Monthly Archives: December 2014

I Really Need to Cut it Out With These Waves Puns. This Might be the Last: Jurassic Park

For Steven Spielberg, 1993 was his real coming out. Before-hand, he was one of the most important filmmakers in American cinema, one of the few bright spots of the turgid ’80s. But after 1993, he was a god among filmmakers, and a clear genius of intent, if not necessarily execution, for striving to cover all bases in the world of populist directing. He took advantage of the year to stake out a personal trend for himself, releasing one would-be pop cultural touchstone and, perhaps prefacing any concerns that he was too focused on special effects and teenagers and not making “serious” films, a hearty, honest-to-god crippling drama to go with.  In fact, he’s taken up this path time and time again (monstrous success also breeds complacency and getting stuck in a rut of one’s own release strategy and production style). Most recently, 2011 brought us the schmaltzy Oscar-bait of War Horse and the animated The Adventures of TinTin. 2005 saw the criminally underrated expressionist nightmare of a disaster movie War of the Worlds and the politically ambiguous morality tale Munich, and in 1997 came stuffy  historical drama Amistad  and a serious case of sequelitis in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World. Still, expectations beget expectations, and gifts give way to curses; what he accomplished in 1993, at least in terms of pure commercial and critical success, he never equaled again. Continue reading

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Film Favorites: Black Narcissus

Michael Powell, especially when paired with his long time partner in crime Emeric Pressburger, was a director cripplingly ahead of his time (although they shared credits, Pressburger favored writing and Powell handled most of the behind-the-camera work). Literally crippling, in fact, for his provocative, lurid, deeply confrontational 1960 horror Peeping Tom, at that point perhaps the most daring and subversive commentary on filmmaking and film-watching ever released, essentially killed his career. Dark-hearted in a way even Hitch’s fellow 1960 release, Psycho, never approached, Peeping Tom grabbed a world not ready for it and shoved itself right up into humanity’s soul with voyeuristic, directly implicating POV filmmaking and sickly green hues to induce malaise and shock. It was an atomic final gasp on one of the all-time directorial careers. Continue reading

Bonus Midnight Screenings, Edge of Sanity Edition: Repulsion and Shock Corridor

Repulsion

Roman Polanski blew down the doors by galvanizing psycho-sexual fervor with heated religious fire-and-brimstone when he asked us to pray for Rosemary’s Baby, but his three earlier films carve out a cavern of their own in the film world. They each build on one another, gnawing and preying into Polanski’s particular and peculiar form of bellowing salacious night-sweats. His debut, Knife in the Water, is a casual work that reveals itself a formalist’s dream, a monomaniacal machination of Deep Focus emptiness and harsh angle-populated mise-en-scene that finds in its very visual bones the piercing acuteness of his class parable. His follow-up, Cul-de-sac, maintains this carefully delineated limbo-like location-work and adds its own doses of jangled nerves, introducing a particularly controversial and transgressive dose of blackened humor to Polanski’s already darkly playful attitude toward human sexuality. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Monsieur Verdoux

The idea that a film could “kill” the career of one of America’s most loved stars seems a tad bit antithetical in today’s increasingly safe world, but then we don’t have many daring, singular stars like the ever fearless provocateur in a clown’s body that was Charlie Chaplin. Although the much-loved star carved out a lovable niche as a tragicomic by donning the rumpled clothing of a tramp and the heart of humanity at its simplest and most direct, he was always ready for a fight. His quasi-silent masterpiece Modern Times is one of the least hidden anti-capitalist films ever to be spooled up before an audience, damningly positing the internalization of mechanical soullessness into the human capacity for movement and survival. As if that wasn’t enough, he went on to fancy himself a Hitler-pastiche in The Great Dictator, playing with fire by targeting the most holy of subjects before it was even quiet enough for mourning.
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Midnight Screening: Batman (1966)

It’s been a couple weeks, so here’s a double-dip of classic cult comic book movies for you, and some prime so-bad-its-good filmmaking on both counts. 

It’s been a long way for Batman, and superheros in general. Over the past fifteen years, comic books have been codified and examined and re-examined until there’s nothing left, but very rarely do they ever bring anything new to the table. This can not be said of the ’60s Batman television show, nor can it be said of the film spun off from it. The show was an absurdist trip through modern society’s fascinations as they had been captured on celluloid and in other well-worn forms of media. Undeniably campy and decked out to the teeth with kitsch, the whole affair worked like a playful rib at the cheerful superficiality of a day and age where the world was changing around its inhabitants so fast they couldn’t even comprehend it in terms of reality. It was on a dangerous path to surrealism, and Batman, like a less vicious Bunuel, was there to catch it with its pants down.
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Midnight Screening: Flash Gordon

It’s been a couple weeks, so here’s a double-dip of classic cult comic book movies for you, and some prime so-bad-its-good filmmaking on both counts. 

It’s the most depressing kind of thing to discover a film that is popular only for its theme tune, only to watch it and realize that the theme works primarily because of the film it accompanies, and that it is the images and sounds of that film in unison that dance together a most magic dance. Wait, did I say “depressing”? I meant absolutely positively exciting and inspiring in the most enchanting possible way, although it is also depressing in the sense that I am confronted with the fact that we remember Queen songs these days more than we remember totally singular, inspired filmmaking. For, terrible as it is in many ways, there are aspects of Flash Gordon that are inspired in a way I cannot even begin to describe. Continue reading

Stocking Stuffer Reviews: Stoker and The Paperboy


I said these stocking stuffers wouldn’t be themed, and I toyed with calling this one something like “Nasty little black hearts that happen to have Nicole Kidman in them”, but then I realized I should limit my self-serving dumbness to myself sometimes. Just sharing. 

Stoker

2013 saw the “big three” South Korean maestros of pitch-black genre fare emigrate to the United States (Hollywood ever unable to beat em’, and always willing to shill out enough money so they can join em’). Kim Jee-woon went to bat first and struck out commercially (even if his grubby, sprightly little action vehicle for Ahnuld. The Last Stand, was a decent sort in it’s own way, and incomparably directed to say the least). The final hitter, delayed by one year, was Bong Joon-ho, and he knocked it out of the park with a deliriously madcap trip to film school in the rollicking kitsch-fest Snowpiercer.

In between, the bad boy of South Korean cinema went up to bat and generated a curiously slight bit of applause. Park Chan-wook was always the bleakest and most torturous of the three directors, his compatriots preferring sky-high genre fare while he always went the chilly path to the darkest places of our souls. His American debut, Stoker, follows suit, and in retrospect, the little response this film – about incest among the modern bourgeoisie – generated isn’t really a surprise. In fact, it would have been a shock had its reaction been rapturous, or anything other than the deadened, transfixed state it occupies from beginning to end.
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