Thursday, December 7, 2017

Landline (2017)

On a plot level, I don’t exactly get why this film was set in the 90’s. The title makes you think that perhaps a shared phone line will play a cruicial role, but it doesn’t. This film could have easily been set now with no problems whatsoever. Our world is so obsessed with the past that all the 90’s fashion and music could be used as well. So why set it in the 90’s?

My theory is that director Gillian Robespierre made this film as a Tarantino-level genre homage. Only instead of homaging exploitation flicks from the 70’s, Robespierre was paying homage to New York movies of the 90’s. Dana is living in a Nicole Holofcener film a la Walking and Talking, Ali is living through Kids, and their parents are a Woody Allen film incarnate. And just like in Pulp Fiction, the supporting character in one story gets to be the star in another story.

It’s a cool idea that never beats you over the head with showy visuals or title cards spelling everything out for you. It also doesn’t attempt to elevate the material. This film is right on par with the films it is paying tribute to. This is an warm and funny film that is content to be adequate, and that is wonderful.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Logan Lucky (2017)

If one were trying to describe the Cinema of Steven Soderbergh in a single word, “political” probably wouldn’t be the first adjective to spring to mind. But if you look at his filmography, the overwhelming majority of his output has dealt with issues of class. Even his “sexy” movies (Magic Mike and The Girlfriend Experience) are first and foremost about commodification and wealth. So, while Logan Lucky appears to have sprung from the same mold as The Cannonball Run, it is first and foremost about Middle America. But unlike the first Magic Mike, it isn’t cold and clinical. In fact, If I had to sum this film up in a single word, that word would be, “compassionate”. And we could all certainly use a lot more of that in this day and age.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Coco (2017)

The other night ‘Becca’lise was telling me about a coworker who was trying to guess why Coco is making everyone cry. Seeing as the movie is about Dia de Los Muertos, the coworker justifiably guessed that the big, tear-jerking scene centered around the death of a prominent character. If this was any other film, they would have been right. But this is a Pixar film. They never take the easy route. Yes a beloved character dies in this film, but at least in our theater, that passing was only greeted with a brief, audible sigh from the entire audience. No tears. Because in Coco, death is not an end. As long as someone is remembered, they are never truly gone.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Baseline of Weird

Since Lola came into our lives, I’ve gone out of my way to play weird music for her. ‘Becca’lise has begun showing her dance videos on YouTube. As a result, Lola will now make beautiful, balletic movements to some of the weirdest jazz you’ve ever heard.

Recently, a bunch of Jim Henson shorts were added to FilmStruck. We haven’t really dove into the longer-form stuff yet, but the experimental live-action and animated shorts like Ripples and Drums West have been invaluable towards developing Lola’s comprehension of what motion pictures can be. A lifetime of four-chord songs and three-act structure is just around the corner, why not use these precious, early years to focus on the weird stuff?

The fact that right now Lola doesn’t even know the word, “art” is a beautiful thing. She can express herself in infinite ways and can find enjoyment in things that would put off most adults. Right now my daughter’s horizons are endless and I want to do everything in my power to keep it that way.

If you don't have FilmStruck to check out the Jim Henson films, here's a few shorts to check out on YouTube from Stan Brakhage, Manoel de Oliveira, and Kenneth Anger! Do you have any other experimental shorts that you would recommend for kids?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird had me thinking a lot about Claire Denis. I’m not sure what Greta Gerwig thinks about Ms. Denis’ work, but the extremely brief, impressionistic scenes that make up Lady Bird reminded me a lot of films like Bastards, Beau Travail, and Trouble Every Day. Arrive late and leave early seems to be Gerwig’s modus operandi. She gets right to the heart of why we are being shown this scene or that scene. And as soon as she’s made her point, it’s on to the next little moment. She only lingers when it counts. She’s sparing with these moments and savors them. After years spent on other people’s sets she knows what she wants and knows how to get it. I cannot wait to see where she goes next.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mudbound (2017)

My favorite niche, sub-genre is Movies About America. I’m a total sucker for stories that are subtextually about our Nation as a whole. Citizen Kane, The Godfather series and There Will Be Blood spring most readily to mind, but greed isn’t America’s only defining trait. There’s also the small matter of white people enslaving black people for hundreds of years.

It’s no accident that this film opens with two white guys digging a grave for their racist father and finding the skull of a murdered slave. Slavery is literally just under the surface of this film and it informs every interaction between the numerous characters in this ensemble. The story might be set in the 1940’s, but much of this film looks like the 1840’s because The South is literally stuck in the past. Since the Civil War we have been trying to move forward without addressing slavery and Jim Crow. We are mudbound and will continue to be so until we take a long, hard look in the mirror. A film set 70 years in the past shouldn’t be so relevant, but here we are.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Breaking Point (1950)

Michael Curtis is almost the perfect inverse of my issue with Nicholas Ray. While I find Ray’s work to be filled with personality (ie: sadness) on a narrative level, I find his use of imagery to be only adequate. Curtiz on the other hand, has a gorgeous visual sense with nothing thematically holding together his body of work as a whole. And so, Ray is oft held up as an Auteurist God, while Curtiz is dismissed as a competent craftsman. They dismiss the genius of William Wyler and Robert Wise for the same reasons. And while I agree that their filmographies cannot be read like a novel, it’s foolhardy to dismiss individual films for this reason alone. Andrew Sarris wrote of forests and trees, can't we have both? Why do they have to be mutually exclusive? I’d argue that the closing moments of The Breaking Point are bolder than most studio pictures of the era. I’m glad Criterion saw fit to bring it into the fold as a work that is worthy of attention.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

“Nicholas Ray is Cinema.” - Jean-Luc Godard

I’ve been wrestling with that statement for the better part of two decades. Let me state up front that I don’t dislike his films. I’ve seen six and have enjoyed them all. They’re good pictures, capably told, and filled with immense sadness. But is that the epitome of Cinema? Ray is often revered for his use of the wide-screen frame, but to my eye, it’s purely functional. Not bad, but functional. And what of the films he made before CinemaScope? But there is also no denying that he is an auteur. The sadness I spoke of earlier is uniquely his. It’s there in all of the films I’ve watched so far: sadness and regret.

The more I reflect on it, Godard’s statement was the mid-century equivalent of clickbait. Simply stating that someone is a good director who makes films you relate to was not enough! It was especially not enough in an era when genre films were thought of as trash and directors seen as little more than glorified traffic cops. Godard’s hyperbole did the trick at the time and placed necessary attention on a serious artist. But is Nick Ray truly the be all and end all of Cinema? I don’t think so. I don’t think any artist can ever truly epitomize all of their medium’s endless possibilities. If this was possible, what would be the point of any other mere mortal picking up a camera? Nicholas Ray is a very good director. Let’s just leave it at that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

I know we’re all supposed to hate formula, but there’s something comforting and liberating about it. I’d never seen Dracula’s Daughter before, but knowing it was a sequel to a Universal Horror Film, I mostly knew what to expect. I could expect to see the same sets from the original film repurposed. I knew to expect an interesting array of character actors with distinct faces to distract from the lack of a “star” and the rather bland heroes. I knew it would take place in some odd time period that both is and is not the 1930’s. Most importantly, I knew that this film’s very existence would rely upon some wild retconning in order to explain the continuation of a story that was meant to be done with. So yes there are formulas and limitations, but it also requires the filmmakers to get wild and silly in order to make it work. That’s how you get to Dracula’s bi-sexual daughter who wants to put an end to her hunger and to settle down with a man for eternity. It’s both progressive in subject matter and regressive in approach to that subject matter. Or is the film’s conclusion a refutation of the Countess’ desire to change? Or is the fact that she was (presumably) once human a way of saying that it’s possible to “make” people queer? Lots to chew on in a 71 minute movie.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

When this film was first announced I was very trepidatious. I’m very much not a Ridley Scott “Stan”. While his technical skills are beyond reproach, it is often hard for me to find anything personal in his work. The original Blade Runner grew in my estimation when I discovered that it was made after the death of his brother Frank. He let his mourning creep into the work via the morose tone and slow pacing and the film is better for it. Had he made this film at any other time in his life, that emotion would not be there. It was a fluke. But how do you replicate a fluke? And how do you do that when the guy responsible for that fluke has been relegated to Executive Producer?

The blunt answer is that Blade Runner 2049 did not manage to repeat that original’s fluke - but that’s OK. Instead of making me meditate on death, this film made me think about life. In Blade Runner, the Replicants want to live simply to live. But what is the point of living when the world is so cold, the trees are dead and all the animals are synthetic. In Blade Runner 2049 the Replicants have something to live for. Robin Wright’s Lieutenant Joshi speaks about preserving a balance which is essentially an argument for stasis. Blade Runner 2049 at least attempts to upend that stasis. Let’s shake things up and see what happens. Tomorrow could be a brighter day.