Sunday, April 3, 2016

How "YOUTH" is Best Served by Someone with Experience

This month’s featured excerpt from The DVD – Laser Disc Newsletter prompts me to bring up a topic recently debated in the media  – 

Do Film Reviewers matter anymore?


But before I address the issue, I want to mention what film critic, Doug Pratt, writes about two of my favorite TV series from 2015 -- 

"By the end, we were so unsure of what is real and what is not that we watched the whole season all over again.  You’ll probably want to, too.  The show is so subversive that it even undermines one’s concepts of entertainment." 

Mr. Pratt likes MR. ROBOT a lot, but his review ends up being a level less than the praise he reserves for his review of the first two seasons of The LEFTOVERS (this is from his review of Season 2): 

"The storytelling is highly involving, jumping back and forth between characters and situations, and re-telling events from multiple perspectives.  There is also a very elaborate dream sequence that lasts almost an entire episode and is as challenging as anything to have appeared on TV, although it fits nicely with the show’s psychoanalytical turn.  The season finale looks like something out of Hieronymus Bosch."

Mr. Pratt appreciates how the filmmakers of The LEFTOVERS  wound up pulling off one of the hardest creative feats to achieve in TV — after a great first season, following it up with an equal or better second season. 

MR. ROBOT must now confront the same dilemma The LEFTOVERS faced after its maiden voyage. There is at least one core creative element that was revealed during the first season of MR. ROBOT that will make the second season a challenge for the filmmakers. 

The recent theatrical premiere of BATMAN v SUPERMAN - Dawn of Justice raised an issue that many love to debate, especially during a time when we now turn to the Internet to guide our entertainment choices — do professional film reviewers still matter? 
The topic once again became an issue when BvSDoJ did huge box office business despite being savaged by reviewers. Perhaps there was a unique element to the discussion this time because many people writing on the popular social sites really liked BvSDoJ and were not embarrassed to defend their love in writing. 
No matter how this issue plays out, one aspect of the controversy I believe is relevant is that we should keep in mind that there are differences between professional  film “reviewers,” and professional film “critics.” Reviewers are paid to see a ton of movies every year, and as part of their job, assigned films to review that they are not at all excited to see. These same reviewers often write their reviews against a deadline, or because they will be seeing another movie (or two) tomorrow, what they write is inevitably done very quickly. This is just one factor (and there’s many more) sometimes leading to the lack of thoughtfulness in your average Film Reviewer’s review. 

Doug Pratt is a Film Critic. When you read this month’s excerpt on the movie YOUTHtwo points will quickly become very clear – 

You’d be an idiot not to seek this movie out on home video. 

And a film critic who writes intelligently and passionately about movies will always have a place in our entertainment consuming lives. A great film critic is capable of pointing out what matters and what doesn’t, and when they write about why, you are absolutely convinced that they know the way.   

Youth is wasted on the young

Sadly, the best film of 2015 was only nominated for one Oscar, albeit a deserved one in the ‘Best Song’ category.  The most often heard putdown of the film, Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH, a 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray release (UPC#024543239291, $40), is that it is too gimmicky, but that comes from people who don’t like cinema, who think that movies are only supposed to tell stories and not feed the senses and the spirit with a full range of artistry.  Like Sorrentino’s masterpiece, THE GREAT BEAUTY, there is a surprise every minute in
YOUTH, dazzling the viewer in a cascade of sounds, images and emotions from its very first, transfixing frame and note to the stunning dedication at its end, and like THE GREAT BEAUTY, it is well served by the spectacular qualities of Blu-ray audio and video delivery.  

Taking the cue from the Oscars, David Lang’s musical score is as good a place as any to begin categorizing the film’s many pleasures and satisfactions.  There is not just one type of music in the film, which is set in a lovely Alpine spa and resort, and the score is augmented by a wide selection of source music and other pieces, all gloriously and crisply delivered in 7.1-channel DTS sound.  There are different performance groups that play each night at the spa, in a variety of genres, so that every evening has a different atmosphere.  Lang’s background music is not intended to hide behind the scenery and nudge the viewer toward feeling more about the characters or drama.  Instead, it is a stimulating component to the overall effect of each sequence, arousing the viewer’s involvement with the film’s state of being.  In one sequence, the music will be refined and ethereal, while in another, there is a genuine rock music video, which turns into a comical nightmare.  And the border between where the music stops and the sound effects begin sometimes disappears.  In one scene, the hero, an elderly, retired composer and ‘maestro’ played by Michael Caine, steps into a shop full of cuckoo clocks, which sound off with a subtle organization, and in another segment, Caine is sitting by himself in a mountain pasture, physically conducting the cowbells, the moos, the tweeting birds and the other seemingly natural sounds around him.
But if Caine’s character is entwined with the film’s audio design, then Harvey Keitel, playing an aging filmmaker and longtime friend, who is also staying at the spa, is intricately linked with the film’s visual inventiveness and audacity.  Letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1, the location shots of the mountains, the hills, the valleys, the fields, the woods, and the waters are transporting.  The film is a constant visual thrill, from its intriguing close-ups of objects and faces to its magical drifting that defies a sense of space or time, and every moment is heightened in impact by the precision of the BD transfer.  Sorrentino even addresses the movie’s own supposed tackiness, a complaint brought on by its unrestrained sense of invention, by having characters make condescending references to the artwork at the hotel and the entertainment acts, essentially saying to the viewer, ‘Relax, it is what it is.’  While the film has tragic elements, it is also, forthrightly, a comedy, and its humor often arises simply from a unique choice of angles—there is a delightful sequence that begins with a tennis ball being lobbed again and again straight up into the air—or a juxtaposition of images.  

The heartiest laugh we have had in quite a while occurs when Caine and Keitel are relaxing in an otherwise empty pool, and a young woman, seemingly oblivious to their presence, comes to bathe.  Their expressions barely change, but you are so onto their wavelength that you see everything that is going on in their heads.  Sorrentino makes you do all of the work, but that is the reward of the scene.
Running 123 minutes, the film’s narrative emerges gradually and in pieces, but there is so much else going on that the story doesn’t have to be in a rush to get anywhere.  Caine's character is trying to embrace retirement and resisting a request to
conduct a Royal performance.  Keitel’s character is periodically working on the final act of a script with a group of screenwriters.  The daughter of Caine’s character, played by Rachel Weisz, is coping with a sudden divorce, and Paul Dano
plays a Johnny Depp-like movie star, enjoying the relative isolation of the locale before he moves on to another production.  The most amazing appearance, however, is an
Oscar-worthy cameo by Jane Fonda, who plays a burnt-out actress confronting Keitel as part of the film’s climax.  But the movie as a whole belongs solely to Caine.  A wonderful, enduring movie star for six decades, Caine’s acting skills have come to be especially lauded in his later years, and he has received a worthy share of awards for his work.
 Nevertheless, it is a travesty that he was not nominated for an Oscar as best actor.  The range and gravitas that he exhibits in every moment he is on the screen is both remarkable and moving.  In the very beginning of the film, there are a few scenes with Keitel where the dialog exchanges sound too much like words written on a page, but only if your eyes are closed.  When you see him, he owns every moment, changing like magic from the actor and star that is Michael Caine to a world famous and highly accomplished conductor, who may look and sound like Michael Caine, but has clearly spent his life working with music and orchestras, and not making movies.
There are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, a trailer, a very small selection of lovely promotional photos, and 18 minutes of promotional featurettes, which hardly do the film justice.  There is also an audio track that describes the action (“Daytime.  The view of the back of the Tibetan’s monk’s buzzed head drifts down to his shoulders and reveals the path by the garden in front of him.  A red cape draped over his shoulders comes into view, along with the mountains before him, the lower peaks blanketed in grass.  Taller, more distant peaks jut into the sky, their craggy summits dusted with snow.  The view of the monk becomes wider to show most of his body draped in the cape, which ripples in a light breeze.  It becomes wider still, setting the monk’s figure against billowing clouds in a pale sky.  A full view of the monk reveals the hem of his cape waving gently, high above the ground, as he hovers in the air.”).
Initially, we bought into the film’s bad press, and kept thinking that while the first part of the movie was fantastic, it was undoubtedly going to disappoint us somewhere further on.  But instead, the film just got better and better and funnier and wiser and better, 
culminating in a concert sequence that is utterly glorious both for its uninhibited embrace of artistic expression and for its carefully measured restraint of that same unbounded freedom.  The story had ended earlier, but the audio and visual components are brought to a separate and more resounding climax, which some viewers may not recognize as being integral to how the film is intended to envelop your consciousness.  The longer you stay around movies, however, the more you will come to realize that YOUTH is indeed another Sorrentino masterpiece.