Quick Takes: 01.21.13 – ‘Gangster Squad’, ‘Before Sunrise’, ‘Before Sunset’

Gangster SquadGangster Squad (2013)

Grade: D+ | 1st Viewing

The road to the screen for Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad has been a sordid affair, trumped of its Oscar ambitions by the July shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Since then the film was thrust back into reshoots so as not to reignite fears all too close to home for moviegoers, and that decision is admittedly a noble one. It also transformed the film into something distant from what it was before, as changing the setting of a crucial scene can only do. Normally these changes wouldn’t be made under the public eye, and that distinct feeling that Gangster Squad was originally something else imbues it with an ignorant dishonesty that continuously distracts from its attempts at charm.

A crime film’s most valuable asset is often its actors, all too many of whom here seem on anesthetized autopilot. Josh Brolin bares no teeth as the film’s propulsive lead, Emma Stone appears too worried most of the time to swing around her natural sass, Nick Nolte renders historical police chief Bill Parker a goon-eyes (and voiced) cartoon. Sean Penn, meanwhile, layers on the gravel-voiced camp to far less enticing or entertaining effect than, say, Guy Pearce in Lawless. Ryan Gosling is the only member of this cast that draws attention, partially due to his often amusing disinterest, and partly because of his natural physical magnetism. Thanks to the film’s increasingly inundating action meandering, he is only modestly arousing here, which must merit some crime against humanity.

The film is lit with golden age affectation, but with cheap focus on its actors’ flawless (or not so) skins. That’s what, in retrospect, makes worries about rushes reshoots seem irrelevant, because the rest of the film looks all too cheap anyway. As for the aforementioned scene replacement, not having that theatrical setting once in the film (I assume) robs it of the aesthetic subtext of studio gangster films of the era. Not having that there begs the question of what the purpose driving Gangster Squad is now. The only conclusion I land on is the violence, which is excessive on the end of both the cops and the criminals. The film cheaply renders its villain’s henchmen as one-dimensional no-lifes, tailor crafted to be disposed with no remorse afterwards. I scoff at any film that attests that the only solution to violence is with violence. That Gangster Squad glorifies these past acts with zero honest criticism shows that perhaps it was for the better that this was removed from the Oscar heavy year-end landscape altogether.

Once Upon a Time in AnatoliaOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia (2012)

Grade: B | 1st Viewing

I’m glad the bulk of Film Misery loves Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, to the extent that Justin, G Clark, and Alex all include it on their top 10 lists. For a Turkish film of gorgeous visual properties to be near-universally praised on the site is a strong boost for the film, if you believe that critics hold any weight in swaying readers’ viewing choices. In finally catching up with the film, I couldn’t argue the distinctly imprinting visual capacity of the film, with rich yet cool hues of yellow in its nighttime first half, but no less breathtaking work once it moves into the daylight. The moment I even thought Gökhan Tiryaki’s cinematography might be a tad overpraised, a seemingly ordinary interior vehicle shot slowly focused in on a specific character’s passive expression whilst an irrelevant conversation filled the car.

So if I can’t begin to discount the film’s visuals, I can admit that the film’s capacity for storytelling and character building was lacking in comparison. Those off-point conversations and continuously passive expressions are common practice in such slow-build dramas, but as the film stirred on I couldn’t help but desire something to access emotionally. The characters are abundant and humanized, but rarely are they deeply embellished or shaken, much due to a plot that, for all its simplicity, never forms any tension. Perhaps that’s asking too much of a procedural focused not on the criminal, but simply finding the body, but I kept waiting for something to happen to transform the context of the film’s loose narrative. It may not have come to the heavy emotional revelation I’d hoped, but I can still marvel at the rich skin of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film, and happily await

Before Sunrise - Before SunsetBefore Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset(2004)

Grade: A | 1st Viewing

I imagine the news of Before Midnight‘s ecstatic Sundance reception might have read differently if I didn’t take the time to revisit the prior two films following Jesse and Celine. I might have had an outside observer’s simple acceptance of critical opinion, but having taken a long night to acquaint myself with this world Richard Linklater has built with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, I have to hold a level head of skepticism. Not that I’m certain there’s no way it can live up to expectations, but because I know what’s at stake on the off chance it doesn’t hit with me. A bad third installment can go some ways to fouling the entire series, but I can’t imagine there’s a way of doing that for Jesse and Celine, since their first two installments are works of such independent beauty.

I suppose I’m deprived of the true Before Sunrise experience, since it’s impossible for me to look at it without knowledge that it spawns into something greater. That said, the original adventure that sparks such a bright romance between these two has a youthful energy all its own. Free of burden but not of purpose, these two fully embrace their time together, bouncing witty conversations as they learn about one another and fall deeper into their no-holds-barred romance, all on the gorgeous Austrian backdrop of Vienna. As their night together flows on, a bittersweet tone sets in as we know their love has a clock on it, and we relish the lurid, sexy moments leading up to the end of their journey, and though they set a date to meet again, deep down we know they won’t.

At least not for another nine years, because as Before Sunset takes up the characters, we are brought right back into that vivid romance, but it has aged into some fine wine that’s got more of a kick to its intoxication. Much as that night meant to both of them, they eventually had to brush past it and conform to reality. Jesse is married, but he only keeps on for the love of his son, and Celine’s frantic existence of trying to change the world for the better is unquenched in her romantic life. As they mourn for what they could have had, we too feel the regret that they had lost that opportunity, but the film creates another ticking timebomb. Jesse has to leave before sunset, and as he keeps prolonging his brief time with Celine, he quickly finds himself in a position to make the biggest decision of his life. In that final finicky moment we know the outcome, but the film cuts off just in time to leave us guessing for another nine years.

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  • I would really love to re-visit the two Before movies. Really excited for the upcoming third one.

    Here are the movies i watched:

    -Gone with the Wind (A)
    -Network (A) 2nd viewing
    -Happy Together (A-)
    -The Player (A-)
    -Life of Pi (A-)
    -Mirror Mirror (C+)

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