Archive for the ‘film’ Category
Argo seems to be unsure of what it is: it begins as a Paul Greengrass-inflected piece of political filmmaking, with newsreel footage interspersed with stage material, in a way that would be impressive if the movie had done a better job of setting the stage. There’s a cheap-looking, animated storyboard opening with voiceover narration explaining the political climate in Iran when the movie takes place. I suppose it mirrors the fake storyboards shown later on, but this feels rushed and does not do a good job of igniting the narrative,. We’re struggling for the first 15 minutes or so of the movie, and life is finally injected into the movie when John Goodman and Alan Arkin show up as movie professionals that help Ben Affleck make his fake movie cover story. Then the movie goes into satiric territory, and it’s surprisingly good and entertaining, but that ends soon, and gives way to a way more generic political thriller. Affleck should be commended, though, for keeping most of the movie understated and not exploiting situations for obvious, cheap thrills. This is a sort of backhanded criticism, however. The movie could’ve been so much worse, but that does not mean it’s good: it only means that there is some visible restraint at work here. In the final 15 minutes, Affleck succumbs to the pressure of having to have an emotional payoff, and he delivers a sequence that is well-put together, but that does not earn any points for trying to keep the movie grounded in any kind of realism. It is based on a true story, but the movie strains our suspension of disbelief in exchange for some, admittedly, needed thrills. That does not mean car chases or shootouts. The emotional high points of this movie could easily have been minor, second-act in a movie with a bigger scale. And this is what makes it satisfying. B
Charles Mudede has written a rather misguided piece on Stanley Kubrick, kindly pointing out the fact that Kubrick must have been a misanthrope and hated humans: just look at his films. “No matter how far we go into the future, into space, toward the stars, we will never break with our first and violent world. Even the robots we create, our marvelous machines, are limited (and undone) by our human emotions, pressures, primitive drives. For Kubrick, we have never been modern.” Is that really what 2001 is saying? Leia o resto deste post »
The trailer for Michel Gondry’s latest flick, Be Kind Rewind, was just released after an early showing at the Comic-Con. It is apparently the story of two video store clerks — played by Jack Black and Mos Def — who end up remaking a lot of popular movies after all their VHS tapes are erased by some bizarre magnetic accident (maybe some Tesla coils involved, who knows). One may wonder why bother renting VHS tapes in the first place, but I am sure Michel Gondry will give us some very entertaining and post-modernistic explanation for this. After all, isolated funny moments saved The Science of Sleep. This new movie in any case is hardly something to be waiting for — the entire story is completely explored and saturated in these two minutes only, and unless Gondry has a really good screenplay, I cannot imagine how he could save this from becoming a collection of youtube fanfilms.
Click here to see the trailer.
Books about Stanley Kubrick range from the excellent to the incredibly stupid. Following the previous post, this is a brief assessment of the major volumes written on Kubrick currently in print:
- Kubrick’s Cinema Odyssey, by Michel Chion. The single best volume on Kubrick. Chion, a renowned French artist and critic, is brilliant and his analysis manages to shed light in places where others have invariably failed. A particularly fascinating section is the discussion of the use of music in 2001. The close reading of every scene is also very enlightening. Works extremely well a companion piece to Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001.
- A Cinema of Loneliness, by Robert Kolker. A volume about auteur American cinema which has chapters on Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, and Steven Spielberg (previous editions had Francis Ford Coppola instead). Contains some of the best and most lucid analyses of Kubrick’s main body of work and places him within a context — something critics forget sometimes.
- Kubrick, by Michel Ciment. Includes three great interviews with Kubrick (also found here)
- Kubrick, by Michael Herr. Herr is a fantastic writer, and his insights on Kubrick are remarkable and full of wit. Tells you more about Kubrick the man in a hundred pages than any other book, including LoBrutto’s biography. My favorite anecdote is when Herr, in Kubrick’s computer room in the early 80s, suggested he turn the computers off when not using them. Kubrick just said: “They like to be left on.”
- Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey: New Essays, edited by Robert Kolker. As title states, these are new essays on 2001 (the book is dated 2006) by leading scholars about the film from a variety of perspectives, hoping to cover all bases. So there’s an essay about its critical reception, one by a computer scientist about HAL (not the best essay here but some may find interesting), sharp analyses by renowned Kubrick scholars such as Susan White, and even a lyrical appreciation by writer-scholar George Toles.
- Eyes Wide Shut (BFI Film Classics), by Michel Chion. Chion always finds novel and interesting ways in which he can approach a film (read also his superb analysis of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line) that strike you as logical and simple, but that somehow it managed to elude every viewer and critic. If you have any doubts about Eyes Wide Shut‘s qualities, better read this.
- Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze, by Thomas Allen Nelson. Intelligent and informed discussions of every film, from Fear and Desire to Eyes Wide Shut. Scholarly, yes, but not difficult and always refreshing. Can be a little obvious sometimes, but good as an introduction.
- The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, edited by Jerome Agel.
- Stanley Kubrick: A Visual Poet (Taschen), by Paul Duncan. Not much in terms of commentary here, but cool for your coffee table if you can’t afford the mammoth-sized Stanley Kubrick Archive (now out of print! with that one you could spend literally DAYS with it). A much better alternative to the Duncan is Michel Ciment’s Kubrick which has excellent analyses, even better photographs, and the endlessly fascinating Kubrick interviews (and some with collaborators and actors).
- Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis, by Mario Falsetto. This is an expanded doctoral thesis defended at NYU I believe, firmly grounded in narratological theory. If you fancy that kind of approach, go for it, because there is interesting material here. If not, stay away.
- Stanley Kubrick (Biography) by Vincent Lobrutto. Goes up to the mid-90s and is endorsed by Kubrick’s family, unlike the Baxter biography. I wonder what exactly did Baxter say… If you’re interested in Kubrick’s working process in-between movies, this is a good source of information. There isn’t much about his personal life in later years.
- The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick, edited by Gene D. Phillips. Only if you want the most specific and obscure details. There are loads of interesting information here.
- Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, edited by Gene D. Phillips.
- Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis, by Alexander Walker et al. Some of the commentary here is interesting, but mostly it isn’t very deep — and I’m not talking about critical vocabulary. Walker’s analyses can be totally worthless, like his take on Eyes Wide Shut. The visual side of the analysis is not helped by microscopic and blurry film stills.
- The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, edited by Stephanie Schwam and Jay Cocks. Mainly a reprinting of some of the material of Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 and some scattered material. If you already have Agel and access to the Internet, forget about it.
- Kubrick’s 2001: A Triple Allegory, by Leonard F. Wheat. This is definitely the worst thing every written on Kubrick and probably on any filmmaker. Wheat tackles 2001 with all sorts of pseudoscientific and pseudophilosophical apparatuses, from numerology to just plain wrong interpretations of 2001, Homer, and Nietzsche. There’s even one very convoluted section about anagrams (like TMA-1 is an anagram of “NO MEAT”) and how “Frank Poole” is a “95%” anagram of “Walk on Rope,” part of his lame attempt to link 2001 and Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A 95% anagram is imperfect because the letter F had to be changed to a W in order to complete it. If you see any copies of this at your local bookstore or library, BURN IT.
There are a couple of volumes missing, which I hope my collaborators will add.
Thomas Doherty at The Chronicle of Higher Education has written a fine piece on Stanley Kubrick, partly a review of two new books on him, On Kubrick by film scholar James Naremore and The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick, edited by Jerold J. Abrams. Both volumes, especially Naremore’s, seem to be worthy in Doherty’s evaluation.
In 1997, Stanley Kubrick made a rare public appearance to accept the D.W. Griffith Award from the Directors Guild of America — not in the flesh, but in his preferred format, on screen. Speaking from London on videotape, he graciously thanked his colleagues and dutifully delivered the nostrums demanded of the occasion. Although directing a film, he said, “can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car at an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.”Belying the warm sentiments, the performance was oddly mechanical, but also familiar. The flat tonality, the affectless immobility, and the oracular manner of the bearded old man with the bald dome might have been a computer-generated talking head — were not computer animation more expressive and lifelike in the age of digital graphics. The thought calls up the obvious association: HAL 9000, an older computer model from 2001 (the movie, not the year).
Stanley Kubrick always did come off as a cold fish — sterile, analytical, reclusive, an artist drawn to icy prehistoric worlds. “The last of the cold modernists,” quipped the film scholar James Naremore during a panel devoted to Kubrick at this year’s annual conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. “A cold bastard,” said the actor-producer Kirk Douglas. Even the name for his acolytes — Kubrickians — sounds hard-edged.
Not that critics or moviegoers have ever been cold about Kubrick. Endlessly interpreted, passionately admired, and, in some quarters, heatedly despised, he has been brand-name fodder for polemical crossfire since at least The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 (New American Library), a compilation edited by the writer Jerome Agel in 1970. The first great American director to hone his craft outside the Hollywood studio system, Kubrick left behind a relatively spare legacy of 13 feature films in a 40-year career. But when he died, in 1999, at age 70, the hit-to-miss ratio was as impressive — and controversial — as any in motion-picture history.
Two new voyages into Kubrickian scholarship suggest the vitality of the field and the variety of its approaches: On Kubrick, a synoptic probe from Naremore, out this summer from the British Film Institute, and The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick, a collection of essays from the University Press of Kentucky, edited by Jerold J. Abrams. Both books indicate that the artist is not ready yet for a therapeutic session of warm and fuzzy revisionism.
Born in the Bronx in 1928, Kubrick was a shutterbug savant who, by the age of 17, had signed up as a staff photographer for Look magazine. By the early 1950s, he was shouldering a 35mm newsreel camera and hustling homemade shorts to the Hollywood studios, a self-taught apprenticeship that graduated to master craftsmanship with the gritty Killer’s Kiss (1955), which he directed, wrote, photographed, and edited, all without benefit of the software Final Cut Pro, and The Killing (1956), a sleek racetrack-heist film, in which the thieves lose by a nose in the photo finish. A critic in The Hollywood Reporter nailed the subversive allure of Kubrick’s technique: “Almost against your will, you are drawn in to become a participant and even an adherent of a situation and a way of life that is, or should be, highly repellent.”
MGM’s Dore Schary took one look at The Killing and backed Kubrick’s ambition to realize a project that had been kicking around Hollywood since the 1930s. Antiwar about more than the Great War, Paths of Glory (1957) showcased the graceful tracking shots and precise compositions that became Kubrick’s trademark. When Douglas, the film’s star, was later beset by a legion of difficulties on the set of Spartacus (1960), he turned to Kubrick to steady the unwieldy production and command the cast of thousands. A huge commercial and critical hit, the three-hour epic was also the grisliest of Hollywood’s postwar sword-and-sandal spectacles, with none of the glory that was Rome or the solace of redemptive Christianity.
Fed up with Hollywood, Kubrick relocated to England, a safe distance from which to waltz on the wild side. In a film version of Vladimir Nabokov’s notorious Lolita (1962), he bumped up the age of the nymphet from indictable to barely legal and bartered away statutory explicitness for fetishistic toenail painting. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) was a cold-war touchstone that did more to discredit the paranoid style in American anticommunism than the Army-McCarthy hearings; despite its now anachronistic dateline, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) still seems futuristic and utterly prophetic; and A Clockwork Orange (1971), a darker vision of a future just around the corner, provided a picture of a teenage wasteland besotted with the lilt of language and the kinetic rush of more than “a bit of the old ultraviolence.”
After A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick, never one to punch a clock, worked at his own meticulous pace. In 1970, when Hollywood was frantic for talent with a pipeline into the youth market, he had secured a sweetheart deal with Warner Bros. that gave him unprecedented control and autonomy. Thereafter, his legend grew as his public presence receded and his work product dwindled. Sometimes the hiatus was worth the wait, sometimes not.
The languid, painterly costume drama Barry Lyndon (1975), a rigorous formal exercise in 18th-century time, space, and lighting, failed in the laboratory of commerce. The pulp-horror writer Stephen King proved a more congenial matchup than William Makepeace Thackeray for a real horror show: The Shining (1980), a supernatural Oedipal drama. Full Metal Jacket (1987) was Paths of Glory without sentimentality, a combat film split between the twin Hobbesian jungles of a boot camp at Parris Island and a painted-black tour of duty in Vietnam, both fueled by lethal levels of testosterone. Then: silence, for over a decade, broken only by whispers of a long-gestating science-fiction project called A.I., ultimately brought to the screen by Steven Spielberg in 2001, and a film based on a Freud-addled novella published in 1925 by the Viennese writer Arthur Schnitzler that became Eyes Wide Shut (1999), released posthumously. In the interim, so complete was Kubrick’s avoidance of the public eye that a flamboyantly swishy, vodka-swilling con artist named Alan Conway was able to successfully impersonate the director and to bilk the celeb-struck before being busted by none other than Frank Rich, then drama critic of The New York Times. (The tale is told in the 2005 British film Colour Me Kubrick, released stateside, sans the first “u,” this year.)
From Dr. Strangelove forward, Kubrick’s artistic stride was in perfect sync with the rise of auteurism and the establishment of academic film studies, a career coincidence that was not an unmixed blessing. Unlike the geniuses of the old Hollywood system, he was put under a critical lens that was as liable to scorch as magnify. “Kubrick is a misanthropist and particularly a misogynist,” the film critic Molly Haskell seethed in her well-known feminist work From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies, in 1976.
In the elegant critic and peerless scholar James Naremore, Kubrick has found, if not a purblind advocate, then at least a pro bono admirer. A professor emeritus at Indiana University at Bloomington, Naremore is a veteran of the pre-film-studies generation of scholars who cut their teeth on high-modernist literary theory and close textual criticism rather than semiotics and deconstruction. On Kubrick adds to the proof that Naremore’s erudition knows no brow, high, middle, or low. Discussing Barry Lyndon, he can draw upon more Thackeray than just the source novel; he can also report that the duel sequence from the film was parodied in Cheech and Chong’s The Corsican Brothers (1984).
Naremore adopts an admittedly discursive and idiosyncratic approach — not deigning to explicate Spartacus, which Kubrick directed but did not conceive, and lavishing a chapter on A.I., which Kubrick conceived but did not direct. Yet he is a sure-footed and engaging guide through the Kubrick canon, tracking the production history, critical reception, and marketing of each entry. Best of all, he locks his own critical intelligence on-to a body of work “inflected by the grotesque, the uncanny, the fantastic, and the blackly humorous.” Not surprisingly for a critic who confesses to shedding real tears over the mother-and-child reunions in A.I., Naremore prefers the gentle brush strokes of Barry Lyndon to the violence in A Clockwork Orange.
In a key insight, he locates Kubrick at the intersection of “Hollywood and the twilight of international modernism,” two traditions not often conjoined. “Kubrick was a total filmmaker who combined the sensibility of a literary intellectual with the technical expertise of a photographer/editor and the instincts of a showman,” Naremore argues. If the artistry of Hitchcock was concealed behind the mask of the showboating ham, Kubrick’s showbiz chops have been overlooked because of his patent artiness. But more often than not, the chilly director with a penchant for the avant-garde was also an authentic crowd pleaser.
The main reason revivified close-textual critics latch on to Kubrick is the sheer formal control evident in his every frame and in every note on the soundtrack. In that sense, Naremore’s “cold modernist” tag captures an ethos as well as a style — one that seems a cinematic expression of the poetics of T.S. Eliot, wherein the artist, far from being a wild-eyed Romantic channeling intimations of immortality, works with the scientific detachment of a lab-coated researcher — “indifferent, paring his fingernails,” in the famous phrase of that other avatar of cold modernism, James Joyce. If all that seems a stretch, Naremore reminds us that Kubrick “was an avid reader of the Anglo-European and largely modernist literary and philosophical canon of dead white men that was established by midcentury (plus a good deal of pulp fiction and scientific literature), and he maintained a lifelong interest in Nietzsche, Freud, and Jung.”
The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick
That kind of intellectual lineage means that the essays corralled in Abrams’s The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick meet a laugh-test threshold that would not be passed by a volume titled The Philosophy of George Lucas. Abrams, a professor of philosophy at Creighton University who has also pondered the metaphysics of James Bond, Woody Allen, and (oops) George Lucas, brings together 14 pensées, mainly from academic philosophers, for a critique of pure Kubrick that testifies to the stature of an artist taken seriously not just for his images but also for his ideas. Film scholars who thought it was finally safe to put down their copies of Jacques Lacan’s Écrits may now need to pick up Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception.
Abrams discerns a coherent philosophy in Kubrick’s varied filmography. “It has the distinctly architectonic quality of any great philosophical system,” he says. “It takes all the differentiated sides of reality and unifies them into one rich, complex philosophical vision that happens to be very close to existentialism.” In Kubrick’s films, when the end credits roll, Abrams explains, “Each individual is fated to die alone, without any basic sense of meaning in a cold and heartless world.” Yep, sounds like existentialism all right.
Appropriately for a philosophical inquiry into the director who in 2001 rocketed Richard Strauss’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra“ into the Top 40, Nietzsche pummels Kierkegaard in the index and chapter headings (to wit: “Nietzsche’s Overman as Posthuman Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Chaos, Order, and Morality: Nietzsche’s influence on Full Metal Jacket“). Elsewhere Philo 101 perennials star in featured roles or pop up for cameo appearances. The Killing registers “a striking parallel between Stoic philosophy’s view that providence operates through a deterministic causal nexus”; Spartacus evinces a “surprisingly distinguished filiation reaching back to Plato’s model of the tripartite soul”; and Eyes Wide Shut gazes into “a kind of Sartrean pessimism about our inevitable dissatisfaction with romantic love.”
The Aristotelian mean between film studies and philosophy is achieved when the idea of Kubrickness is tethered to a concrete cinematic apparatus. In a film-smart discussion of Kubrick’s reliance on the “reverse zoom” in Barry Lyndon, Chris P. Pliatska, a philosopher at Creighton, shows how the camera movement (a slow pull-back from a tight close-up to an extreme long shot) encourages the spectator to meditate on the meaning of the shift in perspective and “to reflect on how human beings suffer from the inescapable philosophical form of absurdity.” Despite the name-dropping overcompensation that probably comes with the Kubrickian territory, the director’s odyssey offers plenty for the epistemologically impaired reader to mull over. Wait until Abrams and his posse sink their chops into ABC’s Lost.
Sooner or later, every Kubrick commentator must stare into Eyes Wide Shut. To most moviegoers, Kubrick’s long-awaited swan song was dead on arrival, a pretentious masquerade that played like an overlong episode of HBO’s kinky Red Shoe Diaries. Lucky for them, the philosophers can sidestep aesthetics while squabbling over the message. “It is one of Kubrick’s most optimistic films,” says Karen D. Hoffman, of Hood College. “It is one of the most nihilistic of his works,” counters Daniel C. Shaw, of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. For his part, Naremore refuses to blink, deeming it “a remarkable last testament.” Among the orthodox, the film has come to serve as a litmus test separating the true believers from the heretics. At the Kubrick panel at a cinema-and-media-studies meeting, the English professor Susan White, of the University of Arizona, rattled a roomful of rapt Kubrickians when she casually called Eyes Wide Shut “unwatchable.” I think I heard gasps.
Whether one runs hot or cold on the films of Stanley Kubrick, it is impossible to be lukewarm about the power of his hypnotic imagery. The most haunting portraits in his gallery are outlined in his signature shot: a low-angle close-up of a face lit by madness, eyes wide open, seconds away from an explosion of cathartic violence — the smirking thug Alex in A Clockwork Orange, the blocked novelist Jack Torrance in The Shining, the chubby misfit Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, and — the irony here has never struck me as cold — the glass orb that fronts the sentience of the HAL 9000 computer, by far the most warmblooded and human character in 2001.
Thomas Doherty is a professor of American studies at Brandeis University. His book Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration will be published this fall by Columbia University Press.
Be sure to read our assessment of the Stanley Kubrick bibliography in print.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix is the longest book in the series (a word count of 255,000) and its film adaptation is the shortest (138 minutes). For the first time, a new writer has been called in, Michael Goldenberg, replacing Steve Kloves (who will be coming back for the next installment). It’s hard to credit someone in the Harry Potter series, since there have been four directors, two screenwriters and one fairly inconsistent novelist; but one can notice that Order of the Phoenix departs in very serious ways from its predecessors. Now that we have Goldenberg to compare, it becomes clear that Kloves’ scripts were very faithful to the original novels, and in the case of Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire, solid, nuanced and with the right amount of characterization and excellent pacing: none of these qualities are in this film.
It’s painfully noticeable that new director David Yates doesn’t have much of an idea of what to do with Harry Potter. Whereas Cuarón was carefully chosen as the director of Prisoner of Azkaban because of his A Little Princess, Yates had only a couple of political TV dramas to his name. Probably the producers felt that the political aspect of Order of Phoenix required a more political and socially-oriented director. Actually, one would be hard-pressed to find a more unsuitable option. He does a passable job most of the time, because he takes his cues from Columbus and Newell, mostly, and in the way, ends up making the same mistakes they did and some new ones. The film is at its weakest when the tone is dynamic: if a scene requires a change of tone, it’s always clumsy. Order of the Phoenix being the darkest and most serious of the series so far, practically every attempt at humor falls short.
A couple of early scenes illustrate this well. Harry goes to Grimmauld Place to find his friends and is nervous at Ron and Hermione because, as always, he’s the last to know bad things are happening. The tension here is lukewarm and the actors are stiff — to make matters worse, within a second, the Weasley twins magically appear and the tone changes awkwardly from anxious to comic. Cut to a lighthearted little sequence in which they try to eavesdrop (literally) in the Order’s meeting, and rightly after, one that begins with Nymphadora Tonks (what a name!) shaping part of her face to resemble a pig and a duck, desperate for attention. Two seconds later the tone changes again to one of uneasiness: it’s much too quick and unsubtle, and therefore neither tone succeeds. These little vignettes are typical of the two first films, where the humor was childish and quirky, and they don’t fit at all with the somber thematics of the film, much less when they’re in the same scene. There is next to no humor in this Harry Potter, because Yates is unable to balance the tones appropriately. The climactic scene with [spoiler alert] Sirius’ death is almost ruined because of that: it looks as if put together at the last minute, the director unsure of what it should look or feel like. The whole movie at that point depends on adroit tonal changes, but he just can’t handle it (Harry’s chasing of Bellatrix and giving over to hate) and much of the emotional range of the ensuing duel with Voldemort is thwarted.
Yates works well with the adult actors, and the early scenes in the Ministry of Magic with Harry’s trial are strong, and watching Michael Gambon and Gary Oldman in their roles is just delightful. Gambon is always a joy to watch, and his Dumbledore really comes to life as a major character — something that’s difficult to imagine with Richard Harris. And just watch Oldman as he fights the Death-Eaters with a truly graceful poise. This scene is definitely the high point of the entire film, if only on a purely visual level. It’s like watching the Jedi duels in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for the first time: I know the film is horrible, but for the first time the Jedis were moving with impressive elegance and agility, and to finally watch fully accomplished wizards (not old men or apprentices) at the height of their powers is just as wonderful. Harry’s “occlumency” lessons with Snape (Alan Rickman) are also a high point, although much too short. Helena Bonham Carter appears briefly as villain Bellatrix Lestrange, but so briefly it’s more a cameo than a role, and I hope there’s more of her in subsequent movies.
Another particularly strong moment is the montage halfway into the film that shows Dolores Umbridge’s (Imelda Staunton) devious and slow overtaking of Hogwarts interspersed with Harry’s lessons to the other kids of more advanced spells in order to constitute an army to fight Voldemort. This is a major stylistic and structural departure from the previous films, as Steve Kloves had never employed such a technique. It’s ironic that it works well and is able to sustain some humor, but one gets the feeling that such montages, much like the overused newspaper headings that show up every so often, are facile summarizers and leave out much needed plot and character development. In Order of the Phoenix Harry feels troubled and isolated from his friends (something to do with Voldermort) and we see Ron and Hermione feebly trying to help him, but the dialogue and acting are substandard. Harry’s going through a rough patch and we only know that because he has nightmares and whines frequently. There’s really not enough room for them or any subtleties of character in this episode (the poor Ron is almost invisible for most of the time). And in a way, this approach betrays the story’s underlying theme: the final line of the film is that they will eventually win in the end against Voldemort, because they have what’s really important: friendship and love. Okay. Better put that into practice again!
Another annoying Columbus influence, in addition to the flat characters and the childish humor, is an over-reliance on the magical elements (to which Harry continues to be innocently amazed despite him having tons of things to worry about). That was okay for the first two films where everything was new and we didn’t know about owl-mail or fireplaces-transporters. There’s a big difference in showing this stuff when the time is proper and the tone is right. In Prisoner of Azkaban, little things like Harry’s monster book fitted well, but it seems totally out of place in Order of the Phoenix, with its insistence on politics. Here, we have a repetitious night incursion into the forest with Hagrid (reprising for the third or fourth time in the series!) to find a giant that will help our heroes later on. His help, however, turns out to be pointless and a lazy solution that could be better handled. Goldenberg at least had the decency of omitting Quidditch altogether. Yay. Oh, and as a first, we have lame one-liners in Harry Potter, a much misguided attempt at humor: “You may not like him, Minister, but you gotta admit… Dumbledore’s got STYLE!” and “Take your hands off my godson!”
It’s really unfortunate that Yates has already signed up as the director of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the next one in the series. On the other hand, Steve Kloves will be handling script duties again, so that is a big plus. Hopefully Cuarón, who has expressed his will to come back to Harry Potter can be in charge of the last episode.
OBS: By the way, Steve Kloves wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys (a nice review can be found here) and adapted Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys for the Curtis Hanson film. He’s a nice guy.
Hollywood is again infatuated with serial killers. Earlier this year we had the dull Fracture, which had Anthony Hopkins as a mega-controlled psychopath who does his killing in plain sight and still gets away (not to mention brainless franchises like Saw). Now it’s time for Kevin Costner to try the type on for size in Mr. Brooks. He’s addicted to killing and goes to AA meetings to try to control it. For years he’s been the “Thumbprint Killer,” in addition to being a hugely successful businessman and public figure. When he’s got the urge, his evil imaginary double Marshall (William Hurt) pops up and convinces him to do it. How’s that for a laugh?
There is sadly an overabundance of plot in Mr. Brooks. To round things up, there’s a Mr. Smith who’s blackmailing him (Dane Cook), a detective (Demi Moore) who’s after him, and his pregnant daughter, who is possibly a serial killer herself. It’s not that the script’s confusing: they don’t get in the way of each other narrative-wise, but there’s so much going on in all different directions that there’s no focus. The center of all this, the relationship between Brooks and Marshall, is underdeveloped. Marshall turns out to be little more than a way of fleshing out the character of Mr. Brooks himself, as much as I enjoy William Hurt’s presence. In other words, Marshall is only there to provide character motivation, all done in the form of expository dialogue.
It’s almost amateurish the way the script overreaches, filled with a lot of characters and situations but failing to convincingly develop a single one (one would be enough). Even Demi Moore’s supercop (in an absurd scene, she gets into a cross-fire with two mean criminals and not only escapes unscathed, she wounds them so badly they end up shooting themselves) has a subplot. I guess I don’t have to say that her acting is atrociously bad, and she looks as expressive as a broomstick. Even worse is the fact that Brooks’ teenage daughter is (or he so believes) a serial killer herself, and that he ends up murdering someone else in her way as to guarantee her an alibi. It really puts a strain on our suspension of disbelief, mostly because it’s completely unnecessary. I guess the taste for blood must run in the family. Har har!