Category Archives: Uncategorized

Films for Class: Bataan and Chicken Little

A little old-timey cartoon before a feature for you all.

chicken_little_1944_8_graveyardChicken Little

This irascible little Disney wartime devil is almost absurdly superior to that most fell semi-remake by the same company in 2005 (their first, and by far worst, CG feature film). Recasting the ignorance of youthful Chicken Little as the conscious social disruption of a fox who utilizes propaganda to convince everyone that the sky is falling, Chicken Little is a scabrous wartime cartoon about the dangers of Nazi (and Communist) propaganda that, implicitly, critiques its own vessel. The fox eventually sending all the none-the-wiser chickens to a cave (a bomb shelter, basically), all the better to eat them with, the film explores its own construction. With an inter-title at one point informing us that everything ends up okay in the end, the film concludes by pausing itself for a second to critique its own ending, with the narrator wondering aloud how the prior inter-title could lie to us; the Fox – mordantly laying chicken bones in graves like tombstones – informs the narrator and us not to believe everything we read.   Continue reading

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Films for Class: The Negro Soldier

the_negro_soldier_filmposterDefanging 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

Review: Midnight Special

MIDNIGHT SPECIALRough-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

John Huston: The Night of the Iguana

nightoftheiguanaDeeply, 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

Progenitors: Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

chicken-run-2000-3-g-640x509With 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.

Chicken Run

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

Progenitors: The Bourne Trilogy

the-bourne-identity-_1The 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

Film Favorites: A Touch of Zen

film_825_touchofzen_originalThe 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