Archive for September, 2014

Belle (2014)

Starring- Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson, Sarah Gadon, Tom Felton, Alex Jennings, James Norton

Director- Amma Asante

PG- thematic elements, some language and brief smoking images

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wtdk6owFj2o

Belle is basically a historical Disney princess movie, and it’s probably really uncool to like it. But it’s pretty good, so I do.

Based on a true story, it’s set in the back half of the 1700s and centers on Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the daughter of a black woman and a British admiral (Matthew Goode). When her mother dies and her father is sent overseas on Navy duty, she’s left with her aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson). They are kind and raise her well, but they must also care for their reputations — Lord Mansfield being a justice currently overseeing a case involving slaves who were drowned by the crew of a cargo ship. Dido is a full member of the family only behind closed doors.

She has a large inheritance and, thus, no need for marriage, but afraid of becoming an “old maid,” she promises herself to the only man who will have her. Meanwhile, she befriends John Davinier (Sam Reid), a young lawyer and passionate abolitionist and begins helping him to unravel the case of the slave ship — threatening not only her family’s public standing but the entire institution of slavery in Britain.

I’ve said in the past that I have a limited taste for this sort of things — period dramas where stuffy rich people in silly costumes fuss about arbitrary social mores while a singular free spirit shoves her way through all the social stratification and decides to marry for love instead of economic gain between families. I’ve seen that movie a dozen times, and it never gets any less groan-inducing.

Belle, I think, rises above simply because it has more edge. It’s less about the customs and strictures and more about Dido warring against the social stratification that caused them in the first place — both because she’s biracial and because she’s a woman.

She acknowledges that, in both regards, she’s been lucky. The fact that her birth father loved her and claimed her as his own forced the government to recognize her personhood and both kept her far from the slave trade and guaranteed her inheritance would come to her. And that inheritance means she doesn’t have to worry about marriage; she can get by without the increase in rank that would come from joining with someone who comes from money. But she also realizes that spending the rest of her days alone in a big, empty house doing absolutely nothing is no kind of life, and it’s clear that something in her comes alight when she joins Davinier’s activism.

Dido is a great character all around, well written and performed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and she anchors the film almost single-handedly. And there’s something surprisingly complex in the way the film deals with both of her personal struggles, both as a biracial person in a world that sees her existence as abominable and as a woman in a society that reduces her to a commodity that can be traded for land and money. There are times when, subtly, the two issues start to clash, and it becomes impossible to deal with both simultaneously; progress on one front, for her, means regression on another. But the film isn’t miserable or hopeless — far from it. As said, Dido seems to find herself in trying to change the world around her and insisting on being a person in a society that doesn’t care to let her. She’s a great character and the number-one reason why I hope that families, particularly those with little girls, will check this out.

Belle resists simplicity with the supporting cast as well. The man to whom Dido becomes engaged — played by Alex Jennings — is clearly someone she’s going to leave. He’s the hypotenuse in the movie’s love triangle. But he’s not a bad man; truthfully, he’s quite progressive by the standards of the world he lives in. Nevertheless, he sees Dido’s race less as something to be embraced and more as something that can be overlooked.

The film also makes much of Dido’s relationship with her uncle, since that was the means by which she left her biggest mark on history. He’s trapped between a rock and a hard place with the slave ship case, required to uphold and interpret the law even though the law is morally unsound, and he understands the significance of what he has to do — either agree that humans are commodities to whom a fair price can be assigned or potentially cripple the slave trade and maybe Britain’s economy alongside it. He wants to do the right thing, but he also holds tightly to the social code required of politicians and public figures — and not always to his niece’s benefit. For him, the line between protecting Dido from the prejudices of others and protecting himself from them is a fuzzy one. He’s a man, composed of vices and virtues alike.

That said, Belle is rarely subtle, sometimes clichéd, and occasionally as eye-rolling as many of its costume drama counterparts. You probably picked up on that with my offhand mention of a love triangle a few paragraphs back. It’s obvious from the beginning how that will play out — you know who Dido is truly supposed to be with from the moment he’s introduced, just as you know that the person she’s currently courting will be left behind. And of course, she and her True Love hate one another initially and spend a substantial amount of time bickering and trying to be the smartest person in the room. (Fortunately, the movie cuts that out much earlier than a lot of others.)

By the end, Belle’s become a somewhat typical Disney Princess True Love movie with the requisite speeches and waterworks, and the score has the kind of sweep that betrays a lack of trust in the story to do the emotional heavy lifting. You learn to take it with the territory, eventually. It’s a family movie about important social issues; of course that’s how it does things.

With that romance, there’s a small part of me that thinks Belle tries to have its cake and eat it, too — criticizing the culture that requires such marriages of convenience while also accepting them in the way that the impact Dido’s motives. It allows Dido to suggest that marriage should be by love and by choice, and that’s why any underlying implications don’t bother me too much; however, it still focuses so heavily on the “old maid” fears that, to some extent, it ends up inadvertently framing that motivation within the context of a woman still needing a man in order to be a whole person — she just needs to make sure he loves her and she loves him first.

So, in a lot of ways, Belle is a film that lacks any particularly distinctive voice. It isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before, and it’s hard to imagine it graduating to classic status someday. But it’s still a largely enjoyable way to spend two hours. It’s got some solid, likable characters, some quality acting, and enough intelligence that you don’t quite feel condescended to by all of the flowery nonsense. And as a family film in the current climate, it’s top-notch. If it sounds like your thing, it probably is — and it’s good enough that it might win you over even if it isn’t.

-Matt T.

The Rover (2014)

Starring- Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson

Director- David Michod

R- language and some bloody violence

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChM2icbWo9w

If The Rover’s storytelling were as strong as its filmmaking sensibility, we’d have something very interesting on our hands. But as it stands, even at its relatively modest run-time, it’s a long and difficult slog.

The Rover is set in the Australian outback in the not-too-distant future, ten years after a global economic collapse. When a lone traveler (Guy Pearce) stops for food and water, gang members fresh off a violent confrontation of some sort steal his car, his only possession.

The gang leaves behind one of their own — Rey (Robert Pattinson), who is wounded and not particularly happy with his old comrades for leaving him for dead. The traveler tends to Rey’s injuries, and the two of them team up to pursue the gang and get his car back.

The Rover is another installment in an increasingly ubiquitous subgenre — slow, meditative, atmospheric indie thrillers whose patience is matched only by their brutality. Inevitably, they’re bleak and humorless. They also have a strong tendency toward ambiguity; they keep a lot of things vague, filing them under the category of “open to interpretation.” They usually drop you in the middle of their characters’ lives and fill in the blanks as the film progresses — quietly, mainly through precise acting. And that’s really, really difficult to pull off — if you succeed, it sings; for the audience, paying close attention becomes its own reward. But if you fail — and more often than not, you’re going to — the whole thing’s a bust. A functional story can only tolerate so much vagueness.

That’s the trap The Rover falls into, and it falls hard. It has a strong cinematic sensibility, and from the get-go, there’s something very innately watchable about it, independent of the story being told. But it’s also somewhat homogenous, visually and tonally, and once the world settles in, you start waiting for the film to let you get to know these characters, to figure out what they want and why. Unfortunately, it ends up being the sort of film that’s arbitrarily and almost obnoxiously mysterious about everything. The thing about making movies that rely on silence as frequently as this one does is that the silence needs to be organic. Usually, the reason you do it in the first place is so that you aren’t forcing characters to talk when they wouldn’t or about things that people don’t talk about.

With The Rover, the silence is very much a stylistic choice — people in this movie’s world talk so little that the quietness of everything becomes awkward. The protagonist walks into a building to buy supplies; he says nothing upon entering, and everyone inside sits there and barely even looks at him. When they hear a commotion outside, the residents wordlessly grab guns, run to the porch, and just…stand there. They and the traveler stand awkwardly and watch a car accident and subsequent theft without a single word. Even when the traveler confronts the gang members, he does so by first standing there and staring at them, not bothering to make a request or a threat or explain the situation or anything.

That awkwardness isn’t really the problem so much as the fact that the majority of the movie is two guys who only speak at times that seem so preordained as to feel like writing rather than organic exchanges. And that’s fine — you can still sketch the characters through their actions. But Rey and the traveler drive, talk while sitting around campfires, and commit random acts of violence.

Motives tend to get a little obscured in movies like The Rover. I could even point to a recent example — Night Moves, which didn’t give us a clear picture of why its characters decided to commit acts of ecoterrorism. Then again, actions and dialogue filled out the characters retroactively, if not in a whole lot of concrete detail; and anyway, that film had much more interest in the experience and the fallout of the characters’ actions than in examining worldviews. The problem with The Rover is that it’s much more intrinsically tied into questions of worldview than Night Moves. Everything about its story is driven by wants and needs, and it never bothers to define a single one of them. Why is it that Rey keeps hanging around the traveler? What’s he getting out of that relationship? What is it, ultimately, that convinces him he’s more interested in revenge against his former friends for leaving him behind than in simply catching up with and rejoining them? What is up with the traveler’s random violent tendencies? Oh, and most importantly — why in the world is that dang car so important to him? That’s the motivation that drives basically everything in the entire movie, but the question doesn’t get answered until the very last scene.

I’m not asking for the movie to spoon-feed me these things. Some ambiguity is admirable, especially when the film is maintaining it out of a sense of realism, i.e., you know what you would know if you were in the situation you’re seeing on-screen. The Rover, on the other hand, seems to go out of its way to prevent motivations from being revealed. Characters refuse to talk about what it is that they want in circumstances where it would greatly benefit them to reveal that information. And in the absence of telling, it isn’t really showing much either. The audience enters a fully formed situation and goes a really long time before finally learning something about it.

Sometimes, it seems as though The Rover just wants to fool you. It arbitrarily conceals everything so it can drop it on you later in the form of a dramatic reveal. These inevitably come far too late to do any good; you’ve already spent an hour watching seemingly aimless characters basically do nothing — nothing you have any reason to care about, anyway. Any themes the movie tries to develop out of that — and I failed to detect anything cohesive — get lost in its inability to define any of them in relation to the characters.

I think it’s more frustrating than usual because there really is a great movie in here somewhere, and the filmmakers were clearly trying their best to make it. There’s plenty you could do with its world, for one. It’s not exactly post-apocalyptic. The global economy has collapsed, but the framework is still standing — there are still communities with power and running water, radios are still playing music, the military is intact and keeping order, money still has value, etc. It’s not so much that the world has ended as that first-world countries have been reduced to third-world ones. It’s like the Old West in the modern age — there’s civilization out there, if you can afford it.

The movie, as a whole, looks and sounds really good. The biggest shame, though, is the way it wastes what is certainly career-best work for both Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. They both do everything within their power to create full characters around the scant detail they’re given, and they nearly succeed. Even if it’s impossible to get your head around their motivations, at least you get a sense of who they are as people. It’s clear the film, like a lot of indie thrillers, is banking on their acting to craft the story and themes — and to be fair, in some small way, it does; there’s something organic in the way the traveler and Rey warm to one another scene by scene, something that’s backed by nothing concrete in the story whatsoever.

But The Rover just goes too far in that direction. As good as the acting is, there’s only so much a significant glance can tell us. The Rover seems deliberately unapproachable, like it wants to attract a handful of fans who will insist everyone else just didn’t get it. Personally, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to get. Even when the film ends and you know more or less everything, it’s hard to find the connections, and it’s hard to see the utility in following this particular pair of amoral murderers around for nearly two hours. There’s a spark of something interesting in The Rover. Unfortunately, watching it is nothing more than a slow exercise in watching that spark, scene by scene, be extinguished.

-Matt T.

star-wars-collection-5109f9372ca5e

I have really stupid ideas sometimes.

Mostly, the part of my brain that values sense and being respected by my peers crushes those ideas dead before they escape and wreak havoc on the world at large. Today, we’ll be witnessing what happens when those defense mechanisms fail and that stupidity ends up on paper, slips through the underworked proofreading part of my brain, and gets thrown haphazardly into the permanence of the Internet.

And so, here is my stupid and overthought theory on why the much-maligned Star Wars prequels are secretly about class warfare and corporate power. It is the dumbest thing on which I have ever expended actual time and effort.

Frankly, if you’re still reading at this point, you deserve it.

Oh, and I’m going to preface this whole thing by saying that it is entirely possible and perhaps likely that George Lucas had no idea whatsoever that he was inserting these themes into the film.

The sad tale of this stupid idea corrupting my overbearing self-importance and pseudointellectualism begins with me watching Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace not too long ago, which is a thing I do sometimes and you can thank you very kindly shut up.

About the most frequent criticism leveled at the prequels — well, after the crappy dialogue and wooden acting and CGI abuse and Jar-Jar Binks and midichlorians and you know what, let’s just call it the seventeenth most frequent criticism — is that it concocts a necessarily complex and far-reaching villainous plot that ultimately makes no sense because nothing is explained. Palpatine uses the events of the prequels to rise to power and become The Emperor. Ultimately, it’s never explained what his plan is — only that everything happened according to it. But it frequently looks more like Lucas coming up with plot material and then arbitrarily making it all a part of that evil scheme somehow without explaining why.

My impossible task today is to make the whole thing approximate a very scary amount of sense.

jarjar-important-movie-characters-that-are-actually-useless

Except this. This is still inexplicable.

I’ll begin by taking you back to all of your most favorite repressed memories — Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace.

One issue a lot of people seem to have with this one is the smallness of its scale relative to the other films. It tries to seem huge, but when you push the epic John Williams score from your mind, it’s hard not to find the politics- and business-infused opening crawl a little bit silly. In one sentence, you’re mentioning a trade dispute; in the next, you’re saying that superpowered warriors with glowing energy swords have been sent to resolve it.

The centerpiece of the plot is the villainous Trade Federation, which has blockaded the innocent planet of Naboo because of a trade dispute. The evil Sith are secretly pulling the strings. This is literally all we are told of this situation.

And while the exact details are never explained, a more concrete universe emerges in the subtext. And it is this:

At the time of Star Wars — Episode One, the Galactic Republic is a total economic anarchy.

There are a number of senses in which this appears to be true. Mainly, throughout the Star Wars prequels — particularly the second installment — and also throughout the EU, including Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which I understand is considered to be as canon as the films, we see that the Galactic Republic, despite apparently being considered a beacon of civilization, has itself a pretty severe poverty problem. Like, Third World severe.

We see that Coruscant has an underworld where people live in abject poverty — crime and drug abuse abound, violence is everywhere, murders are generally not investigated or prosecuted unless there’s a high-profile victim, and there’s next to no way out short of incredible luck for those born into it.

See also Naboo, where many of the planet’s citizens are pushed to the brink of starvation after what could not be more than a few weeks of Trade Federation occupation. Recall that the Federation is blockading its ability to trade with other worlds. The implication is that Naboo itself, an entire planet, has a civilian populace that is utterly unable to sustain itself — this despite the fact that it also appears to have a highly privileged upper class. That upper class, by the way, has, over the years, disenfranchised an entire race, the Gungans, who live simple lives out in the wilderness and loathe their human counterparts for the way they’ve treated them.

The main evidence of this, however, is the Trade Federation itself. Let’s start with the fact that it is a private corporation…and it has a standing army. That army is fully capable of occupying an entire planet that is also a represented member of the galaxy’s most powerful governing body. Yeah.

databank_battledroid_01_169_1524f145

Pictured: Capability, apparently.

But wait! Let’s talk about that governing body. In the scene when Queen Amidala of Naboo beseeches the Republic for its help in overthrowing the occupation, viewers get a thousand clues about the economically anarchic state this universe inhabits. The one the film makes most important is actually the least of these revelations: that the Republic is controlled by bureaucrats, who effectively stop it from taking any action on important issues (though that’s another piece that fits perfectly into the overall puzzle I’m putting together here).

No. We learn at least two far more significant things. Firstly, what the Trade Federation is doing — occupying an entire planet and imprisoning its citizenry in protest against economic changes (and remember that this is the reason for their protest, as it will become significant later on) — can, under some circumstances, actually be legal in this universe. A committee needs to be sent there to ensure that it is progressing legally.

Oh, and the really important thing. The reason we know any of this is because the Trade Federation, a private corporation and business, has representation in the Galactic Republic. I’m not saying it has lobbyists who own the senators with campaign financing; no, it has actual representatives. The Trade Federation isn’t the only one either — in the second film, we meet former Galactic Republic members representing groups such as the Banking Clan and the Techno Union. Those sure don’t sound like planets to me. (Oh, and the second one of those also has a standing army.)

Now, just to recap, let’s add this all together: in the universe of the Star Wars prequels, corporations have standing armies and direct representation in government, and it is also perfectly legal for them to protest economic decisions they don’t like by blockading planets and stopping trade.

Let’s hone in on that last one there. Why is it that the Trade Federation chooses to blockade Naboo anyway? We’re told that it’s a trade dispute, but we’re not told what it is. So, what happened?

I submit to you the following: Palpatine happened.

134357__palpatine_l

Like a boss.

Now, I’ll confess that I have even less direct evidence of this one. We see nothing in the film to suggest it. But when you consider what must have transpired between the events that we do see, and when we consider what actions would make sense given the motivations of certain characters, this fits too perfectly.

Firstly, what is the trade dispute? I don’t know. But I can guess the nature of it. Beyond the fact that the members of the Trade Federation are clear villains in the most traditional sense — that of the old-timey serials on which this franchise is ostensibly founded — anyone willing to blockade a planet and starve its civilian population to death probably isn’t a champion of the people overly concerned with their welfare. So, it seems pretty natural to assume that whatever got the Trade Federation all hot and bothered probably involved some kind of hit to their bottom line — workers’ rights, safety conditions, increased taxes, whatever. I’m not sure what else it might be.

And who do I think got those trade laws, whatever they are, passed? Palpatine. And while this is never directly shown or suggested in the films, it makes perfect sense.

Firstly, there’s the Trade Federation end of things. One of the first things we learn in the film is that the organization didn’t act entirely of its own accord. There’s someone else pulling the strings. It’s likely the Trade Federation isn’t his servant. I suspect what actually happened was that the figure behind the scenes approached the viceroy and his cohorts, who were angry and at a loss as to what to do over the Republic’s new trade laws, and promised them a well-laid plan to undo it, so long as they did everything he said.

Who is that figure behind the scenes? Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord. Gee, I wonder who he is?

images

Subtlety 101: The Sith Lord University equivalent of Bowling for Fitness.

And now, the Republic’s end of things. I’m not sure who would control the trade laws between Republic member worlds other than, you know, the Republic, which is why I’m assuming it’s the source of whatever situation is causing the trade dispute that starts this whole thing. Given that it’s a governing body, the natural assumption drawn from that is that the Republic passed reform.

So, why do I figure Palpatine passed that reform? Well, firstly, it puts him in an excellent position. He hopes to become the ruler of the galaxy. He wants to do that by forcing the current chancellor out and — democratically — taking his place. He then needs the people to support him enough to leave him in the position later to grant himself emergency powers and overstay his terms. The people need to love him. And what better way than to be their champion? We already know he’s a passionate opponent of the Trade Federation, openly leading the fight against it during debates.

And secondly, well…who else could have passed that reform? We know two things about the Republic: Bureaucrats stop it from getting anything done, and corporations are voting members. We can surmise based on this and what we see elsewhere that it is not directly answerable to the people, either. They elect their own rulers, sure, but Star Wars — Episode Two: Attack of the Clones establishes in a throwaway line of dialogue that those rulers are the ones who select the representatives. And of course, we have no way of knowing if those are rules that apply to all members, or if it’s simply the way Naboo does things.

So, how does anybody ever pass reform in an environment where bureaucrats halt legislation, corporations have financial and voting powers, and representatives hold on to their jobs simply by keeping in good standing with their planetary leaders?

Well, I don’t know. You’d pretty much need superpowers or something.

index

These are not the tapes you’re looking for.

So, let us not forget that Palpatine is a Sith Lord and one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy. Not to mention he’s an absolute master of deception — he spends roughly 20 years worth of movies, and probably much longer than that given the point in his career at which the prequels begin, staring mind-reading Jedi Knights directly in the face on a daily basis and never once having any of them figure out that he’s not only the greatest evil in the galaxy but the one that’s directly inhibiting their Force use. This guy is good. Um, at being evil, I mean.

So, another recap: the trade dispute almost certainly stems from legislation passed by the Republic because of the fact that it was the only entity that could reasonably have done so. That legislation is probably mild reform in favor of the common man, because the Trade Federation is almost openly uncaring where the little people are concerned. Palpatine almost certainly passed that legislation because, firstly, it directly benefits him and serves as a great launching pad for his future endeavors, and secondly, he was pretty much the only person even capable of doing so. And the Trade Federation blockades Naboo — how better to punish the government for taking a swipe at your bottom line than targeting the home planet of the guy who got it to do that?

Of course, we all know how that ends. The Jedi Knights — and Anakin Skywalker specifically — save the day. The Trade Federation control ship is destroyed. Its leaders are shipped off to face trial. Naboo is free. And Palpatine becomes Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic.

tpm_et

Sweeping the coveted E.T. and Obese Muppet Dinosaur demographics.

Fast-forward ten years.

Now, we’re in Star Wars — Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The situation here is that a significant portion of the Republic has separated from it, and there now exists a threat of war between the two parties.

Palpatine has one primary goal here, and oddly, it’s not the war. A major theme of the prequels is the way that he uses large events to achieve — and potentially disguise — seemingly small ends that, in turn, lead to other large events. The war, here, is a tool for him to obtain two things — emergency powers, so he can stay in control indefinitely, and a skilled but programmable army that he can use to enforce that control later — oh, and also to kill the Jedi, the principal threat to that control, without even questioning the order.

So, he needs a war. How does he get it?

Another major criticism of the prequels emerges here — there is absolutely no context provided for this war. After all, while the Star Wars films have never been deep or overly complex about these things, the original trilogy at least gave us the Death Star blowing up Alderaaan as good, strong evidence of why there’s an active rebellion against this government.

Here? All they tell us is that some people separated from the Republic for some reason, and now, they’re on the verge of making war against it for some reason. What lazy writing, right? (I mean, it probably is, but still. I am reading far too deeply into all of this, I know.)

Well, dear reader, I suggest that the reason for the war is readily apparent given one observation: the membership of the Confederacy of Independent Systems.

So, we’ve got…let’s see here…the Trade Federation, the Banking Clan, the Techno Union, and assorted planets. But nearly all of the main figures we see represent corporations. And those who represent planets still seem to have pertinent corporate interests — for example, Geonosis, which we see is running a fairly significant operation manufacturing weapons.

That the Trade Federation is here is especially significant, in that we already, based on this logic, have an excellent idea of what it is they want for the galaxy — less, read: no, corporate restrictions, a free market bordering on complete anarchy. Okay, they also want revenge on the former Queen Amidala, but there’s no way they’re motivating their stockholders with that.

Leader

Not true! We have significant investment in Iron Maidens!

That half of their cohorts are also planet-sized corporations lends additional credence to this theory. They are not the exception in the CIS; they are the rule.

One Jedi calls Count Dooku, the former Jedi and secret Sith Lord manipulating the CIS, “a political idealist.” I wonder what his politics are?

At this point, I don’t consider it a stretch to say he’s probably whatever the Star Wars universe’s equivalent of an objectivist is.

So, we have Count Dooku, probably some objectivist equivalent, leading a group that has likely separated from the Republic due to the desire for a freer market.

But they wouldn’t just leave, of course. Things would have to have gotten more dramatic in order to prompt so potent a response as secession and war. How did they get more dramatic?

Palpatine came to power.

Remember my suspicion that he obtained his position by being a champion of the people, standing up for their wants and needs. Maybe he argued for workers’ rights, benefits, better pay, etc. We don’t know. But it would make sense for him to do so. It fits well into his overall goal for the war he’s stoking. And it’s also about the only way to explain how he got the transparently greedy Trade Federation so riled up.

The event that instigated the blockade of The Phantom Menace was likely a small one. Here, the time frame — ten years — is significant. It’s time enough for Palpatine to come to power and change things substantially.

And it fits. The politicians get a much better portrayal this time around, with future adoptive father of Princess Leia, Bail Organa, getting some prominent screen-time. There’s much less evidence of corruption and far more evidence of efficiency — sometimes to a fault, given how quickly Jar-Jar’s emergency powers proposition gets rushed through. We also see the Republic and the Jedi Order working together far more often and apparently to some significant effect. The fact that the Jedi Order is even open to the idea of going to war on the Republic’s behalf is proof enough of that.

samuel-l-jackson-star-wars-episode-7

You will know his name is the Lord.

Granted, there’s still poverty. We see some evidence of it in the aftermath of the speeder chase, as well as throughout the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV show. But it takes time to eradicate.

My thinking is that, in those ten years, Palpatine took the Republic from a borderline economic anarchy into a society that’s still very laissez faire economically but represents far more upward mobility for the lower classes than there was before.

This makes some sense. He wouldn’t want the government to be too much of the people; after all, he’s planning to turn it into an iron-fisted dictatorship as soon as he gets the opportunity. You don’t want to give the people too strong a taste of that sweet freedom; otherwise, they’re more likely to resist when you take it away. But he still needs to look like he’s standing up for the people. This represents a convenient middle ground — being public in his efforts to reform things, but letting the system grind them to a halt here and there, or at least delay or compromise them.

Either way, it’s clear that Palpatine has changed the galaxy substantially over those ten years — enough that he chased off the major corporations and got them ready to make war. And once he gets that war, it’s basically all over.

The best part of this whole thing is that it actually causes Palpatine’s plan to make…a lot of sense, to be honest.

Endgame: Take over the galaxy. In his first step, he becomes a senator on a Galactic Republic member world. It probably didn’t even matter which one; any would do, with the proper planning. That makes the first step comparatively easy, particularly for a Sith Lord and master deceiver.

Step Two: Become chancellor. He starts by playing this game very long-term. He sticks up for the people, supports agendas that favor them, and becomes very popular and well liked as a result. Now, it’s time to start playing the sides against each other. He brings forth legislation that will help the people, at the expense of the corporations. Those corporations are corrupt and have standing armies and representation; he can use that. Because he is, again, a Sith Lord and master deceiver, he’s able to get that legislation past the bureaucrats and lobbyists when pretty much no one else could have. The corporations are all up in arms about it — literally. As Darth Sidious, he approaches a particularly corrupt one, the Trade Federation, with a plan — a plan that involves having them blockade his own planet, the world he represents. Now, he can truly play both sides. The Trade Federation doesn’t know it, but every step of the way, he’s guiding them toward defeat. But he gives them victories — he needs to drive the queen to desperation. He ensures she gets to Coruscant, where she sees the mess that the Republic is. She’s a determined and morally courageous sort, so he knows she’ll take his advice when he suggests she call for a vote of no confidence in the current chancellor. He knows that just as much as he knows that he’s popular, and emerging as a public hero in the Trade Federation situation. His popularity will secure him a nomination as chancellor. Permanently resolving the Naboo situation will guarantee his election. So, he does just that. He guides the Trade Federation to defeat. However, he knows he’ll need the Trade Federation and its army later, so he secretly ensures that its leaders don’t face any real consequences as a result of their trial — as we’re told they didn’t in the second movie.

Step Three: Start a war. He’s already been laying the groundwork. We don’t know when he got his claws into Count Dooku, but given the relationship he later forms with Anakin, we can suspect it began long before Dooku turned Sith. Through Dooku, he gets access to the Jedi archives, orders and army, and erases all the evidence. Palpatine is also working out the details of the war’s outcome at this point. He knows he can’t let the CIS go on the offensive. If they beat the Republic, that will ruin his moves toward galactic domination. He could still do so through the CIS as Darth Sidious, but it would be more difficult. Such a transition of power would take a long time to negotiate, and he wouldn’t be able to simply emerge as the new leader without scaring everyone away. Likely, he would have to climb the ladder again. So, he knows he has to have an army at around the same time he’s fully angered the CIS.

To facilitate this end, he orders the army straight away, has it developed in secret, and begins the process of democratic reform. Corporations and planets with deeply rooted corporate interests begin to push back. Things get worse; they finally get motivated to leave. He uses Count Dooku to fan those flames — after all, secession and war are probably not good for corporations with interests across an entire galaxy, so they wouldn’t merely be content to separate and do their own thing. They would need the war to protect their own interests. Dooku begins to lead them — but passively, keeping the Republic from leaping but enticing them with the threat. Once the army shows up, it will be hard for the Republic to say no — the money’s been spent, and it’s arrived in the wake of a great threat. Palpatine knows this. He uses it.

After ten years, the pieces are in place. He’s changed the galaxy. The corporations are angry, and they’re fighting him on it. Dooku encourages them to go to war. Palpatine/Sidious works behind the scenes. He gets his army. He incorporates it into the Jedi Order. It’s perfectly positioned when the time comes to rid himself of that threat to his power.

All made possible, according to my insane theory, because of economic conflict.

StarWars20

Sweet, sweet economic conflict.

I really wish I could explore this theory further, but it basically disappears after the second movie. Revenge of the Sith is essentially a Part 2 on Attack of the Clones; the latter creates the situation, and the former follows through on what it does to the characters. And the original trilogy keeps it simple and straightforward, mainly staying away from these gestures at complexity. Funny how such a simple movie can feel so much deeper and more lived-in than these sometimes overcomplicated prequels.

In any case, this has been another episode of Matt Reading Too Deeply Into Things. Tune in next week when I review literally anything, seriously.

…Oh my gosh, I actually just wrote seven Word pages hyperanalyzing the freaking Star Wars prequels what is my life.

Muppets Most Wanted (2014)

Starring- Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, Peter Linz

Director- James Bobin

PG- some mild action

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQiGyBiNjLI

With Muppet movies, it’s never a question of how good the story is or how much thematic consistency it has. It’s only ever: “Are the songs good, and is it funny?”

In the case of Muppets Most Wanted, the answer to both questions is: “Mostly.” For me, that’s all that matters. This is probably the most “meta” franchise ever, so it’s not important to me that the plot is generally an afterthought.

This time, the songs-and-comedy excuse involves the Muppets, fresh off getting back together in the last movie (making this, to my memory, the first Muppet movie to exist in the same continuity as another Muppet movie), deciding to embark on a world tour on the advice of their new manager, Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). What they don’t know is that Badguy (pronounced BAD-jee; it’s French) is in cahoots with the world’s most-wanted criminal — Constantine, who happens to bear a striking resemblance to the Muppets’ own Kermit the Frog. The two of them are planning to steal the crown jewels (aren’t they always?) and frame the Muppets for the crime.

So, Constantine swaps places with Kermit and joins the Muppet gang. Meanwhile, Kermit, mistaken for Constantine, winds up in a Russian gulag.

Both the best and worst thing about Muppets Most Wanted is that it’s a Muppet movie, through and through. If you’ve seen those and liked them, you’ll like it, too. If they’ve never been your cup of tea, this movie is unlikely to change that.

I love it because I’m starting to find the concept of the “modern update” a bit tiresome. I don’t think it’s the wrong thing to do, necessarily; on the contrary, intelligent modern updates of old properties have proven, in many instances, to be quite interesting. But it’s also the sort of thing we’re starting to do arbitrarily. In the current climate, a modern-day Muppet movie could easily have been mania and fart jokes. Instead, the filmmakers, who clearly enjoy the characters and the movies in which they’ve appeared, are proving the timelessness of Jim Henson’s creations. The characters all act the way they’re supposed to. The humor is a mixture of broad but relatively gentle slapstick and silliness for the kids and the occasional clever (but never crude) joke for the adults. The story is rarely taken all that seriously, and the film constantly makes jokes at its own expense. The fourth wall gets leaned on. The songs run the gamut from the goofy to the fun and catchy to the heartfelt. There’s an endless parade of celebrity cameos on display. It’s everything you’d want it to be.

It’s also everything you expect it to be — which is fine. It’s just that it isn’t a lot more than that. That’s been true of these movies for a while now. They all have different stories and try the characters out in different types of roles, but historically, there hasn’t been a lot of deviation in the tone or style (even, to some extent, during the phase where they started putting the Muppets in literary adaptations). There’s a part of me that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That part of me isn’t entirely wrong. At the same time, there’s something to be said for being surprised. Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. And it becomes a bit frustrating to watch these movies have the same flaws over and over again.

The main one is that even though these movies have never taken their bare-bones stories all that seriously, they still try to milk some pathos out of them, with mixed success. With all the absurdity, fourth-wall humor, and the repeated implication (and sometimes more than that) that these are movies the Muppets are making rather than experiences they’re actually having, part of me would rather these movies didn’t focus on story at all. Figure out your setup, and move forward with your songs and spectacles and comedy. Work on finding a consistent energy. Just do whatever.

To date, my favorite in the series is still the oldest — The Muppet Movie. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the movie that understood this concept the best. It started with the simple premise of Kermit going to Hollywood to become a star. Along the way, he met the other Muppets, who joined up with him. They sang songs, visited different locations, and told jokes. There was a villain pursuing them to make sure the whole thing was connected somehow, but mostly, it didn’t have a story. I think the Muppets work best in that zone.

The other thing it understood — seemingly better than a lot of subsequent films, including the 2011 reboot to which Muppets Most Wanted is a sequel — is that this is a Muppet movie. We’re here to see Muppets. There can be people in them, but we mostly want them to be the funny, self-deprecating cameos and maybe a small supporting role or two. Muppets Most Wanted just plain has too many human characters shoehorned into the chaos — maybe not as many as its predecessor, but still more than I’d advise. Those human characters also occupy more of the musical numbers than you’d expect, and almost universally, those are the most awkward and out-of-place songs in the movie.

I’m not here to tear Muppets Most Wanted down a peg, though. If it’s not going to blaze new trails, at least it’s sticking to the warmly familiar one worn down by its predecessors. It’s charming, innocent, and totally unashamed of being a movie for children. If anything, it takes pride in the fact, and I applaud it for that. There’s real magic in the way a movie like this can take root in childhood and grow into something that’s truly important to a new generation. I don’t know why every storyteller wouldn’t aspire to that at least once. And Muppets Most Wanted isn’t the sort of kids’ movie that’s dumb or pandering. It goes to them with the promise of imagination, creativity, music, and fun — again, very much like its predecessors.

I’m also slowly coming to appreciate director James Bobin’s contribution to the new Muppet movies. His approach isn’t perfect — the movie is particularly awkward and jumpy when it comes time to establish a location — but he’s found a lot of creative ways to shoot this like a, quote unquote, “real movie” rather than a TV show. There’s a lot more freedom in the way the camera moves and the shots he uses than what you see in past Muppet movies. He also does a lot to really bring out the colors in the characters, the textures in the sets, and the overall atmosphere of the film. Both of these rank among the better-looking Muppet movies.

It’s quality family entertainment, and for all its flaws, I can’t really complain about that. When all is said and done, it’s a lot of fun.

-Matt T.

ANNOUNCEMENT: For those of you who want to follow my filmgoing in even more detail, I am now on Letterboxd. Feel free to follow me if you have a profile, and I may follow you as well. I still don’t really know how to use the site to its fullest potential yet, but I’m hoping to incorporate a few new things into it. Hope to see you there!

Night Moves (2014)

Starring- Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat, Logan Miller, Kai Lennox, Katherine Waterston

Director- Kelly Reichardt

R- some language and nudity

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7-VqKLYZks

Night Moves doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but as politically charged, slow-burn indie thrillers go, it isn’t half bad.

It focuses on two radical environmentalists — Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), a resident of a farming commune, and Dena (Dakota Fanning), a jaded rich kid — who decide to make the ultimate statement by hiring ex-Marine Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) to blow up a hydroelectric dam that’s killed off the local salmon population. The first half shows them laying their plans. The second half details the consequences of what they’ve done.

Night Moves strikes me as minor Jeff Nichols. I don’t like it nearly as much as anything he’s done, but the approach is similar, and once things start to fall in place, it proves effective. It moves slowly and derives the majority of its thrust stems from its rich and heavy atmosphere. From the beginning, it’s a cold and gray film, one that specializes in an ever-increasing sense of impending and inescapable doom. It’s one that happens around the characters rather than to them, an ominous figure that looms in the distance, invisible to them but plain to the audience. The tone of the film is a visual and auditory manifestation of the voice inside the viewer’s mind, screaming for the characters not to go through with what they’ve planned.

The first half of the film is something like a dark, weighty heist movie, one that patiently watches the characters as they prepare for the event. It draws some tension from the threat that they might be caught but far more from the probability that they will succeed — too little stands in the way, and no one is in the position to see it coming. You fear their success not because you dislike them but because you understand them — you know they don’t really mean any harm but that they can’t possibly accomplish this as smoothly as they believe they will. They will accomplish it, almost undoubtedly. But they haven’t thought nearly long enough about the possibility of collateral damage.

Like a lot of movies made in this style, it drops you right in the middle of things rather than establishing a complete situation. You meet the characters fully formed, and you don’t get to know an awful lot about them — namely, why it is that they feel so strongly about this issue. But gradually, the film develops their psychologies, partly through the writing but mainly through closely managed performances — the ones that require even a mere sideways glance to be ripe with meaning. Though the film asks all of them to underplay things a little — perhaps too much — the cast is mostly up to the task.

The second half of the film ratchets up the sense of disaster and introduces, for the first time (in concrete terms, anyway), the possibility that the protagonists are not as smart as they think they are and truly haven’t considered everything that might happen. It seems, lately, that our storytellers are fascinated with the consequences of immoral actions — even those that are very well intended — and that’s the direction Night Moves goes as well. The characters slowly realize the breadth of what they’ve done and, subsequently, the very real risk that they’ve exposed themselves and the people they love to danger. It’s easier to do it than it is to get away with it, ultimately. They soon find that things are far out of control and that there’s no easy fix — no easy fix that doesn’t require them to face the music, anyway. The group fractures, and the conflicts that were teased early on take center stage.

I think the film’s wisest move is in choosing not to be heavy-handed or judgmental about anything. It takes its characters and their motivations seriously. Even serious looks at environmentalism, such as The East, have a tendency to lapse into stereotypes and unintentional mockery — the stupid hippies who smoke pot and live in some strange cult-like environment complete with absurd rituals. The protagonists of Night Moves are fairly ordinary people, and they’re concerned about very real problems. The film is quite clear on the fact that they do have a point — their problem is how they’ve reacted to it. They’re shown to have an affinity with nature, but it’s not an excessive thing — they don’t seem to be all that opposed to killing animals, so long as you’re not driving them to extinction, and their concerns, first and foremost, seem to be what environmental damage will eventually do to the human race. They’re not crazy. They’re angry kids who haven’t though about this hard enough and are reacting on instinct, emotion, and even the youthful need to make a mark. The movie doesn’t mock them or lock them in any sort of box. It allows them to be half-right and to make their plans, if not appealing, then at least understandable.

I think the film would be considerably more interesting if that’s where it directed the majority of its focus — that conflict of worldviews, how to affect extraordinary change that truly can’t wait much longer to happen in a society that has its head buried in the sand. I think that would be better than another consequences-of-actions movie.

It’s good at being what it is, but we don’t have any particular shortage of that these days. I would’ve liked to see Night Moves blaze its own trails and strike at something more relevant — or at least, more un-trod territory. But taken on its own, it’s hypnotic, stirring, and largely worthwhile.

-Matt T.

Need for Speed (2014)

Starring- Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez, Harrison Gilbertson, Dakota Johnson, Stevie Ray Dallimore, Michael Keaton

Director- Scott Waugh

PG-13- sequences of reckless street racing, disturbing crash scenes, nudity and crude language

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e73J71RZRn8

Okay, Hollywood. It’s clear you need my help on this one, so I’ve invested hours in creating a detailed plan for crafting a good video game adaptation. Get your note-taking pencils ready:

Step 1: Find a video game that would actually make a good movie.

Step 2: Write a good script.

Step 3: Hire a good director.

Step 4: Profit.

Seriously, I live in 2014. We’ve made good movies out of comic books about talking raccoons, forgotten 80s TV shows about undercover cops in high school, and plastic brick people that children play with. How is it at all possible that we have not had one single, solitary video game movie that was any good? I’m not much of a gamer, but I’m familiar with plenty of them by reputation: Mass Effect. Shadow of the Colossus. Halo. Games with an actual premise and even actual characters, inhabiting a universe you could actually tell stories about.

But instead, we’ve got a feature-length adaptation of a plotless and character-free game where you race cars. Sigh.

So, here’s Need for Speed. It didn’t really need to be based on anything, because it’s not like there’s a copyright on street racing. It’s about Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a prodigious racer who now makes a living fixing cars — and street racing by night. When an old rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), offers him half a million dollars to fix up a rare classic for sale, Tobey reluctantly accepts. That decision soon leads to tragedy, however, and Tobey finds himself framed for manslaughter that Dino committed. When Tobey gets out of prison, he joins a cross-country race in the hopes of getting on the track with Dino — and taking his revenge.

So, the filmmakers did most of this for real. That’s about the only thing I appreciate about Need for Speed, so I might as well start there. There’s nary an ounce of CGI in this movie, and given how incredibly ridiculous it gets sometimes, that’s an impressive feat. They took actual cars onto actual roads and found ways to actually make them crash horribly and flip end over end off of each other and into cliffs and hills and such. It goes a long way that you believe absolutely everything you see while you’re watching.

But one good idea does not a worthwhile film make, and mostly, Need for Speed is just boring. I’ve only ever seen bits and pieces of the Fast & Furious films (that’s why I haven’t been reviewing those, by the way — there’s a lot of movies to catch up on, and regardless of how interconnected they may or may not be, I don’t like to review something if it has predecessors I haven’t seen), and it’s clear why those are suddenly catching on — they’re big and goofy and joyful and totally unironic about all of this.

Need for Speed isn’t quite as self-serious as its inexplicably arty trailers, but it’s still a pretty grim and emotionally self-important piece of work. Just when I thought we were getting over our recent resurgence of generically brooding 90s-style antiheroes, we get Tobey Marshall — a guy whose personality mainly consists of being quiet and angry all the time. He’s not even angry in a grounded, character sense, where at least it affects other aspects of his life and has real consequences in his attitudes and actions. It just allows him to be intense, bro.

The film is weirdly earnest about its desire to take Tobey through an actual character arc, and to be fair to it, the basic structure is there, somewhere, but it’s all payoff and no setup. I know where he ends up, but I can only conjure up small, undefined explanations for how he got there.

Not that it really matters, anyway; Need for Speed exists so far outside of any type of reasonable morality that it’s impossible to take any philosophical elements it applies to the plot with any degree of seriousness. If I were asked to write this, I would probably have given it the subtitle Reckless Endangerment (which is why I was not asked to write this — outside of having no screenwriting credentials, I mean). The heroes and villains are separated somewhat arbitrarily. We dislike Dino because he intentionally endangers people, wrecks their cars, and doesn’t go back to help them. We like Tobey because he accidentally does those things. I learned two things from this movie: It is impossible to die in a car accident if fire is not involved, so you don’t need to concern yourself with those people; and it is only important to go back for wrecked drivers when they are people you know (nevertheless, if other people who don’t really know them fail to go back, this constitutes justifiable grounds for an extensive revenge quest). When Tobey went to jail in the beginning, I’m pretty sure I was supposed to think, “Aw, poor Tobey went to jail.” My only reaction was: “Aw, Dino should’ve gone to jail, too.” Seriously, Tobey Marshall is an actual threat to society, and he needs to be behind bars. Whatever morality the film tries to apply to the situation, Tobey is still a guy who repeatedly almost kills other people for money and cheap thrills. That Dino is the only one who actually does rack up a body count does not an evil counterpart make. (Dino being kind of a jerk doesn’t count either, because Tobey is standoffish with everyone except his friends and is captain of the childish He-Man Woman-Haters Club they all seem to belong to.)

Basically, you’ve got some good-looking (but not always well directed) vehicle wrecks and the occasional moment that’s enjoyably absurd. (It doesn’t belong in a movie this serious, but the scene with the bounty hunters that abruptly turns the whole thing into a Mad Max movie is a riot.) That’s going to be enough for some people. Everyone else ought to find something better to do with those two hours.

-Matt T.

Only_Lovers_Left_Alive_English_film_poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Starring- Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright, Silmane Dazi

Director- Jim Jarmusch

R- language and brief nudity

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycOKvWrwYFo

I wonder if it ever starts to look like a lack of self-confidence that I always say that I just didn’t get it when it comes to widely-acclaimed films that do absolutely nothing whatsoever for me. Is it bias even to say that? I mean, I’m implying that it’s a good movie I just wasn’t into solely because other people, most of them smart, liked it a lot. This right here is why I have so much respect for the importance of the individual lens in interpreting art.

So, yeah, whether it’s a bad movie or I just didn’t get it, Only Lovers Left Alive didn’t do a thing for me.

It follows married couple Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a pair of centuries-old vampires making their way through the modern world.

For two hours, they do things.

I don’t want to sound flippant, but it’s impossible to summarize the plot of this movie any other way, because, frankly, there really isn’t one. And that’s not an accident, so by my own philosophy — never criticize something for what it is but for how it is that — I can’t call that an inherently bad thing. I can’t beat it up for having no particular storyline — and I’ve seen films like that before, so it’s not like there isn’t a right way to do it — so, instead, I have to ask what it wants to be. And I have no real answer to that question.

It’s not a character study. It’s not supposed to be tense or exciting. It’s loaded with atmosphere, but I don’t think it’s the right kind. It’s almost a comedy, kind of, in a sense that’s so imperceptible it has almost no effect on anything. It’s almost a musical showcase, in that there’s lots of music, but most of it’s in the background, and frankly, it’s not very good anyway.

To be fair, I think there’s a part of me that at least suspected that this wasn’t going to be my thing, given that I have only a limited affinity for vampires, hangout movies, or prolonged reference-fests. Simultaneously, the setup seemed weird enough that I thought it might play well for me in an unexpected way — after all, in theory, excessively violent crime films with a darkly comic tone aren’t really my thing either, and yet Fargo is one of my favorite movies of all time. But Only Lovers Left Alive just came across cold.

I don’t personally think it works, but that’s only because the pieces don’t get connected. There’s enough here that borders on greatness that I spent maybe the first hour of this movie waiting for it to take off. Mainly, that’s the characters and performances; Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are both absolutely perfect. Neither is playing radically against type, but these characters are still fresh enough to test them.

Adam is a pretentious, depressed loner. He’s a musician and multi-instrumentalist (the kind one only becomes through being centuries old) and spends all of his days writing songs that consist mainly of ethereal droning. (For all that the movie makes of Adam’s talent and artistic superiority to the culture at large, I don’t think he’s actually that good; his sound is different and interesting for a couple of tracks, but every last one of his songs is almost exactly the same, and it’s hard not to be sick of it by the end.) He’s a recluse, holed up partly because he’s a vampire but mainly because he has a deep-seated allergy to the idea of fame. He looks upon the world with disdain — he refers to humans as “zombies,” and his disgust for what they’ve done to the world and particularly the arts may or may not have rendered him suicidal. It’s hard to tell what is and is not an act with him.

Eve, on the other hand, has a more optimistic view of the present and the future and is constantly seeking out new experiences. It’s measured enough — she seems to generally agree with Adam’s view of the world, if not his reaction to it — but she finds a way to pass through the muck.

But Only Lovers Left Alive doesn’t really even present itself as a conflict between their worldviews. As such, it becomes two hours of listening to pretentious people complaining about how inferior everyone else is, and it’s really hard to tell how much you’re supposed to agree with them. I’ll be the first to concede that the world has problems, culturally and otherwise, but good criticism always comes from a place of honesty, humility, and an ability to look at oneself critically. You’re a part of this world, so you’re a part of its climate, however small a part that may be. In what sense are you part of the problem? In what sense are you part of the solution? Hint: Being a part of the problem, for most people, requires nothing more than not being a part of the solution. That’s what Adam and, honestly, to a lesser extent, Eve don’t get. They just meander through life and whine about everything. In the meantime, they’re not doing anything to fix it, and they also feel as though they are totally beyond reproach on all of these questions. Eve’s worldview is the most positive, but even it doesn’t amount to much of anything beyond being totally blasé about all the insanity and simply searching for the things that fall through the cracks.

None of that is anything I’m pulling from the text of the film. Only Lovers Left Alive doesn’t seem to engage with any of that. It doesn’t seem to engage with much of anything. The characters go places and do things, and as far as I can tell, nobody learns or grows in any meaningful sense. If the movie’s point is that the everyday problems of vampires would probably be as boring as the everyday problems of humans, I suppose it’s a resounding success.

Clearly, other people are seeing something that I’m not. For my part, Only Lovers Left Alive felt like a really long movie, going nowhere and doing nothing. If you like hanging out with self-important teenagers, you’ll probably love it, though.

-Matt T.