Thursday, August 27, 2015

I wish I knew how to quit you, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu.

I'm generally not big on the idea of "giving up" on filmmakers. For one thing, it seems like kind of an empty gesture, like when I was younger and I'd tell everyone I was "boycotting" certain movies that I didn't want to see instead of just keeping my mouth shut and seeing something else like a grown-up. For another, you never know when a director might surprise you. After all, if I gave up on every director who hit a cold spell, I would've missed out on great movies like Tetro, Goodbye to Language, and The Hurt Locker (Bigelow's Weight of Water/K-19: The Widowmaker seems like ancient history now, eh?).

That said, it's somewhat easier with directors I never cared for all that much in the first place. To cite two obvious examples, I haven't bothered with Marc Forster ever since he managed to make a dirt-boring Bond movie, and I'm not looking to partake of another Matthew Barney filmed thingamajig now that he's made a movie involving him and Bjork having sex, chopping off each other's limbs, and morphing into whales, only wayyyyyyyy less interesting than that synopsis would suggest.

Then there are the in-between cases. For instance, take the strange case of M. Night Shyamalan. Conventional wisdom states that he's been more or less in free-fall ever since Signs, but I can't quite cut the cord. Sixth Sense is pretty awesome, both Unbreakable and Signs are tense as hell, and his subsequent (original) works have had some great moments in between the goofball digressions and jarring tonal dissonances. Even The Happening had that great scene with the handgun.

That's also how I feel about Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu. I can't write off the guy, because he's clearly talented. That's been clear ever since he made Amores Perros, which shares some of the miserablistic tendencies of his later work but is so propulsive, so thrumming with energy, that it never comes across as a wallow. Sadly, the films that followed didn't really capitalize on that potential. 21 Grams is well-acted but suffers from a overly-deterministic plotting and a needlessly jumbled chronology. I sort of hated Babel, which in addition to coming across as a globalized version of Crash (which I also hated) but boasted one of the worst throw-my-drink-at-the-screen moments in recent memory- the scene involving the Moroccan boy spying on his sister, in case you're playing at home.

So after getting burned twice in a row, I felt pretty comfortable skipping Biutiful, especially when I heard it was the sort of wallow that Amores Perros somehow managed to avoid becoming. And I was ready to do the same for Birdman until the buzz began to generate. Had AGI turned over a new leaf? Well... yes and no. "Yes" in the sense that he was no longer engaging in grief porn in order to come across as a serious storyteller; "no" in the sense that his work was as wanky and show-offy as ever, with the jagged editing and shuffled chronologies traded in for a faux-single shot gambit that was as attention-grabbing as it was pointless (Scott Tobias did a great job explaining a lot of my issues with the movie in his review for the late, much-missed Dissolve). More and more, it seems like the guy is the sort of talented filmmaker whose talented is deployed in ways that rub me the wrong way, like a gifted impersonator who spends his entire routine doing pitch-perfect impressions of Jerry Lewis and Gilbert Gottfried. There's no denying the skill, but you can only watch for so long.

So I've decided to give Gonzalez Iñarritu one more shot with the upcoming The Revenant. Once again, he's doing the single-shot thing, but I hold out hope that maybe this time it'll serve a purpose- say, to allow the audience to experience the hero's ordeal through his eyes, or at least at his side. But if I don't like this one either, I don't know how many more chances I'll give him. But then, you never know with talented filmmakers. I mean, I stuck with Woody Allen through Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending, AND Scoop, right? I can handle damn near anything at this point.