Image 1: James D’Arcy and Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas
In breaking through the boundaries of conventionality, as referenced during a dream sequence voiceover that marks the film’s most poignant moment of self-reflexivity, Cloud Atlas employs a sprawling range of storytelling scope in its creation of six interrelated narratives that span centuries of human existence. Unlike David Mitchell’s 2004 novel from which it was adapted, the film capitalizes on the capacity of its medium by applying a multithread narrative structure to simultaneously shape each story rather than containing them within individuated sections. While these distinct plotlines are independently functional, it is the manner in which they intersect and coalesce that generates the film’s impact. A consistent use of crosscutting allows each of these narratives to unfold with internal linearity as parallels between the circumstances, characters, actions, and thematic issues are highlighted. This multithread framework allows each of the six parts to function as individual, yet essential, components of the whole, with the film’s totality deriving its significance from the interplay of the complementary layers of narrative. (more…)
Gangster Squad (2013)
Historical fealty has never been Hollywood’s strong suit (as this year’s Oscars crop reminded), and even classic exposés of La La Land such as Chinatown and L.A. Confidential played fast and loose with the facts. But at least these period pieces covered their tracks with allegorical subtext, composited characters, and pseudonyms. Ruben Fleischer’s crime drama Gangster Squad (2013), which shoots holes as wide as the Arroyo Parkway in its realistic backdrop, not only purports to play it straight but flaunts authenticity like nobody’s business.
The bait and switch begins with the opening establishing shot of Los Angeles in 1949, highlighting a seemingly spanking new “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign—indeed, the sign’s original spelling since 1923, when it served as a billboard for a residential development. By 1949, however, literally fallen into disrepair with letters crumbling and keeled over, the sign was renovated and resurrected in its present iconic form. The abridgment expanded the sign’s purview to reflect, and rebrand, the larger Hollywood district, film industry, and frame of mind—all of which were themselves in desperate need of refurbishment due to a disastrous postwar decline in movie attendance and the rise of Las Vegas as a rival nightlife hub to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. (more…)
Equipped with ever-improving technology and visual effects, filmmakers have often used new tools to turn back time. As Svetlana Boym notes in The Future of Nostalgia, filmmakers used developments in computer-generated imagery to recreate the past: the titular sinker in Titanic, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the Colosseum in Gladiator. Faced by a perceived acceleration of time in the age of modernity, progress “didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it,” Boym says. As I have previously explored, David Fincher has also employed cutting-edge digital technology to revive the San Francisco of the past and literally reverse the life cycle of one Benjamin Button.
In 2012, a different trend emerged. If a desire to turn back time is implicitly rooted in a fear of impending death, then last year’s visual effects–driven cinema offered an alternative: transcending time and death. All released within months of each other, the big-budget features Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, and Prometheus explored issues of faith and religion and asked questions about our existence. (more…)
In a recent email correspondence, Professor Chon Noriega and Matthias Stork discussed the merits of Resident Evil: Retribution (RE5), The Expendables 2 (E2), and other films.
I am sorry that you did not enjoy RE5 but I am truly elated that you seem to be familiar with the entire series. I still hold that the newest entry in the franchise is interesting and thought-provoking (even though I might be channeling my 14-year-old self). And it is even better than Dredd, which was extraordinary.
Dredd? Any better than the original, which today looks more like an ’80s film than actual ’80s films…? The Total Recall reboot was a real bomb. Like RE5, it suffered from an inability to imagine or represent a diegetic space that made any sense (let alone resonate with Verhoeven’s critique of the elite-media-industrial-state complex). RE5 seemed to borrow more from Cube than game narratives per se, but even that seemed like little more than a slight pretense for set pieces featuring Milla Jovovich with leather and guns. Alas, that franchise has become more about a family pension plan than nudging 14-year-old boys into the imponderables of life through sci-fi–action narratives. (more…)
To mark this year’s Academy Awards, four UCLA graduate students offer up their Top 10 lists for 2012.
10. Rust and Bone
Marion Cotillard gives what could justifiably be called the best female performance of the year in Jacques Audiard’s sad and tender story of two damaged souls trying to rebuild their lives. Paired with Matthias Schoenaerts, Cotillard fits seamlessly into Audiard’s deterministic universe. The film really stuns on an emotional level: there’s pain here, but also something transcendental that only a mannered filmmaker like Audiard could capture.
The beauty of Argo is how it meets its dangerous blend of espionage history and Hollywood formula head-on. A chase thriller and a spy movie as much as a political commentary, Ben Affleck’s third directorial effect has plenty to say about geopolitical relations with Iran. More impressively though, it is keenly aware of how and why Hollywood has a vested interest in transforming history. That, and it’s damn entertaining and tight as a drum. (more…)
Image 1: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
The sky in much of P.T. Anderson’s The Master hovers at a shade of wiped gray-white, the blue appearing in the form of snips of a heaving riptide and dimly lit interior spaces. It relays a confusion as to what is up and what is down, inside and out, truth or fiction, good or bad. That gives us some insight into the relationship between the film’s dictating figure, the Master himself, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, perhaps taking a page out of Orson Welles’s Charles Foster Kane here), and its troubled disciple, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, truly, and frighteningly, brilliant). It also offers a lens into unpacking writer/director Anderson’s complex portrayal of the seductions of blind, misled faith in exchange for devoted companionship. (more…)