Pee-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
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
Proposed 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
JJ Abrams probably needs to be stopped. He’s managed the Ford production line for the prepackaged cinematic spirit of the times more abominably than any of his fellow new-school blockbuster savants, and like most of them, he’s a genius marketer in a mostly soulless filmmaker’s body. The albatross of his films is also their raison d’ etre: their desperate, unquenchable desire to be answered. He’s turned the Christopher Nolan puzzle-box A-to-B-to-C filmmaking style, distressingly linear and devoid of personality, into a cottage industry, propping up mostly serviceable but unexceptional films devoid of personality with marketing constructs that obfuscate and ossify his products around and within layers of carefully calibrated, ultimately pointless mystery. Continue reading
The Bitter Tea of General Yen
Arguments for Frank Capra as “Capra-corn” are redoubtably rebutted by his first Best Picture winner It Happened One Night, a work of fastidious detail and mercurial flickers of effervescent energy escaping from the pores of a socially constrained world. It is true that Capra predominantly favored individualist visions of human energy remaining untrammeled by the iron boot of society, but his brand of humanism was deceptively collective when it called for it – It Happened One Night is, at heart, a portrait of individual consciousnesses tapping into each others’ radiating energies for joy and refreshment in a dark world. Capra’s great secret was his unmitigated enthusiasm for and formal mastery of the free-floating, incandescent, nervous energy of the individual, a humanist ideal that only in its most reductive views (the views expressed by many of Capra’s later films) would suffocate itself on cloying Americana. Continue reading
Oliver Stone’s cinema is always at its best when it is most explicitly akin to the art form it most closely mimics: propaganda. That’s not a put-down; all cinema is subjective, and while most films strive for the diaphanous lie of objectivity, a live-wire polemical of spitfire bias isn’t something to shun. Objectivity, anyway, is often a pacifying gesture for films without an authorial personality or a humbling vision of their own camera’s perspective – a clinical, balanced approach only squares off the edges of the audience-camera dialectic and hides the essence of all cinema as a perspective, a vision, an embodiment of an idea or a view. Objectivity is nothing more than a cemetery where films without a pulse, without an identity of their own, go to lay their heads down to rest.
Stone’s style isn’t unique, but it is a boldface and brio-filled reflection of a cocaine-addled decade that boldly foregrounds the instability of its own aesthetic, one equal parts Pontecorvo indignation and Peckinpah insolence. Released in the same year as Stone’s career-making in-the-trenches Platoon, the grotto of Salvador is a superior film through and through. While Platoon slightly pacified its deranged anger with baroque visual gestures out of a byzantine opera more than the heart of darkness swamps of Southeast Asia, Salvador keeps things low-to-the-ground. If Platoon was equal parts Aerosmith-grit and Boston-histrionics, Salvador is the snarling Iggy-Pop-fronting-Stooges of war pictures. Continue reading
Jean-Luc Godard, a filmmaker as prone to hyperbole in his own way as our current subject, once intoned on the merits of cinema up to the point of his own game-changing chicanery. Writing that “there was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir)”, he implied a stoppage – a modernization of cinema to its own fully-emerged, blossoming self – with his godfather Nicholas Ray, one of the most brash American filmmakers in existence and a director whose expressionist-tinged monstrosities of American life desperately beg for a rediscovery today. Continue reading