G-S-T Review Slew: Holy Motors, Wreck-It Ralph, A Late Quartet

Last week I slacked off and broke my normal cross-posting habit: I published three reviews over at Go, See, Talk! and neglected to link to each of them over here. Well, better late than never as the adage goes, so permit me to catch you all up on what you might have missed today, starting with:

Wreck-It Ralph

What happens when you throw back the curtain on an old arcade to reveal an interconnected world of pixelated characters for whom every game is just another day at the grindstone? You end up with the best Pixar film Pixar didn’t actually make and further proof that the dividing lines between the beloved animation studio and the Mouse House. Wreck-It Ralph employs so many of the flourishes and tactics that have become Pixar trademarks– exposing the inner workings of a secret, hidden world by weaving a heart-and-character-centric narrative through it– that it’s difficult to accept that the film hails from Disney, but the film is such a treasure that its point of origin hardly matters.

Wreck-It Ralph ensconces itself in the realm of video games, but that doesn’t make it a video game film; those elements are just window dressing, details that give the plot body and personality. The real story here is that of Ralph, the eponymous character and career villain for a retro Donkey Kong lookalike in which his task is to bust down an apartment building ad infinitum while his efforts are thwarted by Fix-It Felix, the game’s hero. Ralph, of course, finds this to be anything but gratifying, so without a second thought to consequence he goes off in search of individual fulfillment in a yarn driven by an abundance of heart and genuine sweetness. The journey here takes us to a frankly utilitarian conclusion, playing off of big emotional beats that resound in all the right ways while affirming a simple but true message: what we do doesn’t have to define who we are. My full review.

A Late Quartet

Strictly speaking there’s nothing wrong with dropping your audience in media res when you’re telling a story; among other things, doing so can give the effect of propulsion and momentum, so long as it’s deployed correctly. A Late Quartet starts at the beginning with its conflict, but the drama that the film’s major dramatic thrust unleashes upon the rest of the story feels regrettably half-baked. When Peter (Christopher Walken), the cellist for a world-renowned string quartet, announces that he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and wishes to retire, his fellows– Catherine Keener, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Mark Ivanir– react by bickering among themselves like children.

Their various quarrels read compellingly enough outside the context of the film, but within its framework they just feel petty. And that’s okay, too, in theory; the problem is that Yaron Zilberman doesn’t succeed in raising them to engaging heights. The cast is comprised of nothing but gifted performers– not simply its four principals but supporting players like Imogen Poots and Wallace Shawn– and they make the experience of watching tolerable. But they don’t make it satisfying. My full review.

Holy Motors

Two viewings of Holy Motors and more than a thousand words later, I finally have a comfortable grasp on Leos Carax’s latest film, which comes to us after a lengthy absence from the cinema since his 1999 film Pola X. (Excluding his contribution to the 2008 omnibus film Tokyo!.) Even so, there’s no succinct way to summarize its content from narrative to theme; Holy Motors has a scope unlike nearly any other movie you’ll see this year (and perhaps any move you saw last year, or will see next year, and so on). At its core, this is a movie about an actor exercising his trade, but that’s a gross over-simplification of everything that occurs within the film’s two hour running time. Oscar (Dennis Lavant) isn’t just an actor, at least not in any traditional sense that we can identify, and his work is anything but ordinary.

From old crones to demented sewer-dwelling transients to disappointed fathers to murderous gangsters, Oscar’s craft takes him all across Paris and puts him into myriad roles without giving him much time to catch his breath. But Holy Motors isn’t just a film about a performer doing what he does; it’s about the pressures that person faces due to an ever-shrinking audience brought on by the advent of technology (and also about how technology moderates almost all modern human interaction). Unlike The Artist, which truly does celebrate the movies, Holy Motors often plays like a beautifully surreal funeral dirge mourning the passing of an era. My full review.

Seen any of these? What did you think? Sound off in the comments sections below and at Go, See, Talk!

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2 thoughts on “G-S-T Review Slew: Holy Motors, Wreck-It Ralph, A Late Quartet

    • Skip A Late Quartet; see Holy Motors at any cost. That’s one of my favorite movies of the year, hands-down.

      Loved Ralph as well, and in fact it might be my favorite animated movie of the year.

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