Tag Archives: Metatextual Madness

Genre Riff New Wave Episode III, The Return of the Storybook: The Princess Bride

By this point, it would seem apparent that if ’80s popular cinema was at an all-time low in larger-scale narrative creativity and form, at least ’80s genre cinema often knew it was as chintzy and fake as all hell and tried its damnedest to use this as an asset rather than a detriment. By 1987 we find this trend at its absolute apex with one of the few true unambiguous comedies to seek to re-energize tired genre filmmaking: Rob Reiner’s arch-fantasy parody The Princess Bride. And like most of the best films to come out of this trend, it approaches its chosen poison-pen love letter topic, fantasy, from a place of love rather than the smug self-superiority that would engulf and cloud any such genre riff post-1995. For this reason, more than any other, it attains the sort of genial fluffiness and ebullient effervescence most fantasy films can’t even dream about.
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Film Favorites: My Winnipeg and You, the Living


After noticing all my “Film Favorites” pieces were from decidedly older films, I decided to incorporate a few new ones to the mix for balance, starting with a couple under-seen modern films from the most recent year I don’t cover in my “newer films” section, 2007. Both of these films are desperately under-seen and subversive masterpieces of modern cinema in wholly different ways.

My Winnipeg

Guy Maddin has made a career out of recreating early silent and sound cinema. His films approach us as documents of a long-lost time, alien products of our own making. They feign documentaries, but they test the line with a sort of fragmented operatic grandiosity. However, if My Winnipeg is a document, it’s hard to say to what, or in what form. Is it a reflection of the ’20s as it was lived, or as films from that period depicted it? It’s both, in fact, and much more, bleeding together art and life with rambling, rambunctious, disharmonious, elliptical force and playing around with cinema and its relation to life in some of the most unexpected of ways.
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Review: Birdman

Edited

Birdman’s story is awards season catnip, a foolproof middle-brow example of Oscarbait if ever there was one. It’s all right out of the playbook. Let’s check the boxes, shall we? An aging, past-his-prime central performer in a showy role? Check. Said performer playing a loose-version of himself in real life? Check. A talented cast of supporting players doing some of their best work in smaller roles? Check. Commentary on aging and performance? Check. The theater? Check. Monologues? Double Check. Add in some long takes and you’ve got Birdman, right?

Well, kind of, except director and co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu decided to wholly and absolutely decimate the film’s middle-brow core with a blast of pure lightning in a bottle. His chief delivery mechanism: Emmanuel Lubezki long takes. Or, long take might be more appropriate, for the film unfolds as if through one movie-length single-take . Of course, there’s trickery afoot,  but the seems are noticeable only because those who pay attention to showy long takes know a quick, hectic camera movement usually means a cut lies hidden within.  Continue reading

Film Favorites: In a Lonely Place

in-a-lonely-placeIt is the unfortunate burden of Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place that it is almost never treated separately from two other films released in the same year with similar subject matters: Sunset Blvd. and All About Eve. Both films, of course, are Hollywood royalty. This is perhaps ironic considering they both deal with Hollywood royalty, although one is nominally about Broadway to create, perhaps, thinly-guised distance from the hand that feeds. Like those films, In a Lonely Place deals almost entirely in brittle cynicisms and barely contained self-deprecating snark, aimed squarely at mommy dearest: Hollywood. It’s astounding that three of Hollywood’s most disturbing and grandly disparaging self-mutilations came out within 12 months of each other. Perhaps something was in the water (more on this later). Strangely, while those two films  now bump shoulders with the likes of Citizen Kane of Casablanca, In a Lonely Place has been somewhat demoted to “lesser classic” status. That’s a shame, as it’s a true dark horse masterpiece of self-hating, jaundiced malaise that expends its dying breath clinging to any tatters of hope it can find illuminated amidst the dense chiaroscuro of Ray’s irrepressible visuals  .
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Film Favorites: Rear Window

Edited for clarity

Perhaps no film director has been studied, debated over, written about, psychoanalyzed, copied, butchered, chastised, and celebrated as Alfred Hitchcock. Inevitably, the question always comes up: What’s your favorite Hitchcock? A tough question, and admittedly not one I would retort to with Rear Window But if the question was “what is Hitch’s greatest commentary on film?”. Well, that’s another story altogether.

The story is simplified to its bare, jagged essentials, allowing depth and filmmaking craft to take over for breadth. Essentially, we have LB Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart), a photographer here rendered bed-ridden by an accident which forces him into a cast. Bored out of his mind, he takes to observing his neighbors across the street through their apartment windows from his own window, aided by his trusty camera. Soon enough, he witnesses what he grows to think may be a murder of a wife by her husband, known to Jeffries as Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr). Jeffries has no evidence, but we soon find out a pesky thing like truth isn’t enough to get in the way of a man with a camera and his ego. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Chinatown

Edited

Chinatown has two lead characters, and as dictated by the logic of the film noir genre, one must be male and one must be female.  And they too must share something, usually a sense of loss, an alienated nature, and a distance from society. Chinatown’s male lead is JJ “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson), a private eye initially contracted by a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray to find proof of her husband’s infidelity. Soon enough, he thinks he does so, only to learn he’s in for something much deeper and scarier. The lady who had presented herself as Mulwray was pretending, and when he meets the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), she insists on his involvement in a different aspect of the case, one involving her husband’s now-dead body. Complications and complications arise, as they do in any noir. And this is a plot out of any noir. It’s been done hundreds of times before and since, and it seems appropriate to start here because this is Roman Polanski’s jumping-off point for paying homage to the noir genre while turning the whole thing on its head with Chinatown. 
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