How to describe The Congress? It's like Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop set in Hollywood. It's like a Ralph Bakshi adaptation of Sardi's wall art. It's like The Matrix meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets Being John Malkovich meets Enter the Void. Basically, it's wonderfully indescribable.
The latest film from Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir) adapts Stanislaw Lem's The Futurlogical Congress into a ferocious dissection of mass media, celebrity, and the role of technology in our daily lives. The movie stars House of Cards actress Robin Wright as "Robin Wright," an actress fondly remembered for her roles in movies like Princess Bride and all but "washed up" thanks to a career of lousy choices. But a new offer is on the table for Robin — Miramount Studios wants to buy her image for the next 20 years. With state of the art scanning technology, studio executive Jeff Green (Danny Huston) can capture a range of Robin's facial features and reprocess them into new performances. Princess Bride-era Robin Wright can return and once again wow audiences in movies of every color... as long as real Robin Wright signs on the dotted line, promising to never act again.
With motion capture animation and actor resurrection already a thing (see: the super duper creepy Audrey Hepburn chocolate commercial from last year), the opening moments of The Congress are all too real and all too disturbing. Robin is strong-armed into signing the deal — and with today's legal loopholes, who wouldn't be? — finding herself in the middle of a sensor dome ready to capture her smiles, frowns, and everything in-between. If there was any doubt that Wright continues to be one of the best working actresses in Hollywood (as the diabolical Miramount would make you think), The Congress works her every muscle for a truly profound turn. Case in point: Twenty years after selling her image, Robin is summoned by Miramount to re-up her contraction. But now, Miramount is located in a slice of the world that lives in a Matrix-esque cartoon proxy universe forcing Wright to go under the guise of animated avatar.
Believe it or not, The Congress gets crazier.
Folman previously used 2D animation to realize the horrors of war in Waltz with Bashir, but the style loosens up for The Congress, a spectacle of hallucinogenic imagery and sardonic interpretations of famous faces. In this future, the likenesses of celebrities are no longer being used to churn out blockbusters. Now they can be extracted into drinks, foods, smells, feelings. Green doesn't want Robin to sign on for more movies. He wants her to become a milkshake. In the world of The Congress, we see Pablo Picasso walking arm and arm with Beyonce. Tom Cruise and John Wayne down drinks at a bar. And Robin Wright is just another in an army of Robin Wrights — people admire her, so they become her.
The Congress is a blunt film. Folman has a clear disdain for the current direction of the mainstream and the audiences who willingly digest the factory-produced fluff. It feels autobiographical for Wright too, combating a lifetime of objectification over her looks and discriminating process of picking projects (in the movie, she states that she'll never do a science fiction picture which is true based on her resume.) The movie has a heart — Robin's main goal is rip through the glossy clutter of the animated universe to find her son, Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee) — but every conversation, every profession, and every elegant word spoken by Robin's cartoon cohort Dylan (Jon Hamm) speaks to a bigger picture. In short: we're indulging to the point of self-destruction. But hey, if looking like Grace Jones as our brains are slowly fried into oblivion sounds like a silver lining, don't sweat it.
Like last year's Cloud Atlas, The Congress is epic science fiction for the thinking crowd. It's big, bold, and beautiful, with somber tunes from composer Max Richter and an overdose of imagination. It's a movie about how we watch that must be watched. So watch it — if only to prove to the bigwigs in Hollywood that Robin Wright has still got it.
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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More:Watch the First Trailer for 'The Congress'Should Hollywood Resurrect Dead Celebrities?See the Full Cannes Film Festival Lineup
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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It’s that time of year again, when the worst movies are behind us and all that remains is December’s slate of Oscar bait and innocuous family fare. Granted, we still have to endure the likes of Gulliver’s “Jonathan Swift Will Be Rolling in His Grave” Travels and Yogi “Hanna and Barbera Will Be Rolling in Their Graves” Bear -- but still, it’s pretty safe to say that neither will compare to some of the monstrosities that came between January and November. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we present the turkeys of the year (aka the worst movie of 2010).
The Bounty Hunter
With Jennifer Aniston’s steady flow of rom-com failures, it’s almost as if millions of Friends fans have declared, “You’re not getting a dime from us until you do the Friends movie!” And following the God-awful Bounty Hunter, she simply has to be closer than ever to taking part in, if not flat-out begging for, a big-screen version of the beloved sitcom. Hasn’t she?! Bounty Hunter wasn’t just her fault, however; frankly, no one should be proud of this ill-conceived (it’s like a reimagining of the unimaginably bad Bird on a Wire), terribly cast (Dear Hollywood: Gerard Butler is not the next Hugh Grant) mess (director Andy Tennant wants his mainstream, PG-13 romantic comedy to be gritty -- At least that’s funny). Killers and Sex and the City 2 have Bounty Hunter -- and our decision to limit this list to five movies -- to thank for not making the cut.
It’s hard to hate Adam Sandler. He’s shown off serious acting chops in movies like Punch Drunk Love and even Funny People, and he seems like such a good friend -- I mean look at the way he continues to find roles for his otherwise unemployable fallen-comedian buddies. (And WTF would director Dennis Dugan be doing if the Sand Man didn’t get a $20 million itch every year? A straight-to-OnDemand Benchwarmers threequel?) BUT, that doesn’t mean each of Sandler’s “Adam Sandler” movies is anything less than atrocious, and this summer’s Grown Ups was no exception. Sure, it wasn’t quite Chuck and Larry bad, but the easy, crude, broad gags were again in overabundant supply -- and again not even chuckle-worthy. It was the logical next step in Sandler’s manchild shtick, whose regression has truly reached its trough but whose box office numbers haven’t yet peaked. Translation: We get TWO Sandler movies next year. Tally-hoo-hoo! (Or some other Sandleristic show of excitement by way of baby talk.)
Quantity of A-listers is not proportional to quality of movie. Aside from reminding us of that, Valentine’s Day was utterly useless -- and very, very, VERY bad. The rom-com enlisted everyone from Julia Roberts (whose screen time could [mercifully] be counted on one hand) to Taylors Swift and Lautner, but veteran cheeseball director Garry Marshall’s sole focus seemed to be on making all the pretty faces on the roster look pretty on the screen -- which is a shame because there was actually some borderline talent available. Nothing much goes on in the movie, a kitschy, superficial joke under the guise of a quasi-intertwining love polygon. It reeks of a Hollywood scam: Just feed moviegoers a bunch of big names and dare them to resist a rom-com event like this on Valentine’s Day! Story? Eh, who cares? And with a sequel already on the way … well, I guess we all lose?
Almost every movie disaster qualifies as a failure in only one category: financially or critically. This summer’s Jonah Hex (remember it?), however, bombed in both departments, to an almost historic degree. It had the makings of a surefire hit: great lead actor (Josh Brolin); hot starlet/gossip fodder du jour (Megan Fox); and lucrative hook (“based on the comic book”). Then the trailer hit the Internet. Soon thereafter, the movie had to come out, too, and when it did … just … yikes. Hex simply had no identity, and nothing really made sense -- from the weird accents to the erratic editing to the unintentionally hilaaaaarious dialogue. And that says nothing of director Jimmy Hayward, whose uncertainty and nerves you can almost feel. At least it’ll be appreciated by the Razzies.
Co-writers/-directors/-schmucks Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer make Uwe Boll look like Orson Welles. That’s right -- after a criminal amount of attempts, they can safely be considered the worst filmmakers around, less talented than the runner-up by a margin of roughly infinity. The film that cemented the duo’s position, Vampires Suck, was their most abysmal yet, and that’s downright impressive. It poked, er, tried to poke fun at the phenomenon mentioned in the title (namely Twilight-mania) and, you know, any other pop-culture target with a gigantic bull’s-eye on its back. The result was typical of Friedberg and Seltzer’s “work”: lower-than-lowbrow, astoundingly unfunny and insulting to the spoofs of yore and any human being with the slightest sense of humor. If cockroaches had a sense of humor, it’d be insulting to them, too. But my hyperbole digresses … Bottom line: Vampires Suck was as lazy as filmmaking can get. Until the directors’ next movie, that is.
Chief Perpetrators of Crap, 2010
M. Night Shyamalan: The Last Airbender AND Devil (which he co-wrote and produced)?? Jeez, Night -- you didn’t have to give your career its deathblow in the span of a few months; coulda parlayed The Sixth Sense into a few more movies/millions. But thanks for the mercy.
Josh Duhamel: Holy mother: Life as We Know It, Ramona and Beezus, When in Rome and The Romantics -- all in 2010! And a cheating-on-Fergie scandal!
Jennifer Aniston: We already picked on her for starring in The Bounty Hunter, but we cannot, in good conscience, neglect to mention The Switch. If we pretend it never happened, bad-movie terrorism wins.
Forest Whitaker: Hate to bash a revered Oscar winner, but he had his hand in a whopping eight various projects this year, and those projects included Repo Men, Our Family Wedding and some that never even saw the light of day.
Nicholas Sparks: He brought us the vomit-inducing Dear John, The Last Song and The Ego of Nicholas Sparks: A Comedy (working title).
The Following Directors (and Their Crimes)
Kevin Greutert (Saw 3D), Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City 2), Robert Luketic (Killers), Colin and Greg Strause (Skyline), Christian Alvart (Case 39), Alan Poul (The Back-Up Plan), Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud), Roger Kumble (Furry Vengeance) and Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore).