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7.18.2013

TEMPORARY CAST MEMBERS IN A PLAY CALLED FLEETING

Before Midnight
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke











The next book Ethan Hawkes' Jesse wants to write teases connections between a random group of people separated by decades and afflicted with the oddest mental disorders: one is in a perpetual state of deja vu, another recognizes everybody, another fixates on what something becomes when it stops being the thing that it is, characters that are not so much lost in time but in perceptions of time. Later on, Julie Delpy’s Celine tells the story of a friend who attains clarity and purpose when he’s told he has nine months to live. She might as well be talking about the first time she and Jesse met cute, wandering around Vienna nearly two decades ago, all the time in the world condensed into one day, lives unmapped with no line on the horizon, everything heightened by the limits that constrict them. And Jesse might as well be talking about the two of them now, older and misshapen and unkempt and haggard and confused, living together with twin daughters in tow, on holiday in resplendent Greece, trapped by their routines and anxieties and displacements and by the collapse of time around them. Time has always wormed its way inside their love story, but here, in its third, possibly final, or at least penultimate, act, time is less tactile and more diffuse, a lot of it has been lost and even more is running out.

Conversation is the ether of the Before films. And in this one, a lot of it orbits around death: emotional death, metaphorical death, physical death. How all we have in the end are ghosts. And how the world takes glee in blowing them to smoke. The impossibility of staying together crops up and there’s such nonchalance and pragmatism, such contingency and rationale, every time it gets talked about that when Jesse remembers how his grandparents stayed together for 74 years and died one year apart as if impatient to be with each other again, it's as if he's articulating his own emotional revolt, not to mention the emotional conscience of the film, ushering in a specter to hover over everything in mutual defiance."You have to be a little deluded to keep being motivated" Jesse is talking about his writing but, at this point, who's he kidding?

We’ve been here before, of course. Before Sunset only seemed to leave everything wide open when it faded to black, but a part of you knew Jesse missing his plane was the likelier outcome, and a part of you knew their coming together would come to this. This is the familiarity breeding contempt, the cabin fever downside of intimacy, the part where things get messy. And Before Midnight is giddy with pattern recognition for anyone who’s ever been, or still is, in a long-haul relationship. The spar and volley of their bickering, if not the snark and venom but maybe that too, is bound to ring with the authenticity of experience, break some skin, force sides to be taken. But we’ve been here before in another way, too. Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine and Abbas Kiarostami’s Copie Conforme have both strip-mined this lode and taken its ore to places far bleaker, far more obtuse. Before Midnight, tends to resonate entirely within the folds of its own universe. A universe in which Jesse and Celine have become our avatars for a love that defies the odds and are now entwined in the banalities that beset the rest of us and make it harder to believe in such things without thinking one's self foolish for doing so . But this is a universe, too, that has always been sustained by its own foolish beliefs, one of which is that love, if it will not conquer all, will at least delude you that it will.  When Jesse gives winning Celine back one last and desperate go by pretending he’s a time traveler with a letter from her future self, he could well be undoing the collapse of time that does all of us in. The hopeless romantic has been grossly mis-represented as a legalist who foolishly takes "ever after" literally. Jesse is obviously one and he obviously isn't that much of a fool.  He is, in all likelihood, pushing his luck. But maybe all "ever after" means is the energy to persist in playing the hand you've been dealt.  And sometimes leaving is the cop-out. It's not that simple, perhaps, but it sort of also is.

7.12.2013

JAEGERMEISTER

Pacific Rim
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro 
Written by Travis Beacham and Guillermo Del Toro





You can boil the essence of Pacific Rim down to two scenes. The first (see top picture) happens less than an hour into matters when a father and son's metal detector treasure hunt on a snowy beach is gate-crashed by a battle-damaged robot (called jaegers) stumbling out of the wintry mists and toppling on the ground in a heap of scrap. The second happens much later when a robot (that is, jaeger) fist in mid-combat punches through an office building and slides across the cheap carpeting, smashing through cubicles as it does.  Both scenes couldn't be more divergent from each other in terms of form and tone. The first is a frankly awesome extreme wide shot, momentous and grave, given its implications. The second is in close-up, extraneous almost but puckish and jokey. Both give you that crucial sense of scale that is god in kaiju as it is in mecha, the sub-genres being slavishly co-opted here and whose shared rubric is to make visceral the enormity of both the threat and the response. It becomes a leitmotif almost, this dissonance between sizes, not to mention the film's brightest moments, specially given the uncanny aptitude for detail that has made Guillermo Del Toro such a steadfast go-to when your dopey geek enterprises need leveling up: massive pincers slicing through a bridge, a section of HK that's called the Bone Slums out of how it's built around the ribcage of a decomposed monster, a glimpse of a cathedral built from a monster skull, a robot (again, jaeger) using a cargo ship in a tussle as if it were a baseball bat. 

Spiritually, philosophically, texturally, it's more Godzilla Versus Mechagodzilla than Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even then, there is far less fertile protein to build blockbuster cartilage from, toy lines for instance. The film wisely insulates itself within its B Film strictures, its lived-in density, resisting even an inch of deviation, matching it instead almost beat for beat, from the pulpy dialogue to the pseudo-science to the wartime gloom to the endtime metaphors, then pumping it up at all junctures, and with such a determined endgame that it becomes disingenuous to call it out for not going far enough with its characters, keeping nearly all of them, except perhaps Idris Elba's embattled leader Stacker Pentecost and  Ron Perlman's flamboyant war profiteer Hannibal Chau, within the tethers of their Hawksian archetypes and their Kirbyesque nomenclature.

Del Toro understands all too well how the heart can sweet-talk the head into succumbing to anything and, if nothing else,  he plays the inner child slash nostalgia card like a hustler. Come to this, then, purely on propulsion and the re-awakening of all your fancies as a boy and its dividends can be generous. It's a drag how the escalation in categories never manifests in the monsters' physiology, sure.  And a trifle distressing how the inside of the dimensional rift looks like a bad Uriah Heep album cover. Worst of all is how incoherent and sloppy the underwater climax is.  But, as with all the Ishiro Honda films it's obviously channeling, everything yields to the glorious skirmish between meat and machine that is what you and your inner Koji Kabuto really came here for.