Rupert Wyatt's remake of the 1974 film of the same title features an extended scene where the film's gambling-riddled professor of literature James Bennett (played by Mark Wahlberg) expounds on the philosophy buried within Albert Camus' "The Stranger" to his class. The reason the shooter in the book only fired five shots was to save one bullet for himself. In essence, that sums up Bennett as well, continually pressing his luck with the underworld heads of illegal gambling and refusing to cower or make explanations when he cannot pay. It's an interesting theme which the film tries to 'literalize', but comes up woefully short. Part of the problem is Wahlberg himself. "The Gambler", written by the loquacious William Monahan ("The Departed", "Kingdom of Heaven") sounds alot smarter than Wahlberg is able to project, especially during his long winded classroom lectures where he manages to insult his students and then flirt with another (Brie Larson) all in the same breath. Jessica Lange, as his addled mother, fares much worse in her few opening scenes, playing her role just short of something camp. In fact, the only character in the entire film able to carry the script's pow-pow, hard edged rhythm is John Goodman as a high financier of money. Despite all that, "The Gambler" looks incredible, especially in its nocturnal crawl through the cavernous gambling dens of Los Angeles. All the ingredients are there for something special, but "The Gambler" just tries too hard.
The Imitation Game
Not that there's anything inherently wrong with "The Imitation Game", its just an incredibly safe and anesthetized version of Alan Turing's top secret mission in breaking Nazi Germany's enigma codes during World War 2. Full of easily digestable storylines which shuffle back and forth (courtesy of even intertitles just in case one can't keep up!) between his awkward duckling youth, the enigma code-breaking tensions of the war and his fall in 1951 via a nosy cop, "The Imitation Game" wears its prestige on its sleeve.
Hard To Be A God
Completing my retrospective of Alexei German films, "Hard To Be A God" is quite the career-capper. A project he'd wanted to make for over 30 years and dying before the fully realized project saw the shimmering lights of the big screen, it's an audacious, confounding experiment that I admire more than like. Clocking in at 3 hours and featuring an endless procession of first person handheld cinemetography, the film is ostensibly about the inability of knowledge to impact the present, or more specifically, the past. The idea in the film is that two scientists from the future travel back to Earth during the Middle Ages. The footage we see, recorded from small cameras on their foreheads, reveals a pulsating mass of deplorable conditions, people stacked together like sardines and floating in mud, blood, vomit and feces. German's set design is completely enveloping, and the overall tone descends into madness as the scientists simply react to the barrage of non sequiter dialogue, dense and unexplained mentions of certain people and toothless grins directly into the camera. It's probably an hour into "Hard To Be A God" when I decided to let go and allow the reigning chaos to be the guide. It's a unique experience, but one I never quite want to revisit.