Quick Takes – 09.24.12

Arbitrage (2012)

 Grade: C- | 1st Viewing

I have liked to think that, of the other writers at Film Misery, I tend to agree most with Justin’s opinions. That still stands, though I must admit a marginal difference between our tastes based on divergent takes on The Dark Knight Rises, Mirror Mirror, and now Arbitrage. To clear up the confusion that our differing opinions might create, if you enjoyed last year’s Margin Call, you’ll find Richard Gere’s financial thriller the way Justin did. If you found Margin Call to be a self-important squandering of exciting actors, you’ll likely find Arbitrage to be even worse a grind, due to odd designations of its own importance.

Perhaps I am missing something, rather undeniable given that the dialogue lost me in the first scene. The corporate language wouldn’t throw me for such a loop if the film weren’t entirely made up of it. The protagonist’s family being part of his business instantly prioritizes business talk over emotional cues, making it rather difficult to buy into the relationships in the first place. What’s more is that Richard Gere’s character is more of an amalgam of negative qualities in successful businessmen, rather than a thinking, feeling human being. Never once did I buy into his motivations, which all seemed rather cartoonishly thrust upon him, rather than something he’s genuinely responsible for.

Performances from talented actors like Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth seem confusingly phoned in, the latter putting all his focus on an accent I can’t even place. Though I love Brit Marling in theory, she still has yet to prove that in practice, again thrown in almost strictly as eye-candy. And I just get pissed off that Chris Eigeman is always cast as tertiary characters. Between the unmotivated cast, impatient editing, and absolutely plain cinematography, I found myself desperately seeking a positive quality to numb the banality of the experience. Unfortunately when a score from Cliff Martinez puts as much emphasis on the dullest of walking/car sequences as it does a violent crash, you start to wonder whether the director has any clue what he’s even trying to do.

Prometheus (2012)

Grade: C | 2nd Viewing

When Ridley Scott set out to pave new ground in the science fiction genre, I’m not sure this was the outcome he expected. Don’t get me wrong, as Prometheus does manage to do something unprecedented and that I’m oddly in favor of. Scott and company have created one of the most compelling and brilliant onscreen characters in cinema history, matched him up with one of the outstanding rising stars of our time, and placed him in the middle of an otherwise terribly derivative horror film. The only thing that sets Prometheus apart from space-scares like Pandorum is a much larger budget, which allows them to assemble images that are occasionally rather beautiful, but ultimately aren’t in the service of a thought-out center.

Every scene including Michael Fassbender’s astoundingly curious robot David oozes with intrigue and fascination. It’s almost a mindful contrast that he knows so eloquently what he’s doing, saying, and thinking, while everyone else bumbles across imprecise feelings. Nearly every character is a one-dimensional externalization of a concept, rather than a person with motivations that led them to this point in their arc. No character has a distinctive emotional progression, and that makes it hard to forgive some of the painfully nonsensical things they do or say. Stupidity as a function of existence isn’t a positive trend to have in human characters. The presence of David makes it impossible for me to discount the film altogether, because those moments with him strike such profound chords and intense thought. How can he be the only one?

The Ice Storm (1997)

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

I’m trying to work out a term for when you experience second a film from which another more recent film is derived from. To make that clearer, noticing similarities to The Artist in the much older Singin’ in the Rain, even though it’s the other way around. It’s a feeling of realization where certain things in the recent film came from, but also that what was new when the older film was released doesn’t read as new to you anymore. That still may not make sense, but it’s a feeling that I got faintly from The Ice Storm, a suburban drama that holds aesthetic similarities to a film which came two years later, American Beauty. What sets the former apart from the relatively silly and extra-cinematic Sam Mendes feature is Ang Lee’s profound concern for his characters.

I put the emphasis on the word “concern” because it goes beyond simple empathy. In all of his films, Ang Lee is worried about the paths his characters are on, and with much remorse is unable to stop it. Such affinity may be most tenderly on display here, with so many characters reaching out for sexual conquests, the trademark act of adulthood. As ill-prepared as the children shown may be, their parents certainly aren’t any better off, with allusions to Nixon era indiscretions giving further background to a time of uncertainty. Their vain attempts at kindling happiness in the most backhanded manipulations are made so wrenching for how sympathetically these characters are shown. There’s no contempt in Lee’s gaze, drinking in the withering coldness of life as still a loving embrace of life.

Homeland (2011-Present)

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

I don’t hold much stock in the choices of whoever decides the Emmy awards winners, especially given their prioritization of Modern Family over Girls or Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey over Christina Hendricks in Mad Men. I had been long in the cards to give Homeland a shot, but put it off due to constraints of time and sheer stubbornness. Last night’s Emmy win wasn’t quite the final push, but it called attention to the fact that Season 2 of the show begins in a week. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, but this show has me irretrievably hooked only two episodes in. The plot was what kept me at bay, given that it didn’t seem like something sustainable beyond one season. Whether or not that turns out to be true, the journey there is turning out to be quite the nail-biter.

Mind you, it’s not the kind of tension you find in Breaking Bad, where the threat of death is constantly knocking at our protagonist’s door. The torture is emotional and character based, centered effectively around two lead characters. As bipolar CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison, Claire Danes earns the many awards she’s received for her performance, filled to the brim with anxieties and self-corrections. She’s the extreme representation of that common trend amongst people to become the best version of themselves, and it’s rather visibly tearing her up from the inside out. We know from the word go that she’s heading for a fall, and it will be unbearable when we get there.

No less important is Damian Lewis’ Nicholas Brody, who is given the unenviable task of playing the assumed villain of the piece, but he approaches it with a furious humanity. Whether torn up from months of captivity or breaking apart from the task of betraying his country of origin, the pain he feels is all present in his eyes, even if it’s abated occasionally from his face. These two characters are on a collision course, and even the knowledge of that makes the show an intimate pressure-cooker, and an addictive one at that. How I’ll handle the week-long gaps between episodes of Homeland is an occupational hazard for such a zeitgeist heightened television drama.

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  • Right now, Homeland is my most favorite show on TV, i loved watching Breaking Bad too.

    – Moonrise Kingdom (A+)
    My fav of the year so far

    – The Apatment (A+) 2nd Watch

    – The Rules of the Game (A+)
    In my Top 10 all time favorites

    – The Man Who Knew Too Much (B+) 2nd Watch

    – The Kid (A)

    – The Passion of Joan of Arc (A+)
    Best female performance i have ever seen

  • Glad to see you’re jumping on the “Homeland” bandwagon, Duncan. Such a fantastic show.

    “Singin’ in the Rain” (A): Second viewing. Okay, finally rewatched it, Justin. As it turns out, the “Broadway Melody Ballet” scene wasn’t a problem at all this time. It worked just fine. And the rest of the film remains as fantastic as it was the first time.

    “The 400 Blows” (A): Finally saw this Truffaut masterpiece, which was every bit as great as its reputation.

  • Jose

    I only had time to watch Ratatouille (4th Viewing)

    Ratatouille is one of those movies that while I enjoyed it, I thought it was overpraised in my first viewing (I had a “so what” attitude after seeing it the first time). I kept revisiting it wondering if a new viewing would make me change my mind, and you know what? It did.

    A

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