Thursday, February 8, 2018

Columbus (2017)

Can filmmaking be taught/learned? Being able to notice and appreciate the inspired techniques and motifs of a great filmmaker doesn’t mean that you will be able to execute them yourself.

These were my thoughts going into the debut feature of visual essayist kogonada. And while he certainly didn’t produce a masterpiece like Tokyo Story on his first at-bat, he did succeed at internalizing the techniques of Ozu et al and personalizing them. That Columbus doesn’t feel like a Tarantino-esque stream of citations is a small miracle. He makes the experience seamless. You are not distracted by the style. He is not teaching. He is being.

Perhaps the next one will be Tokyo Story.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Monster (2003)

This film is much more than Charlize Theron’s excellent performance. If this movie had been directed by a man, that director’s filmography would absolutely be longer than two feature films in fourteen years. Patty Jenkins gets so much out of such a short runtime. AND SHE WROTE IT TOO! Meanwhile, people like Josh Trank and Colin Trevorrow are just handed millions of dollars after debuts with nowhere near the same tonal complexity as Monster. How Patty Jenkins didn’t go on her own rampage during the past fourteen years is completely beyond me. Well at least they got fired from huge gigs and she is gonna make a huge payday for the second Wonder Woman film. Now if only we could get Hollywood to consider Ms. Jenkins as something other than a fluke...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Phantom Thread (2017)

Though it was the Scorsese-like, visual gymnastics of Boogie Nights and Magnolia that caught the eye of the Film School Kids, we must remember that the principle influence on Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut film Sydney (aka Hard Eight) was Melvin and Howard. Instead of opening with a whole lot of whiz-bang, both films begin with protracted conversations between two characters. At his core, this is who Paul Thomas Anderson is as a filmmaker.

Of course he played around with all the fancy toys on his next couple of films (who wouldn’t?), but as early as Punch-Drunk Love you can sense a filmmaker casting aside all of the bravura in favor of a simpler, more character based cinema.

For all its fire and fury, There Will Be Blood is the story of three people in the desert. The Master is a love story between Freddie and Lancaster. Even with all the Pynchonian intrigue, Inherent Vice is really just the story of Doc, Bigfoot and Shasta Fey. Phantom Thread is Anderson’s minimalism taken to its logical end-point.

It’s not shot on antique, large-format cameras and most of it takes place in small rooms. It’s not about Capitalism or Religion or any other “important” issue. The only maximalist element in the whole thing is Johnny Greenwood’s wonderful score.

It’s taken him many years and films to get to this point, but Anderson has successfully pruned away that which is not essential, held on to a few handy tricks, and returned to where he started. But this is no ending. This is a new beginning. And I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Shape of Water (2017)

A director’s job is more than just coming up with wild shots. It is also more than developing a very deliberate color palette. A director’s main job is to answer questions. This hat or that hat? Happy or sad? Faster or slower? The correct answer to any of these questions depends on the director’s taste. Guillermo Del Toro is a director of exquisite taste. Like a master chef, he knows just how much of each ingredient to include in the dish. Just the right amount of comedy. Just the right amount of gore. Just the right amount of sex. On paper, The Shape Of Water should not work. In other hands, the story of a mute woman falling in love with a gill-man would induce ridicule and laughter. But under the guidance of a master like Del Toro, it is a front-runner for numerous awards. This is all thanks to Guillermo’s excellent taste.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Black Holes are not visible. They are so dense that even light cannot escape their gravitational pull. We know that they are there because we can see all the stars and such that orbit them. Black Holes are the void at the center of intense cosmic beauty. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne are the void at the center of this film’s cosmic beauty. Their relationship drama is DOA, but all the set pieces, alien creatures, and space deplomacy swirling around them is truly something to behold. And fortunately, that’s what most of the film consists of. It’s pretty easy to check out for their Soap Opera and check back in for some universe-spanning wiz-bang. I can only imagine what it looks like on a giant screen.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Step (2017)

As Roger Ebert famously stated, "Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts." When I watch movies from foreign countries like Iran, I often think about how beneficial it would be for all Americans to watch them. They would be shocked at how much they share in common with people a world away who are supposedly our, "enemy". The same could be said about a documentary like Step. It's sad to think that it would require a film to make people realize how much they have in common with someone they share a country with, but that's the world we live in today. There are so many outlets for information and entertainment that people are able to live in a carefully curated bubble just for them where they only see/hear things that reinforce what they already believe. That's why art like this documentary is important. It bursts the bubble and helps us recognize our shared humanity.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Seven Beauties (1975)

I finally watched a Lina Wertmüller film! And now I want to watch ALL of the Lina Wertmüller films! Why did I wait so long? I really want to give The Academy credit for nominating this film for four awards including Best Director. I get that it thoroughly checks off that "holocaust" box that Oscar Voters love so much, but it does it in such an audacious and radical way. Or maybe I'm just observing things from the perspective of today. In the 70's, you could simply say that Nazis and Fascism were bad because they are bad. Today, saying such things will get you branded as Anti-Fa. Funny how a film can become MORE radical with age! And that's not even taking into account all of the gender issues at play here. Brava, Lina!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Much like James Franco, this film wants to be taken seriously. It’s about a silly movie and centered around a silly (real life) character, but it wants to treat it all seriously. The Disaster Artist wants to be about friendship, relationships, art, insanity, etc. This is what Tommy was striving for too. If you ask him what The Room is about, he will tell you that it is about everything.

While Franco’s endeavor was much more successful than Tommy's, it is also similarly hamstrung by its ambition. It's about so many things that it ends up being about very little. It has thoughts and ideas and things to say, but they don’t add up to anything too profound. They are all truisms that we have heard before. I know Franco has a mind for meta, but I don't think even he was aware of this subtextual level. Like Tommy, he just stumbled into success.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

Thematic spoilers follow, no specifics. You have been warned.

I know this movie was conceived and shot before the 2016 Election, but it really feels like a film for right this instant. When watching it, the stream of setbacks that befall The Resistance felt structurally off. But when contrasted with The Trump Era where Healthcare, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, LGBTQ Rights, etc. are all under continuous and simultaneous attack - the pace felt kind of leisurely. Having this come out the same week as Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama seems almost too perfect. Too bad the title A New Hope was already taken. Or maybe they’re preparing us for the gut-punch at the start of Episode IX where the First Order gives a tax cut to all the arms manufacturers on Canto Bight.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pina (2011)

There are very few films that deserve to be filmed in 3D. I can probably count them on one hand. This one absolutely belongs on that list. I’m so glad I didn’t settle for watching it in 2D. In other films, dance is merely about motion. Here I kept thinking about sculpture. You see every muscle and really understand what it physically takes to perform these pieces. And it’s not just filmed theater either. As trite as it might sound, Wenders’ angles make you part of the dance. Hopefully one day I can see this projected on a big screen.