My Week in Movies: December 24, '11

A torinói ló (The Turin Horse)
Béla Tarr, 2011
In what I've gathered is par for the course with Tarr, this fascinatingly bleak hell - resoundingly inspired by Nietzsche's death of God - defies traditional critical evaluation, in this case while gazing down the well of life's brutal futility through a father and daughter whose close neighbors are none but the earth's harsh reminders of said futility. It is a portrait of our inability to affect any fragment of grander existence; our enslavement to our own conflicting mortality. The chill bites at your outer ear, the breath your nostrils, the boiled potatoes your assuredly decaying gums. "The Turin Horse" is a triumph in true Béla Tarr fashion, in that while one may wish to pause and rest between each segment, in the end not a frame is to be missed. I'd place it just above "Damnation" amongst the director's other works I've seen, which makes it the best of that admittedly meager bunch. In particular the opening shot and latter three segments (or "days") are phenomenal, and highly recommended for fans of E. Elias Merhige.

The Future
Miranda July, 2011
What a happily melancholy coincidence that this turned out a fitting companion to "The Turin Horse"! The two drastically different pictures take on strikingly similar themes albeit from opposite approaches. While Béla Tarr's final master stroke looks at an isolated 19th Century lifestyle-by-default of droning repetition that hones in on the pointless nature of life despite human persistence, Miranda July's far lighter and indeed very Miranda July-ish piece glimpses a modern state of silently selected stagnation, with elements such as discouragement, lacking confidence and self-consciousness preventing the achievement of various potentials. We wait and we wait and our envisioned future never comes. July's treatment of this contemporary middle class life will feel familiar to anyone willing to let it agree with them as it depicts deepening degrees of human delusion and moreover paints day-to-day events, no matter how inspired or "life-changing", as a living death. The slowest, most painful way to die is one we all suffer from: living.

Further first-time viewings:

The Hangover Part II - Todd Phillips, 2011
It's that moment when the little comedy that could (but wasn't all that great to begin with) becomes a tedious, profit-driven beast of overblown proportion.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Brad Bird, 2011
How does a franchise sink from the benchmark of new millennium blockbuster action (the apparently insurmountable "Mission: Impossible: III", which I reviewed with a warning to ovulating women that Tom Cruise might impregnante them through the screen simply via awesomeness) to an embarrassing betrayal of itself? I don't know, ask the team behind "Ghost Protocol", I guess. Why is this reservoir of refuse enjoying such overwhelmingly positive reactions? Talk about going from "Mission: Impossible" to "Mission: Freaking Insanity". From the very onset to the final moment there is not a single second of worth to be redeemed in this atrociously generic and exceedingly preposterous (while practically mask-less and Ving Rhames-less) picture. Any film encounters innumerable forks in its path to production; I am baffled as to how this one managed to choose the wrong route every single time - technically, creatively, everything-ly. I've been bored before... but this is "Mission: Impossible"! What gives? I expect far superior story execution and scene composition throughout, where here we don't even get as much in the most pivotal scene! Here's an idea: how about when the most important piece of information is being revealed, you don't solely utilize a master shot of apathetic-looking/sounding supporting characters (Jeremy Renner??) standing on opposite sides of the frame. What's even worse, along with being my biggest disappointment since I thought Oliver Stone was giving us a bold 9/11 conspiracy film in 2006, "Protocol" is perhaps the most thoroughly dumb thing I've seen this year (and it takes a lot to top "X-Men: First Class" or "Fast Five" in that regard), to the point that I am utterly flabbergasted and absolutely exhausted from how recklessly stupid it all is. Just for starters... and I borrow the tone of "Burn After Reading" here... the Russians? Really? How dated is your plot when Russians (only "evil" because they're, well, Russian) are trying to access nuclear launch codes? You know what, I won't even get myself started. I'd be up all night reciting the instances of mind-blowing numb-skullery that abound in this tired, abominable-CG-laden wreck that, despite its "Ghost Protocol" title, seems to laughably aspire to "Minority Report" heights gadget-wise. Speaking of tired... what's the deal, Ethan Hunt? Scaled so many cliff faces in your free time you can't clear half your leaps anymore? I can hardly count how many times the now-klutzy Cruise clocks his head or stumbles at critical moments over the course of the excruciating 130-minute+ running time. Time to retire, agent. Take this franchise with you. I say all this as a staunch defender of the first three "M:I" films and a devoted fan of the Cruiser, mind you. And, finally - whose bright idea was it to make "Mission: Impossible" a comedy? Whoever that was can cozy up next to Hunt on the retirement train. Whatever the case, the biggest laugh comes unintentionally at the climax with a line the sheer asininity of which I haven't encountered since "Snakes on a Plane".

Total: 4

Rewatches (4): Young Adult (Reitman, 2011), The Lion King (Allers & Minkoff,1994), The Thin Man (Van Dyke, 1934) The Santa Clause 2 (Lembeck, 2002)

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