After what I presume could only be a hotly contested seven month absence, the weekly recap returns!
I caved to the social media phenomenon with several friends and several more Mosquito Beaches and resurrected the carcass of the weekly recap with SyFy’s schlockfest, Sharknado. Despite its en pointe title, less fascinating to me is Sharknado’s actual story: a tropical tempest merges with fully-lunged maneating sharks and then wreaks havoc on the state of California. This allows Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, and a cast of generic nobodies to band together and stop the shark cyclones by reversing their vortexes with propane grenades. If you’re analyzing the science of “reversing” a tornado, this just isn’t the film for you. The enjoyment in Sharknado comes in trying to figure out which parts are intentionally schlocky and which are simply terrible cuts, recycled B-roll footage, poor acting, and incoherent action. It’s one thing to be a terrible director; it’s quite another to do it intenitonally. Whatever the case, Sharknado crosses that finish line. If only John Beard’s town drunk didn’t have to die somewhere along the race to mediocrity.
7/22: We Steal Secrets
“I” Steal Secrets might have made a better title for Alex Gibney’s documentary on WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange and the infamous “War Logs” release of thousands of classified government documents in 2010. Gibney, whose Catching Hell entry in ESPN’s 30 for 30 sports documentary series remains a guilty pleasure of mine, is undeniably obsessed with the ethics of the information leak and whether or not that transparency can be fully achieved, even by self-professed “open doors” organizations like WikiLeaks. Gibney seems even more infatuated with WikiLeaks’ human stories, not just of Assange’s but of the currently imprisoned PFC Bradley Manning, the counterintelligence officer responsible for leaking the information in the first place. Zipping between archival footage of Assange, Manning’s recreates and dramatizes chatroom sessions but the brunt of its messages are delivered via interviews with former WikiLeaks employees, programmers, ex-government intelligence big wigs, and journalists. It’s a veritable who’s who of information trafficking, and as I indicated earlier, that “who” ought to be emphasized, as it’s often the people rather than the information that take over.
We Steal Secrets explores the public and (as its keen to point out) ironically private lives of these public information antiheroes. Inasmuch as Gibney can hyperbolize chat reenactments, Bradley Manning does not receive the most flattering portrait through the Law & Order portrayal of his now widely known struggles with gender identity and depression. Also troubling is Gibney’s choice to ignore the “alleged” part of Sweden’s rape accusations against Assange. Apart from rape being terrible, I have no opinion (or facts for that matter) on Assange’s innocence, but Gibney’s implied guilt is a presumptuous departure for a film that is otherwise so thorough in extending the entire truth. This is a film that questions the veracity of truth yet it is also consumed by its focus on Assange’s cult of personality and a fascination for the founder’s own hubristic downfall. Then again, shouldn’t a film that explores truth also explore that of the truths behind its seekers?
7/23: Only God Forgives (2013)
Given how minimalist Drive can become — rigid long takes; scant dialogue; glossy, electric images — it’s little surprise that Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest feels so much like an arthouse film. Only God Forgives drifts through the aftermath of a rapist’s brutal murder through his brother Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American ex-patriot with Bangkok’s underground boxing connections and a propensity for banging his mother (a sadistic, bleach blond Kristin Scott Thomas). Coerced by the manipulative Thomas, Julian seeks revenge against the dominating presence of sword-wielding police lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).
Honestly, I can understand the critical backlash, even if the boos at Cannes were going overboard. Refn operates at such heightened strokes of emotion and raw plot that his glibness with time or even reality finds Refn often losing himself in artistic indulgences. But there are redeeming touches of Lynch in that same dreamy glibness, just as there is Argento in the palette’s rich pinks and blues and its embryonic oranges. Even a touch of Kubrick is in Refn’s slow tracking shots, their trudging propelled by Cliff Martinez’s electornic lo-fi grumbles. To dismiss Only God Forgives entirely would be a mistake, even if its silent treatment wears thin by the end. This is a dissection of masculinity, of machismo and sexual repression. Refn fetishes a twisted hybrid of broad arthouse strokes inside a lush, dreamy package where one’s own limitations don’t take the form of a handcuff but rather a swift downward stroke of a blade. Gosling may only utter 25 lines throughout Only God Forgives, but that pseudo-silence only makes the experience all the more cinematic.
7/26: The Conjuring (2013)
Both The Conjuring and James Wan’s previous ghost film Insidious find their director consumed by own his paranormal mythologizing. To some extent, Wan deserves credit for grounding fantastical narratives and establishing real stakes. There’s a thrifty streamlining in the arc of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) with that of the haunted Perron family, just as there’s something awfully “meta” about equating “obsession” with possession by, about bookending a narrative about the paranormal around a couple famous for investigating precisely that. To read nothing into Lorraine Warren’s hesitance to experience a case is perhaps to miss one of Wan’s sly digs at this own audience.
On the other hand, demonic possession and the inevitable reveal of the hauntings is far less scary when Wan places rules behind them. The Conjuring benefits from a strong first half that relies on one tried-and-true staple in good horror: the answer is always less satisfying than the intrigue. Wan makes darkened cellar basements, bumps in the night, and as the trailer has certainly made famous, a pair of clapping hands infinitely more effective than jump scares, and make no mistakes there are jump scares. I jumped, but as soon as the old woman in the scary face makeup shows up, the film loses that throbbing tension. This is a tight film, and it may be damning with faint praise to say this is better than most horror films in recent memory. It’s no Innkeepers, but Wan shares an understanding with director Ti West. West gets that the tension is much more important than the release, that it’s harder to create and maintain suspense than it is to walk behind someone and go “boo.” *clap clap*