Friday, September 29, 2006

World Trade Center (2006)

World Trade Center’s script is so bourgeois and reductive that one might mistake it for the latest output from Paul Haggis. Still, just as Clint Eastwood took a flawed script and nurtured it into a near-masterpiece with Million Dollar Baby, that fact only makes what Oliver Stone and his superlative cast managed here all the more impressive. It’s hard to imagine what, subject matter aside, attracted Stone to this particular script, which packages the events of September 11th so tidily as to render many real-life occurrences as potential Hollywood inventions, but it’s also reassuring to see them rendered as respectfully as they are. What was but inches away from a practical remake of The Towering Inferno is thankfully the ruminative work it was meant to be, even if it is a bit dodgy along the way.

Both United 93 and World Trade Center approach the events of September 11th strictly within the context of that day. Neither film knows of any larger contexts, of wars and terrorism, or of the political brouhaha to come; like the people suffering the collective worst day of their lives, they only know the immediately observable details. But while United 93 and Paul Greengrass simply use their portrayal to make the viewer as miserable as possible from start to finish (as well as none too subtly underscoring the visceral elements of its subject matter), World Trade Center more aptly appreciates the horror that slowly dawned on that day. For many of those forced to watch the unfolding tragedy on television (as I cannot speak for the residents of the city that never sleeps), the horror, however obvious and potent, took some time to set it (and boy, did it ever). Stone is attuned to the power of the violent spectacle within the context of the city, and especially of the everyday-ness that was so abruptly shattered. United 93 treats the hijackings like the eerily foreshadowed events in a sequel to Turbulence; with but one miscalculation of direction (an incredibly stupid pan up towards the two towers followed by a title card reminding us of the date), World Trade Center has no idea of the events to come, they simply happen.

Some have criticized World Trade Center for diminishing the scope of the tragedy at hand, a possibility certainly exacerbated by the polished, Hollywood approach employed here (which, for my money’s worth, is no more or less acceptable than a bare-bones independent approach, all things considered equal; shaky camerawork and grainy film stock does not a realistic movie make). While I already addressed the film’s limited knowledge of the sheer mass of death and destruction, I think it important to acknowledge that no film could ever cover the entirety of that unfolding hell on earth. Like Titanic (quite possibly the most humane big-budget disaster film of last century), World Trade Center follows several stories within a larger framework, in this case, those of two Port Authority officers trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsing towers, and their panic stricken families. One could make thousands of films taking place on September 11th, 2001, and never cover the same details twice. What these do offer, however, are intimate details in the greater scale of it all, the events of World Trade Center providing but one look at the damage, both physical and intangible, from a microcosmic perspective.

In the case of World Trade Center, it’s hard to draw the line exactly where the faulty script ends and Stone’s more adept direction begins (and, of course, like all marriages of talent in the name of film, the line is somewhat blurry). The first act of the film is the most potently realized, arguably because it offers Stone the most freedom in how he portrays the many wordless events as they unfold (the newly installed digital projectors and sound systems at my local cineplex have thus far done little more than add another opportunity for advertisers and special effects to unconstructively attack my senses, but the use of sound and image during the collapse of the first tower, seen from within, makes it perhaps the most wrenchingly realized fifteen seconds of celluloid so far this year). Once the primary damage has been done, however, the film is more prone to the screenplay 101 pigeonholing, which is less attuned to nuances of character and the far-reaching scale of national tragedy than it is the importance of wrapping a crowd-pleaser with pretty paper and a big bow on top. Leave it to Stone, Cage, and the entirety of the cast, then, to lend the writing with the necessary component of soul, particularly during the agonizingly claustrophobic scenes of the two officers trapped beneath tons of concrete and assorted rubble. World Trade Center might follow the mold too much for a story such as this, but it ultimately knows well enough to acknowledge not only the scope, but the universality, of the tragedy it portrays. Artistically or historically, it may not be a definer, but is both a fitting memorial for the dead a uniter for the living.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God opens with a lightly image whose potency steadily accrues as the sheer scope of it all sets in: a band of humans slowly descending the steep terrain of a fog-shrouded mountainside, so miniscule amongst the landscape that they appear not unlike a line of ants. So too does the entire film feel the impossible weight of the natural world bearing down upon the fragility of mankind, who dares to suggest that he can conquer it and claim it as his own. Less of a criticism of imperialism than a somber, hypnotic mood piece that absorbs, digests, and regurgitates the vanity of mankind’s conquering spirit, Aguirre creeps into the psyche like an anesthetic through an IV tube. It may be the most hauntingly ethereal film even made.

Herzog’s camera exists as an almost weightless presence amongst the events of the film, its detached observation at times reflecting the slowly degenerating sanity of its human subjects. This is largely aided by the on-location shooting, typical for Herzog, whose thematic fascination with impossible dreams and grand aspirations was often paralleled in his own cinematic endeavors (none more breathtaking than the physical centerpiece to his masterwork Fitzcarraldo). Here, his subject is the fictitious expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro, which traveled into the Peruvian jungle in the 17th century in search of the city of gold, El Dorado, a legend forged by the natives they persecuted so as to thwart their conqueror’s efforts. In the uncivilized jungle, they wage a hopeless fight against the elements, prompting Pizarro to send a smaller team of men and slaves downriver to find the mythical city. If they do not return within a week, then the search will be assumed lost.

This sub-mission unravels quickly; one of the three rafts is irretrievably caught in a whirlpool, and the tide of the river takes away the remaining rafts during the night while all sleep on shore. Second in command, Don Lupe de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), sees fame and riches at stake, and successfully mutinies against the leader, Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra), when he chooses to abandon the mission and return to Pizarro. The remaining episodes of the journey are nary different than those beforehand, only in that their fruitlessness becomes increasingly more obvious. Having declared rebellion against the crown, Aguirre nominates and crowns a king to represent their new nation – robe, throne and all. Mankind’s rituals are desperately pathetic amidst the amoral and unforgiving jungle.

exists somewhere between the role of a journeyman on the doomed expedition and a celestial presence existing outside of the unfolding events, the latter largely bolstered by the unique, nearly indescribable score contributed by the German band Popol Vuh (frequent collaborators with Herzog, music often being an integral part to the earthly vigor of his films); rousing choral chants are mixed and layered so as to suggest angels falling from heaven to earth. As Aguirre, Kinski delivers a performance so transfixing and penetrating that one must wonder if he’s really acting at all (the film’s legendary on-location production, which eventually led to threats of murder and suicide between the actor and director, suggests that such is far from unlikely). The low-budget production incidentally befits the material: the sound recorded on the raw footage was so poor in quality as to prove completely useless, forcing the entire soundtrack to be remixed in post-production, the dubbing and subtly unnatural audio adding to the hallucinatory, otherworldly effect projected upon the viewer. The experience of Aguirre is like a slowly disitengrating connection with reality.

The cumulative, overwhelming sense of Aguirre is of inescapable death, as both a part of the natural order and a horrifying destination, the course of which cannot be veered from. With delusions of grandeur and a totalitarian reign, Aguirre drives his expedition into the ground and then some, the silent arrows and poison darts lobbed by the native population feeling less and less like a mortal danger than a spiritual release through the demise of the flesh. Fever and hunger take their toll, the meditative images unbound to narrative and relentless in their trance-like persuasion. The final scenes see Aguirre marching across his raft, amongst the dead and dying, his failed civilization drifting hopelessly down the river, overrun by hundreds of tiny monkeys, like some sort of pathetic miracle. It is the effortlessly towering ending to a soulful, harrowing masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Lake House (2006)

The Lake House employs a bourgeois narrative with a ripe sense of spirituality that borders on divine. For all its polished hoopla and handy-dandy supporting characters, thank director Alejandro Agresti for recognizing (and capitalizing on) the emotional power of a fine visual composition (not to mention his respect for his characters, who live and breath as part of the film rather than being whored out by the script). The titular architectural structure is a unique residence elevated above its shoreline domain on stilt-like appendages, build within and around its natural habitat (not unlike many Frank Lloyd Wright structures) rather than simply on top of it. It is here that Kate (Sandra Bullock) and Alex (Keanu Reeves) live, albeit two years apart, she in 2006 and he in 2004. When Kate moves out and leaves a note for the subsequent tenant in the mailbox, the two discover an inexplicable time portal, the post office’s property somehow existing outside of the timelines that otherwise guide their physical worlds. Subsequent letters sent back and forth through the newfound device instill an otherwise impossible relationship, compounded by the eventual realization of their own previous encounter(s). Certainly, the science fiction device makes little sense, but neither did it in Back to the Future, The Terminator or 12 Monkeys if you really think about it (at least when conforming to known physics), and for as easily as the premise could have slid into outright treacle, that alone makes The Lake House its own little miracle (it is worth noting, however, that this is a remake of a little known foreign film, as of now unseen by me). Aside from uncompounded character evocations, the most effective device here is the camera itself, constantly evoking a spiritual connection between the characters and their environments. Once established, the film takes full advantage of Alex and Kate’s time-defying intimacy, one magical sequence seeing them talking to each other on two separate park benches, passerby fading into and out of the composition, suggesting the intangibility of time, the fragility of prolonged existence and the wonder that any kind of love could ever arise out of such conditions.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Black Dahlia (2006)

The Black Dahlia is sure to baffle and bewilder audiences everywhere on both sides of the spectrum (that is, to say, in ways perceived as both good and bad), and I’m sure Brian De Palma wouldn’t have it any other way. An adaptation of a fictionalized novel about a real-life Hollywood murder, the film has been shamefully marketed by industry whores as the next L.A. Confidential, and all I can say is it’s damn shame. The ilk of this film is nothing of the sort, genre overlap notwithstanding, and it’s hard to blame viewers expecting a more straightforward crime drama when they enter theaters. Instead, The Black Dahlia is a rampantly overwrought round of genre upheaval, equally indebted to its cinematic predecessors as it is to its director’s wonderfully obtuse visual sleight of hand. “Cocktail” is the only word that comes to mind when attempting to describe the mixture of classic noir and mystery elements with deliberate overdoses of campy magnification. The film harkens back to classic expressionism via its three main characters’ attendance at a screening of The Man Who Laughs, fitting, for like that film’s main character (a deformed carnival worker whose face is forever frozen in an eerie grin), The Black Dahlia is a film largely concerned with the nature of surface appearances, reveling in its self-imposed limitations within a world of pure cinema. The cast is almost equally excellent across the board (particularly Scarlett Johansson, who hits the archetype nail most directly on the head), although many will mistake their intentional embodiment of caricatures as flat-out wooden acting. It’s necessary to approach The Black Dahlia with these expectations if one is to experience the film on its own merits, but this is not all to say the film is without its downfalls. Visually, this is one of Brian De Palma’s most refined films yet (his swooping camera motions are both grand in scope and smooth in execution), yet his sense of reckless abandon seems to lose its track during the final act with a considerable drop in energy following suit. Perhaps the source material demanded this unfortunate muting, but either way, one can’t but think The Black Dahlia could have gone out with at least as strong of a bang as it starts.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

United 93 (2006)

Since this is my first “second” review on this blog, let me nip any potential criticisms in the bud this one time only (any future complaints will be pointed in this direction). My philosophy, unlike that of Pauline Kael, is that repeated viewings are as important – sometimes even more so – to appreciating a film than the initial experience. Of course, many of us watch movies more than once all the time, whether for a fun time with friends, to revisit a treasured experience, or, in my case from time to time, to clarify my thoughts on a difficult and unclear initial experience. Some films challenge our perspectives so much that a combination of hindsight and intense rumination is necessary in order to come to a firm conclusion on them, and I don’t like for any of my opinions to be something I am forced to “settle” on. Therefore, in any cases where a repeated viewing of a particular film yields a changed opinion on my part, a second review will be written; this will become my “official” coverage, but the original review will remain listed as a reference point. This site exists just as much for hosting my opinions as it does for tracking my grappling with the medium.

My full respect goes to Paul Greengrass for even mounting United 93 in the first place. My views are such that film is, at its root, more of an art form than a series of products, and that the relentless “too soon” cries lobbed against both this and Oliver Stone’s (as-of-yet unseen by me) World Trade Center are naively cynical about cinema’s ability to heal the wounds of a collective people through reflection and introspection. A more open society should have been making movies about September 11th years ago (which, to an extent, it has been on a metaphoric level, from the likes of Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg, among others), but nonetheless, to do so even now still risks a ruthless public flogging. Greengrass, however, felt it necessary to add to the collective dialogue through his medium of choice, United 93 being the ultimate offspring of his efforts. As expected, reactions ranged wildly, from James Berardinelli’s outpouring of praise (the film will most likely top his Best of 2006 list) to Slant Magazine’s Keith Uhlich’s damning “kiss of death”. Both are opinions I respect, despite, now having revisited the film, disagreeing with on different points and levels. Like so many unnecessarily controversial movies, I fall somewhere near the middle of the polarities.

First and foremost, United 93 exists to recreate the events on September 11th, 2001, in practically real time, the emphasis lying on the unseen conflict that took place aboard United Airlines Flight 93, the one hijacked airplane to crash before reaching its intended target (factually unknown, but suggested to be the White House in the film). This in itself is achieved with great proficiency, but United 93 stops at the level of straightforward docudrama recreation when such should be the platform for a greater inspection into the events of the day. In simple terms, the movies aims to – and succeeds beyond a doubt – at making the viewer miserable from start to finish, the cinematic equivalent of being raped continuously for two hours. This approach proves, sadly, to be a hollow experience; a gaping whole is left at the film’s core by the complete lack of illumination or even inquisition. United 93 doesn’t so much want to consider the importance of September 11th or our relationship to it in hindsight as it does convert it into the most unnecessarily torturous roller coaster experience Michael Bay never made.

The structure alone indicates that Greengrass’ ambitions outweigh his filmmaking skills; rather than opting for a completely singular experience relegated entirely to the events aboard the flight, the film cuts back and forth between the innards of Flight 93, the air traffic control headquarters in Boston, the FAA, and NORAD, inadvertently setting the film up for standardized (and borderline exploitative) thriller tactics. The respectful approach to the individuals themselves (despite aggravatingly unrealistic performances by the entire cast) ensures that this isn’t the case (the non-judgmental portrayal of terrorist and victim alike is perhaps the most admirable quality of the film, as it allows one to weigh the good and the bad on equal ground), but it’s not hard to imagine what could have been done with an approach less bound to convention.

The ultimate downfall isn’t that United 93 fails to give us any answers, but that it doesn’t ask any questions in the first place. The importance of September 11th is so immense that only generations of hindsight will be able to amply measure it, and for as relentlessly as the film inflicts the unforgettable events on the viewer all over again (in and of itself wholly acceptable), it doesn’t once attempt to ponder the significance and effects of these potent actions and destructive images and the ways in which they’ve changed the world (unacceptable). United 93 exists wholly in the moment, and in doing so it suggests that, even five years after the fact, we have to learn or grow from the attacks; this, sadly, is very much true, but that in no way permits the film to get off for its lack of exploration. The film, perhaps in fear of tarnishing the memory of those who died, opts for as apolitical an approach to the material as possible, yet by removing a crucial sense of social importance, it forgets that we're supposed to move onward and upward from the sacrifices that were made, and United 93 converts a potential act of growth into an unfortunate case of regression.

Note: My first-take thoughts on United 93 can be found here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Gojira (Godzilla) (1954)

Greatness in film often derives less from manifest perfection than it does more debatable flaws. Perfection suggests rigid structure, a quality most in opposition to the exploratory nature of art (although not necessarily in opposition to cinema’s potency as a storytelling medium), and artistic approaches that instill unease or discomfort (or even revilement) on one hand are often the most aesthetically charged and cause for celebration on the other. This kind of introduction would, admittedly, be more appropriate for one of the medium’s many “flawed” masterpieces; Apocalypse Now and Gangs of New York come to mind. Yet in the case of Ishirô Honda’s original Godzilla (to be referred to as its native Gojira hereafter) – a serious examination on the effects of nuclear war that has since become clouded by endless, cheesy sequels, rip-offs, and remakes – there is a definite case of cinematic split personality that should at least be examined before being accepted or rejected. Is it a bad movie? Technically speaking, yes, but movies are much more than just a technical exercise, and to suggest otherwise is to blaspheme. Yet the tagline “The Original Japanese Masterpiece,” printed on the newly released DVD set, is equally misleading.

Like many, monster movies were a staple of my youth, and, along with endless “versus” sequels, Godzilla was introduced to me not in the form of Gojira, but the stripped-down, re-edited version released into American several years later (officially known as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!). Purists will endlessly speak of the original version; its scathing indictment of nuclear testing, and of its potent allegory. However, looking at both cuts side by side for the first time, it’s easy to see that the American version doesn’t so much dampen the metaphor as it does negate the originals preachy attitude (not to mention badly editing in Raymond Burr talking to Japanese extras, but nonetheless). Godzilla himself isn’t just a metaphor for nuclear power, he is a physical manifestation of it, and to think that audiences in America wouldn’t have noticed the connection less than ten years after (unnecessarily) kicking Japan’s ass is more than a bit naïve (or, if such was really the case, indicative of their own shortsightedness). Gojira, unlike its American brother, rarely ceases in its agenda pushing (which is not to suggest that agenda pushing is a bad thing in this case), the dialogue ridden with references to the bomb and the dangers thereof. As a 50-meter tall prehistoric menace, Godzilla would be dangerous enough, but when his dorsal fins glow ominously and radioactive fire bellows from his mouth, the lethal side effects of the weapon pack quite a wallop.

It’s earnestness notwithstanding, though, Gojira hosts many aspects that would even have the Mystery Science Theater cast rolling their eyes (appropriately enough, they watched many of the sequels in the show’s earlier seasons). With few exceptions, the human performers can’t act a lick, and from strictly technical standards, the film feels assembled from sloppy piecemeal. The latter attribute, however, lends a sense of authenticity through imagination to the film. During its 2004 re-release, Roger Ebert (arguably the most humane and socially conscious movie critic) belittled the movies look and low-budget restrictions. “Godzilla at times looks uncannily like a man in a lizard suit, stomping on cardboard sets, as indeed he was, and did” How ironic (if not necessarily wrong) it is to criticize the output of a country that recently had two major cities wiped clean off the planet for sub-par technical standards, especially when the work in question is a rumination on that very tragedy. Roger continues: “This was not state of the art even at the time; King Kong was much more convincing.” True, but nobody ever thought Kong to be real, and the slight artificiality lent Kong the surreal quality that the best special effects need to instill themselves in our imagination. The same goes for the rubber-suit Godzilla smashing model sets. Unlike the 1998 CGI “Zilla” (for he took the “God” out of Godzilla), there’s personality and soul here, and proper submission to the film will remove concern from the fact that the crashing fire truck and toppling buildings are obviously toys.

Gojira’s greatest claim is its destructive centerpiece, in which, prompted by military attacks on his aquatic domain, Godzilla rises from Tokyo bay to pay back the mainland; he is an amoral force of nature as destructive as he is childlike. Most effective is Akira Ifukube’s tense and soulful score, even if it’s used to some maudlin extent at times. Bathed in murky blacks and grays, the destruction of the city is a harrowing sequence, as Godzilla’s lumbering form topples landmarks and crushes onlookers underfoot while his path is marked by a sea of flames rising well above the skyline. Honda shoots these sequences not for their monster mash value, but for their humanitarian undertones, an approach that would rarely be reprised even in the wake of the film’s extensive influence (to date, only Steven Spielberg has topped the film’s use of imagery as an examination of social trauma, in his 9/11-saturated War of the Worlds). Meanwhile, the film adds an extra layer of moral pontification though the subplot involving Dr. Serazawa (Akihiko Hirata), whose scientific research yields an invention capable of destroying Godzilla, but is even more powerful than the forces that triggered him in the first place. Gorjia is a long cry from Dr. Strangelove, but in a day where the leaders of the most powerful country in the world hope to change military regulations so as to allow for first strike with nuclear arms, Godzilla is still as relevant a monster as ever.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Breaking the Waves (1996)

My chief concern with this review is that it might fail in giving the movie in question enough credit, so let me abandon any sense of subtlety for a moment and lay it out in simple terms: Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves is the best film I have yet seen from the 1990’s. Influenced by – but not in complete accordance with the rules of – the Dogme 95 cinematic movement co-founded by von Trier himself, the film takes a relatively simple story and reinvigorates its potential by stripping its technical qualities down to the bare, earthly elements. We’ve seen this sort of tale before, from Hollywood classics to Oscar-tailored hackwork to Lifetime movies of the week, but never with as much pulsing life force as exhibited here. Of course, one could hotly debate that Emily Watson is the chief reason for the films’ success (I’m more of a parts-to-the-whole onlooker than one who singles out specific elements), her performance as the naïve but loving and faithful Bess McNeill one of magnificent range and staggering emotional potential. No offense, Francis, but you can’t hold a candle.

The opening scene finds Bess asking her local church elders (to whom, after God, she has always been most committed) for permission to marry her love, Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), who works on an oil rig north of her Scotland home. Permission is granted, hesitantly, and Bess’ best friend Dodo (Katrin Cartlidge) openly expresses her initial distrust to the new husband. (spoilers herein) Bess’ regular, open prayers to God do little to ease her pain when Jan has to leave again to work, and when Jan comes back early from a devastating neck injury after Bess asks God to bring him home, she sees herself to blame for his potentially paralyzing accident. Through her selfless dedication to God and Jan, Bess believes herself to be the only one who can save Jan; perhaps due to overmedication and hallucinations, the nearly crippled Jan asks Bess to make love to other men so that the stories of her endeavors might keep him alive longer. The more his condition worsens, the more desperate and dangerous her behavior becomes. All in the name of love.

As someone who knows people who have a hard time separating the concepts of religion and faith, it’s nothing short of my own little miracle to come across a film with such a boundless sense of the latter while also mercilessly indicting the hatred so often present in more fundamentalist brands of organized worship. At Bess’ church, woman can neither talk nor attend the burial during funerals, and after the wedding ceremonies, one of Jan’s rig buddies remarks how dull it is to have a church with no bells. The God Bess looks to and that which her church imagines are two distinctly different entities, and it’s not hard to guess which one ultimately provides her with redemption in the darkest of hours (long after her family and community have turned their backs). The film’s cumulative emotional wallop (during which my emotional display was nothing short of violent) is inseparable from its no-bullshit aesthetic; shot on video and transferred to film, the stark, grainy look lends itself to human emotion infinitely more than polished production values. The end result is an awe-inspiring testament to the power of life over death, of goodwill in the face of despair, and of love of a higher good in the face of earthly oppression. Even the bells of heaven would toll for a girl like Bess.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Manderlay (2005)

Despite the departure of Nicole Kidman and James Caan (and the subsequent replacement by Bryce Dallas Howard and Willem Dafoe) and the passage of several years since Dogville, Manderlay continues the same path without missing a beat, although it begs the question of whether this slightly different material merited the same minimalist style as its predecessor. Surely a trilogy (to be concluded with Wasington - that's right, no "h") that largely concerns itself with the superficiality of appearances wouldn’t itself need to conform to a continuous thread of visual similarity, but perhaps this is less a case of misused devices than it is merely an acknowledgment of how exceedingly well Dogville employed the same challenging approach. Grace (now played by a red-haired Howard) and her father’s roving gangsters have just left (after having obliterated) Dogville, and, traveling through the heartland of America, happen upon an enclosed plantation where, over seventy years after the abolition of slavery, the practice is still very much in full swing. Her guilty liberal attitude in full upswing, Grace uses her familial power to correct these discovered ills, although it quickly becomes apparent that, her best intentions notwithstanding, she isn’t entirely able to convert these sheltered negroes into equal, democratic citizens; habit and ingrained mentalities initially caused by enslavement linger long after freedom has been bestowed. In this regard, Manderlay outdoes almost any recent effort of late when it comes to deconstructing racial relations in America (I’m talking to you, Crash), even if it does so on a relatively specific historical level. The artificial aesthetic of the film is less overtly handled this time around (if I recall, only once did a character mime knocking on an invisible door), but nor do its events conclude with the same wrenching aplomb, all in all making for a slightly more ponderous – if less dramatically satisfying – example of a Von Trier puppet show.

The Break-Up (2006)

Quality notwithstanding, the marketing campaign for The Break-Up - which cast the film as something of a follow-up to lead Vince Vaughn’s comedic mega-hit Wedding Crashers - is one of the more heinous recent moves on the part of the entertainment industry. Still, the Scenes from a Marriage reminiscent poster, culling the same imagery of a couple upright in bed, is quite appropriate in projecting the film’s general tonalities. A generally dark examination of the end of a relationship which, were it not for a mixture of embarrassingly slapdash comedic elements possibly edited in after test audiences demanded more humor, might have been able to hold a minute candle to Bergman’s masterpiece, The Break-Up suffers from an inappropriate adherence to Hollywood convention even when the script screams for otherwise. Vaughn and Aniston are Gary and Brooke, whose long-term union suddenly reaches a breaking point: his obsession with videogames and her workaholic attitude finding no similar grounds on which to unify. The film finds effective expressions of separation and internal conflict by means of the architectural placement within their condo unit, but the dialogue (which makes up most of the films’ backbone) generally fails to probe amply beneath the surface, dealing more in generalities than exploring the intimate details of these characters. There’s more to love than hate here, but even its high-aimed but low-fueled intentions are thrown horribly askew by the reliance on overtly homosexual and needlessly weird supporting characters for inconsistent laughs, seemingly meant to break the otherwise overriding tension.