Saturday, May 31, 2008

‘The Fall’

In a time when movie-making is more an art of digital collage rather than in-shot cinematography, it is entirely refreshing to see a film primarily devoid of computer graphics, favoring on-location, true-to-lens sights. It is even more refreshing to see a fantasy film executed so exquisitely, so impossibly, in such a way.

'The Fall' tells of a young girl's friendship with a bed-ridden Hollywood stuntman while they both recover in a hospital. But the film itself, really, is in the girl's imagination, and the potent, magical images are actualizations of her mind's eye, working together with the stuntman as he tells her a story.

The story of the film itself is not as strong as its visuals; the emotional investment the audience has in the characters is halfhearted, as endearing as young Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is. It seems clear that she is not always acting, when she lies alongside Roy (Lee Pace), mumbling and stumbling over her perhaps ad-libbed lines.

Midway through the film I foresaw narrative collapse, as the plot in the 'real' world was stagnating, but the penultimate scenes did provide an emotional peak that nearly elevated the story to something more moving. Critics have said the film could have book of still photographs and worked on the same level; the story of the characters in the hospital could have indeed been better handled by a more balanced director, a storyman like Spielberg, but it would have been at the expense of director Tarsem's images. Nonetheless the story should not be so easily dismissed, and Tarsem, who understands the significance of showing rather than telling and the inherent power of the moving image, deserves all the praise that can be afforded to him by crabby critics.

What it does demonstrate is the gravitas of the real, the exemplary profoundness of reality devoid of green-screen. The sites are astounding, so much more so than something like Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, where the sprawling, fantastical architecture of an alien planet is 'photorealistic' but still unable to fool the eye. The realities created in such films are illustrations crafted by very devoted and very talented artists, and can be appreciated as such, and often not as more. The filmmakers behind the recent Speedracer movie understood and embraced this to a sometimes-successful effect. And so does Tarsem who, in this film, rejects it as much as he can, as if to remind Hollywood that there is a world outside of the computer, waiting to be filmed.

'The Fall' has been called incredibly indulgent, as it was shot on location in 18 countries and largely self-funded by the director. Such is the 'indulgent' aspect. The truth of the matter is that a young child's imagination, which is the star of the film, could not have been done justice in any other way.

Throughout the picture I kept thinking, how could they afford to film this? Afterwards it was more appropriate to question how anyone could afford not to. I wish imagination was more common these days.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Indy IV: Criticizing the Critics

It goes without saying that you should not read this if you have not seen it, or if you have no interest in a ranting Andy.

It is easy to be a critic and hard to be a creator. It is even easier to be a critic on the internet, where your audience can be infinite or nonexistent, a factor decided by luck more than talent.

Most professional film critics have described Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull quite aptly as a fluffy, fun, fast-paced feast of a summer movie--- nothing more and nothing less; a traditional blockbuster by the father of summer blockbusters, Steven Spielberg. Alongside that, many amateur critics (i.e. the whole of the internet) have dismissed the movie as a ruinous visitation to their childhood favorites, a blemish on a franchise and an unnecessary reunion.

Where has imagination gone? Where have you left your dreams? With Michael Bay? My god.

Some have proclaimed the movie to be poorly written and poorly directed--- yeah, you'd know. Your tastes are impeccable, dear internet critic. Sure, Lucas and Spielberg have about 75 years of filmmaking and storytelling between them, but YOU know better; your carefully crafted blogpost, your clever twitters, and your monthly forty two cent profit from Google Adwords really justifies your opinion. You're a regular Harold Bloom of the digital age.

Personally, when I saw the grainy old Paramount logo fade onto screen, and then fade into a mole hill, the continuation of the visual echo from the first Jones film told me to relax. Like many I went in with equal parts dread and anticipation. And then the old white understated type-face, along with the wide, beautiful shot of the open countryside, camera panning as the music oriented us, let me know it was indeed a Spielberg film. They had me at hello.

Of course, many fans have been annoyed by the addition of alien-like creatures to the Indiana Jones franchise. It was an inevitably divisive decision. There was even an old rejected screenplay floating around called 'Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars', which, yes, the new film does borrow from. It's understandable; I was heavily skeptical they could successfully create a Jones storyline with saucer men. But they did and I had no issues with it.

You should understand that to some people the Arc of the Covenant, the magical stones of Indy II, and the Holy Grail are as fantastical as any saucer man. It all could be called supernatural religious mysticism. The Nazca lines were presumably created to communicate with the gods--I don't know much about them-- and Spielberg and Lucas simply provided the gods. Perhaps the Christian roots of the Arc in Raiders makes it easier for some people to believe--- in their heart of hearts they believe there WAS an arc, and it held stone tablets crafted by an omnipotent god, carried by Moses. I take it that a couple billion people feel there is veracity in this bit, even if metaphorical rather than literal. Rooting the story of the Raiders film in what, for many, is fact rather than fiction, then makes it easier to believe the said golden box could also melts Nazis with holy lightening.

The idol of the Temple of Doom is less significant and more magical: glowing, enchanted stones that have something to do with Shiva. Seems, ah, somehow believable enough? I feel this is the weakest McGuffin of the Jones films because the stones mean so little though they do so much--- and they look like glowing potatoes.

And then there is the Holy Grail, a mythological thing popularized by Arthurian legend. I've no clue if there actually is talk of a grail in the Bible, but once more rooting the object in Christianity helped ease people's suspension of disbelief. The "interdimensional beings" of Crystal Skull do not have that advantage, and have little earthly basis besides the hard-to-explain Nazca lines. I appreciate that they never actually refer to them as aliens--only as saucer men, in reference to Roswell. They were 'interdimensional beings'... which is easier for me to swallow, and hopefully easier for physicists and astronomers to swallow too.

Besides, the film is set in 1957--- Cold War Sci-Fi space kitsch was battling Western Howdy Doody cowboys ‘n’ Indians in an epic pop-culture battle of absurdity, optimism, and paranoia. For me, saucer men work fine, in the context of 1957.

Indiana Jones was never high art, and it still is not. But the little touches that separate a Spielberg action movie from one by any other director are present--- the first silhouette of the fedora before Jones is on screen, the fact that he now prefers to be called Henry rather than Indiana in honor of his late father, the final scene with the rolling hat and Mutt’s wide-eyes--- and through it all the real magic of story through cinema, and the escape of the matinee on a work day. I think I’ll skip work and catch it again this week. Anyone coming?


the end of something.