Monthly Archives: December 2015

Film Favorites: The Bad Sleep Well

In a vacuum, the toxin-caked The Bad Sleep Well would signal a filmmaker who craved for the hopeful swagger and fainting individualism of the Wild West of Japan’s past. Peering into Kurosawa’s future – the dueling Technicolor nightmares of Kagemusha and Ran in particular – announces a different tale, however, instead glimpsing a weary, woebegone director whose life had flashed before him and curdled his soul cold. The Bad Sleep Well, positioned in Kurosawa’s canon, is no simple reactionary slice of “they don’t live ’em like they used to” beckoning for a pre-modern era, but a shrieking wail of unfettered nihilism that crosses time periods and engulfs any waiting patrons regardless of era. The Bad Sleep Well is not an indication of a cantankerous Kurosawa, but a head-shaking humanist having been collapsed and exhausted by society and left with nothing but the ramshackle tatters of an embittered and embattled mind. Continue reading

Review: Queen of Earth

Alexander Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth suggests a beguiling, fractured-mirror psychodrama on the surface, nearly begging to be misrepresented as reduction or mere pastiche of ’70s art house post-Hitchcock from an unnamed, presumably chilly, Middle European far off nether realm. Un-suture the cluttered hash-work of staples, though, and the metaphorical blood runs white-hot in this ostensibly cool-blue chamber piece of glistening neurosis belying fading friendship. There’s warmth and liveliness here, darkly comedic energy and even occasional buoyancy, enough to keep the tale from functioning as arid, manipulative still-water but only so much to ensure this emotional swampland never turns into a lightweight river raid. If this is Bergman, it’s flying for the left-of-center targets, the more unhinged ones like Hour of the Wolf. Don’t call it Persona 2.0.
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Film Favorites: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

Perhaps no canonical director rambunctiously, even violently, defies reputation and expectation like the young German enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Welles was the cocksure bon vivant who saw to it that Hollywood would crawl back to the primordial expressionism it stewed forth from. Tarkovsky was the impressionist shaman of grand cinematic spirituals. Dreyer the hallucinatory chronicler of personal spaces invaded and regained. Kubrick the possibly psychotic, probably anti-human mad scientist and arch-stylist. Kurosawa was a swaggering painter, Ozu gently serenaded the world into his dioramas of the soul, Mizoguchi bonded himself to ethereal, ghostly portals into the hazy nether realms of the human experience. Even Godard famously resorted to generalizations: There was theater (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray”, a bold declaration and a line in the sand for the B-movie bravado of the French New Wave. And if you criticize him for his over-simplications, you can’t but tacitly endorse a couple of them. Continue reading

Review: What We Do in the Shadows

fullwidth.50371bb0Something plainly went wrong with What We Do in the Shadows: the film turned out great. The concept – a cadre of vampires from varying ages room together and struggle to adapt to the norms of modern life – is so high that it ought to lose oxygen in five minutes and induce rigor mortis. The also-concept is even worse: What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary, the hoariest cliché of the decade following television’s inability to put the format to rest post-The Office, a fact that allows the film to exploit the increasingly aesthetic-less handheld camera more common every year these days. I don’t know that Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who co-direct and co-write, single-handedly save the whole trend from a way-past-due stake in the heart, but bless them for trying. What We Do in the Shadows ought to be a mere parlour trick, but in practice it is much closer to a satanically devious nocturnal charmer. Continue reading

Review: Creed

Judicious in its employment of verbiage but verbose, if not over-zealous, in its cinematic vocabulary, Ryan Coogler’s Creed is neither sequel, nor remake, but a variation on a theme. The working class hero pounding and clobbering his way into the American Dream has always been the root of the series, but Creed – a film that, if it loses to Rocky, only fails via a narrow split decision – must contend with different combatants. That it proves able to learn from its forebearers and expand upon their successes, and failures, in the process is the film’s greatest majesty. After all, it’s every parent’s dream for their offspring to better them. As Creed plaintively contemplates, it may be the only plausible dream Rocky has left. Continue reading

Reviews: Bone Tomahawk and Cold in July

Bone Tomahawk

S. Craig Zahler’s presumably burgeoning film career is a sabbatical from his day job as purveyor of literature and music, and Bone Tomahawk’s loquacious side treks and dogmatic refusal to gallop when it may trot reflect Zahler’s literary ambitions. They also lightly, even cunningly, mock the same longueurs – for such an ostensibly single-minded film, its penchant for tangential refrains is likely a pointed critique of characters who don’t always seem particularly driven to their cause to begin with. The dialogue is delivered by a deliciously bone-dry Kurt Russell, returned to us at least and seemingly in on the film’s joke, as well as the always reliable Richard Jenkins and Patrick Wilson and the usually unreliable Matthew Fox who here rises to the occasion. Continue reading

Review: Tangerine

Putting aside Tangerine’s radical casting conventions and rampaging, jazz-like improvisational struts, the film’s masterstroke is its very introduction to the world. A scraggly pseudo-art scrawl adorns the screen with a classical, and seemingly classically trained credit sequence in warm, operatic font as sepia-toned pop vocals cart out the cast. Until the revelation: the art is not art, at least by its classical definition, but a scratched-up, weathered donut store table. It’s cheeky and provocative, but also a perfect primer for the film to come: an everyday soul that’s seen better days dressing itself up in its dreams of classical Hollywood. Continue reading

Review: World of Tomorrow

Pregnant melancholy and sweltering silence slide easily into straight-jacketed psychosis in World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt’s nearly oxygen-less sonic strut down memory lane with memories stabbed in the back and replaced with cadaverous pantomimes of human experience. With its release, we must ask: has artistic rigor mortis set in? It is no trouble to identify Hertzfeldt in a murderer’s row of modern animators for the crime of World of Tomorrow – not an artistic crime, mind you, but a heretical declaration against society’s moral code. It is classic Hertzfeldt, with the id of the human experience unlocked so that the feral beast we might expect can lunge out, confront its lack of agency in a forbidden twisting nether of an empty world around it, and quietly give in to the nothingness with indifference and cruel, frosty anonymity. Hertzfeldt’s world is a comic one, but this is one tomorrow you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. Continue reading

Review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Holger Andersson, the Swedish writer-director-performer (following the tripartite talents of his luminary, and presumably hero, Charlie Chaplin), doesn’t rush to the celluloid (he has waited 8 years since his last film, You, the Living, to finish Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, the finale to his trilogy on humanity’s existence). And his celluloid does not rush. Implanted with the morose spirit of the Swedish nation (or, at least, the classically wry stereotypes about Swedish culture), A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence knows the value of silence and skeletal stillness in its distillation of the walking dead. Or, just maybe, rigor mortis has already set in within the film itself. It’s just another member of the party of the dead the film wanders into. Continue reading