Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mud


Mud

There's a movie that Mud appears to be, but isn't, that one would probably wish it had in fact been. That is, one that looks upon the heroes of our youth and sees in them projections of the strength we at the time needed them to have, for understanding them as versions of ourselves but in the adult world. Ellis is a fourteen-year-old boy with an abnormal amount of bravery, self-control and heart, but a lot of what is distinctive about him looks like it might be at risk as the life that nourished it--his life with his two parents, living up river amongst loner individualists--is collapsing, and he'll be absconded by his mother into a townie life. The townie kids hang out in packs, are ruled by peer expectations, and don't seem worth a whole bunch. They make great components of your own feats, if all you do is periodically range amongst them and thwart or humiliate them, but if they were your everyday milieu your automatic need for company and experimentation amongst people your own age, might mean your own inviting upon yourself a poison which would cripple what was notable about you. If you sensed that something of the kind was due to hit you, you might in Ellis's position start imagining suddenly being visited upon by mythic characters of great strength, that seemed to have bridged the divide between childhood and adulthood but wholly retained their fierce nature, heart and will. And when they talk about life, as Mud does, as if it is fundamentally ruled by mythos, you'd have the reassuring sense that your own appreciation of the world is brewed from the same mix the whole universe is universally of. You might lose confidence during the day, and feel powerless and without sympatico friends, but in the evening glancing at the constellations of the Archer or the Centaur, you'll feel that wink of appreciation that will gather some of your strength back to you. 

Arguably, the mythic characters I'm referring to in this film--Mud himself, his "dad"--the retired military sniper, and Juniper--are shown to in fact be, if not nothing, certainly lesser of the sort. But not too much, in my judgment, for they still seem of greater motivation and purpose than anyone in the film--exempting Ellis's mother, whose drive to finally live her own life, and even her wishing for her family to gather for dinner, chimes in the movie as sort of a death-knell an incantation of powerful eternal adolescent spirit has to be very quickly created against. And the danger in their being represented this way is that it conveys that what you need to do in life is set your sense of yourself early, abscond from the social world your peers will get into during adolescence and early-adulthood, and arc back into some kind of interaction with the world in adulthood--as if you alone had diverted from "the college" path in the game "Life," to rejoin them later in contest of family and other stakes, should you desire. I'm sure in some cases this might keep you "truer," more truly functional and happy than everyone else--ala Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But it probably means that the universe of conversation and social refinements and personal awareness and understanding that one can be become acquainted with amongst life with groups of people, that can make one actually surpass becoming an adolescent's hero and become a fully realized social adult, will be denied you. For this kind of growth you've got to be able to relax and hang--be the kid who sees some good from milling about with a peer group; be the kid who would near more want to relax and jam with Neckbone's uncle Galen (to be fair to the film, Galen is not portrayed here entirely without his attractions), than putting the universe right by conjoining Mud to his eternal equal. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness


Star Trek: Into Darkness

One of the criticisms of Abrams -- perhaps the foremost criticism of him -- is that he likes to let other directors do the hard work of staking out new territory, and then he comes in into fully delineated terrain, and makes some adjustments -- "Sally would work better with Jonathon, and the couch should go there--". With his last film everybody had him as of the dutiful flock of Spielberg, and with this film, at least at the beginning -- the same. It's Raiders of the Lost Ark, with tribesman chasing down our interloper heroes, spears thrown, an artifact used to momentarily buy time by tricking the tribesmen into forgetting their current purpose and supplicating themselves, and an escape into an airship (no snake, but discord of a kind: Spock and Kirk feuding). But okay, in truth this sort of chase is how he began his last Star Trek film, so maybe this is just how he gets a number of his films revved up. The possibility, though, that Abrams is a bit too comfortable being in a great director's shadow, being a "mini-me," clasped in clothing and appenedendums to someone/something solace-offering and protecting, comes more to the fore --very irritatingly to the fore -- when we realize that Kirk and his crew aren't actually adults out on their own adventures, but more like misbehaving kids back home with disappointed parents, who can't believe what they made of the freedom granted them to explore the woods. This is the way it was in Abrams’ Mission Impossible 3, if you remember. And I bring up this film because, for me, this is not a crew who will ever credibly go on some five-year journey all on their own, but more like a team of top-notch agents, who will go out on raiding missions but always at the end back to home base, reconnecting with an older and more entrenched culture, that coddles them, relieves them of some of the responsibility of their own actions. Mind you, Abrams has this way of making it seem that if it's too much just your own braced against the world, where you're the head, accountable to no one, or when you're engaged in affairs that are a bit too much gravitas -- as in this film, when a great-power world war is threatened -- then there's no room for play. Everything has to be rigidly taught (taught, as in tight), and often angry as hell, so that you've got so much seriousness going on it'll ostensibly allay any moment that sneaks in that reveals how you're as nervous as hell and feeling totally not up to it! Older characters seem to manage this okay, and in truth get to be relaxed about it -- witness the cowboy reaction,"Ah hell," the admiral offers Kirk when he learns he's been talking to Khan. Ostensibly it's more their turf, like as if Cold War and WW2 was more their turf rather than our current more insouciant foreign policy. Abrams does better when things are allowed to be not so serious, when the seriousness has been tempered down, and affect and warmth and can slowly infiltrate and build into something. When Kirk decides not to seek out and kill Khan, but rather capture him and have him go through due-process, you feel it in the theater like a relief of tension; and it is no surprise that on their mission to capture him we get some development in the Uhura-Spock relationship which had been crushed by all the emergent seriousness, with tendrils for a later more whole-hog exploration of it --"What is that even like?" What is that even like?, or what would that be like?, is in fact a question that in effect gets floated up a number of times in the film -- what is like to be fired by your best friend (Scotty, by Kirk)?; what is it like to feel someone else's death (Spock, through Pike)?; what is like to see McCoy flirt?; to see Scotty souced? And it is a question that gets its best reaction and exploration from us when we've been given a climate suited for empathic identification rather than route response. Down-play the stakes a bit, and we get that -- I swear the film would have been just as good if the whole thing took place in a bar, exempting of course Khan, who could be checked into every once in awhile for bedazzlement at what one superhuman can do to whole line-ups of opponents.  

No doubt, it is partly owing to Abrams' deeply democratic nature that he has more than a few of the crew serve as captain (Kirk, Spock, Sulu, and -- in effect -- Uhura, when she leads the encounter between the crew and the Klingons), but just as true is surely because he seems to intrinsically identify a position of ultimate command as confining, as something you almost want to loft for someone else to do (sucker!): Don't necessarily think of Sulu as privileged here, for instance; he's more stationed while everyone else cavorts into space.

Back to my thought that what this crew is is a team of elite special agents, never completely detached from home base. At some point in the film I began to think of it as akin to the last James Bond movie -- Skyfall. Two great genius agents (Kirk and Khan; Bond and Raoul) betrayed by an older, very near retirement-aged Mother or Father who ultimately had bequeathed them. I have to admit I actually did not enjoy this Trek all that much, and felt that when things threatened to be taken out of the youngins' hands and given to seniors who didn't seem so equivocating and abashed at going out on their own, even though this meant huge regression to Clash-of-Civilizations war, it looked to be more captivating than the plentiful smaller shows that Abrams put on. So in compensense I did force myself to think upon how much more evolved this special-agent film was to Skyfall. We were supposed to root for the militaristic turn in Skyfall, with headquarters being drawn back to a WW2 bunker rather than kept open but vulnerable in the city, with M quoting Tennyson, about old men, old values, returning undaunted in a world of threat. We were supposed to hate counsels and trial-justice. We were discouraged to empathize: never for a moment were we supposed to like Raoul, or consider that he had just cause (even though he was sacrificed for heaven's sake!) -- rather perhaps heap more on his misery, by insulting his bold fashion (I liked his shirt, myself). It's very bad when you essentially have a twin of yourself but cannot think of anything nice to say about him, because this means you're as far away as you can be from empathizing for your unwanted qualities being grafted onto him for dismissal. Into Darkness sidesteps this darkness -- we are to like law courts, hate or at least regret old dinosaurs returning, like a relaxed atmosphere that kindles an appreciation of nuance, and of course throughout thoroughly enjoy and like Khan -- and tries to fold all kinds of calamities – including twice the devastation of good parts of a downtown -- into it that can still be managed in a non-inflated, non-emergency measures, unalarmist way. There is an evolved person in Abrams, however much it is still true he's a boy-adult head-of-family caught as a fulcrum in a Serious Man / Everybody Loves Raymond world. Making something of the domestic, because he likes the living/family room, but also because there’s no way he can allow himself out.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful


Oz the Great and Powerful

Some time in the past there were tinkerers who were great and powerful -- so great that in this mundane world of ours it still would require a moment's recalibration to not consider them actually half magic, if someone persisted in your face that they were in fact so. Edison, if you want the best example, though you might also go with Benjamin Franklin, or whoever it was Scorsese's movie Hugo was worshipping. Stage magician Oz hopes to be like that, and spurns women left and right to keep himself fixed to this goal. He'd have been okay if this didn't also mean his deceiving women into his bed, but for this, judgment appears to have cast upon him and the rest of his life is going to be about lifelong serving the bequests of women, fixed to a spot rather than a free wanderer, readily reached by three very empowered, three very great and powerful, witch-women. But the actor playing Oz is James Franco, and so maybe the people behind this film had in mind some revenge upon women too. For Franco is sensitive and responsive enough to suggest to most sensitive souls that he's hardly a man so involved with machines or aspiring to sky-high goals he's dulled to humans, but there's something about how though he says and does and expresses about as you'd expect and desire, he's still applied a thin layer everywhere that registers as if it's all a lie--like you're in truth interacting with some puppet of himself, that's close to him but not really him, he's operating via remote control, a la Tony Stark's suit in Iron Man 3 -- his passive-aggressive revenge, let's not kid ourselves, on Pepper, for her owning his day world while he couches in his basement cave. Franco probably isn't so savvy, so great a magician he's made himself entirely inaccessible to you; he can be figured out. But the thing is, what would cause him to smirk like he's got something on you you can't balk, is that you don't really want to figure him out: he's the only plausible man in town, and Oz had become akin to the Castle Anthrax, managed by women who are becoming insufferable to one another and in need of a man, that beacons out promise of man-rule glory to get some hapless guy in to serve as some post to steady them, as well as for stud. Anyway, Oz might become convinced that he's really great and powerful, after apparently making up for every past sin against a woman he's ever effected -- which is so much his foremost concern the last gesture he makes to the latest evil witch haunting the land is an apology -- but the audience knows this guy is owned by a need for reparations. How easy it is to keep a guy like that from growing up -- just making every step ahead seem a spurning of everything and everyone who preceded it, and he's back to being yours. The end of the film shows two great ones battling-- the white good witch vs. the more mentally balanced evil witch -- and when the good witch defeats the evil one, it most certainly doesn't end with her apologizing but with her sure of the rightness in making this once actually most beautiful and regal witch (here played very stately by the stunning Rachel Weisz), the only nightmare horror/grotesque to be found in the land -- something of irrevocable consequence just happened here. This is grown-up matter for the only grown-ups in Oz. Ben Kenobi vs. Darth Vader at the finish of Star Wars – but at a time when boys who know best toys and tech, a la George Lucas, aren’t going to be allowed to be so ball-danglingly front and center, so these roles go to the girls while the guys do the patching up.     




Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Great Gatsby


The Great Gatsby


One thing I never confused the movie for the book for, was its portrayal of Gatsby. In the book I could believe that the huge estate he had prepared was but to lure him Daisy, while in the movie it is surely his aggrandizement--I honestly thought most of the time of Orson Wells's Kane while watching puffed up Leo. He strolls his party not so much invisible, as he is in the book, but hidden master of it all. And he shows off how that special person and that special person and that special person are all there, rendered as they are into part of his ample house collections, with them trapped to not want to be anything else, owing to his hosting the biggest draw in town--Beethoven in his second act, and this just one feature. Every night he houses his parties, and every night the whole town is corralled into it -- he's master of the house and master of all. And so at the end of the evening when he strolls outside and looks across the water at the beaming green light across the bay, it's absinthe to well the evening down amidst cool air -- the logical follow up to the evening's clamor, a cleanse, not what what has been sitting with him throughout and that he has longed to return to. 

Daisy comes across as someone he has to possess for a complete validation of himself as great and complete. By his side, the past when he was just a young officer on the climb, unsure if he should dare merge with someone of assured standing, becomes smoothed into him. As much talk as there is in the film that once again knowing Daisy means Gatsby's all-important green light's dwindling out, the only way there's any sense of it the film is that it might mean Gatsby and Tobey McGuirre's Nick Carraway being distanced from one another, as it is their encounters that are a bit of magic. Magic, as in first-date, guard's up but set for maybe great change, is not Gatsby courting Daisy with tea, but Nick for the first time refusing his own otherwise agreeable and placating stance and leaderly simply refusing to let Gatsby leave his home and thereby lose his great chance with her he's put so much effort into procuring, while also humiliating and really hurting Daisy. Nick here instinctively puts aside his friendly bemusement at Gatsby's unpredictable dramatics, for doing what has to be done so these two people he's fond of don't lose from this hereto magical and charming day, full as it still remains of possible beautiful portent. There is magic also in all three of them hanging together during the day in Gatsby's mansion, with Gatsby tossing his shirts at them, partaking of the clownish fun of sport throws at town fairs, but take away Nick and leave it to the other two to display something meaningful, and it's the gesturing carapaces, animated but without souls, embraced together on the grounds outside of one of Gatsby's parties. 

I'm being a bit hard on Gatsby, but there is a sense that just maybe there really is very little to the guy--that those who'd judge him--notably Daisy's husband Tom Buchanan--are possessed of something solid that refuses them any slip into admiring or being bedazzled by him. At the beginning of the film, Tom is made to seem a non-threat, for being by one and all regarded as someone with rearguard prejudices in a world of Jazz Age authority. But still you don't forget him as a judge too, possibly because his relation--that is, Nick--is just meeting Gatsby too, and he's in a sense quickly onto him as well. Nick realizes that Gatsby needs tempering--"if only he could have been content with his sweet date with Daisy over tea," he alases. He's like old money prejudices, with a lighter side, a real fondness for youth and their eager tries and newish ways, who'd court peers he still belongs to to try and see them the same way; and his having so much standing in the film, gives solidity to Buchanan. When Buchanan reality-tests Gatsby in a way which fully renders him down--the only real murder in the film--and gains back his Daisy, Nick had already been rendered to the point that the best he could do for the person he still wishes the best of luck to but who realizes he has no hope of further influencing, is communicate true love and support for him through his otherwise lying nods to Gatsby's determination to gain sake himself Daisy--the only thing he wants at this point from Nick is a show of deferent affirmation, so it has to be the conduit for something truer and larger he'd prefer to communicate: great realization and maturity and love, from Nick. Nick knows it's likely "the wolves" for Gatsby; Buchanan only supplies them. Hard judgment to the softer man's realization--"Amadeus's" Count Orsini-Rosenberg to Baron Van Swieten, upon Mozart's decline and death. Nick of course is shown writing a book that we know will puff up the Gatsby legend that is being debilitated as his estate is being looted. But I think this is just pause for us to think on the words that are being literally inscribed for us on screen. There was a great show of a kind for us in this film, but it may pass as just a film amongst others -- not even possibly being one of our Depression's notable showy numbers, that we should get to high acclaim if this one wears like the last one ("Forty Second Street," Busby Berkeley, all show, no depth, anything to beat back the pressing accretions of the Depression, and all that), while we know Fitzgerald's words are lasting three-gens plus, and are looking immortal. The book is our true green light, something truer to be engaged in, whatever our current society's overall bent and mood, if that's actually territory we're fond to explore just now, however much it might not be, with all the bon-bons in this film looking like they might just have been offered a little early, when we still haven't fixed ourselves to believing you can be like Gatsby and have fun and possibly be successfully ascribed, at least, as paper-thin, if you've accepted your lot is to live in times with no chance to beat back judgmental oppressors if they're really, really determined, to fix on you. The sin-watching Tom Buchanans are going to have no handle on you, for your mad gambits and wild dancing are acknowledgments, not questionings, of how ascribed you are to live in mostly dream-defeating times. The Toms would take note of that, and would have no problem allotting you your driving "Daisy" home. 










Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Iron Man 3


Iron Man 3

If you ever give someone a twenty-foot stuffed animal for a present, you might want to consider that you're doing so more out of a desire to affront the receiver than please him/her, and that also possibly you're communicating that you're the one -- the denied child -- in gigantic need of love yourself. It could pass as just making up for long neglect, as it is does in this film, but when you're following up by fooling your lover (here with Pepper engaging with simulacrum Tony while the real one pulls his strings in his den) and then maybe not-so-accidently fixing it so that your den toys substitute as nightmare horrors to scare the Dickens out of her, the truth is that you may be the one who is frustrated and in anger, and that you are unconsciously being driven to communicate it as loudly and aggressively as possible. Tony Stark is in need of attendance -- being ready to lose his life in favor of saving the world and finding himself in some other dimension against the onslaught of aliens while with the Avengers, has him the mercy of reoccuring anxiety attacks -- he's got PTSD, as bad as any out of Afghanistan. This might seem difficult to identify with, but it's not really, as you've got a Depression on your hands which is making sure you suffer the incredible aggrievement of actually feeling more and more without support while our awareness of the particular historical situation we're in increases. You need a manger to lie in, not your cold removed den, and this is what Tony gets, as he finds himself removed from the world in some small town down south, where he gets to be slotted in with some small boy's modest home and essentially just talk bubble gum and comic books and harken to early-life Christmas scenes -- so the Savior taking small liberties, in the fortuned house to host him. Here's where it begins to become clear to the astute that what you're still hurt from is not what you're macho-maintaining saying it is, but maybe out of the things that are floating up while on lay-away -- topics/concerns like boys without fathers, bullies, and the discourse you're floating always at your new bud children which said a slightly different way is the sort to flatten a child hard. Tony abandons the expected needs of his new boy-friend about half a dozen times; he clearly is taking pleasure doing so. This is supposed to be just cover for the fact that he's the kind of guy who couldn't care more -- but of course if this was you and what you're actually enjoying, using as a remedy, is that here repeatedly you've got a subject who has to be neglected and abandoned "you" while you skirt off satiated and unaffected, this is the excuse you'd use too. If you get too much into this remedy you might neglect to cover what is supposedly afflicting you -- as happens in this movie when you take that wormhole that opened out of space that afflicted our universe with multitudes of replica aliens that is ostensibly the source of Tony's trauma, and have it be inspiration for your own horrible revenge upon foes as your penthouse's den hole opens and out comes an armada of iron men to kill some other's dream. When you're parted from your manger and back in adult digs and engaging with your lover, you might make her constituted momentarily as if out of nightmare things herself -- like what happens to Pepper in this movie, where she finishes as ripped older woman, dragon-blooded, and android (she's sporting parts of Iron Man's armor). Basically a gargoyle, but for a moment not removed from you, but akin, and family -- you're of wormholes and annihilating/abandoning/table-turning revenging things yourself. Apportioned some "equipment" from pre-birth nightmares -- actually the greatest sort.

Further: The dangerous Orient is made to seem a harmless old man who smells up bathrooms, a disappointment worse than the revealed wizard in the Depression's "Oz." Is this because he's not ripped like everyone else or because it's not "time" (who are we kidding if we haven't half set it up already as our next greatest enemy?) for China? Or are we expected to implicitly appreciate that while left behind, that stinking shitcloud of odor is accumulating, and will be source of inspiration for the next worm-hole hell to chastise the character-armor we're using against our times into malfunction -- maybe the false villain really could only be the true one once we've been made to associate him with decrepity, bathrooms and shit -- spouted hell, not singular and contained (-- the hero's-only denizens?)?