Defanging the shroud of mystical primitivism cast over African-Americans while also recasting black America as the spiritual center of American modernity, The Negro Soldier is simultaneously mildly hat-tip-able and deeply troubling in its propagandistic ideological concoction of egalitarian American opportunity for even the darkest and most neglected among us. Of the Frank Capra school of not-untroubled but always plausible American possibility, The Negro Soldier is one of the more documented “Why We Fight”-adjacent films even seventy years later, and also among the more inescapably despicable in its morally compromising sanding-over of racially-fraught American history in the name of the kind of hermetically-sealed war-time inclusiveness that only exists … well, it only exist in the motion pictures, as they say. This is the American road to freedom, with no pothole large or oppressive enough for Capra not to blanket over in warmth and saccharine sweetness (of course, a blanket isn’t going to stop you from falling into the American nightmare of racism if you get a little too close to reality for Capra’s comfort). One wonders what hell the devil John Huston would have wrought for one of his wartime propaganda films… Continue reading
Rough-hewn and reticent, Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special might inspire expected memories of Steven Spielberg’s and John Carpenter’s late ‘70s, early ‘80s science fiction films, but only if they were caught on the branches of a David Gordon Green feature. Evoking rustic pastoralism and never erring from Nichols’ customary Southern expanses, the feints toward the supernatural hardly suggest genre sell-out for a director who continues to mutate and evolve his perennial cinematic acts of high-tailing from urban (and suburban) civilization. Exploring the out-of-the-way places Nichols calls home, Midnight Special’s variant of “alien civilization” isn’t found in outer-space or the far-flung future but right in American backyards. If you know where you’re looking of course, and, say what you will about Nichols, but he not only knows the spots, but he’s got an eye on him. Continue reading
Deeply, unremittingly accepting John Huston’s blithely woozy, boozed-out vibe in full flourish, the strung-out, rampaging The Night of the Iguana is probably a little farcical in its over-heatedness. But then, this is Tennessee Williams. At least we’re in the presence of a full-throated, deviant, near-hallucinogenic dive into haughty, drunken melodrama, much more synonymous with the post-Faulkner Southern-modernist Williams spirit than most other Williams adaptations, usually quasi-heated chamber pieces vaguely tied to false-naturalism. In comparison, Iguana is unapologetic and viciously lacking in timidity, rejecting the half-hearted naturalistic ticks of most Williams adaptations for a merry expression of demented, licentious, sinful goodwill. Unlike, say, the good but overrated A Streetcar Named Desire, where the Method acting bug (as it often did) turned performance into a calculated private experiment rather than a vocally external art, The Night of the Iguana isn’t afraid to be to-the-rafters cinema. Baldly, even oppressively cinematic, it treats the brambles of melodrama as a wellspring of possibility to wrap itself in rather than as a shopworn, past-its-prime memory of Old Hollywood to skirt around. Continue reading
With The Little Prince on Netflix these days and Kubo and the Two Strings out soon enough, stop motion is making a comeback. You know what that means.
If we’re on the subject of stop motion, especially pre-Laika stop motion, the little hamlet company of Aardman Animations, bearing all that classic British handcraft and roguish charm, is really the go-to golden child. Chicken Run, their earliest feature-length film and their first dalliance with Hollywood, doesn’t forsake their homebrewed British scruffiness and the plasticine but soul-bearing charm. A cauldron of whimsy and old fashioned cinematic know-how, Chicken Run is a lovingly makeshift ode to the long forgotten wonder of genre that faded from the cinematic present long ago. Continue reading
The Bourne Identity
Doug Liman’s scarred take on the James Bond myth isn’t a work that deserves superlatives, but then again, it isn’t really beckoning for them either. This is a trim, merciless thriller devoid of the blockbuster hypertrophy that was rapidly kicking the James Bond pictures into an early grave circa 2002, and it is relatively content to be just plain fine and nothing more. With a muted, sometimes monochromatic palette of bleak, unforgiving grays and frigid whites, Identity is straight-laced and admirably buttoned-up; even its sometimes awkward tonal swivels suggest a post-traumatic mind flickering with memories of its past and awkwardly swerving between new identities in a mad dash to figure out what it wants to be in the present. Continue reading
The pictorial inclinations of King Hu’s rhapsodic camerawork in his monumental wuxia epic A Touch of Zen are his film’s most gilded gestures, but they are no mere poetic filigrees. Rather, Hu’s investment in the physical space of his film and the way that a camera and a mind can intake and reform space informs a conscious refusal on the director’s part to explore character drama in a vacuum. Without the crucible of bounding characters by the natural environments that often remain overlooked in the world of cinema, Hu suggests that person vs. person conflict may be tenuous and unresolvable; an understanding of the earth itself it necessary first. The illusory beauty in the frame often suggests a new perceptual realm beyond the typical threshold of human consciousness, as though we are peering into an ethereal plane of color and space that eludes humanity’s typical tasks and goals. Space is otherworldly here, but also tactile, exerting a magnetic pull on the characters who weather through frames as if attracted by the deception of an unknown specter in the air. Or as though they characters were being exhumed from their internal, civilized spaces – and metaphorically the confines of their internal minds – to confront the outside world, to explore new perspectives in a desperate quest for self-actualization. Continue reading
I meant to get to these a few months ago, but they’ve lingered around. With Batman vs. Superman continuing Warner’s desperate investment in doing the Marvel/Disney thing, here’s a look at some franchise-fighters to have come before. A note: We’re keeping this literal this time, much as I wanted to get cheeky and include something like Kramer vs. Kramer.
This review based on the original Japanese version of the film.
While it is sometimes de rigueur to whole-cloth the Toho Godzilla franchise as an interchangeable unit of essentially reproducible, symmetrical features, watching many of the films is evidence to the contrary. For one, the original Gojira, shepherded by franchise mastermind Ishiro Honda (a wonderfully physical, even lyrical director unfortunately sidelined to the series), is a devoutly solemn, chiaroscuro-ridden near-masterpiece of scorching social rage. But even the ostensibly “sillier” productions are in point of fact often uncommonly unique, separable entities given to their personal proclivities and performance ticks rather than monolithic rules imposed on the series from overhead. Compared to the increasingly sedimented, mortally uninteresting Marvel Cinematic Universe of today, each Godzilla film, however good or bad, is a breath of personalized, idiosyncratic fresh air because it is beholden mostly only to itself. Continue reading
pPolitical 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
I’ve decided to post shorter reviews of various films I’m seeing for the first time via courses I’m enrolled in.
Yasujiro Ozu’s world is one of parsimoniously placed symmetries and laconic, ever-subtler shifts in human composition that form telltale signs of theme and character. Unlike most esteemed directors, he doesn’t rest on prodigal imagery or inflammatory dialogue, nor does he inundate us with restive tangents and dalliances with the absurd. His films are stingy with their carefully focused formalism, and as such are prone to claims that they are left wanting or overly enervated by their placid demeanor. Yet within Ozu’s ostensibly metronomic minimalism lies a gregarious, human vision of the world as a teetering, lightly fluctuating balancing act where the most hurtful of human tragedies is found in the most unadorned of images. In a world constructed out of pairings and balances, the disruptive elegance of a lone human face without a matching motion or figure is as tragic as the end of the world. Continue reading
Something a little different I wrote for Taste of Cinema. http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2016/the-16-best-tv-series-directed-by-movie-directors/