movies: July 2006 Archives

A Scanner Darkly

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poster for A Scanner DarklyThe centerpiece of this evening's Guys' Night Out, other than an Uno's pizza that left us feeling well and truly stuffed, was Richard Linklater's latest, his rotoscoped adaptation of the PK Dick novel, A Scanner Darkly (IMDB). It's an interesting little movie, and the first sign of that was that our local megaplex tucked it away in one of their three downstairs screens, the ones reserved for smaller audiences a more intimate viewing experience. To be fair, it was larger (slightly) than my 1-bedroom apartment. Anyways.

I can't really talk too much about the movie without spoiling it, so I'll abstain from too many specifics. Like a lot of Linklater's work, SD is a mix of genres--when it works it works, and when it fails, it feels jumbled. There were spots that didn't work as well as they maybe could have, but generally they were places where Linklater was relying on either audience knowledge or sophistication. In some ways, the movie worked a lot like a graphic novel, and specifically the way that you must often fill in the gaps between panels. Particularly with the ending of the movie, there's a fair amount of extrapolation that has to take place, but there are places throughout where this is also true. That's going to be the source of some criticism from expositiophiles, but I didn't find it all that troublesome. And in fact, it was a welcome break from some of the truly crappy, overly expositional dialogue that appears in standard Hollywood fare.

Although you can't really speak of the acting in a movie where there's such heavy direction, Downey and Harrelson (and even Cochrane, although he's a little more caricatured) definitely steal the show from Keanu, who's appropriately cast here (if never approvingly), and Ryder. Downey, for me, after this movie and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, has almost become a class of actor unto himself. There aren't a lot of people I'd rather watch on the screen more than him right now.

I've heard that the Dick estate really liked this movie, and I can't blame them. It's a much "smaller" movie than, say, Pirates, which in its second week was being advertised, aggressively, as the "cultural phenomenon of the year." I liked Pirates, but the things about it I didn't like were all of the little Hollywood touches, and that kind of crap is absent from SD. It's a really faithfully executed adaptation of one of Dick's most personal books, and the bar against which future adaptations should be measured. If you're not bothered by scifi or by visual experimentation, then this is a full price movie, I think.

PC2: Dead Man's Chest

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My reward for completing round 1 of the tenure process, the compilation of materials for outside reviewers, was to get myself down to the local megaplex to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (IMDB). And get there I did. And see it I did.

The first movie was something of a surprise to me. Basing a movie on a circa 1970s amusement park ride did not strike me as a particularly interesting strategy, I must confess. But I saw the movie, and was really pleasantly surprised by it. It's hard to find the right balance among all the different elements, and the first movie really seemed to manage it nicely.

That said, it was hard not to go to the second one with high expectations. I've seen split reviews--some say it wasn't as good as the first, other say it was better--and I would have to place myself in the former camp. It's enough like the first one that lots and lots of people will enjoy it, but at a number of different places in the movie, I kept getting the feeling that Verbinski was working from a list of characters, situations, and touches that worked in the first movie, and saying to himself, "Now I need to do the same thing, only more!" In other words, it was almost too much like the first movie for me to think that it was as good, since so much of it felt derived from it.

Which isn't to say that there weren't some fun parts, some rollicking action, some Sparrowesque amorality, and killer effects. All of that is as true of this movie as it was of the first. But there are places where the "just like the first only more!" strategy kept me from immersing, and that was unfortunate. For example, the movie is simultaneously more graphically violent and more cartoonish in places--neither is necessarily bad, but both together work against any kind of consistency.

Ah well. It was a strong matinee, and for a lot of people, worth full price, I suspect. It wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped it would be, but that'll teach me to expect so much. I'll still see the third one on the big screen.

That's all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the movies category from July 2006.

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