A New Leaf, a 1971 screwball comedy written and directed by Elaine May, is a great genre film made by a women. You know how many great genre films were ever made by women? Well, lessee, there was…oh, how about…no, that one was a genre film made by a woman, but it was rotten…hmmm…
Given enough time you’ll come up with something (Ida Lupino, The Hitch-Hiker), but it isn’t really worth the effort. Too depressing.
Posted: January 15th, 2013
I waited to write about Django Unchained because I couldn’t figure out how to account for its maddening effects. But they’ve gotten more and more maddening over time, to the point that I found myself in a restaurant the other night ranting about the sheer horror of hearing Jim Croce’s soporific ‘70s soft-rock ballad “I Got a Name” scored over should-be-exhilarating shots of Django as a newly freed man riding a fine horse through a grand Western snow-scape.
Sorry, other patrons of the restaurant in question! But consider the provocation! “I Got a Name,” for the love of Christ, right there in the middle of my pre-Civil War slave-revenge epic that I’ve been waiting a year to see! “I Got a Name”! I mean, why not the mellow stylings of James Taylor while we’re at it? Maybe Django could sing “You Got a Friend” to his horse or something! My God! Has the whole world gone crazy?
So what the hell, after that there’s no point holding back.
Posted: January 6th, 2013
First things first: Roger Deakins is the god of cinematographers. As you know, he’s the Coen Brothers’ long-time DP—your cue to salute—and he’s on the job here in Skyfall, the latest Bond movie. Another Coen film crew member, Dennis Gassner—salute, goddammit!—is handling the production design. So the visuals oughta win Oscars, but they won’t.
Fuckin’ Deakins, that guy can shoot, man! You’ve gotta see the night sequence in Shanghai! Scary-tall skyscrapers with their huge panes of neon-reflecting glass, against which men with guns stalk around and lose themselves in patterns of swirling, shifting colored light. It’s so staggeringly beautiful, you think, “Huh, turns out modernity was worth it after all.”
Posted: November 11th, 2012
In this festive season of the year when cheery death-related imagery like skeletons and ghosts and zombies cluster all around us, it seems fitting that we celebrate someone who really liked death and tried his best to show us how terrific it is: horror film producer Val Lewton.
In his low-budget 1940s films such as Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man, The Seventh Victim, and Isle of the Dead, Lewton and his tight-knit creative team generally aligned death with the most beautiful characters, the richest imagery, and the most soothingly lovely camera and editing rhythms. Oh to cast off the harsh noisy nonsense of life and sink into that silent, velvet blackness!
Posted: October 28th, 2012
Seven Psychopaths is one of those movies that’s too cute by half. If I hadn’t been so fried, I’d have paid more heed to the warning signs—the arch title, the “quirky” poster images, the fact that Tom Waits is in it—and given the whole thing a miss.
But you know how it is when you’ve been roughed up by life a lot lately, and you just want to forget it for two hours. You look for a convenient screening time and take your chances. (Shoulda gone for Taken 2!)
Posted: October 14th, 2012
As soon as The Master was released, every day it was, “Ja see it? Ja see it yet? Whadja think? Ya gotta go see it.” Nag, nag, nag.
So to give writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson credit, he’s got crass showmanship going for him. He can crank up the ballyhoo machine, and that’s not nothing in these dull times.
What with all the hue and cry, you find yourself hustling right off to see his latest extravaganza, and only then do you remember how much you hate that little flimflamming PTA fucker. He takes your money and gives you crap in exchange every time—magnificently shot crap festooned in Acting with a capital ACK.
And then, after the last time when you swore to yourself you’d never get taken in by any more of his milkshake cons—he does it again! PTA Barnum!
Posted: September 23rd, 2012
I was feeling pretty low, so I watched Takeshi Miike’s Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai. A movie about ritual self-disembowelment was a fitting end to the week I had. So I was more than happy to sit there drinking in the whole slow, stately, highly composed meditation on samurai codes punctuated with carefully placed scenes of bloody agonizing seppuku. In these troublous times, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Posted: September 3rd, 2012
Dear General Public,
I’ve had to speak to you before about your gruesome reverence for dead celebrities. Every famous person who dies is instantly idolized out of all recognition. The same ugly venal toad of a has-been star or notoriously despicable no-talent hack that you were mocking or simply ignoring on Tuesday becomes a beloved secular saint on Wednesday, the second his or her diseased heart stops beating.
This maudlin nonsense really must cease! Your hypocrisy is rank and stinks to heaven! Try to have a modicum of decent self-restraint!
Yours in contempt,
Posted: August 21st, 2012
There’s a new ten-part series running on Sunday nights called Copper that’s getting all kinds of notice for its Gangs of New York-ish set-up. That’s why I watched it, hoping to see some of that potentially great 19th century slum material redeemed by BBC America. It’s a good title, Copper, so maybe, maybe…
But no. It’s rotten. The first show was nothing but wrong notes struck very hard over and over. Maybe it’ll improve somewhat in future episodes, but I won’t be there to see ‘em.
Posted: August 20th, 2012
I can’t do Best Film lists. Somebody recently asked me to—a former student—it was sweet of him and all—but I can’t. They’re so embarrassing. You no sooner put down a title than you feel like an idiot—really, this is the BEST film ever made, of all films from all nations, in all genres, for all time, the very BESTEST??
This whole review’s a spoiler, so if you’re not prepared to handle an all-spoiler review, take a hike. (You know the drill.)
Yours in despair,
The Amazing Spiderman’s a hit, and I just saw it, and I can’t remember it. Which is a GOOD thing, in its way. That’s what loud CGI nonsense is FOR.
Am I missing something? Did Nora Ephron do something great once in her seventy-odd years that I never heard about? She cure cancer and I was never told? She make an uncharacteristically watchable movie and hide it in a vault for posterity and we’re just discovering it now?
By now I’m assuming you’ve seen Prometheus, and we can talk freely. If not, beat it, because I’m telling all, plot-wise.
Prometheus starts out gangbusters, so beautiful and ambitious that you have to wonder how Ridley Scott is going to manage to screw it up. He does screw it up, of course, but the thing is, I don’t know why he does. He had it; it was all right there in the first scenes, all he had to do was play out the implications.
Lotta critics reviewing Men in Black 3 have wondered what was the necessity for it. Who was really craving Men in Black 3? As garrulous A.O Scott puts it, “Can you think of a new movie with less reason for existing than Men in Black 3?”
Why, yes, yes I can, as a matter of fact. But A.O. immediately realizes his question is stupid and answers it himself:
What? “Battleship”? Yes, O.K. Good point. Hadn’t thought of that. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”? Fair enough. But still. “The Avengers”? Let’s not go there. And stop interrupting me when I’m trying to make a serious point.
Can’t help interrupting you, A.O., if you’re going to blather like that.
Somebody stick a fork in Tim Burton; he’s done.
Dark Shadows proves it’s about time he retired and took up a hobby. I’d suggest still photography. He’d be terrific at that—he still has a great eye for his personal fetishes, like unearthly pale, beautiful girls with huge eyes and small mouths, and ornately dressed male fops with crazy hair, and campy Olde Worlde architectural flourishes. Dark Shadows works far better as a bunch of still photos than it does as a movie. Trust me on this. Just look at the pictures below, and don’t go to the movie—there, I just saved you $10. Don’t say I never gave you nuthin.
If you’re one of the few dozen people in the world who hasn’t seen The Avengers yet, I’ll tell you the best way to take it in. Hit a matinee screening in a theater filled with kids—especially very small roundheaded ones, the ones still closer to being animals than people—that’s where you get the purity of the experience. Kids can hardly get over how much they love this movie—it’s beyond their frail strength to contain it. They let out these wild shouting laughs—HAAAAH-hahahahahahaha!!—to signify maximum glee.
I like to see the kids happy. It’s a weakness of mine.
The tidal wave of reviewer praise for the foul new HBO show Girls has washed up against a wall of resistance recently. But as far as I can tell, nobody, whether praising or blaming, has actually conveyed what this miserable crap-colored show is like to watch.
First scene: our homely heroine Hannah, played by writer-director-producer-monster Lena Dunham, is trying to persuade her parents to continue supporting her while she lives and perpetually interns in New York City, where everything looks drably brown. These are immediate tip-offs: we’re in mumblecore territory here. Mumblecore’s an indie film genre about contemporary affluent young white people who don’t know what to do with their lives and are generally dreary and despicable. And indeed, Lena Dunham is a mumblecore film director, who did Tiny Furniture in 2010.
So get yourself a bullet to bite, here comes the pain.
Don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mumblecore film. Probably not, if only because the term “mumblecore” is so twee and horrible, it would instinctively repel you. It’s a millennial American film development, around for quite a while now but not widely known outside indie film circles, and for good reason. Fantastically boring films. Known for being deliberately torpor-inducing. It’s a point of real pride to mumblecore filmmakers that nothing much happens in their films, and what doesn’t happen unfolds very, very slowly and naturalistically.
Today’s burning moral question: Is it bad to enjoy watching a big-screen entertainment featuring teenagers hunting each other for sport?
Answer: Oh, I dunno. Points to be made on both sides. How big is the screen? Bigger ain’t necessarily better when it comes to image quality, y’know!