2018.04.13 // Filed under: Screen
And I thought my February in movies was bad: only seven films watched in March. Not even two a week. And April isn’t looking much better, considering almost half the month has gone by and I haven’t seen a single movie. Quality, not quantity, I keep telling myself, even when the results don’t always bear that out.
Rave reviews encouraged me to expect something greater than what this is. But what let me down is more to do with its Cloverfield trappings than the psychological thriller within, one that’s ultimately hamstrung by all that franchise retrofitting in the third act.
Mute was conceived as a graphic novel before it became a film. And it probably should have stayed as such, as this feels like a literal translation that emphasises how much the story doesn’t work on screen. (Quite apart from the things that take away from the story itself, like its cop-out of an ending.)
At the same time, the literal approach turns what would have been wry nods to Blade Runner on the page into a straight rip-off of that film’s trademark visual elements: the origami animals, the translucent raincoat, let alone the general look of a neon future pasted over the grime and graffiti of old. (There are other references, too, like Paul Rudd’s Cactus as a parallel universe Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, and there are likely more I missed.)
One can’t doubt the passion involved here on Duncan Jones’ part, and it’s really much better digested thinking of it as a straight representation of its source, not unlike Zack Snyder’s ambitious but doomed-to-fail Watchmen. Still, much like Jones’ previous flop Warcraft, there are significant issues in translating that passion and enthusiasm into a great film, not merely an okay one.
Its deliberately unlikeable leads verge on cartoonish in their grotesquery, amplified by a milieu that has more in common with Curb Your Enthusiasm than a kitchen-sink drama, but director Lynne Ramsay’s skill with indelible imagery and tense pacing cannot be denied.
At times, Whitney: Can I Be Me hints at self-aware commentary on the ghoulishness that haunts the celebrity life, even after death. But for the most part, it comes over as little more than an excuse to use some old concert footage, dressed up with talking heads that range from the random to the dubious, and conspicuously absent the voices most needed.
Consider this the loosest of adaptations of the first instalment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, reinterpreting its expedition into a xenonatural zone as a more liner adventure, albeit with a stilted tone, till the third act. That’s when it explodes into a heady stew of dreamscape imagery in the vein of Jodorowsky, Cronenberg, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Kubrick’s 2001, Russell’s Altered States – name a messed-up vision and it was probably an influence here – and confirms itself as more explicitly a philosophical text about annihilation of the self than its source material.
Oh boy was this ever a bad idea.
Ken Wardrop’s documentary on piano teachers and their students is a quiet triumph along the lines of Être et Avoir, not only in its inspiring snapshots of music — and learning, more generally — as an extension of the self, but also in its diversity of subjects, giving a truer reflection of contemporary Ireland. (Could do with fewer D4 accents, mind.)