Cosmopolis: In David Cronenberg’s first solo screenplay since eXistenZ, and his first movie without Viggo Mortensen in almost a decade, he adapts a 2003 Don DeLillo novel with what sounds like scrupulous faithfulness. Though at a Thursday night screening and Q&A and the Museum of the Moving Image, he spoke eloquently about needing to “betray” an adapted book in order to honor it, he also mentioned that most of the screenplay’s dialogue is taken verbatim from the book (indeed, he described the process of writing the script as almost accidental; a practical experiment in re-arranging DeLillo’s story and words that turned out to be a workable script), and while I haven’t read Cosmopolis, the movie certainly sounds like it’s pledging its faithfulness to someone. Characters speak in elevated, sometimes aloof, sometimes theatrical, often sideways-witty dialogue, mostly in the same even tone. It can be a great pleasure to listen to; it can also be wearying, and I’m not sure if the talk, as a whole, is quite as accessible or realistic as the writer-director thinks; Cronenberg described it as operating with a mix of stylization and realism similar to Mamet or Pinter, but DeLillo’s prose feels more at odds with the rhythms of actual human speech than either of the others. The actors, strong as they all are, sometimes seem to shudder, if only slightly, under the wordiness.
But Cosmopolis, which follows the all-day-turned-all-night-turned-possibly-infinite limo ride of a billionaire (Robert Pattinson) whose net worth is crumbling, is directed with such tight control—of the confined frames within the limo, of the not-quite-New-York spaces that surround it, of the thin line between dark comedy and theatrical tragedy—that the unnatural verbosity doesn’t detract much. Actually, it gives Pattinson his best major role to date; it’s hard to see if and how his morose brand of minimalist charisma will pay off in other roles (he exudes less effort than Ryan Gosling but, on the negative side, he… excudes way less effort than Ryan Gosling), but Cronenberg uses him cleverly as the amoral yet uneasy rich guy who insists on being driven across town in standstill Manhattan traffic for a haircut. Occasionally, the movie drags; mostly, though, it’s a vivid creep toward Cronenbergian dread, with even more laughs than his underratedly amusing Dangerous Method. How’s that for a recommendation? Cosmopolis is funnier than A Dangerous Method! Put it on the poster! And put Pattinson in a Cronenberg movie with Mortensen, as the director hinted he’d like to see; poor Edward might escape Twilight ignominy yet.
The Expendables 2: I was surprised, frankly, after several story-free trailers consisting of quick star shots that could have easily been assembled after two or three days’ worth of shooting and B-roll from the first Expendables and/or several direct-to-video actioners, that The Expendables 2 was in fact screened for critics, but it did happen! And so far, people seem to like it a bit more than the likably stupid, stupidly likable, did-I-mention-stupid first movie. Maybe Chuck Norris was just what this series needed? Actually, the major staffing change this go-round is director Simon West, who only in this universe (that is, a universe where Sylvester Stallone writes and directs movies) could be mistaken for a decent craftsman. That said, West did direct the trash classic Con Air, which was basically The Expendables before The Expendables, with way better actors, and also a Michael Bay knock-off that is actually superior to any movie Michael Bay has ever made or likely will ever make. I wish I could say West’s resume continues in that vein, but Tomb Raider and The Mechanic aren’t exactly up to Con Air‘s level. But they’re not incompetent, either, and wrangling the bloated Expendables ensemble seems like a dream job for someone with West’s skill set. By the way, West’s next gig, by which I mean a movie that I’m pretty sure was filmed before The Expendables 2 but will be coming out afterward, is the next in Nic Cage’s line of barely-released thrillers, and if you’ve been dying for a trailer subtitled in Japanese because it hasn’t come out in U.S. theaters yet, happy Expendables day to you.
Of course, Stallone is still responsible for the screenplay for the sequel, as he was last time—which resulted in some of the most incoherent, marble-mouthed banter I’ve ever heard, even in the semi-literate hallowed halls of the big-studio action picture. I saw The Expendables at my bachelor party in 2010, and while I can’t say that it was the meathead action movie of my dreams—frankly, any of Jason Statham’s Transporter movies deliver purer, leaner thrills—there is a sort of demented thunderousness to the movie’s climax, which consists of the title mercenaries blowing the ever-loving shit out of a large movie set somewhere in Brazil. There are more explosions at the end of The Expendables than there are action stars and guys who seem like they might’ve been action stars but weren’t ever actually action stars combined. Now that the sequel has added several more action stars (Norris, Van Damme, presumably bigger roles for Arnold and Bruce) and at least one guy who seems like he could be an action star but if you look closely at his resume totally isn’t (Liam Hemsworth), they may outnumber the explosions. I do wonder if the target audience that was convinced to turn the first movie into a $100 million grosser will turn out again just to see what happens when Chuck Norris turns up at some point.
ParaNorman: Usually I’d be flummoxed by the studio decisions resulting in a spooky animated movie getting a summer release rather than the appropriate September/October date, but as it turns out, 2012 is positively lousy with spooky-overtone cartoons, with Hotel Transylvania from Sony and Frankenweenie from Disney and Tim Burton coming in the fall. ParaNorman, from Laika, the Coraline studio, then somehow winds up the box office underdog, even though Coraline was a surprise hit a few years back. It looks more stylish and legit than Hotel, at least, if a touch more familiar than Henry Selick’s Coraline. (Selick isn’t involved with this movie; he left Laika to make his own movie with Disney, only to have the project recently killed; presumably it will now be shopped elsewhere. Maybe he and Laika should patch things up.) As non-Disney animation studios carve out unproductive, repetitive niches—DreamWorks, Illumination, and BlueSky all compete to be the most yammering and chase-heavy—it’s heartening that Laika seems to want to build their own brand based on something more handcrafted and less clamorous: fall and winter tones, say, rather than heat-of-summer action (again with the release date weirdness). Apparently Laika rose from the ashes of Will Vinton Studios, so clearly they ought to branch out to a California Raisins biopic for their next feature. Or, you know, keep making cool-looking semi-spooky movies that nerdy parents can get excited about taking their kids to see.