Tag Archives: just plain fun

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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American Imperialism New Wave (AKA Ronald Reagan New Wave Part Deux): Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark


Updated June 2016

After the completion of my American New Wave series, I found myself hungry for more, and with the rather stark delineation of mainstream ’70s American and ’80s American cinema, continuing chronologically seemed a fair idea indeed for it’s ease of access without necessarily plumbing the same self-consciously raw, arty cinema I generally stuck with to define American film during the 1970s. This is an opportunity for me to plum an type of film I have almost entirely avoided thus far for the purposes of this blog: classic genre filmmaking, or pop fare as we call it when we’re feeling particularly feisty. The series will continue, albeit with a generally more slap-dash rule set fitting the parameters of the generally lighter, airier cinema of the ’80s like a glove. Essentially, I’ll go by year, but within each year, I can cover one film in depth, or a few in smaller review format, or any mix in between. Whatever suits my boat, for, after-all, personal satisfaction was de rigueur in the halcyon ’80s, wasn’t it?

As for publication schedule, It’ll be more compact, a sort of Holiday treat to myself where I get to focus on “fun” movies in place of all the doom and gloom I force upon myself cinematically (I’m such a masochist aren’t I?). In other words, I want to keep things coming fast and loose, to give myself a filmic sugar rush, and to have a little fun with it. My estimation will be the series will continue into the very early ’90s (being that the first few years of the ’90s were basically the ’80s culturally and cinematically anyway, before the New American Independent bubble really blew up big time mid decade). And I’d like to have it all done by the New Year, or slightly afterward. So that’s one month of the poppiest pop I can find. Survival, without cavities, is not an option. And do excuse the titles; sometimes I like to have fun with myself, even against myself. The titles are Holiday Present Part B. 

Firstly, it must be said before anything else, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fairly stupendous lark, a work of cheerful insouciance at minimum, and a sky-high stratosphere-piercing pop machine at best.  As a pure action-adventure, it’s an apex of economical storytelling, from-the-hip visual stylization, and  gloriously unstabilized anarchy that owes as much to Chuck Jones (of Looney Tunes fame) as John Huston. This is true not only for its wit and physicality (Chuck Jones was a maestro of movement above all), but in how it is a master-class in editing and framing on-screen action (and it climaxes with a wry, none-too-subtle jab at the protagonist that wouldn’t be out of home in either malevolent John Houston molasses or a spring-stepping Chuck Jones firecracker). Almost unthinkably so thirty years on, it is palpably, vigorously indebted to the Midnight Cinema tradition, the so-called reprobate genres epitomized not only by Jones but more live-bodied directors like Fritz Lang. In straying perilously near the B-serial, it unearths a morbidity that stresses how – 21st century bloodlust aside – children’s entertainment was quite a bit more scarlet in the olden days. Populist though it may be, the thing about Raiders is how it turns the disreputable into the divine.

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Review: Summer of 08: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

hellboy-2-creatures-700x525If, as I am increasingly inclined to believe, every Guillermo del Toro film is a “Guillermo del Toro idea delivery device”, Hellboy 2 is right up there with his best works. This is to say, if a Guillermo del Toro film is all about the Guillermo del Toro visuals he can imagine for us and transfer to the screen, which is not necessarily the case but has some value for his highly and pointedly surface-level films, then Hellboy 2 is a hell of a film. It’s weighty yet zippy, filled with consequence yet light on its feet, it’s buttoned-up in all manner of cozy, boisterous lights and sounds, and it has a dreamer’s streak a mile wide. Many blockbusters attempt to find a center in their visuals, some of which succeed and many of which crash under their own superficiality. The visual splendor on display in Hellboy 2, however,  exists on another level – its images do not merely heal the eye, but they achieve genuinely transcendent emotional heft all their own. Continue reading

Review: Summer of 08: Tropic Thunder

2008’s Tropic Thunder, while far raunchier and more overblown, is the closest mainstream American cinema of the 2000’s has come to its own Sunset Blvd. While it was marketed as something of a comedy poking fun at war movies, that is only true by technicality. The narrative of the film, as such, has the movie stars making a war film let loose in the jungle where they must 1. survive, but more importantly, 2. battle their egos and the fact that their struggle isn’t just a test designed to help them work as a team in the name of making a better movie. If it pokes fun at war movies, that’s because the film is primarily a mockery of the filmmaking process at large, and more specifically, the actors, producers, directors, agents, and everyone else in Hollywood who combine limited skill with limitless, towering, monumental egos. Continue reading

National Cinemas: My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies

When today’s youth approaches the world of Japanese filmmaking, the most ubiquitous name is not Kurosawa, nor Ozu, nor Mizoguchi, but Miyazaki, the marvelous maestro guiding his Stuido Ghibli toward the clouds lifting up human imagination, and particularly childhood emotion, rendered sublime. It’s perhaps fitting that Miyazaki has taken up the mantel, for he combines the best of the past into a whole equal parts grandiose and sweeping (Kurosawa), spiritually elegiac (Ozu), and mournfully mythic (Mizoguchi).  It seems inappropriate to discuss Japanese cinema without him, and it seemed inappropriate to not take the opportunity to review his two most achingly personal, most emotionally pure movies. That the two were released simultaneously in a theatrical double-bill, and that they are linked by so many diegetic features only to be as tonally opposite as any two films ever were, is an all the more fascinating testament to Miyazaki’s exploration of humanity at its most unrestrained and least affected.

My Neighbor Totoro

Jake and DefneMy Neighbor Totoro is at its best when it is at its simplest, which thankfully is every single frame of every single scene in the whole film. It is a deeply streamlined work, lacking superfluous event to the point where it is almost non-narrative in its impression of childhood amazement. The narrative mostly boils down to eight year old Satsuki (Hidaka Noriko) and her, for lack of a better term, adventures in the forest next to her new rural home. Continue reading

Modern Midnights: The Cabin in the Woods

cabin-in-the-woodsFor this week’s Midnight Screenings, being that Halloween is upon us and all, here are reviews of three modern would-be Halloween films destined for years of “Midnight” Screenings all throughout the land.

This decade’s Shaun of the Dead or Evil Dead, the horror comedy classic that will entertain college dorms on Halloween for years to come, arrived early this time around, or so I’m told. Truth be told, I don’t quite see it – The Cabin in the Woods is far too dialogue-heavy and not nearly as formally textured as, for instance, Evil Dead II or even Drag Me to Hell, to name a few more famed genre deconstructions. Put more simply, while Sam Raimi’s films were loving analysis of the raw filmmaking of horror, careful, deliberate, studied commentaries on the cuts and the edits and the mise-en-scene of the whole genre, The Cabin in the Woods is essentially just a bunch of drunk friends’ loose jokes made about horror movies transported to a movie all their-own. Continue reading

Modern Midnights: Drag Me to Hell

For this week’s Midnight Screenings, being that Halloween is upon us and all, here are reviews of three modern would-be Halloween films destined for years of “Midnight” Screenings all throughout the land.

What was that old saying? In order to review a film, you have to make a film. Thankfully for us, Sam Raimi wanted to review a genre, and he took that phrase to heart. Drag Me to Hell plays like a greatest hits of horror, a loving pastiche of horror film clichés played here with a wink more than scream. We get an old gypsy woman straight out of Universal, all kinds of goopy fluids out of ’80s schlock films (the kind Raimi built his career on), atmospherics on loan from ’70s films with an air for the fantastique like The Exorcist, and a talking goat out of … does it really matter? This isn’t a particularly inventive film, but it’s the kind of rejiggering of the past we don’t usually see done with this much skill today. Fittingly, it’s both timeless in its recreation of classic horror norms and decidedly timely: it’s got a sly sense of humor aimed squarely at 2009 America, a moral joy for the bailout crowd that delights in turning bankers on their head and just giving them a generally messy time. And that sort of moralist high-camp has always been at home in the horror genre. Fitting then that, after years of big-budget brawn, this was Raimi’s glorious home-coming. Continue reading

Movies and Music and Magic and … Metanarrative: Singin’ in the Rain

Edited and updated mid-2015

This being the first in a (slightly delayed) series on music movies for the month of October. 

Two years before its release, Billy Wilder gave the world Hollywood’s greatest anti-Hollywood poison-pen-hate-letter by taking equal parts film noir fakery and haughty Grand Damery, putting them into a blender, and turning it to “positively eviscerate”.  Perhaps populist Hollywood was listening. Just as that film peered behind the Hollywood lens, so too does Singin’ in the Rain give us a peek behind the cameras and into the unease of the filmmaking process. But while Billy Wilder came from a place of deep concern and perturbed, quiet nervousness, Singin’ in the Rain comes from a place of unabashed, borderline-oppressive, love. Continue reading

Reviews: The Films of Kim Jee-woon

This post will cover Jee-Woon’s three most recent films, being that they are the ones I have seen as well as the ones which fit most nicely into my admittedly arbitrary cut-off date for reviews of “newish” films posted without some sort of larger organizing theme.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird

And here is where we go off the rails, and right from the beginning no less. Kim Jee-woon has always been messier than his fellow South Korean mad scientists Bong Joon-ho and Chan Wook-park, a point he makes no bones about hiding. His films are also messy with less of a pinpoint purpose and to much less subversive results – if Joon-ho and Wook-park are madman auteurs, Jee-Woon is a mad craftsman. If the former is a bit more satisfying in the end, both are lacking in today’s world (perhaps the latter even more than the former), and they’re both entirely welcome. Continue reading

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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