Monday, March 25, 2013

Upstream Color

This movie's going to be returning to the Brattle on 12 April 2013 for a ten-day run (and a few other cities in that timeframe), and will be available on video about a month later, and I recommend checking it out. That's an insanely quick turnaround from just showing at Sundance in January, and I'm not sure whether writer/director/producer Shane Carruth is doing it that way because he wants to get people in front of it before what's in the movie is common knowledge or because he's self-distributing and there's no point in having it not be earning money for him (or having interest rack up if he borrowed to finance it). The result's the same, though- there's a chance to see it while its festival praise is still in the audience's head, and that's cool and somewhat rare.

In between the festivals and the limited release, Carruth is doing a few "pop-up" screenings with Q&A, and the one in Cambridge was pretty good.

Ned Hinkle & Shane Carruth photo IMAG0310_zpsffe84a3c.jpg
The Brattle's Ned Hinkle & Upstream Color's Shane Carruth

He's an affable guy on-stage, able to talk about the various pros and cons of making and distributing movies independently without complaint or agenda; no "poor me" or "this is the future and you'd better get on board" here. He was also quite willing to put what he was thinking about when making the movie out there rather than play coy or ask what the audience thinks something means, even while acknowledging that ideally we wouldn't be having that discussion now as opposed to have thing audience retire to a cafe and thrash it out amoung themselves (heck, even the cafe thing sounded neither snobby nor like a joke about the pretentious art-house types).

I've got a few thoughts for after seeing the movie, but I'll put them after the EFC excerpt.

One unrelated thought - how the heck is Primer more-or-less out of print right now? You can stream it on Amazon (at least), but DVDs are tough to come buy and I don't think there was ever a Blu-ray. I wonder if the rights have reverted back to Carruth (in which case, bravo on being prescient enough to not sell them nine years ago) or if it's just somewhat poor planning on whoever owns them.

Upstream Color

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (preview, Blu-ray)

For all that the interconnectedness of today's world is wonderful in many ways, it can make it harder for something to truly take one by surprise - there's non-stop casting news, coverage, previews, and analysis of it commercial and artistic outlook to the point where a person can feel sick of a movie weeks before it opens in theaters. And yet, the same tools that enable that also mean that somebody with the talent to take on multiple jobs can make something that's kind of amazing even if it does take few enough resources that it barely shows up on the radar, meaning it's possible to go in not knowing what to expect. That's the case with Upstream Color, Shane Carruth's first film since Primer, his equally-but-differently-peculiar debut almost a decade ago.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) is a mess, working a job well below what she was once capable of and feeling angry and confused much of the time. Jeff (Carruth) falls for her anyway, feeling a strange connection beyond the usual; though outwardly more in-sync with the world around him, he's got issues of his own. As they pull together, they may eventually discover just what was going on with Kris during the first half-hour of the movie.

It's admittedly kind of unusual to skip over the beginning of a movie when giving the audience a taste of what it's about, but Upstream Color is an unusual movie in that it pushes its more fantastical elements early before coming to rest in a more conventional situation. The viewer gets a double-sized serving of disorientation, with much of the first act being the sort of strangeness that other films would plunge into only after establishing a familiar world and a main character to identify with. This makes for a weirdly inverted sort of movie, where the old "everything you know is wrong" trope less a chance to prove doubters wrong than a wound that it may not be possible to heal from.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


Not really a whole lot to say here; maybe a little more come mid-April when I've had a chance to see the movie again. I mostly want to acknowledge that the most amusing bit from the Q&A was about how they had to scrap a lot of effects shots from the movie which showed yellow stuff overpowering the blue contaminants in Kris's body despite their being some of the coolest things they made because this was threatening to become a movie about Kris's bloodstream. It's a rather unique thing for a filmmaker to have to say, as is using the phrase "pig-flower-worm life-cycle". I am the guy who is going to love that, though.

I do have to admit that I didn't exactly grasp one of the main things he described the film being about as science fiction until he started talking about it in the Q&A while watching the movie, that Kris's self had been disassembled and reassembled wrong, which is a shame, because I love that sort of reconfigured-identity thing. I didn't really see any mechanism in the movie where her brain was emptied and refilled; I mostly saw someone who had been submerged beneath the Thief's will and had the memories of that time blocked. When she and Jeff started sharing the same childhood memories, I took that as them being connected now (via a peculiar telepathic-pig neural network because this movie is very strange), rather than some of Jeff's memories actually having been implanted in her.


All of that may go to the point Carruth was talking about, that we maybe really shouldn't have these Q&As right away, especially with someone so willing to answer questions - in other circumstances, I would have had this theory, talked with others, and maybe shared alternatives or had something I missed pointed out, leading to a refined theory. Instead, I feel like a bad, less-than-completely-attentive moviegoer right away, and there will be no figuring-things-out post that drives a whole bunch of folks to this site like there is for Triangle. Kind of a bummer, that, but I still got to see a pretty nifty movie, so things are still good.

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