Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie?
We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable.
I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions.
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident?
But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014?
So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see.
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It seems that "crazy parties gone awry" is a common theme in movies this year. We first had the fantastically apocalyptic This Is The End, and critics and and audiences have been delighted the by the escalating pub crawl that is The World's End. And now there's +1, a new thriller directed by Dennis Iliadis starring Rhys Wakefield that will hit select theaters September 20th. Though lower-budget than the other two films, it appears to descend even further into sci-fi madness, and it has definite cult classic potential. I don't want to spoil the trailer, but I can tell you that there are doppelgangers, time travel, and body buffets. Watch for yourself:
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While watching Sanctum, the James Cameron-produced, Alister Grierson-directed adventure-thriller about underwater cave exploration, last week, a lot of thoughts ran through my mind (several relating to the 3D), but only one stuck: Why do the pros always have to die? Don’t worry, me simply raising that question isn’t exactly a Sanctum spoiler. The movie is, after all, about a group of professional cave divers trapped in a life-or-death scenario. If someone dies, they’re simply bound to be the pro.
That said, I do have one very specific complaint about the film’s script and it is spoilertastic, so if you don’t want to have certain events in Sanctum spoiled for you, you may want to skip this portion of the post. Onto the spoilers!
If you’re still with me, I can only assume it’s because you’ve already seen Sanctum and know how it ends. If you haven’t and just don’t care, here’s a recap: Josh (Rhys Wakefield) the young, irresponsible son of the world’s greatest cave diver, Frank (Richard Roxburh), survives while everyone else on the expedition dies. On the surface, I don’t have a particular problem with this because his father the pro is only taken out of the equation when he has to fight a fellow diver suffering from a bout of cave madness and punctures his lung with a stalagmite in the process. Frank isn’t beaten by the cave, he’s beaten by a raving coward. That’s fine, I can live with that, but just think of the opportunity screenwriters John Garvin and Andrew Wight missed by killing him off.
The only major source of character conflict in the movie is the strained relationship between Frank and Josh. Frank wants his son to have the same passion for cave exploring that he’s had all his life; Josh wants to be his own man and instead be a rock climber. It’s classic “Daddy was a fireman, so I’ll be a cop” territory, but what elevates this scenario in Sanctum is the belabored fact that Frank isn’t just a normal cave explorer; he’s the most knowledgeable, experienced explorer in the world. His expeditions are the stuff of living legends and his life is the envy of billionaires.
So, naturally, he dies in the caves, though not before his son can have a change of heart and realize that his father wasn’t a bad guy. He may have been an emotionally unavailable, absentee father, but that was only because Frank had spent his entire life watching friends die from making mistakes that he never would. It all makes for a touching death, but does it pay off? Does it make Sanctum in any way unique? No.
What would have made Sanctum truly unique is if it had the balls to kill everyone else off and have Frank survive yet another harrowing adventure. Imagine how much more it would have paid off emotionally had the order of life been slapped in the face. Instead of having the vanilla, undeserving kid finally come of age, why not puncture his cocky lung with the stalagmite? Let the already hardened father give his son a watery burial before having to suck it up and spit in the face of fate once again.
Such a decision would be a bold move, but instead Sanctum joins a long list of movies that think it’s more dramatic to have the seasoned pro die on the job and let the rookie take up their mantle. But, honestly, who cares about that anymore? Not every movie out of Hollywood has to be capped off with a convenient, feel-good ending. It’s okay if the youngest person in a disaster movie - and that’s really all Sanctum is - doesn’t make it out alive. Old people surviving can be a happy event, too.
I can’t say I’m surprised by the ending. This is a James Cameron-produced movie, after all; a sappy ending is just part of the contract. But allowing unqualified Josh to live isn’t like, say, having Ripley outlast all of the marines in Aliens. Ripley earns her right to live. She doesn’t complain about having to be there. She doesn’t mess up on the job. She kicks ass and takes names and establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. Josh, on the other hand, is the son of the force to be reckoned with. He does little aside from complain and mess up on the job (and his mess up even gets someone killed). But because he’s the youngest he gets to be the center of the Hollywood ending. Yay?
What do you call a bunch of Australians tossed down a hole? A good start. I kid of course – “a mediocre movie” is more like it. And that’s precisely what you get with Alister Grierson’s Sanctum a 3D thriller in which a crew of cave divers struggle to survive after a monsoon-driven flood pins them thousands of feet underground.
Sanctum is set in Papua New Guinea but was mostly shot in the sprawling caves of South Australia. The cast is dominated by local actors many of whom will prove unrecognizable to moviegoers residing above the equator – which frankly isn’t all that much of a hindrance since the lot of them will be killed off long before the closing credits roll.
The cast’s lone non-Aussie – and the film’s most familiar face – is Welshman Ioan Gruffudd who plays Carl a gratingly cocky American industrialist whose wealth funds the whole caving (the word “spelunking” is never used much to my chagrin) expedition and whose extreme-tourist bent compels him to come along for the ride. He also brings his girlfriend Victoria (Alice Parkinson) whose strong-mindedness you just know is going to become a liability when the sh*t hits the fan.
The sh*t in the case of Sanctum is an apocalyptic storm that arrives days before it’s supposed to triggering an avalanche of boulders that effectively seals off all possible exits. With the water level rising and a near-zero chance of rescue the group’s hardened no-nonsense leader Frank (Richard Roxburgh) decrees that their best hope of survival lies in finding an alternate means of escape via an unexplored stretch of tunnels thought to lead to the ocean.
The situation grows gradually more desperate and characters succumb one by one to the hazards of the deep in fairly predictable disaster-flick order. (The aging female is first to go followed by the ethnic guy etc.) Sanctum cycles through a series of grisly fatalities – including one delightful bit in which a shock of hair caught in a climbing apparatus results in an impromptu scalping – until finally the last man standing is Frank’s son Josh (Rhys Wakefield) a moody 17-year-old who has heretofore spent most of the film acting out with childish spite toward his neglectful dad. Out of supplies exhausted but with his exquisite surfer-dude haircut thankfully still intact Josh must complete the remainder of the harrowing journey alone.
Director Grierson packs Sanctum with some truly breathtaking visuals. The underwater cinematography shot with 3D cameras Grierson spent six-plus years developing is particularly stunning. But the film’s script clearly didn’t receive as much care and attention as its cameras. The action is occasionally gripping but the story lacks suspense and its tone largely fails to evoke the gnawing claustrophobia that presumably festers in such a dark musty subterranean labyrinth. Moreover it’s littered with truly execrable dialogue made worse by ADR that sounds as if it were recorded in a cozy basement studio.
Executive producer James Cameron is featured prominently in Sanctum’s advertising campaign but the film itself bears scant evidence of his involvement save perhaps for the splendid underwater scenes. I half-suspect he viewed the project as a tool to develop and test his 3D technology in preparation for his amphibious Avatar sequel. He certainly didn’t use it to brush up on his storytelling skills.