Monthly Archives: October 2013

Wes Anderson

Please forgive my quietness, I was getting over some sort of flu nastiness at the time. Also for some reason it was difficult to find high-quality footage on this one.

The Counselor

If you were to google the synopsis for The Counselor, you’re probably just going to get “A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking,” (via IMDB). How sad is it that’s really the best I could ever come up with? I mean, for such an ensemble, you’d think you’d get something far more gripping. Unfortunately, we’re kind of left with a mess. Minor spoilers ahead.

Featuring a cartoon Javier Bardem. His shirt has butterflies on it.

Featuring a cartoon Javier Bardem. His shirt has butterflies on it.

To be honest, The Counselor is a fairly obtuse film – it is so far removed we have to grasp at mere implications in order to understand if we are indeed witnessing some sort of significance. Similarly, most of the time the dialogue comes off just as detached, if not absurd. Then, in some brief, wonderful moments, we get a tiny taste of the bigger picture.

This leads to the assessment that this is a movie that is truly based on the abstract notions of power and manipulation. This being said, I think the most frequent topic of conversation throughout this film was women and sex, interchangeably.

"It was like...catfish."

“It was like…catfish.”

In a time of over-sexualization and slut-shaming, the use of sex in this film is about as intriguing as it is baffling (a car, really?). Sure it can be argued that it reflects upon respective partners (Counselor and Laura being more intimate, and Malkina and Reiner are extravagant and insane), but within the context of the story it’s really all about control. Doesn’t make it any less sexist. Or forced, for that matter.

In the case of Malkina (Diaz), it’s things go from excessive to ridiculous. I get that this is a woman who thrives on extravagance and greed, but I’m not exactly sure why we should care – to prove there’s always a bigger fish? The shift in masculinity from hunter to hunted? Both are a possible.

I’m sorry, but why was there even a scene in which she tries to confess to a priest? This scene is pure redundancy – yes, she is hypersexual and understands that women have more motives than men realize. Yes, we get that she has very little moral obligation. We get this from our first conversation with her. Maybe I just need to watch it again – I might have missed something.

Oh Michael, you deserve so much better than this movie.

Oh Michael, you deserve so much better than this movie.

Speaking of characterizations, at least our nameless protagonist serves as a realistic expectation of your greed-ridden everyman (so pretty much anybody, but with money). In Cormac McCarthy’s other tales, the characters’ notions of right and wrong become increasingly blurred, and there is always a shadow of doubt and fear, not to mention the inevitable clash between the agonist – thus greed prevails.

In Counselor’s (Fassbender) case, he is an acquisitive man and is warned against playing with the big boys. With much arrogance he ignores this warning, and due to guilt by association, he becomes a target, unknowingly dragging sweet and naive Laura (Cruz) down with him. Ultimately, he is a man of many mistakes and regrets – not to mention a lack of resolution. Though it would be great to see him fight the powers at be, he accepts that this is the unchanging reality. It is neither satisfying nor happy. Yeah, that’s a good way to describe the whole shebang.

The Counselor is a work of muddled dialogue and overabundance. We are subjected to a world of avarice and extravagance with very little payoff. Bad people are bad. Tell me something I don’t know. Even Anton Chigurh showed an inkling of obligation. Though the cast does their best to try to make something out of… something else, their effort gets lost in the noise.

Final Grade: C-

 

WYSHW: I’m Not There

In case you are unfamiliar with the legendary artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman, I would suggest you take a good day to discover all that you’ve been missing out on. It’s okay, I can wait – because if you have no knowledge of the man’s life and career, this film is practically inaccessible. Now, if you think Bob Dylan’s one of the worst song writers of all time, you can see your way out.

Unlike with Howl, it helps to know a bit about Bob Dylan before diving into this layered collage of a “bio-flick.” Not only does I’m Not There undertake multiple depictions of Dylan’s actual life, but also depicts his figurative personas and influences in a unique fashion. It also helps that none of these characters are referred to as “Bob Dylan.”

there

I’m Not There is a different kind of non-linear story, considering it shows the many faces of one person, which is not to say that Dylan himself had anything to do with this film, because he didn’t. In fact, I think the charm of this feature is that it follows an icon of many musical movements, and each character takes on a given persona:

Woody Gunthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin, the child) is Dylan’s displaced musical beginnings (an anachronic “imposter”); Arthur (Ben Whishaw) is the interrogated poet; Robbie (Ledger) is the superstar who struggles with his family life; Jack (Bale) is the documented folk singer turned born-again Christian; Billy the Kid (Gere) is the mythic wanderer and outlaw; finally, Jude (Blanchett) is our surreal musician – the closest to matching the perceived 60’s Dylan, played with both delicacy and ferocity.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Sorry Franco, David Cross is the best Ginsberg.

Though I’m Not There can easily be dubbed as a pretentious mess, I beg to differ. Okay, so maybe I have my Dylan goggles on, big deal. This aside, I can’t get over this intertwining construct – it’s just full circles upon full circles with amazing musical intervals. Another bias: I really love intertwining nonlinear stories. This aside, I’m Not There beautifully depicts each era almost as a genre of its own design.

So yes, it does help to know a thing or two about Bob Dylan, but I guess you could easily enjoy this film as perhaps a schizophrenic portrait of the everyman, caught in the midsts of his desires and obligations. As well as the occasional trip with Allen Ginsberg.

If you dig on Dylan, I’m Not There is a prime choice. Or if you’d rather have some colorful background noise with some choice covers, that works too. It’s a win-win.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, let’s talk about that fat Kev Smith.

We Are What We Are

Yes, yes, another American remake of a recent foreign film – except in this case, I haven’t seen the original so no need to open that cinematic wound (from what it looks like, drastic changes were made). In case you are not familiar with the story, We Are What We Are is the tale of a secluded family with strange customs. Not a spoiler: it’s cannibalism.

"That's a rather tender subject - another slice, anyone?"

“That’s a rather tender subject – another slice, anyone?”

Meet the Parkers, your reclusive family whose lives are governed by their religious customs. When the matriarch suddenly passes away, it is up to the eldest daughter, Iris (Ambyr Childers) to take on her mother’s responsibilities, as governed by papa bear Frank (Bill Sage). Tensions rise as the children doubt their tradition, whilst townsfolk discover findings that may lead to the Parkers’ dirty little secret.

Compared to other cannibal flicks, We Are What We Are is pleasantly subdued. Met with an ideal color palate and tonal shifts, you have yourself a near perfect modern thriller, almost with it the potential to be this generation’s Silence of the Lambs. Director Jim Mickle also makes an applaudable use of overtonal montage in order to heighten suspense. Now if only the payoff was as good.

we-are-what-we-are-header

…What?

As mentioned, tension is a key dimension in this film – so when the climax hits, it ought to be good, right? For me, I felt that it was more ridiculous than shocking. When the first action hits, it’s excellent – then it kind of continues and feels silly and a little awkward. I mean, I get that this moment is supposed to be grotesque and raw, but it ultimately came off as a tad absurd.

Regardless, the turn (I hesitate to call it a “twist”) left some lingering thoughts, mainly about the construct of tradition versus choice – but as the title suggests, some things are just inevitable, and that is what makes this movie haunting.

We Are What We Are is a pleasantly simple little horror film. Perhaps I desired a bit more umph, or maybe more on the tradition than the just the origin – because really, how would a family like this create future generations in the modern age? There may not be that much depth, but it certainly leaves enough to the imagination.

Final Grade: B-

Gravity

I love a good existentialist space movie. Obviously given the incredible teaser trailer, I dubbed Gravity as a must see. Much to my surprise, the film didn’t take the usual twists I was expecting.

I hope you packed your Dramamine.

I hope you packed your Dramamine.

On her first time out, bio-medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is strapped to a space shuttle, repairing some sort of system she helped design. Just when you’re wondering what a bio-medical engineer is doing in space (or what that doohicky is that she’s messing with), word is out that the Russians screwed up and a debris field is heading their way. Enter that spooky image of Bullock tumbling through nothing. Yeah, all that’s in the first five minutes. The rest falls upon her survival. During this epic ordeal, we witness a woman overcome death and understand the potential of moving forward, while caught in the confines of complete isolation.

Odd, isn’t it? The claustrophobia of infinite openness. Huh.

Clooney's voice is comforting in the dark.

Clooney’s voice is so comforting in the dark.

Admittedly, there were times I felt that the trailer was better than the movie on the whole. Only because in that minute, we are seeing probably the greatest human fear played out for us, without resolution. Frankly, it’s a powerful trailer. Now if only the film kept that momentum…well, I guess it would have been a much shorter film. With a lot less frantic panting.

To be completely honest, Gravity took its theoretical toll on me after leaving the theatre – rather than bizarre twists to keep you pondering, you’re given a terrifying adventure with aftereffects to think about. This is a story about a woman surviving the unthinkable. Is she an exceptional woman? Not really, but Stone’s a decent stand-in – you don’t know much about her but it’s not hard to empathize.

I’m not going to gush about the cinematography, because it’s just too breathtaking for words. Just do yourself a favor and pay that tiny bit more for the 3D. I really don’t like 3D and I am telling you, go for the 3D.

Without a doubt, Gravity is an ambitious film that is ultimately an experience to behold. A tale of survival against the odds – is it believable? Again, not really, no. Alfonso Cuarón simply takes you on an incredible journey, without relying on anomalies or blue cat people, and that’s something pretty extraordinary.

Final Grade: A