I'm behind on my reviews again. Here's a round-up of what I've seen recently:
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Friday, December 26, 2014
There's a scene near the very end of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014, directed by Peter Jackson) that highlights the sheer folly of splitting J.R.R. Tolkien's novel into three gargantuan movies. The major events are over and Bilbo Baggins has returned to The Shire only to find that his greedy relations have taken possession of his house at Bag End. He catches them in the midst of auctioning off his household belongings. After chasing them off, he surveys the damage and finds his handkerchief. This is a call-back to the first movie, when, at the outset of his journey with the dwarfs, Bilbo tries to halt things so he can go back for his missing handkerchief. The only reason I caught this is because a friend of mine invited me to one of the marathon showings of all three movies. Otherwise, I would have missed the symmetry of this scene because An Unexpected Journey would have been two years in the past. As it was, the object of the callback was still nine hours in the past, nearly forgotten. Tolkien's quaint adventure story has become such a massive white elephant (white Mumak? Maybe) in these movies that niceties like handkerchiefs often get overwhelmed.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu), like many of the director's films, sometimes lets the technique of its making overshadow its subject matter. Iñárritu has been a Mannerist from his first film onward, so this is no surprise. What is surprising is the technique Iñárritu has chosen. His other films have shattered narratives; they are Cubist mosaics in which multiple story chronologies define fragments of the whole. Birdman, by contrast, is downright classical in its adherence to the unities of dramatic time and space. There's a practical reason for this. Most of the film is constructed to look like one long uninterrupted take. And that's only the start of its cleverness.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The third film in the Hunger Games series suffers dramatically from being only half a movie. I mean that literally. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014, directed by Francis Lawrence) is all rising action without payoff, a function of the producers' decision to split the adaptation of the series' last book into two movies. This tactic may have enriched the makers of the Harry Potter movies and it will assuredly enrich the makers of these films, but it hobbles the penultimate film in the series. After a terrific second film, it's a hard comedown.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
I was having a conversation with some movie friends of mine last week when I opined that I don't think Christopher Nolan knows what a movie director actually does. That's a pretty provocative statement about a filmmaker who is arguably the most commercially successful director of the last decade and one who has a considerable and fanatically devoted cult from whom I am sure to catch some grief. But hear me out.
The things that Nolan does well are things that producers have traditionally done well: wrangling talent, managing technical departments, casting, overseeing editors and composers, and so on. But when it comes to actually blocking actors and sets and camera movements in the film frame and telling them where to move and how to deliver their lines? When it comes to the basic act of directing a film in front of rolling cameras? Man, that cat is barely functional. He's fortunate that his metier is in big action spectaculars where a lot of these deficiencies can be papered over by the need to construct storyboards and animatics for the action sequences and special effects. Left to his own devices, his idea of drama is placing an actor in a medium two-shot without a companion and dumping exposition as a fucking soliloquy. When left to construct action sequences, his default is the run and gun style that doesn't require a sense of filmic space. He's not good at this stuff.
More, Nolan views films as puzzles. This goes all the way back to Memento, but it reached its zenith with The Prestige, which is a puzzle that cheats, and with Inception. These are puzzles to be solved for their own sakes, and, y'know, that's fair. It's a defensible aesthetic. I like puzzles. It's perhaps inevitable that Nolan would make ambitious hard sci fi, because that stuff is all about puzzles. Science is the pursuit of puzzles and their solutions. There's an atavistic pleasure that all humans feel when they figure something out. The harder the problem, the sweeter its solution feels. Providing that thrill is an experience that movies rarely provide, except in tricky mystery thrillers.
When I say that Nolan is a better producer than director, that's a challenge to the prevailing notion that directors are the authors of films. It's true that film is a director's medium, but that doesn't mean directors are always auteurs. David O. Selznick comes to mind. So does Val Lewton. So this shouldn't be taken as a slight, necessarily. But his neglect of the art of directing for the other crafts of filmmaking does make for deeply flawed films.
I'm not entirely sure what to do with Nolan's newest film, Interstellar (2014). It showcases all of Nolan's failings as a filmmaker while emphasizing all of his strengths. It's ambitious, I'll give it that much. There's a lot to like, actually. It has good actors and phenomenal production design and more rigor when it comes to actual science than is usual for science fiction movies (faint praise, given the magical nature of movie physics). When it wants to make grand statements, though? That's when it tumbles down into that black hole at the center of the narrative. Its metaphysics often struck me as silly.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Dear White People (2014, directed by Justin Simien) is a portrait of entitlement and privilege as satire and farce. That it's set at an Ivy League school where privilege and entitlement are incubated is right and proper, because this isn't a film where the obvious oppression of economic iniquity fits in. That's a fish in a barrel, one that would lend itself more to a polemic than to a wry satire. Instead, this aims at less obvious, though no less pernicious targets, including a deconstruction of the sometimes rigid expectations of black identity.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
It's a shame that the supernova of Hayao Miyazaki has sometimes blinded the world to the fact that there's another genius working at Studio Ghibli. That man is Isao Takahata, who once upon a time created The Grave of the Fireflies, one of the greatest of all animated films. His other work has been hard to get in North America, which is a criminal oversight. The appearance of The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) on these shores is therefore cause for celebration. It's one of the most beautiful and atypical films from Studio Ghibli, reflecting its director's restless experimentation with animation. It doesn't look like the studio's house style at all. Sometimes, it's deliriously abstract.
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
I don't know what to make of director Ben Wheatley. He obviously knows how to make a good film. Whatever my complaints with Kill List or Sightseers, they're testament to a major genre talent, but one who makes inconsistent, frustrating films. A Field in England (2013) doesn't change my mind on him. If anything, it's his most impenetrable film; a bad head trip.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Before it flies off the rails at the end, Here Comes the Devil (2013, directed by Adrián García Bogliano) builds a formidable ambiance of dread. It's mostly a slow burner, in which the intellectual implications of its set-up are more horrible than any monsters, though in the end, it supplies monsters. Maybe. It's an ambiguous, sometimes perplexing movie.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
I mostly skipped the Friday the 13th sequels after number three (it was in 3-D and I was still a teenage gore hound at the time). I eventually caught up with Jason X (mostly for David Cronenberg) and Freddy vs. Jason (mostly for Ronny Yu), but the rest? Feh. I do admit to a morbid fascination with the idea behind the Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988, directed by John Carl Buechler), but I never acted on it to watch the movie before now. The premise is a 1980s variant on the monster rallies of the 1940s. Instead of "Frankenstein vs. The Wolf-man," though, this film posits "Jason vs. Carrie." Team-ups like this are usually the sign of a decadent franchise, and boy, howdy is that the case here. For all that, it remains steadfastly chained to the formula of the previous films in the series.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I often don't know how to react to nunsploitation movies. Apart from the feminist and queer-activist objections that I might raise about the exploitation elements in nunsploitation, I'm perhaps more deeply conflicted by the religious implications. Depending on who's behind the camera, these films either indulge in anti-religious straw-manning or they function as religious propaganda. Sometimes, they'll do both within the same damned movie. Alucarda (1977, directed by Juan López Moctezuma), a key nunsploitation film from Mexico, makes no pretense of a coherent theological critique or even a coherent story, though I think it mostly functions on the religious propaganda side of the equation.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Ken Russell's dalliances with the horror genre were always perverse. Whether the artsy take on nunsploitation in The Devils or the evolutionary visions of Altered States or the Romantic freakout of Gothic, Russell always approached the genre obliquely, using its imagery but eschewing its narrative tropes. A rare exception to this is The Lair of the White Worm (1988), which has a conventional horror movie plot--taken from Bram Stoker's worst novel--upon which Russell hangs his usual altered states of consciousness and psychosexual derangement. It's as looney a horror movie as the 1980s ever produced--which is saying something--though it's perhaps less strange than some of Russell's other films. It's a matter of degrees informed by the history of the director rather than by the genre's standards themselves. Russell, whatever his faults, was one of a kind.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Black Rock (2012, directed by Katie Aselton) is a feminist variant of a familiar genre trope, in which a group of friends head out into the wild and discover they are not alone, that the something else out there means them all harm. It's a survival horror movie at its base. Like any genre construct worth its salt, this one will support all kinds of themes and agendas. This film concerns itself with things you wouldn't ordinarily associate with the survival horror film in its most basic form: the friendships of women, sexual consent, sexual harassment. I almost wrote "rape survival," but, of course, that's a complete subset of the survival horror film. In its bones, this is an indie drama that veers off course into the territory of the nightmare and gets itself lost in the woods.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973, directed by Richard Blackburn) is one of those odd little films orphaned by the business of movies only to take on a weird kind of half-life as time goes on while other kinds of films in similar straits fade entirely from memory. The horror genre is in part built on a foundation of such movies. The hororr movie acts as a collective unconscious for the medium, so it doesn't really forget anything. I don't want to suggest that Lemora is a foundational film in the genre, or even that it's any kind of unsung masterpiece. It's not. It is a singular experience unto itself, though, one that defies easy categorization.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
I went into The Guest (2013, directed by Adam Wingard) more or less blind. I had no clue what it was about or if it had good reviews or anything. For someone as immersed in movie culture as I am, this is highly unusual. Oh, I know Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett's other films. Barrett is a native of my hometown and he usually brings his films to our local arthouse, so I had an inkling of what to expect, but I was mostly wrong. This film is more polished than any of their other productions (including You're Next, which got distribution from a major studio). There's obviously more money involved. More than that, though, there's a more disciplined approach to the filmmaking itself. Gone are the mumblecore performances and wandering hand-held camera. I wouldn't call this slick--it's much too rooted in pulp traditions for that--but it is certainly goes down easier.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
A friend of mine described Dracula Untold (2014, directed by Gary Shore) as "300 with vampires." I can see what she means. Any retelling of the story of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, however tinged by dark fantasy, is liable to stumble over 21st century global politics. In his time, Vlad was a hero to the people of Wallachia and Romania and Eastern Europe for standing as a bulwark between Christendom and the depredations of the Muslim Ottoman Turks. The allegorical potential in a contemporary world divided in conflict along the lines of Christian and Muslim is too rich. This analogy breaks down, though, when one considers the (anti) hero of the piece. Even in his own time, Vlad Dracula was famed for his bottomless cruelty. I almost wish the filmmakers had included some of the gorier stories about Vlad (in one--my favorite, actually--a trio of monks refused to doff their skullcaps to the Prince, so he nailed them to their heads). Not for nothing is Vlad III forever nicknamed "Vlad the Impaler," something with which this film is very much in tune. Vlad Dracula was a monster even before Bram Stoker modeled his famous vampire upon him. So what do you get if you cast a monster as the bulwark of Christianity against the Infidel Turks? Something different than an allegory for contemporary politics, or, at the very least, a very different kind of allegory than the right-wing jingoism of 300.
The legend of Vlad the Impaler and of Bram Stoker's Count Dracula are so intertwined anymore that it hardly seems worth it to untangle them. The imagery implicit in such an entanglement is much too rich to abandon to mere factuality. One doesn't need the huggermugger of the horror genre to be horrified at the forests of impaled enemies Vlad left in his wake to intimidate his enemies. A contemporary reading of the way Vlad conducted his war against the Turks would convict him of crimes against humanity. Medieval warfare was brutal in ways that we can't even conceive anymore. Adding the vampire legend to Vlad almost seems beside the point, but add it to the story of Vlad the Impaler this film does, and the additional Romantic tragedy that has somehow accreted to both myths.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
At the time of its release, I remember people describing The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999, directed by Katt Shea) as a sequel no one wanted. I mean, seriously, this comes, what? 23 years later? I didn't see it when it was in theaters. It certainly wasn't a sequel that I wanted. In some ways, I'm glad I waited until now to watch it. There are things in this film that I would not have appreciated in 1999, blinded as I was at the time by whatever vestige of male privilege I once had. A decade without that privilege tends to lift the blinders. The Rage's prescience is startling. Like Kimberly Pierce's remake a decade later, this is a film that benefits from a female gaze.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006, directed by Jonathan Levine) had a complicated release. Made and released in other parts of the world mid-last decade, it didn't make it to American screens until 2013 (not that this matters much to determined fans with all-region DVD players or a willingness to torrent, but still...). The film itself is manifestly American in its setting and its idiom, being a throwback to the slasher films of the 1980s, so this is doubly vexing. I doubt this did much bank elsewhere.
Note: this movie is a trickster, so if you don't like spoilers, consider yourself warned.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Candyman (1992, directed by Bernard Rose) is the best film adaptation of Clive Barker. It's a film that fulfills the promise those blurbs on the original Books of Blood trumpeted ("I have seen the future of horror..."). It's one of the most profoundly frightening films of the 1990s, a decade short on really effective fright films. Oh, it plunges off a cliff in the end, as most films based on Barker do, but before then? Oh, it's the primo stuff.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
There's a legend about Stephen King's first published novel, Carrie, in which Doubleday editor Bill Thompson was convinced to buy and publish the book because the secretaries were found to be passing the manuscript around the office, completely horrified and utterly mesmerized by its first scene. You know the one? In which poor Carrie White has her first period and her classmates pelt her with tampons while chanting "Plug it up! Plug it up!" That scene and, indeed, the book itself suggest a story that ought to be examined with a female gaze. It's categorically a book about women in which men are barely present as active characters with agency. While I'm not going to grouse about Brian De Palma's film version on the whole--it's one of the landmarks of the 1970s horror film--De Palma's filming of the opening scene has always struck me as mildly exploitative. It's certainly filmed from a male gaze. This is corrected by Kimberly Pierce's 2013 remake, a film that's not nearly as heartless as De Palma's film. In theory, Pierce's version of Carrie is a more faithful adaptation of King's novel, but as has happened in the past with "more faithful" versions of King, something gets lost.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Some of the grisliest of the horror stories from the old E. C. Comics were published in their crime titles. The covers that got them in the most trouble with the Kefauver hearings were for Crime Suspense Stories and Shock Suspense Stories (though, in all fairness, Tales from the Crypt et al. weren't far behind them in terms of horribleness). When Robert Bloch bolted from the horror genre in the 1950s, it was to crime novels that he went, one of which was an unassuming potboiler named Psycho. I mention this because Cold in July (2014, directed by Jim Mickle) is one of those movies that straddles crime and horror. It's got a mean streak. Joe R. Lansdale, upon whose novel the movie is based, has been writing crime horror hybrids for decades now, and this one is salted a bit with the western. It's a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do sort of film.
Sunday, October 05, 2014
Blood and Chocolate (2007, directed by Katja von Garnier) is an early attempt at tapping into the marketplace for young adult fiction (it's based on a book by Annette Curtis Klause). It's a werewolf film, though it forgoes the sparkling vampires as their natural enemies (Twilight would make it into theaters a year later). Other than that, it hits all of the beats like a pro: Chosen one narrative? Forbidden love? Repressive culture? It's got all that. What it lacks is a tight control of its narrative and an instinct for the jugular.
Saturday, October 04, 2014
The ABCs of Death (2013, various directors) is the anthology movie as complete clusterfuck. The premise finds 26 filmmakers assigned a word corresponding with a letter of the alphabet. Apart from the letter and word, the filmmakers were given their heads to produce whatever they felt like producing. As with all anthology films, the results are highly variable. The rate of signal to noise in this collection is depressingly low. A lot of these films play like student films. A lot of them are profoundly scatalogical (full disclosure: totally not my thing). Depressingly few of them are any good.
Friday, October 03, 2014
Liam Neeson, now in his sixties, is an unlikely candidate for action hero super-stardom, but that's where his career finds itself these days. He fills a void formerly occupied by Clint Eastwood, I guess. A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014, directed by Scott Frank) will only further Neeson's career as a cinematic tough guy, even as it marginally humanizes that cinematic anima. It's more Tightrope than Dirty Harry, if you get my drift, with a salting of Unforgiven. It's also an expansion of director Scott Frank's career as one of the preeminent makers of crime cinema. It's ambitious, I'll give it that.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
There's a party game called "Werewolf" in which three players are werewolves and the rest of the party is villagers. Every "night," the villagers close their eyes and the werewolves "kill" one of them. During the "day" the villagers try to deduce who the werewolves are. If the villagers "kill" all the werewolves before the werewolves get them, they win, otherwise, the werewolves win. It's fun variant of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. I couldn't help but think about this while I was watching Devil (2010, directed by John Erick Dowdle), an unassuming little shocker in which five people are trapped in an elevator and one of them is, well, The Devil. It's a classic game of Werewolf, including the periods of darkness when The Devil takes the next victim.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
The first month that it was on HBO, I think I watched Scanners (1981, directed by David Cronenberg) six times. This wasn't easy to do, because in those days, HBO was hesitant to show anything rated a hard "R" any earlier than 9 pm. Scanners was a movie that often showed up at 3 am or later. I remember dawn breaking during one viewing, right as Cameron Vale and Daryl Revok engaged in a telepathic duel to the death. It's a film I've been living with for a long time. I used to think that it was relatively minor in Cronenberg's canon when you set it next to The Brood, Videodrome, and The Fly among the films that constitute "early Cronenberg," but I've come around to a different point of view on that these days.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Sunday, September 28, 2014
One of the challenges involved with creating a project like a list is writing from distant memories rather than from fresh impressions. I rarely write about films I haven't seen in a while. In the case of some of the films I'm listing here, my impressions are decades old. It would be completely impractical to rewatch all of these films, though I imagine that most of them stand up to rewatching. The only film I've rewatched for these posts is The Queen of Spades, listed below. Others? I haven't seen The Serpent and the Rainbow since it was in theaters, nor have I seen The Other since it creeped me out of me when I was a kid, watching it on late night television. I've never forgotten any of these films, though, which it a testament to their quality.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
October is coming up fast, so here's the next installment of this series. I've been trying to cast a wide net across the history of horror movies, but there are some periods when the genre was in serious remission (I'm looking at you, early to mid 1990s). I'm fascinated at how great horror movies cluster around certain times: the early 1930s, the 1970s, the 2000s. I'm tempted to pontificate on the sociology of these groupings, but I'll spare you that. In any event here's the next ten films for your perusal:
Friday, September 26, 2014
Here's part two of this series. These are not in any kind of order. They are unranked. These are all films I've enjoyed to one degree or another. The only common thread running through them is that few, if any, of these films has the broad recognition of general audiences or the kinds of people who make "best of" lists. And, hopefully they'll provide ideas for October.
One more word about this project, though: I'm not writing this for horror fans. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the first installment of this series who complained--well, commented is probably more like it--that he had seen almost everything I wrote about. That's fine. If you're a student of the genre, you've probably got a list of your own "deep cuts." My friend, Aaron Christensen, ran into the same thing when he was putting together Hidden Horror. Horror fans--myself included--tend to be obsessive.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Longtime readers probably realize that my movie writing usually follows a formula: introductory paragraph, synopsis, bulk of the review. I'm going to skip a synopsis of Living Stars (2014, directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat), because it's not a narrative film in any meaning of the word. I mean, technically, it's a documentary, but even that seems to impose certain expectations. What this is is 63 minutes of people dancing to a variety of pop songs. That's it. In spite of its utter simplicity, Living Stars is one of the most joyful and hilarious film experiences I've had in a good long while.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I got into an argument over the weekend over the usefulness of all those top whatever lists of horror movies you see show up every year. You know the ones, I'm sure: they always have some combination of The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Alien, etc at the top? Yeah. Those. You don't even need an advanced degree in horror movie-ology to know about those films. They're in the culture. I mean, Night of the Living Dead's influence is so all-pervasive that it shows up on sitcoms and commercials. Seriously, you don't need my voice added to the din.
Lately, though, I've been thinking about the role of the critic. In a world where movies proliferate faster than ever, the critic is a cartographer. The critic has an obligation to wander into the parts of cinema that are labeled terra incognito on the map and bring back their findings. I've been a hardcore student of horror since I was very young, so here are some of my findings. Here are some films that DON'T show up on those annual lists of great horror movies even though they're certainly worthy films. This is in no order. There is no ranking, no hierarchy. Think of this as a kind of high-altitude mapping expedition. I'll be posting ten of these a day for the next week, so hang on to your seat. It might get bumpy.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Club Sandwich (2013, directed by Fernando Eimbcke) is a coming of age story with an unusual point of view. Its young protagonist is a bundle of sexual confusion, as most such protagonists are. You've seen countless boys like him fumbling their way toward adulthood. In a male-dominated industry, these kinds of stories proliferate. What you generally don't see is the effect this has on the protagonist's parent(s). This film's primary insight is to look at what a mother might feel while watching her son discover his sexuality. That the film is quietly funny is a bonus. It's not glib, though, and it's doesn't take shortcuts. The slow accumulation of awkward moments becomes heavy over the course of the film and its ultimate disposition is more bittersweet than comedic. It's a good comedy that can reveal its characters without mocking or humiliating them. This manages to do exactly that.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I normally keep my art projects off my movie blog, but I have a financial stake in this, so here we go: I have a Kickstarter. I'm trying to fund a collection of my transgender-themed comics (some of which you can read here). If it seems like I'm trying my level best to avoid doing nine-to-five work between Patreon and this, well, you would be correct. Ideally, I'll never have to go back to the capitalist employment model ever again. In the mean time, I have to sell myself to you, dear potential patron. Anyway, I've put a lot of work and love into this comic. I don't think you need to be trans to enjoy it (I have it on the authority of my cis friends that it reads pretty well). It IS pretty sexually explicit, but hopefully not exploitative. Anyway, check it out and back it if you like what you see.
Monday, September 15, 2014
Because I'm lousy at self-promotion, I don't think I've touted this book I was in at the start of the year. It's Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks and it was put together by all-around good guy Aaron Christensen. My piece for the book was about X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, which you can read at Filmmaker Magazine's web site. I know that one criticism of the book so far has been that a lot of the films discussed aren't nearly that "underrated" or "overlooked," but that sniping comes from inside horror fandom itself, so it shouldn't be taken too seriously. If May was well-known for example, it would have been a much bigger hit and Lucky McKee wouldn't have had so many problems getting films made ever since. And, you know? There's stuff in the book that even I haven't seen and I'm an obsessive, so you get no qualms from me about the films my colleagues selected. More than that, though, I'm shocked at how few of the films in the book that I have seen are films that I've written about. A lot of those are films that I saw pre-internet. I may have written about them in the spiral notebooks I used as film diaries when I was a teen, but I'll be damned if I'll let any of that writing onto the web. Be that as it may, I recognize a challenge when I see it.
This is the full list of films in the book. The ones with links are films I've written about. The ones in italics are films I haven't seen:
Thursday, September 11, 2014
There's a snap of autumn in the air this week and here at Stately Krell Laboratories, that can only mean one thing: it's horror movie season. Yes, boils and ghouls, The October Challenge will soon be upon us once more. To recap the rules, in case you've forgotten: the goal is to watch 31 horror movies during the month of October, with at least 16 of those films being completely new to you. There are plenty of side games you can play with the challenge, but the one I usually pursue for myself is to write a substantial blog post about every movie I see for the Challenge. This is not, strictly speaking, necessary. My friend, the inestimable Dr. AC over at Horror 101 usually runs his challenge as a fundraiser for charity--something I've done in the past and may do again.
If you're blogging the challenge, I'll be doing link round-ups again, so leave me comments when your content appears. I'll add you to the (hopefully) daily link dump.
In any event, I hope you've stockpiled some movies and laid in a supply of cider and pumpkin pie. Here's a new set of banners for the challenge, if you want them, but any of the banners from past years are fair game. Tally ho!
I'm trying out Patreon as a means of funding my blogs. They don't have a widget yet, so this link will just have to do. If you like my writing and art and if you'd like to support Krell Laboratories and Christianne's Art and Comics, please come on over and pledge. Thanks.
My local arthouse runs a series of recent international cinema every fall. They call it "The Passport Series" and the conceit is that they hand out a punch card with your ticket and if you attend at least six of the eight films in the series, they throw your card in a hopper and give you a chance to win passes for the St. Louis Film Festival later in the year. They also theme the series around wine, but I don't imbibe, so that's never something I notice. I do like the idea of a passport, though, as a kind of tally of cinematic destinations (in lieu of actual travel, which I usually can't afford). I often approach this series with the attitude of a collector: Do I have this country yet? I've seen films from an impressive number of countries. In any event, this year's series kicks off with a Georgian film, and I can check that country off the list now.
In Bloom (2013, directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß), finds neo-realism alive and well in Georgia. Set in the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet empire, this details the coming of age of two teenage girls, Eka and Natia, who are best friends. They live in the wreckage of Tblisi, where they stand in line for bread, are terrorized by autocratic teachers, and where they fend off the aggressions of boys. It would be easy for the filmmakers to use their story as some kind of grand historical gesture, but this is too smart for that. This finds itself following the path of other neo-realists who find in the lives of their characters broad possibilities for melodrama. In Bloom is also a withering critique of patriarchy.
Monday, September 08, 2014
John Carney's Begin Again (2014) is an indie version of a musical romantic drama. In truth, I didn't know I had an itch for such a thing until that itch was scratched. Musicals are always hit or miss with me, particularly contemporary musicals, so when one of them hits the spot, I'm always delighted and a bit surprised. In this case, I'm especially taken in because I had no faith in Kiera Knightley as a singer, never having heard that she can sing. She acquits herself well. If the story seems a little over-familiar, well, that's fine. It's the execution that counts.
Saturday, September 06, 2014
As I was watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, directed by Marc Webb), I was imagining Shailene Woodley sitting in a theater somewhere this spring breathing a sigh of profoundest relief. She was famously cast as Mary Jane Watson in this film and even shot some scenes for it before being cut, ostensibly to move her to this film's inevitable sequel. That sequel is now in some doubt. This film is the least successful film in the franchise, both commercially and aesthetically. If Woodley is smart--and it appears that she is--she'll find some other movie to clog her schedule if Sony decides to pick her up again for the role.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is awful. There's not any getting around it. It lurches from set piece to set piece without any coherent connective tissue. Its scenes veer from the romantically heartfelt to day-glow camp and back again. It squanders actor after actor in scenes that aren't worthy of them. It's busy and ugly and not really much fun. Spider-Man needs to be fun. The world has enough grimdark Batman wannabes. This doesn't need to be one.
Here there be spoylers...
Saturday, August 23, 2014
In spite of its similarity to other recent musical biopics, Get On Up (2014, directed by Tate Taylor), a biography of James Brown, stands apart both for the intensity of its musical scenes and its cinematic invention. This is not a dry recitation of facts, nor is it any kind of redemptive narrative. This is a portrait of the artist as an egotistical asshole, one that skips around in time and breaks the fourth wall and generally throbs with a kind of staccato cinematic life. It's a film that lives and breathes as film, something that has eluded other projects of its type. As such, it's energizing, a quality augmented by an absolutely killer soundtrack. James Brown in life was a braggart and egotist who variously claimed to have invented funk and rap as new musical forms. Musicologists of late have come to think that Brown was entirely too modest. Brown was a musical titan, but, man, the Brown in this film decidedly has feet of clay.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
According to legend, To Have and Have Not (1944, directed by Howard Hawks) was made on a bet. Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway were hunting (and drinking) buddies. Hawks was a fan of the writer but not of To Have and Have Not. "A bunch of junk," he called it. He bet Hemingway that he could make a good movie out of it, or so the legend goes. Whether this is true or not doesn't really matter, I guess. It's Hollywood, after all, and when the legend becomes fact and all that. What we do know is that Hawks bought the rights from Howard Hughes and sold them to Warner Brothers, hired an out of work and out of print writer named William Faulkner to write the movie with Jules Furthman (a move that surely rankled Hemingway, given the rivalry between Faulkner and Hemingway), and discarded most of the second half of the book. He also cast an unknown actress in the lead. Her name was Lauren Bacall.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
After I saw the film, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, directed by James Gunn) that went something like this:
Me: I have no idea of how I'm going to write about this film. There's nothing there to write about!
Friend: Yeah...it's pretty lightweight.
Me: I suppose I could cobble something together about how it's got a queer subtext and it's about how people who are cast out of their own families are forced to form families of choice.
Friend: Hmm...I could see that.
Me: Man, this movie is shallow.
Upon reflection, I think that the formation of families of choice is exactly what the film is about, only in a painfully heterosexual way. I might even be offended by the appropriation if the movie were more interested in that theme rather than in blowing shit up real good. As it is, the pleasures of Guardians of the Galaxy are all on the surface. There's not really anything wrong with that, I guess.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014, directed by Matt Reeves) is probably the best film in the franchise since the original item back in 1968. That it's made something from the leavings of Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the last and least regarded of the original series, is something completely unlooked-for. Dawn has formidable technical bona fides, including another astonishing mocap performance by Andy Serkis (who is top-billed!). It's a thoughtful sci fi apocalypse; yet another post-human speculation, no less. It's also not very much fun.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
The truth of the matter is this: I didn't particularly want to go see Lucy (2014, directed by Luc Besson). I'm not fond of Luc Besson's films. He's not quite on my black list because his films usually strike me as stupid rather than malign, but his films can be so very, very profoundly stupid. More, he tends to fetishize his heroines in a way that makes me uncomfortable. But here's the train of thought that put my butt in a theater seat on the first day it was in theaters. I've been bitching about the sorry lot of superhero women for a while. It galls me that a talking raccoon with a machine gun is going to get a movie before Wonder Woman. It galls me that they fobbed off the Catwoman movie on "talent" that had nothing invested in the character nor any respect for it either. It galls me that mealy-mouthed movie executives bleat prejudice as truth when they say that women can't open a tentpole movie while counting all that money from The Hunger Games and Maleficent. It galls me that I don't have a Black Widow movie yet. I want my damned Black Widow movie. And so: Lucy is a superhero movie of sorts starring the Black Widow her ownself, Scarlett Johannson. I better put my money where my mouth is if I want my Black Widow movie. So I ponied up to see Lucy.
Friday, July 25, 2014
I was in the wrong headspace for The Rover (2014, directed by David Michôd), a bleak, more naturalistic version of a Mad Max movie. The movie turns out to be a shaggy dog story, but the punchline of the film had a particular meaning to me when I saw it. I sat in my car for a few minutes after the film trying to process what I'd just seen. Films affect people differently, depending on all sorts of personal factors that vary from viewer to viewer. Some films are more personally relevant than others. For me, this was such a film. Your mileage, of course, will vary. The why of this requires me to reveal elements of the plot that likely should be surprises, so go watch the movie and come back later. I'll still be here.