As a mythology, the Marvel Universe is theraputic. It's here to help us (the U.S.) process the aftermath of 9-11 and the subsequent wars we sought vengeance through. Nobody really misses the point with a group of security obsessed, tight-wearing superheroes proclaiming themselves "Avengers." What are they avenging?
In mythology, murder and destruction are taboos made sacred by the sacrifices of the protagonist: with the primary scarifice being isolation. Nolan's Batman is the only comic book character in motion who enacts this violence as ritual. He is a loner by nature and though he's rescued by sleight of hand by the end of Rises, we believe he dies alone. The Marvel Universe, however, has its lead serial Iron Man announce his identity as a mission statement. These heroes aren't going to hide, nor will they brood too much. M.U. insists on blending 1950s values of family (Guardians and Avengers, Parkers vs. the Osbornes) and sex-roles with taboo carnage and death so that none of the outcomes can be read as sacred. Instead a false family is born, a criminal family not unlike other families that practice violence in myth (like the Corleones). They are somewhat empty tales, usually ignoring the psychic role violence plays, and so they erase the sensations of collective responsibilities from audience minds. Why are they here suddenly, and why are they so successful? The films are essentially mental degaussers that absolve resposibilities for the carnage we've turned loose on the world under the guise of liberating dictatorships in the past 15 years. We are the empire, share this moniker with the other world powers. We practice warfare without sanction, kill chosen by drone. And we seem to be unaware of how this is perceived on the world-stage. And the Marvel Universe might help us to remain blind to our self image. Certainly the last Avengers was a 'world-stage' battle.
Time for new mythologies before it's too late.
Some back-up: Damien Straker's Ultron review http://www.impulsegamer.com/avengers-age-of-ultron-3d-film-review/
Necessary intro to any post V. diatribe: California was invented by pen, written by the hand of saga-scribe de Montalvo of Spain, who heard an Eden existed at the other coast of the recently conquered America. He never ended up visiting the 'state' he named, instead the conquering Spaniards did it for him, fact from fiction.
Conspiracy junkies unite as P.T. Anderson finally breaks free of his 5-picture somber-zone and lurches out a semi-carefree hit on fellow Kalifornian Pynchin. Adapting great novels (in this case, a 'great' novelist) has never been easy. Who loves the filmed versions of Bonfire of the Vanities, Love in the Time of Cholera (perversely, adapted from a translation) or this past year's Winter's Tale? Great novels tank their screen versions because either they can't be gapped (can't be understood without the full story being told) or are exotically difficult to gap (the construction into a new medium - "difficult to adapt" is on the coroner's report). Compressing a long-winded masterpiece is nearly impossible, yet the allure makes them difficult to ignore. Like the bullseye at a targeting range, a male's shooter Holy Grail-complex surrounds them. With Pynchon it isn't so much how but why? Why tackle this lunacy? These are impossible visual feats written in the wit of the moment. Why make visible what dances so weirdly along a page? You think you can match this guy Pynchon, move for move? Well. Mr. Anderson (you can almost hear Agent Smith goading him) has made a film for the believers, the boomers that bought all those Pynchon books and raised momentary hell in the divorcees 70s.
Equal parts hubris and adoration drive this fender-bender of a flick. The underplaying of Pynchon's hep stat-ttire works and doesn't work in the filmed version (the paradox goes long - it's still a vast improve on the recent religious zeal he's been draining since Magnolia). In many ways, the earlier movies play far more like Pynchon than this one does. Inherent Vice unspools more like a filmed novelization parodying Pynch than any stand-alone adapt, maybe it's even a photo-novel (see below) rather than any straight 'adaptation.' There is no brilliant diagrammatic oversight (Sortilege's bland incremental 'faulty' narrator doesn't pull it off) or central visual metaphor that keeps the plot tone (well maybe the Fang's boat, oversight slipping in from Hubbard's fantasy of sea-faring eternity, remember, Vice's opening shot is of the ocean, and glance at all those knick-knacks and lampshade: ocean, ocean, ocean). But Anderson has a full plate to deal with, rounding out the story with a grand cast of two-to-three scene cameo-players surrounding Joaquin Phoenix's Doc Sportello. As in all Pynchon (either the caper novels or his elite epics), plot is dense and disguise is endemic. Who means whom to who? Unfortunately irony guest stars and deadens every role as P.I. Sportello plays outsider while behaving insider (here's one example: informer/sell-out Owen Wilson is leap-frogged by Doc Sportello's metaphysical resurrecting of him to Brolin's copper Bigfoot.) We're meant to identify Sportello with hippies, but he's far too double-agent'd to make that identity clear. When Martin Donovan's Crocker Fenway glibly paints Sportello with "people like you lose all claim to respect the first time they pay anybody rent" you realize the whole shebang is an illusion. Even Pynchon doesn't buy all the contrasts he's typing across everyone's foreheads. The film can't bridge Pynchon's psychic purity (built mostly for laughs and rooting for the 'heroes') to our reality, so it just regresses to illustrative, the film plays out like those one-note religious pamphlets that hark about repentance. Sure you might laugh at their gimmickery, but somewhere, other people buy this malarkey.
The flick fails through its actors. Barely any of the performances register the easy-going aftermath of the Tate-Manson-Altamont exchanges. Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro all behave as if the acid failed them decades ago. The bad news is Wilson's in the wrong movie since he doesn't really perform, he pretends. 'He's' an east-coast/texas-toast affectation crashing a best-coast opera of shrugs and winks. And the misses get more than a few shots to get it right: both he and Brolin play other people on TV (in different genres). And Brolin and Del Toro can't seem to quite find a toe-hold on the material with the film sliding somewhere between screwball and brightly lit 'dark' post-modernism. Brolin meanders between meaty and overdone (he's more from Kurtzmann's Humbug than Gaines's MAD). Visual gimmicks only intermitently work, especially self-torpedoing is a last supper retread photo-ministration that triangulates Wilson - it falls dead on arrival. (at the screening i saw, snickers of derision came with that pop-junk). That leaves the chicks to pick up the slack and some of them can hack it. You believe, despite their enforced roles as sex-toys, they exist far more than the men. (Well, Joanna Newsom is so self-conscious, so into herself, she brings us right back to 2014 only moments after the film begins. No wonder nobody digs her. And we can't shake her because she's locating us as narrator. It should be cryptic, her detailings, the way Linda Manz zonked us in Days of Heaven, but all she does is give away the house, graffitied in bad astrology. It's a trap for any performer. For a non-actor like her, we get the sense it's stage-talk, listening to her between songs during a set. The effect resembles voiceing over Deckard in the producer's cut of Blade Runner. She's the pivot against Sportello, "the catch right under his nose," but the acting styles don't meet. You keep thinking Newsom's going to whip out her iPhone and find an address: 2014 calling 1970. Erps! She wasn't even IN the car!)
Yet with all those performances, there are no jaw-dropper types in the bunch that really happen (honorable mentions: Martin Short, the Doc at the Hospital whispering along with the movie-within-movie, and the female impersonator on the phone). Certain scenes lack laughs and then have to pay with exposition, others get guffaws and others face-plant. The worst of it yacks rote sentimentalism for the 70s (a terrible sin, employing Pynchon for this). All of us are missing the true unpredictability, the palm-sweating films of the era came with. Altman, Chandler, Coen Bros., Penn, Ashby and Pynchon all blur into sometimes plausible characterization and possible double-crosses (both on the audience and those up on screen). Leading the cameos is Martin Short who especially lets it rip, leading everyone to a backlit cop pullover under the effects of OP VIGILANT CALIFORNIA. (alot of this stuff is registered by viewing The Tube - the film's best moments involve cathode rays on celluloid fix). There's even some DNA of Chinatown's: a medical cabal leads to a dual Japanese Zen and faked early Hindu swastika cult luring millionaires to their liquidation. Long Good Goodbye by way of blotter, except lacking Zsigmond's luxurious and decayed wide ratios. Denseness comes in the movie's cake frosting: the set design frames out loads of detail, but to what effect? Sportello's even got a gun-shaped california kitchen kut-out. Pop-70s goes 1:1.85 in Tati-brightness, yet it reads mostly like memory glitches made from postcards. Frames but no framework. A similar plot to Vineland is in effect as idolized women are loved across political spectrums: idolized girl-stealing Mickey Wolfman is Vice's version of 1989's Brock Vond. Endless 'nothing is what it seems'-isms guide both tales.
Maybe this was the one to commit to 70mm 'scope. Not that scatter about Hubbard in The Master... pull the camera back just a bit, give it room to breath. Don't explain it to us during late-edit dissolve-ins you shot to patch things together, let us head scratch. And darken it all, it's so damn bright. And make sure these actors are scared-paranoid. Only some of them are gripped with the fear that goes along with Pynchon's desire for total anonymity. (When Jade asks for a ride out of the weird atmosphere of a party, we don't feel her threat level [she's scared? a performer of cunnilingus for bikers?] but we should, and then some.) Maybe that's the problem here, Anderson not taking Pynchon seriously enough. Underneath all those freaky names and overt satire lurks rage against control. Can you make fun of satire? Or do you engage with it directly. Missing here was the aura of Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night Moves or Three Days of the Condor - unremitting paranoia appearing in casual situations gone mad. Anderson had to go a step further and bridge it to stoner excess where it becomes zany, but he doesn't even come close to level A. Stoner paranoia has a level-head at its core, and that means scary B-movies hide in each of Pynchon's books, just waiting to be taken seriously. Here under Elswit's lens it succumbs to pop-art. Maybe Anderson should have tried an epic of Pynchon's, like the beatnik serious-crossed-gonzo V. instead of the light mystery of Vice. Where is Anderson's pont-of-view here? This feels like dry, canonical Pynchon, set in mortar the way those Jackson-Tolkein megatoy spectacles vibrate in some kind of geeky religious fever.
Or maybe the problem is deep in Pynchon's rhetoric. Clearly he's written himself into these tomes. Here he' avatared by Sportello (in Vineland it's Zoyd), antagonized by square jawed Dick Tracy conjurings like Brock, Bigfoot and Wolfman. . isn't Doc the same archetype as Woody Allen's, only driving another genre? Chicks are objectified. Guys will lazily try anything to get laid. Drug culture stratifies the cast into an us vs. them gap. And it reads like Burroughs meets MAD Magazine. Still, at the core: very dark comedy clouding a persona. Maybe Pynchon's the one whose dated the whole enchilada with his worshipful rubber stamp "TP." It may be set in the 70s but it smells like the 50s to me.
Kaufmann's remarkable Body Snatchers in foto-novel form. 70s paranoia made mass market.
Trailer for the presumed Episode VII bookends the awakening John Boyega (as a Stormtrooper gone AWOL) with the title itself. There's a good possibility he's been inhabited by an overload of midichlorian (gives him headaches, visions, you know, 'can't sleep' kinda thing). That means he's half of the title role, an anonymous trooper gone light-side's head of the class. Is he Skywalker's paderwan? If yes, he'll be clashing with Driver's "red sword."
The trailer hints that Abrams has his color-wheel work under control (just notice the interplay in hues). Maybe we'll finally get to see the effect of all that TV work. His MI3 was entirely watchable, even with its existentially overwrought climax. Not a pure kineticist/jokester like Brad Bird, Abrams tries to build family tales; he peers into collapsing connections then reboots them by films' end. When the action gets heavy the storytelling gets mired (as does his sentiment), and there's the question. Will the endless caravan of the space opera sharpen his skills? See it next December.
Kasdan is Abrams's secret weapon. Leigh Brackett's swashbuckling overkill of a first draft in 1978 allowed Kasdan to extract Empire from both Lucas's storyline and Brackett's characterizing. Now both he and Abrams are leaping over another character heavy first-draft try (Michael Arendt's). The Disney(Pixar)-Lucasfilm pairing has terrifying potential to alter visual media. Remember Pixar was instigated at Lucasfilm, sold to Jobs for pennies, grown into a genre by itself, and sold to Disney - in-turn making Jobs its largest individual shareholder. Now Lucas follows Pixar into the fold. From staunch independent to Fortune 500 in 30 years, the polar opposite arc to Coppola.
Visual extract: Ep I-III & Ep IV-VI are copycat visual-mirrors of one another (one hint of many, both middle films travel to cities separate from land and set high in atmospherics - above water and clouds. Physically resembling one another, Bespin and Kamino are places Boba Fett escapes from using the same ship, Slave I.) Let's hope the visuals rule again.
In one area above all, the failure to improve is especially egregious: education. Schools are, on the whole, little better than they were three decades ago; test scores have barely budged since the famous “A Nation at Risk” report came out, in the early nineteen-eighties. This isn’t for lack of trying, exactly. We now spend far more per pupil than we once did. We’ve shrunk class sizes, implemented national standards, and amped up testing. We’ve increased competition by allowing charter schools. And some schools have made it a little easier to remove ineffective teachers. None of these changes have made much of a difference.
Strangely, almost nothing. Both propaganda by death are desperate yet well-planned attempts to lure the West into a multi-regional war. A first and second attempt to set off WWIII, acts of provocation very similar to the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand one hundred years ago this year. The progression here is from dispersed terror group guest to an Islamic state, to claimed state-level government, however fleeting on these geographic terms, it has a source. The question becomes, why be lead into the first? And was it a feint, was the invasion of Iraq a distraction from the true targets? Fundamentalism within Saudi Arabia, Militancy from Pakistan. Strange, no? We attack a country that enforces sexual equality and religious secularism, true it is a Sunni totalitarian state (Iraq) yet so is a Sunni kingdom with oppressive laws for women and a legal definition of witchcraft that sometimes ends in a death sentence. Diplomacy increases in complexity, are the coming wars symmetric? If not, admit them, assign the internal conflict a name. The east-west divide between Saudi Arabia and pre-invasion Iraq. Something like detente or lynch-pin.
A recent incoherent op-ed by the distant architect of multiple military coups over democratically elected officials (including Pinochet over Allende), Kissinger now writes as if converted to the fantasy view of democracy of Bush 2, not the strern real politik he practiced when in office. The facts are: most world state borders of the 'developing world' are arbitrary, many designed for external colonial concerns, in the aftermath of war. To enforce most of them one needed enforcers, and that's what the West backed, not democratic or parlimentary systems. Each state, no matter its origins, needs a central bureaucratic authority. The fragmenting of power in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and now Libya caused their collapse since they lacked properly defined transitions to power. It's time to teach global realities. A bureaucracy comes before all other realities. If one is shattered, then the country may shatter. Colin Powell's mythic words to his President have come true: "If you break it, you own it."
This taut exercise in Blockbuster reductionism-revisionism is the best film of the summer. Actors and gestures of the golden age of blockbusters meet their younger generation in flip-mode. Aliens's Bill Paxton graduates from grunt to sarge (the squad seems cloned private by private from the Sulaco's), while usual leader-like Cruise enters cowardly, praying he'll just survive the day. Restaging Normandy starring Joan of Arc over and over even loads a perverse comment on the immutability of anniversaries by way of timelessness. Here everyday is D-day. Edge's Joan is Rita, a name copped from Groundhog Day inhabited by an actor from a recent looping film, Emily Blunt, who managed to avoid any loops in Looper. Here in Tomorrow she's a recent looper herself. Although the filmmakers keep the plot as simple as possible, they let the overlap and gaps in the repeat let us fill in the blanks for much of the film. Certain mutations are seen on their first go around, others on the umpteenth, and that's how the weaving gets us, we don't know where we are in the loop numbers (and neither do the other actors). We're in Cruise's Private Cage's drama, whose keeping some kind of headcount, it's his 'film.' Unexplained arrivals are left just that, that's where the film's magic sits. When we piece together the logic, the audience guesses Cage can't succeed unless he goes off-the-grid: the humans (likewise us audience members at first) don't have the imagination to realize Cage's value vs. the alien Mimics inability to use the gift of their own being, and maybe the human adds the transporting, multiverse simultaneity. Maybe it's something about the infection: Cruise is bathed in mimic blood causing a human trigger, the dna, the cell life of his begins a repeating as a chain reaction of the poisonous meeting between both's composition, a 'broadcast' (remember, everyone who repeats is shown only in his proximity...his 'aura' is sustaining this new path). The resultant contrast, how Cage is treated on arrival at the first lair (far behind enemy lines, also involves a liquid, though it's Cage who chooses his, he drowns himself instead of allowing the Mimics to drain a slow death) contrasted against the hunt on him and her after stealing a choice weapon: Liman's stating pretty bluntly that innovation has enemies on both sides. Realizes the in-between is the only smart place to fight a war of time from.The Mimics feint their head honcho as a lure, it's their stopgap that Cage barely grasps the set-up in time. These touches like the Dam-lure verge on abstraction proving Liman's ability to slide underexplained phenomena into what seems to be a pretty straight story (despite the daily loop, the narrative pretends to be videogame simplistic). Creativity is about riding a particulary dangerous edge with unlimited outcomes. The best part is the cake-and-eat-it ending, which plays coldly impossible at first, but slowly worms around in the gray matter pushing a profoundly cinematic impact. The crescendo's Spielberg ape (from the very parallel War of the Worlds) is its funniest homage, you realize Cruise was meant to be reborn. It's some aura he's earned, and now it's more popular in export than stateside.
When will the scourge of 3-D post-conversion be over? This film is FAR SUPERIOR in 2-D.
Addendum: Somebody wrote and asked why Looper was never reviewed here...except in rare cases like Edge, overt time-travel flicks never seem to support their weight in ideas. For all the cleverness in Looper, each chess-move creates far more holes. Go to the basics in the story. If a young looper erases his escaped elderly version by dying (demo'd at the end), why create Old Seth's body-part subtraction game in the second act? Just kill him, right? You're not letting noseless Seth go off to finish out his life. But of course, that erases the film's choice gimmick of messaging-by-scar. Now take the ending at face value: if the 'Rainmaker' was so all-powerful, instead of his focused goal killing loopers in revenge, wouldn't he have just sent a team to head off his mom's death? Time is obviously mutable in the film's logic. The loopers that headline then become sub-plot players in a story centralized later on Mom-saving. The implications there are far more absurd than the play we're shown (and might have lead to a more adventurous film). But Johnson is wedded to his genre-stablizing version, with the self-Oedipal conflict posed by 12 Monkey's Willis vs. Young Joe strung out against a parody of Matrix-like 20th century crime tropes. Imagine a showdown using four timeframes converging instead of the three we're shown. That's the loop we should have seen breaking. A son that didn't need saving against a backdrop of two versions of the same person fighting for an identity, one of whom wanted to save that son. There's a far nuttier movie hiding in the dry logic of Looper. And beyond plot and structure, there's the retrograde females in the film: strippers, mothers, waitresses and idealized saviors. That's the residual effects of Lynch on the generation, a fifties view of gender stuck to millenial anxieties. This isn't Kubrick where women's roles are explored through male collapse, here they're ecclipsed. Johnson has the storytelling skills for the decade, he knows how to build ghastly tension, but his overall approach peels conservative, maybe even nostalgiac. And the trouble is it's both conscious: the time-travel expediency, and unconscious: the calcified gender roles.
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The resulting image, made from 841 orbits of telescope viewing time, contains approximately 10 000 galaxies, extending back to within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang. (- Hubble takes the most complete image of the universe ever seen) http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1411/