Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Netflix Files: June 25 - July 1

The Game (1997) dir. David Fincher

One of Fincher's lesser-discussed efforts (despite its impending Criterion Collection release), this dark thriller features the director doing fine work in his comfort zone, even as he's saddled with a screenplay that's little more than ordinary outside of its conceit. Michael Douglas gives a nice turn as a man pulled into an all-consuming "game," and Fincher's signature touches (green/yellow color palette, chilly and elegant camera work) give the film a sense of heft it might have been lacking in less distinct hands. And, for much of the two hour run time, it's an engaging little thriller. Only in the last act does it start to venture closer into absurd territory. It never flies off of the rails, but there comes a point when the central idea feels dangerously close to running amok to the point of self-parody. Fincher has, to his credit always worked in the studio system, never venturing off into indie territory like so many contemporary auteurs. The work he's created thus far is an impressive testament to big studio/auteur director collaborations. Still, one can't help but feel that something like The Game, despite its merits, feels a little too much like "just another big studio thriller," instead of "a David Fincher film."

Grade: B-

The Mirror (1975) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Though best known for Solaris, Tarkovsky's The Mirror is often considered to be his crowning achievement. Consider me among the unconvinced. While moments work and it never does anything actively bad (the ideas are certainly interesting, despite their ambiguity), it feels too experimental for its own good. Many films require lots of thought or repeated viewings (or both) before one acquires a full appreciation, but the usually give a significant amount that is immediately compelling and satisfying. With The Mirror, Tarkovsky goes a little too far out of reach in terms of structure, rendering even straightforward scenes too abstract for their own good.

Grade: C+

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

There's no doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most striking and important working directors out there. Unfortunately, everyone has a misfire or two, and for Anderson, it's this nearly decade-old "romance." Anderson has a remarkable ability to render run down and ordinary landscapes in a manner that somehow feels epic, and that remains true here. The wide shots and gliding camera movements create a very large world, despite the actual intimacy of the story. Adam Sandler is strong in lead role, and Anderson does a strong job of putting us inside of the character's head on every front, particularly with the anxiety-inducing score. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the character, there's a limit to how much time we can spend feeling things as they occur in his head space. After a while, it feels more like the film's execution is assaulting you with sensations, and even at 90 minutes, it's too much. Some scenes have a chaotic feel that becomes too much, and it blurs the line between our perception of the character (and his perception) and our perception of the film as a whole, with pretty severe consequences. The vision is there, and in its own way it's somehow a compelling film, but the little tics that Anderson slathers on just about every scene grow tiresome far too quickly.

Grade: C

Mean Creek (2004) dir. Jacob Estes

Jacob Estes hasn't released another film since his critically hailed sophomore effort, and it's a real shame, because if Mean Creek is any indication, the writer/director is one of the most exciting voices in current American indie cinema. Though the first act has some pacing issues, as the film blossoms into a bleak (but never manipulative or maudlin) teen morality tale it digs deeper and deeper and really delivers when it counts. The main cast members, all under the age of 20 at the time of filming, give tremendous performances, even though the occasional line of dialogue feels a little stiff or too grown-up. This is an extremely grounded film that works precisely because Estes never feels the need to strain for something bigger or more intense. Brief research reveals that Estes is actually at work on a third film, and after seeing this, I couldn't be more excited to see what he does next. 

Grade: B+

No comments: