Late to the movies: Only The Young, Hitchcock
I’ve been laid out flat with some kind of stomach virus all day, which I’ve treated as an opportunity to watch some of the screeners I’ve had laying around the house. First up was Only The Young, which snuck to the best films list of the publication I used to edit unexpectedly. Watching it, I can see why and wonder if it would have snuck on to my own list, too. A lyrical documentary co-directed by Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet, it follows a year in the life of some Christian skate punks living on crumbling edges of the north L.A. suburbs. It’s beautifully shot, delicately observed and I’m pretty sure I’m going to wonder about the goodhearted kids at its center for the rest of my life even though the film’s very much about a specific moment in their lives. Filmed across the year leading up to their high school graduation, it finds them making choices about who they are, who they want to spend their time with, and what one means to another as they wander a landscape filled with broken-down miniature golf courses and abandoned buildings. The setting is particular but the feeling of childhood drawing to an end feels universal. (I’m not sure if it’s still in theaters, but it’s worth catching on the big screen if you can. If not, as an Oscilloscope release it will likely turn up on Netflix at some point.)
Hitchcock, on the other hand… yeesh. I’d heard bad things but I didn’t expect this account of the making of Psycho to feel so thin. Hopkins’ impression is uncanny but it feels like the sort of thing that a good actor could put together just by studying Alfred Hitchcock’s old TV intros. (And, indeed, the film uses that as a framing device.) One scene—Hitch conducting the screams of an audience seeing Psycho for the first time—almost redeems it but this is otherwise a pretty half-assed attempt at Hollywood history.
Things I Have Written: The Collection (2012, review)
Not much to add to this that the review doesn’t say. It’s not good. But as Saw-inspired horror grotesqueries go, it has a certain flair.
Late to the movies: The Sessions, Life Of Pi
Life Of Pi is the most beautiful movie I can’t bring myself to love. Or even like without a lot of equivocation. I read and enjoyed the Yann Martel novel on which it’s based years ago, but it quickly revealed itself as one of those books whose power started to diminish the moment I closed the cover, turning on a late-book revelation that’s unexpected, beautifully unveiled, movingly rendered, and ultimately banal. As with the book, so with the movie, but getting there is quite the trip.
There were scenes in Ang Lee’s film where I felt like I was watching a contemporary equivalent of the end of 2001, only with sea creatures filling in for heavenly bodies and other moments when I felt like I never wanted the movie to end, long langorous stretches of a boy and tiger afloat in the ocean filled with digital graphics and 3D effects wondrous enough to win over even a skeptic on both fronts . Two hours of that with no set-up and no pay-off would have been enough.
There’s more to it, though, mostly a lot of mushy theorizing about God and the power of storytelling framed by sequences in which the grown-up protagonist (well-played by Irrfan Khan) telling a novelist / Martel stand-in (Rafe Spall) about his experiences. When the other shoe drops on his tale there’s a shot of Spall that’s supposed to show he realizes the shattering profundity of what he’s been told. It plays like the movie undeservedly patting itself on the back. There’s a lot it should be proud of—a tiger menacing enough to give William Blake pause, an island swimming with meerkats, those fish, those dolphins, the glow of the ocean beneath the lifeboat—but it has more to do with the eye than the soul.
The Sessions, on the other hand, offers little visually. My colleague Scott Tobias couldn’t stop complaining about the way he looked after he saw it. Watching it at home, that felt like less of a problem. Writer/director Ben Lewin (a television vet) doesn’t worry much about making a great-looking film, letting the acting shoulder the burden of a taken-from-life story of an iron lung-dependent polio survivor (John Hawkes) who decides to lose his virginity at the age of 38 and enlists a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him. It mostly works out for the film. Hawkes is great here, breaking with the menace familiar from his work in Winter’s Bone and other projects to play a character whose only defense against the world is his resilience and dark wit. I was less enamored of Hunt’s work. She brings a clipped, theatricality to her line readings, as she usually does, that kept me from loving her performance and any time the movie shifted to her home life it lost my interest.
But mostly Lewin seems to realize that Hawkes’ story is where the emphasis belongs. Dana Stevens’ admiring review at Slate focuses on the sex scenes. It’s hard not to: They’re graphic, nudity-filled, and detailed. Hawkes’ disability has kept sex inaccessible to him—he can’t even masturbate—but the hang-ups, dysfunction and, finally pleasure he experiences with Hunt will be recognizable to many. It’s not the most gracefully shot movie and it gets sidetracked more often than it should, but The Sessions has a remarkable way of erasing the distance between one man’s particular experiences living life with some remarkable constrictions and the way most of the rest of us experience the world.
Here’s a link to my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, over at The A.V. Club. Short version: Right leads, wrong movie. Slightly longer version: For fifty years creators have used the framework of the Spider-Man mythos to tell all kinds of stories. The good ones go in knowing what kind of story they want to tell and using the well-established elements (radioactive spider, dead uncle, guilt, etc.) to tell it. This one doesn’t, mostly just rehashing familiar story bits and grafting them to some fine special effects. Not terrible, but annoyingly non-vital.
Films seen and reviewed: Act Of Valor
An action film starring real-life Navy SEALs. Is that a good thing? Not really, I argue in my review.
Stumble past the record store, end up at the movies