAFT to make any of its darker moments feel threatening, its emotional moments feel true, or its narrative arch feel cathartic. If anyone wants to call this a masterpiece like BASTERDS, I can get into more specifics on all the reasons it is not.  For now I'll just echo Monsieur Candie and call it "a good bit of fun" but not the great spaghetti western I was looking forward to relishing.

I wasn't expecting much from THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY so I can at least admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how...well, pleasant, it ended up actually being.  I haven't read the book upon which it is liberally based but I do know the general story it tells.  Jackson should certainly and rightfully be accused of cash-grabbing and indulging in needless excess by dragging what could be a single three hour film into a nine hour trilogy.  Lovers of the book will probably groan at all the padding the story is given and the random characters that are added from various LOTR appendices.  The film is indeed leisurely paced (to the point of tedium early on), but being unbeholden to the source material, I thought the inclusions of Radagast and Azog, though ultimately unnecessary, at least gave this film more climatic weight and action to sustain itself on.

Decidedly, Jackson's THE HOBBIT is never going to have the impact or dramatic weight of the LOTR trilogy.  It's a much more lighthearted tale with less at stake.  But it's still worthwhile for lovers of the trilogy, if only for the chance to hear Howard Shore's score, revisit some of the sets, and catch McKellen's Gandalf and Serkis' Gollum in action again.  Overall, it's an enjoyable family adventure, not much more.

You're right, Brandon.  This was the film I was hoping Haneke had made.  It's a rigorously formal and entirely unsentimental look at what it is to witness dissolution and decay in someone you love.  AMOUR opens with the door being abruptly blasted in on Georges and Anne's apartment, as we find Anne's corpse looking putrefied and sallow.  We then jump backwards to the last few months of her life with Georges, right before half her body becomes paralyzed due to complications from surgery.  The initial breaking of the door becomes symbolic for the deterioration that ravishes Anne, how old age invades each and every body and death finds its way into our home.  When we first flashback, we see that Georges and Anne's door has been picked at by someone trying to break in, and it becomes this melancholic if subtle reminder that something inexorable and painful is trying to invade their lives.  And then it breaks through, and Haneke lets the pain invade and absorb these two people with masterful insight and restraint.  Nothing and no one is spared, yet the anger is not pointed like a knife, directed at a person or institution, but dulled like a cry through the cold, perhaps directed in vain at the idea of moribundity itself.

What keeps AMOUR from being merely a "dreadfully effective piece of arduous art" (as you put it, Brandon) is its adherence to the relationship between Georges and Anne throughout the pain and its ability to live up to its title.  If anyone wants to call this "arduous art" without a point beyond making us squirm then they need to try to convince me that there is hollowness in the way Georges gently picks up his wife's crippled body and slowly moves her from one position to the next.  If you think there is hollowness in it, then I call you a cynic at best, a vindictive prick at worst.  Those are the moments were the film earns its title and where it communicates all of its intimacy and the complexity of its tenderness and sadness.  The way Georges holds Anne is a lover's embrace.  It is almost as if they are about to dance or to share a passionate kiss, but they do not because it is a more practicable though no less loving embrace.  It's a painful embrace too.  They both know it is.  But they hold each other with love and try to move, maybe the way we will all hold someone someday – at the last meeting point between the youthful spring of the mind and the waning winter of the body.

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