May 2008 Archives

Beyond Repulsion

deadringers.jpgWhen you think of David Cronenberg, you’re likely to see fusion: Brundlefly, a living typewriter, a gun made of bones.

All of those are the work of Carol Spier, Cronenberg’s art director (from Fast Company through Videodrome) and production designer (from The Dead Zone forward, with the exception of Spider).

It’s easy to reduce Cronenberg to those signature images, which clearly reflect his longstanding concern with the relationship between technology and the flesh. Yet his two most recent movies — A History of Violence and Eastern Promises — have revealed a filmmaker of startling economy and density who doesn’t need to lean so heavily on those old tricks.

Cronenberg’s and Spier’s aggressive use of the tangibly repulsive — their creations have a physicality that’s unparalleled in cinema — obscure their more-mundane (but no less impressive) storytelling skills.

speedracer.jpgI’m guessing that reading about Speed Racer is a hell of a lot more fun than seeing it, but I’ll never have the movie experience.

You might start your literary adventure at Nathaniel R’s review at the Film Experience blog and follow the first link, where all sorts of fun awaits. Nathaniel also hits on one of my refrains:

“The Brothers Wachowski don’t seem to have any self editing skills ... .”

Oh, if only they were alone with that flaw ... . I call it the George Lucas Problem, in which filmmakers have enough power to insulate themselves from constructive feedback — in particular people who wield the script- and movie-editing equivalents of red pens. The result is bloated movies in the tradition of Titanic, announcing their grandiosity with their running times. Hence: a 135-minute movie for kids called Speed Racer.

Anyway, in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, Iron Man retained its crown and became the first movie to post a perfect score in consecutive weeks. Speed Racer finished fourth.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

I’m late to the party as usual, but this bellyache looks like it’s going to stick around for a while: Paid movie critics are a dying breed! The horror! The horror!

I can’t get worked up too much.

orphanage1small.jpgThe Orphanage has one indelible image, and that’s plenty. It also has a sly current of grief and healing that hits home mostly on reflection, after cold recognitions and resonances sink in.

Directed by Spaniard J.A. Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sánchez, The Orphanage arrived in the United States under the banner of producer Guillermo del Toro, and it suffers from the expectations that name carries. Del Toro’s Spanish-language films are compact, textured, and rich with meaning. Cronos (1993) is an alluring, lethal metaphor-dispensing machine, while Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) has the ageless authenticity of a folk tale, among its many other merits. The Devil’s Backbone (2001) most closely resembles The Orphanage in his oeuvre, but with so much attention paid to milieu — physical, social, historical — it transcends its obvious genre; its spectral elements become nearly secondary.

Bayona’s movie is merely a good ghost story, which is no small thing, but it ain’t Guillermo del Toro. While the acclaimed Mexican writer/director is fundamentally a symbolist, The Orphanage approaches its story through the emotional prism of its lead character.

ironman.jpgSo the 2008 summer-movie season begins the way the last ended: with a perfect score.

Iron Man became the first movie since The Bourne Ultimatum in August to top all four of the Box Office Power Rankings criteria. That Jon Favreau’s movie will win our title next week is all but assured, and there’s a good chance that it will retain all of its 40 points — which would be a first.

The only way that won’t happen is if people actually go to see Speed Racer, and I can’t fathom living in a world in which they do.

Then again, our world is often unfathomable to me ... .

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

At the Too Many Projects Film Club, Jeremy Bushnell will host the Production Design Blog-a-thon from May 19 through 25.


It’s a fantastic idea.

Moral Abstraction

gonebabygone.jpgRoughly halfway into Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, the movie is finished. The plot involving a kidnapped youth has been apparently, tragically resolved.

But the movie still has an hour left, a clockwatcher will tell you. And even if you’re not a person regularly calculating how the anticipated remaining X plot will unfold in the remaining Y minutes, you know that there’s plenty left to come. So what will it be? What will this movie be about, having dispensed with what appeared to be its primary story?

One of the great joys of cinema is a movie that genuinely surprises you — not with a twist ending but by being something different from what you expected or (even better) different from what you’ve previously experienced. (Surprise endings are so obligatory in thrillers nowadays that the only real surprise is their absence.)

So I was seriously jazzed about Gone Baby Gone at its midpoint, wondering where it would take me and excited that it seemed to be a nearly honest drama about missing children. It might actually substantively explore grief, responsibility, repercussion, community, and healing.

It didn’t take long for it to disappoint me, for it to choose the false path I should have expected.

In the past week, two major movie writers on the Web, Matt Zoller Seitz of The House Next Door and Raymond Young of Flickhead, hung up their stinky blogging shoes. Tim Lucas smells a trend and admits:

“I took a silent vow that I would discontinue this blog if he didn’t come out of his nine-hour surgery alive.”

So in the spirit of the week ... .

sarahmarshall.jpgWelcome to summer movie season, now officially begun on the first weekend of May thanks to our friends at Iron Man. That blockbuster wannabe will be followed in short order by Speed Racer, Narnia’s second installment, and Indiana Jones before Memorial Day.

Closing out the ever-modest spring movie season, Forgetting Sarah Marshall notched one outright victory and one shared victory in our Box Office Power Rankings, scoring a mild upset by tying Baby Mama in last weekend’s rankings.

Looking ahead, May looks pretty safe in terms of box office; you should be able to predict the champion in our rankings with little risk of being wrong.

June, on the other hand, looks to be full of potential critical and commercial flops: The Happening, The Incredible Hulk, Get Smart, The Love Guru — and that’s just in two weekends. Even Pixar’s Wall-E looks a little risky, but then again, I thought nobody would go see a movie called Ratatouille.

Continue reading for the weeks’ full rankings and the methodology.