In the final reckoning, people are never that creative. That’s true even when they think they’re changing history. The explorer who goes to the ends of the earth is usually after fame, money, or both. The investor will ignore every warning sign about a too-good-to-be-true opportunity until it’s too late and he’s lost everything. The genius inventor announcing that he’s creating an epochal advancement in technology will turn out to have some fairly mundane reasons for doing so.
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The cartel wars’ corrosive corruption and psychotic butchery that have been progressively pulverizing Mexican society for over a decade have just now begun registering as more than a blip on the American cultural consciousness. One would think that such horror-film savagery and rock-and-roll street combat happening right next door, with a constantly mutating cast of heroes who turn out to be villains and villains who turn out to be monsters, would have grabbed more attention sooner. But, then, it was only after Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper reimagined another murky conflict into a reassuring and essentially false good-guy crusader narrative that the public turned out in real numbers for an Iraq War film.
Now there is Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, set in a U.S.-Mexico border zone awash in drug money, paranoia, and double-digit body counts. Emily Blunt (painfully miscast) plays Kate, an FBI agent who during a seemingly routine raid in an Arizona suburb stumbles into a cartel kill-house where the walls are filled with dozens of plastic-wrapped corpses, like some macabre art exhibit. Pulling that string gets her yanked into a larger cross-agency task force swaddled in official hush-hush.
Wes Anderson isn’t our greatest living filmmaker; his style is too narrowly defined for such a grand title. We tend to think of our greatest directors as both having a signature style but also being flexible enough to tackle many styles: Howard Hawks could move from urbane comedies to Westerns and epics, Martin Scorsese from urban grit to musicals and children’s’ fantasias, and so on. By contrast Anderson has one style, and each of his films simply refine it. All those twee little trinkets and fussy outfits could drive you mad, were one to watch too many in a row. But as perfectly Andersonian a spectacle as The Grand Budapest Hotel is, it also expands his reach in surprising ways. Being one of the year’s most unique spectacles, it’s also the first Anderson film made up of tragedy as much as it is comedy.
The prospect of spending an hour and a half with an actor in a car while they sweet-talk and argue with people on the phone would normally be straight tedium, a stunt by an attention-seeking filmmaker, or an actor desperate to gain notoriety with a bit of gimmickry just as their relevance dims. But when the actor is Tom Hardy, it’s a different story. In Steven Knight’s spellbinding Locke, Hardy darts through the tense screenplay with such graceful ease that his work feels more like something lived than performed. By the time this downbeat nail-biter is done, it feels justified to finally go ahead and say that Hardy is easily one of the greatest actors of his generation. Not that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association seems to have noticed; sadly, it’s likely that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science will follow suit.
Want to know the difference 20 years makes? Two decades ago, Twitter was still 12 years away, Facebook a mere ten. Taylor Swift was four. Justin Bieber had just been born. The Matrix had yet to be released, and the only success Marvel could muster was the original Fantastic Four. If you live to be 80, two decades is one fourth of your life, and if you were a new parent at the start of 1994, your kid is either in college or moved back in with you by now.
Thomas Wolfe wrote the famous book You Can’t Go Home Again way back in 1940, but its titular sentiment still applies, even today. You really can’t recapture lightning in a bottle. About the best you can do is set-up your current situation to mimic the past as closely as possible, thereby hoping that, via karma or some unspoken magic, you can once again taste the fruits of your previous labors. That was clearly the plan for the Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb and Dumber To.