Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Transcendence / *1/2 (2014)

At its basic core, “Transcendence” contemplates the same moral questions raised by Asimov about the threats of machines in the hands of ambitious men, but as a straight science fiction film, it’s maddening and indecisive, and often interested in creating impulsive twists for no sake other than to show off flashy special effects. Even its actors, many of whom look through eyes that suggest curious detachment, are relegated to reciting shallow dialogue; there is never a sense that they comprehend the material, no doubt because they recognized early on that there wasn’t much to get anyway. Those of us in the audience with basic comprehension of the idea, however, are not so easy to fool, and as facets of this convoluted story build, overlap and then ultimately reach frenzied epiphanies, bewilderment envelops all odds of basic entertainment because nothing ever adds up. Computer gurus, I suspect, will wince at the movie’s transparent attempt to throw things at the screen without reason.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remembering Columbine

Fifteen years ago today, I sat in stunned silence in the newspaper production room at Reynolds High School. The lights were out, but computer monitors illuminated the room. Three of us exchanged forlorn glances without a word. Two were putting the finishing touches on the last of the year’s monthly editions of The Reveille. I was compiling pieces for a Senior Edition of the paper, a special 4-page spread commemorating the graduation class – my graduating class, no less – that would be released a week before our commencement. It was an annual tradition in our facility, and time was of the essence: with only six weeks to go till our diplomas were handed over, the world as we knew it would change, evolve, and adapt to our oncoming influence. That day, the world changed much quicker than we expected it to.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lessons from Criterion:
"The Lady Vanishes" by Alfred Hitchcock

The first time we see Miss Froy wander into the frame of “The Lady Vanishes,” she is merely a static object in a scene without a focal point. Hers is the first figure that makes any sense of movement in a room of relaxed players, but the moment is brief and indistinct; it’s as if her passing inquiry at the front desk of a train station exists to simply emphasize the space between the camera and the untroubled actions of seeming commoners. What follows for the next several minutes certainly does not negate that notion, either. Innocuous voices carry over others in rooms brimming with routine. Names are uttered, but they aren’t delivered with any noteworthy emphasis. And then there are the faces: some suspicious, others lively, all collectively exaggerated by dialogue that arranges only comical insights. To us, nothing that goes on in these prosaic scenes is even close to suggesting menace; to Alfred Hitchcock, the man who would go on to become the most influential director of the 20th century, these are gradations brimming with intrigue, made all the more powerful because of how coy they play with their audience in creating the fallacy of lightweight farce.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Don Jon / *** (2013)

The key to a movie like this is the context. When images of vulgar objectification flash before us in an early montage showing beautiful women in compromising positions and various stages of undress, they seem tasteless and desperate – all until, that is, their primary observer clarifies their relevance in his relaxed existence. The guy’s name is Jon (referred to as the “Don” by close friends), and his life is structured like an audition for “The Jersey Shore”: there’s a thoroughly clean apartment, an obsession with going to the gym and looking good, an affinity for clubbing, hooking up with beautiful girls and never calling them again… and porn, especially porn. And while most would suppress certain obsessions in front of their friends, here is a guy who is shamelessly proud of this particular facet; it doesn’t so much own him as it intoxicates his mind with elaborate illusions that are impossible to match, even in the hands of a being so sexually charged.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

August: Osage County / ***1/2 (2013)

A storm of suffering is about to drench the many lives of the Weston family, and several will respond with a maddening acceptance that is indicative of lifelong cruelty. From the first moment we peer into their lives, a sense of nihilism overwhelms us. Family matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) is suffering from mouth cancer and doped beyond comprehension on prescription medication, and when her complacent husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) hires an in-care assistant and then quietly disappears with no trace, most of the immediate family is summoned back home in order to, hopefully, assist in the search. What provoked his disappearance? The opening scenes show a disconnected man that has developed silent contempt for his fate, drinking to avoid a cruel wife and occupying space in a house full of sickness and addiction. For him, the decision to flee seems like the final act of impulse in a life devoid of purpose, and for his relatives, the disappearance and subsequent tragedy is, alas, only the latest example of how this blood line envelops itself in an everlasting misery, because it is all any of them have ever really known.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier / ** (2014)

What happened to the heroism? The modesty? The integrity of a character and the preservation of his history? “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is that loud and shapeless sequel about a noble man in a patriot costume that I feared would come to pass, a movie that spends two heavy hours propping up wall-to-wall actions in vein of the “Avengers” saga as opposed to just, you know, living in the world of a character who has got a lot to learn about the change of the times. From the first moment we join good old Steve Rogers at the opening of the story, events from the first film – as well as those of “The Avengers” – are long behind him, and a world full of culture shock is at his heels yearning to be uncovered. But there is no time in this screenplay to allow the big guy an opportunity to deal with his realities on any organic level, because Marvel law dictates that we must send such warriors right into the furnace of intrigue and zealous explosions and shootouts. Audiences will no doubt justify that course of action, but there is no arguing that the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, have made the unfortunate mistake here of looking through their camera lens as businessmen instead of as filmmakers inspired by the conviction of their likable hero.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"The Matrix" Revisited

“Here, I was not reviewing a film, but being sent on a fabulous journey into the depths of imagination. It's a journey that no one should take less than once.” – taken from the original Cinemaphile review of “The Matrix”

His face is ordinary and stony-eyed, yet muted utterances divulge a feeling of displacement. His life churns along in generic passages, all while an air of ambiguity casts a faint shadow over his presence. Nameless peers glide through his peripheral vision seemingly content with their fortune, but their faces mask similar underlying agitation. No one can clearly describe this sensation that overwhelms them, but there it is all the same, eating away at one’s peace of mind like a psychological parasite. And at the foundation of this reality lies a conflict of even deeper significance, one that alters the course of an uncertain future in one sweep of reveal. Within an elaborate illusion created by an artificial intelligence designed to restrain the free will of human existence, what will become of lives when there is a painful awareness that everyone lacks individual control? When they arrive at the forefront of that knowledge, is it the job of one to free us from bondage, or is it a shared destiny? What sacrifices would we make to be liberated from devices built to silence our nature? And how would machines, programmed without empathy or insight, respond when part of their system falls out of step with a systematic procedure?