Monthly Movie Mayhem — September 2012


MOVIES SEEN IN SEPTEMBER 2012

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Bernie
The Debt
Looper

STATS (for month / for year)

Seen theatrically:  2 / 32
Seen at home:  3 / 86
New films:  3 / 79
Rewatches:  2 / 39

INDIVIDUAL HONORS

Seeing as how I only watched five movies in September, it seems a little silly to pick four of them as I usually do for this section.  That said, the three new films I saw are all definitely worth your time.  I’ve already sung the praises of Looper, but let me just emphasize again that it’s not just a time travel movie.  That’s just the foundation on which writer/director Rian Johnson builds a rumination on the nature of fate and our role in choosing it.  Bernie is a darkly comic take on the true story of man who’s so popular in his small East Texas town that even when he confesses to murdering the wealthy widow with whom he’s become close, no one believes he could have done it.  Director Richard Linklater brings an almost Coen-esque sense of quirkiness to the film, which is bolstered by two remarkable performances from Jack Black in the title role and Matthew McConaughey as the lawyer frustrated by the town’s insistence of Bernie’s innocence.  The Debt also boasts some great performances, but it’s who gives them that’s the real surprise.  Both Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington hold their own as the younger versions of Mossad agents Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds, who have to deal with the ramifications of a botched abduction of a former Nazi war criminal both in at the time of the abduction in the 1960 and thirty years later.  There’s a great, bleak Cold War aesthetic to the middle part of the film where we see the younger versions of the characters, and Mirren, Hinds and Tom Wilkinson bring plenty of gravitas to the later scenes.  It’s a gripping, twisty thriller about duty, both to one’s country and to the truth.

As for the rewatches, well, it’s no contest.  Spacehunter comes from that period in cinematic history where every futuristic setting seemed to have been inspired by The Road Warrior, with every planet a desert wasteland and all the tech looking like it came from a local junkyard.  More a nod to economics than aesthetics, it made most films that went this route inevitably look cheap.  There are some spirited performances, especially from a scenery-chewing Michael Ironside as the villain, but a weak script undermines the whole thing.  And then there’s the glory that is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Seeing this again on a big screen with a pumped-up sound system was pure joy.  It looked gorgeous, nothing like a thirty-year old film, and I felt a little bit like that young teen sitting in the theater with his dad back in 1981.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

I’m a little disappointed that a lot of the conversation about Looper seems to be focusing on the logistics of its time travel.  The film spends very little time explaining the particulars, which should be a cue that time travel is merely in service to the story, not the story itself.  Any time travel movie opens itself up to inconsistencies and paradoxes if examined closely enough; the key is how good a story a time travel film chooses to drape over that framework.  You could easily pick apart Back to the Future or The Terminator, but they’re too busy entertaining you to leave you much time to parse the details.  Looper is the same way, and I’d like to see people digging into the meat of its ideas rather than debating minutiae.

The moment in Raiders when Indy shoots the swordsman is still a show-stopper, even with an audience that knew it was coming.  But the biggest reaction came from Indy’s anguished howl when Marion flips the mirror and clocks him in the jaw.  Cutting away to the long shot of the freighter is such a perfect choice, better than any simple reaction shot of Indy could have provided.  It’s just a marvel how well this film works on an audience, even one who’s probably seen it multiple times before.

LOOKING AHEAD

October has some real gems in store.  Argo, Ben Affleck’s third feature as a director, tells the story of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis.  Affleck earned widespread acclaim for his first two films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and Argo looks like it’ll continue that streak.  Liam Neeson will try to make lightning strike twice with Taken 2, the sequel to his improbably hit from three years ago that just as improbably branded him as an action hero.  But looming at the end of the month is the sprawling science fiction epic Cloud Atlas.  Spanning thousands of years and what looks like just as many ideas, this film from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer is already prompting rapturous praise from those who have seen advanced screenings.  It’s the first film the Wachowskis have directed since Speed Racer, an unfairly overlooked visual masterpiece, and even if I think they badly fumbled the two Matrix sequels, they know how to make a beautiful looking film.  If the ideas can match the images, Cloud Atlas looks to be a classic.

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