Monthly Archives: May 2016

Films for Class: About Elly

ellyMuch like his later A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly is a bitter respite from the filmic hierarchy in that it refuses to afford us what might be called an omniscient, privileged position. Instead of knowing everything beforehand, it adopts a perspective that slides between characters and perspectives to construct a multiplicity of experiences or opinions that elide the notion of an essential truth. The most obvious characteristic of this lack of omniscience is the film’s disinterest in imparting a cohesive depiction of the world of the characters, instead choosing to construct a minefield of contradictory, contested opinions. This is, first and foremost, a proclamation against the tendentious norms of cinema where a film’s moral mapping is supposed to conspire to slam that film’s presumptive argument home in the final stretches; in comparison, About Elly always, fascinatingly and rebelliously, feels like it is slipping away from us. If most films are lit toward a primary beam of crystal-clear truth, About Elly refracts the light through the crystal and constructs a variegated, prismatic rainbow of varied perspectives and possibilities.  Continue reading

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Films for Class: Life is Sweet

mv5bmtu0mdg3ntmzm15bml5banbnxkftztgwmja1ndkwmze-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_A sense of constant and fertile discovery abounds in Mike Leigh’s mid-period classic Life is Sweet, a superior film to many of his more famous mid-‘90s concoctions (the also sharp, if more contentious, Naked and the universally adored Secrets and Lies). Less high-concept and less obviously prefigured to arrive at specific narrative cues, Life is Sweet is arguably the most recent Leigh film to embody the fullest spirit of his uniquely personalized style of horizontal storytelling where moments intermingle and rest on each other rather than linearly hurtling from moment to moment to completion. Restful and relaxing it may seem, but a perilously challenging vision of life lurks within like an insurgent into the usually trifling, domesticated, prepackaged realm of narrative storytelling. Continue reading

Progenitors: Ocean’s Eleven

oceans_eleven_2001_posterCompared to “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for The Nice Guys”, “Ocean’s Eleven for Money Monster” isn’t as clean a comparison. But I really like Soderbergh’s collaboration with George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and mindless excess, and clearly Clooney and Roberts enjoyed themselves too; Money Monster reteams them and brings a different kind of capital along for the ride.

First, a word (or 300) about Ocean’s Twelve, a consciously, elaborately superficial near-masterpiece of self-reflexively specious blockbuster filmmaking that is all but eager to endorse its own glaring incapability to follow-through with its narrative, resulting in a gloriously aggressive exercise in screwing with the audience and rigorously avoiding its own questions. Turning plotless artifice into glowing conviviality, Soderbergh’s semi-conscious sequel to his blockbuster escapade sacrifices nearly any credibility or forward-thrust for an alternate-reality vision of narrative focused on relentlessly pleasing itself with its own obliviousness and self-interested absurdity. It reworks the heist film to function as both an anti-heist film and as a commentary on cinema as an exercise in devious subterfuge. Continue reading

Progenitors: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

kiss_kiss_bang_bang_posterThis one just writes itself. Writer-director Shane Black is back with another buddy comedy, so let us look at his last one, a return to form after nearly two decades of wallowing in nihilism, misogyny, and eventually, oblivion.

Shane Black’s slick but not too carefully catered Kiss Kiss Bang Bang douses itself in a winking but not overly ironic reverence to not only its decades-old forebears – Raymond Chandler’s protean, Byzantine novels, most obviously – but also Black’s own earlier films, oblong buddy comedies that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang both pokes fun at and implicitly pays homage to. Ultimately, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was meant to reintroduce him to the limelight after a decade of Hollywood exile. Although its box office numbers didn’t immediately seal the deal (they did help him nab a much loftier return to Hollywood royalty with the third, and best, Iron Man film that reteamed him with Robert Downey Jr.), Black’s tried-and-true strategy was to approach the film from solid ground: write what you know.

Thankfully, with Black’s absence from the filmmaking world post-Lethal Weapon and its follow-ups, what qualifies as solid ground for him has cracked into a more unstable, uncommon clay for the world around him. Thus, although Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s cheeky post-modernism welcomes it into the modern world, its classical ambitions ultimately feel satisfyingly out-of-touch with the modern Hollywood landscape. Continue reading

Favorite Animated Television Shows

Hey everyone, here’s the first list I’ve done in quite a while. I’ve been wanting to do this for a very long time and finally found the time to get around to it. I hope you enjoy! 

Honorable Mentions (shows that came close, or shows I am otherwise only semi-familiar with):

Daria – Identifying with Generation X on a molecular level, Daria is in many ways the antithesis of the other major class of 1997 animation, South Park. Studious, reticent, and weary, Daria is a life-questioning exercise in stasis as a fundamental principle of existence.

The Flintstones – Telling parody of mid-century Americana and how it both filtered through, and was informed by, the development of television and the middlebrow sitcom style that The Flintstones apes. Has lost some of its bite over time, and it wasn’t exactly Nicholas Ray to begin with, but still an amusingly barbed, early expedition into the development of what might be denoted a modern American culture.

Johnny Bravo – A meaningful expose of pompadour-strutting, greaser-fronting male chauvinism and inadequacy with hints of surprising sensitivity and periodic cartwheels into cherished absurdity and whimsical slantwise pop-culture parodies before it become the nom de plume of animation. Continue reading

Review: Everybody Wants Some!!

ews-2-0Both unhurried and nimble, Richard Linklater’s beguiling concoction of breathless immaturity and stunted, off-hand maturity worships an altar of “just one more midnight hang-sesh doing nothing in particular”, an event that is elevated in import within Everybody Wants Some!! precisely because of how acquainted with the passing nature of youth the film seems to be. The film’s aimless, untamed, rowdy structure of bedlam-before-linearity cheerfully replicates the constant blood rush of avoiding your future that embodies the daily lexicon of the Southeast Texas State University baseball squad of 1980. But they aren’t the event-instigating, virile, social-agent protagonists of the tale so much as the byproducts of social tumult and the circumstantial nature of chance. Accused of a sort of masculine bro-ish bravado in some circles, and not inaccurately I might add, Linklater’s film is also notable for how painfully it recognizes how deeply unspecial its main characters are. Continue reading

Review: Hardcore Henry

hardcore-henry-2015-sharlto-copleyIlya Naishuller’s celebration and extension of, as well as slight rebellion against, pinball-scripted action cinema storytelling charitably accentuates, and lambasts, the genre it calls home by curdling it down to its most primordial essences devoid of meaningful context or narrative: dude, gun, fire, pandemonium, nonsense, more gun. Smitten with its playfully trivial nature and keen on its own exclusively, even exclusionary, surface-level ambitions, Naishuller’s first-person camera is a little like a Looney Tunes version of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s recent achievements behind the camera, even if it isn’t nearly as full-throated or as perceptive in its utilization of the faux-long-take lexicon as anything Lubezki might have in the works. Hardcore Henry certainly deserves credit for perspiration, occasionally for exhilaration, and once or twice for genuine innovation. Continue reading