Movie Reviews: Primer & Wilde

Last week sucked. I’ll write more about it in the future, but it was tiresome, annoying and for most of the week I wasn’t getting home before 1 am, and Wednesday I wasn’t home until 3 am. So yesterday, I did nothing but read and watch movies with J. It was probably the first day that I’ve done that in a long long time and it felt good. I didn’t even feel terribly guilty for not doing something constructive, like writing the short story or working on more 10 minute plays or trying to clean out the file cabinet of old junk that I really really don’t need but have been schlepping around with me for years. Today, I went into Manhatten to meet a couple of friends from UMD who were in town for a conference. We had breakfast and then walked around Times Square and then had tea in a diner and I just got home a little while ago. Should be doing laundry, but don’t feel like going back out so I figured I’d write a bit about yesterdays movies . . .

“Primer” (Shane Carruth)

Primer is a pretty amazing film, and not simply because it was made for $7000–although that fact in itself kind of blows you away when you see it. The first time film project of Shane Carruth, Primer tells the story of two men, a machine, and time travel. The premise is simple:

PRIMER is set in the industrial park/suburban tract-home fringes of an unnamed contemporary city where two young engineers, Abe and Aaron, are members of a small group of men who work by day for a large corporation while conducting extracurricular experiments on their own time in a garage. While tweaking their current project, a device that reduces the apparent mass of any object placed inside it by blocking gravitational pull, they accidentally discover that it has some highly unexpected capabilities–ones that could enable them to do and to have seemingly anything they want. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity is the first challenge they face. Dealing with the consequences is the next. (Link)

What makes this time-travel film unique, is that time travel cannot happen without living the time first. There is no free lunch, in Primer. You may have your cake, and eat it too, but only if, after eating it, you go back and back another cake. The narrative can be confounding at times, and at several moments we watched a scene twice to try to wrap our minds around the time travel profundities and paradoxes that were presented. This is not a movie if you are in the mood for light fare, for something that you can simply watch and enjoy. This movie will make you think, and think hard and even then you still may not grasp everything on the first viewing.

While obviously a low budget movie, it never feels cheap. While limited by funds and experience, Shane Carruth creates a thoroughly consistent world. Sure, the cinematography won’t win any awards, but there are a number of shots that are incredibly well composed and framed in highly unusual and visually compelling ways. In many ways, this is one of the best science fiction films I’ve ever seen, and is focused on the ideas and repercussions of science in ways that most mainstream science fiction films ignore. If you are looking for a film that will stretch your mind both intellectually and philosophically, I would highly recommend Primer. Although I would also suggest to watch it with a group of people because I think part of the fun of this film is the conversations you can have after the film is over about the nature of time, existence and the ethical use of power. All said and done, this is a movie that is worth buying and not just renting.

Grade: A

“Wilde (Special Edition)” (Brian Gilbert)

As a huge fan of Stephen Fry’s, I was looking forward to his performance as Oscar Wilde. It was fine. But as a whole, the movie felt slow, slight and rather boring. There was no real nuance to any of the characters. This is not to say that they were necessarily two-dimensional, but . . . well, actually yeah, they were kind of two dimensional. Despite a talented cast that includes Fry, Zoe Wannamaker, Tom Wilkinson and a small but interesting turn by Vanessa Redgrave, the film feels ponderous and the characters flat. Jude Law brings no real subtlety to the part of “Bosie” Douglas (the young gentleman who could be seen as the tipping point from rumored homosexual behavior to Wilde’s sentence of two years hard labor for indecent acts). If you are a Stephen Fry fan, I would recommend it for his performance, but even then I would warn you not to expect greatness. One of those movies that is neither good nor bad, but simply ok.

Grade: C- (with the “minus” being assigned because there is no good reason why such good actors couldn’t have been used more effectively!)

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