25 November, 2013

Child of Gluck: A mediocre review of a mediocre movie

Remember this poster? Well, this is at least better than The Savages.

Cormac McCarthy stories are almost guaranteed to bum you out in some way. From main characters being brutally murdered to people losing their innocence, his stories don't tend to comfort. In his universe hope is something to be extinguished. This is no less true of The Counselor, crime film that has more in common with a Greek tragedy than it does with film noir. Of course, that's the shame of it. It isn't trashy enough for noir and it isn't finely tuned enough for tragedy.

I went into this with no little anticipation. McCarthy is my favorite author and Ridley Scott is high in the running for my favorite director (despite his recent run of middle of the road features). Toss in an excellent cast on top of that and you have every reason to believe that this is going to be one of the best movies of the year. How could it not? As it turns out this particular Cormac McCarthy story bummed me out in a new and terrible way.

Sorry. I was just sighing there. Give me a moment. Alright. Let's get to it.

"Congrats! We get paid for this no matter what our Fresh Rating is!"
It's a film of interesting parts and interesting people that is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Somehow throwing all of these people together does not add up in any positive way. We look at McCarthy's name and Fassbender's face and we're only reminded of how much this film lacks. This collection of talent only mockingly reminds us of what could have been.

As much as The Counselor is a reflection on Classical tragedies or maybe the Drug Wars or maybe even the human soul. Or maybe it's just a bunch of assholes hoping that if they talk long enough they'll get to the point. In Blood Meridian this works. In No Country For Old Men this works. And even in Blade Runner you get the sense that somebody, somewhere, either on screen or off has something of note to say.

The film makers don't seem to know what the film is about, so how is the audience supposed to know? In opaque thrillers like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, we're given insight into a world that is completely unknowable to us, yet retains a dramatic spark because somebody in the play does. We're invited to discover what is happening along with the characters. In this case I don't even think the characters know what they had for breakfast. But they sure as hell want you to think that they know.

Maybe the problem isn't that the characters don't know what is going on. It's not their fault that they have no clue what is going on, it's the film makers. They want to make this work of high tragedy with all of the markings of trash pulp and, in the end, it doesn't end up satisfying either genre. Then again, looking at the talent, maybe they did know and they went ahead with it anyways. Now that's a scary thought. . .

All of these concerns aside, the problem real problem of the film is that The Counselor, if it is about anything, it is a movie about furniture.

With every new scene we are treated to a new set, impeccibly shot and designed and with every scene we're treated to another piece of the Herman-Miller collection. Or a French press. Or a computer. Or a cool bar. Or something that you're paying attention to instead of the story. And, oh hey, is that a motorcycle? Cool.

And that isn't a metaphor for the vacuousness of these people's lives. It isn't some sign of their misgotten gains. It isn't a plot point. It isn't mis en scene, for God's sake. It's the movie. It's a series of chairs and tables occasionally broken up by some fool whining endlessly about whatever new nonsense has kinked up their life. And then it goes on for two hours like that and then it ends and you realize that Cameron Diaz must have photos of somebody somewhere.

The movie's fixation with mid-century modern, while laudable is a sign of the film failing on just about every other level. Furniture shouldn't be something I am staring at. Characters should be something I am staring at. Unless I'm autistic and, in that case, that's just how my brain works. In this case I'm just bored. And a little bit angry.

Blade Runner is a movie that I can watch endlessly and, even having seen it probably twenty times, is a movie that still yields little details hiding in the background. It's the perfect example of a world that is fully realized, a world that feeds into the story as the story feeds into it. There isn't a hard line where the plot starts and the set begins, it is all a part of a piece and, like I said with Gravity, that is an incredible sight to see. When it works it is amazing. When it doesn't, it's Avatar.

Ridley Scott, at his best, can design these worlds and make them real in a way that George Lucas once knew how to do and Stanley Kubrick went insane attempting. Even in his less successful films (Kingdom of Heaven leaps to mind), he creates a world with real weight and texture.
A vision of a much better movie.

This isn't even Ridley Scott at his worst. I don't know what this is. It is polished mush. Not a turd, it isn't terrible. Despite how hilarious a scathing review can be, it isn't bad. It's worse than that. It's a shining, grey mess that the man who directed Black Hawk Down and Alien and Thelma and Louise should not be capable of creating.

After doing my time with The Counselor, I feel as though I've picked this movie clean of any hidden detail. And the details I've found are unremarkable in all aspects except for how unremarkable they are.

I have the Mark Kermode go-to line about a movie of this nature. That "There's a good 90 minute exploitation movie in there" and as much as I think there's truth in that line, I don't think there is in this case. There is something fundamentally wrong with this film and it cannot be solved by trimming it down. It was perhaps rotten at birth and should have been drowned at the earliest possibility. A lot of heartache and dollars could have been saved that way. Instead we have a fully grown monstrosity to deal with and we have to wonder to ourselves "How could this have gone so bad?"

The Counselor doesn't sadden me because it's awful or because of a widespread series of failures. It saddens me that the collective talents of Cormac McCarthy and Sir Ridley Scott and many others made a work of art that merits the phrase "It's alright."

Who saw that coming?


This was made for 25 million dollars? Alright. I am slightly more okay with this movie now. Slightly. Guardedly. Shamefully.

After walking out of this, I was left wanting a new, good McCarthy movie that I almost want to see Child of God. You hear that? Jesus Lord. The Counselor has wanted me to seek comfort in the arms of a necrophiliac tone poem adapted by a guy who could barely read a cue card at an awards show.

I'm still going to buy the screenplay. I have a collection to keep up. At the very least, it's always nice to have a cautionary tale that is concrete.

Maybe someone out there will pull a reverse No Country For Old Men and take an average movie and adapt it into a good book. SD Perry, you still working? I think we got a job for you.

I hate Salon, but this review is a delight.


I just had a comic printed! It's 40 page comic that features a new, 22-page story, along with a ten pager that came out last year in the Freshman Fifteen. It's cheap. It's easy. It's fun and it keep me from dialing that assisted suicide guy that I found on Tor for one more month. It's not on Graphically yet (the old one is), but, in the mean time, think about it, won't you?

I also do a podcast with my friend Cruz (and, formerly, my friend Joe). It's called White Guys, Square Glasses and it's a lot of fun. I think so, anyways. If you like laughter and ribaldry and dirtbags sounding off about movies and stuff, maybe give it a listen? Or at least subscribe to it on iTunes and never listen to it. Either way, we win.

15 November, 2013

Bottom of the World

When Bioshock Infinite came out there was quite a lot of talk. There was praise, there was debate, and there was also a lot of misplaced umbrage. It was a game worth considering, though, for many reasons. It was big, beautiful, and it was trying, if not succeeding, at a lot of very big, very weird ideas. Burial at Sea: Episode 1 will give birth to no such debate.

On the whole Burial at Sea is. . . alright. It's Rapture, it's vigors plasmids, it's Elizabeth and Booker on a new adventure (but not really), and Sandor Cohen shows up, and it isn't much else than that. By featuring these characters and featuring this world 2K has created a world that seems to say "Hey, here I am!" and not much else. Good for it. After the explanation of the title "Infinite" to go back to a city (albeit a well loved city) is anti-climatic to say the least.

While this incarnation of the Elizabeth/Booker/Comstock relationship has a particularly brutal origin, it fails to do anything with it (again: this only gets worse when you consider where our heroes were left at the end of Infinite). By the time the big twists of Episode 1 are are made, the game is over and you're left with a distinct sense of confusion. Why is Elizabeth here? Why is she kind of a bitch all of the sudden? Where are the twins in all this? Why is this so by the numbers?

It happened. It's over. The end. See you next time! (Because you know you are going to play the next episode and that's one of the more frustrating things about this DLC. They've got you and you know it.)

Though, the game isn't an abject failure. The combat is still enjoyable (and with samurai warriors, for some reason) and Rapture, as overplayed as it might be, is still a beautiful, amazing place. One side-quest even hints at the highs experienced in Infinite. In this quest, you're made to follow a man who, after designing the department store/prison that the action takes place in for Andrew Ryan, was then abandoned by his employer to the men he sought to condemn. It's the old Bioshock chestnut of "It wasn't supposed to be like this!" Yet, like Rapture's art deco designs and Big Daddies, it's an old tune that works. And it works in this case because that trope is played well all the way to its conclusion, which reminded me of one of the more tragic quests you would get in a Fallout game.

Of course, that mission comes to an end about half of the way through the main game, leaving you with three or four other storylines that don't seem to go anywhere (or do they? And do I care?).

Burial at Sea: Episode 1 fails to deliver either the highs or the lows that the game proper delivered when it first came out. It even fails to match the quality of Bioshock 2's much lauded DLC, Minerva's Den. As much as Minerva's Den played and looked like an expansion pack of a better game, it had a complete story that was worth seeing to the end. They tried to do something with this second-tier sequel and they succeeded. In this case, what we have is  an episode that doesn't work because it failed to reach for something bigger, weirder, bolder. It just aimed for the expected and it hit it. What were are given instead is something that is acceptable, pallatable. And I suppose that isn't the worst thing in the world.

(Also, what's the proper title for this DLC? Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 1?)