Monthly Archives: January 2022

Film Favorites: The Parallax View

From the nearly decontextualized prologue to the astonishing opening credits, an Altman-esque zoom in to a court finding (echoing the Warren Commission) that freezes in a tableau of American deceitfulness, Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View imbues quotidian happenings with malicious intent. At first it seems merely peerlessly menacing, in the same way concurrent works like All the President’s Men or Chinatown diagnose paranoic ‘70s personalities, but Pakula’s most sinister coup is to render even menace banal, to turn anxiety about specific occurrences into a thoroughly incomplete response to an unfathomable and all-consuming social fabric that seems completely beyond sense-perception and comprehension. Drawing audiences in with the promise of final revelation, the film emerges with something much more discombobulating than a simple bait-and-switch: slowly (and then quickly) fragmenting and shivering apart into abject chaos, rendering the grammar of celluloid both one of society’s greatest witnesses and hopelessly incapable of truly grasping the depths it plunges into.

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Midnight Screenings: Christine

I’m promising to publish at least one Midnight Film review every Friday or Saturday this year, starting with two underrated John Carpenter classics, one of which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, while the other is nearing forty. Both, though, summon dark energies against idealist vistas, reanimating American folklore to render it monstrous, implying that the nation’s cultural norms and iconography will be its own undoing.

By 1983, tackling a Stephen King adaptation had already become a fertile testing ground for horror auteurs to flex their cinematic muscles and interrogate their idiosyncrasies within ostensible crowd-pleasers and corporate products, to infest cinematic hallowed ground with exploratory personal devils and fixations. A King adaptation was sort of like the old Cahier du Cinema proof about auteur theory, which suggested that a director’s personality, their difference, could be gleamed best when they were most mediated by various corporate interests rather than left to their own devices to construct a film from the ground up.

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Midnight Screenings: Ghosts of Mars

I’m promising to publish at least one Midnight Film review every Friday or Saturday this year, starting with two underrated John Carpenter classics, one of which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, while the other is nearing forty. Both, though, summon dark energies against idealist vistas, reanimating American folklore to render it monstrous, implying that the nation’s cultural norms and iconography will be its own undoing.

Although it didn’t officially put John Carpenter in director jail, one suspects that everyone involved would just as soon forget 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. It doesn’t even get the respect that similar-era catastrophes like Battlefield Earth and The Room receive, resigning itself to the historical dustbin of “just another bad film.” Perhaps the blame truly lays at Carpenter’s feet: just as his major achievements work in fascinatingly minor keys, so too do his ostensible failures refuse to grant us easy access to their odds and ends, their opaque mysteries and strange digressions. They refuse to go bad in a big, obvious way, preferring workmanlike craftsmanship and subtle twists of the knife. On the surface, Ghosts of Mars is a by-the-numbers failure, an indifferently bad film, rather than an exceptionally bad one.  A self-consciously minorized work, an exploratory termite in an elephant’s world, it is absolutely Carpenter-esque: spare, spartan, economical, but also subtly exploratory and strange, eating away at itself by exploring its nooks and crannies, taking the form of a carpenter building a chair and the termites that are simultaneously devouring it.

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Christmas Classics: The Muppet Christmas Carol

It’s been a long time, pretty much since the beginning of Covid, that I’ve posted on this blog, but I’m making it my New Year’s Resolution to return to it in 2022 with regularity. There’s more to come soon, but I wanted to share this review of one of my most beloved holiday films before the year ends.

Nominally, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a fairly faithful retelling of Charles Dickens’s 1843 A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s story of self-recognition and potential self-betterment when confronted one night by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come. A bleak paean to the necessity of self-transformation and dedication to humanistic collectivism, the Muppet version follows closely to the moral imperative of Dickens’s original. Which may not work for some. Like the 1843 novella, the Muppets’ 150-year-later version is frankly manipulative and sentimental. While other authors of his era, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels most obviously, reacted to the soul-devouring inequalities of capitalism and the dark factory towns of nineteenth-century Europe with a call to overturn capitalism systematically, Dickens was essentially appealing to sentiments of shame and guilt. That doesn’t mean his portrait wasn’t grim, sentimentality aside (or, rather, the grimness is part of the sentimentality), and it certainly doesn’t mean that his pen’s charismatic pull is any less forceful.

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