Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Current Cinema 19

On the Road

One of the first “adult” novels I ever read was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. Its stream of conscious prose and restless, beatnik men and women were a bit of a puzzle to me, but over the years I’ve come to understand and even appreciate the novel’s precognitive nature of a country’s youth endlessly shifting and searching for themselves. The fact that “On the Road” has taken such a long journey to the screen is probably the most startling aspect of Walter Salles adaptation. Seemingly the perfect filmmaker to bring Kerouac’s emotional travelogue to the screen after his mesmerizing and terrific “The Motorcycle Diaries”, something feels strangely absent from “On the Road”. Perhaps it’s the vacant eyes of its young stars (Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Garret Hedlund) or the diluted thrust of a narrative that’s been tread on many times before…. Regardless “On the Road” failed to connect with me emotionally. The best aspect of the film lies in Salles uncanny ability to refine stunning images and snatches of feeling from a handheld camera relentlessly tracking the American countryside around his wayward youth. And one segment, where Sal and Moriarity jump the border for excess in Mexico, succinctly encapsulates the dissolution of a friendship with an acute sensibility. But it’s the parts of “On the Road” that are more encouraging than the whole.

Room 237

Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237” is a film geek’s dream. Or should I say obsession. Endlessly analyzing the possible hidden themes of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining, from its obscured message about the Holocaust to a manufactured hypothesis that Kubrick used the film to admit his own involvement in a fake moon landing, “Room 237” will likely make your head explode in conspiracy theories. As a straight forward documentary, “Room 237” is curiously progressive. It features several talking heads, each with their own interpretive strand, yet Ascher never reveals the actual talking heads, but instead utilizes film clips to express the meaning of their words. Like Thom Anderson‘s “Los Angeles Plays Itself”, “Room 237” belongs to this new school of documentary that interprets film history and classroom-style lecturing through film images themselves. Perhaps out of budgetary necessity, this type of layman film love is an acquired taste, yet it works. It’s an instinctive way to communicate and adds to the oddness of “Room 237”. While not all the theories formulated in “Room 237” are fully believable (especially one person whose stoned-out voice over borders on the unintelligible and meandering), it still resonates as a highly involving case study. I can see this being done with “Taxi Driver”, “Citizen Kane” and insert your own obsessive compulsive favorite.

Evil Dead

All the buzz I heard going into “Evil Dead” was that director Fede Alvarez treated the Sam Raimi horror classic with respect. While I don’t consider myself an Evil Dead acolyte, this latest version retains none of the original’s sense of humor or technical wizardry. Relentless and sanguinary, “Evil Dead” is further proof that the horror film is in dire straits, content to simply regurgitate rather than imagine.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance’s “The Place Beyond the Pines” begins as a solid cops and robbers story, where each side gets its fair shake, and then travels further ahead in time to compose an elegant, exhilarating treatise on violence and its impact on the generations. Ryan Gosling is the down on his luck carny forced into a life of crime and Bradley Cooper is the cop whose paths cross with Gosling. On the sideline are the women, Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne, and one year old children. From that compact snapshot, Cianfrance spins a devastating tale. Like he did with “Blue Valentine”, Cianfrance captures a grungy, faded-out atmosphere through introspective close-ups and a haunting soundtrack. While the genre is familiar, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is searching for more than that in its morally compromised men and women. With “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Blue Valentine”, filmmaker Derek Cianfrance is poised among the upper echelon of young filmmakers working today.

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