Bluntly, Inside Out is not a good film because it explores the inner regions of a child’s mind, nor is this a particularly novel concept. The girders of the screenplay strip parts from many films that rest on the subject of literalizing human emotion.. Winnie the Pooh, in all its facets, including the seminal duo of feature films by Pixar’s parent company, Disney, is implicitly about childhood emotions let loose in the forest of the mind. Eeyore is melancholy, Tigger is a deranged enthusiast and childhood id, Pooh is the curiosity balancing them all on a pin head. The Hundred Acre Wood is Christopher Robin’s free-floating mental space, scratchily drawn with free-floating ambition and tapered-off regions where the harsh scrawl fades into watercolor lightness to symbolize Robin’s emotions eventually trailing off into the great unknown limbo of pure empty whiteness. Continue reading
This week’s pair of Midnight Screenings will return us to the far-flung past of 2006 and 2007, a more innocent time in film history …
It is quite possible that Richard Linklater is the only currently functioning director who really could have directed A Scanner Darkly in the fidgety, twitching tone it so desperately begged for, and thus it is a little bit of magic that he managed to acquire the film at all. Firstly, this is because Linklater, the homegrown Texan with an eye for slacker culture and the distance imparted by time and memory, strips away the science fiction trappings from Phillip K. Dick’s story and renders it all the more pressingly intimate in doing so, without ever sacrificing the essence of the novel about drug abuse and melancholic social anomie. Which is itself important; so many science fiction films rationalize themselves by claiming they are necessarily informing us about the weight of a current world crisis, but as many other Dick adaptations show us, they frequently devolve into glorified techie action flicks. The science becomes a diaphanous masquerade, a meager attempt by a film to convince its audience of its intelligence when it offers nothing but pyrotechnics and quasi-futurism. Linklater doesn’t need a trip to the future; he creates a piercingly grounded tale about trips of a different variety. Continue reading
Poor The Congress. Too unapologetic to be bad, too bad to work without apology. One’s appreciation for The Congress requires a certain leap of faith, a certain acceptance of failure. It is a questionable movie, and if it was less questionable, it might just be much less worthwhile than it is in its current, unfinished state. It is a fearless attempt to develop a new cinematic lexicon for understanding stardom and the very idea of sense filtered through the human eye, and because it is so lost in its own head, it can probably never function as a normal, fully adjusted, wake-up-and-go-to-work movie. Rather than a finished film proper, it an altogether rarer, and more useful sight: a filmmaker lost in their own eternally young interpretation of the world, tempting their own mind to figure out what that world actually consists of and developing a heretofore unseen cinematic visual prism within which to decipher that world. Continue reading
Edited early 2016
Judged from an angle, and even most angles, Waltz with Bashir is a failure as a documentary. As a study in the 1982 Lebanon War or the long-brewing turmoil between Israel and Palestine, Ari Folmans’s attempt to recreate his lost memories of participating in the 1982 siege of Beirut is inconsequential. Add to this the fact that large portions of the film boil down to rote talking heads documentary conversations – par for the course in even the hackiest and adolescent of all documentaries – and you have a failure on your hands, right? Continue reading
A white woman and a black nation are the subjects of Claire Denis’ exotic, lush White Material, a sort of harrowing The Tree of Life with meditation on the nature of god replaced with a careful deliberation on colonial identity. Denis has spent the better part of two decades dissecting the aftereffects of colonial rule with a careful mixture of composed authenticity and poetically floating clarity, rejecting the lo-fi approach of many modern indie filmmakers for a more confrontational form of bile-spewing visual splendor. White Material may be her most harrowing film ever, and its cryptic meditation on the nature of identity in a continent where identity is defined primarily by ownership reminds that the after-effects of colonialism still loom large over African conflict, and they may not only effect native Africans anymore. Even though the whites who still live in Africa may deny it, the chickens are finally coming home to roost. Continue reading
If 1999 is an important year in cinema history – which most believe it to be – The Iron Giant is arguably the most important single film in the entire year’s canon, beginning as it does a great trend of films both wonderful and abysmal we have not yet escaped from: films based off of Pete Townshend concept albums.
I kid. But The Iron Giant is important for what it reveals about the year 1999: the trend of important directorial debuts, either formal “first film” debuts or debuts into the mainstream by independent directors who had directed a film or two before-hand. One does not need to have seen any films from 1999 to understand the importance of the directors that emerged from the thick of the eye of the millennial storm to shape the contours of cinema for the ensuing fifteen years. If some of these films seem wobbly today, they at least signaled the arrival of important cinematic voices for the ensuing decades. Continue reading
Since his debut in 1939, the midnight man who capes and crusades has never been out-of-style. Sure, the gee-whiz ’60s and the bruised, cynical ’70s brought out the mightiness of new kids on the block Marvel Entertainment, but DC prevailed and only came back more haunted in the dark days of the gaudy 1980s. With Batman brought back to his roots in garish German Expressionism in the late 1980s, the character became all the more fittingly haunted for a fittingly haunted turn-of-the-’90s America undone by the failures of Reaganomics and the harsh realities of urban living. The character was also, alas, all the more apt for chauvinist, fascistic abuse by the likes of Frank Miller, who eventually took to dumbing-down the figure to the levels of America’s latent (and often very much more than latent) fixation with harsh individualist justice and uncritical depictions of masculine men keeping the evils of society at bay. A philosophy that was, boiled down, the card-carrying crux of 1980s fiction at its worst.
It is a go-to pocket complaint of modern Disney that, at some point, they lost interest in the mythic and left the magical by the wayside. From the dark days of the 1960s until darn near the embryonic stages of the 1990s, their films were marked by increasingly poor animation quality and a loss of exploration and heart to match. One Hundred and One Dalmatians holds the unfortunate distinction of being definitively the locus of this three decade dalliance with ground-level storytelling, the period where Disney turned its back on the skies. All of this circles around one point: One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a crying shame, and one of the most disappointing Disney features every released. Continue reading
This being the second of two new reviews of 1926 films for the National Cinemas month on German Cinema (replacing a much longer essay I had planned to finish the month off with, but since it has been many months since September now I decided to formally use that essay for another purpose and not align it with the National Cinemas project, which I can now put to rest).
So yes, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was not the first animated feature length release. That title is usually claimed a full eleven years earlier by a Lette Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, but even here we find ourselves in murky waters. At least two other full length animated features are known to have existed and since been lost to the briny depths of film history, so in truth, neither Snow White nor The Adventures of Prince Achmed deserve the “revolutionary” claim they are often afforded. None of this really matters though; they are both stellar, all-time releases important less for their singular status (although rest assured, Achmed is indeed a singular film for other reasons) than for how sterling they are as art and storytelling even today. They are stupendous films, great when they were released, yes, but they would be as great still if they were released just today. Continue reading
First aired in 1999, the “SpongeBob” animated television show is defined primarily by an aesthetic of chill, off-the-cuff, non-confrontational madness. It is a show left uncontrolled with its own id in a room, forced to confront its own nonsense and live with it and have the most glorious time of its existence simply being itself. It is a wonderful slice of animation as character definition, radical in subtle ways and existential and playful without ever seeming over-worked or tired. Above all, it never really seems to try. It simply exists in its own state, not so much working to function a certain way as laying itself down and exploring whatever comes out of its mind at that moment. It seems gloriously uncontainable, but never too hungry to lash out or rush around for the sake of energy in every direction it can. It’s a show of quiet confusion, aloof froth, and lazy charm. It is something that does not seem to have been produced or created, but found and observed. It is free of exposition, free of explanation. It is pure, un-worked, and unworkable. It seems effortless. Continue reading