Second only to Sin City in unintentional hilariousness. I know a movie isn't working when the tensest, most dramatic moment of the film -- in this case, the Iranian man's revenge on the Hispanic locksmith -- unleashes a giggling fit... and that was before we find out that no one was hurt. In fact, as the scene ended, with a crane shot over the confused shopkeeper, I said aloud, MST3K-style, "THESE ARE FAKE BULLETS! YOU GIVE ME REAL BULLETS!".
So yeah, it didn't quite work for me. Maybe it's because I'm tucked away in the liberal bastion of the Pacific Northwest, but I can get through the day without turning every interaction with my fellow human beings into a shouting match. I can also, amazingly, have a conversation with someone without using a racial epithet. Maybe those Angelenos are different, I dunno.
And while I don't think this'll win Best Picture, you know what would be most horrific about that possibility? They're giving Robert muthafuckin' Altman an honorary Oscar that same night. "Hey Bob -- thanks for elevating cinema with your narrative tapestries Nashville and Short Cuts. We're going to honor your contributions by giving our top award to a movie that takes all your innovations and reduces them to feces! No, thank you."
Not the Hitchcockian throwback everyone seemed to be claiming at the time (if it were up to Hitch, he'd have never left the plane), but a reasonably entertaining and fast-paced (76 minutes!) thriller. "Next Julia Roberts"-if-she-wants-it Rachel McAdams is unsurprisingly good (she projects such a vulnerability, even when she has the upper hand) and while I'm still not completely sold on Cillian Murphy (he's at his best when the role takes advantage of his otherworldly, amphibian face, like Batman Begins and Breakfast on Pluto), his performance in the key scene (when he reveals his plan to McAdams) is a wonderful bit of acting, blurring the line between charm and menace. Still, I'd prefer a version that had, say, George Clooney, doing his best Cary Grant in Suspicion. Also, while ifs and buts are candy and nuts, I'd prefer a version that had a real third act (fifth-rate cat and mouse doesn't cut it), a version that didn't have a villainous plan that suggests the terrorists have been playing too many videogames (A rocket launcher aimed at a hotel room? Didn't I play that in GTA: Vice City?), and most importantly, a version that took the effort to set up long-term tensions on the plane-- every time McAdams comes up with a plan to foil Murphy, it's immediately defused a few minutes later, giving the film a turbulent, herky-jerky rhythm. Hitch would've sailed above that, as well.
Comments to come.
Typically jaw-dropping visuals from Miyazaki, and all the usual concerns are here, in his first feature for Ghibli: strong heroine (perhaps too strong; she evinces no faults), environmental issues, no real villains (although he comes close here), and flying, flying, flying! Also here is the somewhat-lax storytelling we've come to expect; while it's admirable, for the first hour or so, that nothing of this strange post-apocalyptic world is really explained, by the second half, the twists and turns concerning phenomena I don't really understand dampens the enjoyment. (Doesn't help that, because of the toxic air, characters tend to wear funky gas masks, making some of the secondary characters hard to tell apart.) Finally, the end is so Hero's Journey that it almost seems like a parody. Luckily, Miyazaki-san (as John Lasseter likes to call him) figured out by Totoro that small and subtle works much, much better.
Critique of the suburban, ticky-tacky box lifestyle of the 50s that would be silly and obvious if it wasn't actually made in the 50s, predating the predigested "wisdom" that continues to inform a lot of films. (Apparently The Chumscrubber is the latest offender; talk to Scott about that one.) Starts off slow, with newlyweds Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens moving into their new house and meeting the surrounding neighbors, who all live stiflingly close to each other. (The fences that separate the backyards seem more for show, and they can see into each other's rooms.) Then things get dark when Jerry Flagg (Tony Randall, wonderful in an atypical role), boozer and lech, hits on Owens, and then proceed to get darker still. It's hard to figure why this is so obscure (and thanks to Filmbrain for writing about it) -- the performances by Randall and Pat Hingle are terrific, and Joanne Woodward, as a randy, bored Southern transplant, is Oscar worthy. (It's a shame she never worked with Cassavetes -- her work here would've fit right in with the gang from Faces.) What's more, it lacks any of the didacticism of Ritt's more famous Edge of the City -- the only real villain here is the society that encourages people to mortgage whatever they can in pursuit of the American Dream. By the end, some of the characters make peace with their desires and dreams, and some pursue them to the grave.
Miyazaki's masterpiece, despite, no, because it so casually throws away the time-tested rules for storytelling. (Yes, the same rules I've pretty much devoted my life to studying and mastering.) There is no real conflict in this movie until the last ten minutes; until that point, it's almost completely observational, following two girls as they move into an old country house with their father to be near their hospitalized mother. While there, they meet... Nah, forget it. It's beautiful. It's amazingly observed (the two girls are probably the most realistic characters ever created in a cartoon, and yet, at the same time, they probably couldn't be replicated by human beings). It's hilarious. It's like a story that was created by an eight year old who somehow has the artistic genius of... well, Miyazaki. (While I love the other Miyazaki films I've seen, this is the only one I know that gets down to the level and temperament of its protagonists.) If you haven't seen it yet, then, dammit, what are you waiting for?
(Oh, that's right, this. 27 more days, as of this writing.)