The more time that passes by and the more the comic world is besieged by laughter of both more incisive and more vulgar textures, the more that Mel Brooks’ brand of comedy seems like a product of a bygone era. Even its maladroit moments (the malodorous flatulence scene in the otherwise shockingly pointed miscreant that is Brooks’ best film Blazing Saddles) feel like innocuous nuggets of convivial atmosphere, currents from Mel Brooks’ sheer need to satiate his funny bone, and ours. The Borscht Beltier segments are as hokey and antiquated today as many of the establishment beacons Brooks was rebelling against. But Brooks is a munificent man, and his spirit shines through. His films amuse almost unilaterally on the back of the aching grin you can feel on Brooks’ face in every shot and with every line, or hook, or sinker. But Blazing Saddles is probably the only Brooks film that does more than amuse, the only one that doesn’t merely feel like Brooks pleasing himself. Saddles cuts right to the heart of an American genre, reflecting not simply a caricature of genre but a total collapse of it. Continue reading
I’ve decided to post shorter reviews of various films I’m seeing for the first time via courses I’m enrolled in.
Yasujiro Ozu’s world is one of parsimoniously placed symmetries and laconic, ever-subtler shifts in human composition that form telltale signs of theme and character. Unlike most esteemed directors, he doesn’t rest on prodigal imagery or inflammatory dialogue, nor does he inundate us with restive tangents and dalliances with the absurd. His films are stingy with their carefully focused formalism, and as such are prone to claims that they are left wanting or overly enervated by their placid demeanor. Yet within Ozu’s ostensibly metronomic minimalism lies a gregarious, human vision of the world as a teetering, lightly fluctuating balancing act where the most hurtful of human tragedies is found in the most unadorned of images. In a world constructed out of pairings and balances, the disruptive elegance of a lone human face without a matching motion or figure is as tragic as the end of the world. Continue reading
Something a little different I wrote for Taste of Cinema. http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2016/the-16-best-tv-series-directed-by-movie-directors/
Elaine May’s career-ending 1987 blockbuster social tract Ishtar, a lopsided work of equal parts monomaniacal egomania and bracingly scabrous anti-masculine comic commentary, has spent the better part of a decade being partially rescued by youthful, revisionist film critics. Now, that film’s partial reappraisal is arguably unearned; its phenomenally sardonic first half is mostly undone by an untethered, obsessively messy back portion that sees May woefully incapable of handling the ridiculously inflated budget of the production. It feels like wishful thinking to lump it in with the equally voluminous anti-American critique of Western iconography that is Michael Cimino’s much more deserving masterpiece Heaven’s Gate. But if reappraising Ishtar is a necessary casualty to resurrecting Elaine May’s bracing back-catalogue, then so be it. She remains responsible for a number of the lost masterpieces of American cinema, a cadre of the best films released in arguably the most impressive decade for the nation’s cinema. Continue reading
With the release of The Witch imminent, let us look back at another famous horror film to rely on witches, however indirectly, to go bump in the night.
Cutting to the chase: Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski’s cinematic breakthrough into the limelight, isn’t a patch on three of his four prior films. In this 1968 effort, his American debut, absent is the wire-suspension tension of Knife in the Water and Repulsion or the beguiling black comic stylings of Cul-de-sac, both of which have been replaced with a slowly simmering psychosexual milieu of modern New York malaise and maladjusted, endlessly percolating desolation. For the most part, the trade is a lateral one rather than a vertiginous rise or a demonic fall, but a little flab cakes in around the middle of this lengthy film, making it somewhat lesser than any of Polanski’s previous films. At some point, letting us bask in the distress and withheld-desire sours into not trusting the audience to come to terms with the screenplay’s layered paranoia and its commentary on the brutalistic power dynamics of gender in the modern era. In other words, the film spends a little too much time underlining its themes. Continue reading
With the imminent release of The Witch upon us, let us look back at another famous movie with a villainous witch.
Probably no film has been loved and embraced by humankind more than The Wizard of Oz, but something about actually discussing the film almost feels heretical in an environment where blind belief in its charms has encumbered any and all serious consideration of the film as art. That’s not entirely a negative; a magisterial work of childlike ambition like the 1939 Wizard seems to tap into a font of innocent emotion with its blaring cacophony of primary-colors and elegantly simple, almost subconscious color contrasts. So much does the film take us beyond the pale of adulthood that it feels disingenuous to deny its transportative effect that functions on an almost pre-cognitive level.
A weekend into its release, the mostly loose-limbed Deadpool is certifiably an accidental but genuine pop-culture zeitgeist-defining event rather than the belated cult classic it would have been at any other time in history. One can only predict the ripples of the film’s success, but some cause for celebration erupts. So many superhero movies – Christopher Nolan’s elephantiasis-prone Batman films not least among them – are content to cart around the depressive husks of their beings, especially over the past decade of glum, operatic, tortured superheroism. In this light, Deadpool represents a more manic, cheerier alternative to the doldrums of the self-imposed superhero funeral we’ve been undergoing since the genre supposedly “matured”. But it also suggests a more classical spirit: that being a superhero might, dare one say it, be fun. Continue reading