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

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.
Edited for Clarity

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. Kar-wai’s films are classicist dramas, worldly and weary and aware of their universal status in their almost mythic exploration of sighing human loneliness and the passing moments of connection that counterpoint but only further contour that loneliness.  His films 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, 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


phaseIn 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

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.
Continue reading

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.
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.
Continue reading

Film Favorites: City Lights and Knife in the Water

Edited and Updated June 2016

City Lights

Equivocation, whatever it can do to abet the mind, can stultify the stuttering soul. Hyperbole, once or twice, may be the essence of wit. Permit me to speak to the winds without bourgeois constraint or prudence; it is what Charlie Chaplin, one of the most untrammeled purveyors of unrestricted emotion as a principle of good folk, would have wanted. City Lights may just be cinema’s greatest gift to the world: a truly, unabashedly sentimental masterpiece. By 1931, the time of the film’s release, Chaplin – a decade into his celebrity and his most prodigiously productive period – was confronting the flux of the world around him: in cinema, the shift from silent film to talking pictures, and in the world, a post-WWI decay threshing national boundaries into nothingness and instigating a worldwide depression. The only salve for Chaplin was the often sour sting of excessive sweetness, an emotional delicacy or an after dinner mint for some films that Chaplin preferred to envision as a main course. .
Continue reading

Film Favorites: Hannah and Her Sisters

Update mid-2018:

Four years later, I remain enamored of Hannah and Her Sisters, an apogee of Allen’s career, and something of an inflection point, or a balancing act. While his earlier films sometimes labor under pretenses to classical status – for instance casting themselves as Allen’s “Bergman” film”, his “Russian literature” film, etc – Hannah and Her Sisters casually commands the concerns and quandaries many of those earlier texts and artists engaged in, without Allen ever having to ennoble his meditations with unearned and overly-belabored comparisons to bygone figures that sometimes blot him from encouraging his own dramas when he chooses merely to recreate the dramas of others. At the same time, Hannah proves the mettle of Allen’s own intellectual and emotional gambits and thematic vexations without dipping, as so many of his later films did, into self-mocking-but-actually-self-exonerating parables of gender and class that quietly validate Allen’s own persona while pretending to loudly vilify him. While so many of the women in his later films exist to drive Allen forward in bas-relief, the titular figures of this film rhyme with, reflect, and inflect aspects of Allen’s consciousness but are not beholden to it. Nor do they take the position of symbolically representing Allen while having their eccentricities, personal quagmires, longings, and questions sanded-away to fulfill the tidy summation of a gendered archetype or a manifestation of a larger thematic issue. Of all the women in Allen’s cinema, they seem to, if not float free, vacillate in non-schematic ways and vibrate with their own energies. What a wonderful film. 

Original Review:

Woody Allen has made many great films, and, as has become too obvious of late, many less than great ones. Generally, he’s at his best when things are at their most unsentimental and nervy – he’s on less sure footing when it comes to exploring purely positive, uncomplicated depictions of his characters. But for all his cynicism, Allen loves people. Or more appropriately, he uses his hate for people to deal out tough love for them, and this was never more-so true than in Hannah and Her Sisters, his only true masterpiece of mostly unaffected romantic sentimentalism and unapologetic sweetness (to go with his not insignificant number of masterpieces of far more troubled, anxious cynicism). Continue reading