The Calm Before the Batman-y Storm

Published on July 14th, 2012

Every summer, we are supposedly inundated by blockbuster cinema, with no way of escaping it. Weekend after weekend, we find ourselves with a new Spider-Man, or Batman, or Generic Action Man movie being released into the fray that is the multiplex. These past couple weeks, however, we saw a little bit of a calm before the Batman-y storm that is to come. And since we’re about to discuss Christopher Nolan movies almost exclusively for the next week of MacGuffin Men content, it’s high time to discuss some of the lesser-known but equally notable films in theatres right now.

To Rome with Love, Woody Allen’s latest film, is not a particularly good film, but it’s also not a bad one. It’s like most of Allen’s more mediocre late-career comedy work: it’s funny enough to be passable, takes place in Europe, and never totally comes together. Simply seeing the man who once played Alvy Singer onscreen seems to bring an inordinate amount of joy to a certain kind of person (read: me), and that Allen has only lost half a step in his comic timing as a performer is enough on its own to make the movie worthwhile. Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, and particularly Jesse Eisenberg all feel like people that should be acting in Woody Allen movies constantly, and their scenes together are the highlight. As a whole though, the film isn’t particularly strong; its message is too blatant, which makes it significantly more difficult to be interesting. The film is remarkably (thematically and structurally) similar to The Lizzie McGuire Movie, which is an odd realization to make, particularly when you are the youngest person in your screening by about 40 years.

Sarah Polley’s sophomore film Take This Waltz is a better movie than To Rome with Love, but that is not to say it isn’t without its problems as well. Despite the movie being an interesting examination of a married woman’s desire for transition even though she seems to be living a pretty happy existence, only parts of it work as well as they should. The film goes a little overboard with some of its metaphors, what with the car crashes and the rehabs and the connecting flights, but what it does right it does spectacularly. Michelle Williams plays a confused married woman well, even in films like this that are less intense than Blue Valentine, and both Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen do a lot with little screen time. The movie is extraordinarily well put together, from music to cinematography, and the couple particularly clever dashes in the writing* more than make up for any dips into a drunk character instantly becoming sober and coherently explaining everything that is happening. Which is the worst, always.

*See: the film’s use of Video Killed the Radio Star.

But easily the best movie to see right now is Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild. There seems to be one independent movie each year that is kind of simple, but is executed so well that I (and legitimate film critics) happen to fall in love with it. It was Beginners last year, Winter’s Bone the year before and I assume Beasts of the Southern Wild will remain that film for the rest of 2012. The movie is deceptively simple, and despite the filmmakers’ insistence that the film is entirely personal and not at all political, the movie is just as much about the division between the rich and poor in America as it is the father/daughter relationship, particularly since the movie takes place in a flooded Louisiana. At its core, however, Beasts is basically a fairy tale, a Brothers Grimm story with a killer soundtrack. It takes place in a slightly different version of our reality, and it creates wonderfully potent scenes by playing off that and building to fantastical moments that make it feel like a Guillermo del Toro movie for people who never understood the Guillermo del Toro hype. By the time the movie is over, you feel like everything is the best, and all you want to do is watch it again. Time will tell if this is a great movie, but it’s certainly a very good one, and that should be enough.

One thing that is particularly striking about Beasts of the Southern Wild is its composition; the editing of the film is pretty great, as is its use of sound. When the movie ends and cuts to black, the viewer is ready to take on the world as the most triumphant of trumpets escort you out of the theatre. Basically, it’s like the end of one of Christopher Nolan’s last three blockbusters. There are good elements in both kinds of summer movies, and I’m unsure whether I’ll like Beasts of the Southern Wild more than whatever my favourite blockbuster ends up being this year, but I’ll know they were both good movies that co-existed in the summer. If I had to spend a little bit longer on public transit to get to Beasts than I will to get to Batman, so be it. I don’t care about summer cinema inasmuch as I care about good cinema, and there is plenty of that to be found in the months of July and August. You just have to find it, is all.

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