By Noel Vera
many targets, so little time.
of the Caribbean: At World's End (Gore Verbinski) is not exactly
my idea of of "constant shuffling, of tangential narrative ruptures:
the world of the film, like the world we audience members live in,
is chaotic" - or, leastwise, it is that, but not in a good way.
Despite Ryland Walker Knight's spirited and beautifully written
defense of the movie, I remained unconvinced; yes it complicates
the world of the first picture beyond its ostensible ambitions (making
millions off of a chintzy amusement park ride), yes it sketches
a complicated relationship between the sea and its denizens, but
if I can't have my proper fix of Depp subverting yet another crass
effort at Hollywood moneymaking I'm not having the fun I put my
mony down to buy.
End is ambitious world building without the storytelling smarts
(why is Kiera Knightly mistaken for Calypso?
What's the point of getting Chow Yun Fat, then relegating him to
background filler and an early exit? Why spend so much time on 'fey'
Bloom and 'intense' Knightly, when Depp has more feyness and intensity
in his little pinkie than either of them? Why waste so much money
on CGI effects for an elaborate naval battle scene without even
an attempt at halfway intelligible (much less intelligent) military
tactics (Peter Weir's Master and Commander (2003), anyone?)?), and
without enough of a central performance to keep one's attention
focused or at least amused. If Verbinski is trying to build his
version of, oh I don't know, Blade Runner--an elaborate fantasy
world with its own set of rules--no, I don't think he's succeeded
Transformers, The Movie is about as inevitable an apotheosis
of a career as anything I can think of. Cars that turn into robots--perfect
for Bay's wham! bam! thank you ma'am! style of filmmaking, I suppose.
Only even with
this low, low level of expectations, Bay still--still--misses the
mark. Transformers traipsing around in the garden without the parents
noticing? Great, but why does it play as crude and lumbering as
a Scooby Doo cartoon (think of the all-male gang hiding in a young
woman's bedroom while the father looks suspicously around in Tsui
Hark's Do Ma Den (Peking Opera Blues, 1986) to see this kind of
hijinks done right)? Why, if the fate of the world rests on this
doohickey being kept out of the Decepitcons' hands, do the Autobots
entrust it to the care of some puny biped mammal running down a
street? And why, if you take so much care to create robots with
dents and scratched paint, doesn't the camera stay still long enough
to give us some sense of that lived-in texture? They should have
forgotten Bay and handed the project over to someone with real talent,
like Hark or Ronny Yu; then we'd have some real fun.
Knocked Up (2006, but it only reached my multiplex this year)--I
don't get it. Admittedly I'm not the target audience (middle-aged
Asian man) but I like to think I've got as much empathy as anyone
around (I love Jane Austen; I love George Romero; I love Dr. Who;
I love Spongebob Squarepants), and I still don't get it. Guy goes
to bed with hot babe, gets her pregnant. Maybe a few funny moments
here and there, but the touchy-feely bits just leave me scratching
my head; if I wanted male angst, Alexander Payne speaks to me more.
Doesn't help that Apatow's view and realization of Seth Rogen's
man-titted pothead and his gaggle of geeks is more nuanced and sympathetic
than Katherine Heigl's hot babe (she's sometimes vulnerable but
never funny, and she's made up more of reaction shots than a definite
point of view (at least with Payne you understood Virginia Madsen's
Maya more)). Plus Apatow's got the flattest visual sense this side
And lest people
think of me in as being in a particularly unforgiveable mood today,
Sarah Polley's Away From Her (2006) is lovely, simply lovely.
Adapted from a story by Alice Munro, Polley's film plays like a
reel of memory imperfectly spooled through a projector; scenes jump
back and forth, and at certain points she manages to associate the
overexposed light one finds filming in snow landscapes with the
bright fog surrounding vague memories (or at least, one's cinematic
idea of a vague memory). She can make one bark out in laughter from
a woman's sly forgetfulness (is Christie's Fiona really suffering
from Alzheimer's, or taking revenge on her husband?), or cry from
a man's sudden desperation (Gordon Pinsent's Grant quietly begging
Fiona not to leave him).
best I've seen this year so far (again, released last year, but
only able to reach a nearby arthouse screen recently--I swear, the
distribution of some films...). Talk about hot babes, Julie Christie
at sixty-plus makes me forget there were any women in Knocked Up
(not that Apatow made it easy to remember), or that Francis Coppola's
daughter's sophomore effort was so well received a few years back
(it starred Bill Murray, I remember that much).
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