Sunday, July 31, 2011

Screening Notes #6

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and 2 (2010, 2011): I can't comment on the narrative content, because having seen these films far apart and in questionable order, all the story's complexities (needless complications of wizardry?) still baffle me. But I must admit that these final two films by director David Yates, the franchise's Jonathon Papelbon, pack a distinctively ominous and dreary wallop when compared to the rest of the series. There are moments, fleeting as ever, but still moments, in which Yates' terrific ability to dredge up a palpable atmosphere of doom just overwhelms any concerns of plot and character, particularly during the epic intercutting in Part 2 between Voldemort's army's approach and Harry's search for the second-to-last horcrux (?), one of several elements to pull from the Lord of the Rings playbook (a confused brunette protagonist perversely lured to the darkness through the magnetism of various jewelry, a villain's evil, disembodied whisper flung through an unstable delay effect, and ugly, amoral, boulder-swinging behemoths). One animated episode in Part 1, for further proof, might be the franchise's shining moment. Yet a sense of the momentousness of this cultural occasion, the wrapping-up of a ten-year-old cinematic saga based on the most commercially relevant work of popular literature of our time, is curiously missing from these films. So awkwardly handled is the final twenty minutes - energy here, hefty exposition there, thin character drama somewhere - that a tacked-on epilogue can only elicit embarrassed chuckles, the final straw in an oddly insubstantial realization.

Louie: Season 2 (2011): While Louie gets progressively unfunny (Louie's friend Pamela puts it aptly when she says "you're like, the most boring comedian ever", and I don't think she means it entirely as an insult), which is mostly a way of saying its punchlines spread out significantly and most of its time is spent not trying to be a comedy, it also gets far more direct and unsentimental about the way we live our lives, the way we hold insecurities, possess dreams, take things for granted, and lose our grip on reality. Already this new season boasts several snippets of scrappy, blue-collar profundity: Louie waxes depressively about the insignificance of life to a girl he takes on a date, explains to his daughter that every second she spends on Earth should be cherished, and spews his deepest romantic impulses to Pamela, a take-no-bullshit single mom with no interest in Louie beyond buddy-buddy friendship. Fortunately, Louie's stoic, drawn-out manner of articulation is quite funny in a dry, even arid way, and he makes what might be the most fearlessly confessional show on television also a modest entertainment.

Mars Attacks! (1996): It's inspiring to me that piles of studio money was spent on this garbled, deliberately shoddy expansion of a defunct line of sensationalist trading cards from the 60's. That Tim Burton, one of the most happily grotesque big-business directors working today, was able to muster up a fruitful career after this politically inflammatory, misanthropic vision of alien apocalypse is startling and reassuring, proving that Hollywood has a flicker of sensitivity for brash, anti-corporate sensibilities and campy, D-grade aesthetics. Granted, Burton has not made anything as personal or memorable as this schlocky piece of trash since (nor has he worked with as killer a cast), and the images of radioactive chaos and destruction he created were more than enough to make up for the lopsided pacing and haphazard logic.

500 Days of Summer (2009): I watched it for Zooey, but even she can't temper 500 Days of Summer's extraordinary annoyances. Every time an emotional undercurrent or a thematic shift is registered organically in conversation (and the actors do quite a handsome job of maintaining chemistry and expressing longing and frustration), director Marc Webb feels the need to address it through some stylistic shift, some quirky device that underlines his characters' emotional subtexts. What he doesn't realize is that instead of highlighting and immortalizing the tricky sensations of romance, these handsy moves simplify his characters' actions and feelings, making them redundant and generic. I've rarely seen a film so unsure of itself as 500 Days of Summer, but that has nothing to do with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's confusions and insecurities and everything to do with Webb's inability to express anything complex or subtle about human interaction outside the domain of Hallmark signs and symbols. Also, it's impossible to ignore the breathtakingly sappy ending wherein Gordon-Levitt meets a new broad named Autumn to symbolize his new beginning.

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