Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Reviews

Sabin
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Re: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Oct 15, 2016 9:23 pm

I read that today as well. Owen Gleiberman seems to be the outlier. His review reminded me a bit of his review for Snowden where it just seems like he saw a different movie than everyone else. Having not seen either film, I'm not saying he's right or wrong.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

Mister Tee
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Re: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Oct 15, 2016 7:29 pm


Sabin
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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Oct 14, 2016 10:38 pm

Doesn't sound like a slam-dunk.


From IndieWire...

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ Review: Ang Lee’s Soldier Drama Is Solid On Story, But the Technology Doesn’t Compute
Shot in 3D at 120 frames per second and 4k resolution, Lee's drama doesn't provide the strongest case for the approach, but it's not a total loss.

Eric Kohn

Despite its technological wizardry and fancy title, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is a contained drama about one introverted man struggling with repressed emotions. If those ingredients sound out of whack, that’s the essence of Ang Lee’s intermittently admirable and erratic movie. At its core, “Billy Lynn” simply focuses on its leading man’s divided allegiances as he faces postwar trauma and gets lauded as a hero; well-acted and sustained by a smart, if at times jagged screenplay, it might work just fine on the stage. But the filmmaker’s decision to shoot the entire movie with the ambitious trifecta of 3D, 4k resolution and 120 frames-per-second technology produces hyperreal images out of whack with the routine events that dominate the screen.

With one exception — the titular walk, a dazzling football halftime show that brings the character’s conflict to the foreground – “Billy Lynn” barely looks more impressive than the possibilities offered by a high-end television. Whatever the creative possibilities of new digital cameras, this effort never fully makes its case.

But about that walk: When war hero Billy (newcomer Joe Alwyn) marches alongside his troop during a vibrant musical ceremony and flashes back to the battlefield, Lee briefly manages to show the potential for a truly immersive format with the capacity to put viewers inside its protagonist’s head. Then it snaps back to the small, fairly unremarkable storyline. The abrupt glimpse at next level storytelling is aided by occasional sharp exchanges between Billy and his colleagues as they contemplate a return to war. Buried in several levels of this uneven movie is the possibility of a great one.

Most audiences won’t have the chance to watch “Billy Lynn” at its high frame rate (only two theaters in the U.S. will accommodate it that way), which is probably for the best, because the fancy presentation mostly serves as a distraction. Adapted by screenwriter Jean-Christophe Castelli from Ben Fountain’s novel, “Billy Lynn” contains a layered premise that suits a reliable cinematic approach even without the fancy bells and whistles — namely, crosscutting, in this case between two radically different environments: a war zone and a football game, leading to a contrast that has ironic and at times perceptive results.

Set in 2004, “Billy Lynn” kicks off when the video of Private William Lynn, as he fends off attackers in an ill-fated crack at saving one of his peers in Iraq, goes viral around the country. The instant fame catapults his entire unit, the Bravo Squad, on a patriotic “Victory Tour” to celebrate their accomplishments. The possibility that the tour serves mostly for propaganda purposes flies over the giddy soldiers’ heads; they’re mostly excited by reports from their new manager (Chris Tucker, burying his comedy muscles in a straightforward performance) that their story might become a movie. Of course, that’s already happened: As “Billy Lynn” begins, the group arrives at their final stop, a Dallas Cowboys game where Billy is left to contemplate the bizarre circumstances that led him to this moment.

One of the stranger aspects of “Billy Lynn” has less to do with the next-level cameras than the people in front of them. As Shroom, the late sergeant who died in Iraq despite Billy’s widely-seen efforts, Vin Diesel does little more than scowl and mutter the occasional zen wisdom when Billy conjures up his memory. (One pep talk between the two involves “the karma of the warrior.”) Kristen Stewart surfaces in only a handful of scenes as Billy’s concerned sister, who’s given little to do aside from pouting about her brother’s insistence that he avoid another tour in Iraq. But the award for most thankless female role goes to Rhodri Thomas, playing the cutesy cheerleader tasked with batting her eyelashes and eventually seducing Billy moments after they meet.

Fortunately, the object of her affection provides a sturdy foundation to the story. Alwyn, in his first film role, manages to come across as soft-spoken and cocky at once, perfectly embodying the character’s shifting attitudes. Other bit parts, including Garrett Hedlund as the unit’s stern leader and Steve Martin in the unlikely role of the Cowboys’ arrogant owner Norm Oglesby, provide credible sounding boards for Billy as he struggles through his psychological instability. Billy’s complicated relationship to everyone around him makes for a compelling centerpiece regardless of the strange manner in which it’s framed.

“Billy Lynn” consolidates the two wildly different modes of Lee’s filmography. Like “Life of Pi” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” it illustrates his insistence on searching for new possibilities in film language; at the same time, it’s an understated narrative about alienated Americans closer in form to “Brokeback Mountain.” However, it lacks the same crisp writing, instead falling back on cornball dialogue and fake southern accents to plug in the big themes. (One big clunker: “Trashin’ another country is easy, standin’ up to your own takes a real hero.”)

Lee can’t stop trying to give that frame rate a chance to shine. In a late digression, Oglesby makes a bid for Billy’s life story that mostly provides an excuse for Martin to deliver an eerie jingoistic monologue in extreme (and unflattering) closeup. Seen in Lee’s high frame rate, the shot relishes every pore on the actor’s face. There’s a case to be made that this unseemly picture deepens the narrative by emphasizing the smarmy character’s devious intentions in pure visual terms. But as with much of the movie, that possibility hovers over an otherwise straightforward dialogue scene rather than elevating the otherwise blunt exchange to a new level of expression.

In short, Lee’s high frame rate is more technological curiosity than full-fledged achievement, a peculiarity that might be better labeled “The Billy Lynn Experience.” A final battle scene, in which Billy recalls the grisly details of his shootout, has a jarring quality for the way it captures every gory detail with near-documentary results. The halftime show, which could stand alone as a short film without the surrounding exposition, provides a vivid contrast between the histrionics of a Destiny’s Child performance and Billy’s uneasiness at its center. For a fleeing moment, we’re right there with him.

So long as “Billy Lynn” remains focused on his ambiguous mindset, it remains an engaging, somewhat theatrical character study. But Lee’s ongoing need to complicate his approach yields a movie trapped between conventional narrative tropes and questionable attempts to deliver something that registers on a more visceral level. “It’s not some story, it’s our lives,” insists one member of the Bravo Squad, wrestling with the prospects of a movie deal. Yet “Billy Lynn” is just a decent story laced with attempts to make it larger than life.

Grade: B-



From The Wrap...

‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ NYFF Review: Ang Lee Stumbles at the 50-Yard Line

Bad writing is further undone by 120 frames-per-second cinematography that turns everything into glossy magazine photos
Dan Callahan | October 14, 2016 @ 8:19 PM

So who is Billy Lynn, and what is a halftime walk, and why is it long? These questions and a few others are tentatively answered in Ang Lee‘s film adaptation of Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel about an Iraq War veteran named Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who participates in a grueling Thanksgiving Day halftime performance after coming home from battle in 2004.

Lee has shot “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” at a rate of 120 frames per second with a resolution of 4K in 3D. The always well-meaning Lee and his collaborators have been quoted as saying that this new process is meant to be a step forward when it comes to realism on screen, but the result of their experiment is anything but realistic.

In most of the scenes in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a figure will stand in the foreground of the frame and the background will be out of focus, and the foregrounded figure is so super-clear that they look like a cut-out with scissors from a glossy magazine. There have been some outstanding examples in recent years of what can be accomplished with immersive 3D imagery, but the extra-clarity 3D in this Lee movie often looks weirdly like something shot on videotape in the 1980s.

What this process means for the actors is that every pore on their face is highlighted as well as wrinkles and blemishes and yellow teeth that would likely not be noticeable otherwise. (This process is surely the nightmare of a performer with any standard degree of physical vanity.) Does this 120 frame rate/4K resolution technique heighten what we can see on a human face, which is what Lee is hoping for? It does seem to give an extra emotional oomph to the close-ups of Kristen Stewart, who plays Billy’s loving sister, but this exaggerated scrutiny totally exposes the all-surface performance of Steve Martin, who is miscast as a villainous tycoon.

How exactly is this new frame rate supposed to look like any sort of progress if the background of a shot is almost always out of focus? The only thing this process in its current state might be good for are shots that are supposed to be from the subjective viewpoint of a character who is losing touch with reality, which is the exact opposite of what Lee intends it for here. Cinematographer Gregg Toland’s experiments with deep focus from 75 years ago feel more radical than anything in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” and any old school split diopter shot with both background and foreground figures in sharp focus might knock any of the images in this movie right off the screen.

A bolder director than Lee might have made a clearer and even blunter connection between American warfare and the American entertainment at the halftime show, but this film is structured with a before-and-after dynamic so that the scenes where Billy Lynn and his fellow soldiers stand behind Destiny’s Child at the halftime show feel far more nerve-wracking and ominous than the unconvincing war scenes, and this deliberate imbalance doesn’t pay off dramatically in any discernible way.

On a narrative level, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is as awkward and half-hearted as its title. Lee demonstrates absolutely no understanding of how the soldiers could or should relate to each other as a team, and the dialogue rhythms are especially off when they try to be funny with each other. The scenes where Billy romances a cheerleader named Faison (Makenzie Leigh, “James White”) are especially disastrous, as if both of them were stilted beings from some other planet trying to relate to each other.

Of all the actors here, only Stewart behaves as if she is in a serious film. Her character has been injured and scarred in a car accident, and the marks on her face and on her torso have been convincingly applied so that they stand up to the test of Lee’s new frame-rate process. Perhaps this process is only in its early stages and might improve over time, but for now it does not feel ready for anything but TV soap operas starring actors with the clearest and smoothest possible skin.

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” winds up being a wearying experience, not because of its emotional content but because of its lack of cohesion and its ultimate collapse into gross and unearned sentimentality. The impression this movie leaves is one of hapless and anxious super-clear cut-outs interacting with either blurred co-players or blurred backgrounds that look less like life and more like near-sightedness.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver


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