12 June 2011

Review: Super 8

Genre: Drama (Fairy Tale) / Sci-Fi

No doubt billed as one of the major blockbusters of this Summer, the Steven-Spielberg produced J. J. Abrams' film Super 8 nevertheless resists bearing such a "noble" mantle; to say that Super 8 was an attempt at recurring the past would be far more accurate an assessment of the film than to say that it busted any block or even single square of narrative storytelling. Dependent from the tropes that initially made Mr. Spielberg a commercial and personable success, the film by its film-makers fails to recognize that the manifestation of those tropes needs to be different now. The tropes, manifest originally among the technological and social conjunction of the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s, necessarily took on the popular characteristics of their sources; and, similarly, any manifestation now would need to become of the times. Social networks, plastics, even cell phones should be the devices turning this story's engine; resetting the clock to a time before all these elements and others is not just unchallenging story-telling but also niche nostalgia. To those few spectators whose childhood memories are synergistically stirred by the cliché '70s reprisals and industrial-aged futurism, the aesthetic and didactic consequences of the film may be comforting; but to the masses at large, they should just appear perpetuative of the thoughtless reshufflings of the deck that, highly stylized, now deal all forms of entertainment to gaping eyes. Needless then to say, a starving critical spectatorship fares no chance; quippy dialogue and a bit with a meta-medium are no sufficient stuffs for satisfying attraction. What could have been so much more distrusts itself to becoming so much less.

Grade: C+, simple simple sugar-tainment.

03 June 2011

Review: The Tree of Life

Genre: Drama

It's quite difficult for anyone to speak eloquently about such a simple topic as the one director and writer Terrence Malick approaches in his latest film, The Tree of Life: science v. religion; the argument makable there is plain, the story old, and the finer points mired in mud, dug up from each side's digging heels into the ground. So, Mr. Malick - either quite hopelessly or quite savvily - eschews speaking altogether; his writing places filamentary strings between points in time and space, bound then by shifting webbings that hang together with sap-like viscosity and flow equally heavily. Instead of a discourse through dialogue on the life-and-death nature of the debate, an emotional tide he rolls in and then pulls out and finally in again over the doings of a family bluntly divided themselves between "nature" and "grace." That this emotional, nostalgic, fanciful turning is effective is not really the undertow; that the narrative itself is emotional, nostalgic, and fanciful is. Mr. Malick's great exercise here is not that he's said anything new about the matter at hand, but rather that he's adapted his own personal style (see Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line), characterized best by the abstract camera and the hovering monologue, to the direction of saying the matter at hand novelly. Few feature-length films or filmmakers step so effusively outside of the bounds of typical, critical communication for the purpose of exploring the alternative colors of the spectrum that the medium film has to offer. Influences from Brakhage, Schlesinger (viz., Midnight Cowboy), and Kubrick are evident. For what he owns here, Mr. Malick is safe too; The Tree of Life, though practically a substantial project, does not make a substantial meal but has crenellated finery spelling throughout it.

Grade: A-/B+