Elements Of The Screen: Critical Filmmaking

Hey guys & gals,

New ‘Elements’ article here, on film criticism, listing a few earmarks of a good critic.

Critical Filmmaking

Iron Man 2

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary:  A fun, funny, big comic book movie that matches the success of the first.

Review: Superhero sequels tend to go in two directions.  Either they are two steps up from the original or two steps down.  It’s a rare moment when the same level of quality is delivered twice, and ‘Iron Man 2’ is just such a rarity.  It’s got all the fun of the first — perhaps more — and though it lacks the pure dramatic strength of the origin story, it’s got a great cast, amazing action and a better villain.

This time around, Tony Stark — having revealed his identity as Iron Man — is now more popular than ever.  Though it’s obvious he still struggles with ego, he’s also trying his best to create a heroic legacy for others to follow.  Legacy is foremost on his mind because the element that powers the miniature reactor in his chest is poisoning him, and he doesn’t have much time left.  On top of this, the government is demanding that he hand over his suit, creating a rift between him and his friend Lt. Colonel Rhodes.  The secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D. is keeping tabs on him.  Lastly, a mysterious Russian inventor is out to destroy him for reasons of his own. Will Tony Stark find a way to stop the poisoning?  Will he keep his suit?  Will he repair his relationship with his friends?  Will the Russian guy get him?  Will there be a sequel!? I can’t stand the pressure!

Anyway, it’s obviously not as focused as the first, but the strength of the cast holds it together.  Mainly, of course, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, who plays the exact opposite of Bruce Wayne.  He’s a popular rich guy who enjoys the hell out of being a superhero.  There’s no major brooding here.  I have a theory about the AC/DC songs that introduce us to Stark in both films.  In ‘Iron Man’, it’s ‘Back in Black’, a song about defying death, which is of course the central theme of that film.  In ‘Iron Man 2’, it’s ‘Shoot to Thrill’, a song about, well, thrill-seeking, which is arguably the central theme of this film, as it is Stark’s real Achilles Heel.

Though it kind of drags in its second act, it never lost my interest.  For all the dramatic material, it’s a hilarious script and the gags hit their marks most of the time.  It’s a great crowd movie.  It’s a good superhero movie.  It shot to thrill, and hit its target.

Buy It From Amazon:  Iron Man 2 (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Cult Classic: Reservoir Dogs

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary:  A realistic, gut-punch of a movie.

Reservoir Dogs

Review: ‘Reservoir Dogs’ is filmmaking wizard Quentin Tarantino’s first (completed) film. It’s a compelling and shocking re-imagining of the typical cops & robbers heist film. It’s the kind of story where everything goes wrong. This time around, we are set up to empathize with the bad guys, a team of hired men assigned by their ring leader, Joe, to steal some diamonds.  They all go by color-coded monikers, and keep their true names to themselves.  When the robbery hits the fan, the survivors immediately suspect that they’ve been set up by the police, and it’s only a matter of time until they discover the traitor.

‘Dogs’ wields an aggressively realistic tone.  The dialog, already well-written, is enhanced by frantic, vulgar, and sometimes funny ad-libbing from the ensemble cast.  The violence, in contrast to the extended, pattering dialog, is short, brutal, and too the point, except for one scene: an infamous torture scene that’s ridiculously hard to sit through.  Tarantino faced (and faces still) great criticism of this scene, but he defends it by acknowledging that the typically horrified reaction of the viewer is exactly what he hoped for.  As good as the film is on the large part, I really can’t justify the sheer brutality of the scene (although, it must be noted, it’s mostly psychological in nature), but the upside is that it leads to a fantastic and cathartic reveal of the traitor.

Like most of Tarantino’s filmography, there appears to be a philosophical bent to the film’s action and conclusions.  This is a window into the world of the cinematic villains that we usually want dead or jailed.  It’s an exercise in empathy.  It’s an acknowledgment of universal humanity and, as Ronnie James Dio would suggest, that we all have “Heaven and Hell” in us.  There’s some major, usually unspoken debate in Christianity as to the moral value of humanity: Are we basically evil, or basically good?  The answer, of course, is both.

‘Reservoir Dogs’ is smart, shocking, uncomfortable, funny, and sobering art.  It has my recommendation to guys and dolls with a strong stomach.

Know1ng

Stars:  **** out of 4

Summary:  A divisive but effective, philosophical thriller.

Review: So I pretty much geeked out over this movie when I first saw it. I’ve mellowed since then, and gotten control of my mind, so perhaps I can reflect more effectively on the ‘Knowing’ experience.  Director Alex Proyas has constructed a very effective philosophical thriller, but you have to be the kind of person (open to the concept of wonder, which is rare these days) that can take it in.

Like his previous films, Proyas gives ‘Knowing’ a really distinct atmosphere that sticks with you.  The man-on-the-ground perspective gives the intense, apocalyptic imagery a poignancy that big, dumb disaster movies can’t touch.  The disaster sequences are elemental, focusing on fire, dust, darkness and light, respectively.  Since it was shot on digital, it has an eerie, documentary feel.  The story is divisive because it doesn’t try to justify its supernatural elements.  They’re simply present, and confusing, and at once terrifying and comforting.  This is much like real world religions.  Every one of them has fear and love mixed together down to the core, and it indeed takes faith to turn confusion into catharsis.  Due to the rise of scientism, faith is considered childish and unevolved, and its hard to apply it even to fiction.  Its a sad thing, because faith is a crucial component of imagination.

The performances at the heart of the film are very strong.  Nicolas Cage is an underrated, oft-derided actor, and he carries the emotional burden of his character very well.  The supporting cast is good, especially the child actors, whose characters seem to be the only ones at relative ease with the impending doom of the world.

‘Knowing’ is proof that Alex Proyas isn’t out of ideas nor has he lost the ability to realize them.  I look forward to his next dream.

Elements of the Screen: The Art of the Antagonist

Hey dear readers, a new entry in ‘Elements’ is here, where I do my darnedest to make the archetype of the Villain crystal clear.  You can find it here:  https://thesilvermirror.wordpress.com/the-art-of-the-antagonist

Please do remember to comment.  We appreciate your feedback.

Now if I can only get Patrick to post an article for ‘Elements’…