Though I’m sad to break my two-blog-posts-per-year rule, I was keen to round up a couple of fresh reviews of movies out today. I’m going to post my long review of Beyond the Black Rainbow when it’s published on the Cinema Scope site. In the meantime, here are reviews of Cosmopolis from FFWD for Calgary and reviews of Prometheus and Beyond the Black Rainbow (the short rave version) from The Grid.
It’s somehow heartening to think that a good many Twilight fans will feel sufficiently devoted to Robert Pattinson that they’ll submit themselves to a movie as dense, dark and unabashedly difficult as Cosmopolis. David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel stars the young actor otherwise known as vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen as Eric Packer, a dashing corporate titan experiencing a personal free-fall over the course of a 24-hour limo ride in New York. If the film inspires even one of those Twi-hards to investigate other corners of the American author’s formidable oeuvre, then surely it’s done some good in the world. Likewise, it may also give those impressionable viewers a hunkering for the Canadian director’s earlier cinematic provocations, many of which, it must be said, are more successful than Cosmopolis at reconciling their artistic ambitions and unseemly urges with more commercial-minded imperatives.
In other words, the combination of actor, director and source material does not yield the Molotov cocktail that many viewers may have anticipated, especially those who saw the early trailers that seemed to promise Cronenberg’s return to full-bore freakiness after the relatively restrained likes of A History of Violence and his recent Jung-meets-Freud chamber drama A Dangerous Method. Instead, Cosmopolis is talky, chilly and generally devoid of any visceral charge even in its most violent and sexually explicit moments. That makes for a tough slog at times, the movie essentially being a series of two-hander scenes filled with the sort of punchy, stylized, David Mamet-like dialogue which DeLillo has long favoured. But the force and vitality of Pattinson and the cast goes a long way toward ensuring that Cosmopolis never entirely succumbs to its own inertia.
The actor is convincing as Eric, the young CEO who spends the majority of the movie’s running time within the confines of his tricked-out white limousine as it crawls through the increasingly chaotic streets of New York (or rather Toronto, where the movie was shot last summer). Though Eric is determined to fulfil his stated mission for the day — getting a haircut at a barber shop across town — he still finds time for encounters with folks such as his company’s tech security specialist (Jay Baruchel), its “chief of theory” (Samantha Morton), his art dealer and sometime mistress (Juliette Binoche) and a pie-wielding mad Frenchman (Mathieu Amalric). Though you’d think this diffident young man might seem a little more human during his times with his young and beautiful wife Elise (Sarah Gadon), these scenes only emphasize his inability to connect with the world. Even making idle dinner conversation has become an impossible task for Eric. “We’re like people talking,” he says to Elise in a deserted restaurant. “Isn’t this how they talk?”
Other conversations are dominated by cryptic aphorisms about money, power and how the future is “overwhelming the present.” Meanwhile, dangerous developments in the international currency markets and signs of widespread civil unrest cause tensions to rise both inside and outside of Eric’s roving gilded cage.
By then, it’s clear that Eric is another incarnation of Cronenberg’s favourite kind of protagonist: a man who’s plenty alienated as his story begins, but whose identity begins to fissure as his reality dissolves around him (see also: Ralph Fiennes’ title character in Spider, Bill in Naked Lunch, Max in Videodrome). Unfortunately, Eric’s crisis is so rarefied and remote and his universe so artificial and abstract that it’s hard to care where he ends up. Not even Paul Giamatti’s ferocious performance as a casualty of Eric’s brand of rampaging capitalism in the film’s final exchange can prevent Cosmopolis from seeming like a frustratingly arid intellectual exercise.
Then again, since intellectual exercises of any kind are a rare thing at the multiplex, viewers could do a lot worse than joining the Twi-hards on this ride.
One of the most unfortunate things about Prometheus is that it’s a movie at all. Upon seeing its unconvincing form as a feature film, it’s obvious that Ridley Scott’s return to the universe of Alien had already attained its ideal state as a smattering of concept art, teaser trailers, and internet gossip. Indeed, things go wrong even before we’re through with the prologue, which combines what looks like an outtake reel from The Tree of Life with our introduction to a pair of scientists who believe they’ve discovered evidence that ancient spacemen kick-started human civilization.
Ten years later, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are about to arrive at what may be the spacemen’s home planet with a research team in tow. Among the revelations at hand is the truth about the critters that menaced Ellen Ripley. But if we’ve learned anything from the Alien movies, it’s that the only person less trustworthy than an android is a representative of Weyland Industries. Sure enough, the sinister mega-corporation is financing the scientists’ mission—though it’s a testament to just how unsubtle the script is that a character has to ask the ship’s frosty commander (Charlize Theron), “Is there an agenda you’re not telling us about?”
The few signs of intelligence here come from David (Michael Fassbender), the aforementioned synthetic person—with his curious fixation on Lawrence of Arabia and air of bemusement, he attains a degree of humanity and believability never reached by the other characters. Then again, they’re not given much of a chance by a plot that continually throws logic to the solar winds. The slapdash nature of the biggest scenes (including one that takes the franchise’s gyno-horror predilections to a new and egregiously silly extreme) is a disappointing reminder that this is not the handiwork of the Ridley Scott who made Alien and Blade Runner, but the one who made A Good Year and Robin Hood. That’s another reason this mission should’ve never left the planning stages.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Visually ravishing, thoroughly creepy, and deeply strange, Beyond the Black Rainbow is both a loving homage to the most vanguard science-fiction cinema of the ’70s and ’80s and a brave venture into rarely travelled terrain. As such, it’s one of the boldest debut features to ever emerge from this country.
That it arrives in Toronto the same weekend as the latest by David Cronenberg is fitting given how much its creator—Vancouver’s Panos Cosmatos—draws from the master’s early works. In a sinister institute not unlike the one in Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, a mute young woman named Elena (Eva Allan) is held captive by Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), a scientist looking to harness her emerging psychic abilities. As their battle of wills intensifies, events within the institute change from weird to batshit crazy.
With its Reagan-era setting and eagerness to evoke the dread-filled vibe of forebears like THX-1138 and Silent Running, Beyond the Black Rainbow brandishes a defiantly old-school sensibility. That’s no accident, even if Cosmatos was less inspired by actual movies than the ones he imagined based on the artwork on VHS boxes that he’d scrutinize as a youth. (He’s also a second-generation filmmaker, his late father George having directed such bona-fide ’80s hits as Rambo and Cobra.) Adhering to a personal code of authenticity, he made Beyond the Black Rainbow without the use of CGI, preferring to rely on makeup, set and costume designs, lighting and smoke effects, and matte work to create a visual aesthetic that’s anachronistic but indisputably powerful, especially in the movie’s trippiest moments.
Those freakouts also help give a sense of drive and force to a movie that more generally employs a hypnotic effect on its bewildered audience. By the time of Beyond the Black Rainbow’s final haunting image, those viewers may feel like they’ve just drunk a bottle of NyQuil that’s been spiked with angel dust. That may not be a sensation craved by every moviegoer, but those of us who like it like it a lot.