Two Weekly Recaps in two days? I guess I’m just that generous a person. Or lazy.
8/25: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Today in movies I was horribly wrong about:
Sometimes our goals in life aren’t mutually exclusive. Sometimes they’re linked, and to get one thing, you have to fight for another. Edgar Wright’s accelerated time lapses in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are trademark visual flares, but in transferring O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim manga to the screen, they’re a pagination for the shorthand of graphic storytelling — as cinematic a page turn as one can get.
Wright harkens back, smartly, to panels of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s artwork only in explaining Ramona Flowers’ backstory, a gesture as fitting a tribute to the source material as it is a crystallization of film itself. This is not a “manga” adaptation per se, at least not in the modern comic book tradition. In teasing out a strong performance from Michael Cera, Wright has fused cultures of geek and game, love interests and self-interests in energized fight sequences that tease out character development in arcade-styled versus modes.
Two dimensional? Only the graphics.
8/26: The Act of Killing (2012)
In his 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer follows the 50 year aftermath of a mass Indonesian genocide, one that left over a million suspected communists dead at the hands of mass death squads. The catch here is that Oppenheimer leaves the history-telling to the victors, going so far as to turn over the camera to death squad leaders and allowing them to produce their own accounts of the atrocities.
In taking this observational, passive approach, Oppenheimer doesn’t give any definitive answers and provides no moral stance, apart from the toll taking a life has on one’s conscience and sanity. Rather, Oppenheimer suggests that history isn’t made up of absolute “right” and “wrong,” of winners and losers, but instead exists on a gradient of complexity. It’s at first a terrifying and then numbing notion, especially when played out in the documentary’s candid version of reality. One of the death squad leaders talks of mass beheadings, of burying hundreds of prisoners of war. Oppenheimer places this voiced recollections over scenes of the man, his wife and his daughter strolling through a shopping mall.
That juxtaposition, in its implied unfeeling nature, is disturbing, but as I sat in the Sundance theater, I couldn’t help but marvel at my audience’s reactions. There were gasps of incredulity. After all, how could these killers be so heartless, yet remain so self-aware? It’s less a hypothetical question of “what happens when the Nazis win?” and more “what changes when the history writers own up to omitting half the story?”
Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close explores the tangential idea of the recorded death, and among its many questions asked is perhaps its most powerful: By watching a disaster like the World Trade Center collapses over and over, are we symbolically killing the same people over and over? Obviously, there’s a performative quality in asking murderers to replay their horrible crimes on camera. The Act of Killing implies there’s a kind of catharsis that arises from replaying these murders; judging from the strong emotional reactions some of the more remorseful killers end up having, I’m inclined to believe it.
8/27: Raising Arizona (1987)
There’s a scene in Raising Arizona where Nicolas Cage’s shyster with a heart o’ gold bungles a grocery store stick-up for some Huggies, and his far more moral wife Holly Hunter peels off with their newly stolen baby — and the getaway car.
The ensuing chase — between Cage, Hunter, a tenacious police officer, a pack of angry dogs, and the well-armed clerk from that grocery store — parses out and elongates the baggage of Raising Arizona‘s lovable misfit couple in comedic fashion, with Joel Coen’s playful camera indulging in an exuberance that’s arguably never been topped by the brothers since.
8/28: Prince Avalanche (2013)
After The Sitter and Your Highness, David Gordon Green once again finds the time to tell a small, intimate story — an alleged $60,000 budget’s worth of a small story. It’s easy to trace the trajectory of Pineapple Express’ buddy film to this and see why the director would be interested in the spaces between relationships. Among a barren cast, both Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd turn in some solid work here; in Rudd’s case, it’s nice to see him flex a little outside the Apatow Warp Zone.
Prince Avalanche is also gorgeous, and Gordon Green finds some artful structures among the barren trees of his sparse woodland landscapes. Regardless of what the original film, Either Way, does, Prince Avalanche still overplays its hand in having Rudd and Hirsch hurl insults at each other, rather than let the story play out in between its uncomfortable nighttime silences and melancholy flavors.
8/30: A Single Shot (2013)
Hey, guys. I’m here for the Sam Rockwell party.
“Lone gun” type films aren’t really my bag, but Sam Rockwell, who’s finally receiving the mainstream recognition he deserves, definitely is my bag. A Single Shot, which sees Rockwell’s crusty poacher cover up his accidental killing of a woman, is standard thriller fare, more or less. Written by Matthew F. Jones — and based on his novel of the same name — there’s a definite No Country For Old Men quality that ensues when Rockwell stumbles upon Jason Isaacs’ drug dealer’s cash hoard, hiding the funds and taking every precaution to cover his tracks. It’s the film’s attention to detail that helps and ultimately hurts the ensuing by-the-numbers “cat and mouse” game.
While I have no lingering questions, I was never certain how anyone caught on to Rockwell’s secret in the first place. What A Single Shot lacks in clarity or originality however, it makes up for with superb mixing and sound design. The score’s “prickly” violin strings are creepy until they’re overused, but the true horror lies in the film’s suggestion that the world may in fact be better off without Rockwell.