Saturday, January 18, 2014

2014 Movies: A lot of people die in these ones

Hi internet! I'm doing my best to try to watch movies and write about them this year. These are the movies I saw this week:

Virtuosity (1995) Brett Leonard

My roommate had a great story about this being the first R-rated movie he had started to watch with his dad, but his mom walked in the room just as someone was screaming "motherfucker" so she made his dad turn it off. So it was sort of our mission to finish the work my roommate's dad started, I guess.

This is a movie where convicts are used to test out this law enforcement virtual reality training program where they have to catch this digital serial killer "Sid 6.7" (Russell Crowe) that is programmed with the personalities of 181 of histories greatest killers. But the thing is this computer program has gained sentience (because that's all they ever do in the future) and has found his way into the real world via some future science and old fashioned manipulation, so they have to send in Denzel Washington to bring him in since Denzel had the highest scores in the simulation and because -- and here's the emotional twist -- one of the killers in Sid 6.7's programming is the killer who murdered Denzel's family!

It's all very convoluted and crazy, and I guess that's the sort of stuff that got people excited in 1995? I seem to remember a lot of later 90's movies having half-assed high concept sci-fi themes to gloss over all that pre-9/11 violence and excess. I thought they were really cool and scary, but that's mostly because I only saw the previews/commercials for them since I probably wasn't allowed to go see one of these unless my dad rented it months later at Blockbuster.

Denzel does his tough-guy with demons thing, which is fine, while Russell Crowe is kind of like a Batman '66 villain, which is also fine considering the idea of a man with the personalities of 181 serial killers is ridiculous/campy as hell. There's this totally dumb scene where Russell Crowe holds an entire nightclub hostage and organizes all the people in attendance by the pitch of their screams so he can conduct a symphony of screams using his gun as a conductor's baton. Really the biggest turn-off for me with this movie was its seeming insistence to be taken seriously, while simultaneously being so willfully stupid.

It wasn't all bad though, there are some funny bits where Russell Crowe (who throughout this movie is dressed like Jim Carrey's character in The Mask) mugs in front of a virtual background that looks like a cool Windows '95 screensaver. It's very seapunk.

Anyway, I didn't like it.

Red Dragon (2002) Brett Ratner

Still riding my current Hannibal obsession here, and man this was rough.  It wasn't Hannibal (2001) rough, but it was just such a nothing movie.  Which was sort of surprising, considering this cast is pretty solid.  It's weird watching this so soon after watching Manhunter and seeing that Brett Ratner just wanted to remake Manhunter rather than make his own take on this story.  I guess he gives it a different ending than Manhunter, but Ratner's ending is just the ending of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon book, isn't it?  I mean, is Brett Ratner capable of any original ideas/imagery?  Is this where Zack Snyder gets it from??

Edward Norton plays Will Graham as kind of more of a weenie than I'd prefer, but it's fine.  Ralph Fiennes does a good Tom Noonan, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman just seems appropriately bored throughout the movie, even as he's getting tortured and murdered.

Me too, man.

Melancholia (2011) Lars Von Trier

I'd never seen a Lars Von Trier movie before, but from the opening slow-motion dream paintings, I knew I'd hate myself for liking it. Melancholia is an examination of depression and all its many awful facets set at the worst wedding reception ever. There's also a rogue planet on the loose hurtling towards Earth, ready to destroy everything.  Things are pretty bleak.

It's divided into two chapters, each named for one of the two sisters who act as our main focal points. The first chapter, "Justine," focuses on Kirsten Dunst's character on the night of her wedding. Justine and her new husband are late to the big wedding reception that her uptight sister Claire went to all the trouble of planning. It very slowly turns into one of the worst and most uncomfortable wedding parties ever as family grudges and secrets are revealed to us, and we learn that most everyone that Justine knows is just an awful human being. To top it all off, we learn that Justine doesn't even really want to be married, that she has no love for her husband, and that she's going through with all of this to try to be a good sport. I was struck by how hostile everything in this chapter looked, like to an even funny degree (though, I guess it's not, like, "ha ha" funny). The country club where the reception is held is massive and alienating, the dinner and dance hall where the party happens is so dimly lit, and music, when we even hear it at all, is very sparse and tired. Celebratory brass tunes sort of plod along at half volume and speed, making it sound more like a dirge than a party. It's an impressive atmosphere for sadness.

And then it gets worse.

The second chapter, "Claire," named for Charlotte Gainsbourg's character, focuses on Justine's sister as she tries to keep it all together at the end of the world. Unlike Justine who had given up on appearances completely in favor of succumbing to sadness, Claire continues to try to keep it all together. Perhaps it's for the sake of her family, or maybe it's out of love for her sister, but either way it's destroying her, especially as the rogue planet Melancholia looms over Earth, ready to crush everything Claire has ever known and loved. It's brutal watching Claire trying and failing to keep it all together as Justine follows along, shooting down any attempts at kindness from Claire as awful and meaningless. Claire is desperate, trying stupid shit like driving her golf cart into town to what? Escape the total destruction of planetary collision? It's meaningless and when she drags herself back to the house, ready to give up, Justine is there waiting for her to make her feel worse.  The pressure that Claire feels is relentless, and she's at the end of her rope. Luckily for her, Justine, who has given up on happiness altogether knows that this is all meaningless in the face of total planetary destruction, and she leads her sister through life on the last day of living.  

It's a strange sort of tough-love exchange that happens in these two chapters. In the first chapter, Claire does what she can to keep her family together. She spends considerable time and effort trying to keep Justine alive and functioning, but in the second chapter when Claire begins struggling with the very concept of inevitable doom, Justine is there for her, leading her to an acceptance of oblivion, guiding her to to death just as Claire guided Justine to life. Claire's strength was in being able to take charge of her situation and finding her own meaning in life, while Justine's strength comes in her understanding that life is meaningless and her acceptance of nihilism, a useful practice at the end of the world. In the end it's Justine, once sad and emotionally dependent on others, that is the hero. Claire has tried to deny sadness all her life, but Justine has finally accepted it, and now what was once her sadness becomes her power at the end of the world. But of course, it's the end of the world, so what does it matter?

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) Anthony Minghella

I liked this movie, I guess.  I was entertained by Matt Damon's creepy obsessiveness and all his deceit.  I liked Jude Law's completely unlikeable Dickie Greenleaf.  Jude Law can do unlikeable pretty well.  There are some very choice was-it-supposed-to-be-funny-because-this-is-hilarious moments here, particularly where Matt Damon and Jude Law play a duet of "My Funny Valentine" with Damon on vocals and Jude Law on a fucking saxophone (superstar actor Matt Damon as it turns out, doesn't have much of a singing voice, but maybe that was just another superstar actor choice that separates the Hollywood elite from Dickensian webisode comedians).  The scenery is beautiful to contrast with all the ugliness of the idle rich and the few moments of stark violence.  The plot kept me interested but by the hour and a half mark, I was just struggling to see how they were gonna end all of this.  

This is a movie where hunks lie to each other and almost kiss a lot.  I know nothing about the Patricia Highsmith books, but I'm hoping they are as homoerotic as this movie.  The deception is of course the main thrust of this movie, as Ripley keeps getting himself in these weird Three's Company-type situations purely of his own design, but the homoeroticism is the icing on the liar cake.  It's just occurred to me that this is another movie where Phillip Seymour Hoffman is murdered by a sociopath, so that makes me 2 for 4 this week.

I'm not sure what else to say about this movie, really.  There's hot rich people vacationing in Italy and lying to each other and it plays out how hot people lying to each other always plays out.  People are murdered, there's more lying, some purposefully un-subtle directing, and here we are again, wondering if there's any justice in the world.  I like that stuff enough, I suppose.  It's like watching Gossip Girl taken to its natural endpoint.

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