Monthly Archives: April 2016

Midnight Screening: The Devils

the-devils1The historical prestige genre, entombed in its ever-lasting leisure, ain’t got nothing on Ken Russell’s The Devils. A power-mad concoction of scorching lecherousness and sacrilegious, anti-social visual brio, it’s a torrid affair, but love is nonetheless the only applicable word for anyone smitten with Russell’s peculiar brand of rattled-with-fever historical spasms. Few directors have ever barreled so gleefully into the dankest regions of their own inner mental faculties with such a cavorting brand of heretical dissidence, a defiance to not only social propriety but filmmaking rule of thumb. Fitting for a work about witches, Russell’s inimitable work feels like cackling witchcraft conjured out of nowhere but his own devilishness. Continue reading

Review: The Jungle Book

mv5bmtkyntuxmdczmf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtuznda4nje-_v1_The vaguely taxidermied trailers for Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book promised nothing more, and nothing less, than the latest in the continued death throes of Disney’s deranged vision quest to reclaim the surprise box-office domination of Pirates of the Caribbean. Having cascaded through animated properties both obvious and ill-timed over the past five years, the studio seems patently unwilling to give in to the critical and commercial failures of their many live-action properties in recent years. Yet the chiefest surprise with The Jungle Book is that it’s actually trying to pump some fresh blood into the corpse of Walt Disney’s final supervised feature-length animation release, rather than merely desecrating the corpse by propping it up on strings and performing a demented CG pantomime with it. And this is for a film whose idea of clever is to recast King Louis as a jungle mafia don voiced by an only semi-conscious Christopher Walken. But this is live-action Disney, now; grading on a curve is acceptable, like it or not. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: All About My Mother

all_about_my_mother_4_almodovarA spellbinding evolution of Pedro Almodovar’s all-women-on-board feminism and his dynamite-cased challenge to the realms of normality, All About My Mother deftly explores tensions in human identity as it transmutes cinema into a portal for escape, community, and aesthetic rebellion against the reality principle. A fantasy worthy of Chaplin or Tati, Almodovar’s hypnotic, incandescent fantasia of pop-art styles and unchecked melodrama encircles true cinematic bravado while visualizing the stylistic wanderlust of a woman searching for a new identity after her normative gendered status as “mother” is prematurely ended in a swift burst of tragedy. Although it redresses the failure of its medium to adequately entangle itself in the complications of female relationships, Almodovar’s style can’t be mistaken for anything but a fantastical ode to a century of cinema that, sometimes inadvertently, managed to provide respite for the very women it so often neglected. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Piano

piano-1993Like other sublime cinematic explications of the femininity under duress from the ’90s – The Double Life of Veronique, All About My Mother, and Farewell My Concubine chief among them – The Piano treks into uncharted waters of the cinematic variety as well as the social. In the New Zealand landscape – prefiguring and riposting the picturesque post-card hollowness of The Lord of the Rings – Jane Campion siphons off a visual limbo that boldly provokes us to consider space internally and externally. Campion’s expressive romanticism evokes the lushness of Jane Austen as well as the contradictions in internal, mental states suggested by the Victorian literature that has become so entwined with Western conceptions of both feminine oppression and internal selfhood rupturing against the dying of the light. The non-natural, hyperbolically romantic vistas become counterpoints to the frail, trapped humans who must withhold their emotions from the predation of these landscapes. And, in typical romantic form, the film’s incontrovertible splendor also serves as a visual lexicon for dreams and desires that always fight to waft and permeate out of their fleshy prisons. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Double Life of Veronique

veronique3The easy path with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is to turn it into a prison, a detention center to trap ideas and themes, to stagnate the film and hoist it on the petard of its own conceptual dualities and symmetrical intricacies. To flatten it, essentially, by turning it into a psychoanalytic study or a perceptually oblique delivery mechanism for a philosophical thesis about order. Temptation beckons us to plunge deep into the depths of a work, following a shaft of light to the darkest trenches of the marina to unearth its supposed hidden treasures. In doing so, however, we may dig our own waterlogged grave. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Down By Law

downbylaw_3031106bSo, a great many of the films I wish to discuss for the Cannes Film Festival series are exceedingly difficult to come by, so we’ll be keeping things fluid around these parts. I plan on, hopefully, fulfilling the series by the end of May (that’s a review for every year of the festival until the present) but the order of the reviews is, as of this point, up in the air. I’ll be keeping things fresh, skipping as I see fit. It’s just the way it’s gonna be. Think of it as a way to keep us on our toes. Speaking of which, and speaking of today’s subject, not a better film exists for the subject of toes and keeping us on them like we’re dancing on hot coals … Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Missing

500px-mis_004“Importance” has always been an albatross around cinema’s neck, or the neck of any popular medium of art. The trouble isn’t that it forces artists to shoot for the middle (not middle America or the middle aisle but the middlebrow, aesthetically speaking), but that it so often precludes surreptitious variances in tone and style, it douses cinema in a layer of pummeling pragmatism and assured complacency. It primes a film for the belief that the narrative it is telling, the content of the art, is so essential and valid that playing with the form in which that content is presented becomes tantamount to heresy. It asks us to accept the known, the obvious realm of “content” and narrative, at the expense of the dangerous realm of style and form. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: All That Jazz

007-all-that-jazz-theredlistFinally, after months of delay, it’s time to complete the second half of the Cannes Film Festival Series I began after last year’s festival. I have no proposed schedule, but let’s just say, if I’m on my best behavior, I hope to be done by this year’s festival in May. 

 

Both frigid and wicked-hot, All That Jazz envisions the movie musical as both erection and erectile dysfunction. A violent apocalypse of kinetic corporeal flesh, Bob Fosse’s self-stoking, self-hating deal with the devil is one of the most flagellatingly hedonistic motion pictures to arrive out of the back-end of one of the most self-indulgent eras in motion picture history. If the era was going to burn though, it was going to commit arson. It wouldn’t go down without raising a ruckus, kicking and screaming, and refusing to be demarcated by anyone boxed-off meaning. All That Jazz is at once a castigation of pop culture, a celebration of kaleidoscopic fantasy, and a premonition of the impending nuclear fallout of the American New Wave, hoist on the petard of its own ego. Foregrounding the holocaust of backstage life as a cocaine-addled delirium, All That Jazz casts itself as both distended embodiment of an era’s end and an effigy erected in atonement for the toxic death-drive of an era in American filmmaking. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: You Only Live Once

live_oncejailRay lived by night, Godard left us breathless, Penn ignited the New Wave, Altman turned the camera back on thieves like us, and Malick informed us that lands, despite being the crux of majesty in the world, were indeed bad, all prismatically glimpsed from the confines of the same essential story of lovers on the run from the law. Before all of them, though, a German expat, death and national turmoil lingering in his mind and social opprobrium hot on his tongue, took the same story and welcomed it as an opportunity to remind us that innocence, once drained, has no life left to give. A rejoinder to the torrential downpour of Nazism absconding with the ostensible innocence of his old home and a riposte to the dislocation of Depression-era life in his new home (two paths that would cross circa 1939), You Only Live Once sparkles with director Fritz Lang’s inveterate directorial gloaming. It isn’t the destruction-maestro at his most malevolently implacable (M could never be topped). But this mostly unknown film today not only tackled present-day social schism with fractured, sharded filmmaking but also, arguably, served as Lang’s most explicit premonition of the genre he would become most famous for: the noir. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Spies (1928)

spione37a_628Fritz Lang’s post-Metropolis rejoinder to his own maximalist desecration of modern German society is a fanciful, feisty kaleidoscope of Berlin bedlam and Weimar-era hedonism untethered from the astringent social critique of Lang’s Mabuse pictures. While Rudolf Klein-Rogge plays a monomaniacal mastermind of pandemonium here, as he did in Dr. Mabuse from six years before, this erratic, erotic, orgiastic display of Lang’s bravura skill shoeshines German Expressionism with pumped-up serial and rubs itself down in a torrid love affair with presentation itself. If the Mabuse films secretly smuggled in a critique of German society, Spies is, relatively speaking, more of a love letter to the temporal high of monomania, even if it is a note written with a poisoned pen. Certainly, Lang was well aware of the horrors of unfettered ’20s capitalism in Berlin and the imminent rise of the Nazi party – three years later, he would direct the ultimate cinematic statement on Nazism without even mentioning the word. But, just this once, and until its startling and corrosive finale, Lang let his monocle down in one of the ultimate cinematic odes to filmmaking as toybox more than toolbox. Continue reading