Most biographical war films don’t outwardly identify as “action movies” because the pairing of the two genres sounds inherently unethical. Real-world combat involves real lives, after all, and to suggest that they be terminated in the service of an adrenaline rush is to appear callous if not downright inhumane. American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s biopic on the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, seemed destined to be the exception. Before his death, Kyle had 160 confirmed kills in his decade-long career as a Navy SEAL. That statistic, plus the film’s badass title, plus the fact that Bradley Cooper packed on 40 pounds for the role and would have fit right in among the Expendables, makes the implicit claim that, if any war biopic were to be an action movie and get away with it, American Sniper would be the one. Continue reading
These Times, They Are A-Changin’
Courtesy of waytoblue.com
Note: I use the word “human” rather loosely in this review, which can be confusing when discussing a movie that’s all about the highly mutable definition of humanity. Unless otherwise noted, “human” refers to the likes of you and me i.e. traditional examples of humans.
To call Her a romance between a man and his operating system is to both trivialize the movie’s extraordinary depth and get it exactly right. The latest picture from Spike Jonze is so much more than its gimmicky premise might suggest, but it is also precisely this premise that becomes the wellspring for the film’s vast profundity. Even more than Blade Runner or A.I before it, Her explores the notion of humanity in the face of our ongoing technological revolution. It takes the topic of the singularity – the hypothetical point in time when artificial intelligence will have evolved beyond the intelligence of its human creators – and, deviating from the dystopian grandiosity seen in like-themed films like Terminator 3 or The Matrix, scales the narrative down to the place where it matters: our everyday life and relationships, and how the advent of the singularity, which is no absurd prospect considering the massive ground we’ve covered in A.I. over the past several years, could alter not only the social landscape but human nature itself. Continue reading
Weightless Companion Short Saved By ‘Gravity’
Courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com
If “Gravity” were a symphony — and believe me, Alfonso Cuarón’s space thriller deserves a comparison of that scope — then “Aningaaq” would be the seven-measure rest leading up to the third movement. The short companion piece, directed by Cuarón’s son and “Gravity” scribe Jonas Cuarón, centers on the man at the other end of astronaut Ryan Stone’s moment-of-crisis radio transmission (if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand the reference). Earthbound and framed against the snow-swept canvas of glacial Greenland, “Aningaaq” is the aesthetic opposite of its feature-length source, whose story unfolds in the cosmic heavens of vacuum-black space. Where one is modest, the other is grand. The first paints humanity on a mundane scale, while the second sums up the human spirit on epic terms, sending it hurling through the stratosphere in a fireball of debris and passion. Continue reading
The Wrathful Heart of Darkness
Courtesy of dawn.com
Prisoners opens and closes with its title, spelled out in stark, vertical letters, not unlike the bars of a jail cell. This aesthetic is fitting, not simply as a reiteration of the film’s title but as an embodiment of the kind of world the characters live in. It’s a world as devoid of hope as the cold winter sun or the expired slush left on the pavement of a quiet Pennsylvanian suburb after a suspect RV drives off, possibly with two young girls locked away behind its doors. Placed at both ends of the movie, the titles trap us in the crushing reality of this pitch dark story — one that allows no escape or solace. Alternatively, one can see the latter title as a deliberate mirror of the first, a preface to the post-movie reality of real life. Prisoners concocts a sinister fictional environment that unifies artful filmmaking with real-world implications. Its cynicism strikes deep because, in a way, its story is our own. Continue reading
An Older Bond, A Brave New World
Courtesy of submag.co.uk
The greatest challenge facing our favorite British spy is neither a tough-minded femme fatale nor a seedy, seditious villain played by Javier Bardem. This time around, Bond confronts a nemesis that afflicts us all. He’s growing old.
Up until this point, the general trend across Bond movies has been the perpetual rejuvenation of the title character. Compare the older 007s — Sean Connery and Roger Moore — with the more recent manifestations by Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. As each actor replaced the last, the wrinkles started to fade and youthful vigor began to enter the picture more and more. Craig’s entrance in 2006’s Casino Royale could have been the second coming of Adonis — who knew that beneath Bond’s martini-dusted two-piece suit is chiseled musculature to shame the lithest action movie heroes? Continue reading
Looping Back to Time Travel. Again.
Courtesy of soundonsight.org
Rian Johnson’s Looper runs off the residual petrol of past sci-fi vehicles but manages to assemble an engaging story characterized by terse professionalism across both cast and crew. Time travel, that immortal science-fiction narrative convention, factors into the movie’s events, but seems less a central topic of intrigue than a plot gimmick to set up moral tension and vigorous action set-pieces.The cinematography is lean, the transitions rapid, the sound design booming and the performances compelling yet straightforward. Curiously, it’s the movie’s no-nonsense neatness that sets Looper apart from messier genre counterparts, but the film doesn’t invest its energy in fleshing out a distinctive style, instead integrating its moments of brilliance into the clockwork of what amounts to an effective genre exercise.