Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Weekend's Films

Isn't it just the way: months can go by without me seeing the inside of a movie theater, and then two films I want to see open on the same weekend. Here are my thoughts on both of them.
  • Terminator Salvation: As everyone has said, this is better than Terminator 3. It's not, however, so much better as to matter. Christian Bale is a plank of wood as John Connor, which allegedly shouldn't matter as he's not really the star of the film. That would be Sam Worthington (who is decent enough even if he can't seem to keep his Aussie accent in check) as Marcus, the secret Cylon, and of a secondary importance is Anton Yelchin (the best of the three, but also the one who's been given the worst lines) as Kyle Reese. The problem is that despite all the post-Judgement Day window dressing which suggests that Salvation is about the war with the machines, what the film actually does is regurgitate the previous two films' plots: a temporal threat to John Connor's existence--in this case, to the teenage Kyle, whom Skynet now knows to be John's father (probably because John mentions it at the drop of a hat)--which is forestalled by a friendly cyborg who also becomes a mentor, in this case to Kyle (and thus down the line to Sarah and John himself).

    So, once again, the film is about saving John Connor, which seems like a less worthy goal when John Connor has all the charisma of day-old bread and seems to have bought into his own myth so completely that he only challenges the order to destroy a Skynet base in which hundreds of prisoners are being held (orders from his evil superiors, of course) when he realizes that Kyle is one of them. Other than that, the plot is so dumb and contrived as to make Star Trek seem coherent in comparison, and the action scenes are frankly dull, completely lacking the excitement and terror of similar scenes in Terminator 2--perhaps because we're never in any doubt as to which of the three leads will live and which will die. The women are completely perfunctory--Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Brewster has so little to do that she makes the character's role in Terminator 3 seem nuanced and rich, and Moon Bloodgood, though allegedly the tough action chick, is really just a love interest for Marcus. The only bright spot is Helena Bonham Carter as the deliciously twisted Skynet designer and later the face of Skynet, who sinks her teeth so readily into her small role that you don't even care what a huge retcon this is. If number 5 happens, count me out.

  • The Brothers Bloom: It was hard not to feel nervous about Rian Johnson's follow-up to Brick, not simply because the bar had been set so high but because Brick was such a precarious masterpiece, constantly on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the seriousness with which it took its central gimmick--a danger from which it was spared mainly through Joseph Gordon-Levitt's searing performance. The Brother Bloom doesn't scale Brick's heights, but it does at least give the impression that Johnson is aware of his predicament, as he's chosen to tell a story about artifice, and the attempt to transform it into something more than a clever performance. The titular brothers, Stephen and Bloom, are not simply con-men but storytellers, criminal therapists who identify in their marks a need for narrative--revenge on an abandoning spouse, adventure after long years as a shut-in--and enact it, as melodramatically as possible ("Have at you, you fiend!" Stephen exclaims at one point). Despite its deliberate recalling of heist films such as Ocean's 11 or The Sting, the double crosses and reveals in The Brothers Bloom have less to do with money and more to do with whether or not the characters are actually feeling what they pretend to be feeling, and whether they can pretend their way into something real.

    The Brothers Bloom is therefore a film that draws attention to its over the top storyness as a way of defusing it, with only partial success--when the depressed, perpetually one con away from retirement Bloom says of Penelope, an heiress with a hidden talent for grifting, that she feels like a character, he is only partially successful at getting us to ignore the fact that Penelope is far too precocious and adventurous to be true (and at time too much the perfect girlfriend). There's also the fact that Johnson's total commitment to style works less well in a comedy than it did in the grim Brick--or at least, it makes him seem like nothing more than a Wes Anderson imitator (an impression which is not dispelled by Adrien Brody playing a very similar character to the one he played in The Darjeeling Limited). Still, for all its conscious artificiality it's hard not to be won over by The Brothers Bloom--it is, for one thing, an extremely funny movie, with several clever visual or verbal gags, and the characters are very winning. For all her precociousness, Penelope is a hell of a fun character, but it's Rinko Kikuchi as the brothers' demolition expert sidekick Bang Bang who steals the show. The silent Asian sidekick sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but Bang Bang is so clearly her own person, and has such a huge personality, that she completely tramples the stereotype, and to top that she and Penelope forge a friendship that transcends their roles as, respectively, Stephen's accomplice and Bloom's love interest, which is enormously gratifying. The Brothers Bloom is by no means a perfect film, but it does demonstrate that Johnson has more in him than clever gimmicks, and makes me very curious to see what he does next.

3 comments:

Dotan Dimet said...

Wait, so Kyle Reese was Chekov? Boggle.
And I suspect that in a world in which actors could age back and forth to match plot requirements, Marcus would be the human prototype for the T800. Because if he were Arnie that would make this a much more powerful movie. And I think there are traces of that, in his general look, behavior and Aussie-trian accent.

Joe S said...

The trouble with TS is they just jump the story ahead so far that we miss out on how Connor transformed from being a wisecracking loner into a respected resistance leader. It would have been far more interesting to see Connor in the weeks and months following Judgment Day, trying to convince skeptical survivors of what he knows about Skynet and the future and put a resistance together. We could see him transform into the leader and warrior his mother wanted him to be, into the man who will one day lead humanity to victory over the machines. Instead they just put Connor in a place where they think he ought to be after so many years, and the lack of transition winds up weakening the entire film.

I did like Sam Worthington alot in this though. It was worth seeing just because of him, he has a real presence on the screen that reminded me of Mel Gibson back during his Road Warrior days.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Not that I wouldn't have welcomed at attempt to humanize a character who, as it stands, is a black hole at the center of the film, but your comment seems predicated on the assumption that the John Connor we see is a good leader, and I just don't see that. A few addresses on the radio (which he anyway only thought of once Kyle came into play) don't make one a messiah figure. So I don't think Connor is in the place he needs to be, though I suspect the filmmakers disagree with me, and aren't planning to change his character significantly in upcoming movies.

Post a Comment