I still remember growing up when my mom used to make me sneak entire foot long subs, bottles of water, and soda into the theater. It used to embarrass me when mid-movie she’d break out the sandwich and the entire row would begin to smell of roast beef. But I get it now. Because instead of coming into a showing with an entire pic-a-nic basket of fine Camembert and caviar, I have the compulsive urge to movie hop. Part of it is the thrill of sticking it to the proverbial man while doubly enjoying my movie experience. So I’ve found a way to rationalize my compulsion by introducing a series that gives you a twofer review in one post! As I was thinking this, I proceeded to walk out of Life of Pi and shove my real glasses in the return box—keeping the 3D glasses in my purse. When I approached Guest Services about what I had done, the employee there seemed overly concerned, which made me think people didn’t make this mistake very often, and that perhaps this level of lameness was unique to me.
Life of Pi
Full disclosure: I read the book by Yann Martel, and it is one of my favorite books of all time, so I’m judging it more critically. First, see this movie in 3D. I repeat: SEE THIS MOVIE IN 3D! It’s gorgeous to look at. Think The Fall. There’s live action, and there’s CGI, and sometimes you can tell which is which, and sometimes you can’t. But it doesn’t matter. This is not Planet Earth. Life of Pi doesn’t seek to highlight the real. It seeks to give you something beautifully surreal. And that’s just it: the beauty of the movie is supposed to be invoking such questions: do places like this exist? Is this real or not real? If you want a taste of what the movie gives you in cinematography, watch the trailer above and then tell me to stop weeping.
That said, the movie falls on its face in the philosophy department, and before you roll your eyes at me for saying it, the movie is supposed to be philosophical. Instead of indulging in the illusion of beauty and adventure, every fifteen minutes the film has to cut back to the main character, much older now, sitting in his living room with a writer whom the audience doesn’t care about at all. Screenwriter David Magee does this to constantly recap the plot as well as the moral questions being posed here—just in case you didn’t get it. Oh, and by the way? You’ll get it. The points in this movie are driven all the way into your brain sockets, and frustratingly so. Frustrating because the movie doesn’t trust its audience, and frustrating because by not trusting its audience, it has effectively oversimplified the politics of the original story. The writer character is a stand-in character for the audience’s supposed ignorance, and that hurts, man. Read the book!
Killing Them Softly
Seeing this movie second was really something. The one thing about the beauty in Life of Pi was that there was something very pure about it. Killing Them Softly is beautiful in a really, really disgusting way. The title sequence is the coolest I’ve seen in a while, switching between a sound byte from one of Obama’s ’08 campaign speeches and a dissonant drone that makes you body tense up the way it does when it knows it’s about to feel pain. Meanwhile, a disheveled, probably hungover man walks, in slow-mo, into the harsh sun, squinting, a cigarette hanging from his cracked lips. The characters win you over immediately with their gross charm, and because they can tell a good story, and because they’re all a little bit sad. The violence in this film is pornographic. An ugly and captivating train wreck that slows time and flows red. Glass shatters and falls like dainty snowflakes. These scenes are often paired with the sort of music my grandfather listens to, including such old-timey jaunts as “It is Only a Paper Moon” and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” Who would have thought six bullets to the face would feel like poetry?
The backdrop of Killing Them Softly is set during the ‘08 election with the primary focus on the economic turmoil of the recession. Director Andrew Dominik uses it to its fullest potential. In one scene there is a hold up in an illegal gambling ring, and while everyone is begrudgingly putting their money on the table for the thieves to collect, John McCain is on the TV in the background, speaking about the state of the economy. This is just brilliant. As the American economy suffers, so too does the criminal economy. But unlike with the American economy, the ones responsible for soiling the criminal economy are pursued for what they have done. There is an almost mechanical sense of justice in this system, carried out by those as coldhearted and stoic as Brad Pitt in a pair of aviators.