Hugo could have been more boring if Martin Scorsese had directed it from a chair attached by bolts to the shoulders of a brain-damaged Tom Hanks, like a cinematic Master Blaster of schmaltz. Twenty minutes in I started fidgeting, looking around at the other bougies packed in the theater, wondering if I was in the wrong film. Nay, the wrong skin. I’d read Hugo‘s ecstatic reviews, and heard Scorsese waxing poetic re: 3D on NPR. The premise—an orphan who winds the clocks between the walls of a post-war Parisian train station brings a robot to life, and accidentally befriends real life filmmaker Georges Méliès—seemed promising. But Hugo fetishizes instead of reveals the beauty of its subjects. Clocks, trains, machines, silent movies, and all manner of other steampunk knickknacks brindle brightly to melodic accordion music throughout Hugo, but the story never pushes them past the level of prop. I went in expecting steak and vegetables, salad and wine, cake and ice cream, but got a cotton candy buffet, and exited the theater with a stomach ache in my soul.
Hugo presents filmmaking not as porous, but implacable. Would that a story about the magic of visual storytelling had had a good story to tell itself. The never-ending army of precious objects—heart-shaped locks, flower girls, mechanical mice, blue-eyed children with British accents, blueprints, sketches, automatons, glimpses of le Tour Eiffel—all seemed summoned to underscore an obscure art history lesson: remember this director (who is actually interesting, but whose Wikipedia page is conveys more of why than the movie). Scorsese attempt to exalt art, imagination, adventure, etc; but in pursuit of these ideals, his heroes pay no price. Without stakes, the scenes are leaden, and the theme yawns on: in the adoration of precious surfaces stuffed with good intentions, a piety as dull as it is cheap can be achieved. The beautiful logic of what the clocks mean, how they or any of the other props surprises us, is beside the point if they are shiny, and everything is shot in friscalating 3D™ dusklight, and “celebrates imagination.” It’s haunting to me that a movie supposedly so sincere about art making climaxes at an awards ceremony. Remember that scene in Toy Story 3 where the toys, faced with their imminent meltdown into magma, turn to one another, then decide to hold hands, lest they face death alone? Nothing anywhere near that real or human happens here.
Melancholia, on the other hand, wants to have its empathy and shove it down your pitiful, tiny throat too. Its characters are less despicable than they are dull—because the movie happens exclusively in a hermetically sealed metaphor (It’s a castle! That’s a hotel! That’s also a golf course! That’s about to explode!), the characters are allowed to reap nothing of context, nothing of reference: we watch them behave badly toward one another and are never asked to care why. Kirsten Dunst is some kind of arch saint for snobby girls, her big boobs a silent rebuke to all those who do not take her depression seriously: she’s seriously depressed guys!
Melancholia: rich people acting shitty and then the world explodes—the final act, in which Dunst gets to tell off Gainsborough for wanting to make the world’s end “nice,” but goes and builds the movie’s kid actor a teepee to sit in as the planet smashes to smithereens anyway, betrays Von Trier’s basic misunderstanding of the human condition. Take Shelter: even in ending-less form, so pervasively empathic as to let us see anew the thin line we all walk in the stories we tell, or try to tell, each other and ourselves.
In Time’s ethos is less carpe than CRAPPY diem. Something about class and the unequal distribution of wealth goes on in In Time, which led me to whisper-shout “OCCUPY TIME!” at obnoxiously regular intervals throughout it.
The New Yorker review of In Time is a hazard to public safety and so I’m going to take the rest of the time allotted this review and rebut its claims, one by one:
“Andrew Niccol, the genre-twisting director of ‘Gataca,’ delivers another entertaining mind-bender”: In Time is mind-bending only if the last time you experienced your own mind functioning was en route from Pretzel Maker to Auntie Anne’s and were like, how will I ever decide which is the better pretzel store?
“The film stars Justin Timberlake, as an heir to a fortune of extra time who flees the corrupt police force known as Timekeepers”: this bit of innocuous plot explication is so wrong I wonder if Bruce Diones took the time to even watch this abysmal time-waste of a movie.
JT is NOT an heir, but a man accused of stealing time from this rich guy who comes to the wrong side of the time zone because he’s been alive for so long and “people want to die” and so he gives JT his time while JT is asleep and JT tries to use it save his mom but she—zzzzzzz….
“Niccol’s zippy direction, joined to a sleek, rich production design, keeps the movie spinning like a shiny toy”: In Time was filmed on the back lot of the back lot of The Sopranos during stray moments when no one important like Edie Falco was looking.
“It zooms past plot holes”: In Time is one giant plot hole in the middle of a cul de sac it jerks off behind the tree at the end of.
“The remarkably good-looking cast includes Amanda Seyfried”: Seyfried looks like a grotty Skipper doll made of last year’s Top Shop.
“As for Timberlake, he shows some smart acting moves, dialing down his inherent charisma and letting the movie pop…”: Any popping In Time manages is of the white-head-boring-a-hole-in-the-center-of-your-chin variety; when it goes it’s timely, but you wish it had never happened in the first place.
Every line is a time-based pun like “I’m gonna clean your clock…” and “Time’s up!” and “Looks like we’re making good time…” and “Time to go get some more time before time runs out.” “Not this time!”
Justin Timberlake’s lingering falsetto, erupting at moments of emotional intensity, undercut his ability to wag a gun and grimace convincingly at an adversary.
There were pauses in the dialogue so vast and vacuous, Russel Crowe could’ve piloted the ship from Master and Commander through them.
In Time is a man running a marathon whose legs are suddenly hacked off and instead of going to the hospital, he just worms forward, desperately clutching the earth in front of him while gawkers turn away, covering their eyes with their hands, but their eyes aren’t crying, they’re smoking.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” – Oscar Wilde
“If I am the exact same character in every movie, I can be in every movie.” – Olivia Wilde
Remember the highlighted blonde-poodle haircut Justin Timberlake used to have.
Byron: The world was void, the populous and the powerful was a lump, seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless—a lump of death—a chaos of hard clay. The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still, and nothing stirred within their silent depths; ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea, and their masts fell down piecemeal; as they dropped they slept on the abyss without a surge—the waves were dead; the tides were in their grave, the Moon, their mistress, had expired before; the winds were withered in the stagnant air, and the clouds perished! Darkness had no need of aid from them—she was the Universe.
What if every time you read anything, you summoned the author’s mind into your own, housed it there on life-support, and for the duration of your attention span, that consciousness became a living thing. As long as you concentrated on this stranger’s words and let them overdub your own internal monologue, that writer was awake, alert, looking out through your eyes, feeling what you felt, thriving within your body. Then the moment you closed the book, or were distracted by a squirrel outside, or an email, or a phone call—the writer’s mind, as if struck by a freight train, is wiped from existence. It drifts without sensation or agency in the lightless void whose barest description belies a dimensionality it is defined by the lack of. Until the squirrel on the powerline runs out of your field of vision, or you delete the Facebook invite you just received, and return to your reading. Suddenly as if sucked out of purgatory and spit back into life the writer breathes again, or at least thinks, which is the breath of being. Once again the writer is smiling, weeping, opining, thrilling and being thrilled by the spongy, plangent joy of your form. As if to live in the empathetic present is the only heaven.
Reveling in the concept of a non-writer doomed to relive the same moment over and over is the primary Source of pleasure in Code. Watching whiskered, big-eyed Gyllenhaal grok his paradox isn’t nearly as wonderful as watching Bill Murray do it in Groundhog Day, but this sisyphean DeLorean gets adrenalized by shrinking down the existential loop from 1 day to 8 minutes. The other good thing Code does is blur in all its glossy, techno-thriller glory the line between the never-ending present and mother Death. Right now, reading this, you could be having a flashback on your deathbed, remembering when you read it long ago. Maybe we are all already dead, and the thing we call life is just one long, slow flashback. Something we lived before and now are falling through in a perfectly representational montage. Eternity, momentarity, the dream of forever realized through sheer faith in the infinity of now—in Code these venerable leitmotifs are like the most delicious Sicilian dough ever kneaded being grinded through the Play-Doh hand-crank of hackneyed idiocy that is the loud, plastic sacrament of blockbuster form. But it’s non-toxic, so you can still eat it. I’ve been eating it my whole life. It’s good!
Limitless is probably the malest piece of movie making we’ve seen in awhile. It’s not misogynistic, or even sexist—though Abbie Cornish’s bit part as Bradley Cooper’s love interest is pretty and perfunctory, we must admit it’s classily done—it is just really, really male. Like bong hits and video games male; like computer chess and burritos; like snappy puns traded at lightning speed and a mattress on the floor, “Chocolate and Cheese” on the stereo for old time’s sake. Bradley Cooper exudes a certain kind of large, safe, and tasty masculinity: he is equal parts the prom king who secretly befriended you in high school, and the pony-tailed philosophy major you dated in college. The zero-to-hero story this movie tells could be some kind of indictment of the American dream, or a clever retelling of the Faust myth, or a sly endorsement of drugs. Whatever it is, and whoever wrote it (former frat boys is what we’ve heard), it is the funnest action movie in theaters right now, its under-the-influence conceit consistently pushed to jaw-dropping extremes. We saw this movie in a crowded theater—one of the first in a long time and oh what a difference some public makes—and the middle-aged couple next to us seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. At one point, Bradley Cooper is required to drink some blood. Some shit happens and it’s his only way out of a bad situation and blah blah blah. But the way director Neil Burger allows us to arrive at this conclusion with Cooper, to vicariously assess all the possible scenarios and realize—with him, nay, as him—that this is truly the only way, is a mini-masterpiece of pacing and focus. An image that has been Twilighted to death suddenly became disgustingly pleasurable. As Cooper opened his lovely mouth to slurp at the black stain of sangre, the older gentleman in the exact next seat to us chuckled, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
It reminded us of the first few months of our friendship with Mark—in fact this whole movie is what it’s like to be friends with a man, to behold with bemusement and horror the quotidian workings of the bland, megalomaniacal logic that has somehow ruled the world for thousands of years—when we would engage in absurd thought experiments like: If all your poetic ambitions would be fulfilled but you could only eat tacos for the rest of your life, would you do it? Or: Would you rather be able to instantly know people’s darkest desire or have any kind of new car that you wanted? Would you drink blood if it allowed you to access 100% of you brain? If you could access 100% of your brain, would you use it to make an ass-ton of money, learn a bunch of foreign languages solely to prattle to a UN’s-worth of maître ds, and run for president? Or would you use your powers in some non-self-monumentalizing way? Eschew the priapic path in a true quest for empathy, and the maximum good? As the camera zoomed us down another montage of NYC’s streets and the club-music soundtrack pounded like the rain of a thousand remixed Adidas commercials, we didn’t care that Cooper was merely a cipher of contemporary male anxiety, his meteoric ascent the raging hard-on every white American dude knows he could at any moment have in the over-priced skinny jeans he has somehow found himself in. We were having fun, as one does, when one is hanging with the boys. Go see this movie if even the thought of illegal substances now makes you paranoid.