A conversation about Poltergeist today reminded me of something I’d been meaning to post about for a while. A couple of months ago I went through a Steven Spielberg binge – partly for this essay on his development as a political filmmaker, partly because, hey, Spielberg. But as I went back over his earlier work, it struck me just how much Spielberg’s filmmaking language owes to horror. Obviously, several of his earliest films – Duel, Something Evil, Jaws – actually are horror films. But I’m intrigued by how many of his other films rely on horror tropes.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
One thing I always found interesting about George Lucas's Prequel Trilogy was the way he expanded the Star Wars universe by going back to his original well of inspiration for the first film: the popular movie genres of his youth. So if the first Star Wars (aka A New Hope) was an homage to old sci-fi serials and Westerns, then The Phantom Menace was a Biblical epic (complete with a chariot race), and Attack of the Clones a combination of noir and syrupy romance and sword & sandal flick, and Revenge of the Sith a gangster movie. Watching Lucas try and bring such oddball genre elements into his otherwise fairly well-defined sci-fi world was fascinating, even endearing -- and it's one of the reasons that I don't hate the Prequels like many others do. Though they're wildly uneven, they're still dazzling feats of imagination, and even their very unevenness feels like a result of a directorial personality at work.
J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, comes from a different generation than Lucas, and he most likely didn't grow up with those genres. The good news is, he evidently grew up watching Star Wars. So, in his own way, he’s made a movie that homages the film genre of his youth. In other words, The Force Awakens feels very much like a Star Wars movie -- maybe even more so than the Prequels. It doesn't expand the universe so much as indulge in it.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
largely-unseen 1972 film Out 1, described by many at the time as a kind of Holy Grail of moviegoing. It’s a challenging film, to be sure, and despite the extreme patience involved in sitting through such a long film I realized it also warranted multiple viewings. Beautiful, haunting, and uniquely engaging, this seminal phantom of world cinema was no less mysterious to me, having seen it, than it had been beforehand. That still didn’t stop me from writing about it for Nerve.com at the time.
The film is now making a two-week stand at BAM. I was hoping to revisit it beforehand to try and write about it again, but, well, 13 hours and all that. (It was hard enough to see back in 2006, when I didn't have a family, or a life, or a job, or two.) So I thought I would re-run, with some modifications, the Nerve piece -- which I also revisited several years ago, when Out 1 made an appearance on German DVD. Enjoy.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
It’s hard not to look at Peter Strickland’s portrait of domination and desire and not feel at times like it’s a corrective to how sexuality is portrayed in the mainstream. The Duke of Burgundy, which came out with a whimper earlier this year (right around the same time as Fifty Shades of Grey) but hits Netflix this week, even begins with a nod to the softcore films of the 70s: A beautiful woman in a cape, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), rides her bike through a woodsy setting as soft pop plays on the soundtrack. The colors are super-saturated, the credits are blocky and old-fashioned; we even get the occasional freeze-frame. But that self-aware opening belies the film’s deeply felt sense of place and passion – not to mention the rigor of the filmmaker’s vision.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
As a homeless man wandering the streets of New York in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, Richard Gere does the opposite of commanding the screen; he vanishes. Not in the way that an actor might “disappear” into a part: Gere isn’t that kind of transformative performer. He vanishes in a more basic sense. He cedes the frame, and the soundtrack, to the people and the city around him. His character has lost everything, and is quickly losing his sense of self as well. The very form of the film reflects that.
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Save for a couple of brief, telling instances, nobody in Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden ever seems happy. Surprising, perhaps, for a film about DJ culture. Or maybe not. "Between euphoria and melancholia," is how the film's central character, Paul (Felix de Givry) describes the particular subset of electronica he specializes in, “New York Garage with a Parisian twist.” And Eden captures that balance well. It's a very sad movie about bringing joy.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
There’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through Mad Max: Fury Road that speaks to one reason why I love the film so much. It comes during one of the film’s rare quiet scenes. Max (Tom Hardy), Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and their small lot of refugees have arrived among the Vuvalini, the all-female warrior tribe from which Furiosa was stolen, along with her mother, many years ago. Most of the women remember Furiosa only dimly: She was taken, as she says, “7000 days” ago, “plus the ones I don’t remember.” They ask what happened to her mother. “She died, on the third day,” Furiosa replies. And then the Vuvalini reflexively perform a quiet, brief mourning gesture – holding a hand up, grabbing at the air, and bringing it to their chest. After seeing them, Furiosa herself slowly does the gesture as well.
This exchange lasts all of twelve seconds, and it’s probably easy to miss, or ignore, for some. But every time I see the film, it strikes me as a deceptively profound moment. Watch Theron’s performance here: As she grabs at the air, her haunted eyes watch her own hand, as if she were seeing it for the first time. Her face is that of someone remembering something that was once probably very much a part of her – not just her mother, but this whole Vuvalini ritual, and the sense of belonging it implies. She’s re-learning, in other words, the person she used to be.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
The death of screenwriter Stewart Stern a couple of weeks ago brought some fine remembrances from numerous writers, many of whose lives he touched as a mentor as well as a filmmaker. Obviously, most folks who knew Stern's name -- if they knew it at all -- was as the screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause. But his passing reminded me that, years ago, I’d written a “Forgotten Films” feature for Nerve.com about another work -- Rachel, Rachel, Paul Newman's directorial debut. Lesser known but almost equally as great as Rebel, it's since been released on DVD by Warner, so now there's actually a chance that people might rediscover it. What follows is a slightly edited version of my original piece. (For more on the Forgotten Films project, go here.)
Saturday, February 7, 2015
I’m late with this. I’m always late with this. In part it’s because, not having to worry about deadlines, I can be late with it. (None of my outlets ever seem to want a Top 10 list from me, for some reason.) In part it’s because I don’t usually think of my movie year as being finalized until I’ve submitted my poll in Mike D’Angelo’s Skandies poll, which usually closes in February and whose results are being rolled out as we speak, over here. Anyway, I won’t clear my throat so much, other than to ask: When the hell did I become such a big sci-fi nerd?
Sunday, January 4, 2015
One of the most fascinating things about Ava DuVernay’s Selma is the way history itself seems to become an actual character in it. But not in a portentous, solemn way. Depicting the explosive events in the Alabama city in 1965, which culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, the film seeks not to contain the entire Civil Rights struggle, or even to offer a biopic-style portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by the great David Oyelowo). Rather, it focuses on the machinations, negotiations, in-fighting, and backroom dealings that went into the organization of the march and Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Watching the film, I was occasionally reminded of Francesco Rosi’s political dramas of the 1960s and 70s. In films like The Mattei Affair, Rosi gave us the spectacle of men talking and arguing about process, activism, methods, and organizations – history told through the mundane poetry of acronyms and theory, the kind of thing most filmmakers would ruthlessly avoid. It takes a unique kind of patience, sobriety, and skill to make that compelling on a movie screen. DuVernay’s clearly got all of that.