Y Tu Mama Tambien is inauspicious, but like many great films, it reaches for and touches the world and humanity in everyday actions and seemingly small gestures. Here, for instance, we have teen sexuality, laid out with all its romanticism and reality, filled with the kinds of empty-but-meaningful gestures that define humanity’s desires and their foibles. Director Alfonso Cuaron is a highly personal director, but he’s always most interested in defining his characters in relation to the world they inhabit. His two protagonists here are immature and petty yet deeply human, reflections of a society that won’t admit it has given birth to them and which they, initially, want no part in. He gives us a profoundly human story, built on the eternal humanness of sex as a marker of adulthood and childishness, and given life by Cuaron’s wonderfully and contrapuntally painterly version of sloppy, slovenly reality. Continue reading
William 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
The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s 2013 quasi-biopic of American greed and self-destruction in the ’90s has a number of very notable factors acting in its favor. Primarily, it has Martin Scorsese really just tearing up the cinematic joint. Here, he’s a cavalier madman again, a persona he hasn’t adopted in a long while. The Wolf of Wall Street is less interested in telling a narrative than in expounding upon destructive impulses and raw propulsion, and the fact that the film adopts the disorderly persona of its main characters is almost categorically a civic good.
Secondly, Leonardo DiCaprio throws himself into the role of Jordan Belfort, the early ’90s capitalist fat-cat du jour, like a deranged madman – as a performance the closet thing it approximates is loose-limbed, improvisational jazz, and it’s a stunning display of pure physicality and cognitively-dissonant charisma. This too is of no small import, as he’s the center of the film. The Wolf of Wall Street is touted by many as a “film about us”, and that’s true in the sense of its emphasis on American debauchery and inequality more prevalent today than in the ’90s the film depicts. But it is also a film uniquely about Jordan Belfort, a singular man who could convince just about anyone to follow him, and who is depicted less as a villain or a conflicted person than a living “performance” of a human being, having no inside core other than to perform his wealth. The film’s attitude toward him is mocking, yes, but it also undeniably sees his charisma for the undeniable appeal it breeds. Continue reading
Above all, Guardians of the Galaxy is notable as the most auteur-like (yeah I said it) film within Marvel Studios’ ten-headed monstrosity of a pop-culture phenomenon. It is very much the product of James Gunn’s pen and camera. That it also happens to be the best film of the bunch is not necessarily linked to this fact, but you know, the connection is there after all. While Marvel’s other films have varied from ehhh to pretty good, right from film number two they seemed more interested in building up a brand than functioning as unique, thoughtful films with identities on their own. None are out-and-out bad, but fatigue set in fairly early, and only the original Iron Man really maintains its spark and, above all, its character-focused sense of nervy, anxious fun today (I also have a soft-spot for Shane Black’s profoundly messy second sequel for the character). Continue reading
It’s easy to reduce Boyhood to its making-of story at the expense of the finished product. Director Richard Linklater has shepherded ambitious projects before – his Before trilogy, with three films each separated by nine years detailing the same distance in the lives’ of a couple, comes to mind. But his Before trilogy treats the past and present as a dialectic, with each individual film very notably focused on the present state of a relationship and the gap between the films emphasizing the past. Boyhood, meanwhile, flips the script as a film very much devoted to the melding of the past and the present, rather than the difference between the two – Linklater treats the passage of time as a fluid construct with the moments of “present-ness”, and indeed our conception of present, tied fundamentally to our memories of the past. Continue reading
Edited and Updated 2016
Robert Altman, among his many talents, was first and foremost the American master of nervous, human comedy. His films all have that special wink-and-a-nod approach to drama, that bittersweet, knowing approach to humor. MASH is usually considered his foremost and best comedy, but he expanded his horizons and explored the limits of gallows humor in his other more somber films as well. Even his quietest, most somber affair, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, reveals dry humor as early as its opening scene. Presenting a vision of a decrepit Pacific Northwest town all but destroyed by big business, the film’s hero, who we expect to save the day, rides in to town slowly, hunched over, and equally weathered with age. It’s an image shot through with bitter irony and acidic wit, one which gives us a Western town with no desert and a Western hero riding in but here looking mundane and even sickly.
Nashville, however, is perhaps his grand comic opus, and it too wastes no time revealing its caustic humor. Early on, we’re introduced to Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), a longtime hero of America’s country-western music scene, performing a song written for the bicentennial with lyrics so hokey it’s impossible to take seriously. But he, and America, does. The lyrics belie a crushing self-seriousness to the grandiose performance that explicitly remind of the performative nature of this jingoistic conception of the American spirit. Continue reading
Watching Prometheus provokes more of a shrug than anything, but it’s not an entirely hopeless shrug. It misses the mark, but it’s reasonably entertaining in doing so, has at least one terrifying scene, and ponders big questions about the nature of the world and the relationship between science and religion. Thankfully, it doesn’t give easy answers either, but that comes off more as a result of not addressing the questions as much as it could have.
The narrative, as it is, plays kind-of like a remake of Ridley Scott’s first Alien film even though it insists on its prequel status. Essentially, a bunch of characters venturing to a far-off alien land meet the neighbors before everything goes awry. The film is, thankfully, sufficiently meaty and fleshy to earn its semi-horror stamp, but it’s more interested in pondering things like science vs. religion and man’s ego and “what is man?” and all those tried-and-true sci-fi ideas that, to be honest, used to be a whole lot more interesting before they were pummeled to death. A bigger problem, however, is that the film feels like a weird off-the-wall mixture of body-horror and kind-of incoherent, esoteric sci-fi musings about “the state of things”. I’m all for a game attempt at style-bending, but this one bounces from evisceration to idea to evisceration to idea and it’s awfully easy to walk away waving your hands up in confusion and never really being able to put them down. The film tries a lot and doesn’t succeed especially well at any one thing, but at least it is trying a lot in the first place. Continue reading