Tuesday, November 25, 2014

TIFF14/NYFF Round-Up

Here are links to my TIFF coverage from earlier this year, plus some reviews of films I saw in Toronto but pitched as NYFF reviews.

TIFF Review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
TIFF Review: Horse Money
TIFF Review: Goodbye to Language 3D
NYFF Review: Jauja
NYFF Review: Pasolini

Eden, Rosewater & Jauja
Pasolini, Tales & Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2
Phoenix, Tokyo Tribe & Hill of Freedom

The Smart Dumb Films of Lord & Miller

Here's a piece I wrote back in June on the super-smash team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, whose satiric chops are overstated but who are nonetheless making some of the most enjoyable films around as of late. Read my full piece at Movie Mezzanine.

Beyond the Lights

I had some reservations about aspects of Gina Prince-Bythewood's critique of celebrity itself, but overall Beyond the Lights is a gorgeous, well-acted romance and, very often, a devastating and necessary critique of the ouroboric nature of the modern fame machine that eschews the self-pity that weighs down male works on this subject even as it finds far more fertile ground for outrage in the general treatment of famous women.

Read my full review at Movie Mezzanine.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)

Warning: contains spoilers

Give David Fincher some credit: he may have cemented his name as the man who converts grim bestsellers into self-consciously removed, “arty” films, but he loads an early shot of Gone Girl with board games like Mastermind, Sorry! and Let’s Make a Deal, portents so obvious that they can only be taken as a self-deprecating lark. Even when Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) plays a quick game of Life with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), their overly precious exchange—”Life. I don’t remember the point.” “Hmm, deep Hasbro thoughts.”—is too silly to give the impression that anyone means it seriously.

The sense of playfulness surprisingly holds even after Nick returns home on the morning of his fifth anniversary to find his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing, kicking off an investigation that only ever points in his direction. Soon, Nick is constantly flanked by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), forever debating amongst themselves not so much the question of Nick’s guilt but how much evidence they need to accrue before confidently arresting him. Affleck’s star power is hilariously used against him, casting his All-American good looks, stiff performance, and inoffensive charm as inherently suspicious, fleets of trailing photographers evoking memories of the actor’s own relationship-based ordeals with constant media surveillance. This slippery distinction between actor and character is only compounded when Nick eventually turns to sleazy lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) for help, leading to a scene in which Bolt, played by the director Perry, resembles director Fincher as he coaches Nick for an interview, conducting numerous “takes” to erode Nick’s normal behavior and delivery in order to remold it to his liking.

The usual Fincherian tics are all on display. Jeff Cronenweth’s sickly yellow hues infect perfectly ordered scenes in the present scenes along with the memories visualized from Amy’s diary, heightening the sense of toxicity as Nick deals with his wife’s absence as well as perverting the usual, sepia-toned wistfulness of Amy’s interspersed recollections. It gives the sense that something is off, as much as the too-tidy crime scene left in the Dunnes’ living room, not to mention the irritating buzz of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score, which replaces the vaguely clubby beat and textural flavor of their Social Network and Dragon Tattoo soundtracks, respectively, for an intrusive, willfully banal composition. Kept at the sidelines of the surround system, the score is the sound of a refrigerator humming, or an HDTV left on after a cable box or Blu-Ray player is shut off, something you don’t register until, all of a sudden, it’s the most grating, distracting thing in the entire world. The antiseptic crispness of everything allows unease to build less at the expense of Nick than an unplaceable feeling of malaise that cannot quite be articulated until the rug is pulled out from under the viewer.

Yet if the common line on Fincher is that he wrests paperbacks to his will, it’s worth noting how sharply this film diverges from his other work. Where his films often unfurl through a procedural collection of clues and raw data, Gone Girl reduces its knottiest Rube Goldberg plans to swift montages, and it rushes the book’s endless series of precisely timed twists and reversals to steamroll past revelations of infidelity, fabrication, and any other clues that make its characters look worse and worse. Instead, the film creates a kind of emotional process, propelling the film less by its series of clues than by the private and public response each revelation entails. You could even argue that the defining moment comes not with the twist that upends the film at the halfway mark but Nick’s early, awkwardly smile for photos in front of an inflated poster of his missing wife, the slip-up hammered home with a blink-and-miss-it insert shot of Margo seizing up with dread at how the media will spin it. Fincher and editor Kirk Baxter draw out the film with dissolves that slightly protract otherwise brief scenes, the slurred transitions helping to obscure the line that separates early reminiscences of kissing in a fogbank of baker’s sugar to Nick’s later outbursts as he comes to grips with how thoroughly his life has been ruined. For all the talk of the director’s usual iciness, this is perhaps his most intimately stylized work.

I made no secret after I read Gillian Flynn’s novel that I hated the book, but in fairness, her self-adapted screenplay deserves as much commendation as Fincher and the cast for the quality of the film. First on the chopping block of necessary cuts is the majority of the Dunnes’ first-person thoughts, a change that drastically improves both characters. In the book, Nick’s every single thought and utterance served to make him look guilty, which primes anyone who has ever read a mystery to immediately dismiss him as a red herring, and thus his terrifying character defects, including outright misogyny roiling just under his thin veneer of polite calm, were ultimately subsumed by the pity the story inadvertently forces a reader to feel for him as he is pilloried for a crime he didn’t commit. However, by reducing any knowledge of Nick’s personality to fleeting images of his almost imperceptible chauvinism, dejected sloth, and obliviousness toward his wife’s feelings and desires, it is actually far easier to hate the man.

Even better, Amy has been pared down from a complete psychopath at war with anyone who crosses her into a woman who restricts her chessmaster torture to the men who presume to understand her. This revised Amy makes good on the phenomenal “Cool Girl” monologue she gives to the reader when the extent of her deceit is unveiled, an extreme, avenging spirit who who turns all the preparation, observation and self-discipline needed for women to live up to men’s warped and unreal standards into a weapon against that casual sexism. The character always represented this, of course, but the excision of muddying ideas and even whole characters maintains Amy’s formerly blunted edge. Once again, simplification paradoxically leads to complication, and Amy 2.0 comes closer to the villain of Takashi Miike’s Audition, a young woman who attracts an old widower with her beauty and supplication but who reveals a ruthless, wrathful side when lovers fail to uphold their own image of commitment. Still, Pike does not play Amy as a monster, instead reacting in each moment to the men around her, whether it’s trying to please Nick while taking tabs, or dealing with the unctuous hanger-on Desi (Neil Patrick Harris), a rich man-child still nursing a crush, promising to take Amy away from Nick’s neglect and abuse while gently insisting that she exist as his own hallowed image of her.

Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Gone Girl novel suffered from a plurality of half-formed ideas: satire of speculative punditry, hat-tip to laid-off colleagues in the publishing industry, resentment for a generation of yuppie parents who profited on their children’s childhood and left their kids a world of debt, and a muddied, high/low attempt to illustrate a grotesque exaggeration of the pitfalls of marriage. And as with the movie version of Tattoo, this film either removes or redirects all these miniature themes to focus on a single essence, in this case the surface tensions between people either trying or willfully refusing to live up to their partner’s idealized vision of them. It is a mordant comedy about the battle of the sexes, one that redefines the term “bloody climax.” (“He came and went at the same time,” as the old Pryor bit goes…) But battle is too soft a militarized term for the endless war that the film envisions, divided between women who know the gains and losses that will accompany every slight gesture and vocal inflection, and men too safely ensconced in fortresses to realize they’re even being shelled. Perhaps the funniest joke in the movie is how overwhelmed Nick feels at having to compete with Amy’s sick genius, when in truth he’s closer to the hare who suddenly snaps awake from his nap during the race to see the tortoise about to cross the finish line.

Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)

Filled with Nic Roeg-esque montages and a finale that repurposes Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life as some sort of metaphysical chase sequence, Luc Besson’s Lucy certainly attempts to add more visual flavor to its trim 90 minutes than most blockbusters can achieve at twice its length. But what should be a refreshing dip into trash-art instead plays out as an incoherent, tonally inconsistent chore that, among other things, plays on regressive Asian stereotypes to fuel its suspense.

Read my full review at Spectrum Culture.

Love Streams

One of two pieces I wrote recently about John Cassavetes' not-quite-swan song, his masterpiece Love Streams. An excerpt:

The film’s title alludes to an idea Sarah has as she reels from losing her family, a notion that “love is a stream; it’s continuous, it doesn’t stop.” If it does not stop, however, it can slow and divert like a stream, and contrary to the feverishly over-complicated efforts of Sarah to push love forward and Robert’s own attempt to dam it, it will always take the path of least resistance. At its heart, the film is a comedy: in an oeuvre filled with all-time classic drunk scenes, the sequence of Cassevetes throwing himself in the car of club singer Susan (Diahnne Abbot), driving to her place, crashing, then being unable to get out of the vehicle is a mini-masterpiece. The physicality of Cassavetes’ acting in this moment could be a precursor for Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘luude scene in The Wolf of Wall Street: Robert turns into an assembly of arms and legs all connected to a mass of nerves without an organizing brain, and about the only thing he accomplishes as he tries to get out of the car is to cause noise, from leaving the door open until an alarm goes off to flipping on the radio and sending jazz blaring around the neighborhood.

Read the rest at Spectrum Culture.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Blu-Ray Review Round-Up (08/10/2014)

Here's a few months worth of Blu-Ray reviews from Slant and Movie Mezzanine.

Movie Mezzanine

Sleepaway Camp (Scream Factory)
Rollerball (1975) (Twilight Time)
Lewis Black: Old Yeller (Image Entertainment) [DVD]
Cheap Thrills (Drafthouse Films)
Hell Divers (Warner Archive) [DVD]
Ravenous (Scream Factory)
The Unknown Known (Anchor Bay)
Deadly Eyes (Scream Factory)

Slant Magazine

A Hard Day's Night (Criterion)
Under the Skin (A24)
Pickpocket (Criterion)

The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2014)

By the same token, it’s also a fitting summary of everything that hinders the film’s aspirations to a singular vision. The highly chromatic, ill-fitting series of tableaux admirably abandon the illusion of objectivity (or even a rationally viewed subjectivity) to celebrate the role imagination plays on memory. Yet for a film intended to reflect both its maker’s personal experience and unorthodox aesthetic, so much of The Dance of Reality feels old-hat, begging the question whether something can be surreal if you feel like you’ve seen it before.

Read my full review at Spectrum Culture.

Music Reviews

I'm trying my hand at more music reviews this year, mostly for the site Spectrum Culture. Here's links to my music-related pieces:

Nas, Illmatic
Miles Davis, Miles at the Fillmore—Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
Lily Allen, Sheezus
Marc Ribot Trio, Live at the Village Vanguard
The Human League, Dare
Fucked Up, Glass Boys
Various Artists, C86
Led Zeppelin, I, II and III
Hole, Live Through This

Finding Fela (Alex Gibney)

A greater sin still is how the film saps Fela’s music of its energy. It’s not entirely Gibney’s fault: no documentary about an artist has ever captured the thrill of personal discovery of that artist’s work. Being flatly informed of the military raid on Fela’s Kalakuta Republic compound after hearing a snippet of “Zombie” pales in comparison to hearing all of “Zombie” first, being galvanized by it universal anti-military lyrics, then gradually filling in the context around that composition. When it is served to a viewer already wrapped in significance, the whole progression of immersion is thrown out, teaching detached admiration instead of passionate discovery.

Read my full review at Spectrum Culture.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is too scattershot and content to be the satire some claim it is, but I nonetheless find its 40-jokes-per-minute mania pleasing, and liked it as much a second time as I did the first. Kids movies tend to come with loaded Blu-Rays, albeit dully so with features that even a child has no use for. So I was happy to see, then, that Warner's put together a great package, starting with a hilarious group commentary and filled with interesting production featurettes that delve into how the movie was made. Read my full review at Slant.

Blu-Ray Review: The Man from Laramie

The Man from Laramie is the last Anthony Mann-James Stewart collaboration, and if it's not the best of their work (I'd narrowly give the edge to The Naked Spur, and possibly Bend of the River), it is nonetheless their most impressively ambitious, an acid-western take on King Lear that may be one of the most violent films to obscure most of its violence from explicit display. Twilight Time releases are always fairly modest, but the 4K restoration given the film results in their best looking release to date, and I'm pleased that this dirty B-movie now looks as good as its A-list counterparts. Read my full review at Slant.

Blu-Ray Review: L'Eclisse

The more I watch and return to Michelangelo Antonioni, the less concerned I am with "solving" his elliptical form and the more I'm content simply to bask in it. L'Eclisse rates with Red Desert and The Passenger as one of the directors most beautiful, enrapturing works, along with one of the most unsettling. Criterion give their old DVD a solid upgrade to Blu-Ray, though I do hope they append a few more of the directors early and late shorts to some future release, maybe their inevitable upgrade of L'Avventura. Regardless, this is a fine release, and you can read my full thoughts on the film and its Blu-Ray at Slant.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: Like Someone in Love

Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love was one of my favorite films of 2013, and Criterion's Blu-Ray is predictably superlative, presenting its intricate sound design and Red camera cinematography without error and tossing in a few solid features. Check out my full review at Slant.

Blu-Ray Review: A Hard Day's Night

I watched A Hard Day's Night for the first time back in 2009 when the Beatles remasters came out and loved it so much I was instantly ready to call it maybe the greatest of rock films. Watching it for the third time with Criterion's outstanding new Blu-Ray release, I'm only more committed to that notion, but now I'm struck by what I never saw in the movie before: underneath (and often, directly parallel) with its many irreverent jokes is a glimpse at why adults were so afraid of these mop-topped goofballs, how their unkempt images and rakish lack of tact made them revolutionary well before they turned to drugs and started writing counterculture anthems. Criterion honors the film's 50th anniversary with one of their most impressive single-film releases: there's a commentary track, the short film that inspired the Beatles to use Richard Lester, many in-depth features and one of the thickest booklets the label has put with a release that was not an actual, honest-to-God book. It's currently sitting at the top of my list of Blu-Ray releases for the year.

Read my full review at Slant.

Louie Season 4 Recaps

Rather than do individual posts, here are links to all of my Louie coverage

Episodes 1 & 2: "Back" and "Model"
Episodes 3 & 4: "So Did the Fat Lady" and "Elevator Part 1"
Episodes 5 & 6: "Elevator Part 2" and "Elevator Part 3"
Episodes 7 & 8: "Elevator Part 4" and "Elevator Part 5"
Episodes 9 & 10: "Elevator Part 6" and "Pamela Part 1"
Episodes 11 & 12: "In the Woods"
Episodes 13 & 14: "Pamela Part 2" and "Pamela Part 3"

Two Rode Together (John Ford, 1961)

Here's my review of John Ford's excellent late-period Two Rode Together and its fine Blu-Ray release from Twilight Time. Read my full review at Slant.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, 2005)

[The following is a belated Blind Spots entry.]

The grainy black-and-white imagery and raw sound give Regular Lovers an impression of verité instantly belied by Philippe Garrel’s aesthetically minded composition. Often, the film resembles a documentation of experimental theater more than a recreation of the director’s memories of May ‘68, particularly in its first half. The frontloaded scenes of violent student protests are presented as flattened, static looks at both students and cops, each group set against a pitch-black void as they shuffle nervously from side to side rather than in deep recess toward the opposition. Canned explosions and minimalist barricades only complete the oneiric vision of protest, so much so that a dream sequence of the students rendered as 18th century Jacobins almost passes by unnoticed for looking no less real than the riots in the present.

This alienated, dispassionate rendering of May ‘68 protests, the opposite of more vividly captured replications in films like Something in the Air, avoids nostalgia or belated self-justification on behalf of the author in favor of his mature reflection on the events of his youth. Regular Lovers stretches out for three hours to cover a well-worn subject in French cinema of the last 46 years, and by getting protests scenes out of the way quickly, it does not bother to tease the audience with thrills from a foregone conclusion. Other films on this subject attempt to capture the fury and defiance of youth in revolt, but this one cannot muster any excitement for so bitter a loss.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Game of Thrones Season 4 Recaps

Very pleased to say that I am covering this season of Game of Thrones for Slant's House Next Door blog. Here are links to the first five recaps, and this post will be updated with links to future coverage.

Episode 1: "Two Swords"
Episode 2: "The Lion and the Rose"
Episode 3: "Breaker of Chains"
Episode 4: "Oathkeeper"
Episode 5: "First of His Name"
Episode 6: "The Laws of God and Men"
Episode 7: "Mockingbird"
Episode 8: "The Mountain and the Viper"
Episode 9: "The Watchers on the Wall"
Episode 10: "The Children"

Link Round-Up (05/06/14)

Here are the rest of my outstanding review links, all of them Blu-Ray reviews for Slant.

-Blu-Ray Review: Hail Mary
-Blu-Ray Review: The Long Day Closes
-Blu-Ray Review: Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season
-Blu-Ray Review: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
-Blu-Ray Review: A Touch of Sin
-Blu-Ray Review: Ms. 45
-Blu-Ray Review: Master of the House
-Blu-Ray Review: The Bridges of Madison County

Louie, Season 4, E01 "Back" and E02 "Model"

I'm covering Louie's new season for Slant's House Next Door, and here is my recap for the premiere double-header, which shows the series operating at its usual creative and aesthetic heights but also, in the second episode, an illustration of its worst traits. Overall, it's great to have the show back, but I hope the material with Yvonne Strahovski is an aberration.

Read my recap at Slant.

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Fritz Lang, 1933)

[The following is a belated Blind Spots entry.]

Fritz Lang stood out as the first master of sound cinema by making talkies that, ironically, seemed quieter than his silent epics. Films like Die Nibelungen and Metropolis are gargantuan affairs with so many moving parts that you can practically hear gears turning, set to bombastic scores of Teutonic music. Starting with M, however, the music dies, invoked only through troubling diegetic means like the killer’s whistle in that film, or the deranged humming in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Even in Lang’s Hollywood films, where a score is imposed, there are moments of eerie silence, none more gripping than in the opening of 1941’s Man Hunt. In the place of bombastic music, that felt sound of machinery from the silent films can now be literally heard; the first scene of Testament, for example, takes place in a printing press, the roar of printers rocking the room and sounding like a train about to burst through the walls.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear (Isaac Florentine, 2013)

Ninja II came out on home video at the very end of last year, and it was one of the best action films I saw in 2013. From what I've seen of his direct-to-video work, Florentine doesn't seem to be growing as a filmmaker, but he does continue to consolidate his strengths, chiefly a deft command of filming close-quarters combat. Not a classic, but more pleasingly unpretentious and to the point than most big genre films will allow themselves to be anymore.

Check out my review at Movie Mezzanine.

Criminally Underrated: Abel Ferrara

Over the last year or so I've become a devout fan of Abel Ferrara, the gutter-punk poet of New York, whose works of self-investigating exploitation take Martin Scorsese's subjective indulgences to new heights of autocritique. Ferrara is primarily known, if at all, for Bad Lieutenant, but hopefully his coming one-two punch of biopics on Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Pier Paolo Pasolini will boost his profile. But that leaves a career filled with fascinating entries to explore, which I can only do briefly in this piece. One day I'd like to write at length about each one, and damn near each one would be worth the effort.

Check out my piece at Spectrum Culture.

Review Round-Up (05/05/2014)

I like to give every film its own page here, even when linking off-site, but frankly I've fallen too far behind on updating this blog with my clips, so here's the first of a few round-ups to get caught up.

Movie Mezzanine

-Blu-Ray Review: Cat People (1982)
-Blu-Ray Review: Commitment
-Blu-Ray Review: A Field in England
-DVD Review: Vikingdom
-Film Review: The Last of the Unjust (Claude Lanzmann, 2014)
-Film Review: Pompeii (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2014)
-Film Review: Need for Speed (Scott Waugh, 2014)
-Film Review: Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas, 2014)
-Film Review: Sabotage (David Ayer, 2014)
-Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014)
-ATLFF Review: 45RPM
-ATLFF Review: The Double
-ATLFF Review: Metalhead
-ATLFF Review: Beside Still Waters

Spectrum Culture

-Caught in the Web (Chen Kaige, 2013)
-Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (Arvin Chen, 2014)
-Home from the Hill (Vincente Minnelli, 1960)
-The Wait (M. Blash, 2014)
-Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Denis Côté, 2014)
-Book Review: Jean Luc Godard: Cinema Historian by Michael Witt
-Non-Stop (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2014)
-Jimmy P. (Arnaud Desplechin, 2014)
-The Courtship of Eddie's Father (Vincente Minnelli, 1963)
-Darkman (Sam Raimi, 1990)
-Concert Review: The Black Lips/Deerhunter
-Teenage (Matt Wolf, 2014)
-In the Blood (John Stockwell, 2014)
-Joe (David Gordon Green, 2014)
-Fading Gigolo (John Turturro, 2014)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

Wes Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, has bowed to reviews that link the occasionally staggering scale of its production design to the director’s meticulously ordered stop-motion film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Certainly the two stand as the most thoroughly crafted works in the oeuvre of a man whose trademark is his fussy attention to detail; in The Grand Budapest Hotel, hotel lobbies, prisons, even Alpine monasteries are created in such lavishly minute precision that the logistics of each impeccably straightened sign, every spotless carpet threaten to divert all attention away from the narrative at hand. In execution, however, the film belongs more with its immediate predecessor, Moonrise Kingdom, as both an unmistakable continuation of its maker’s singular style and an increasingly sophisticated breakdown of it.

From a narrative standpoint, no Wes Anderson film has ever been this convoluted. Typically, the director’s films spend more time merely introducing the characters and their strictly regimented habits than they do detailing what those people get up to. That is not to say that there is not conflict or drive in Anderson’s movies, but that said conflict typically arises from the intrusion of reality and lived, experienced wisdom upon the myopic headspace of stunted wunderkinder, a forceful denial and eventual acceptance of how ignorant these self-perceived geniuses truly are. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is the first of Anderson’s films in which the outside sources of awakening do not come as a natural course of maturation but from the direct imposition of actively hostile forces. Set primarily during WWII, the film presents a series of nested narratives involving characters whose pluck, intelligence and wit is slowly revealed to be utterly inadequate a defense against forces hellbent on eradicating the old way of things. Anderson routinely presents a sense of style and fashion far removed from the present; The Grand Budapest Hotel hones in on the last moment such modes were considered contemporary and proper before being violently stomped out.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Enjoy the Silents

This was the first of a planned monthly series on silent cinema, which appears now not to be going forward unless I can find a new home for it. A shame, too, as this first article was more of an easing into the subject, with a brief list of 10 great silent films on Netflix instant. With any luck, I'll be able to continue the series elsewhere; I had planned articles focused on John Ford's formative silents, Erich von Stroheim, Louis Feuillade's serials, as well as intended forays into silent actors I've been wanting to explore in more depth. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, check out my picks at Film.com, and check out the movies I mention!

John Ford's Lasting Importance

I had hoped to devote much of February to a celebration of John Ford, whose 120th birthday was on the first of that month. But restructuring at Film.com and unsuccessful pitches elsewhere stalled those efforts. At least I did get to write this piece, an attempt to counter some notions of the director's supposed stodginess and obsolescence by pointing out how much he still has to offer. It was difficult to limit this piece; at one point I felt I could make a book on the topic, before I remembered that it could not hope to compete with Tag Gallagher's own book celebrating the auteur.

Anyway, check out my piece for Film.com.

Best DVD/Streaming of the Week (1/28/14)

Another round-up. Sadly, this appears to be the last one, at least for Film.com.

Best DVDs

Best Streaming

Best DVD/Streaming of the Week (1/14/2014)

Quick link piece here since it's so past publish date

Best DVDs

Best Streaming

Thief (Michael Mann, 1981)

Back in January I wrote about Michael Mann's incredible theatrical debut Thief (one of the best feature debuts ever, even if Mann had a significant amount of experience by the time he got around to it) for Film.com. It's a hell of a movie, and Criterion's Blu-Ray of it is unimpeachable, restoring the film to its full visual power after years of being stuck with a non-anamorphic, dull transfer on home video. An early contender for a best Criterion releases of the year list. But it's the film that really matters, so check out my thoughts on it over at Film.com.

The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)

I wrote about John Ford's The Sun Shines Bright, cited by the man himself as his favorite of his movies, for Spectrum Culture. It's one of my favorite Ford movies as well, a subversive comedy that tackles the legacy of racism and nostalgic martyrdom in the South in a way that is sentimental and weighted toward sympathy for a dying breed even as it hides surprisingly bold critiques of contemporary racial and social division in plain sight. Olive Films put the film out on Blu-Ray out last year, and I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pleasuring Yourself

It’s been a while since someone got a missive against elitist taste posted in an elite publication, so clearly we were overdue. The latest comes from Adam Sternbergh, whose piece “All of the Pleasure. None of the Guilt” is in the New York Times Magazine. The arguments contained therein should come as no surprise to anyone who knows what “cultural vegetables” refers to: Sternbergh takes up arms against the term “guilty pleasure,” rhetorically asking, “Why not be done with the whole idea that certain cultural pleasures are more edifying than others? Why not retire the familiar labels that are simply remnants of a cultural caste system?”

Such talk, as well as inane flourishes like “With the exceptions of warmongering doublespeak and racial epithets, is there any more pernicious linguistic remnant of the 20th century than the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’?” (what a trifecta), immediately smacks of baiting, but in fairness to Sternbergh, his piece is far more equitable than, say, Dan Kois’ insipid insistence on the dullness of the highbrow. Sternbergh at least acknowledges that some people might read Moby Dick or À la recherche du temps perdu because they find them genuinely enjoyable, and his mantra is less a defense of the simple than “Can’t we all just get along?”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

[The following is a belated entry in last year's Blind Spots series.]

The rhyming book-end shots that open and close Ugetsu—the first shot an out-to-in establishment of a village that hones in on its main characters, the final one a move outward from those who remain to that same village horrifically altered—tidily summarize the intricate formal arrangement of Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece, their inverse compositions and movements indicative of the thorough visual mapping of the entire film. The early shots are almost literally straightforward, with camera setups that view its laterally arranged characters from perpendicular positions. These compositions match the bluntness of the narrative setup: Genjuro (Masayuki Mori), a local potter, sets out with his friend Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) to sell his wares in neighboring areas as a civil war heats up between rival daimyo. Genjuro’s wife, Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka), frets about him going to cities filled with soldiers, but otherwise their lives are tranquil.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)

[The following is a belated entry in last year's Blind Spots series.]

All That Jazz is a New Hollywood film from an Old Hollywood filmmaker; more than that, it’s a film that so thoroughly ticks off all the aesthetic and tonal properties of the American New Wave that one is left to think that New Hollywood would have been commonplace far earlier but for the intervention of moral censors and artistically conservative studio producers. Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film opens with his avatar, Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), starting his day to a montage of classical music, Alka Seltzer, eyedrops and dexies, a wake-me-up that does not prevent him from lolling in the shower with a soaked cigarette limply dangling from his lips. Red-eyed and weary, Joe nevertheless looks as good as he ever will in this movie, as his increasingly stressful work schedule and the accumulated residue of his hard living start to crush him physically and emotionally.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Blind Spots 2014

In writing terms, I had a great 2013. I added some cool new bylines to my resumé, and for the first time I even got paid for my work! As such, constantly looming deadlines made me shift focus away from this blog even to update it with links to my work, much less to actually write stuff here. I imagine that will continue in 2014 (at least I hope it does, as it means I'm still pulling down freelance work), but I am still going to try and write a few exclusives here, primarily with my entries in the cross-blog Blind Spots series. I failed to write about five of my chosen picks for 2013, even though I actually watched one of them, French Cancan (a masterpiece I will write about shortly, I hope). So, as to not forget them, I will list them here alongside this year's picks, and with any luck I will get to all of them before the year is done.

Outstanding picks:
French Cancan (Jean Renoir, 1954)
Gertrud (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1964)
Judex [a 2012(!) Blind Spot] (Louis Feuillade, 1916)
Too Early, Too Late (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1982)

2014's picks:
The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)
Bombay (Mani Ratnam, 1995)
Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1974)
The Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1985)
Girlfriends (Claudia Weill, 1978)
Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1922)
The Outlaw and His Wife (Victor Sjöstrom, 1918)
Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986)
Pyaasa (Guru Dutt, 1957)
Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, 2005)
The Terrorizers (Edward Yang, 1986)