Saturday, August 31, 2013

To the Wonder Movie Review

“Weak people never bring anything to an end themselves. They wait for others to do it.”


There’s a reason I have such trouble remembering details from any of Terrence Malick’s films. He composes them with fleeting touches. There are no traditional movie scenes involving events or actions coupled with dialogue. These are the things that are easy to recall: “Remember that scene when so and so says…?” With Malick the best you get are snapshots that almost float freeform from one to another. They are like memories of a life remembered, says star Ben Affleck in one of the DVD extras. Even the one Malick film I’ve seen more than once, The Thin Red Line, stands in my memory more as a series of images in no particular order, but because there’s no real A to Z plot there’s no glue to hold it together in my mind.

Friday, August 30, 2013

In a World Movie Review

We’re so accustomed to hearing those deep baritone voices intoning the details of the latest blockbuster that we hardly even think about the fact that there’s an actual person behind that voice. The trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian called attention to this and movie trailer voiceover conventions about a decade ago. But then you realized you can’t ever recall hearing a female voice promotion a big Hollywood release. Lake Bell, who wrote, directed, produced, and stars in In a World must have taken note because she came up with an amusing take on a woman’s quest to break through that glass ceiling an swipe voiceover work from a the familiar male voices that have always dominated the industry.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Classic Movie Review From My Collection: Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee’s first two feature films clearly established him as a filmmaker concerned with issues within the African American community (She’s Gotta Have It showed him also being particularly sensitive to feminist issues), but his third time at bat proved to be the magnum opus – the film that would tie together race relations on Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn, a microcosm perhaps for the entire borough or even the whole city of New York. Do the Right Thing remains to this day one of his greatest accomplishments for the skill in direction and writing to bring together good entertainment value, social issues, sound filmmaking techniques, and a clearly delineated personal vision into one concise film.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blue Jasmine Movie Review

Woody Allen is well known for writing excellent female characters. They are realistic, they delve into the feminine psyche in a way most male writers never even attempt let alone achieve, and they are great roles for actresses. I’m not sure any other single director has been responsible for directing more actresses to Oscar nominations, at least while also failing to equal the feat for male actors. When you think of the iconic female characters he’s written it’s like a treasure trove of great female roles: Annie Hall; Maria Elena (Vicky Cristina Barcelona); Linda Ash (Mighty Aphrodite). His titular character in Blue Jasmine might very well be his best creation since Annie Hall.

Classic Movie Review: Safety Last

The story goes that one day Harold Lloyd noticed a crowd of people gathered on the street looking up at what was then one of Los Angeles’s tallest buildings. When he looked up, he saw a man scaling the outside of the building with no net and no safety lines. The man was Bill Strothers, who would take the role of Lloyd’s pal in Safety Last, a movie written to satisfy Lloyd’s desire to feature a man climbing that building in a feature film.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Mama

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

In horror and monster movies it is generally understood that what remains unseen is far more frightening than what a director can show you. Jaws is one of the most famous examples of this. Steven Spielberg couldn’t use the expensive rubber shark through most of the shoot due to technical issues. The result is a terrifying film because our imaginations fill in the gaps, conjuring horrifying images of the terror in the water. Since then almost every monster movie has attempted to repeat the formula to some extent.

In Mama, a ghost story written and directed by Andrés Muschietti and co-written by Neil Cross and Barbara Muschietti, a spirit watches over two young girls whose father went off the deep end and was about to take their lives before the ghost whisked him away. The girls are discovered five years later living animal-like in a cabin deep in the forest. Put into the care of their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his wannabe rock star girlfriend (Jessica Chastain) their maternal spirit protector follows them, jealously guarding them from any outside influence.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Upstream Color

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Upstream Color is another puzzler of a movie from writer-director Shane Carruth. In his first feature after the time-bending confusion of Primer, he tackles romance, animal treatment, and psychotropic drugs, although note in any straightforward manner. Any description of what takes place will fall far short of sufficient. Carruth makes films that need to be experienced and puzzled over. Suffice it to say there is a woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz) who becomes  akind of puppet victim at the hands of a thief who uses a plant extract and a parasitic worm to drug people and then exert ypnotic control over them until he gets thousands of dollars out of their bank accounts. Kris’s life falls apart after she’s unable to explain an extended absence from work or the loss of all equity in her house. Later she meets  Jeff (Carruth), a man who seems to have many share experience with her and they fall in love, or at least have some kind of affinity and connection to one another.

Parallel to the human action there is a pig farmer (Andrew Sensenig) who also performs sound experiments from esoteric recordings made using different found objects. The pigs that he sometimes lulls with the sound records seem to have some metaphysical connection to the humans who have been victimized by the thief.

I don’t want to pore too deeply into the mysteries of the movie or what all the symbolism may or may not mean. I have some theories, but to me it’s much more interesting to read the film as one of the best intersections of experimental and narrative filmmaking. Carruth’s style looks an awful lot like Terrence Malick’s and TheTree of Life especially appears to have been a major influence on the editing and movement of Upstream Color.

The moment I decided I wasn’t going to try to understand in a conventional sense what the film was about, the easier it became to be enveloped by its trance-like or dream-inducing qualities. The scenes transport you between moments that appear to be disconnected from one another, yet the film never feels disjointed. It’s elegant and beautiful and a fascinating experiment in using images to craft a story. The nearly complete lack of dialogue through the first half of the film is as close to pure cinema as anyone has come since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Primer Movie Review

“The permutations were endless.”

I saw it in cinemas nine years ago, but all I remembered was that I liked it and thought it was a unique and confident first feature from a man named Shane Carruth. When his second feature played Sundance and then received a small theatrical release earlier this year, I was reminded that I should take another look at Primer. This second viewing I’m sure I paid closer attention, especially knowing that the details, plot intricacies, and timelines are utterly confounding, but even having some idea of what was to come doesn’t really help you get a firm grasp on what’s happening.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Classic Movie Review From My Collection: Lawrence of Arabia

When I look at a movie like Lawrence of Arabia I see a lot of similarities between it and any number of big studio films made in the modern era. It’s epic in scope and in length. It’s filled with awe inspiring visual and big action sequences. It is historically based, but not particularly deep, insistent on keeping viewers on a short leash so as not to turn anyone off. Perhaps some of that last observation would not have been true for audiences fifty years ago. Maybe the ways in which Lawrence of Arabia is presented as a difficult and not entirely honorable character were especially complex in 1962. At the time his possible homosexuality and masochism could only be subtly alluded to.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

25 Years Ago This Month: August 1988

Cheers, Jesus.
The films I've seen

The most significant movie release of the month was The Last Temptation of Christ. Martin Scorsese had been trying for a decade to adapt Kazantzakis' controversial novel and finally got it made with Willem Dafoe in the starring role and Harvey Keitel as a Brooklyn-accented Judas. Of course it was idiotically boycotted by Christian groups, most of whom had probably not even bothered to watch the film to find out exactly what they were objecting to. It has since become one of the more important films in Scorsese's body of work and has been canonized by Criterion into their collection.

The biggest money maker was A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which I reviewed last year. It made nearly $50M at the box office and finished 19th for the year.


Now I loved Young Guns when I was a kid. I only ever saw it on cable, but it remains to this day a serious guilty pleasure of mine. Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid and then there's Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Casey Siemaszko, and a young Dermot Mulroney as his friends. Terence Stamp and Jack Palance add a veneer of respectability, but just a little.