Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Watchmen / ***1/2 (2009)

A single character in “Watchmen” sits above the procedure of a superhero plot, and when he speaks the dialogue reflects a self-awareness that treads deeper waters than what is expected of these sorts of cinematic excursions. Known by his colleagues as Dr. Manhattan, he is the byproduct of an experiment that inadvertently liberated his spirit from the constraints of flesh and bone, and throughout the movie he is seen hovering through space like an ethereal body builder: sculpted, naked, trapped in a glow, never seeming to be more than an apparition in a fantasy version of reality. Perhaps it is his destiny to rise to the status of deities, or transcend the common knowledge of the race he was born from. But there is a wisdom in his observations that seems derived from more than the mere philosophies of Arthur C. Clarke or Stephen Hawking. When he speaks of walking across the surface of the sun or regarding the death of the human race as nothing to the context of a vast universe of possibilities, some part of us shrivels down to our bare defenses, sensing the painful truth of the statement. So elusive is the opportunity to extract such morsels from the fabric of a populist vehicle that they hit hard and swift, ultimately changing the trajectory of our embrace when most might have considered this little more than an ambitious and colorful – if pessimistic – story about masked crusaders attempting to function in a rather bleak human society.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins / *** (2016)

The blessing of talent is a wonder undermined by self-doubt, while those created from a strong work ethic tend to discover the tenacity not often afforded to their peers. “Florence Foster Jenkins” is a movie about a woman who loves musical theater so dearly that she rises to notoriety because of her loyalty to the industry, far beyond the realization that she is also can be a rather bad singer. Friends and loved ones have shielded her from that reality out of an unconditional loyalty that stretches past the mere acceptance of great vocal range; everyone allowed in the room knows what they are hearing is tone-deaf meandering, and yet her impassioned confidence on stage silences critical ears and earns unanimous praise. But how does no one (at least up to a point) take a moment to be honest with the kind and gentle soul standing in front of the piano? Couldn’t she only benefit from the wisdom of a good ear instead of being crushed by it? Not all souls can easily escape the fragile nature of their history, and the context of Ms. Jenkin’s blissful ignorance is best summed up in a pair of scenes involving the reaction of a feisty female audience member, who in an early moment laughs hysterically at the performance and then in a later one silences countless others doing the same – “At least she up there singing her heart out!”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ghostbusters / *** (2016)

Dialogue was one of the key strengths of Ivan Reitman’s immortal “Ghostbusters,” and when contrasted against special effects that were destined to become dated paradigms of the past it resisted the contextual erosion of most mainstream comedies. To hear the characters discuss their problems now is to sense two certainties: 1) the thorough skill of its writer, Harold Ramis, who was perceptive of human behavior beyond the momentary jabs of a punchline; and 2) the realization that the characters were responding to the material exactly as they needed to, regardless of how funny or whimsical their approach may not always appear. That’s because they were smart and had the foresight to explain themselves in the logical circles they routinely found themselves trapped in, where most would ordinarily be reduced to shrieks of terror or displaced from coherence. No one – least of all the Ghostbusters themselves – knew exactly how to regard a world where they were being consciously haunted by a series of bizarre specters, but to lose your sense of humor in the thick of all things weird might have been more damaging to one’s focus. No satisfactory resolution would have occurred with this sort of premise if those at the helm weren’t driving through it with a keen sense of awareness.