Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Current Cinema 14.4

Night Moves

Whether it’s the vast expanse of the American frontier or the suburban Northwest, filmmaker Kelly Reichardt is a fierce observer of time and place, wrapping her singular cinematic quests around interesting digressions and tactile emotions. Her latest film, “Night Moves”,  is the closest she’s come to a real genre tale- the thriller. Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning are motivated eco-terrorists. Their plot to blow up a damn in Orgeon is traced out sparingly in the first half of the film… made even more real when they team up with the older, seasoned and shaggy Peter Saarsgard. When their violent deed comes with a human price, the guilt and regret that comes rushing to the surface supersedes their original intentions as they try to move through their daily lives afterwards. Eisenberg and Fanning are the real focus here. Reichardt chooses to express her story in quiet facial expressions, nervous ticks and the somber redundancy of normal life as they attempt to come to terms with their actions. Like her previous films, “Night Moves” is patient, observational and a bit wise in the way it turns the thriller convention upside down. There are razor-sharp scenes of tension (I.e. the actual terrorist act, complete with innocent bystanders achingly prolonging and interrupting the plot), but Reichardt’s overriding concern is the psychological violence that comes with their decisions. “Night Moves” may not satisfy everyone, and it’s a film I admire more than truly like, but the manner in which the film places the viewer squarely in the clutches of these three misguided idealists is still tremendously fascinating.

Edge of Tomorrow

For the first 20 minutes of Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow”, we watch as Tom Cruise squirms and weasels his way through the predicament of a cowardly PR officer trying to escape actual combat. Those who dislike Cruise (even if they’re watching the film) will take obvious delight in it. But, as any good movie-watcher knows, this is only the set up to turn someone less-than-chivalrous into someone chivalrous-beyond-belief at film’s end. It’s the oldest narrative in the book…. And one that’s gutted, spliced and hammered into a time bending experience by gifted writer Christopher McQuarrie. “Edge of Tomorrow” plays with our expectation of the sci-fi genre, forcing Cruise to live the same day over and over. It’s a shame that day involves a huge battle of mankind versus invading aliens. But it also involves Emily Blunt as an ass-kicking soldier who may hold the key to winning the war. Honestly, the less one knows about “Edge of Tomorrow” before entering, the better the enjoyment will be. Even though Liman and McQuarrie owe a huge debt to other films, they manage to carve out taciturn depth between Cruise and Blunt. In a loud, CGI driven summer film, this is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of their effort.

The Rover

Hypothetically, the financial and social collapse of the world feels most realistic in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, visualized on screen by Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat. Those Aussies must have a pulse on the collapse. David Michod’s “The Rover” also frighteningly presents the apocalypse as a scavenged, bleak and instantly cutthroat procession of boarded up fuel stations, neon-lit motels and burned out vehicles. Swimming through the mire with a singular, propulsive purpose is Guy Pearce, intent on finding the men who hijacked his car. He stumbles across the wounded brother of one of the men, played convincingly by Robert Pattinson, and the two men embark on a journey of revenge. Like his previous film, the magisterial crime opus “Animal Kingdom”, “The Rover” is relentlessly violent and prone to sharp outbursts of gunfire that underline the power of the weaponry. But there’s also an undercurrent of emotion and silent moments of reflection that bring back the human element to this elemental narrative. Though Michod wrote this screenplay before “Animal Kingdom”, both films represent his desire to expose the hypocrisies of family and the manipulation of stronger man over a weaker individual. As the film winds down, it becomes a lean examination of these ideas and spares no one the western-style shootout its been promising since the beginning. With this second film, Michod truly is a bright spot in modern cinema.

Palo Alto

Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto”, based on the short stories of co-star James Franco, is all low-fi and full of teen angst without ever really earning its angst. We follow a handful of privileged teens as they circumvent various issues- April (Emma Roberts) begins an ill-advised relationship with coach Franco… young Teddy (Jack Kilmer) can’t seem to find the right time to fall in love with April…. Fred (Nat Wolf) seems screwed up without any real explanation other than he’s supposed to rebel against his lifestyle… and then there’s the parade of screwed up father-figures and teenage girls performing oral sex in order to feel appreciated. I’m not denying those are real emotions in 16 and 17 year olds (hell I went through them as well), they just feel half baked and unfocused. Channeling Gus Van Sant and her own family Sofia, “Palo Alto” strives to be an incisive, meditative look at these kids where a chill wave soundtrack and halcyon images just don’t do the material justice. 

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