All right, there’s pretty much no excuse for this latest bout of critical silence. As those who pay attention to my film diary have undoubtedly noted, I’ve certainly been busy enough with the DVD viewing (less so with the theatre-going, but it’s not exactly like they’re cramming the theatres full with creamy delights). So I guess I should cobble together a comment or two on those that I’ve had the (sometimes dubious) privilege to have spent some time with of late.
Final Destination (USA, 2000, James Wong)
This depressingly standard teenage slasher flick, with very little beyond the mildly intriguing premise (a young man’s premonition of a disastrous plane crash allows he and several class mates to escape death, only to have the Grim Reaper hunt them down one at a time to Claim His Debt) to distinguish it from similar entrants in the genre, apparently appealed to enough members of its target audience to warrant a sequel, a fact that I find neither surprising nor particularly noteworthy. It will soon be long forgotten.
Stalker (USSR, 1979, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s most perfect cluster fuck, this existential/gnostic/mystic/Christian allegory will sere its nightmare images into the deepest, darkest parts of your subconscious, only to erupt, like a particularly virulent acid flashback, through tiny fissures in your cranium, so things you thought were buried return with haunting effect. Waiting for Godot meets Brothers Karamazov, Stalker’s purgatorial imagery may not be the signature statement of Tarkovsky’s massive finger-to-the-system that is Andrei Rublev, but still and all, it remains none the less elementally potent. The ideas bandied about by the film’s trio of questing travelers are at once profound and confounding, but wrapped up in the startling imagery of The Zone and post-apocalyptic Russia, as well as the performances of the tale’s protagonists, remain tremendously affecting and provocative. While I can’t pretend to “know” what the film says in each and every frame, I remained never less than rapt, and often found myself teetering between reactions of awe and amazement.
I Robot (USA, 2004, Alex Proyas)
Talk about getting little bang for your buck, goth-boy Proyas gives us a snazzy-looking future, then fills it with characters whose no-vacancy-signed foreheads illuminate the darkened corridors of this film’s mediocrity. All the characters, from Will Smith’s beefy Luddite to Bruce Greenwood’s charmless villain, prove little more than caricatures upon whom is hung a story filled with unlikely developments fueled by half-baked ideas about What it Means to Be Human. This is Minority Report-lite (itself a watered down version of Philip Dick-tion) for those who like their science fiction to have the depth and breadth of a comic book.
Andrei Rublev (USSR, 1966, Andrei Tarkovsky) 94*
Tarkovsky’s magnum opus, this 200+ minute epic still retains all of its magnificence despite the passage of many years and after multiple viewings. Probably the most elaborate and stunning anti-Soviet diatribe ever produced during the entire Cold War, this look at the life and travails of the titular 15th century monk and painter is actually much less about his life than it is about his (and by implication, our) times. The film’s episodic narrative gives us glimpses of a self-destructive and corrupt Russia beset by foreign invaders, wherein the divine spirit of inspiration is being displaced by nefarious forces of dissolution. Any modern parallels are surely coincidental, no? Throughout the film’s near 3 ½ hour running time, Rublev is a passive but not disinterested observer in this land, who is forced to decide whether an artist can or should remain separate from the rotten reality of life in this world. Like all Tarkovsky, this is a deeply soulful work that forces us not only to think, think, think, but also to pay very close attention to every single sensual element of the film-going experience. A virulent assault on all that is wrong about the motherland, whether historical or contemporary, and containing more information in a single shot than you’ll find in the entirely of most mainstream Hollywood product, Andrei Rublev is one of the most important films of its (and all) time.
The Wire, season one (2002, USA, various directors—Edward Burns writer)
After we get past the initial clumsiness of kick-starting the story line and allowing the actors to relax into their roles so that we can forgive and forget some early moments of stiff and awkward acting, this series settles down to become really surprisingly terrific. I mean, let’s face it, we’ve all seen this sorta street wise cops v. drug dealer material done before—even set in the same town (Baltimore’s Homicide: Life on the Street), but what sets The Wire apart is the decision to give equal attention to the criminal elements here. The way that the series gets the whole drug community involved, from the front line soldiers to the back room generalisimos, while allowing each to develop into distinctive and compelling characters, is the distinguishing element of this gritty drama. The police procedural aspect of the series turns out to be pretty cool too, from the decoding to the in fighting and back biting. All said, I’m eager to check out season 2, which is in the proverbial pipeline as we speak.