Waxing [cinematically]: The One I Love

The billing sold me first. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

And then I read it was really only those two. Ted Danson is in there. For, what, a minute? Two?

So we have two favorites. 90 minutes. With just them.

And what a ride it was. It’s not just them two, it’s them two times two. That’s the trick. The trailer won’t tell you that and (SPOILERS) that’s what the movie hinges on. Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) meet each other’s nearly-Platonic form in a guest house that plays as an alternate world (and as the movie tongue-in-cheeks itself “some weird version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

The two actors (playing themselves and then their other “forms”) are really in sync here. You can see them play both sides of the coin — coy and new love, and disrupted, stretched-out romance. In this, we see how easily these sides are divisible from each other in life, through the lenses of these characters. They can be happy together, it would just take some kind of drastic change on their parts (and, then, even, who gets the person they want to be with? Who doesn’t?)

There’s a lot of compelling reasons to see this movie. It’s unique. It’s well acted. It’s got lessons on love, relationships, and, I think, most of all, communication.

That’s what really struck me here. Both characters knew something strange was happening, and there’s some base level communication about what’s happening there. But after that? Nothing.

The Ethan and Sophie that are on rocky terms do almost nothing to describe to each other how the other acted in the guest house. Sophie has a chance and, in what becomes a terse moment for any onlooker, kind of lets it go. My guess is that her character doesn’t think she owes Ethan anything (and for good reason).

Communication is so disruptive in its absence here. Both characters choose to stay silent (Sophie more than Ethan) and turn the widening gyre of their reality into what’s happening in the guest house. Without communication, and with this distance expanding, Ethan panics and loses his cool. And, yet, still, NO communication. He can’t even explain to Sophie why he’s upset. He can’t bring himself to that vulnerable of a place (which is necessary). It’s not in his character, and a wall of history stands between that.

Not all couples are built to last, one supposes. But there was something, some golden bowl you saw once. What was that? And what if that came back? The movie asks these questions and more.

Worth the watch.

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Waxing [Cinematically]: “Gravity”

I had high expectations for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.

That’s an understatement.

I had almost laughably high expectations for it. After seeing the first trailer I said “there’s no way a studio would finance this unless it was going to be the move of the decade.” And then I went on predicting it would be.

There was just no one that a big studio would finance a movie with two characters floating in space. No way that Cuaron would spend the precious years following up Children of Men on anything of a lesser project. There was too much at stake in both those situations. Let alone the signing of big names like Clooney and Bullock (the latter who I was less than thrilled about the casting of before I saw the movie; and still not thrilled about after).

As I did with Blue Jasmine, I’ll assign a completely arbitrary score to this film. Let’s say that arbitrary score is an 8.8 out of 10.

 

Cuaron and his team did amazing things with space. That can’t be understated. If the Academy was as impressed with the work on Life of Pi as it seemed last year, there’s no way it’ll pass up the amazing shots of space shuttle AND a space station exploding into the abyss of Cuaron’s outer atmospheres. That was mind-blowing, yes.

But effects are never going to win my heart when it comes to cinema. Is it cool? Yes. It may be the coolest movie of the year. I learned from it, too, from what I’m hoping are somewhat realistic details, so have to give kudos on that front too. But I needed more. From someone who will always put a film like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind over Avatar, Gravity left a bit to be desired.

This was Hollywood’s first major isolationist film since the aforementioned Life of Pi, and maybe the most isolationist major film since Castaway. Bullock’s character has to deal with the existential nightmare of being all alone in a very, very lonely place. I don’t know that the film achieved the deep dive into nausea as it had the opportunity to do. Actually, I do know; it didn’t.

Even in the [spoilers] scene where Bullock hallucinates a conversation with Clooney, it missed a really opportune time to sail into Kubrick territory. Clearly, Bullock has lost her mind at this point. Oxygen-deprived, lost, lonely, forlorn, everything in between; Bullock’s hallucination should have been more surreal.

Maybe that’s not what Cuarón was going for. The movie, in its attempt to break new grounds, tried its best to be hyper real. To have the view feel within the realm of what Bullock was going through. Don’t know if that was needed. The effects, the floating, the adventuring with jet packs — all too surreal to feel the need to draw us in in a nonfictional atmosphere. Our beliefs were already suspended here, let them float, I say, float right into the starry abyss.

The movie had some great shots, some great scenes and some great reasons to be remembered. It just wasn’t the great I hoped for. Still just as after Children of Men I started immediately looking forward to Cuaron’s next film; so to does this get me ready for what may come next. Hopefully it won’t be eight years before it comes.

Did it meet expectations? No. Could it have? Probably not. Still worth the see. Still breaks ground by not needing solid ground.

Waxing [Cinematically] The Spectacular Now

Hollywood has gotten really, really good at retelling the same story. Going to see movies these days, I can’t help but shake the “I’ve seen this play out before” feeling, or predicting an ending, or being disappointed that a director/writer didn’t take a turn when they had an opportunity.

If there’s one thing to single out about The Spectacular Now, it would be its originality. The movie is a fresh dose of the non-cliche, which is all the more impressive as it drops you in the one the most cliche-laden scenes that movies love; high school.

The movie is based on a book, written by the guys who did 500 Days of Summer, and stars a new actor, Miles Teller, and an actress in Shailene Woodley that has now nailed two consecutive roles I’ve seen her in (her work in the Descendants demanded some serious attention). If these components were what brought the freshness, kudos to all involved.

Apparently, Michael Weber, one of the writers, described the film, and specifically the main character, Sutter, as “Ferris Bueller [who] gives bad advice”. That makes a lot of sense — only his advice isn’t all that bad. In fact, some of it is gold, particularly once he’s learned his lesson, it just takes him a while to get there. And, well, he’s drunk in every other scene.

If there were another thing to single out about The Spectacular Now it would be the gratuitous drunk driving scenes. It’s almost appalling, but it’s used to illustrate his character, and so you put it at ease. Still, once he involves Amy, the love interest, you start ot tense up a bit in the movie theater. You’ve seen this go down. Except he doesn’t get into an accident (well not really), and he doesn’t ruin his life drunk driving, he actually kind of gets away with it. Another turn away from cliche.

Sutter is a smart kid. He sees a serious truth in a lot of those people around him. He even sees it in himself but has some fear (one would assume of some abandonment) that prevents him from approaching his own growth. His dad left when he was young, and so we get a boy that doesn’t want to leave anything. Not his school, not his party life, not his ex-girlfriend, not his job, etc… It’s sad, but you can feel the truth in it.

And Woodley’s Amy, well gosh talk about a perfect portrayal of how pathetic we can be in our first love. She is obsessed with Sutter. Ignores his faults, loves him immediately and wants to change her life in any way that would please him. That’s first love. That’s what it’ll do to you.

Because it took pains to avoid cliche, it came off as raw as anything you’ll see these days — particularly from a pair of young actors. It tugged at the heart, though I have to admit I was expected a bit more of a tug (I blame it on the fucking excellent trailer). If it had a fault it was in some of the other actors around Teller and Woodley, or maybe even that the movie wasn’t that long (high school drama can feel like forever, they could’ve played with that) — but neither was 500 days….

Trying to be objective, I give it a 8.6. I’ll see it again. I’ll show some people. It didn’t bring on those wounds that some movies can, but it’s the closest one to come to that in a while.