Tag Archives: something lovely this way comes

Twenty Years Hence: Babe

But 1995 was not merely a year for corporate excess and nihilism crawling out from the woodworks; it was also a year of magic and wonder, and a childlike work of supreme, effervescent joy the likes of which cinema had long forgotten…

Most reviews of Babe focus almost exclusively on some aspect of cinema related to maturity, championing Chris Noonan and George Miller’s 1995 childhood fable for its maturity relative to other movies “for children”. They posit, essentially, that it works for “adults” as well. A fine point, but it also misses quite a bit more than it hits. For Babe is a lovely film for adults, yes, but that could not be the case if it were not so wholly committed to being a children’s film to begin with. What is more germane, I think, is that is a rare breed of children’s film, a work which takes children as its subject rather than its object, and sees the world from the perspective of a child without seeking to reveal some layer of ironic detachment or self-serious maturity to comment on and critique this child’s mind. It is, instead, wholly dedicated to the emotional dream-logic of children, and for precisely this reason, it exists at a right angle to just about everything you can find in the film world this side of 1939. Continue reading

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National Cinemas: In the Mood for Love

Here, in its final month, is where the National Cinemas project functionally comes undone and reaching for something a little broader becomes preferable, if not essential. You see, it is notoriously difficult, for reasons that exist far outside the world of film, to determine the nationality of many films with partial funding from mainland China. The greatest difficulty comes into play when Hong Kong is involved, and at the risk of avoiding the issue, the debate over Hong Kong’s nationality is very much a topic I am not sufficiently informed in to make my own decision on what shall qualify here. For this reason, this month will include films where the primary language is within the broadly defined group of Chinese languages, including Cantonese, Mandarin etc, and where the funding comes from any combination of the nations of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Not necessarily the best solution, I know, but for the time being It’ll have to do.

If one is to search for designated auteurs in the modern era (and we have precious few in an increasingly arid well), there are a few names that routinely pop up, but chances are that Wong Kar-wai is right up there. Hong Kong’s shining light, he is one of the few Chinese directors to escape the essentialism of international demands for a career in chop sockeying (although even then talented minds like Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou have essentially transformed that genre into humanist poetry of color and geometry, so there’s to the talent of Chinese filmmakers to turn pigeonholing into a subversive strength).

Kar-wai’s films are classicist dramas, worldly and weary and aware of their international status in their almost mythic exploration of sighing human drama. They seem like they could have come right off the boat from 1950, but they also know a breathier modern quality, a sense of liveliness never lost to Kar-wai’s all-seeing eye. They reflect an old-school filmmaking mentality seldom seen today, but they are uniquely primed for modern-day China, works equally comfortable with their intimate world in a specific locale and the wide-reaching humanity they dance with and caress in their very specificity. He’s a maker of masterpieces, he is, and if you want to discuss Kar-wai’s intricate perfectionism and impressionist color-as-emotion collages that are at once judiciously composed and free-flowing with spur-of-the-moment zest, you really must begin with the man’s all-time masterpiece among masterpieces, and the best work of cinematic art produced in the still young century to this day: 2000’s In the Mood for Love. Continue reading

75th Anniversary Film Favorites: Fantasia

In honor of their seventy-fifth anniversary in 2015, I present a pair of reviews for my two favorite Disney animated releases, both released in the same year, 1940, and both far more challenging and transformative than any feature film the company has yet released since. The two introductory paragraphs of the reviews are identical or nearly identical, but the meat of the reviews are film-specific.

Fresh off of reinventing cinema with the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney and his band of merry auteurs certainly made enough money to rest on their laurels and produce what would have assuredly been a hugely successful similar film. Another princess, another band of silly sidekicks, another all-time expressionist cinematic villain, you get the deal. Things would have gone down smoothly, and Disney and friends would have been laughing all the way to the bank.

Except for one thing: for all his grubby corporatism and power-hungry megalomania, Walt Disney genuinely loved film, and he genuinely loved testing the waters for what film was capable of, and no one, not even the corporate masters he answered to, was going to tell him otherwise. He was a man of boundless vision, a child in a cinematic toybox, a person driven by ego and pulsing personal joys and for whom his company was a means to immortalize his dreams and nightmares on celluloid for everyone in the world to see. He made films because he wanted to watch them, and after Snow White, he didn’t want to watch another princess story. He was hungry, and having changed things forever, he wanted to do it yet again.
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75th Anniversary Film Favorites: Pinocchio


pinocchioIn honor of their seventy-fifth anniversary in 2015, I present a pair of reviews for my two favorite Disney animated releases, both released in the same year, 1940, and both far more challenging and transformative than any feature film the company has yet released since. The two introductory paragraphs of the reviews are identical or nearly identical, but the meat of the reviews are film-specific.

Fresh off of reinventing cinema with the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney and his band of merry auteurs certainly made enough money to rest on their laurels and produce what would have assuredly been a hugely successful similar film. Another princess, another band of silly sidekicks, another all-time expressionist cinematic villain, you get the deal. Things would have gone down smoothly, and Disney and friends would have been laughing all the way to the bank. Except for one thing: for all his grubby corporatism and power-hungry megalomania, Walt Disney genuinely loved film, and he genuinely loved testing the waters for what film was capable of, and no one, not even the corporate masters he answered to, was going to tell him otherwise. He was a man of boundless vision, a child in a cinematic toybox, a person driven by ego and pulsing personal joys and for whom his company was a means to immortalize his dreams and nightmares on celluloid for everyone in the world to see. He made films because he wanted to watch them, and after Snow White, he didn’t want to watch another princess story. He was hungry, and having changed things forever, he wanted to do it yet again.
Continue reading

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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American New Wave: Annie Hall

Annie Hall is many things: a thoughtful, perceptive dissection of romance, a frothy, light romantic comedy, and a devastating depiction of the inevitability of loss in love. It is also, more than anything, not the film Woody Allen was on the path to making in 1977. While he was a noted comedy writer-director by this time, and one who had made several strong features, his films were defined by their frothy-caustic anarchy and generally zany Marx Brothers riffs, movies structured less like narrative than improvisational comedy. This last part continues in Allen’s then most mature feature, Annie Hall, but while it boasts a number of laugh aloud moments, its humor is underscored by a fundamental nervousness that puts it at odds with Allen’s previous works.

Personified in Allen’s Alvy Singer, the kind of figure who would soon become an Allen stereotype but who here feels youthful with worry, this film was Allen’s first to tread the line between the caustic and the deeply warm-hearted, the incorrigible and the unquestionably brittle. This isn’t a depressing picture per-se – it’s far too energetic and lively –  but it does deal with ends as much as beginnings, innately creating a sort of finality that breeds some sense of loss absent in any of Allen’s previously more abstract, even obtuse, sketch-like works. Annie Hall is also, in addition to all these things, and perhaps because of Allen’s skill at combining them into a whole greater than the sum of its parts, pure cinematic dynamite, a film so in love with and so angry at the world it cannot help but provide us with new ways of looking at it. Continue reading

Review: Fantastic Mr. Fox


Despite Wes Anderson’s near-murderous commitment to the merriment of exchanging trifling fables for narratives, it’s no secret he was in dire-straits as the back-half of the first decade of the 21
stcentury rounded its way toward conclusion. One of the indie darlings of the mid-’90s, Anderson’s films had been on the path to antiseptic stagnancy even when he reached his early career peak with 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. While that film perfected his particular brand of formalism, it also glimpsed the shift from childlike wonderment and a freeing love of reigned-in chaos to a more rationalized, and thus less free-flowing, rigid arch-detachment, a cloying style which would for a few films become the bane of Anderson’s existence. Throughout the mid-2000s, Anderson’s art-house meets doll-house sensibility threatened to strangle itself with its stifling, dictatorial commitment to precision and professionalism over feeling and energy. Something had to happen.
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