Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ticking (fake) Time Bomb: The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker (2008?) - Bigelow
It's a gripping ticking-time-bomb thriller, literally. Dryly and effectively directed by the great actioner Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days). Her whole approach to the Hurt Locker is a simple one- "make the most unglamorous war movie ever: let's waste Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes to show that I'm serious about it". The problem with that is, she tries so hard to avoid cliché, it comes across as insincere and fake and just as painful to watch.

Staff Sgt. James (Jeremy Renner), with his easy going leatherneck charm is an adrenalin junkie EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) man. The whole situation is irremediable over there in Iraq. Peeps like S Sgt. James get by by macho one-upping one another in a dangerous world they can barely understand. It's a sad movie.

City of Remembrance: 24 City

24 City (2008) - Jia
A nostalgic docudrama about changing times in Chengdu. I see this as a natural progression of Jia Zhang-ke (Platform, Unknown Pleasures) who is suited for being a documentary filmmaker as Wes Anderson is for cartoons. He blends interviews with real former factory workers and known actors playing them (Joan Chen and Zhao Tao) with the backdrop of the last days of state owned aeronautics factory. As in other Jia films, the main attraction here is its cinematography. Yu Lik-Wai's measured, slow tracking, panning and crane shots are beautiful without being romantic (it doesn't come across as phony as Olmi's I Fidanzati which was just a glorified Calvin Klein commercial). In a way, it's obviously not a true documentary since every shot is staged carefully and one can argue that Jia is just scratching the surface of the history. Featuring known actors also takes a bit out of its emotional impact. What is totally objective though? Jia lets all the judgments slip by. 24 City is a quiet observation of time passing done masterfully, if not too slickly.


Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam: Imaginarium of Dr. Panasus

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009) - Gilliam
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a messy, unnecessarily elaborate and candy colored fantasy that only Terry Gilliam could conjure up. Thankfully, it works! It concerns a traveling troup which includes Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), his soon to be 16 year old, scrumptious daughter Valentina (Lily Cole), his sidekick Anton (Andrew Garfield), who's secretly in love with Val and a midget Percy (Vern Troyer). Even though Dr. Parnassus can make your dreams come true, it's a hard sell with a shabby setup at the back of the supermarket parking lot. One night, they stumble on Tony (Heath Ledger) under the bridge with a noose around his neck. When he comes back to life, he doesn't remember his shady past. For young Valentina who wants a normal life, Tony gives her a glimpse of hope. But it's not a love story. It's more of Dr. Parnassus show. He made a deal with the devil (enigmatic Tom Waits in his usual bowler hat) for eternal life and the wager was his daughter. And so on and so on. The characters are paper thin and so as the premise but the fantasy must go on...

Dr. Parnassus plays out like a Gilliam's greatest hits, featuring all his old elements that made his films enjoyable- idealized gamine (bordering pedophilia), moneyed up python-esque animation sequences and backdrops, zany homeless people, and characters running around yapping nonsense the whole time in one corner of the frame. It's a big circus. And the every school-girl's-wet-dream aspect (Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell taking turns playing Tony in Imaginarium) is a total overkill. It also seems Gilliam had a hard time deciding how to end the film. But I have to say the overall visual craziness and mad energy held my attention. If you want a satisfying story, keep away. But it's Gilliam's best since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.