23 September 2008

short cuts: smart summer blockbusters

short cuts:

we just had a summer full of smart blockbusters. here's a recap:

* the dark knight
i'm pretty happy that a movie like this is one of the highest grossing ever, because it is a good example of what steven soderbergh calls "artful entertainment": pictures that are well-written, technically excellent and have a point-of view and an intellectual backbone while remaining entertaining. that, to me, is the apex of hollywood cinema, and this film qualifies.

the story starts with a bang, literally. the window is blasted out, the bank robbery starts, and a whole line of criminals gets killed. the chaos has begun, and that's what this film is about: the thin line between the order we all agree to participate in, and the chaos that a few folks (the joker in this fictional case, terrorists in the real world) can create to destabilize that.

is it pretty great knowing that, due to the success of this film, christoher nolan now has carte blanche to do just about anything he wants. what he wants, i'd imagine, is to continue fucking with one of the most basic of storytelling conventions: the hero and the villan. in all of his movies (that i've seen), he blurs that line, and that's a line that, in our modern world, should be blurred.

* wall-e
a masterpiece. i can't really be articulate about this one, i just think it is great. it continues to amaze me that, for the last 10 or so years, some of the best, smartest, and most human hollywood films have come from an animation studio.

this film features pointed satire about our society of fast food, commerce and laziness. it has amazing sound work, both in voice work and in sound design. and the beginning silent section is gorgeous and sad and funny all around, making us care about a robot.

and it looks gorgeous. did i mention that?

* tropic thunder
the silliest and least smart of the whole bunch, this hollywood satire has some fun performances and great moments, but doesn't add up to much. that said, the more i go along, the more i realize that, when someone is satirizing hollywood and it seems over-the-top, it probably isn't. going to those lengths to get an actor tivo? probably close to the truth. an executive having an inexperienced director punched by the key grip? if he lost him $4 million, it wouldn't surprise me. a storied memorist who turns out to have made it all up? definitely.

and on top of that, robert downey jr. continues to have a great year, and gets to have fun, nick nolte gets to play on his grizzled persona, and tom cruise gets to...be a shouting, grotesque, unrecoginizable mess -- and run away with the movie in the process.

* the pineapple express
i love david gordon green. he is and has been one of my very most favorite current working director, and this movie shows that he can pretty much make any type of movie that he wants.

i like that this movie was a stoner movie that doesn't cop out at the end and renounce pot. i like that the movie was an ode to friendship and male bonding. i like that this movie had crazy action sequences. i like that james franco got to be a goofball and seth rogan had to play the straight man. i like all the little 80's details, from rosie perez to clothing choices to "227". i like that the plot is silly as fuck. i like that they shot a foot off a dead body.

i like that tim orr didn't do a damn thing differently save shoot on super35.

* lakeview terrace
this picture is really a lot better than the trailers make it out to be. it is much more a portrait of contemporary race relations than a thriller. able is a complex man (doesn't want to have his daughter to booty dance in a bikini, but is still down with having a drunken, stripper-laden bachelor party), and as bad as he turns out to be, you understand it because of his background in south central and his relationship with his dead wife.

maybe you wouldn't allow this fiction if it were a white man instead of a black man, but because it is a black bigot in the lead (and someone with the star power of sam jackson), you buy it. and then it becomes about power -- pure power, the kind that can hide behind a badge. and the power plays that exist in the script are very classically done, very by-the-book, almost as simple and economical as a great short story.

and that final image after the ambulance speeds away gives us the past and the future: the fires are a direct symbol of those that swept los angeles after rodney king in 1992, and the fact that they are still burning shows that we continue to have a lot of work to do.


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