19 January 2015

Coverage - What I've Been Watching


I missed the party, or, I guess, the train on this one. Currently hovering at over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and on many critics Top Ten lists for 2014, this dystopian sci-fi action thriller slows down the further up the train its rebel dregs of society get. The filmmaker doesn't seem to know what do as the rag-tag group advances, so the movie starts stretching out action sequences and recycling well-worn tropes of the many genres it is pulling into its orbit. All the actors, especially Tilda Swinton seem game for the ride, but the film never gets back on track after she departs.


In the spirit of Primer and the under-seen mind-bender Triangle, this low budget ensemble piece starts as a mumblecore-type dinner party movie, like we've seen a hundred times in the past eight years. However, a passing comet starts to affect the guests in strange ways. Very interesting through most of its running time, it also sticks the landing better than many other films of its type.

In Fear

The desolate English countryside and the narrow, tree-lined woods, through which this couple have to navigate as night falls and strange events begin to happen, is the best character. The atmosphere is creepy and the maze of trails get more tight and claustrophobic, but the film falters as it runs into its second half, only temporarily picking up a little jolt from the performance of an added character with a twisted smile and a glint in his eye.  Once the usual climactic beats kick in, the film gets less and less interesting.

The Babadook

The Babadook promises a lot with its slow buildup and its gambit of saddling the protaganist, a widowed single mother, with a kid prone to flights of maddening screaming or fits. Essie Davis, in a bravura performance that leaves everything on the table, screams at the child, "why can't you just be normal!" We feel for her, deeply. While the introduction of a sinister, Edward Gorey type pop-up book fills the dark corners of our mind with horrifying possibilities, the film abandons this innovation to give us warmed over homages to moments from other horror classics, almost like ticking off boxes: The Exorcist, The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Grudge, etc. It becomes apparent that the filmmaker is less interested in making a truly terrifying film, and more insistent on making sure that we get the deeper meaning, that we know that we're not just getting a horror flick, but a story with themes. As a harrowing story of the closed world of a damaged mother and son, the movie is solid. There are genuine creepy moments and some interesting sequences, but don't come for The Babadook, instead this is Essie Davis's film from the first frame. Her performance leaves nothing behind and she commits to every single moment.

The Unknown Known

Errol Morris is a national treasure, and this interview, his second with a U.S. Secretary of Defense who presided over a complicated quagmire of war, is a fascinating chase down a rabbit hole of beauracratic thinking gone wild. Morris and Rumsfeld are actually quite well matched, and Rumsfeld comes off as an amazing performance artist, who has perfected his bit so well that he long ago bought completely into it. I'm not sure you could create a better fictional character to represent the military industrial complex of the Iraq War era. Danny Elfman's score is odd and distracting at points.

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