What I Have Been Watching, September 1010

J. J. Abrams’ Star TrekI have already written on this film once, so I will not spend much further time on it.  I will just say that it generally does what a good Hollywood action film should do, that it strikes a good balance between respecting the past Star Trek franchise while making room for some new ideas, and that it moves well between humour and gravity.  It even made me forget, at times, how much I hate plots that meddle with time continuity.  It is never more than a standard action flick, but as long as you have no grander expectations of it, you will not be disappointed.

Oliver Stone’s Alexander Revisited – This is the super-extended version of the film, which was supposed to have corrected the problems with the the only somewhat extended version, which was supposed to have clarified the original theatrical version.  I never did see the original or theatrical versions, so I am unable to say whether this third cut is an improvement over the first two, but I can say that, in its own right, it is not a very good film.  It has a grand vision and massive landscapes, I will admit, but it also has horrible pacing and a ridiculously convoluted narrative structure to go along with some pretty average acting and one of the worst accents, courtesy of Angelina Jolie, that you are ever likely to hear.  Some of the scenes are simply interminable, dragging on through endless conversation that does little to enrich the characters and almost nothing to forward the plot.  These dialogue scenes grow so tedious, I confess, that I watched much of the third and fourth hours of the film on fast forward, and I feel as though this may have improved my viewing experience considerably.

Christopher Nolan’s Inception – This is another of those films, like The Matrix or Dark City,  that is based on an interesting idea but lacks the script to be what it could have been.  The dream worlds in which Inception primarily takes place are logically inconsistent in several ways that directly affect the plot, so it is almost impossible to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the story of the film, and there is no substance to any of the secondary characters, so it is difficult to care much about their fate, and there is little to compensate for these faults.  The strongest parts of the film are those that explore the main character’s past relationship with his now deceased wife, a relationship that has become inseparable from the dream world.  These sections remind me a little of Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come, a film that I liked very much but that most people seemed to pan, and theses sections are the only places in the film where there is anything very compelling to the story.  Inception is perhaps worth seeing, but it is not nearly as complex or as innovative as many people make it out to be.  Despite what your friends may have said, you will not need to see it more than once “to really get it.”  Once will be more than enough, and only if you have not much else to do.

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete – I can only describe this film by saying that it is a Robert Rodriguez film.  Either you will know what this means or you will not.  His work is a little like Quentin Tarantino’s, only without the artistic pretensions: All the violence, but only a fraction of the thinking.  Let this example stand for the whole:  The lead character, whose name is Machete, finds himself trapped in a hospital.  He grabs a bone scraper from a tray of surgical instruments, disembowels one of his assailants, then uses the dying attacker’s intestines as a rope to swing through the window to the floor below.  I will leave you with this scene as the basis to make your own recommendation.

Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited –  I quite liked this film, though it would not rate it as highly as some of his others.  It has the same sense of being just slightly surreal, the same strange blend of humour and pathos, the same ironic tone, all of which I enjoy, but it lacks something that I cannot quite define, something that keeps me from being involved in its story as deeply as the stories of his other films.  It is certainly worth watching, particularly if you are a fan of Anderson’s other work, but I was expecting more from the film than it offered.

Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly – This is an interesting film in its way, but like many scripts that are based on books, it suffers in comparison to its source text.  It needs more time to develop the paranoia that the main character experiences as an anonymous narcotics officer assigned to surveil his own undercover persona, more time to explore the possibility that the drugs he is using are themselves producing a kind of paranoid self-surveillance, more time to examine the ways that this culture of self-surveillance, whether created by a drug induced paranoia or by a paranoia about the use of drugs, has now become a strangely essential part of our society.  More practically, it also needs to have someone other than the ever underwhelming Keanu Reeves starring in the lead role, but this should have gone without saying.

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6 comments
  1. d said:

    I loved Keanu Reeves in ‘A Scanner Darkly’. I actually think Reeves has done a number of great films, and he somehow manages to make films better even when delivering horrible acting performances. There is something pitiful and sad and stupid and human about him that ‘works’ for me.

  2. Examining that, Reeves has been cast by Brannagh, Coppola, he played the Buddha in ‘Siddartha’. All very interesting acting ranges, by high profile directors, in major roles they would not want tarnished…. then again, he might just simply suck dick that well, it might explain his odd voice.

  3. John Jantunen said:

    d.,

    Let this hereby be known as the Keanu defense. The he (we) was (were) pitiful, sad, stupid so that made him (us) more human defense which, I understand, is currently being used to justify returning our warm little drop of mositure to the uninhabited rock that it was before the aliens left a half sandwhich here during one of their infrequent picnics and in doing so gave us enough DNA to start our own little thing. I’ve heard it before and, like the above explanation for life on earth, I don’t find it very convincing. Keanu Reeves looks good in a tight T-shirt. He looks great in leather pants. And when he wears sunglasses there is no more attractive person on the planet than, wait for it: Keanu Reeves. I don’t think we have to look farther than that. As to why so many “great” directors use Keanu Reeves, I would suggest that it’s for the same reason that Peter Jackson followed up Lord Of The Rings with King Kong: It seemed like a good idea at the times but in hindsight…Hubris, really, is what it is. They all think that they will be the one to draw the inner genius out of Keanu Reeves and they all, all of them, every last one, are doomed to fail.* I mean, damn, they say, he looks so good in a pair of sunglasses, if only, if only, well I mean, then we’d really have something. It’d be great. It’d be, can you imagine? And wearing tight leather pants too. I mean, wow, just think of the possibilities.

    *Except for Stephen Herek, who directed Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, now there was a man with enough humility to understand where Keanu Reeve’s true genius lies.

  4. I don’t know John- perhaps the fact that he gets these roles, is because there’s actually a place in the vision of the director, for someone who can’t act, or a vision for a character who is actually acting amongst the characters of the production- and that it is painfully obvious. I haven’t watched much of Stanley Kubrick,for example, about three or four of his films, but what I notice about many of his pieces, is that from scene to scene or possibly one character, there’s some distinct mellow drama, and some off handled bad acting that is not hard to miss. Some of his scenes come off as so staged and worked you are hard pressed to think they were ever a fledgling moment with cinematic hope. However, none of these aspects detract from Kubrick and in the opinion that he is a precise and careful story teller, you actually stop and ask the point of that scene and why a poor performance was made more theatrical and tolerated as bad to be put into the film.

    Apply that to Reeves, and maybe he’s the patsy integral to the nuance or message some directors view certain characters as. In Dracula, I think he borderline succeeds in portaying a man so tight laced in Jonathon Harker that his actions and lines are far too painfully animated, perhaps you’d like an actor to naturally fabricate that, however, it does also come across better when acted out in absurdly incapable fashion, and in a bad actor produces something sick for us to contemplate. In Much Ado About Nothing, his part conveys simply bitterness and revenge and is quite brief and doesn’t detract. From what I remember from Little Buddha, he doesn’t do much harm aside from treating Siddharta Gautama as someone who is a narcotics abuser. This doesn’t make him a good actor, in fact it might make his a giant pawn, but even pawns make a good sacrifice to make a point.

  5. d said:

    John, I used to agree with you. Then, I saw Reeves in ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ and realized Reeves is magical.

    Here are good movies starring Keanu Reeves: ‘My Own Private Idaho’, ‘Thumbsucker’ (his role in ‘Thumbsucker is incredible), the first ‘Matrix’, the before-mentioned Bill and Ted movies, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’, and ‘Devil’s Advocate’. ‘The Replacements’ was mediocre, but Reeves was actually one of the better parts.

    I used to hate Nicolas Cage too and for similar reasons. Now, I love him.

    Also: http://community.livejournal.com/ohnotheydidnt/50781451.html

  6. John Jantunen said:

    Johnny Mnemonic? I would sorely like to hear a defense of that movie. The most expensive Canadian film ever shot. 30 million dollars down the drain. Not a single moment worth a dime. My Own Private Idaho, I will agree, is excellent but for reasons completely removed from Keanu Reeves and The Devil’s Advocate is one of my personal favourites but that’s mostly Pacino’s doing (Taylor hackford, the director, was successful in casting Reeves to type, I will admit, as the son of the devil trying to be human, which accounts for all that stilted awkwardness). But Johnny Mnemonic? Really? Watch Abel Ferrera’s New Rose Hotel if you’re in the mood for a Gibson adaptation that has the sense to cast some real actors.

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