They had a plethora of ideas and couldn’t let go of any of them. They wanted to fill their film with everything they saw in the New Adventure Cinema, in Star Treks, in Star Wars, in Marvel productions, in Divergent. The whole film is flooded with very obvious references to Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. I don’t mind the fact that the Wachowskis directly reference various cultural works: that they reach for proven stories, from fragments of which they create their own piece. I don’t accuse them of any degree of replication; I don’t mind their screenwriting manner. After all, the famous The Matrix was a compilation and an experiment. What mattered then was that the Wachowskis could balance expressive effectiveness (even “showiness”) with engaging substantive content. One served the other; one was necessary for the other.
Perhaps I reach too far back into history, as the Wachowskis have changed a lot since 1999. They will probably remain creators of one outstanding film forever. I haven’t been waiting for their productions for a long time, I don’t expect anything from them. The Wachowskis are now purely formalists—no longer narrators, graphic artists—no longer fabulists. They seem more concerned with the texture of Channing Tatum’s pointed ears. Who this character is becomes secondary. In Jupiter Ascending, we learn more about his flying boots than his character.
I also warn that if someone has seen the trailer, they have also seen the movie. It’s challenging to extract anything more from the two-hour screening. This is a superficial and empty film, reminiscent of the experience of watching fireworks. At the beginning, they are somewhat exciting because they provide attractive views, but unexpectedly, they quickly become tedious. Eventually, I start waiting for the accompanying noise to quiet down. I also don’t know if I could summarize the plot of Jupiter Ascending. The first fifteen minutes are supposed to introduce the main character—played by Mila Kunis. The Wachowskis want us to get to know this good, innocent soul. She is a poor cleaner leading a tedious and monotonous life. Without prospects, without a chance for advancement, without means to live, without happy days.
We always see her with full makeup, perfect hair, and wrinkle-free skin. Kunis’s silhouette and presence come from the wonderful world of commercials. Let it be—Kunis has something to boast about. However, it bothers me that everywhere around, we see marsh and dirt. She doesn’t belong to this place. It wasn’t a deliberate decision by the directors, but their negligence because they didn’t control either the whole or the details. Therefore, the presented world of Jupiter Ascending seems artificial and alien. The Wachowskis are not creating another Baudrillardian simulation questioning the authenticity of reality, but only multiplying questions that we won’t get answers to.
Aliens quickly land on Earth. From this point on, I can’t extract the cohesive idea of Jupiter Ascending—its meaning. I sometimes deviated in thought from the screening itself, imagining how the script could have been created. I pondered several variants, but the most probable one seemed to me as follows. Lana is sitting at the computer, waiting for ideas from contemplative Lilly, who utters laconic sentences: “Add lizards,” “Lana, do we already have humanoid little creatures similar to Dobby in Harry Potter?”, “We don’t have! So add them somewhere,” “What do you think about flying lizards, probably they will be even better?”, “What ears does our main character have? Let them be pointed and make him a werewolf,” “Additionally, let’s make two guys with strange faces, and finally, a human-elephant,” “With a short trunk,” “I also miss bees that will do something magical, come up with something, Lana, and write it down,” “There should also be some weird ships and explosions—important to keep it happening!”, “Remember the girl with purple hair.”
I have nothing against space opera—it’s a noble genre with a rich tradition. In the case of the Wachowskis’ film, I completely don’t believe in this world. It consists of elements that I can’t fit together. They were used not because they were needed but to fill the full runtime with something. Jupiter Ascending is a serious film, the unfolding story is not in quotation marks, as in Guardians of the Galaxy. The directorial duo has no distance to the story being told. The Wachowskis want their film to fulfill a mission, to discover something in front of us.
In such a situation, I expect a clear exposition, an introduction to the presented world. Explanations of why this universe functions this way, why all these characters exist. Unfortunately, we are immediately thrown into the deep end. When everything happens in a movie all at once, I know that its creators have nothing to tell me. The plot is only a pretext for spending millions on visually appealing images. There is nothing behind them—only a gimmick.
In Jupiter Ascending, you can expect anything and everything. Two concepts worth developing, but intertwined rather randomly, are flooded with a sea of tacky ornaments and tedious rhetoric. Jupiter Ascending is a cheap flashy trinket—from a distance, it grabs attention. However, it instantly falls apart as soon as you take it in your hands.
Life for most people is like a ladder in a chicken coop: short and covered in shit,” says the main character, Professor Hunham, in the film. When cinema climbs onto this ladder full of crap in the chicken coop, honestly and with sensitivity observing human mediocrity, imperfections, and transience, often more beautiful things happen than in attempts to create more unattainable screen heroes. The Holdovers is precisely one of those beautiful things.
Professor Hunham (played by the fantastic Paul Giamatti) is exactly the person who has to climb and fight to stay on the shitty ladder throughout his life. A teacher of ancient history at an elite boarding school for boys from wealthy families, he is not popular among students who call him Cross-Eyes. Hunham is a typical “scythe,” but in his strictness towards students, we sense a certain idealism: he is genuinely passionate about the subject he teaches, conscientious in his duties, and despite pressure from the director, he refuses to give good grades to boys from influential families just because of their background. This refusal to conform makes him an outsider among the teaching staff. But beneath his punishment of spoiled kids lies something more: a bitterness and resentment. Even before we learn about the eccentric professor’s past, we feel that there is a lot of hurt in his actions, envy towards those who have so much and do not appreciate it.
Alexander Payne’s film (Sideways, Nebraska) takes place in the transition from 1970 to 1971 and begins like another film about an American campus. However, when the holiday break arrives at the college, and almost everyone leaves the building, we realize that it is a much more intimate story. Restless and lost Angus (an excellent debut by Dominic Sessy) is the only student whose family did not take him home for the holidays. However, someone from the faculty must take care of him during this time, and the director delegates this role to Hunham. The holidays at the school are also spent by the black cook, whose son recently died in Vietnam – Mary (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). This trio, seemingly mismatched, spends a unique Christmas together, creating for a moment a patchwork family where the unloved boy finds a father for a while, the grieving mother pours love onto someone else’s child, and the teacher and student transcend the rigid pattern of school relationships, forming a deeper, open, truly enriching bond.
The entire trio is a beautiful example of how sensitively one can tell stories about ordinary, gray people and their unnoticed dramas. However, Professor Hunham remains the most memorable. We know people who, from the start, were burdened with a significant weight to carry through life, and it only got worse – and although they always acted in accordance with their conscience, they were surpassed by those who were braver, more handsome, better positioned. The cross-eyed, sweating, and lonely Hunham seeks solace in alcohol, literature, and secretly watched fireflies. He approaches his imperfections with distance, tries to accept humiliations sent by fate with dignity, enjoys his life, does not dwell on the past and the injustices suffered. In the film itself, we find a lot of subtle humor and warmth. Terms like “holiday film” or even “feel-good movie” in the context of The Holdovers are strongly questionable to me – besides comfort, the film offers too much emotion, sympathy, reflection, and existential contemplation to be considered a typical mood booster. More accurately, it provides intellectual and spiritual enjoyment, reminiscent of engaging with quality American realistic prose.
In addition to all this: I watched The Holdovers during the cinematographers’ holiday, the Camerimage festival. And indeed, this is a title that very vividly illustrates the power of cinematic imagery. The visual design and framing evoked a strong nostalgia for times I don’t remember but love so much: the American 1970s, my favorite decade in Hollywood cinema. The ability of cinema to be a time machine, to create dreams and experience inaccessible places and eras, has been taken to the maximum in The Holdovers. Following the characters gliding through the snow to the rhythm of music that could be in Simon & Garfunkel’s repertoire, we enter the world of memories, our past cinematic delights, and the first serious achievements of today’s cinema giants. Alexander Payne, like Professor Hunham, holds the classics in the highest regard. The film he directed – I am convinced – will occupy a special place in the hearts of those who also love them.
The film refers to the American New Wave not only stylistically but in its entire plot, deepened character portraits, and addressed issues (rebellion, moral choices, system corruption, Vietnam, youth-age, ideals-career), combining protest (in Angus) with intellectualism (in Hunham): also through a slower, slightly snow-covered pace. It’s as if The Holdovers was hibernated several decades ago, and the whole thing reached us today, untouched, like a message in a bottle from irreversibly bygone times when auteur cinema was still the driving force of Hollywood.
Because it’s hard to describe the making of a science fiction film for eight million dollars in any other way in today’s times. Additionally, similar to the crazy B-movie years of the sixties, the young artist received assistance from recognizable faces in episodic roles (probably negotiated over a glass of whiskey at his father’s estate; just like pieces of tape with Vincent Price were once pasted everywhere at Corman’s), and the main cast was a mishmash of TV stars, perennial aspirants (I still like you, Kate Mara), and one rising star. Unfortunately, the young Scott stumbled quite a bit at the start of his career.
The script of Morgan, written by Seth Owen, landed on the so-called Black List a few years ago, gathering the best unrealized texts circulating in Hollywood studios. The starting point is simple but requires creative development: there’s a secret complex somewhere in the forest wilderness; artificial intelligence in the form of a genetically modified girl; a bunch of scientists fixated on her; a corporate bureaucrat (Kate Mara) entering this world with the task of assessing the feasibility of further project funding and investigating the first sign of aggression from the titular entity. At first glance, it’s the perfect material for a low-budget production, immersed in humanity’s biotechnological fascinations. However, in Scott’s rendition, it works to a limited extent.
The starting point is genuinely enjoyable as it focuses on the timeless fascination with various fiction – the creation of artificial life. However, interesting ideas end with the announcements. The first thirty minutes are a constant expository overload, aiming to explain what Morgan is and why we should care about her story. Unfortunately, the declamation of successive clichéd lines by demigods in lab coats is unimpressive and, worst of all, leads nowhere – the film tries to raise some questions at the beginning but is not willing to answer them. Characters wander through a limited location, attempts to enrich their characters end with disjointed dialogues, and Morgan herself is just utterly uninteresting, resembling weak characters in films like Splice and the aged Species. Scott moves among a group of paper figures, clumsily trying to breathe some life into the whole spectacle, losing touch with the potential “meat” of the script, which is the problem of playing God. There are glimpses of deeper thoughts (Paul Giamatti’s episode, who is the only one given a moment to play with the role), but everything shatters due to the barrier of mediocrity.
It seems that the creators themselves noticed that biotechnological philosophizing doesn’t suit them, so halfway through, the story suddenly turns into a dynamic slasher, subservient to the simplest solutions. It was supposed to be spectacular and surprising but turned out exceptionally bizarre and boring – to the extent that one of the chase scenes would easily benefit from the Benny Hill melody underneath. Young Scott lacks the sense of building cinematic tension and weaving a sensible narrative. The film is not surprising (unless the expected plot twist announced throughout the film causes a smile of pity), does not keep in suspense, does not try to care about budding ideas. It looks more like a product prepared straight for home cinema. It’s not toxic or egregiously bad, but it presents itself even worse because it is painfully bland, and there’s no real reason to watch it, not even for beer with friends. It’s unfortunately much closer to the mentioned bizarre Splice (although it is a much more conventional thriller without contortions within the framework of body horror) than the excellent Ex Machina, which deals with similar issues. There are no technical fireworks either – the cinematography falls into typical American mediocrity, often resembling a budget TV series; the music is a compilation of thriller hits, pointing out to the viewer exactly when to be scared and when to fall into contemplation; everything is additionally coated with a dull filter to emphasize the weight of the pseudo-scientific speculations. The film holds together, is watchable, but above all, it gives the impression of a band-aid on all celluloid cretinism hunters.
Acting-wise, there’s nothing special in Morgan either. The fantastic Anya Taylor-Joy, who shone in The Witch, is visibly forced here to play a typical super-intelligent loner – perpetually hooded, speaking in a subdued voice. She doesn’t leave a lasting impression, doesn’t give anything of herself – because making soulful eyes is not acting. And she has the credentials for a great performance; it’s a shame for the wasted opportunity. Kate Mara, with her physique, does quite well with hastily written scientists – eternally hooded, speaking in a subdued voice. It doesn’t go beyond the role of a cold intellect with a turned-up nose – although this is a significant plus because her role is largely playing a female version of the T-1000. The rest of the cast serves as a not very distinctive background – which is most painful in the case of the completely unused Toby Jones, the rambling Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the painfully bland role of Michelle Yeoh. Only the aforementioned Giamatti had a bit of fun when he came in to shout on set. Oh, Brian Cox also appears for about six seconds, recorded probably in the Scotts’ living room, perfectly summarizing the lack of order and composition in arranging pawns on the board. It’s an interesting collection of very good and decent actors, which is simply ineptly directed, stifled by significant script shortcomings.
Luke Scott’s debut production is a festival of the simplest solutions (which other creators have shown much better dozens of times), lost opportunities, and actor’s bullying. Surely it won’t taste as good as Ridley’s The Duel years later. But there are a few sparks of hope here (quite a good introduction, a few interesting shots), and I believe that young Scott, perhaps already in the next production, will positively surprise the audience. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hide that Morgan is just a tape of directorial exercises, for which the viewer has to pay. And a big bucket of cold water needs to be poured on the director’s head because a low budget and inexperience associated with the debut don’t excuse creators today – at least since Duncan Jones, another son of a great father, made a fantastic Moon for even less money.
Sitting down to watch the Fantastic Four, I was armed with knowledge about the exceptionally challenging production of Josh Trank’s film. Even before the premiere, details began to emerge about conflicts on set between the director and the actors and the rest of the crew, his removal from editing, reshoots, deleted scenes, and an overall atmosphere that did not favor productive work. How much this translated into the final result, which is the finished film, is easy to assess – the whole thing resembles more of a hundred-minute prologue that ends after the first and only encounter with the antagonist. It is perhaps the most economical adaptation of a comic book in this regard. It’s a pity that it has little in common with its illustrative source material.
Teenage genius Reed Richards creates a makeshift machine capable of teleporting any object, attracting the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm, who is working on a similar project. Where the sent objects land is a mystery, but the scientist suspects it might be a planet in another dimension. Richards, of course, helps to build a teleporter capable of transporting people as well, but it comes at a cost. During the exploration of the unknown planet, a catastrophe occurs, transforming the team members into superhumans with incredible powers – Reed can stretch his body like rubber, Sue Storm becomes invisible, her brother Johnny turns into a living torch, and Reed’s best friend, Ben Grimm, takes on the form of a rocky giant. The fate of the last scientist, the proud and dangerous Victor von Doom, remains a mystery. Until now.
The above description roughly aligns with the comic book original, but in this case, it’s not just about the story, but also about how it was told. And this is far from the colorful and lively nature of the drawn adventures of the Fantastic Four.
The film signed by Trank gets stuck in seriousness and a pseudo-realistic approach, losing somewhere along the way the playful aspect that is so crucial for this type of cinema.
And yet it’s hard to take the plot seriously, where the characters are named Johnny Storm and Victor von Doom – when one of the government officials pronounces the latter name, one can smirk, if only because no one in the film does. Mr. Doom deserves a few good jokes, but even this opportunity is not utilized.
This is the second time Hollywood has adapted this story – the 2005 version and its sequel two years later were not entirely successful spectacles aimed at a younger audience, but at least I got to know the characters, and their relationships were in line with the original. In Trank’s version, the only things I recognized were the names and powers. What indicated the strength of the comic, the bond between the characters, is barely sketched here, and their characters are somewhat modified to fit the rather somber atmosphere of the whole. This is most evident in the case of Reed Richards (colorless Miles Teller), who doesn’t resemble a genius and a leader, and at a critical moment, he leaves his friends and runs away. This is not the Mr. Fantastic I know.
It’s also challenging to call them “fantastic” because before they become such, over half of the movie passes, then the action jumps a year, and before we realize it, we have the finale and closing credits. The characters don’t have time to enjoy their unearthly abilities, even if they wanted to. And they don’t want to – there’s no excitement in discovering the unknown, the wow! effect doesn’t exist, and the characters complain about what they have become. Even Johnny, who feels good in his new role, is not enough.
This is an exceptionally misguided adaptation, difficult to defend even as an autonomous work.
The emotion-drained characters speak their emotionless lines about black holes and interdimensional travel with their indifferent voices. The actors show no eagerness to participate in this “adventure,” trying not to stand out so that it’s easier for the audience to forget them. The creators remember their antagonist twenty minutes before the end of the film; the confrontation with him lacks any dramaturgy, and the death of the most interesting character provides emotions similar to watching a toothpick falling from the twelfth floor. It’s also entirely unnecessary and senseless, much like the comparison.
Was Trank’s film doomed from the start, even if he had made it without any obstacles? It’s hard to say. I review the work that appeared in theaters, not what it could have been. There are scenes and ideas here that indicate an original and intriguing concept – the characters’ powers are portrayed in an exceptionally eerie light, bearing little resemblance to the comic but offering hope for a slightly more interesting cinema. This is, in fact, the best part of the film, from the moment of the explosion in the laboratory when Richards thinks he sees Johnny’s burning corpse and Ben buried under debris. The subsequent examinations of the entire team and the attempt to use their abilities by the military are more interesting than the final showdown with Doom, perhaps because the focus is on the characters struggling with their powers rather than special effects (which are not that special). However, the creators spend too much time on exposition and too little on forming the titular four. We only see them in the final scenes, seemingly joyful and smiling, as if they had forgotten that they were sad and unhappy before. Maybe they’re just happy that it’s finally over?
The challenge for characters is to skillfully navigate between alternative realities and understand the rules governing them. Meanwhile, for the viewer to have a good time, they must give these dimensions internal logic, arrange them properly in relation to each other to provoke as few doubts as possible, to be complementary and coherent. Such scripts are probably dream projects for Hollywood directors. They can then harness the latest technologies to make films, try new narrative and formal solutions, unorthodoxly use editing, explore all the tricks offered by the Muse, and experiment with storytelling, breaking its rules and bending classical structures. After Back to the Future, after Terminator, after The Matrix, after Looper, it’s time for Tomorrowland.
Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland draws heavily from the titles mentioned above. Clear references to Zemeckis’s trilogy mix with the parody of scenes from James Cameron and the Wachowskis’ work. Tomorrowland is also a tribute to the Cinema of New Adventure, entirely direct and unambiguous. In his film, Bird does not hide his fascination with that period; perhaps he reveals what shaped him as a viewer, and only later as a creator. In one of the scenes, Casey – the main character – enters an antique shop where various gadgets and props of popular culture are displayed. Posters of Close Encounters of the Third Kind hang on the walls, a statue with a hibernating Han Solo is placed at the entrance, Zurg from Toy Story 2 quickly passes across the screen, and a Stormtrooper stands at the checkout. Brad Bird suggests to us how we should read his film, trying to play on our sentiment for that cinema. On this level, a lot can be extracted from Tomorrowland: how it processes many motifs, how it draws heavily from popular culture, how it is not afraid of confrontation with inevitable comparisons.
The plot of Tomorrowland is complicated and requires attention, but ultimately, it is clearly laid out. The director avoids expository overload. Step by step, we follow Frank and discover a new world. The action takes place on two timelines, and Bird simultaneously introduces several characters whose fates are intertwined in a non-trivial way. At the beginning, in an elaborate flashback, we learn about Frank’s youth (played by Thomas Robinson as a child and George Clooney as an adult). The boy is an inventor who, in 1965, arrives at the World’s Fair in New York to present the jetpack he created, a backpack-sized machine that allows flying. His project is not accepted by the conceited Nix (Hugh Laurie). However, Frank catches the attention of a certain girl who attaches a mysterious “T” emblem to his jacket, and later invites him to follow her. The boy then goes through a portal and appears in the future world.
Casey undergoes a similar journey several decades later. An identical emblem falls into her hands, and after touching it, she finds herself in a completely different space. These two main characters will finally meet and together have to solve a very serious, impossible-to-downplay problem. It seems to me that even genre-wise, it’s too heavy for the light, youthful nature of Tomorrowland. It’s a pity that Bird didn’t settle for having these characters fight only for themselves. They have to heroically save humanity. Fortunately, the director manages to avoid pathos and loftiness.
Brad Bird’s film has a lavish, sometimes overwhelming formal side. CGI sometimes seems to overflow from the screen, making this world appear artificial and alien. The future world is immersed in holograms displayed everywhere, buildings and interiors are in shades of gray and white. In this case, the director does not propose anything new but replicates the familiar vision of the city of the future from science fiction cinema – a place completely sterile, richly equipped with machines and applications replacing humans in a vast number of activities. These sequences are executed with grandeur and precision but more resemble a computer game than a possible future.
Much more interesting things happen in the present. Bird cleverly moves from one location to another, skillfully stages dynamic sequences. Particularly interesting is the fast-paced evacuation from Frank’s house. It impresses with its choreography, rhythmic editing, dynamic camera work, and elegantly interwoven humor. A gem. This incredibly intense and brilliantly executed sequence requires a wink and understanding. Just like the whole movie.
Tomorrowland is a roller coaster. A combination of the most imaginative moments from the James Bond series with the conventionality and lightness of Back to the Future. Undoubtedly naive cinema, but also sincere and unpretentious. If someone has even a bit of a child in them, they will easily find themselves in this world.
“The search for balance between drama and comedic elements is a daily bread for many director-authors. However, tragicomedy is a convention so complex and delicate that only a few filmmakers succeed in achieving success in it. Kenneth Lonergan, a recognized playwright, screenwriter, and director, demonstrates with his third feature film that he is a master at finding the golden mean between sadness, joy, and a whole palette of other challenging emotions.
I am not afraid to call Manchester by the Sea a masterpiece, as I have not experienced such emotionally engaging cinema in a long time—sometimes very difficult to perceive, yet at the same time, moving to tears.
Lonergan’s work is burdened with an extraordinary dramatic load, but the emotional tension is regularly and almost masterfully discharged, so that upon leaving the cinema, one does not feel depression or sadness but satisfaction from experiencing a film of the highest caliber. Manchester by the Sea engages completely, and although most of us probably did not have to go through the trauma that the film’s main character faces, it evokes genuine empathy and a whole range of other deeply human feelings.
Lee is a caretaker in a typical Boston neighborhood, taking care of the apartments of Italian-Irish immigrants, fixing installations, unclogging toilets, and changing light bulbs. He shows almost angelic patience, although his expression betrays how much he despises his work. After a brief introduction, Manchester by the Sea quickly turns into a classic family drama, where the loss of a loved one becomes a pretext for settling accounts with the past. The silent Lee, about whom we know little at first, learns about his brother’s death and goes to the titular Manchester—but not the British one, but a town an hour and a half away from Boston, which he left some time ago. At first, the motives of the hero are unknown, but fragments of dialogues and introduced retrospections gradually form a picture of a macabre event that caused Lee’s alienation. The protagonist, leading a solitary life for a long time, must take care of his teenage nephew, who has no intention of making his uncle’s task easier.
Manchester by the Sea is one of those films where every word, every gesture, and every sound have immense significance. All scenes seem important to the final shape of the film; there is not a single element that could seem unnecessary. Grieving has been portrayed in cinema hundreds of times, but there are few works that depict this difficult process so completely, delving into all the stages and forms it takes. In his latest film, Lonergan somewhat continues the themes explored in his full-length debut, You Can Count on Me from 2000, where he also told the story of difficult sibling relationships and family conflicts. In Manchester by the Sea, the director puts the main character to many tests, and the gradually revealed cards of his dramatic history elicit increasing sympathy for the unfortunate man. However, with Lonergan, there is no martyrdom—numerous humorous scenes, largely based on excellent dialogues between Lee and his nephew, provide a positive charge large enough to soften the emotional tone of this story.
Casey Affleck, who was previously seeking a breakthrough role defining him as an actor, created a performance that could not go unnoticed in the awards season.
His Lee is a broken but determined man, determined to fulfill the mission left to him by his deceased brother. His face flawlessly expresses the pain that we get to know better with each subsequent scene. Lucas Hedges, partnering with him (known, among other things, for small roles in Wes Anderson’s films), brings distance and directness to the story, which starkly contrasts with the uncle’s attitude. In all of this, Michelle Williams plays a sensational, albeit small role, and together with Affleck, she creates the most powerful emotional scene in the film that will leave no viewer indifferent. Acting-wise, Manchester by the Sea sets an unmatched standard for many more loudly and “star-studded” dramas.
Kenneth Lonergan’s work is extraordinary and moving, reaching every, even the most deeply hidden, sensitivity of the viewer. Enough has already been written—Manchester by the Sea is undoubtedly one of the best titles of 2016, so a screening with Affleck, Hedges, and Williams is a must for every cinephile.
The candy-colored visuals, the dizzying editing causing a head spin, and the jokes at the level of a pre-teenager left me skeptical. I couldn’t quite believe that this “vivid little monster” came from the creators of The Matrix.
Speed Racer is a born racing driver: phenomenal intuition, a sense of unity between him and the machine. But it has to be that way since this sport is genetically “contaminated.” His father, Pops (John Goodman), puts his heart into building racing cars by hand. Older brother Rex (Scott Porter), until a tragic accident, participated in races under the Racer banner. He was an unparalleled track champion. He remains a hero and role model for Speed, who now diligently follows in his footsteps. The extraordinary skills of young Racer attract the interest of the biggest fish in the racing world – the owner of Royalton Industries. However, not wanting to break the family tradition, Speed rejects the lucrative offer to represent Royalton. At that moment, feeling the heavy money slipping away, the magnate drops the good uncle mask, revealing his true face – a greed-obsessed lunatic. He assures Speed that he will make sure he doesn’t finish any race he enters. Furthermore, with malicious satisfaction, he declares that all significant races, including the most important – the Grand Prix, are predetermined.
Royalton’s promise comes true with interest. Speed, attacked in an unconventional way by Royalton’s drivers, doesn’t cross the finish line in any race. Moreover, Pops’ bet is publicly discredited, and his reputation is maliciously ruined. The future of the whole family appears in the darkest colors. Desperate and broken, Speed Racer loses faith in what he does. Racing, once a beloved sport, has become a curse. However, when young Racer is overwhelmed by the greatest doubt, a mysterious, masked Racer X (Matthew Fox) appears on his path. He reignites the love for the beloved sport and offers cooperation to stop Royalton’s shameful scheme. But to achieve this, Speed must participate in the ultra-dangerous race that took his brother’s life – The Crucible.
The first minutes of the Speed Racer confirmed my belief that the trailer was only an innocent glimpse of the colorful chaos that would attack the audience throughout the entire screening. And although irritation and a mix of embarrassment and disbelief initially covered my face, I suddenly discovered, with surprise, that I was having a great time! And the chaos turned out to be fully controlled.
First and foremost, it must be emphasized that the idea for Speed Racer was drawn from the popular 1960s comic book, which later inspired an animated series. In my opinion, the Wachowskis focused on this “comic book” aspect. They tried to translate its specific form into the language of film. Hence the screen “cut” into smaller fragments, with each showing a different facet of the action. Similar to the comic book page – each window, each drawing, is another sequence of the story. Additionally, to emphasize the effect, the directors used vibrant, almost glaring colors that perfectly complement and highlight the “pictorial” and “comic book” nature of the film. One might get the impression that the Wachowskis wanted not so much to make a film based on a comic book but to bring that comic book – with all its specific form and atmosphere – to life on screen. In my opinion, they succeeded in doing so completely.
It may seem that by focusing on visual appeal and the plastic aspect of the film, the Wachowskis neglected its narrative side a bit. We are dealing with a significant flattening of characters, their personalities, mutual relationships, and interactions. The division of characters is limited to distinguishing only between white and black. There are few gray characters, those about whom it cannot be definitively said whether they are good or bad. There is no room for pondering the morality of characters or the reasons behind their choices. The complexity of character personalities is minimized.
A similar criticism can be directed towards the somewhat banal humor present in the film. It does not resonate well with adult viewers. Although it cannot be said that it is blatantly tasteless or simply foolish, it is shallow, lacking flair, satisfying only the “early” teenager.
And here we come to another point that cannot be overlooked when approaching Speed Racer. The Wachowskis clearly defined their film as family cinema, primarily aimed at the youngest audience. As a result, the above criticisms are somewhat justified. The construction of characters makes it easier for kids to understand the film, allowing them to focus solely on uninhibited fun. The straightforward conveyance of obvious values (loyalty to ideals, love, and family support) combined with action is designed in a way that highlights the last aspect: spectacular races of incredible machines, a few but quite surprising fight scenes, or even wrestling performed by Goodman, who is clearly having fun with his role.
The same goes for the gags, mostly generated by the youngest member of the Racer family – Spritle (Paulie Litt). They are primarily meant to bring a smile to the faces of his peers and amuse them with the antics of his monkey companion Chim Chim. Nevertheless, there remains a certain sense of dissatisfaction and regret that there is no “wink” directed towards a more mature and demanding audience. In any case, as creators of children’s films, the Wachowskis have fully proven themselves.
But will such an image appeal to viewers? Well, one thing is certain – they will not remain indifferent to “Speed Racer.” Either they will awaken their inner child and love this crazy, uninhibited ride, or they will hate it. There is no room for other feelings with this film.
Author of the text: Aleksandra Tofil
Despite a relatively large number of recognizable names in the main competition of the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, the edition was overshadowed in the media by another installment of Mad Max. While wandering the streets of the French city, it was impossible not to come across posters featuring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Their character-transformed faces greeted tourists even from the facade of the most splendid hotel in the city. The cost of such advertising space probably exceeds the budget of several Polish blockbusters. It is not entirely clear whether the brand itself was behind the marketing frenzy, considering that Miller resurrected one of the absolute cult classics, or if it was a sensible move by promotion experts.
However, all of this ceased to matter in the face of the film itself because Mad Max: Fury Road simply grips you in your seat, transfusing blood into high-octane gasoline.
In Miller’s film, there is basically no need to dwell on the plot. The story is childishly simple, and anyone who has encountered Mel Gibson’s exploits before knows its background. The world has gone bad. Explosions, radioactive fallout, and clashes between wild gangs have turned the Earth into a deadly desert. The new gods are steel and fuel. To survive, you need a reliable gun by your side and a car welded together from the scrap you find on your way. The most powerful one, of course. In such a world lives the titular Max, a typical hero from nowhere. A guy who just wants to survive.
Max’s life is a constant chase. Behind him, a dust storm created by the wheels of warrior vehicles working for Immortan Joe, a self-proclaimed messiah who controls human life through access to drinking water, constantly rises. After another capture, Max’s path intersects with the path taken by Imperator Furiosa. The woman rebels against the cruel ruler and decides to find the green oasis she remembers from her childhood. Immortan Joe begins the pursuit.
However, it is not a pursuit that can be described in terms present in cinema until now. In Miller’s new vision, the old Mad Max movies look like innocent playing with toy cars, and all creations like Fast and Furious are reduced to kindergarten level. Fury Road is essentially one, big, spectacularly and, I emphasize it again, SPECTACULARLY assembled chase for Max and Furiosa’s massive truck. Dialogues are limited to a minimum, serving only to present the specifics of the world and understand the motivations of the characters. However, the true center of the film is the engines heated to redness, the sound of destroyed tons of metal, and exploding hectoliters of fuel.
The rhythm and editing make the two-hour chase, evolving over time into a strategic game between Max’s team and Immortan Joe’s army, never boring for the viewer. During the screening, the whole audience clapped and cheered several times at the end of each crazy sequence, which depicts desert destruction with clockwork precision. Enthusiastic reactions are entirely justified. The excellent visual side, paired with the stark but well-capturing atmosphere of war on wheels and the mechanical horse music by Junkie XL, often speeds up the pulse and gives the viewer shivers.
In terms of film craftsmanship and the ability to create spectacle, Fury Road sets new standards. It will be hard to surpass.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning something about Max himself. Hardy is not outstanding; it’s not the same power as young Gibson, but there is no reason to criticize him for that. It’s difficult to measure up to cult classics; it’s rare to create a performance that overshadows the original. Hardy won’t go down in history with this role, but he certainly is the right man in the right place. Moreover, between him and Theron, there is a certain chemistry that contributes significantly to the spectacle.
Leave all those Ultrons and other flashy blockbusters to the kids. Grab the keys, step on the gas, and head to the cinema for Mad Max. It is one of the best, if not the best, revival of a legendary series in the history of cinema.
Although fifty years have passed since its premiere, it cannot be said that the film has aged in terms of formulated messages.
One of the greatest narrative twists is the shift from being passive recipients of the story to active participants. This is evidenced by the popularity of computer games, a medium based on interaction and assuming roles. Hundreds of years of getting excited about the deeds of characters seen on stage, screen, or simply in imagination are slowly becoming obsolete. Now, with the help of the latest technologies, we have the opportunity to step into the shoes of our favorite characters, simultaneously becoming the central point of the story we create. Michael Crichton, a respected American writer and visionary, recognized this characteristic early on. However, the idea of stepping into the shoes of a specific story’s hero was taken quite literally. Interestingly, inspiration struck the author during a visit to Disneyland, where he learned about the operation of the mechanical Pirates of the Caribbean. In Crichton’s 1973 film, Westworld, his directorial and screenwriting debut, he envisioned a futuristic entertainment park that allowed participants an extraordinary experience. As the opening scene illustrates, guests fresh out of the park eloquently describe their recent experience as “the vacation of the future.”
The two main characters (played by Richard Benjamin and James Brolin) decide to embark on such a vacation. The action takes us to the year 1983. The Delos complex, which costs a considerable amount to visit, offers three worlds to choose from: ancient Rome, a medieval royal court, and the Wild West. As park guests, the characters, by choosing one of them, don appropriate attire and set out to conquer a vast, open world, simultaneously confronting narratives prepared by the creators. The hitch is that, although the park is clearly vibrant with life, aside from other guests, there are no flesh-and-blood beings in it. The role of those who are supposed to lend authenticity to the presented world is played by androids, perfectly imitating humans and programmed not to harm their creator. Until a certain point.
Looking at the plot of Westworld from today’s perspective, one association comes to mind – the futuristic entertainment park is nothing more than a more advanced form of today’s MMORPG games. After all, it provides us with a vast world to explore, tasks to complete, or the freedom to travel. Eventually, we take on roles far from those we play in real life. I am convinced that if technology allows humanity, such a park could indeed be created in the future (Japan is already moving in that direction).
In this case, the overpowering need for escapism, facilitated by all narratives, becomes apparent again. The need for a breath of air from a world that is a complete alternative to the daily grayness. It is also a field for realizing unfulfilled ambitions, the opportunity to occupy a higher social position than usual, and the experience of adventures impossible to live in reality. Meanwhile, the androids, as new subjects, are in this case a clear reference to the deep-seated human need for domination.
This explains the narrative twist in the film, a consequence of the rebellion of the robots. Upon gaining self-awareness, they finally decide to resist their creator and, through an unequivocal act of aggression, bring an end to his life. But this rebellion can also be understood in prosaic terms, an uncontrolled glitch that, like a deus ex machina, appears at the least expected moment, completely changing the rules of the game. This way, Crichton’s Westworld is considered the first foreshadowing of the problems that computer viruses will bring in the future.
The representation of rebellion against humans in Westworld is a character known as the Gunslinger, played by Yul Brynner. His inhuman calmness and cold determination in pursuing his prey bring to mind the modus operandi of Michael Myers (Halloween series) or the T-800 (Terminator series). Both Carpenter and Cameron, in fact, do not hide that they modeled their black characters in their films after this figure. Brynner himself wanted his portrayal in Westworld to be a playful homage to the character he played in The Magnificent Seven, arguably the most famous film of his career. Therefore, the Gunslinger looks exactly like Chris Larabee Adams. It is also an interesting case of actor self-irony, one cannot deny that.
Regarding this character, an essential technical fact is also worth noting. The characteristic view with which the android sees the world was the first instance of using 2D computer imagery for a feature film. Creating this digital view was an exceptionally laborious task – designing just ten seconds of the android’s view took eight hours. As we know, James Cameron later improved the appearance of the image appearing in the machine’s head with his Terminator.
Perhaps not many of you know that Westworld, the TV reboot of Westworld, was not the only continuation of Michael Crichton’s ideas. In 1976, Futureworld was created as a sequel that expanded on the original’s themes – Yul Brynner also appeared in it. On television screens, in 1980, the short-lived series Beyond Westworld briefly appeared, with only three episodes filmed. But in my opinion, the film that creatively refreshed the ideas of Westworld, taking on an equally attractive form, was Jurassic Park (for which Crichton also wrote the screenplay, based on his own novel). Spielberg’s film is considered by many as the spiritual sibling of Crichton’s 1973 film. Once again, humanity shows its ignorance and lack of caution by engaging in a dangerous game of playing God.
Deserted Island. On it, Hank (Paul Dano), having lost hope of any rescue, decides to commit suicide. The rope is ready and around his neck, all that remains is to jump off the bucket. Suddenly, a seemingly lifeless body (brilliantly played by Daniel Radcliffe) is washed ashore. Seemingly lifeless, because it suddenly starts loudly farting. This absurd scene rapidly escalates into an even greater grotesque when Hank mounts the encountered corpse (later named Manny) and floats away on him into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.
To those who are offended by such naturalistic descriptions, I apologize, but there is no other way to tell the story of Swiss Army Man. The creators, presenting themselves as “The Daniels,” are keen on confronting the audience with what doesn’t fit into the topics for discussion during a family dinner. Just as Jim Hosking in The Greasy Strangler plays with what is disgusting, strange, and improbable. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s film defies genre categorization, being a hybrid of survival cinema, buddy movie, comedy, or fantasy, moving between these concepts with great freedom. The whole thing is saturated with scatological jokes, yet their repetition (due to a fairly limited repertoire of gags) eventually becomes somewhat tedious and annoying. Looking at some scenes in the film, one may wonder who had the courage to invest money in such a project. Nevertheless, Swiss Army Man proves that audacity sometimes pays off.
At the same time, it is a very intimate work, requiring a significant distance from the acting duo to themselves, their own bodies, or their sexuality. The film presents a liberating experience based on the knowledge and acceptance of one’s own body. Although it seems daring to assess Swiss Army Man in intellectual terms (after all, it is a story about a corpse suffering from gastric problems, and its member serves as a compass for the heroes), one should not unequivocally reject them. The creators look at the human body and how it has been stigmatized and restricted by the tight corset of American morality with a great deal of distance. At some point, the body carried by the protagonist begins to speak. Manny, suffering from depression, questions the rules of the world in which Hank has to live with childlike curiosity. The accelerated process of maturation that the hero, plucked from the sea, undergoes, initially full of naive optimism, ends for him in bitter disappointment and loss of faith in friendship.
The eccentricity of the entire film is emphasized by the unusual musical layer, meticulously created set design, and interesting cinematography. Many critics highlighted in their reviews the associations of Swiss Army Man with Michel Gondry’s style. This may be explained by the fact that Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, like the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, have been involved in the past in creating music videos, which are a good summary of the motifs used in their feature film debut.
The film’s ending, which avoids rationalizing the events presented, may escape logical explanation, but it fits into the crazy, uncompromising convention of the whole story. And that’s perhaps the best thing about Swiss Army Man. The directors didn’t allow the veiling of their radical idea, which in its creative, bold form will undoubtedly remain one of the biggest cinematic curiosities of recent years. Perhaps one day the work of “The Daniels” will become a cult classic, like Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber. As for the audience, there is nothing left but to reward the creators’ courage with their own and go see this film.