This week’s pair of Midnight Screenings will return us to the far-flung past of 2006 and 2007, a more innocent time in film history …
It is quite possible that Richard Linklater is the only currently functioning director who really could have directed A Scanner Darkly in the fidgety, twitching tone it so desperately begged for, and thus it is a little bit of magic that he managed to acquire the film at all. Firstly, this is because Linklater, the homegrown Texan with an eye for slacker culture and the distance imparted by time and memory, strips away the science fiction trappings from Phillip K. Dick’s story and renders it all the more pressingly intimate in doing so, without ever sacrificing the essence of the novel about drug abuse and melancholic social anomie. Which is itself important; so many science fiction films rationalize themselves by claiming they are necessarily informing us about the weight of a current world crisis, but as many other Dick adaptations show us, they frequently devolve into glorified techie action flicks. The science becomes a diaphanous masquerade, a meager attempt by a film to convince its audience of its intelligence when it offers nothing but pyrotechnics and quasi-futurism. Linklater doesn’t need a trip to the future; he creates a piercingly grounded tale about trips of a different variety. Continue reading →
Another day, another ho-hum superhero film, although at least this one has Robert Downey Jr. smirking up the place with levity, breathing a dose of sarcasm into a generally too-aimless sequel. Iron Man 2 feels like it is just coasting on its existence and passing the time. The whole “advertisement for another movie” trend of the Marvel Studios movies is in full effect, which is less of a shame than the fact that Iron Man 2 isn’t a particularly good advertisement.
Downey Jr. as Iron Man/ Tony Stark pays for a great many sins, but Jon Favreau’s increasingly mercenary direction is not among them, nor is the endless tepidity of the screenplay which forces everyone’s favorite resident bad-boy billionaire with a suit of gold …well, iron … up against Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), a hurting victim of Stark’s company’s history of violence, and a fellow weapon industrialist played by Sam Rockwell. Unfortunately, the talented Rourke is saddled with a one-note character and given even less time to play that note effectively. Rockwell is given little more to do, but his buoyant snark and charisma shines through nonetheless, and he makes a capable foil for Stark precisely because of how much Stark exists within him. Continue reading →
The most enticing moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron is successful because it is so elusive, and it may very well be the worst moment as well. When it begins, we are informed that the titular superhero smack-down squadron and consummate bickerers are off to Africa. We know we are going to Africa because the characters essentially say “we are going to Africa”. Smash-cut to a helicopter shot of a derelict shipyard. We know this is a shipyard because there are ships. It is also, one would assume, on a coast line, for that is where ships tend to reside. At this point, everyone’s favorite quasi-military font appears in lower screen with text that informs us, in as many words, “Shipyard, Off the Coast of Africa”, in case we were wondering if the ships were, in fact, airplanes, or whether they were docked in Nebraska.
So hand-holding and inelegant this text is, and utilizing the form of on-screen text which is already the laziest and least elegant storytelling mechanism in all of cinema, that it almost must be an intentional self-parody. All of these big time beat-down films rely on techniques like these to show us a story happening, and then to doubt us, and then to tell us what is happening all over again in case our eyes had deceived us, as though we audience members in our infinite wisdom could not figure out in fact that the image of unmoving ships placed right after we are told “Africa” is in fact, an image of ships docked off the coast of Africa. It is a comic, delicious moment nearly avant-garde in its laziness. It’s the sort of moment that asks the mind to wander: “why is this text here? It is providing no new information anyway, but movies like this are supposed to have military text every time they change location, so if that is what you want, here you go…” Continue reading →
2008’s Tropic Thunder, while far raunchier and more overblown, is the closest mainstream American cinema of the 2000’s has come to its own Sunset Blvd. While it was marketed as something of a comedy poking fun at war movies, that is only true by technicality. The narrative of the film, as such, has the movie stars making a war film let loose in the jungle where they must 1. survive, but more importantly, 2. battle their egos and the fact that their struggle isn’t just a test designed to help them work as a team in the name of making a better movie. If it pokes fun at war movies, that’s because the film is primarily a mockery of the filmmaking process at large, and more specifically, the actors, producers, directors, agents, and everyone else in Hollywood who combine limited skill with limitless, towering, monumental egos. Continue reading →
For all Marvel’s self-imposed weight as a blockbuster big-wig machine, Iron Man is rather shocking for how it’s essentially a chill-out superhero movie. A good portion of the film, particularly in the middle, has a surprisingly solid time enjoying itself as an old-school “hanging with movie actors” film, where the “event” mostly consists of watching Robert Downey Jr have fun playing with toys on screen and generally being snarkily amused in a way that pings between caustic and genial. It’s not quite a Bill Murray 80’s comedy, but being within reaching distance is pleasing in a way I hadn’t realized I missed. Continue reading →
With the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, by far the Marvel Studios film with the greatest personal voice for its writer-director, let’s take a look back about a year (I know, so long ago). Let’s place our gaze onto one of the company’s only other films to bear the sensibility of its primary author, and to play out less like another day at the office than a film of vision, however messy and uncontrolled that vision may be. Ladies and Gentlemen, Iron Man 3.
Iron Man 3 is important for a number of reasons. The only one destined to get any significant attention in the press was its release as the first “phase two” Marvel Studios movie. But none of that actually matters – phase two Marvel isn’t really meaningfully different from phase one Marvel, other than that we now realize that the series is getting very tired, very quickly, and that the company’s movies aren’t really the beacon to Hollywood blockbusters they were positioned as five years ago. Continue reading →
By far the most notable thing about Joss Whedon’s TheAvengers, beyond all the self-righteous tent pole-blockbuster-theme park-cultural-seismic-indicator nonsense, is that Whedon shows a sense of mercy in consistently buoying the film with levity and humor to distract from all the pretense. The chiefest fun to be had is rather definitively not related to one-and-done special effects or action or the superpowers of the main characters themselves. It is, instead, Whedon’s way with words, his wit. Most of it is filtered through franchise MVP Robert Downey Jr., here his usual sardonic, witty self as Tony Stark/ Iron Man, with much of the humor coming from his playful attitude toward Nick Fury’s (Samuel Jackson) dogged attempt to “bring the team together”. Bruce Banner/ The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), used intelligently in more ways than one, has two dynamite laughs toward the end of the film, one with a literal punch-line. Continue reading →