Seeing “Mars Needs Moms” is like sifting through the garbage looking for an important document that accidentally got tossed – you know something salvageable is buried at the bottom of the can, but is it really worth recovering when you know it will predictably be soiled beyond recognition? Studios have forced cutbacks and filmmakers put out of jobs for movies considerably less dimwitted than this one, which occupies the screen as an 88-minute schlep through the doldrums of uninspired children’s stories with no intent other than to perplex and infuriate. Who at Disney honestly thought this idea could amuse even simple minds, much less make money? In the era when animation finds insights in the colorful words of quirky characters, the antics of badly-rendered Martians who kidnap mothers from Earth play like a protest to the boundless possibilities of this medium.
There is something to be said of movies that permeate with the self-gratifying conceit of a director misplaced in his own arrogance. Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” is a thoroughly unpleasant experience that masquerades under the ruse of cutting edge satire, and does so with the delusion that its elaborate ironies are compelling enough to neutralize the cynicism of the conviction. To say that it left me feeling dejected understates the obvious; it plays on psychological impulses with no substantial merit, other than maybe an underlying desire to investigate the criminal mind and make sense of it. Is there potential in that? In an era saturated by the notion of murder and mayhem being passages to fame, you would think so. But we charge motion pictures with delivering such messages through pragmatic intentions, or at least halfway plausible mockery. Here is a movie that assumes the path to enlightenment lies in pitching curve balls and then mercilessly beating us over the head with a sledgehammer for not catching them.
There are scenes in “Parkland” where characters become so paralyzed by the hammer of shock that it reduces them to either ominous proclamations or deadened gazes, sometimes in conjunction with moments that require more immediate reflexes. Somehow you can’t exactly blame them. On the morning of November 22, 1963, thousands of faces waiting to catch a glimpse of President Kennedy as his motorcade paraded through the streets of Dallas instead were subjected to the most horrifying of realities: their commander in chief being shot and killed in broad daylight by a hidden assailant. No one was prepared, even fewer understood the immediacy of the situation; as the secret service rushed Kennedy off to the nearest hospital in some last-ditch effort to preserve his life, those who were eyewitnesses stood frozen in a moment of tragedy. Some screamed, others cried. But most simply collapsed into a pool of numbing despair, and remained there until long after the president drew his final breaths. What may be forgotten is that others had to find some inner strength to keep it together during those initial moments – for the sake of themselves, others, and certainly to the man who was fighting for his life for a few brief minutes after two bullets went through his head.
The truth is all in the eyes. In moments of grinding routine and isolation, they stare beyond objects with a seeming sense of longing, like those of an emotional being displaced from the intimacy of interaction. Clips from a movie musical play over a small screen inside a metal shack, and he gazes at them not just with perplexity or wonderment, but also with a slanted brow that suggests untapped desire. How he came to possess these sensations is guesswork in a story unburdened with the formality of comprehensive setup, but this much is clear: the robotic creature at the center of Pixar’s “Wall-E” is something very special, and for 98 minutes moviegoers are not so much witnessing his antics as they are projecting his values into their own existence, and finding resonance in the notion that life, perhaps, really can be simplified into some kind of universal declaration. To see these sentiments delivered so profoundly, furthermore, speaks volumes to the power animation possesses in cleansing minds weathered by the cynicism of adulthood.
Has there ever been a Hollywood film as pitch perfect in its cheerful eagerness as Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot?” In a medium where the perfunctory significance of lighthearted storytelling is often relegated to reflecting the social groundings of their given generations, here is one of those movies that persists beyond the implications of a mere time frame, resonating with audiences like a very fine wine. Perhaps it was always destined to do that, in a way, because of how ahead of the curve its material seemed in context of the era; when some preview audiences walked angrily out of the theater during its release in 1959, the studio begged the director to recut the film in order to make it more accessible to the masses (Kansas state refused to show the movie in any of its theaters otherwise). But Wilder remained steadfast in preserving his endeavor, and released it worldwide with no further tampering. “Maybe this is the wrong neighborhood in which to have shown it,” he once told Jack Lemmon. Yes, or perhaps just the wrong decade.
Just as my dialogue towards the movies went through certain dormancy in the recent years, so did my attention span when it came to the annual awards festivities. Serious entertainment journalists have an obligation, in a way, of covering them; they encompass a critical snapshot of the most important achievements in moviemaking of any given year, and in some cases prophesize trends with actors and filmmakers in the films that will follow. My personal commitment always was exclusive to the Academy Awards in my writing, which may be enough to indicate the allure that other ceremonies have for me in this moment… including the odd but amusing Golden Globe awards that tend to kick off the final stretch of annual Hollywood accolades.
At some point, I suppose, it’s inevitable for all concepts to leap beyond the avenue of plausibility. “Chronicle” opens with a premise that is a stretch even by the standards of the handheld horror film technique: three teenage boys wander into a wooded area just outside of the high school, find a large hole in the dirt that beckons with low rumbles of sound, and discover an alien boulder-ish thing on the inside that permeates a soft neon glow. Their instant wonderment is quickly replaced by fear when their noses start bleeding, and the exposed fluid defies earthly gravity. Shock and anxiety give way to swift movements and chilling screams, and the camera falls dark before the audience can catch any further detail. Perhaps that’s a cop-out, in a way, because by the next scene the three of them are back at home, laughing and tossing around softballs while freezing them in mid-air using some newfound telepathic ability. Explanations, apparently, are no longer a formality even in first person mockumentaries.
An ominous tone in the early shots reveals a thread of certainty: things are about to get rather grim. The narrator speaks in subliminal passages, suggesting an almost relaxed acceptance of what lies ahead. Half a century into the future, the sun is near death, and Earth’s survival is threatened as the great star in the sky begins fading out of view. Mankind dares to challenge that fate with a rather impractical mission: dispatch a spacecraft into the far reaches of our solar system to reignite the sun, and do so by launching an explosive nuclear device into its orbit. Seven years prior, the Icarus I set off to undertake this daunting task but disappeared without a trace before reaching the fiery orb; now the Icarus II – a space vessel filled with intelligent brooding sorts who are driven by contemplation and underlying anxiety – inches closer to its destination, and time is no longer a luxury. But stories of this nature do not exist to exercise peaceful resolutions either, and as “Sunshine” builds ploddingly towards the operative moment of its premise, the err of man inspires a relentless source of chaos, danger and assured doom. And those are the movie’s more subtle distinctions.