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Nov 7, 2009

Fletch's Film Review: The Box

Donnie Darko came and went, unloved by theatrical audiences, or at least not given a proper chance to be loved. It was an ambitious, audacious piece of filmmaking, and co-starred Holmes Osborne. Given new life on video, it became wildly popular, earning cult status, etc., etc.

Southland Tales came and went, unloved be theatrical and video audiences. Described by many (including me) as a hot mess, it was an ambitious, audacious piece of filmmaking, and co-starred Holmes Osborne. It was either the best terrible movie of all time, or the worst great movie of all time (or at least 2006), though I would place the great/terrible ratio somewhere around 57/43. Like Donnie, it made little sense yet was highly compelling to watch (endure?).

Now The Box has come. It should come as no surprise, then, that it is ambitious, audacious, and co-stars Holmes Osborne. Like Donnie and Southland, it makes little sense yet is highly compelling to watch.

So what's the point (besides all of the ones I've repeated again and again)? It's this: When Southland Tales flopped commercially and critically, it was assumed that Kelly had overshot his ability, spoiling the apparent free rein he was given after the tardy success of Donnie, the effects of a young director being hailed as an auteur after but one feature. The Box, then, would seem to blow that theory up: Southland was no different than Donnie, save for perhaps its lighter tone, use of music and abundance of Saturday Night Live veterans. It was merely the next in the pattern - a pattern proved by The Box. Donnie is not the exception to his career, it's exactly the same, only we didn't know it at the time. After all, how much different is paradoxical time travel, giant evil rabbits and Tears for Fears from Justin Timberlake covering The Killers or Frank Langella showing up sans half his face and mysterious boxes that are capable of exacting death upon strangers?

Time and critics will no doubt cast The Box as the median film between these three in terms of overall quality. For whatever reasons, Donnie's ludicrousness is given a pass; whether that's due to the familiarity of a plot involving time travel or Patrick Swayze's presence, one can't say for sure. But the fact remains that it took itself seriously and was somewhat restrained given the material (especially compared to his later films). Southland's general storyline might not be any less crazy, but it was severely less-focused, dropping the viewer in on the third (or fourth, I can't recall) part of a six-episode epic, with what felt like a city's worth of characters and the subtlety of Rocky Horror, all smashed into 2.5 hours.

The Box, however, is a technically solid film, a period piece set in 1976 that offers all the realism of a Zodiac. It features a haunting and creative score by alterna-hipsters Arcade Fire that enlivens the film, and rather than raiding the cast of MadTV, features solid, wink-free performances from all of its stars, from Cameron Diaz (playing it straight without making us feel conscious of the fact that she's playing it straight), Frank Langella (adding many touches of class playing one of the great villains of the last decade, like Anton Chigurh minus the bowl cut and air gun), and James Marsden (proving once and for all that he's a highly capable leading man). In other words, aside from the insanity of the plot, it's a highly impressive film.

That plot is hard to overcome, though. It starts with a Book of Questions-like query, giving the young married couple the choice of killing a stranger for one million dollars...or not. All that must be done is the pressing of a small red button. That's where the simplicity begins and ends. The narrative shoots off in more directions than light reflecting off a disco ball, taking the audience (and the characters) on a mind-bending trip into...well, you name it. As with Southland (and Donnie, whether you want to admit it or not), your enjoyment of the film will likely hinge most on whether or not you're up for the long, strange descent into madness.

I had a similar experience to my Southland theatrical journey; at a certain point, I stopped trying to make sense, took the red pill and let Kelly show me once again how deep the rabbit-hole would go. Yes, it's hilarious at times, mostly at times when it's not supposed to be. But it's also intriguing, full of ideas, scary, and thoughtful. Mostly, it comes down to this: given the choice between a sane, unmemorable film and a batshit crazy, unforgettable one, I'll choose the latter every time. After all, on occasion, it just might be great. You know, like Donnie Darko.

Fletch's Film Rating:
"Darn tootin!"

Shaky Cam Rating (details):LAMBScore:
Large Association of Movie BlogsLarge Association of Movie Blogs

15 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: The Box"

Free Movies said...

This is a very awesome movie. I did not enjoy it but I will enjoy it within 3 days. The story of 'The Box' I like most.
Thanks for your wonderful movies.
Thanks and bye

Ténèbres à la lumière... said...

Bonjour! Fletch,
What a very interesting review...I think that I will place "The Box" on my film to watch next list...
...I like the fact, that you don't "mince" words in your reviews.

Merci de partager!
DeeDee ;-D

Nick said...

Still not sure if I'll check this one out in theater or not. Your review pretty much said exactly what I was already thinking... and what I was already thinking kept me in a middle ground between seeing it or not.

Though I'm right there with you... I've never understood how people can love Donnie Darko but not these, as Darko is just as batshit crazy as the rest.

Richard Bellamy said...

"Yes, it's hilarious at times, mostly at times when it's not supposed to be. But it's also intriguing, full of ideas, scary, and thoughtful. Mostly, it comes down to this: given the choice between a sane, unmemorable film and a batshit crazy, unforgettable one, I'll choose the latter every time."

Well said - and that says it for me in a nutshell. It piqued my interest throughout - though it also perplexed me throughout. But I'd rather be perplexed than bored.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Southland Tales is the kind of movie you want to forget. It'll curve your spine, rape your women, and cause the enemy to win the war.

That being said, I'll see this thing when I'm done freaking about the GRE.

Fletch said...

Nick - give it a shot. I don't think it'll be up your alley, but at least it'll be better than Ninja Assassin.

Hokahey - Given the perplexed > bored sentiment we share, I guess I should see Mulholland Drive finally.

Paul - no way; Southland Tales is one for the record books, and it's a movie that I will end up disproportionately loving a lot more to make up for all the people that hate on it. It's truly effed out, but how can one not like a film that features a cartoon of two cars having sex? What more could you people want from cinema?

Josh Lipovetsky said...

Wow, I really like your description of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales. Was Donnie Darko really unloved theatrically? I wouldn't have guessed, because of how popular it is today. I really want to see the Box though, it looks very interesting in commercials

Fletch said...

Josh - yeah, like I said, it was either unloved or not given a chance to be loved. Wiki states that it "debuted in US theaters in October 2001 to a tepid response," going on to earn less than a million bucks in theaters.

Nick said...

What? The Box better than Ninja Assassin? Blasphemy!

Daniel said...

I don't know, my endurance for this took a major turn southward at about the 50 minute mark, right when he got the hotel. In other words, as soon as M. Night Shyamalan took over while Kelly went for a smoke break. I'm just so sick of ***SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER***aliens at this point that I can't even stand them in any form.

But yeah, it was better than Southland Tales, by a nose.

Steve said...

Fletch, I never figured you for a Kelly apologist. Just today we were discussing the widely contradicting reviews, and were figuring that people's impressions of Donnie Darko might have been a little off. They might have figured that the teen angle to the movie was trying to be ironic, but he might have actually been playing it straight in his own mind. That might explain why people's expectations of him have been so off kilter.

Fletch said...

Nick - I know. How dare I speak ill will against our beloved Assassin.

Daniel - speaking of how dares...to invoke the name of Shamalamaman? I'm about 3/4 through The Happening (I HAD to see it after all the talk) and...just wow. Kelly's films are completely lucid when compared to the garbage that is Lady in the Water and The Happening. Can't wait to read your 300 words.

Steve - funny, I never figured myself as a Kelly apologist, either. I liked Donnie from the start, but was never a Kelly Truther or anything like that. I think, ultimately, his last two films are failures, if only because they do so much to alienate the audience, but I have such a damn good time watching them and being befuddled that I can't help but stick up for the guy. I'm consistently dying to see what he does next, even if it baffles me.

Daniel said...

Well I ended up coming down on The Box a lot more than most people, just to give you fair warning. Really? Nobody noticed a Shyamalan comparison?

Nick said...

Fletch: It's okay... I forgive you :P . Also, I'll agree with you on The Happening, but I happened to like Lady in the Water. I just don't get all the flack it receives. It was a decent fairy tale. Plus, I <3 Paul Giamatti.

Anyway, just letting you know that I've decided to go see "The Box" on Wednesday since I have that day off for Veteran's Day.

Nick said...

Alright... I saw it. Review it up.