Tag Archives: movies to make middlebrow people feel good about themselves

Review: Cinderella

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is in a curious bind, right form its get-go. The appeal of the film is clear: in an age of revisionist blockbusters halfheartedly attempting to find some new slant on a classic story, even a desperately bad one, Branagh’s vision is remarkably old-school and pure. Fair enough; I like a classical story as much as the next person. But classical is not an excuse for lazy, and Cinderella veers so close to being wholly and entirely indifferent that it’s almost a travesty of cinemagic, although nice little touches shine through until the end, keeping the film afloat. As it stands though, Branagh’s vision is cannibalized by the very fact that ought to save it: its insistence on its origins in fable, its classical myth-like quality free of airs that ought to make it devoutly timeless. As it is, the classical quality just barely turns it into a milquetoast Oscar production, and nothing is more boring than a film using old Hollywood styles without any idea how to translate their  magic to the screen. Continue reading

Review: Foxcatcher

Many have gone out to bat for Foxcatcher’s particularly dour format of carefully positioned gloominess, and they are right to focus on the film’s meticulous craft. It’s a stolid, compartmentalized film, assured and close to perfectionist in its specific, highly detailed character, its rigid delineation of human frailty, and its formal precision backing up an intentionally cold-and-clinical dissection of American inequality. Grotesque millionaire John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) fancies himself an American hero and plays with Olympic wrestler Mark Scultz (Channing Tatum) from beginning to end, but director Bennett Miller would not have you think of it as play. Through his eyes, the film is as detached and despondent as humanly possible, perhaps fitting for the films’ themes of mechanical people sleepwalking their way through life with bored non-momentum. Yet style and story clash and never occupy the same film, smothering clinical precision with the film’s weepy, drippy “important story” narrative and sacrificing the sweat and spit of genuine emotion for a staid waxworks show. Foxcatcher is a perfectionist film, but it gives perfectionism a bad name. Continue reading

Review: The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part 1

It’s a known quantity to criticize our corporate masters for breaking apart book adaptations for the sake of profit, and this is an avenue of criticism I tend to shy away from. If the individual films, broken apart, are compelling, I don’t much care for the “completeness” of having a “full” adaptation of a source in one film. And complaining about cliffhanger endings have always seemed a red herring to distract from actually discussing the film. But good god is Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay hurt significantly by being cut in half. Or, at least, this first part is. While The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire weren’t perfect films, they were never unwieldy. Snug filmmaking was the order of the day, except when they sought to make good on their pop-Terrence Malick aspirations and linger on the poetic depression of the earth, which was itself lightly satisfying in its own way. Continue reading

Films I Wished I’d Remembered or Seen for My Top 10 of 2012 list (AKA: Two McConaugheys, Two Soderberghs, Three Films). And Also There’s Silver Linings Playbook.

Killer Joe
KillerJoe_2010.12.13_Day23of28_MG_8655.jpgWilliam Friedkin’s deliciously fleshy, brazen black comedy Killer Joe is a whole lot more meaningful than its word-on-the-street cred as another film in a long list of newfound career-redefining roles for Matthew McConaughey might suggest, but his performance speaks more than anything to the tone and effect of the movie. He re-reads the laid-back seductive charm he built his career on to play a crawling-king-snake of a Southern devil here, a police detective moonlighting as an assassin as convincingly nasty as he is ruthlessly in-human and clever. He’s the backbone of not only a number of fine performances dancing around his pointedly superficially cool-as-can-be anti-hero (the veterans Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon in particular giving us two commandingly lived-in performances as a husband and wife struggling to get-by), but a damn fine film. Continue reading

Review: Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris feels like it was released forty years ago, when Woody Allen was still finding his way and knew what themes he wanted to address in his films, but hadn’t found a compelling way to address them. Released in 2011, it’s unfortunately more of a reminder that Allen has lost his touch for humanism. This is a guy, for all his nervousness and cynicism, who has made several of the most endearing, empowering humanist visions of the cinema, someone who seems to put on the airs of mockery to satirize a world he’s truly in love with. Or maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe he is truly cynical and hopeless but remains in love with the idea of humanity and romanticism, feeling the need to put them in all his films even when he finds them dishonest. After all, many of his films are subtle fantasies about love and longing that match bitter, insightful truth with genuine pathos and effervescence pointed strictly at the human race. This is a man who understands the joys and sorrows of life and society, and puts them at work in his films like they are his playthings, all the while feigning a cute passivity and weakness, like he’s both confused and amused at the world and doesn’t want to get away. Perhaps in his old age he’s just given up on society and enjoys the act of getting together with actors in a nice vacation-land for a few months and ordering fine food and wine with a film, his in the making, on the side. Continue reading

Essay: The (Color)Blind Side

Note: This is an essay I submitted for a class entitled “Conceptualizing White Identity in the United States” in the fall of 2011. It is somewhat altered and extended but still mostly a product of three years ago. Because it was written for a sociology, and not a film, course, it primarily focuses on broader racial themes rather than explicit filmic analysis of the film’s storytelling methods and visual composition. Put another way, the film’s story lacks nuance, mostly boiling down to it’s attempt to be cringe-inducingly cutesy and fuzzy, and it is told un-originally and with little film-making investment or passion to boot, and it is thus a badly made film. But this essay is less interested in exploring the “how” of the way the film tells it story, the staple of most film reviews, than in the literal morality of the “what” of the story it is telling. Thus, this is less a film review than a piece on the implications of the film. And it is less interested in exploring how this is a bad film, which it is, than in how it is also a vile and contemptible one. Continue reading

Review: Argo


Argo is the second of 2012’s late year films arriving in theaters with heavy loads of Oscar buzz attempting to bring home the hearts of film-goers, and more specifically, the Academy come February.  Following  The Master, the five year toil of the director whose previous film was perhaps the most critically acclaimed of the last decade, hype for Argo was comparatively restrained. With two stellar efforts behind him, director Ben Affleck is well-liked in Hollywood circles but still likely hoped this film would shake off some of the vestiges of the ever-persistent fan-boy hate factory criticisms aimed at his acting (some of which was admittedly deserved). While Affleck has certainly proven he doesn’t need to take these accusations seriously by this point, the real question for many is still simply: How’s the film? Continue reading