Cinema Chatter – 2011 Catch Up

Submarine

As various publications are releasing their top ten films of 2011 lists, I figured that I'll need to join that parade sooner or later. But there are plenty of films that I've still to see, so for now, as I'm playing catch up, I'll be updating my at-home viewings with capsule reviews. Hopefully, I'll have a neato-keen list for a Thursday Ten on December 29, 2011. By then, every major publication's list will have gathered a layer of dust, but then again, I'd prefer to be fashionably late for the party.

Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011)

Attack the Block induces several bouts of déjà-vu, whereupon the film threads on very familiar genre territory. Obviously influenced by films like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and The Warriors, Attack the Block unfortunately tends to layer its social awareness recklessly. The film becomes preoccupied with its race and class conflict, therein causing its narrative drive to wane and teeter out of control. It’s disappointing, particularly given that there are individual ideas in Attack the Block that work, such as when the film brings Jodie Whittaker’s character into the fold. Writer/director Joe Cornish disregards shaping his central male characters, instead utilizing them for symbolic purposes. It’s a flawed tactic, especially since the audience is meant to rouse support for characters that display only a fleeting sense of personality.

Still, as a debut feature, Cornish displays a great handle at directing a chase sequence. He utilizes the visual space quite well. And while I wasn’t too impressed with the screenplay, Cornish has an interesting knack for quirky dialogue. I’m particularly interested in seeing what he does with The Adventures of Tintin.

Bellflower (Evan Glodell, 2011) 

Bellflower views heartbreak on equal terms with the apocalypse. And while the film does, in a way, capture the emotional rollercoaster of a relationship, Bellflower presents its ideas without elaborating on the why of it all. It wears its emotional baggage as a sort of badge of honor, yet lacks any sense of responsibility. It seems to swell out of a spring of discomfort, whereupon much of its trajectory is determined by fragmented ideas of what makes a relationship. There’s an inane sense of entitlement that emanates from its characters as well, whereupon privileged characters quibble over the mundane.

A film like Blue Valentine worked far more succinctly in establishing a time and place. With Bellflower, the central relationship develops on a plain of delusion. No one works. No one does much of anything other than complain. The moment when the audience finally descends into the psyche of its main character is the only time it becomes effective. But it’s a hell of a slog to get there.

Submarine (Richard Ayoade, 2010)

Submarine is an interesting contrast to Evan Glodell’s Bellflower, as both films deal with the life-ending nature of failed relationships. Both films relish in their abundant stylization, though with Submarine, there’s a level of genuine emotional anxiety that runs through its characters. One could read Submarine as just another Wes Anderson knock-off – and there’s definitely some justification to it, given the shy, central male character, bombastic love interest, and dysfunctional parents. But there are subtle subversions to Richard Ayoade’s adaptation, wherein characters are realized beyond their quirks. It even reaches levels of profundity when Ayoade positions his characters in emotional tight spots, as Oliver (Craig Roberts) has to decide between dealing with his girlfriend’s ailing mother or his own mother’s infidelity.

Ayoade has such a rich and energetic perspective that he brings to Submarine that you develop a deep-rooted empathy for the romantic aching onscreen. It’s a film of such emotional and textual density, with some of the sharpest humor I’ve seen in a while.