I have long repeated — though I suspect it’s a kind of literary urban legend — what the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor supposedly said about making art approachable: “You should write as if your audience is made up of reasonably bright 14-year-olds.” While I feel the snobs in reach of my voice sticking up their noses at that, they are words to live by for artists of any ilk — Flannery’s way of saying, “Don’t get too big for your britches.”
It’s advice that Shane Carruth, the writer/ director of the sci-fi indie film “Primer,” now showing at Market Street Theater, would do well to learn.
In the film, Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) are half of a quartet of young engineers who spend their free time desperately trying to come up with something marketable during evenings of garage-workshop tinkering. After another costly flop, Aaron and Abe decide to try something new on their own: a device that can levitate objects. From a complicated mass of circuitry and wires (one that I mightily suspect was a washing machine in a plate-steel cozy), they manage to get engineering’s holy grail: a machine that puts out more energy than it takes in. What’s more, Abe finds that when he puts his watch inside the box, time runs faster inside than it does outside. Somehow, they figure out that if the box was big enough for them to get inside, they could go back in time (though I’d give a buck to someone who can explain to me how hitting the fast-forward button can make you go backward). Of course, they build the box. Boxes, actually — two of them, constructed in a U-Haul storage locker.
Once the boxes are built, it all gets a little frat-party hazy for me. They use their foreknowledge of the future to play the stock market, but then there are paradoxes: an Alternate Abe and Alternate Aaron and something about Alt Aaron tying up Aaron in a closet, and then I went cross-eyed and gagged on my tongue.
As Kurt Vonnegut put it (possibly even better than what I have attributed to bitter old Flannery): “Be a good date to your reader.”
The sad news is: Not only is “Primer” content to leave the audience a wallflower, I can almost guarantee that anyone this side of MIT will be completely and hopelessly lost by the time the credits roll. Though the film is interesting to look at and well shot (and done so for a reported budget of $7,500, though sources I’ve read count that only as the tip of the iceberg), “Primer” would have been a much better movie if Carruth had been willing to shelve some of his nerd-auteur jargon and throw a bone from time to time for us poor saps who muddled through trigonometry. In film, there’s no shame in trying to set a comfortable place at the table for your guests, even if the dinner show makes them lose their appetite.
— By David Koon
Comic books, of which I’m a big fan, break down human nature into nice, black and white chunks, the way it almost never falls in real life. And while there have been a few good comic book movies (Tim Burton’s “Batman” flicks, and “Spiderman” and its sequel), the vast majority should have been kicked to the curb faster than — well, faster than your mom booted out that box of your old comic books the minute she saw you off to college.
Which brings me to the case in point: “Elektra.” It’s the rarest of all comic book movies: the fair to middling. Not crummy enough to hate, not good enough to celebrate, it hangs in a kind of lukewarm limbo. For comic book fans accustomed to having their heroes both ways — fiery or dead — lukewarm might just be the unkindest cut of all.
Here, Jennifer Garner plays Elektra, the bustier-clad butt kicker of Marvel Comics fame. Killed off in 2003’s “Daredevil,” Elektra is brought back to life for this spin-off by Stick (Terence Stamp), the blind kung fu master who taught her all her moves. Soon cast out from Stick’s compound for the inability to control her rage (like many superheroes, she’s the product of murdered parents), Elektra becomes an assassin for hire.
Between flashbacks, Elektra gets the biggest job of her career: a contract hit on Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic from “E.R.”) and his daughter, Abby (Kristen Prout), who are hiding out on an island. While waiting for a go on the hit, however, Elektra and Abby strike up a sort of friendship. From there, Elektra’s long-suppressed conscience kicks in, and she goes from killer to protector — soon discovering that Abby is a kung fu prodigy called “The Treasure” that the evil organization The Hand wants to convert to the dark side.
Though Garner does a pretty good job with what she has, she is often walled in by the woodenness of the character, who can go from “while my guitar gently weeps” to “death metal” in 2.1 seconds.
Given a bit more time to understand who Elektra is beyond the bitter daughter of a murdered mother, her switch to caring about Abby and her father might have gone down a little more smoothly. As it stands, it feels like a subplot, a spare few moments of emotion between the scenes of people getting shot, stabbed, blown up with rocket launchers and having their necks snapped by ninjas. And while forsaking sentiment for the smackdown is standard for the action genre, “Elektra” very purposefully takes us down that emotional road and then sort of strands us there. Though the action sequences we get in exchange are lightning-paced and well done, we never quite find our way home.
— By David Koon
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