Friday, February 22, 2013

mémoires crevées

Nous avons chacun
nos mémoires lointaines.
Dans chacun de nous
bat le coeur brisé,
faisant un bruit
de pot d’échappement crevé.

Il n’existe plus assez de tendresse
au bout des routes de la vie.
J’en ai moi des mémoires lointaines.

-- le 22 février 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Delivering justice

Jessica Chastain is nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Maya, a tenacious CIA analyst in director Kathryn Bigelow’s film “Zero Dark Thirty” about tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden. If Chastain does win, her Oscar might to a large extent reflect the significance of the events the movie is based on.

Chastain delivers a wonderfully intense performance but it is a portrayal sequestered in the narrow emotional bandwidth of a single-minded character whose personal life and backstory do not factor in the narrative. Maya is Company through and through. Posted to Pakistan, she labors in a cramped space with an intensity that contrasts with the relatively bloated culture of her bosses in their big offices with golf putters in hand. Maya is a laser beam. She doesn’t need cigarette breaks. She doesn’t screw; she hardly even goes out to dinner.

Her mission: Get bin Laden. She isn’t put off by torture. She isn’t a Navy Seal groupie. She treads the halls of power in Washington without awe and the streets of Pakistan without fear. She goes after results and doesn’t rest until she gets them.

Chastain’s countenance and slender frame belie a toughness and obsession in her portrayal of Maya that rival any Islamist zealot. In one telling scene, Maya, narrowly escapes a terror bombing in Pakistan, immediately fleeing with her colleague, making no attempt to look for survivors or render aid to the wounded. Maya stays on task regardless of the toll it takes on her own humanism.

When several of her colleagues are killed in a bombing, Maya is shown sitting on the floor next to her desk. Grief has knocked her down – but not out. The unfinished mission brings her back. In the wake of that attack Maya even seems to believe in her personal exceptionalism. As she resumes her efforts to track bin Laden, Maya tells her boss, “I believe I was spared so I could finish the job.”

Throughout the movie Bigelow uses newsreel footage of terrorist bombings to mark the passage of 10 years, creating a sad timeline of international terrorism. When a CIA chief orders his analysts, “Bring me people to kill,” those recounted bombings also serve as tacit justification for a blunt game plan.

The scenes depicting the actual op against bin Laden are quite detailed as if Bigelow was determined to give viewers a proper pay off for two hours of skulking run-up. The Navy Seals loom bionic in their night goggles and mission gear.

Clearly they are killers, as they put a businesslike bullet into the heart of downed targets. While collateral damage is a necessary evil, numerous children in bin Laden’s compound are spared. The Seals deal death dispassionately even as they avenge the slaughter of thousands of innocents.

Those scenes make clear the difference between the Seals’ motto and the terrorists’ infamous “Allahu akbar.” The latter is but a senseless war cry by some of the most inhuman mass murderers of modern times. “For God and Country” on the other hand is the heartfelt code drilled into our elite soldiers to guide them through their most trying episodes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cinema 2009: 'Bloody' flick is schlock and sick

If you have neglected 3D movies in recent years, you may be interested to know that director Patrick Lussier and the filmmakers behind 2009's R-rated "My Bloody Valentine 3D" have learned to incorporate, shall we say, "eye-popping" three-dimensional effects into nearly every scene from opening to closing credits, with one exception, notable for its typical American sensibility, if it even makes sense to use the word "sensibility" in this context.

In "Valentine," our protagonists are chased by yet another murderous madman, this one concealing his identity behind a coal miner's oxygen mask and coveralls, and wielding a miner's pick ax with utter ruthlessness and three-dimensional bloodlust.

Don't worry so much about trying to solve the mystery of the killer behind the mask, although the cynical screenwriters do drop a clue or two amid the crimson carnage. Just sit back as hapless extras and actors in secondary roles are brutally dispatched via that steel tool in every way imaginable and a couple more ways that probably would have been hard to imagine without the help of 3D. You might think ax murdering would grow repetitious, I assure you it does not.

There could be many morals to this tale.
Run, don't hide, when being pursued by a pick-ax wielding psycho in a miner's oxygen mask.
Don't show up to an ax-fight with only a crow bar.
Don't adhere so strictly to gun safety when you are home alone and expecting a killer to drop by. In other words, keep that shotgun loaded!
If you are a cop, call for back up.

Most members of the cast, which combines veteran character actors with young-looking 30-somethings — rising stars no doubt — appear too tired or too cool to take their jobs seriously.

Notable exceptions are Jaime King, who plays the sheriff's wife, and Megan Boone, who plays his young lover. Both women deliver the goods during the straight scenes, then prove they can scream and run at the same time during the fun-filled terror scenes, especially when the killer stalks the ladies in a grocery store. Their mop-wielding moxie rouses the audience, by now tired of the miner's murder spree. Suspense builds as the babes are trapped in a back room. Will they unlock a window in time to escape? It is a tried but true formula.

There is not much comic relief in "Bloody Valentine 3D," except for quips by laconic lawmen surveying crime scenes that would otherwise hush the most hardcore homicide detective.

Lussier also throws in extended female nudity, all of it tamely two-dimensional.

Although the 3D effects are mostly furious fun with flying pick axes, ample spritzes of blood and meteoric body fragments seemingly crashing into the seats around you, the level of useless torment at times outweighs the terror and reduces the film to base bloodletting. The inclusion of such scenes in the genre is not new. The 2005 film "Hostel" similarly lost its way — and was rewarded at the box office.

While the pace does improve as the movie builds toward resolution, those scenes of execution-style murder numb the normal psyche, no matter how side-splittingly funny 3D splatter may seem. Granted, the audience for such a movie goes in expecting catsup-stained corpses and a body count that competes with a major Mexican metropolis. But when filmmakers toss in the mutilation of corpses and what amounts to the torture of the helpless, the horror shlock turns senselessly sick.

The film's ending, on the other hand, when the secret identity of the maniac is revealed, is rewarding. Who else could it be but the sole actor who camped up his performance throughout the entire film.

Monday, February 11, 2013

“Silver Linings” is golden

Director David O. Russell has created a resounding success with the filming of Matthew Quick’s debut novel “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Quick’s subject matter is a veritable vortex of the pop culture Zeitgeist in America – mental disorders, dysfunction, and dance – which Russell brings to the screen in a direct fashion, relying on fine dramatic performances and classic cinematography, both beautiful and understated, not to mention a sublime soundtrack mix.

The film’s mini-ensemble cast of characters is quirky yet empathetic. You can’t mistake the real feel of family and friends that is the backbone of this movie. O, did I mention the plot also involves football and gambling, and more running than any movie since “Forrest Gump?”

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany delivers a performance as gripping and moving as anything in the past 75 years of cinema. Indeed, Lawrence astounds with a powerful onscreen presence awash in natural dignity and the purity of her craft, reminiscent of Betty Davis or Ida Lupino. Lawrence displays a seemingly limitless depth and breadth of emotive powers. She is quicksilver and rock solid. Make no mistake, Lawrence is the eye of this narrative storm. Actor Robert Deniro even seems to step out of character to acknowledge this rising star in a scene where the bookmaker he plays is forced to reconsider an elaborate football handicapping strategy in the face of Tiffany’s bold gambit.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) suffers from a mental disorder diagnosed in the wake of a violent, pre-story episode. Released from the mental ward at the film’s outset, Pat only acts out violently when off his meds and then seemingly only against reading materials.

Certainly many moviegoers might be tempted to give the manic hunk a pass on his crime of passion, but that violent past is disturbing, especially since it is so intimately linked to Pat’s efforts to move forward with his life. Cooper threads the needle in his portrayal of a troubled and flawed man who remains nonetheless sympathetic almost in spite of himself, as if his disorder is only an overemphasis of certain ideal qualities.

Pat wears a plastic garbage bag over his sweats when running around the neighborhood. The garbage bag and aimless running are apt metaphors for troubled Pat, whose feet initially propel him into his past in violation of restraining orders. It is Tiffany who channels that raw energy away from solitary, mindless pavement-pounding into a heart-pounding dance routine for two that ultimately reveals a silver lining.

Along the way the couple attempts a dinner date which spins surreal as the two medicated personalities spar with each other over a bowl of cereal while the ordinary folks around them go about their mundane business costumed for Halloween.

Can Tiffany’s love cure Pat of his unrealistic longing for the past and provide a source of future happiness? You have to wonder what kind of odds Pat’s bookmaker dad would give on an exacta consisting of an inveterate slut and a man who beats his wife’s lover to a bloody pulp. The answer doesn’t matter because such hypotheticals go beyond the arc of the narrative. Besides, if there is one point to the entire film, it’s that silver linings are what we have when we try our best in this imperfect world of our own making.

The celebration at the dance contest crystallizes the notion of success within a group portrait of family and friends. The Hollywood happy ending touches us because Pat and Tiffany themselves are exemplars of a society seemingly built on roadblocks to happiness.

Friday, February 1, 2013