Burn After Reading
I remember intensely disliking The Man Who Wasn’t There despite it arriving during my ‘finally watching films as “art”‘ phase in college, when I had lots of time for joyless experiments in tone and genre-play. Burn After Reading runs closer to Fargo in tone — a gang of more or less well-meaning idiots surrounds the sainted Frances McDormand, who just wants to get out of the shenanigans with her dignity intact — but though pleasant, it’s still joyless. The pervasive melancholy of the Coens’ films curdles here into misanthropy (it doesn’t always), and the bleakness is only deepened by the form of the piece, which ends by simply cutting away from the action to a couple of spooks saying ‘Well, that was a load of incomprehensible bullshit, wasn’t it.’ Which it was. Clooney and Pitt do their familiar genial self-ironizing (they should play Butch and Sundance), Malkovich is perfect as a cuckolded spy-turned-memoirist, Tilda Swinton nearly passes for a human being, McDormand gives the greatest reaction to an out-of-place sex toy in the history of cinema, and none of it matters for even a second. Still, second-rate Coens is still worth your time; they’re as consistent as Joss Whedon, and they don’t have to waste their energy on Marvel movies.
The original film is one of the great action/adventure movies, and the original book is a chilling reminder of Crichton’s domestication of cosmic horror — in this telling, nonlinear dynamics and the red teeth/claws of nature function as antihuman immune agents. The sequels have all been bad, even Crichton’s own Lost World, but I’d heard Jurassic World was a return to form. It’s not. The whole point of Spielberg’s film was the mass production of sensawunda, which Jurassic World utterly lacks. But wait: can’t we forgive that, since the story’s on-the-nose message is that our jadedness about visual entertainment has robbed us of our capacity for wonder? No we can’t. The verisimilitude of the original is pissed away here for the usual international-movie-audience reasons of corporate greed and no amount of lampshade hanging can make up for it. The action is ludicrous, the effects are humdrum (the hopelessly overwrought Godzilla did this big-dino stuff better; but then so did the original Park!), and the dialogue is embarrassing. Several human beings do appear in the film, played by decent actors doing a decent job; but since you’re not a child, you won’t care. Jurassic World is currently the third-biggest motion picture of all time. Skip it and watch the witty, perfectly paced original instead — or better yet, read the book, whose (anti)climaxes and coda still have the power to horrify.