Wednesday, October 31, 2012

David Koepp & Pete Travis: Premium Rush & Dredd

Slapping unexpecting young audiences awake from a narcotized bad movie stupor,  genre auteurs David Koepp and Pete Travis revel in two of their headiest works.

JGL, Michael Shannon, Premium Rush, Columbia Pictures, 2012.

Koepp made a name for himself scribing Spielberg's key popcorn films; adapting Jurassic Park and Minority Report, he displayed his articulate grasp of the action-sci-fi genre, while holding onto a human element that is indispensable to his cinematic world view. Aside from scripting for 70s masters Spielberg and De Palma, Koepp helmed a few interesting pictures of his own. The Trigger Effect, Stir of Echoes, and Secret Window are all dark, corrosive movies which revealed Koepp as a serious film artist, one hand firmly on his heart, the other digging in an overpriced bucket of corn. For all of their cohesion, all three films suffer from an open-endedness that denotes near sublimity. While his newest work, the action-thriller Premium Rush, may appear to be less noteworthy than his first three films, its reliance on CGI-fueled action set pieces, and its novel plot, allow it room to breathe and for us to experience American genre in a fresh new way.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, riding on high in his breakthrough year, fills the lead role effortlessly. His sardonic young East coast bike messenger, feels like a hero Cagney would have filled yesteryear. The plot is hackneyed and beaten to death, but apparently that is the point. Koepp utilizes cliche to realize something original for this kind of clap trap; transcendence. Michael Shannon makes for one of the most bizarre villains of the year; he is truly inspiring. James Newton Howard has fun with his jaunty music score, accentuated by dark undertones. Its undeniable popcorn trash at its finest.

Karl Urban, Dredd, Lionsgate Films , 2012.

Director Pete Travis is not quite as known as Koepp. Starting out at the BBC, he displayed an early gift for melding introspective characterization with a keen sense of filmic rhythm and cinematic space. His early films Vantage Point and Endgame, were both intelligent political thrillers displaying a filmmaker with a strong sense of mise en scene. His new picture, Dredd, is based upon Carlos Ezquerra's culty 80s comic about a partly robotic cop. This premises allows Travis to explore all  of the geo-political themes he underlined; corporate greed, martial law, violence as an extension of money and power.

Karl Urban makes for a commanding male protagonist, all glowers and mumbles as Dredd. Master Director of Photography, Dane Anthony Dod Mantle, captures the otherworldly slow burn of a city at apocalypse.Novelist cum script writer Alex Garland, has fun within the confines of the genre.

Although many would consider this puerile surface level shit, that would only be gleaning the surface. Travis' subtext and visual style are refined and kinetic. Dredd shines then bleeds Hawks, Fuller, Verhoeven. Pete Travis pays homage to his forefathers, unofficially joining their ranks as one of the most underrated of up-and-coming genre auteurs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Sunday, October 21, 2012

David Cronenberg: Cosmopolis

Paul Giamatti, Robert Pattinson, Cosmopolis, Entertainment One, 2012.

One of our main modern masters, Cronenberg returns to indifferent cineplexes triumphant once again. Fresh from his meticulous period passion play A Dangerous Method, the great maestro steers back into more familiar territory with an allegorical adaptation of a darkly comedic Don DeLillo novella.

Cosmopolis may well be the helmer's most personal film, akin to the films which earlier made his name. Lacking the body horror of those singular gems, his newest work is almost entirely set in a car; the ominously stylized tone recalls one of his very best, the existential visual dread of Crash (1996). Robert Pattinson gives a brilliantly modulated performance which erases bad memories of shitty Twilight movies; his co-stars make up one of the most dynamic casts of the year; Paul Giamatti, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, spellbinding ingenue Sarah Gadon. Their interplay as directed by Cronenberg builds a wall of austere despair that is one of the most incisive and expressive portrayals of the capitalist malaise our country is mired in.

Cronenberg works with his usual crew to spin his most shattering web in some time. DP Peter Suschitzky goes a long way to give the maestro's films their distinct appearance and feeling of disconnect via symmetry and lighting; Howard Shore's music score is teeming with angst. These elements bind together Cronenberg's unreal foretelling of East Coast ennui and moral bankruptcy. The trajectory of an upper crust young Wall Street upstart making his way across a pseudo-apocalyptic NYC, and the "odd" characters he encounters offers the maestro a simple plot to enrich his cinematic field of vision by.

The uber-stylized dialogue has been found impenetrable by many; it is transferred almost identically from the text; the movie almost becomes Cronenberg's commentary on the ouevre of novelist DeLillo, and the very nature of the beast of novel to film adaptations.