Friday, June 25, 2010

Remember Me: Where Romance and 9/11 Awkwardly Merge

  First, let me plug and simultaneously defend myself here.  I am an expert in Post-9/11 Cinema. I also have a penchant for debunking the Rom-Com mythology as a sort of new wave feminist - half my interest in these silly films is zoomed in on escapism while the other half likes to keep a running critical dialog of the formulaic and insultingly unintelligent yarns unfolding on my screen.  That being said, at this stage in my development as a film scholar, I generally avoid watching anything with 9/11 themes (one can only take so much), and smart, well produced Romantic Comedies have become very few and far between, rendering my viewing experience more work, than pleasure. And I hate that. I became a film scholar for one very good reason (or at least I thought it was a good reason 2 degrees and a gabillion dollars in student loans ago), and that reason is: I love cinema, and I have generally been a lead by the heart and foolish kind of person.  I love nearly everything about the art of film, from the mundane to the subliminal, from the culturally relevant to the exquisitely propagandised elements both overt and covert.  I love the artifice almost as much as I love the way in which a great film can wholly transport me directly inside a completely different world.  Now, as a theory scholar and cultural critic, it is my charge to deconstruct those created worlds, much like someone who takes apart an electronic gadget, figures out how it works, and then puts it all back together as it was.  Passive viewing has become unacceptable, and frankly, I miss it sometimes.  The voices of the great theorists Andre Bazin, Robin Wood and team Bordwell - Thompson enter into my viewing sanctuary and give me no peace inside these worlds...only chatter and commands.  Those who cannot do, teach.  And is that not what a critic really aspires to be? Someone who can eloquently unmask a series of illusions in order to expose an immutable truth?  The student then may decide the shape and size of that truth, but remains changed simply due to the exposure itself, embracing rather than running from questions as they arise.  That's what happened to me anyway, watching re-broadcast tapes of the "live" footage of September 11th, 2001 in downtown New York City and pondering a question my theory professor had so boldly presented to me - what is meant here by the word "live"...the questions and my answers sounded and resonated more like philosophy that film studies.  And there inlays the beauty of this field - all humanity is linked by these enmeshed strands of conventional wisdom, group think and our human condition, ever yearning to feel a part of something greater, like a feeling of being all alone in a crowded room.

When I departed for the local Blockbuster yesterday afternoon, I already knew I was going to pick up "Remember Me", which was just released to DVD and stars the teen-throb of the moment Robert Pattinson.  Ha, Ha, know what your thinking and you are wrong. I am not, nor will I ever be, an R-Pat fan, but I was curious as to why the film did so poorly at the box-office considering the tremendous draw of Robbie P's busted, yet strangely attractive, pale Brit face.
The cover art of the DVD told me several things:
1.  This is a cheesy romance, heavily reliant upon the good looks of its male lead.
2.  It doesn't work out well in the end.
3.  Its has an overt 9/11 theme, but then again, I can sniff out a 9/11 film a mile away.  How did I know?  NYC cityscape on the back fold and the film set in 2001. Why would any film be set in 2001 in NYC and not have something to say about the falling of the Twin Towers? 
But to merge a Twenty-something college romance coming of age family drama with a post 9/11 event conflict, is wonky to begin with.  It would require an absolutely superb creative team to pull off a film like that properly.  I already knew:
4. Anything with Rob Pats in it could not possibly have met the challenge.
But these were only first impressions, I hadn't even watched it yet.

Robert Pattinsons performance was awkward and self conscious, like a kid who used to be fat and is now the James Dean fantasy of every woman he meets. Unsure of how to wield this new found power over the sexes, Pattinson's wincingly modest hold over acting destroys all efforts at maintaining the imaginary "4th wall", or suspension of disbelief.  But the narrative blunders forward despite the best efforts of the young actors to make it sickeningly melodramatic.  The viewer is introduced to two dysfunctional families, both rendered this way because of tragic losses, a murdered mother and a brother lost to suicide.  The "meet cute" between boy and girl is, of course, a wussy revenge/bet plot which ends up becoming a true love with a secret scenario.  Either way, the two have bonded over a misunderstood world view shaped by their experiences of grief.

By the end of the film the seemingly trivial conflicts have been righted and everything appears to be on the up and up for both families and for the young lovers.  "I love you", he says to her before heading out to a meeting with his father at his downtown office.  A beautiful blue sky September morning in downtown New York. He takes the elevator up to the 89th Floor...and then we see the date.  September 11, 2001.  He waits for his father to arrive, taking in the glorious view of the city below.  Cut to the streets: people running, people gathering around television screens, people emerging on the roof tops eyes transfixed on some imaginary point on the horizon, mouths agape.  We know already how this story has ended....and how it began.  The film ends with a montage of images symbolic of the passage of time and the continuation of a city, a family, of life after a tragedy.

The two genres, romance and apocalyptic drama, come together in Remember Me in an attempt to draw attention to one of several moralistic themes. Whether you choose to hear "take nothing for granted" louder than "live everyday as your last" is entirely up to you.  What I found unique about this film is the manner in which the terrorist attack is surprisingly unveiled.  At first this plot device doesn't seem to fit at all.  Upon further reflection, I realized that the element of shock was the dominant feeling amongst Americans on 9/11 and this film was literally attempting to recreate the way 9/11 happened for all of us. Did we as citizens of the United States, as inhabitants of the great cities of New York and Washington, DC ever imagine a world where airplanes could crash into our most prideful ideologies and topple them like dandelions to the wind? 

From a strictly film as art point of view, Remember Me is tragic cinema - it could have been magnificent, but instead it weasels by on its intentions.       

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Paid to Watch a 2 Hour Commercial: Sex & the City 2

...and I am still kicking myself for not demanding a refund of my ticket price.


Sex and the City, the HBO drama that lasted 6 beloved seasons, should have made some great cinema. The first film wasn't too bad.  It opened to huge crowds, many of whom got themselves all tarted up, purchasing new dresses and shoes hoping to impress all the other Carrie wanna-be's.  The first film was wildly successful from a Hollywood perspective. It made very serious money. It appeared to satisfy a lusty audience, and provided innumerable opportunities to cross market a wide array of products...aaannnnndddddd the story wasn't too obnoxious. While the first film strayed from the typically streamlined domesticated New York Goddess vision of feminism, it was still the show we knew and loved.  Hot topics were address such as infidelity, materialism and a woman's responsibility to care for herself - not rely entirely on a marriage in order to be settled.  There were great Carrie moments and yes, lots and lots of clothes.  It wasn't the television show...but it wasn't NOT the television show either. 

Sex and the City 2:

May I speak frankly? Trash. All the worst elements of the entertainment industry in the United States. No substance other than its own hype. Nothing in this film wasn't a cross-marketed commercial ploy, from the resort in Abu Dabi, to the ring Mr. Big gives Carrie at the end (I was tempted just then to write the phrase Spoiler Alert...because I told you she got a ring...OOoooOOOOoo...what a thrilling plot twist that is!).  In an attempt to be culturally relevant, appear poignant and astute on current topics, Sex and the City 2 flippantly criticizes, belittles, and proffers a searing judgment of A) the Middle East as a whole, B) Muslims and C) Middle Eastern / Muslim Women.  After watching this film, I can't see how anyone could have imagined that the Middle East (and its people) would look worse when compared to these 4 aging, has-been, materialistic, out-of-control, New York bitches. 

My hope for the future of the Sex and the City franchise: Stop it. Right now. Just Stop. Its was good while it lasted, but it went one too far.