Post Tenebras Lux, the fourth film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas demands a relaxed, open mind well aware of the boundaries of cinema and in search of something fresh. The cinephile with an adventurous taste looking for something new in the forms of narrative structure and framing will leave a film like this invigorated. Those looking for something traditional will only feel frustrated, however. But resist and miss a vital message about the class divisions that seem to perpetuate themselves via the mind-numbing escapism most filmmakers are comfortable to exploit for profit and cheap thrills.
Post Tenebras Lux (Latin for “After the darkness, light,” a term lifted out of the Book of Job) is a slippery affair that oozes a vibrant, vital energy looking to obliterate the confines of cinematic narrative for high impact of a social message that seems to trouble the filmmaker to the core of his being. He puts his own lifestyle at the center of culpability by placing his own progeny in the film as the main characters’ children. As you watch the main character Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) try to mingle with the working class while indulging in bourgeois life, which includes a sex adventure to France with his quietly suffering wife Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo), one has to wonder how much of this is autobiographical, at least on the level of conscience. The abstract manner of this film speaks to the filmmaker’s own frustration with the hypocritical idea of it, for ultimately, how can an art film truly speak to the concerns of the other, much less the subaltern.
Illustrating the futile divisions in class systems, Reygadas, who also wrote the screenplay, juxtaposes vignettes of a small town in the lush forest landscape of Central Mexico, bookended by a children’s rugby match in the U.K. Consider the Jungian principal of synchronicity, and the narrative conceit should feel easier to accept, as both settings will illuminate the other in an incongruent but impactful manner. For the most part, the film follows an upper-class family that remains as humanly flawed as the rest of town’s denizens in the lower classes, yet social constructs result in an impenetrable division, despite Juan’s efforts to socialize and mix with those under his employ or simply living in the same area. It all comes to a head in a violent encounter as banal and distant as Reygadas dares to conceive.
The film opens with an evocative if startling exterior scene at dusk. A little girl Eleazar (Eleazar Reygadas) stomps through a muddy meadow as a pack of dogs run back and forth around her, harassing a herd of cows, some of which attempt to copulate. The child, who must be about 3 years of age, is monosyllabic, uttering words like “dog” and “cow” and what will soon be revealed as the names of her immediate family. She sloshes around, fascinated by the mushy ground, as the dogs zip around her and nip at the agitated cows. The sky looms dark with gray clouds pregnant with rain and rumbling electricity. The opening scene carries on long enough, in what seems a single take, to turn from dusk to pitch black and only the sound of animals and the child’s startlingly playful voice resonate from a darkness broken up by flashes of lightning.
Scene 2: Enter the devil. The presence of evil is revealed in the family’s home. The glowing red thing, with no features but its silhouette and testicles hanging and swaying like a pendulum, creeps through the family’s fancy home, carrying a toolbox and bathing the walls in a red glow. The thing takes its time to establish itself. It feels as long as the opening scene, inviting the viewer to wonder. When the little boy of the house, Rut (Rut Reygadas), awakes, he stares at the figure with a sort of curiosity that implies he might be dreaming it but also an awareness that such visions can wholly come to children as rather real (read: traumatic). The scene may feel long, but it allows for it to creep under the skin, so it might echo and illuminate the following scenes that range from violence to animals, subjugation of men and the environment and degradation of love. This is not any easy film to experience, and there are many lengthy, quiet scenes similar in length that range from startling to mundane. But there are also chatty scenes that illustrate Reygadas’ concern also has a sense of humor.
Despite many grand shots outdoors, Reygadas subverts the landscape with the use of a beveled lens that refracts the edges of the image leading to a doubling or sometimes quadrupling of the frame’s edge, creating an invisible if suffocating border around the people he has focused his camera on. This is not some indulgent, random use of experimental lensing. There is a symbolic relevance to the flourish. Post Tenebras Lux is a darkly poetic wake-up call about people who have lost their humanity and could very well continue to lose it should they allow themselves to succumb to complacent entitlement. It’s as harsh an experience as the recent class-concerned Paradise: Love, another exclusive screening revealing the brave programming that continues at the Miami Beach Cinematheque (My review: Film Review: ‘Paradise: Love’ peels away layers perpetuated by Disney gloss of post-colonial times). However, whereas Paradise: Love found potency in its raw delivery of frank exchanges between two different worlds of people, Post Tenebras Lux takes a more abstract approach. The narrative frequently jumps around with seemingly disconnected scenes that demand an open mind by the audience prepared for an interpretive experience. To understand, however, might mean you will have to look at something that you might not like to see, be they scenes that shock on-screen or conversations that demand inference from a social standpoint of the same hypocrisy Reygadas seems to struggle with. It does not have to feel negative, and he offers hope at the end.
Post Tenebras Lux won Reygadas the best director award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It is a brilliantly structured work that encapsulates earthy characters, startling scenes of suspense and inventive cinematic techniques not seen in his prior work. It stands as one of this year’s truly transcendent films. The director seems very aware of breaking down and recreating the rules of cinema for such an experience to hit the audience. With Post Tenebras Lux, Reygadas shows a daring vision to experiment that echoes beyond panache and into consciousness that may aggravate some but never undermines its grander, insightful message that ultimately overshadows any idea of pretentiousness.
Post Tenebras Lux runs 115 minutes, is in Spanish with English subtitles and is not rated (this is in no way for kids, however). It opened in South Florida at this year’s Miami International Film Festival, during which an early version of this review first ran. Post Tenebras Lux begins a limited engagement at the Miami Beach Cinematheque on Friday, May 31. I have been asked by the Cinematheque to introduce the film on opening night, Friday, and the following Saturday night, so be there for either of those screenings and say hi and learn a little more about this movie.
The other day, I ran a review of one of only a few films I have seen this year that I would already consider among the best of 2013: Frances Ha. It’s also one of those movies worth re-watching during its theatrical run, which began on Friday. But between writing the review and fretting about other writing assignments, I decided to squeeze in one more project: talk to the filmmakers behind the movie. When I inquired, it would turn out the studio, IFC Films, had been lining up phone interviews for the near future with the film’s star and co-writer, Greta Gerwig. A few pitches later, and I found myself second in line for a 15-minute chat with her. “Miami New Times” took the feature piece I wrote as a result. You can read it by jumping through the logo for “Cultist,” the alternative weekly’s art and culture blog; here’s a the link:
Of course, I am always left with extra bits of my conversations with my subjects, so here are some outtakes that cover how she and Frances Ha director/co-writer Noah Baumbach started writing the film, her feelings about being one of the pioneers of the mumblecore film scene and a little exchange about Whit Stillman, who directed her in Damsels In Distress, and was one of my more recent subjects (A cup of coffee in which director Whit Stillman and I reconsider my negative review of ‘Damsels In Distress’).
Hans Morgenstern: Is it accurate to say that you and Noah began writing this script when he sent you some emails asking you about your generation after you had completed Greenberg [their previous film together; Read the review here: Greenberg: The Great Projector]?
Greta Gerwig: He emailed me, and he asked me if I wanted to write something together that I could play and that he would direct. And that was the first interaction. Then I sent him a list of ideas that I had, which weren’t specifically about my generation. They were just character ideas, moments, small exchanges of dialogues or scenes or something I thought could go into a movie and some of those made it into the final movie and it was about three pages long, and he liked it. He added to it, and we just started writing scenes, and that was really how it began and how it developed. Most of it was written apart, in terms of the actual writing. It was sort of scene by scene, and we switched them off, but it was a slow process. It was about a year, and then, once we had a script, we did it as perfect as we could get it. Then we went figuring out how to shoot it.
You had your start in some of the indiest of indie films, which even frustrated some art film critics. I remember ["Film Comment" critic] Amy Taubin said she hated mumblecore (“Mumblecore: All Talk? Pros and Cons of the Much-Hyped Neo-Indie Movemenr”)
(Giggles) Yeah, she did not like it, but we’re friends now.
Did she revisit her analysis of those films at all?
No, I think she still hates those films, but she likes Frances, so she’s come around, I guess. But I think she still hates those films, which is totally fine. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.
My wife likes them, but I too don’t care for them, I have to admit.
That’s the thing about this, you’ll never make anything that will get a hundred percent approval, as much as you might want it (laughs).
Then you worked with Ti West and Noah. Did you feel you were on another sort of playing field with these directors?
It definitely felt like … it was such an interesting process of how I got to have the career I have, and I’m so grateful to all these different people at different moments I worked with who’ve taken me on as an actor and really taught me a lot. I feel very lucky. I would say the biggest difference is that when I was doing movies with Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers, they were so improvisation heavy, the Duplass brothers a little less so than Joe, but those movies, I was almost writing while I was speaking, I was figuring out what the scenes should be and then executing them while I was playing with scenes and that was actually great because it felt really free, and it felt like I got to work out a lot of ideas, and see how things played and almost experiment on camera, but then with Ti and with Noah and with Woody Allen and with Whit Stillman and Arthur and all the other films that I did since, as soon as I had a script-script, that was the departure and executing jokes and getting rhythms perfect, really find the art in the structure, and I think I really— at this point— I enjoy that a lot more. It’s not that I’ll never do the other thing again. It’s just I feel like I really did it for a while, and I just kinda wore thin on it, and I feel like, right now, as a writer, I like to make things as perfect as they can be, working with great writing, and as a viewer I like to see great actors execute great writing, but that might change for me. I might step back from that later and feel I like another thing, but I feel like one of the nice things of getting to do this for a while is I feel like I passed through a phase of my artistic interest, and I’m not as interested in that anymore.
I recently had a nice long lunch with Whit Stillman when he was in Miami.
Oh, I love Whit!
We had a fantastic couple of hours where we discussed my mixed review of “Damsels” which I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for over time.
Yeah, he’s great. He reads every single review, so I’m sure he read yours (laughs). He’s very, very engaged with his own critics, which I think it totally suits him. He’s good at that.
* * *
Frances Ha runs 86 minutes and is rated R (frank talk, including sexuality). It is now playing at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 in Miami Beach. IFC Films provided an on-line screener for the purposes of this review. It arrives in West Palm Beach on May 31 at Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Regal Delray. Late next month, it will arrive at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Nationwide screenings dates can be found here.
Director Noah Baumbach is one of the most honest filmmakers working today. Often quixotically summed up as misanthropic or angst-ridden, Baumbach’s films actually feature an astute sense of humor that is not afraid to explore the deep emotional wounds we incur while growing up. It’s a difficult thing to turn humorous, and he has always handled it with masterful finesse.
Baumbach has directed films starring Ben Stiller (Greenberg, see my original review: Greenberg: The Great Projector) and Nicole Kidman (Margot at the Wedding). His screenplays stand out as offering refreshing new challenges to stars like Stiller and Kidman, who sink their teeth into these titular characters with heavy, damaged personalities to sometimes disturbing lows while offering a mordant sense of humor. It’s a fine line to walk as far as entertainment, but it’s a testament to his craft that he can attract such figures to his work despite the rather dark humor.
With Frances Ha, Baumbach finally seems to reveal a lighter touch. The film follows a young woman (Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the script) learning to let go of her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter) while figuring out how to make her own opportunities in her career choice: modern dance. The film is a testament to the oft-neglected stage of growing up in one’s later years, sometimes referred to as the quarter-life crisis. It’s not far off the mark from what makes the current buzzy HBO series “Girls” so popular, but Frances Ha is much more tidy and heartfelt. It has a charm influenced beyond concerns of the current generation usurping interest in current media. Both French New Wave and early Woody Allen are more relevant as influences than Gen Y malaise.
Maybe it’s the luminous black and white cinematography and setting, but a comparison to Allen’s Manhattan would not fall far from the mark. However, it’s how Baumbach has channeled French film— from Nouvelle Vague influences to a contemporary master— that will appeal to most cinephiles. Over all, the film has a tone recalling the bright but resonant personal dramedies of François Truffaut. Then there are specific scenes that pay conscious tribute to the wardrobe of Bande à part by Jean-Luc Godard and the more contemporary Leos Carax, involving the hit David Bowie song “Modern Love” and Frances running in the street, a la Mauvais sang.
More subtly, Baumbach employees a smart soundtrack featuring music by Georges Delerue, whose scores accompanied many films of the French New Wave. Witty cues and flourishes pepper the closing of many scenes in distinct homage. However, beyond the black and white cinematography and the music, the nostalgia ends there. In fact, it’s representative of the titular character’s condition who has found herself in a rut because she cannot seem to let go of her own past. Her inner child still seems to claw its way out from inside her despite put downs from a friend who blithely calls her “undatable” and a boss who has grown tired of stringing her along for some permanent position in a dance company Frances seems only half-invested in.
Gerwig dives into the character physically and facially. With her forced smile, raised eyebrows and furrowed brow, she plays Frances with an awkward charm that buoys her throughout the film’s many dramas. Frances is so desperate for relevance, as her friends seemingly glide through life, be they “artists” with indulgent parents or lucky career climbers, she decides to charge a weekend trip to Paris, so she might “grow” a bit. Succumbing to jet lag and a friend who won’t answer her phone calls, the highlight of her trip may have been catching Puss in Boots in a movie theater off the Champs-Élysées.
As with any Baumbach film, the director knows how to pile on the witty, if sometimes sardonic, scenes at a break-neck pace. But the reason the script, which Baumbach co-wrote with Gerwig, feels so smart is not that these are jokes looking for easy laughs. They provide a charming avenue to develop Frances’ character while also making her relatable. The audience is not meant to look down at her state of arrested development but sympathize with it. The film has a wonderful way of piling on the moments of fleshing out the character without feeling redundant and still upping the stakes of the drama as her career becomes on the line, and her friendships drift away. It’s a valid fear everyone knows.
The brilliance of the film is how it can take a character in such a state and make it not only entertaining but also earn a sense of hope in the end. As much as she loves having friends and cannot seem to let go of her appreciation for animated movies (She says, “Animals have to talk or be at war for a movie to be interesting,”) or play fighting in the park, any growth ultimately has to come from within. You can give as much affection to your friends as you want but never neglect the friend you should be to yourself.
Frances Ha runs 86 minutes and is rated R (frank talk, including sexuality). It opens today, May 24, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 in Miami Beach for its South Florida premiere run (IFC Films provided an on-line screener for the purposes of this review). It also appears in West Palm Beach on May 31 at Living Room Theaters, Regal Shadowood and Regal Delray and Cinemark Palace. Miami will see AMC Sunset Place adding the film to their line-up on May 31, also.
Late next month it will arrive at the Miami Beach Cinematheque (Update: possibly in July, I am now told). Nationwide screenings dates can be found here. Update: “Miami New Times” has published my interview with the star of this film here (that’s a hot link; more on this to come).
I consider Shane Carruth’s Primer among the best films of I saw in 2004. I caught it in an almost empty theater during a free preview, “hot” off its Grand Jury win at Sundance. The film took a brilliant look at time travel as something existing on a quantum level of alternate realities. It posited a twisted Pandora’s box of paradox that left many obsessed with unraveling the drama on the film’s website (that forum has since disappeared).
Nearly 10 years later and the director/actor/writer/musical composer, a true auteur if there ever was one in cinema, returns with a film featuring all of his talents once again. It arrives with even more hype as the myth of his achievement with Primer has grown along with the length of years of Carruth’s absence from filmmaking. Dare I say that Upstream Color falters in comparison with his debut. Whereas Primer featured a basis that spoke to the former software engineer-cum-filmmaker’s grasp of a subject matter more clumsily pulled off by mainstream or even sci-fi directors, the storyline of Upstream Color tackles a manipulation of altered states on a cerebral level that may have something to do with an alternate reality.
Usually, I more than other reviewers will champion notions of alternate realities, including dream states and psychological conditions, presented in film by harnessing the power of cinema through editing, story and other aspects of the medium. This makes me all the more sensitive to movies that falter in this regard. Disembodied loose ends should never be allowed to drift so far apart that gaps feel as vast as they do in this film. They feel like red herrings, but I have faith this meticulous filmmaker would never resort to such cheap gimmicks. Somewhere in his mind, everything that happens in the film is connected. I just wish the gaps were not painted with such cavernous brush strokes.
I have read nothing about what this movie may or may not be about, save for one gushing, but delightfully confused article, in “Entertainment Weekly” and obtuse statements of praise disembodied from argument. Based on what I saw in the movie, part of its thrill may be just sitting there and going with its flow and figuring it out as one flows with the movie. In fact, a teaser poster for the film only featured the obscure statement: “You can force your story’s shape but the color will always bloom upstream.” Considering I have not even taken a peek at the film’s press materials for synopsis, it’s fair that I try a boilerplate summary, based on what I saw during a preview screening last week:
The film follows Kris (Amy Seimetz) a young, over-worked woman who is kidnapped, drugged and hypnotized into emptying her bank account by a fellow the film introduces as a quiet gardener. This gardener (Thiago Martins), referred to in the film’s end credits as “Thief” seems concerned with the grub worms in his potted orchids more than the plants themselves. In fact, it is soon revealed he is using the surviving grub worms as the narcotic that allows him to hijack Kris’ body. After a fever-dream like sequence where she is rescued from her state by a man referred to in the credits as “The Sampler” (Andrew Sensenig) via a skin graft from a pig, she seems to regain her self-awareness. Then come the side effects, which seem to draw Kris to another seemingly lost soul and former drone of the thief’s scheme, Jeff (Carruth playing his character cool and distant, not too unlike Adrian Brody would). A pig farm comes into play that is inter-cut with the drawing together of Kris and Jeff that suggest a sort of mystical synchronicity that may join the people with the swine. Cause and effect reveals these connections, and I could go further, but it might reveal too many of the film’s surprises.
There is much mystery to be had in Upstream Color, and it’s made artfully, including a scene that— fair warning— may upset those who hate seeing harm done to animals on screen. Carruth is also behind the score, which is available as a vinyl record, on the film’s website, linked above. It features lots of droning humming ambient synthesized drones and busy, soft repetitive tinkling piano lines, reflecting the contemplative mood the film asks of the audience. The tone, in this case seems similar to Primer.
Clearly Carruth enjoys playing with perceptions. Early in the film he presents a brief red herring when he introduces Kris at work, composing a computer-generated commercial. It may be a signpost on how to take this film, which seems very aware of existing in its own universe that may have similarities to our current world, but also many decidedly different uses of things like orchids and pigs. This could very well be taking place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, but that may just be too convenient. The trick lies in the cause and effects that never feel tight enough for one to feel connected to these characters. But then, that’s what the critics of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey said about that film (For more read: How Stanley Kubrick broke the rules of Classical Hollywood cinema and made a better film with ’2001: A Space Odyssey’: My MA thesis redux – part 1 of 4). The jury’s still out on this film, as far as this writer’s concerned. I don’t feel the film deserves to be written off but nor does it necessarily deserve glowing praise, as there may be too much serendipity at play, especially in the panache department on behalf of the filmmaker. But if you enjoyed Primer on some level, you may still enjoy this. If this film is about alternate plains of perception, I still think eXistenZ did it better, and then there’s always the bubblegum version for neophytes: the Matrix.
Upstream Color runs 96 minutes and is unrated (expect violence to man and piggies alike, however). It opens at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this Friday, May 24, which invited me to a preview screening for the purposes of this review. The film is also playing nationwide and on demand; visit the movie’s website for screening dates (this is a hotlink).
May 21, 2013
The first part in what is bound to be a difficult if powerful trilogy to sit through, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love patiently and subtly unfurls as a stark critique on colonialism and the formative effects it perpetuates. Filled with lots of casual nudity of pallid middle-aged, often over-weight Austrian women on holiday in Kenya seeking to enjoy young, dark, virile native men, the film has a raw human quality that is as visceral as it is shameful in its critique of a society that has neglected its responsibilities for its decimation of indigenous culture. What makes the film both so hard to watch and important to experience is its flagrant shaming of an ignorant middle class culture implicated in its ravenous apathy to consume, as it perpetuates its dominance in a capitalist world ruled by money and class systems. Seidl is Pasolini with a conscience.
The drama of Paradise: Love unfolds patiently and gradually reveals a humanism to all its characters that resonates beyond the film in the grand scheme of things. The most outstanding shots are Seidl’s brilliantly composed wide shots. They recall Wes Anderson in their busy quality and the dimension they add to characters. However, the tone could not be more different. The vintage wear and irony is transformed from precious to critical. There is humor, melancholy and grim undertones in the image of the rotund Teresa (a casually fearless Margarete Tiesel) reclining in her hotel bed in sheer, unmatched underwear below a painting of a primitively drawn leopard hanging out on a tree branch. Mosquito net curtains frame each side; the walls and tile floor, exude a history in their grimy white color.
When Teresa arrives to the resort hotel on a white bus labeled “Comfort Safari” after driving past a shanty-like town, she is greeted to a modest row of four African women in zebra-print wrap dresses singing a song in their language with the refrain “Hakuna Matata,” with the accent on the last syllable. It stands out in contrast to the children’s ditty from Disney’s the Lion King, which emphasized the first syllable of the last word. In fact, the phrase, which translates to “no problem” (the once long-standing slogan to entice tourists to Jamaica) appears constantly in the film. By extension, beyond the critique of post-colonial apathy, the film implicates Disney for its co-opting of culture into a cartoonish commodity constantly marketed to the most vulnerable to commercialism: children.
It’s casual consumers eating up culture via corporations like Disney presenting experiences, that this film is targeting. That’s not to say people who buy tickets to Disney movies and theme parks or its toys, clothes, games and books are indecent people. They only want to have fun. Early in the film we meet Teresa as a woman who seems stuck in a rut but rather resigned to her position and status. She chaperons a large group of mentally disabled to a day at a fair and has a teenager who would rather live on her cellphone screen than care for the state of her room. Seidl quickly sets his grandiose ironic tone, lingering for long takes on the contorted faces of the mal-developed adults in bumper cars. The sounds of their squeals and grunts echo in the ride and dominate the soundtrack. There is no music. If it’s uncomfortable, it is so by design and implication.
Teresa then struggles to get her overweight daughter out of her room plastered in posters of teen idols. She drops her at a relative’s house, and takes a selfie of the trio outside the home. She waves bye-bye, and she’s off to an adventure as a “sugar mama” to the locals in Kenya. She’s a rather insignificant person who treats people with a resigned decency than most are capable of, which adds to the gradually revealed and utterly horrific behavior toward the indigenous people of Kenya who work at the resort and stand on the other side of a short fence made of ropes on the beach or ride in circles on scooters on the other side of the resort’s guard gates.
The performances are brilliant in their stark and simple frankness. There are no lingering close ups that pander to the viewer’s emotional connection for a staged sympathy. When the 50-year-old hausfrau dishes out the shillings to the men who promise to protect her from those peddling trinkets on the beach or the street, there is also a sense that this woman only wants to be loved. As she gets deeper into it, she eats up the drama that comes when she chooses one man over another and then goes back again to another man, even if it’s all seemingly paid for.
All the while, the drama within the frame features scenes that are the epitome of ironic discomfort from the flagrant sexuality to the undertone of white material indulgence. It plays as much with the knowledge of the viewer as well as his or her conscience, transmitting comedy and tragedy at once in its statement of culpability. Paradise: Love is far from escapist cinema, but it is important cinema. In fact, very few films slap the viewer into looking at reality with such harsh yet subtle scenes. There is no cheap violence or overripe sexuality. This is raw and distant yet involving. Seidl is saying, “look,” with a soft, assured, even-toned voice, “this is you.”
Paradise: Love runs 120 minutes, is in English and Austrian with English subtitles and is unrated (the film features lots of frank, full-frontal sexuality). It opens at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this Friday, May 24, which provided a DVD screener for the purposes of this review. The trilogy continues at MBC with Paradise: Faith (about the grandmother’s “vacation”) in July and Paradise: Hope (about the daughter’s “vacation”) in October.
More than half-way through the new Daft Punk album, and I feel it’s just Daft Punk lite. The inventive beats have mostly been supplanted by jangling disco guitars. Some of it reminds me of Hall and Oates with robot voices. There are some funky moments in Random Access Memories that recall late-1970s era Prince, but it’s still not as strong as some of the music on that legendary artist’s early work like Dirty Mind.
It’s a weird thing anticipation does. Having followed Daft Punk from the start, this new album seems to seep and swoosh around as easy-listening Saturday morning music, and lacks the sudden impact that earlier albums have had. How appropriate it shows up early in the morning on the weekend as the sun rises. If it’s dull, it’s pleasantly dull.
Decide for yourself, click the image below to visit the iTunes store and open your iTunes player (or download it) to hear it:
Edit: The last five minutes includes a bit of the noisy, driving Daft Punk that I first fell for.
Edit 2: Daft Punk have now released the entire album to stream via YouTube (iTunes stream still sounds better, though):
May 16, 2013
Lens flares, zooms, explosions, 3-D, space ships, aliens! Ugh, that was exhausting. Still, I cannot knock Star Trek Into Darkness. It takes a crafty, passionate hand to do a film like this right. So often science fiction action films slip and stumble over the edge into camp or dance too sacrosanct in a pair of safe zones: talking down to children or challenging the adult intellect. The Star Trek franchise has long suffered all of these states except for a handful of transcendent moments on television or in the movies. Director J.J. Abrams, however. seems to have the ideal formula locked down.
A fourth theatrical film into his career, and there’s no doubt Abrams has an innate talent for the science fiction action genre. Super 8 was the fifth greatest film I saw in 2011 (An antidote for Oscar hype: My 20 favorite films of 2011 [numbers 10 – 1]). Before that, I appreciated his previous Star Trek film enough to purchase the Blu-ray, and I only buy about three to four new releases for my library per year. I have not seen Mission Impossible III, but I may correct that. But, most importantly, three sci-fi action films in, and I have no trouble calling him a better director than George Lucas. The more I learn about what happened behind the scenes of Star Wars: A New Hope, the more I feel its success came from serendipitous good fortune for Lucas. However, Abrams is the super-evolved spawn who grew up with Star Wars through the rose-colored glasses of 1970s youth. It seeped into his consciousness as a consumer, and he idealized it in a manner as most adults beguiled with nostalgic memories of the film’s release in 1977. The trick is he turned his passion into a talent for writing efficient scripts and later directing similar films. That’s what makes him the ideal choice to direct the seventh Star Wars movie.
Abrams’ talent unfurls in full blossom on the 3-D screen with Star Trek Into Darkness. His signature use of blue lens flares cut bright highlights into many shots. As much as he loves setting technology in motion, he also relishes in the way characters and nature react to it, adding a heft and presence beyond gravity. From puffs of steam from a levitating freight vehicle barreling down an invisible aerial road to the spaceship Enterprise wobbling through hyperspace, all these animated props are granted a deeper dimension. Abrams loves the zoom effect. From a classic use jolting the audience’s eyes to a closer look at a distant skirmish to melding wide exterior shots of floating spaceships to intimate close-ups of its crew, he keeps it feeling fresh and engaging.
The symphony of sonic overload during the violent scenes perpetrated by a mysterious character (A brooding and blistering performance by Benedict Cumberbatch) who comes out of nowhere to disrupt the peaceful mission of exploration by Starfleet is presented with balance against the mere mortals struggling with the ethics of deep space exploration and their own human (and sometimes alien) foibles. Abrams even indulges in some quiet moments. He set up one particularly frightful scene of violence by first presenting a couple fretting over a sickly daughter using barely a word of dialogue.
The actors dive full force into their characters, and no one over stays their welcome on the screen. One could say the film heightens their distinctions, from Dr. Leonard McCoy’s (Karl Urban) sardonic skepticism to Chekov’s (Anton Yelchin) humble desire to live up to a new task after Scotty (Simon Pegg) butts heads with the captain over the subtleties of the engine room on the Enterprise. The same can be said of the leads, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine playing cocky with ebullient charm) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto delighting in Spock’s limited range of stoic and befuddled). It’s also a delight to have Uhura (an assuredly poised Zoe Saldana) raised to a high level of relevance from the original TV show to Spock’s love interest, as established in the previous film. To top it off, the passage of time since the last film reveals a witty layer of friction threatening the bond of Uhura and Spock in a manner that should distinguish a love affair between a human and a half human/half Vulcan. But the most fascinating actor to watch is Cumberbatch. As the slippery central nemesis of the film, he plays a sort of creature confident in his position above the beings around him. His presence in various scenarios takes the challenge of this character to all sorts of interesting levels, as one amusing kink in the plot piles on top of the other.
If there are any gripes about Star Trek Into Darkness, they are nitpicky ones. Maybe a syrupy exchange between a couple of characters in a life-and-death situation could have been cut with a few more drops of vinegar. The sexism heaped upon the women may be innate in the “Star Trek” world of the original television series from the ‘60s, but Abrams’ early work as creator of both the “Felicity” (with Matt Reeves) and “Alias” television serials proves he can do women fairer justice. But everything else works so clean and clear in Star Trek Into Darkness, these complaints only take up a few seconds of the film’s run time and hardly resonate through the rest of the movie.
With this brilliant Star Trek sequel, Abrams proves he knows how to create an atmosphere that engages movie audiences instead of pandering to them. As Star Trek Into Darkness breezes along the director always maintains an element of surprise and mystery to keep the drama moving forward. He peppers in moments of wit throughout featuring dialog provided by a team of three capable writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) whose combined sci-fi/action credits speak for themselves. Yet Abrams never indulges in the script for exposition. Instead, he uses it as part of a mood that serves the roller-coaster experience of the film. He knows there’s no room in sci-fi action for indulgent introspection. Sure Tarkovsky does fabulous intellectual sci-fi but leave that to him if you are not going to go dive into that sort of movie whole-hog. Though this reboot of the Star Trek movie franchise is slated to carry on with Abrams in a producer role, what he has proven exciting about his work with stale sci-fi franchises is that he can breathe vibrant life back into them. It bodes well for the upcoming series of Star Wars movies.
Star Trek Into Darkness is rated PG-13 and runs 132 (breezy) minutes. You can catch it at any multi-plex right now, including 2-D, 3-D and IMAX. Paramount pictures invited me to a 3-D screening Wednesday night for the purpose of this review.