Friday, October 18, 2013

Seven Minutes in Heaven: Love, Trauma, and Choices

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on October 18, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Reymond Amsalem and Eldad Prives in Seven Minutes in Heaven

Directed by Omri Givon in his first (and still only) feature, Seven Minutes in Heaven (Sheva dakot be gan eden, Israel, 2008) is a deceptively simple drama that melds dramatic realism with metaphysical and psychological drama to tell a powerful story of love and survival. We meet Galia (Reymond Amsalem, The Attack) at the hospital bed of her boyfriend Oren, roughly a year after the suicide bus bombing that left him in a coma and her badly burned. Galia’s memories of that morning, and the days leading up to it, are fragmentary and intermittent, and it is only after Oren finally dies that she begins to deal with her own pain. A new chapter of her life begins with the mysterious arrival of a necklace in the mail – one she at first barely recognizes as her own, and only later realizes she’d lost at the scene of the attack. With this small object as a touchstone, Galia is challenged to re-assemble and re-examine her recent past, and begin to live again in the present.

During her search for the paramedic who pulled her from the bus and ultimately saved her, she discovers that she was clinically dead for seven minutes before reviving (presumably the inspiration for the film’s title). Along the way, she meets another emergency volunteer who relates to her a mystical belief: when a soul is taken before its time, it is given the choice to return to earth, but only after being given glimpses of the life it will lead. Without giving too much away, those seven minutes are the metaphysical axis on which the narrative revolves.

Based on an original script by Givon, Seven Minutes in Heaven has the scope and slow, deliberate pacing of an ambitious short story. The film’s power comes from its tight focus on Galia’s point of view – Amsalem appears in every scene –  and its choice to tell a personal, rather than political, story. That narrative restraint pays off: Seven Minutes in Heaven tells a narrow story, but hardly a small one by any measure.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Delivers a Mighty Wallop

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on October 6, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This piece contains spoilers for The Avengers (2012) and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Despite Joss Whedon’s near-legendary status among his legions of fans, his television shows have long felt like underdog projects. While this fact has probably contributed to the good will he continues to inspire, it has also meant that has shows have had contested and limited lifespans. (Firefly famously never finished its short first season, and Dollhouse fought for practically every episode it aired during its two seasons on Fox.) With last summer’s blockbuster showing for the Whedon written and directed Marvel’s The Avengers, that all changed: the beloved cult icon became Hollywood’s golden boy. (It is tempting to compare this transformation to the comparable moment when Evil Dead’s Sam Raimi became Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi, but that is a story for another time.) For better or for worse, 1.5 billion in worldwide box office is always going to bring more schlep into the room than the adoration of the ComicCon community.

Co-created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, ABC’s Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is set in the aftermath of The Avengers, specifically its closing, climactic “Battle of New York”. Because of the publicity – and extensive property damage – of that failed alien invasion, S.H.I.E.L.D. is entering a new era of increased activity and public scrutiny. Times are a-changing and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, reprising his film role) is putting together a new (non-super) team to reflect that new normal: a hand-picked but not quite combat ready team, with more snark and smarts than field skills.

When I first heard of the series, it was thrilling to imagine Joss returning to television, even in co-creator/exec producer mode. (His Avengers success seemed to make any new television venture extremely unlikely.) But with the burden of that film franchise behind the project, it was also just as easy to imagine the show collapsing under its own weight (or its title), Whedons or no Whedons. Frankly, as the high profile spin-off of the third most profitable movie of all time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t have to be good to be popular. But right off the bat, this show promises to be more than a tie-in product for the multibillion-dollar franchise: it looks and sounds like a Whedon series.