“Family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation.”
“White noise”, both figuratively and literally, may be an apt description of Noah Baumbach’s dialogue style, a skill he has deployed with varying effectiveness over the course of his filmography. White Noise, adapted from Don DeLillo’s breakout novel, seeks to explore the anxieties at play in a typical 1980s American middle class family, a pervasive existential dread and specifically fear of death. As someone with an apparently atypical relationship with my own mortality, I am perhaps not best placed to opine on Baumbach’s presentation but these were frustrating characters to observe navigating their issues. This is through no fault of the actors — Adam Driver is an ever-reliable lead, as a professor who is more a performer than an educator, and Greta Gerwig is similarly effective as his wife, though her character becomes increasingly absent over the course of the film. Divided into a series of discrete but thematically connected events, the most resonant was a train derailment that spews a toxic cloud into the air — whilst the children worried, Jack displayed a complacency that they would be unaffected by the disaster, shielded by their privilege — and there seems to be an underlying suggestion that American society is particularly ill-equipped to deal with events outside their control. This broader social satire is White Noise at its best, like man who demands attention because he is scared, as if his fear would be validated if deemed newsworthy. The detailed period recreation is impressive, and at times astonishing like a meticulously stocked supermarket filled with old branding. Production, costuming and acting are each impressive in isolation but White Noise feels considerably less than the sum of its parts, its increasingly absurdist tone distancing the audience from the subject matter.
“No, I’m talking about the lack of realism. Realism; not a pervasive element in today’s modern American cinematic vision.”
A technothriller from an era when people used descriptions like “technothriller”, Swordfish is a mashup of the worst traits of convoluted hi-tech thrillers and rote action movies that considers itself very smart in its nihilistic outlook. Opening with a monologue deriding Hollywood’s lack of realism is a bold move for a film that has scant interest in reality: the verisimilitude of its hacking portrayal is clear from an early scene in which Hugh Jackman is forced at gunpoint to break into the US Department of Defense on an unfamiliar laptop within 60 seconds, whilst being fellated. Hackers may have used equally absurd graphical representations of technology but it achieved cult status because it captured the zeitgeist of mid-90s geek culture. If anything, Swordfish captures the collapse of a style of overindulgent Hollywood filmmaking that had been in decline since the 80s. Gratuitous ill-use of Halle Berry (the only woman with notable screen time) suggests an underlying misogyny which is merely confused rather than redeemed by the ending. The entire story is a messy contradiction of shifting allegiances but, when your plot is all misdirection, there is no substance left when the credits roll, just an unpleasant residue.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.