Monthly Archives: March 2016

Midnight Screening: High Plains Drifter

tumblr_mp2toxyd7l1sqsyiko1_500The incorporeal spirit of his dueling godfathers, Sergio Leone and Don Siegel, haunt Clint Eastwood’s second directorial effort, which also invites the tenebrous psychosis of Eastwood’s debut Play Misty for Me to the party. From Leone, Eastwood attunes to the primordial, baroque expanse of the Western as a dreamscape or an amoral vetting ground rather than a physical place. As a counterbalance, Eastwood matches the florid poetry of Leone to Siegel’s terse brutality to concoct a Western as comfortable with surreptitiously shooting you in the back as it is with orchestrating the social theater of the high noon showdown. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Deliverance

deliverance-copyDeliverance is driven by nihilistic impulses that subsume all sense of morality under the unremitting decay of primal, masculine gruesomeness. The story of four Atlanta businessmen trapped and hunted in rural Northern Georgia, John Boorman’s tone poem to nature as implacable object abstains from ever empathizing with the four men. Excepting Ronny Cox’s Drew, the only primary player who even considers the value of rural natives in an eerie yet oddly touching banjo duel, by far the most famous scene from the film to this day, none of the characters fare well as moral specimens. Arriving in a village hewn out of the earth and continually threatened by it, Ned Beatty’s Bobby bellows about the place, and when redressed for potentially annoying the people of the town, his retort, People?”, suggests his ignorance about the location he now inhabits. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: The Brood

brood-4_0It’s hard to deny that a palpable misogyny suffuses The Brood, and director David Cronenberg’s post-divorce fractured attitude toward main character Nola (Samantha Egger) does malignantly spread throughout the film. But as the nexus between Cronenberg’s bodily, corporeal grindhouse films from the ’70s and his more cerebral psychoanalytic studies, The Brood is a more troubled affair. For one, this tale of marital fallout is calibrated for a tenebrous blamelessness, with Cronenberg’s austere style vacillating between perspectives to reform our preconceptions of which parent is truly justified in this atomic deconstruction of the essentially self-sabotaging nature of the nuclear family. Continue reading

Picturing the Best: The Departed and Million Dollar Baby

the20departed205The Departed

No one ought to be surprised that The Departed, unlike Marty Scorsese’s pantheon of vituperative modern classics, cleaned house at the Oscars in early 2007: the prepossessed nature of the film is such that it is defined almost holistically through its recollection of the Scorsese America knows and loves. This man is the throbbingly cinematic, movie-addled enigma who pitches his best films halfway between a symphony and a back-alley brawl. Scorching at its best, The Departed sometimes capably fills a voluminous shadow, but it never casts its own. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Rebel Without a Cause

rebelwithoutacause4It’s a double-edged sword that Rebel Without a Cause is simultaneously the raison d’ etre for many a cinephile’s knowledge of director Nicholas Ray at all, and that it is, simultaneously, a black hole suffocating energy and consideration from Ray’s cinematic canon elsewhere. Not to mention, for most people, the name associated with Rebel is not Ray, the underdog of American film in the ’50s and perhaps the missing link between the classical Hollywood melodrama and the angry young hooligans like Godard and Cassavetes of the ’60s. Instead, the claim to fame of Rebel is the hot-headed bundle of nerves that was James Dean, arguably the pop culture icon of the ’50s as well as an embodiment of the very spirit Nicholas Ray epitomized as a filmmaker: pulpy but passionate, lean but expressively sensitive, expressionistic but timid, and above all trembling with the unspeakable, implacable throb of constantly spinning out of control. Continue reading

Picturing the Best: Titanic

TITANIC 3DA self-actualizing, self-arousing, and ultimately self-validating Herzogian feat (without the psychosis) that is only occasionally self-enervating, Titanic ultimately stands as not only a chronicler but an embodiment of the spirit, and the hubris, of its subject matter. A three-hour aphrodisiac engorged with cinema, you might say, if you were inclined to peruse the halls of the Freudian catalog that heroine Rose so clearly mobilizes when remarking on the prodigious self-congratulatory caliber of the ship that the industrial revolution and its classist girders would almost drown in. Continue reading

Picturing the Best: Forrest Gump

pforrest-gump1__140605215604Political scorn has embarrassed Forrest Gump for two decades now, with the most common source of critique being the film’s glimpse of the rise (or return) of the American right in the mid-’90s, a revolution led by Newt Gingrich, a Southerner like Gump, although a considerably more blustery one at that. The attacks aren’t unfair – for a film that sometimes aggrandizes itself on a second-by-second basis, its social conscious is valid critical fodder, and the film’s exclusionary attitude toward gender and racial unrest proposes an almost oblivious Southern wait-and-see gentility toward civil disobedience. Gump is in fact an almost willfully obedient motion picture, with its then-new-school technology a masquerade for its rigorous cinematic traditionalism. Continue reading

Reviews: Long-Delayed Netflix Sequels

pee-wees-big-holidayPee-wee’s Big Holiday

What a wonderful world we live in that Pee-wee Herman is returned to it for the long-delayed second-coming he, and his audience, deserves. If the delay was closer to three decades than the canonical three days the clergy proposed when it foresaw Pee-wee’s eventual arrival into the world centuries beforehand, the sabbatical he took is mostly worth it. It’s true that the screenplay for Pee-wee’s Big Holiday feels a touch too hipster-speckled for its own good, but the writing – and Paul Reuben’s not-a-beat-missed (or a year for that matter) performance – is refreshingly jejune, absent even a whiff of cloying post-modernism or stultifying irony. Continue reading

Review: Knight of Cups

"Knight of Cups"Like most of the great experiential directors, Terrence Malick has dedicated his career to the embodying of feeling and internal emotion in external perception, rather than – as is the wont of most self-conscious, overweening youthful filmmakers – embedding meaning in hidden artifacts to be glimpsed only by those who know how to look. Malick understands the beauty of the external world as a manifestation of the internal, relying on the gliding fantasia of his always-discovering camera to define humanity, and cruxing emotional growth in the sublimity of his god-glimpsing light and shade dynamics.

But too often in his latest feature Knight of Cups he finds himself caught up in the imbroglio of leaden metaphor and creaking meaning – forgetting the cardinal rule that cinema should be about how meaning is felt, perceived, experienced, rather than simply what meaning can be siphoned out in the end. For this reason, this 2016 offering – Malick’s weakest production yet – isn’t imbued with the experiential purity of Malick’s previous efforts (excepting To The Wonder). But it’s still Terrence Malick, he’s still searching, and with Emmanuel Lubezki as his fellow traveler to light his path, Knight of Cups finds more than a handful of rocks to overturn along an admittedly self-sabotaging journey. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Performance

performanceProposed to producers as a hippie-dippie psychedelic fallout shelter for the grooving ’60s to escape to in case of mass assault by the impending cynicism of the ’70s, Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s vituperative Performance is, instead, a sulfurous and fluorescent molotov cocktail thrown straight into the decade-long party the ’60s had been having with itself. Announcing itself with the foreboding funk of a hearse-like car careening across the countryside, the cryptic seizure of the film’s editing then immediately interjects with an explicit sexual tryst that sours into a fiery throttling match between fleshy shapes that soon enough barely even resemble the human form. We’re a minute in and we already cower in fear for the sadomasochistic holocaust the co-directors are about to unfurl upon us. Continue reading