Saturday, June 03, 2006

All Kinds of Loose Ends

One of the cool things about Birth (some appropriate linkage here, here, and here--probably more that aren't coming to mind immediately) is that it doesn't suffer from what I'd call 'Vanilla Sky syndrome,' that is, a willingness in mainstream cinema to push into some interesting and really fractured territory (with regards to at least storytelling, possibly form), and an even greater willingness to resolve all these apparent loose ends in the final reel, reducing the whole experience into a clever puzzlepiece contraption--and severing all the loose and ambiguous, potentially profoundly evocative, tendrils that hurl out from the screen. I'm not against this sort of plot construction in an ironclad doctrinaire way, but, well, you can't imagine the disappointment I felt in the final minutes of Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky when I saw it some years back. Jonathan Glazer's Birth (I thought his Sexy Beast was very good, as well) feints in this 'plot cleanup' direction and so for a few minutes I was very nervous ... but it mostly retains the heft of its mystery. I'm not as over-the-moon about this film as some people, but definitely put me down in the camp that greatly admires and appreciates it, and would like to see more like it.

One of the depressing things about saying I'd like to see more films like Birth is that (as regular readers will know) I don't see many new films these days, for a variety of reasons, and though I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things, I feel really out of touch with not only the so-called moviegoing public (ah but don't all cinephiles?), I'm also out of touch with critics. Case in point: Peter Jackson's abyssmal King Kong, one of the most inane things I've ever watched. Also a critical hit. I don't like saying that films are boring because this really means "I was bored when I watched it," and with the right mindset practically anything can become interesting (or uninteresting). But for the sake of polemics and on the credit of my scarce usage of the word, I'm going to say it: this film is boring. Inept plot construction (what's with the black sailor-cum-lit-professor!?), a tired visual sense and production design, the Kraft-cheesiest trans-species "humanism" you've ever seen, and possibly the most blatant abuse of 'suspension of disbelief' principles in the history of cinema. If every single character (OK, every major white character) proves to be impossibly heroic, athletic, durable, and lucky ASAP, then what is the point of pretending for three damn hours that this action-adventure film is worth investing yourself into? It's essentially a lame and predictable (but fast!) roller coaster ride with some animatronic hugging along the way. You'd think there'd at least be a joke about how Adrien Brody is initially timid or Jack Black gets winded easily (or even some reference to Naomi Watt's superhuman whiplash-resistance), but nope--these horribly-frightened strangers to Skull Island prove themselves immediately capable of handling anything, and rescuing each other from everything. Anyway, I know a lot of people liked this movie and I don't really want to trash something just for the sake of trashing it ... but I felt the need to vent a bit. I don't do it that much, do I?

A P.S. about Kong--though I alluded twice above to race, I don't think the film is exactly 'racist,' a tag I believe some have attached to the film. (The '33 original is of course a racist film, borne of a cultural psyche rather than D.W. Griffith-like devotion to a cause.) I do think that Jackson's film has some serious racial baggage that needs examining, and it clearly has some residual content of the original's racism, but I don't think it's particularly malicious itself, nor 'racist' in any notable sense. Open to discussion on this point.

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