Friday, March 13, 2009

Spread of Activation V: The Uninspired Edition

I'm not dead yet. I'm still here. Just a little off-center this week as personal matters have taken priority over blogging matters. This whole week has been a bit discombobulating and next week won't be a lot better and as such my brain is in a scramble as to what to write about. Let's start with a reminder: On Monday, March 16th the illustrious Boudu Rick Olson of Coosa Creek Cinema will be hosting the 3rd featured film of the The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club, known around these parts as TOERIFC. Rick will be putting up a piece on Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning. If you know it well or have just watched it please join in the discussion. But a reminder, these discussions delve into the details of the film in question so please make sure it's either a recent viewing or a film known very well to you if you choose to join in. I'll give Boudu another look before Monday and can hardly wait to read Rick's piece.

Reminders aside I've spent some time in the last week catching up on movies from the last couple of years that I didn't get around to upon their release. One from fairly recently was Wall-E and if you've read anything I've written on CGI movies before you'll probably not be too surprised by my reaction which was tepid. However, I can say this: It's probably the best CGI movie I've seen, I didn't dislike it, and most importantly, it helped me to finally figure out what I can't stand about CGI movies, and it has nothing to do with the CGI part of it (except in live-action movies where the CGI is usually a lazy way to produce filler). It's the goddamned anthropomorphized characters! That's what I hate! Why did this movie finally reveal that to me and none of the others did? Because I love science fiction that's why! I kept thinking if only this were live-action and the robots were simply that, robots, used to collect samples and the Captain and/or a couple of other people on the starship Axiom were the real main characters investigating what Earth was all about and slowly discovering to their horror that it was all lost - Now THAT'S A MOVIE I COULD GET BEHIND! But instead I got lot's of cute back and forth between two fluffy floppy eared bunnies named Wall-E and E.V.E. in the guise of robots for an hour and a half and an ending far, far, FAR too easy for a story with this one's implications. And once again I was left concluding that either the state of film criticism in this country is at an all-time low or maybe this is as good as it gets. I mean, if this thing was coming in near the top of lists at the end of the year then I can only conclude standards are pretty low. It's fine, done well and I don't hate it. But it could have, and should have, been so much more.

Speaking of science fiction another movie I saw was Danny Boyle's Sunshine which left me tremendously disappointed. I can say with little doubt that I have rarely been so annoyed at a director's visual choices as I was with the last 15 minutes of Sunshine. There has been much talk of a genre shift in the last act of the movie but a genre shift can be an invigorating thing when done well. No, what people didn't discuss enough of was that there was a stylistic shift and that's what made the difference. We've all seen films that go from comedy to drama and back again, or a thriller that ends up a romance and so on. A genre shift is not a bad thing. What Danny Boyle does that is unforgivable at the end of Sunshine is a stylistic shift, and that's not a good thing. It's incompetent. Like doing two-thirds of a painting expressionist and then doing the last corner as an abstract. In the last act we shift from general third person setups where the camera centers its characters and frames the action in an unobtrusive way, over the shoulder, two shots, etc to herky jerky bizarro POV shots where we are told who the killer/monster is - that's important, we are told who it is - and yet Boyle hides his face and figure from us. Remember now, WE KNOW WHO IT IS!!! There is no reason to hide his face unless for some reason you are an incompetent buffoon behind the camera who doesn't understand even the simplest notions of third act payoffs. I suspect of course that Boyle is no incompetent buffoon which makes his blurred visual shift in the last act even more confusing. Upon reflection I believe Boyle knew the screenplay took a nose dive near the end and by providing jarring and confusing imagery the audience might be distracted. And on a personal level, I don't like pretty boys playing physicists. It tears down the fourth wall for me.

Finally, by way of sci-fi/monster movies I saw Cloverfield and finally came away satisfied. Not absolutely and completely but enough to call it even and walk away with some sense of accomplishment. I didn't feel the extended opening party sequence added a whole hell of a lot to the movie (the same character relations and connections could have been made in half the time) but nevertheless, the pace was quick, the creature unexplained and the characters kept the movie alive. They didn't interest me on any personal level but they felt real enough to keep me going with it. In the end, I don't know if or when I'll watch it again (it feels like a movie that may be more effective if seen only once - that make any sense to anybody?) but I thought it was good and probably the best monster movie I've seen in years.

And then, lots of personal stuff happened that has kept me from blogging but I am writing. What, I don't know but I'm writing. I don't know how much of it is about movies, but it's therapeutic and I'll force it all on you sometime next week. And one final note: Name that Movie will be taking the week off. TOERIFC discussions usually occupy the whole day, at least for the first two (No pressure or anything Rick) so I don't want to interfere with that. As a TOERIFC founding member and supporter I must stick to my policy of no posts on discussion day, except a reminder post letting everyone know where I'll be and what the discussion is all about: Boudu Saved from Drowning at the Creek. Be there!