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But the last dozen times I’ve seen it in toto or in pieces, I’ve come to realize that I was kind of dead wrong on all accounts except for the first half of my first review.
Because what I failed to realize then is something that I touched on in my Billy Madison article: it’s a genre film and it only has to deliver along genre lines to be good. That is, it’s an super hero/action film so it really only has to deliver shit blowing up and our hero saving the day to be any good.
But this film enters the echelon of great–and I realize, now, that it is great–because it does everything necessary to make it good with perfection. And then it lays on that “shallow philosophizing,” to paraphrase myself from two years ago, and does that to perfection as well.
Before, I was holding it to the standards of being, like, an emotion heavy film that comments on life with shit blowing up. But that’s backwards.
This movie’s standards are blow shit up then comment on life. Shoot first, ask questions later, etcetera.
So I was wrong on that part.
The one part that has remained great, though, are the action sequences and the overall photographic mood of the film. Every scene is lit and captured perfectly. There is an emotional timbre throughout the film, and it’s rationed out at just the right pace for viewer-ennui to never set in.
This took me nine times and a bottle of Jack to realize.
It’s been said many times over that this film is basically a remake of Heat with superheroes. It makes sense. Both have ambiguous heroes and villains that cause just as much destruction to society as to themselves and their closest companions.
That’s great for a giant-ass summer picture like this.
The other thing that really helped me like this movie was seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was completely antithetical to this film.
Wolverine realized it was a genre movie and that it only had to deliver so much in order to be successful. This might’ve been 20th Century Fox’s fault. I’ve heard that they like to deliver as little as possible to get as much money as possible. This is why I’m afraid of what’ll happen to the Aronofsky helmed sequel to Origins.
But, so, okay. Wolverine was made and released because people wanted more scenes of Wolverine fucking shit up. So they delivered that.
With Batman as a character though, his cinema ties are a lot deeper and we’ve been watching him fuck shit up for years. The difference, now, is that we’ve already explored an entire universe for the Batman superhero. We’ve experienced the camp and the kook. With Nolan at the helm, it seems like he wanted to turn all that on its ear beginning with Batman Begins, just to see what would happen.
As opposed to the 60’s Batman and the late-90’s Batman, our hero isn’t making jokes and he doesn’t have Robin there as comic relief (Chris O’Donnell should never be allowed on set of any future Batman movies. Just saying). The Dark Knight offers no relief—and it does this because the movie is a reflection of its setting. Right now, with the Joker making a mess of both above- and underground society, there is no relief to living in any part of the city. So the movie doesn’t back down from handling the material in such a way that everything clicks. It makes sense that it’s dark because everything in Gotham has gone dark. So, then, you begin to connect with residents of Gotham and what the authorities have to deal with.
The other major thing that I failed to realize was this: when was the last time a major motion picture killed off its main love interest that was a well established character? That whole sequence came as a total shock to me because movies with budgets this big are trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And the LCD usually doesn’t like it when people you’ve liked since the first movie die. So it was really brave of them to pull that card as well as making Bruce Wayne choose between the good of himself and the good of society by choosing Harvey Dent. It’s like that age old question of “Would you rather get killed or have 1,000 people killed instead.”
Batman makes the tough choice, and ostensibly the right one.
Until that right choice loses his own faith in humanity and turns into the problem. Oh shit. Now what.
So this movie is on a totally different emotional plane than most other movies in its genre for that very reason. Most just build a character and kill it off to make you care about the lily-white protagonist. This movie builds and kills off just to ask more questions and make the viewer panic even more and have them ask, “when is this going to end?’
At the point you begin to ask that question is the exact moment where you’ve made the emotional connection with Batman—fucking Batman. Holy rusted metal Batman. You made an emotional connection with his psychoemotional struggles.
Let’s see Wolverine do that.
In conclusion: I was wrong two years ago and I finally have a stage to retract my comments. I was wrong. This movie’s awesome. It makes you feel something which is more than you could ever ask from a movie where a semi truck goes ass over tea kettle, which is awesome enough in its own right.
 More like watching it while drinking beer mixed with tequila and lime juice. I call it the Optimus Prime. It’s delicious.
 I’ll be the first to admit that using this film is a strange antithesis just because they tried the same strategy of bringing in an indie-film darling to direct a major motion picture (Gavin Hood, who did Tsotsi).
Turns out I’m going on a sort of vacation tomorrow so instead of just holding off on the last of the 9x9x9, I’m gonna hold off on the last two, then maybe just post them together. Oversaturate and shit.
After that, I’ve got a film shoot to attend to. So expect output to drop from the current rate. But there will be output.
Also on the docket:
A couple more director profiles.
Reviews of new and old movies–maybe Jackass 3D at some point in the next week if I decide it’s worth it to see it in theaters. I love those guys but I’ll be goddamned if I’m sure they’re worth the 3D upcharge. Probably Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I started it the other night, but got too drunk to finish it. You know how that is.
Follow the twitter, I’ll probably post shit on there.
Some of these spots played during the NBA playoffs of 2008. Just from them, I knew I had to see the movie.
So I was there the Sunday evening of opening weekend. And then again the next night. And then again a month later. Because I had to.
From the opening moments, this film sparked an emotional reaction in me. I can’t explain it, but that first half hour is perfection to me. I’ve never laughed that hard before at something that’s basically an anthropomorphic Roomba. And terrible show tunes from Hello Dolly (which I still haven’t seen by itself, though it may make an interesting double feature one day), which turns out to be the last movie on earth. Thank God we work so hard to make perfection, right?
Once the movie goes into outer space and onto the Axiom, it experiences a From Dusk til Dawn-like transition. From sci-fi slapstick comedy to sci-fi action comedy. While two of the three words are the same, the change is nonetheless jarring as the quietude of Earth erupts into the cacophany of Thomas Newman’s weird-ass score and inane chatter of the whales. This makes the movie feel slightly uneven as the back half of it so completely different from the first half.
Both are necessary to this story. As awkward a transition as it may be, the first half hour is simply the first act. Had it stayed there for 90 minutes, it would’ve been a completely different film–like a short film dragged beyond its limits (if you’ve ever seen the movie Aaltra, it’d be like that).
Without that last hour of the film, on the Axiom, we also wouldn’t have had as many angry people. Wall-E is cute when he’s roaming the lonesome, trashed, Earth, wooing Eve, but the sociopolitical commentary doesn’t kick into high gear until Wall-E reaches the humans .
Turns out, after seven hundred years in space, people become Orca whales, stuck in their computer screens and completely unaware of the world beyond it. When the computer says “Blue is the new Red,” everyone’s suit changes color. When the computer switches from afternoon to morning, people accept it and restart their day as if it never happened. Everything they eat is liquid. It’s kind of awesome because it’s our current plugged-in culture taken to its logical extreme. We’ll all get fat and sedated. We won’t even know there’s a pool onboard. Or how to swim. Or how to function.
In my original review, I talked a lot about the cinematography–and this is something that still holds up for me. This is some of the best animation in the sense photographic realism. Roger Deakins does some amazing work in live action films, and his consultation on this film is no different to the work he’d previously done. Except that blocking was done with animators and computers versus people and masking tape.
There’s one major thing I’ve uncovered that has heightened my enjoyment of this movie. In a lot of the commercials they use the theme song from the movie “Brazil,” which, sure, yea, was written in 1939 but it’s also something the filmmakers were most likely aware of.
This gives the ads a different context, as well as the movie itself. They’ve basically given homage to what seems to be one of their major influences. The ineptitude of the captain, and the takeover of the government by a corporation basically mirrors all the red-tape clusterfuckery of Brazil.
And I like that they were aiming for the Axiom essentially being the fallout of a totalitarian/corporate regime 700 years into the future that also happens to be shaped like Africa.
This film is about as leftist as Avatar, and just as overt. Turn off the screens, and get in touch with the Earth.
But the funniest thing is that one of my professors at Humboldt State took her four year old daughter to see the movie. When they got home, her daughter immediately began putting on all her clothes because she wanted to look like one of the people on the Axiom.
She didn’t want to plant a tree or recycle, she wanted to look like a whale with thumbs.
I thought that was interesting because people think this movie teaches these kids all these terrible things, but I sincerely doubt any of it. When I was a kid, I never noticed half the jokes let alone the thematic subtext.
The fact that this movie even has a thematic subtext says something about this film. Pixar is willing to make films for all ages, that just happen to ostensibly be kids movies. When I realized this, I decided to go back and watch the rest of their films to see if any of them were political.
Monsters, Inc. is just as political. It’s an indictment of the electrical industry and how fear mongering isn’t as powerful as making someone laugh.
Cars is about the loss of road culture and the destruction of towns.
Those seem to be the only other two that had politics intertwined with their story. Most of them are about coming of age and finding out who you truly
are–either as a toy or a fish or a rat or a half-Japanese Wilderness Explorer.
But this movie. This one remains their crowning achievement. Not to mention the preceding short film, Presto. One of their best ever. I absolutely love that this is a tradition that Pixar is upholding.
I don’t remember when I saw the trailer for the first time. I know what theater I was at: Edwards 22 Ontario (California, not Canada). I remember blown away and excited.
I then remember when the second trailer came and it had been downgraded to a PG-13 to an R. I immediately though, “Oh no, the Man has destroyed Aronofsky’s vision” which, after Requiem for a dream I thought was impossible. That was an unflinching film that dealt with drug addiction.
Now he was flinching on what seemed unflinchable topics: love and death.
Plus, Wolverine was the male lead. So that didn’t sit well with me either.
The final nail that made me more leery than excited was that the movie was only 90 minutes long. Why was this? Because this is a movie where Aronofsky has stuffed everything about life, across 1000 years, and that alone seems like more subject matter than 90 minutes can handle.
Needless to say, and luckily, I was completely blown away. This is a movie that uses its running time in fascinating ways.
This story is spaced across 1,000 years, and posited as parallel love stories in 1500, 2000, and 2500, all with the same characters played by the same actors.
In 1500, Hugh Jackman is a conquistador and Rachel Weisz is the Queen of Spain. In 2000, she’s dying of cancer, and he’s trying to find the cure. In 2500, she’s… a tree and a disembodied voice, and I think he’s a Buddhist flying through space in a bubble trying to reach the Mayan afterlife.
You could interpret this film a lot of different ways, but, for me, this is how it works:
1500 is the book that Weisz is writing. It represents her way of understanding why present day Hugh Jackman is spending so much time at the lab trying to find a cure. He’s scaling the earth, trying to find a cure for cancer. The cancer in this story is both death and the Inquisition.
2000 is the anchor of the story that everything swirls around.
2500 is the final chapter of the book after Weisz commands Jackman to “Finish It.” See, this is him basically writing her a eulogy, telling her that this is how far he would go to find a cure. He would take the tree and his memories to Xibalba to be with her again. He would do whatever it takes to be with her forever. But, at the same time, the tree that will grow and his memories will remain forever, even after she is gone.
The future is the hardest one to parse together, symbolically. See, the biggest key to me that it’s fake is that Jackman has his wedding ring back that had gone missing earlier in the film.
But then there’s the fact that he may’ve just discovered both the tree of life and the cure for dying thereby hypothetically enabling him to live long enough to get him to Xibalba. So, it’s open for interpretation.
Cohering these three stories are both the two lead actors who play a part in each one as well as amazing parallel cinematography by Matthew Libatique, who has worked with Aronofsky all all his films to date (and Iron Man 2!). There is this amazing shot that you see in the trailers of things passing under the camera, starting right side up and ending upside down. This shot is used with Jackman on Horseback, Jackman in a car, and Jackman in a bubble. These are his ways of getting to and from her. There are the shots of the hair on the Rachel Weisz’s neck billowing as Jackman speaks close to her skin, then doing the same when she is a tree, with the follicles on the bark standing on end, signifying her life.
This movie divides a great number of people along lines of “it’s bloated, pretentious, and terrible,” and “It’s insightful, beautiful, and heart-wrenching.”
I understand the former group’s lament. The film can seem pretentious, but most films that attempt to stuff everything a young filmmaker knows can come off that way. Just be glad it’s only 90 minutes long.
This line, though, seems to be created around a lot of great films, though–with few exceptions: like Godfather and Citizen Kane. But then there are films that are considered genius to selected groups. Movies like Brazil that are fascinating but also a base-level clusterfuck; or movies like Blue Velvet that disgust far too many people to ever garner unilateral acclaim. This movie, hopefully, will fall into the category of divisive classics.
Every time I’ve seen this movie, I’ve cried. This is a film that builds up your hopes, then tears them apart, then gets really fucking weird.
I like that.
 Something that worries me, while we’re on the subject: That Crash and Slumdog Millionaire, two of the worst I’ve films I’ve seen in a long time, will fall into this category. Those movies are goddamned terrible and I really hope that future critics don’t retroject a unilateral acclaim in these films just because they won the most overrated award in history. Give me a fucking break.