Monday, November 19, 2012

Summer Movie Roundup, Part 5

Here's the last summary post of movies I saw some months ago, but never got around to writing up.  At this point, anyone of these would make a great rental or on-demand choice (since they are long gone from theaters).  For the record, my favorite movie of the summer was Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, but Beasts of the Southern Wild was pretty close (the picture above is from that film).

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)- I was won over by this movie almost immediately.  Low key and somewhat meandering, the story turns on a great hook: a guy advertises for a companion to join him in time travel.  The reporters who pursue the story behind the ad start out cynical and even somewhat predatory, but the sincerity of their target slowly erodes their disbelief in various ways.  The cast is filled with TV stars (Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation, Jake Johnson of The New Girl and Mark Duplass of The League), which is not often a good sign.  But in this case, I think their small-screen skills keep this on an easily relatable level.  I'll be looking forward to what the guys who made this come up with next. 

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)- I've been something less-than enthusiastic about the spate of super-hero movies in recent years.  Many are entertaining, but few are memorable.  I think this one maybe breaks that mold. There are elements of its plot that I find disturbing, especially it's lack of faith in democratic institutions, or the subtly fascistic obeisance to corporate might. But I have to admit that it treats such themes seriously and not just as a pretext for pyrotechnics.  Nolan seems to recognize that the whole concept of a superhero raises disturbing questions about power and how its wielded, and I'd say I felt disturbed leaving the theater, which counts for a lot in making sure a work or art sticks with you.  

Carlos (Olivier Assayas)- Okay, technically this was a made for TV miniseries which I saw on DVD.  But it was released theatrically, I just never had a chance to catch it.  This tale of terror and politics in the 1970s was immensely gripping and the charisma of Carlos (famously known as The Jackal) sure comes across in Assayas' account of his career.  It's actually an interesting counterpoint to The Dark Knight, with the politics much more in evidence and the violence more often deferred, lending considerably to the suspense.  Carlos begins as a somewhat misguided but sympathetic character but evolves over the three plus hours into an obvious monster.  This is the perhaps inevitable result of vigilante-type justice-- no matter how noble the cause.  When you set yourself up as judge and jury it becomes impossible to continue exercising such power in the interests of others (despite one's rhetoric), in real life anyway if not in comic books.  Assayas is masterful in bringing his audience along to draw just such a conclusion. 

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)- This was a truly one-of-a-kind movie, in terms of both narrative and style.  It recounts the adventures of a youngster growing up in a remote (physically and psychologically) part of the Mississippi delta, where the inhabitants are so deeply embedded in their environment that the consequences of natural disaster are taken to be almost entirely the fault of human error (in this case, the construction of a levy).  On one hand, it's a bit hard to generate much sympathy for most of the characters in this story; but in the end there's something ennobling about how fiercely they protect their prerogative to live life their chosen way.  It was difficult not to view this as a political allegory, given its election year appearance, but I doubt that was foremost in the filmmaker's mind. Instead, the young protagonist's sense of herself as a part of something much bigger while nonetheless battling to protect her own independence has much broader implications than any narrow current events link would suggest.  Overall, a magical, thought provoking movie-- and that combination does not come along very often.      

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