Weekly Recap 8/19 – 8/25

8/19/12 Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Click the drunk, psychologically-damaged lovers!

8/20/12 The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

It’s piss poor how long it took me to finally see this, and what brand of praise hasn’t already been heaped on its send-up of horror tropes? What about its… commentary on politics and infrastructure? Marty’s paranoid stoner is the hyper-mindful eye of right-wing American Tea Partiers while Jenkins/Whitford are uniformed cogs of the Big Brother machine. But that means The Tea Party is backing Prop 215 and that big government mass slaughter is morally defensible. Lemme start over.

8/21/12 Goldfinger (1964) 

 

If From Russia With Love serves up countless touchstones in spy cinema, then Goldfinger is Guy Hamilton’s return to Dr. No’s pulpy shtick. It certainly hits the requisite checkmarks of Austin Powers fodder. Take its villain’s ingenious scheme to irradiate the U.S. gold supply. It would’ve been much more enthralling if one were to discover it as it played out. Instead, the brutish entrepreneur divulges every detail to Bond and then we see all that explication unfold with the help of bumble bee-styled Korean henchmen and Ms. Pussy Galore. Goldfinger himself is a caricature. By comparison, the once over-the-top glimpses of Russia’s Blofeld look subdued, so is it any wonder Fat Bastard spewed forth three decades later as Goldfinger’s lampooning progeny?

8/22/12 Unbreakable (2000)

 

As I can attest, Sam Jackson’s Mr. Glass nails the sad underpinnings of comic readers on the head — begrudging devotees to a weekly cycle of rehashed storylines and characters. Elijah Price is a slave to the medium, fettered with visions of its potential against the monotony of DC’s latest ‘New 52’ series. I’m hoping I wasn’t alone in getting suckered to buy all those terrible “Blackest Night” tie-ins. God, this really does look dreadful but Batman torching zombies with a flame thrower? Fuck it. I probably wasn’t spending that twelve dollars on anything important anyway.

“We’re on the same curve, just on opposite ends.”

To dub Shyamalan’s second feature another gritty superhero flick would be dismissing a far greater message. Unbreakable,especially with a decade-plus of hindsight, tells a unique ‘origin story’ while digging at the impulses of our widespread obsession with caped crusaders. Its ending is, after a third viewing, less an expected “twist” so much as a logical extension of two antithetical characters on the same wavelength. I’ve not seen The Sixth Sense in years, so one must forgive me if I rush to crown this Shyamalan’s signature work.

8/23/12 The Hunger Games (2012)

 

Without mentioning that ‘other film’ this has been exhaustively compared to, The Hunger Games is an enjoyable piece of popcorn entertainment. No gun-to-my-head coercion is needed in choosing Suzanne Collins over Stephanie Meyer and her vampire baseball. That choice is reinforced by Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, and Jennifer Lawrence, all delivering solid performances. And yes, the premise of a gladiatorial competition le morte is interesting if still very disturbing even upon revisitation.

To pose an honest question, does anyone have an inkling of what Collins is saying here through such a vague, crude metaphor? A critique of professional sports? A take-down of reality television? Stanley Tucci’s blue-wigged Jacobin hairdo is fun to look at, but that the film never ventures even once to go beneath his Seacrest sycophancy is a problem. I refuse to believe after 74 years of tradition everyone in the authoritarian establishment finds this tournament morally sound. Maybe they do. If so, address that instead of giving me another thirty seconds of Donald Sutherland phoning it in. The Hunger Games could’ve been so much more if it weren’t trying so hard to do just that. From what I’ve heard, Collins’ original book is meatier, but its adaptation has an air of undeserved importance. Hopefully, Gary Ross’ departure allows some significance to come out, or I can’t see these next two three going well.

Does anyone else hear a cannon?

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

 

A single thought, that “man’s reach exceeds his grasp,” drives the ambition and intoxicating obsession in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and the phrase works, largely because its analogy rests on a simple physical assumption: arms do not grow. The eponymous chef in Jiro Dreams of Sushi defies that growth, at least mentally. He is a man, not striving for perfection so much as appreciative that striving in and of itself is a worthwhile venture.

Often shot in Red One’s crisp digital 4k, Jiro is visually filling if a bit lean in its substance. But judging from the chef’s crash-course philosophy we receive on tuna (and life), Jiro would likely be just fine with that. Until tomorrow.

Deja Vu (2006)

 

Tony Scott is not a director I can express great familiarity with. I recall crowding around the glow of Top Gun at an elementary school sleepover, but even then the synths and silhouettes of “Take My Breath Away” hardly seem justified for such a posthumous outpouring of admiration.

Of course, far be it from me to go with the flow in my reconciliation. Deja Vu holds its head high as a bold slice of action cinema that is too seldom attempted. While its central conceit — a government guinea pig project that distorts time, allowing one to re-experience what’s already happened — is hokey, Scott gives a mechanical, precise delivery on the title’s promise. Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson provide their own analysis on Deja Vu at Cinema Scope, and although their reading feels slightly unsupported, it’s a fascinating one that doubles as a primer on a revolutionary action director’s career. I think I’ve got more work to do.

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