When one admits to liking a Richard Kelly film, one had better compile a lengthy reading of the “whys” and “hows“. To this day, I readily admit that I don’t understand half of what’s going on in “Southland Tales”, yet it still strikes me as an audacious, moving and consistently entertaining meta-movie that burns with far more ideas than it probably deserves. “The Box” is just as much a head trip, except this time I’ve got an opinion on what it’s about, why it works and just why its stuck with me for so long. Weaving through layers of religious allegory, time travel (again), and some even farther-out-there-thoughts, “The Box” packs a walloping cerebral punch as the nuclear family (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) agonize over the decision whether or not to push the button on a mysterious box left by a stranger (a wonderful, lurking Frank Langella). Needless to say, Kelly exhausts the possibilities, wrapping them around an almost suffocating air of claustrophobia and paranoia set in the wintry holiday season of Virginia circa the late 70’s. Few images this year will stick with me longer than Marsden’s trek through a library, being followed by a gang of wide eyed men and women or the black figures that populate in the corners of a snow covered field. The common complaint- that Kelly makes indecipherable genre pictures with far too many ideas scrambled together- could be applied to “The Box”, yet it ends on such a savage and well structured concept that I think Kelly knew exactly what he was doing all along. I look forward to seeing this again.
A film I don’t look forward to seeing ever again, however, is Lee Daniel’s “Precious”, a thoroughly ugly and sledge hammered film that tries to eek human resiliency out of amateurish zoom pans and handheld immediacy. I respect that the events actually happened to someone, but “Precious” in no way instilled a sense of shared concern or empathy with its characters. The small moments- the performance of Paula Patton as a caring teacher or Mariah Carey as a social worker- were continually overwhelmed by the wanton moments of independent cinema grand moments (i.e Mo Nique) and over-the-top acting that continually overshadow the basic connection just beginning to form for Precious (Gabourey Sidibe). Less is often more, yet “Precious” tramples on subtlety.
John Hillcoat has already carved a splendid little career out of visually devastated landscapes and roughneck emotions, and his faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalypse novel to end all apocalypse novels “The Road” excels in relentless grit and grime. As the father (Viggo Mortenson) and the boy (Kodi Smit McPhee) traverse the landscape, Hillcoat’s vision of snow covered wastelands lit only by far-away fires is compelling and realistic… and its certainly done the novel’s poetic descriptions justice. Every corner of this film is loaded with debris, broken trees and technological wreckage. The one real diversion from the novel- fleshing out the character of the mother played by Charlize Theron in flashback- feels like the right decision as it provides Mortenson and McPhee with purpose and heartbreak. And when the truly chilling moments arise, such as the emergence of a band of rovers from a dark tunnel or the grisly and disturbing discovery in a house cellar, “The Road” rattles around before your eyes like a one-of-a-kind horror film.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
I wish I could raise more enthusiasm for Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Yes, this is just like watching any other Wes Anderson movie, complete with father-son discord, quick one-liners and a carefully composed wide angle lens set ups, but this time its decked out in a stop-motion style of animation that looks and feels unique. I had a good time with it, but ultimately not much has stuck with me. As always, those three stars films are the hardest ones to write about.