Tag Archives: cinematic playgrounds

Film Favorites: Up

Ratatouille was in love with whimsy and fable and Wall-E with romance, minutiae, and slapstick humanism, but Up is at its proudest when it is having the most fun in the world being itself. It all begins with a boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai) asking curmudgeonly old drag of a man, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), to help him earn a merit badge, but it most certainly doesn’t stay there for long. Pixar’s trip through surrealism, Warner Bros’ Bunuel-inspired Wackyland, Road to movies, ’30s adventure serials, and filmic flights of fancy more generally, Up sees the then-world’s most recognized film production company end their residency with practically owning filmic invention in the 2000s by paying tribute to all that allowed them to be what they had been so well and so singularly for fifteen years.
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Genre Riff New Wave Round 2: Evil Dead II

Sometimes it’s the simple things that pay off most readily, you know? A few non-actors. A cabin Woods. Two dozen buckets of cinematic fury and might. A story that can be summed up as “those non-actors in that cabin face off against those two dozen buckets of cinematic fury and might and have their asses handed to them”. Thus is Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, such a simple and elegant horror film it doesn’t need to explicate a damn thing. There’s a book. It unlocks some demons. And it’s in a cabin. Why does the book do this, and what are its limits? Who cares. All that matters is that it is the most direct and unworried clothesline upon which Sam Raimi can absolutely tear not one but two genres a new one, and tear down the whole idea of genre as a construct in doing so.

It isn’t really saying much, considering its competition and the positively dreary state of American film during that particular decade, but Evil Dead II might be the battiest, most zestily-directed American film of its decade. Now I recognize this as hyperbole, but Raimi invites hyperbole, and the film earns it. Goodness gracious, the camerawork alone does whirlwinds around anything else being released around the same time, damn near earning the title all its own. Raimi’s whiplash maelstrom never knew a finer shelter than comedy-horror, and it never did the genre prouder than here. The things this camera does need to be experienced, so I’ll refrain from discussing specifics. Let’s just say the man chooses the most inventive position possible for almost every shot and pinwheels his tormented meat-bag humans around his camera like Damian with his first rodent, and he partakes in the mischief every chance he gets. The camera lurches about from space to space, doing almost literally everything it possibly can to simultaneously involve us in the action and elevate us above the action, separating off Raimi’s characters for mockery.
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Fluffy Anarchism ‘n’ Artifice New Wave: Back to the Future and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Back to the Future

Unlike many other great pops-men in the film world, Robert Zemeckis is a legitimate auteur, which is to say, he has a unique vision he aims to see fulfilled in his finished product and one which requires a significant amount of effect on his part. I’ll never forgive him for Forrest Gump, a wretched a combination of schmaltzy artificial cotton candy and “I’m above politics and thus more moral than you” traditionalism that nonetheless must innately be entirely political, which manages to one-up itself by just plain having boring wallpaper as a central character (who also happens to be deeply problematic and inhumanly insensitive in its glamorization of the mentally handicapped here rendered as inoffensively cute, innocent, and above all too-moral-to-be-human). Quite a long-winded barn-storming gasping rage of a sentence, but the film had a vision. One which alternated between boring, problematic, and scary, but a vision nonetheless, one which he sought out and achieved through what loosely approximates filmmaking “craft”.
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Midnight Screening: After Hours

Update fall 2018: Been a few years since I last saw this before the current viewing, but After Hours remains truly unstable, and clearly too brutally crazed to be labeled a psychoanalytic “portrait” of Scorsese, with all the easily-contained clarity and visibility the notion of a portrait implies. After Hours is much more of a working-through than it is a legible work of art; it’s the rattled consciousness of a director obviously exposing himself to nervous tendons in search of transcending them, and it’s gloriously untamed.

Original review:

Like his previous film King of Comedy, 1985’s After Hours is something of an unheralded masterpiece from director Martin Scorsese. It’s certainly non-traditional, being rather aimless and lacking a conventional narrative or even character development. But it’s also obsessive, dangerous, playful, worrisome, and energetic in a way that veers close to satanic. It’s the kind of open-ended film that people often struggle to understand, and others say is only for the enlightened. My opinion – forget about understanding and just let it wash over you and take you along for the ride. I’m not sure even Scorsese really understands what happens to his main character here, but it undeniably meant something to him, and it undeniably affects us. This is not a film to intellectualize –  intellectualizing is what the human mind tells us to do to make sense of event in narrative format, and After Hours is intentionally anti-narrative. While we may want to look at the film in terms of cause and effect, it has other things in mind. It captures like few films the pure chaotic senselessness of human life, how little control we have over our fates, and how narrative cohesiveness is a violent lie we force upon sensory experience so that we can find sense in things which were never meant to be sensical.
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National Cinemas: Yellow Submarine

After uploading two of the most depressing British films I can imagine, I decided a nice counter-balance would be in order: a couple of bonus reviews of just about two of the damn cheeriest films in existence. It’s been my pleasure.


Edited mid-2015

Yellow Submarine is a Beatles film, and this carries certain baggage. Above all, we must have the Beatles – this is the Beatles psychedelia express vaguely hiding as a children’s film after all, and insofar as they are the star of the show, they must be in the film. We must ask of any Beatles film then: what does it reflect about the Beatles as an entity? What is most surprising about 1969’s candy-coated art film, then, is how little a presence they have in the film, and how little import they play even as the narrative (insofar as it can be called one) is wholly about them. I don’t mean this as a negative – their aloof, detached standoffishness, their inability to take any problem seriously, and their seeming lack of interest in really doing much of anything seems wholly intentional. And it is subversive as all hell.
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Film Favorites: City Lights and Knife in the Water

Edited and Updated June 2016

City Lights

Equivocation, whatever it can do to abet the mind, can stultify the stuttering soul. Hyperbole, once or twice, may be the essence of wit. Permit me to speak to the winds without bourgeois constraint or prudence; it is what Charlie Chaplin, one of the most untrammeled purveyors of unrestricted emotion as a principle of good folk, would have wanted. City Lights may just be cinema’s greatest gift to the world: a truly, unabashedly sentimental masterpiece. By 1931, the time of the film’s release, Chaplin – a decade into his celebrity and his most prodigiously productive period – was confronting the flux of the world around him: in cinema, the shift from silent film to talking pictures, and in the world, a post-WWI decay threshing national boundaries into nothingness and instigating a worldwide depression. The only salve for Chaplin was the often sour sting of excessive sweetness, an emotional delicacy or an after dinner mint for some films that Chaplin preferred to envision as a main course. .
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Film Favorites: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Edited and updated in mid 2015screen-shot-2014-01-15-at-12-47-19-pm

Sunrise was one of “those” films. By those, I mean the films which changed cinema, which defined “before” and “after”. While the case is often made for Citizen Kane as the singular production which advanced what film could do the furthest for its time period, Sunrise is perhaps the only film to seriously challenge that claim. F. W. Murnau, the expressionist master behind classics such as Nosferatu, brought his talents to America here, and to tragic romance. In doing so he not only created an ethereal, transcendently romantic vision of the world, but he transformed what film meant for that world.

The narrative of Sunrise is simplicity itself. It’s a story of love and temptation, intentionally rendered universal through characters whose names are literally types. They are “The Man”, “The Wife”, and “The Woman from the City”. The first and the second are married, while the first and the last are having an affair. These two plot to end the marriage and run off together, having “The Man” take “The Wife” to the city on a vacation from their country abode and drown her there. When the time comes he finds he cannot continue with the plan; the trip to the magical chaos and clutter of the city only rekindles their love. Assumed tragedy later strikes and causes “The Man” to grow angry and even potentially murderous, but love looms large in Murnau’s vision and he isn’t about to give up his puppy-dog mythos of the world without a fight. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Bride of Frankenstein

Edited May 2016

Preface: Now that I’ve finally decided to go “old” with the blog, I’m doing it in style with not just a regular “old” film, but two, and two that have ripened with age. For this week’s Midnight Screenings, the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, ’60s, ’50s, and ’40s wouldn’t do. I’m taking it back to two of the granddaddys of filmmaking from the early ’30s, two of the earliest “talkies” and two supreme influences on Midnight Cinema from a time where films could be more openly playful and subversive as filmmakers were still trying to prod and poke at the medium to expose its limits and possibilities.

After the monstrous (I couldn’t resist) success of James Whale’s extremely influential 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein, production on a second film was almost a sure-thing (after all, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the book, had yet to be wholly adapted). As the first film was loved even in its day, one would assume re-creating this formula with slight changes would be sufficient for another success – a sure-thing, in other words. Taking a good, long four years to release it however,  Whale and new screenwriter William Hurlbert had something else in mind. Bride of Frankenstein is less a horror movie than a Gothic playground hopped up on psycho-sexual energy, a carnival of camp and winking terror, a delightful parlor-trick of a film spreading its wings and exploring every nook and cranny of the human condition it can find, and doing so with such a sheer sense of joy it can’t but be contagious. It is a film mirrored by nothing before and, quite possibly, nothing since. Continue reading