Michelangelo Antonioni's classic of mod London gives us a man who spends his life looking without really seeing.
The harder you look at some things, the faster they fall apart. Blow-Up is about a photographer, a jaded and blasé fellow surrounded by people as jaded and blasé as he, who finds one thing in his life worth looking at. And he stares at it, and stares at it, until it and everything else around him disintegrates. His world was never meant to hold up to that kind of scrutiny.
We have no idea at first what Thomas (David Hemmings), the protagonist of Blow-Up, is up to. He emerges, bleary and unshaven and in wrinkled clothes, from a flop-house, trailed by dozens of other tramps. Then he rounds a corner, does a double-take to make sure no one's looking, climbs into a convertible Rolls-Royce, and drives off. This is in fact his car; he's a hot young photographer who spent the night sleeping with the homeless to surreptitiously snap photos for a book project. He arrives at his studio, still unkempt, for a morning shoot with a model (Verushka). In his eyes, it's her problem if she had to wait, or if she's bothered by his ratty condition. Same with the girls he shoots later for a fashion splash, whom he grouses at and orders about like they're undisciplined kids on a picnic. Same with the models who cold-call him at his office, and whom he cold-shoulders in return.
Terry Gilliam's paranoid time-travel labyrinth is less an SF film than a story of the fear of madness, but no less powerful for it
I enjoy movies that are designed like puzzles, although most of the time the fun evaporates once the puzzle's solved. 12 Monkeys is like one of those puzzles that actually doesn't have a solution — it's there mostly to see how long you bother to try and solve it. Like Predestination, it uses a time-travel paradox as a central plot element, if only to first give hope to both its characters and the audience, and then to cruelly yank it away. But the sheer anarchic vigor of the whole thing, courtesy director Terry Gilliam, kept me interested all the way through. Yes, even when I suspected the movie had a false bottom, with nothing underneath.
12 Monkeys opens in the year 2035, some forty years after a virus killed most of the human race and left the survivors to fend for themselves in grotty underground warrens. Cole (Bruce Willis) lives in one of these dungeons as a prisoner, where he's sent out to the surface in a hazmat suit to collect specimens. He's been chosen by the scientists who run the place to go back in time and try to find more information about the virus. If he's good, he might get a reduction in his sentence, assuming the trip doesn't kill him outright.
Chantal Akerman's singular masterwork observes three days in the life of a Belgian widow with a precision and unblinking patience that becomes all-encompassing.
In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try if for four; If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually, one discovers that it is not boring but very interesting. — John Cage
Most movies are desperate to keep your attention. Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles does nothing more than invite us to sit and watch, for three hours and twenty minutes, a few days in the life of another human being. We might ask: Is that all? The very form of the movie is like a response: Isn't that enough? Are the lives of other people only interesting when "something happens"? And while some things do indeed happen in those three days in the life of Jeanne Dielman, Belgian widow and mother of a teenaged son, the way they're staged and delivered is forced to make us question why we would want only those things to matter.
Mary Harron's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's divisive novel amplifies its satirical power without making its protagonist into an antihero.
It's hard to make a good movie about a horrible person. Most horrible people are just not worth the trouble. Mary Harron's American Psycho, from Bret Easton Ellis's novel, is about a truly horrible person, dissected like one of those anatomical models where you can take the organs out. It also understands that with some subjects you don't have to go far to be satirical. Only the outward acts of the main character are exaggerated. His impulses, and the way they underscore his fundamental hollowness, are taken as-is, because they are legion.
Outwardly, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a smiling Ken doll. He has a sinecure at a mergers and acquisitions firm where he does no discernible work. He sits with three of his other cronies in a restaurant over a hideously overpriced lunch and tut-tuts at them about making antisemitic cracks about a co-worker. He offers solicitous advice to a troubled sort-of girlfriend over the phone. He also tells a drunk comrade, "I like to dissect girls. Did I tell you I'm utterly insane?" and smiles when he realizes his words, which are entirely true, are going in one ear and out the other.
An actual SF movie, not just a tarted-up shoot-'em-up, both because of the breadth of its ideas and how they are lovingly personalized.
I've lamented before how most science fiction movies are not science fiction, but an action movie with a flimsy overleaf of SF stapled atop. Arrival is an actual science fiction movie, and one of the finest to come along in recent years, both because of the breadth of its ideas and how they are lovingly personalized.
The premise (as derived from Ted Chiang's short "The Story Of Your Life") involves what by now is a fairly shopworn SF staple: first contact with aliens, by way of a klatsch of giant ships that materialize over different corners of the earth. (See also: V, Independence Day, Childhood's End, Alien Nation, etc. etc.) A linguist with a now-desolate personal life, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is summarily drafted by the hard-nosed Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to decipher the alien language and establish two-way communication. The first and most pressing question they want answered is why they are here, and whether or not that answer deserves a first strike as a response.
Closest in spirit to the bleak noirs of the 1970s, where the "good" guys are only slightly less terrible than the competition, and where everyone is staring down from the edge of the same abyss.
There's a joke that most any Jason Statham movie can be summarized as "Jason Statham Drives A Car And Kills People." Statham's vehicle in Wrath Of Man is a cash truck, and the rest of the formula applies too, multiple times over, but the movie as a whole is miles better than a meme-description like that can encompass. It's closest in spirit to the bleak noirs of the 1970s — Get Carter, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle — where the "good" guys are only slightly less terrible than the competition, and where everyone is staring down from the edge of the same abyss.
Wrath Of Man opens with a cash transportation truck being hit by a professional gang of thieves. They don't just steal the money; they kill a few people too, and we get the ugly impression none of that murder was necessary. Some months later, Statham's character — known chiefly as "H" — applies for a job at the same transport company. His supervisor, Bullet (the name is only not ridiculous because he does look the part) takes a shine to this taciturn British fellow right away, even if his driving and firearms skills are only okay.
Julia Ducournau's Titane has at its heart a great tenderness, something you don't expect from a story about a sociopath who kills with a hairpin, then apparently has sex with a car and becomes pregnant with its child.
A story that goes to extremes is not always a story that reaches us at that extreme. Julia Ducournau's Titane is rare: it goes to extremes, all right, but its most affecting moments are — I think quite deliberately — the ones delivered in contrast to those extremes. It has at its heart a great tenderness, something you don't expect from a story about a sociopath who kills with a hairpin, then apparently has sex with a car and becomes pregnant with its child.
As wild as it sounds, I haven't spoiled much by saying that upfront. Titane gives us Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who from the beginning as a child horsing around in the backseat seems a little off. When she unbuckles her seatbelt and distracts her father, their car smashes into a divider, and she's left with a head injury that requires a titanium plate in her skull. And when she leaves the hospital, it's her father's new car she has more affection for than her own parents.