Cloud Atlas

(Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski, 2012)

alone, Court Street UA, 11/14/12


I felt this way too.

If Cloud Atlas were any good, it would be a landmark achievement.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty comprehensively weak, from the dialogue to the acting to the elaborate, distracting, and frequently grotesque makeup.  These prosthetic transformations are necessitated – at least in theory – by the device of having each actor portray multiple characters in multiple time periods.  This is presumably meant to reflect the movie’s theme of interconnectedness, but it raises a number of troubling questions.  First of all: if the core message of the movie is that we’re all bound together across time by the ripple effects of our actions, then doesn’t the idea of reincarnation undermine that thesis?  After all, if we’re all going to be reborn in a literal way, there’s no need for us to “live on” through our deeds, is there?  And secondly: why would a reincarnated Tom Hanks look anything like Tom Hanks?  Shouldn’t he have an entirely new body every time he’s born – and thus, a different actor to play him?  And finally, if he is going to look like Tom Hanks, why not stick to relatively minor variations (haircut, clothing, etc.), so that the audience can spend our time following the story, instead of digging through layers of makeup to ferret out an actor’s identity?

These are only a few of the many, many questions Cloud Atlas forces us to consider.  The most damning one, perhaps is Just how the hell is any of this connected, again?  There are a few moments when the cross-cutting between time periods is deftly done and viscerally effective – and there are a few moments when we think the various storylines might be converging in a deeper way – but nothing comes of it.  One day, someone should make truly thoughtful, artful, non-laughable version of Cloud Atlas.  I wouldn’t advise them to go back to this source material, though.

Published in: on November 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  


(Steven Spielberg, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie, James Fauvell, Chelsea Salyer, and Suzanne Heathcote, Union Square Regal, 11/10/12


It may be strange to say it, but Spielberg is the weak link here.  Tony Kushner’s screenplay is meticulously researched, witty, cerebral, and above all, admirably focused; it concerns the passage of the 13th Amendment, and distracts itself with precious little else.  Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln is even better – wry, warm, understated, and enchantingly believable.  We leave the theater with the amiable impression that we have actually spent time in Lincoln’s presence.  Alas, Spielberg’s notorious sentimentality does intervene here and there, especially in the form of intrusive tearjerking music.  Even the lighting is somewhat overdone; every scene is lit like a page from a storybook.  The family-related interludes are half-formed and needless (Sally Field’s overwrought performance is particularly embarrassing).  Still, as flawed as it is, Lincoln has more strengths than weaknesses – and if nothing else, it’s worth watching (and probably re-watching) for yet another magnificent achievement by Daniel Day-Lewis.  There isn’t another actor like him on the planet – and there may never be again.

Published in: on November 21, 2012 at 3:41 pm  Leave a Comment  


(Sam Mendes, 2012)

with Mike Lavoie and James Fauvell, Court St. UA, 11/8/12


No one except Martin Campbell should ever direct a James Bond movie.  Having made the two best Bond movies of the last twenty years – Goldeneye and Casino Royale – Campbell was sadly absent for Quantum of Solace, which was made frantic and forgettable by the normally reliable Marc Forster.  When it was announced that Sam Mendes would take over the reins for Skyfall, there was some understandable excitement about what could be the first “prestige” Bond movie in history – but it turns out, we don’t want a prestige Bond movie; we just want a good Bond movie, and Mendes’s style is too stately and plodding for a modern-day action film.  The humor is mostly leaden, the action scenes are generic, and the attempts at depth and resonance are unearned and ill-conceived.  The whole thing is perfectly watchable – and, to be fair, beautifully shot – but it takes itself much too seriously, and the Bond formula not seriously enough.  Skyfall seems to be trying to be a definitive James Bond movie, but it winds up being barely a Bond movie at all.

Published in: on November 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Creature from the Black Lagoon

(Jack Arnold, 1954)

with Devin, Darcy, and Dad, Barn Screening Room, 10/30/12


This movie is an odd little creature – beautifully shot, competently acted, clumsily written, and with one of the most abrupt endings I’ve ever seen.  Creature tries to play the misunderstood-monster angle, but this monster isn’t expressive enough to be sympathetic, and our hero’s determination to protect him at all costs is never really justified, and begins to seem increasingly suicidal as the situation escalates.  The underwater photography is stunning and often poetic; it seems like Arnold did his best with a subpar script.  Plus, the token babe (Julie Allen) is truly an epic babe.  Watching her prance around in sweaters and swimsuits is easily worth the price of admission – if you happen to be into that kind of thing.

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

The Woman in Black

(James Watkins, 2012)

with Devin and Christine Gray, Barn Screening Room, 10/26/12


Creepy, focused, and effective chiller, with plenty of good scares and a protagonist we root for – even if his propensity for working alone at night in an obviously haunted mansion does make us doubt his intelligence from time to time.  Daniel Radcliffe’s performance is simple and restrained; it’s not the kind of showy star turn that guarantees a glowing post-Potter career, but he does carry the movie, and that can’t be a bad sign.

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

(David Gelb, 2012)

alone, streaming on Netflix, at 115 4th Place, Brooklyn, 10/3/12


A pleasingly modest documentary about the quiet joy of obsessive work and the endless cost of true mastery.  Jiro’s single-minded devotion to his craft is both odd and inspiring, and so the film turns out to be faintly amusing, and also subtly beautiful.  It’s soothing.  It doesn’t demand too much.  Perhaps it’s more like a pleasant appetizer than a satisfying main course – but surely there’s a place for that.

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 10:54 am  Leave a Comment