By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott’s depiction of the ill-fated 1993 American raid on the Bakara market in Mogadishu, Somalia, is, at its best, a blast of pure cinema, a vision of the machinations and sensations of battle in exactingly orchestrated sight and sound. At its worst, the film barely manages war-movie cliché, so slight are its character sketches, so blatantly preoccupied is Scott with his devastating imagery. Even worse, the film’s end titles offer ambiguous commentary — about the decision to withdraw from Somalia, about U.S. reluctance to commit ground troops since then — that throws the entire two hours of turmoil that precede it into question. Is Black Hawk Down a celebration of American valor and brotherhood or a condemnation of misguided military involvement? Is the end text inconcise political rhetoric or a hurried add-on designed to give the film topical relevance and Oscar-season gravitas? That we leave the film not knowing is its most crucial flaw, especially now.
And then there is Ali. It is, ostensibly, a biopic describing the transformation of boxer Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali, an embattled world champion and Black Muslim fighting no less a foe than the United States itself over his refusal to go to Vietnam. It, too, is a triumph of craft, of real cinematic beauty. What makes it transcendent, though, is how it speaks to the formidable power of personal conviction in the face of desperate consequences, and to the fact that what happens to one American — to one citizen of the world — happens to us all. It also reminds us that there are always those striving to impose their will, and that they may be closer to home than we’d care to admit. Like Ali the fighter — who knew that the face he presented to the world as a black man would cue not only those who worshipped him, but those who reviled him — Alithe movie takes its symbolic responsibilities seriously; it serves the purposes of cinema both as an art form and as a popular entertainment, and so is both timeless and timely.
F.X. Feeney's List
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, USA)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
Simon Magus (Ben Hopkins, U.K.)
In the Bedroom (Todd Field, USA)
Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter, USA)
Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, Mexico)
Faithless (Liv Ullmann, Sweden)
The Anniversary Party (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, USA)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, USA)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA)
With a Friend Like Harry (Dominik Moll, France)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong/France) Snide and Prejudice (Philippe Mora, USA).
(In order of preference.)
Photo by Melissa Moseley
One can wonder how different a StanleyKubrick A.I.might have been, had he lived to make it, but one doesn’t have to stretch the imagination much. Steven Spielberg may have transformed the property into a highly personal midlife counterpart of E.T. — yet he stayed true to a story structure unique to Kubrick, and alien to his own body of work. The film unfolds in four symphonic movements, as did 2001. There’s a Dawn of Man sequence — tracing the early home life of the mechanical boy, David (which was the name of the lead astronaut in 2001). There’s a trip to the moon — David’s flight through a fairy-tale wilderness, in which a large artificial moon figures. There’s a game of wits with a superior, possibly malign intelligence — “Rouge City” and its many denizens standing in for HAL. There is a trippy voyage through the gates of mortality — that haunting spectacle of New York, half-submerged in water. Moreover, each fresh stage in the hero’s evolution is prefigured by some violent act. Whereas Dave in 2001 murders HAL, David murders another A.I. patterned after himself — and this act of primal rage provokes his next colossal step, a suicide attempt. There’s a wonderful shot as David drops off a skyscraper into the Atlantic: His fall is reflected in the Plexiglas of the aircraft piloted by his fellow robot Gigolo Joe, and the image of his body appears to descend against Joe’s cheek, like a teardrop. We’re witnessing a great transformation in this little instant — David’s quest to become human makes Joe more human. Indeed, Joe then makes the enormous leap of accepting his own end. As he rescues David, and is himself seized by the police, he speaks his own epitaph, something he could never have done at the story’s start: “Remember me — I am; I was.”
I’m astonished at how few people love this film, and depressed at how many hate it. The picture seems to have fallen afoul of any number of disruptive prejudices regarding Spielberg, Kubrick and the huge differences between the two. And in turn, I’ve been accused of liking the film strictly because my own critical faculties so tilt in Kubrick’s favor. A.I. is indeed an ideal monument to Kubrick’s body of work, one Spielberg brings to life (fittingly, in the year 2001) with a dedication that argues a deepening maturity in his own talent. Yet one can easily pretend it was directed by John Doe from a story by Joe Blow and still be moved by its dreamlike power — especially that ghostly, magnificent cityscape half-rising out of the ocean. The incidental glimpse we get of the twin towers, figments of how the future looked prior to September 11, has a heartbreaking poignancy now: double reminders of the 2001 that actually was, of a hateful and catastrophic rebellion against human progress no cinematic futurist would have sanely projected. Yet the unforeseen tragedy they now signify accords with Kubrick’s and Spielberg’s meditations on human nature, human identity and the destiny of our achievements. A.I. asks us to imagine, and moreover accept, that the human race itself is mortal. The film beautifully dramatizes and defines human consciousness in opposition to hate — as an intangible that may outlive us, in the expression of love and the quest to be loved.
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