Movies Other People Didn’t Like and I Did
by Thomas Priday
“A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE” (2001) Back to the womb in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” Steven Spielberg probes affections that get callused over with age, forgetfulness and cultural habit. It’s the most profound treatment of a child’s life since Terence Davies’ “The Long Day Closes.” More than Spielberg’s other films, it dares viewers to remember and accept the part of themselves that is capable of feeling—a real risk these days. “A.I.” goes so openly and deeply into beneficent emotions it is bound to scare off pseudo-sophisticates—people who think it’s progress to forget they were ever children. That’s usually just a way of denying pure, uncomplicated emotion. “A.I.” proves it’s small-minded to think that art should only be about conflicted feelings. It’s equally foolish to assume Spielberg views childhood without complication.
“DEATH AT A FUNERAL” (2010) Neil LaBute’s remake—rewording, as I like to say—of the 2007 British original is one of the most thoughtful comedies in recent years. I found something very special in it—which is to say that many reviewers took it very literally as a cheap laugh. I like the film best as a portrait of painstaking family endurance, a memo to those who feel it right to genuflect away from the pastoral love of kinship. The clownish laffs are there simply to help move proceedings on.
“FROM PARIS WITH LOVE” (2010) Do you know how to read action movies or do you simply obey advertising hype? “From Paris with Love” delivers the minimal spills and thrills to those who like action movies for escapist release, yet beyond its hype, it is also politically aware filmmaking—without the sanctimoniousness of “Syriana,” “United 93″ or “The Messenger.” Those films pretend to address the post-9/11 crisis while “From Paris with Love” gets all up in the mess, making it personal and exciting.
“NEVER BACK DOWN” (2008) It’s easy to deride the “Karate Kid” formula of “Never Back Down”: white teenager learns self-defence skills and emotional discipline from man of colour with a mysterious past. Fact is, the inspirational message of this new action flick isn’t as tightly structured as John Avildsen hokum. But “Never Back Down” rises above formula in the way Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) walks alone when transferred to his new Orlando, Fl., high school. Jake’s physical confidence contrasts with his new-kid wariness. Sean Faris may look like a beefy young Tom Cruise, but he already has the emotional shading it took Cruise years to develop. There’s original characterisation in the alternating currents of Jake’s pride and caution. Still suffering his father’s recent death, trying to handle feelings he can’t express, Jake’s control of his swiftly maturing adolescent body is a richer subject—more immediately sensual and cinematic—than anything “Karate Kid” offered.
“SATYRICON” (1969) In almost every film Federico Fellini has ever made, the sea has occupied a very special place, sometimes as the ultimate barrier between confusion and understanding, sometimes as a kind of vast, implacable presence that dimly recalls protozoan origins. “La Strada,” “La Dolce Vita,” and his freshest, most tumultuous movie, “Satyricon,” all end by the edge of the sea. Watching “Satyricon,” you suddenly realize that Fellini, unlike the creatures of his extraordinary imagination, has refused to be stopped by the sea. He has pushed on, and there are moments when he seems to have fallen over the edge into the cinema of the ridiculous. You ask yourself: is this dwarf, or this albino hermaphrodite, or is this latest amputation, really necessary? However, he finally arrives, if not at understanding, then at a magnificently realized movie of his own—and our—wildest dreams.