This week’s pair of Midnight Screenings will return us to the far-flung past of 2006 and 2007, a more innocent time in film history …
It is quite possible that Richard Linklater is the only currently functioning director who really could have directed A Scanner Darkly in the fidgety, twitching tone it so desperately begged for, and thus it is a little bit of magic that he managed to acquire the film at all. Firstly, this is because Linklater, the homegrown Texan with an eye for slacker culture and the distance imparted by time and memory, strips away the science fiction trappings from Phillip K. Dick’s story and renders it all the more pressingly intimate in doing so, without ever sacrificing the essence of the novel about drug abuse and melancholic social anomie. Which is itself important; so many science fiction films rationalize themselves by claiming they are necessarily informing us about the weight of a current world crisis, but as many other Dick adaptations show us, they frequently devolve into glorified techie action flicks. The science becomes a diaphanous masquerade, a meager attempt by a film to convince its audience of its intelligence when it offers nothing but pyrotechnics and quasi-futurism. Linklater doesn’t need a trip to the future; he creates a piercingly grounded tale about trips of a different variety. Continue reading →
There’s something a little bit magical about The American’s devious nature; I’m not sure it was intended by director Anton Corbijn, but you have to admire the way it gallantly seduced American audiences into approaching it like a classical ’70s spy-action film starring George Clooney (a perfect match for that sort of role if ever there was one) and then tricked them into watching what is a deliberately challenging, resistant film. Vaguely setting itself up with a harried narrative about an assassin scoping out and setting up for a contract in a small town in mountainous, rural Italy, the film is instead a thoughtful, reflective, molasses-slow work about an old soul and the resolution only a natural cleansing in a small-town locale can bring. It is a meditative film, above all, and an extremely effective meditation at that. Continue reading →
A white woman and a black nation are the subjects of Claire Denis’ exotic, lush White Material, a sort of harrowing The Tree of Life with meditation on the nature of god replaced with a careful deliberation on colonial identity. Denis has spent the better part of two decades dissecting the aftereffects of colonial rule with a careful mixture of composed authenticity and poetically floating clarity, rejecting the lo-fi approach of many modern indie filmmakers for a more confrontational form of bile-spewing visual splendor. White Material may be her most harrowing film ever, and its cryptic meditation on the nature of identity in a continent where identity is defined primarily by ownership reminds that the after-effects of colonialism still loom large over African conflict, and they may not only effect native Africans anymore. Even though the whites who still live in Africa may deny it, the chickens are finally coming home to roost. Continue reading →
There is probably no more critically acclaimed American filmmaker to emerge since the heyday of the ’90s independent scene than Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the few relatively mainstream artists in recent years to genuinely acquire the clout of an auteur. Contrasted with, say, David O. Russell, who also survived the cinematic battleground of 1999, Anderson never once seems to have ceded ground to popular concern, and he remains one of the few “big-name” filmmakers whose wandering mind hasn’t been boxed-off by Hollywood money. All these years later, even when they don’t fully succeed, his films seem like the collective external manifestation of the nether regions of his own mind. His films are infused with the lifeblood of classic cinema but prone to the sort of exuberant misconduct all great directors need to engage with to break new bounds. He’s an out-there sort of dude, but he’s cordoned off his own niche as a pop-art experimentalist, a perfect combination of old school composure and new school anger. Continue reading →
Anyone familiar with Jacques Tourneur doesn’t need to read a review for evidence to the claim that Out of the Past is one of the best film noirs ever made. But that doesn’t mean establishing and specifying what is so undeniably great about it isn’t a worthwhile pleasure all the same. Cutting his teeth on Val Lewton’s near poverty-row horror unit for RKO, a team that single-handedly saved American horror in the 1940s by injecting a dose of the European, and a team which counted Tourneur as its most valuable member, Tourneur is one of the unheralded masters of the medium of cinema and one of the most poetic genre directors ever to grace the silver screen. Pairing him to noir like a fine wine to a slab of deliberately indelicate beef is too obvious to be a stroke of genius, but the results are no less marvelous for the “why didn’t they think of this earlier” nature of the film.
Pairing Robert Mitchum – ever the heavy – to a noir, however, was a stroke of genius, precisely because he made indelicate slabs out to be fine wine, making him the perfect bridge for the flavors milling around in Tourneur’s stew. Mitchum was a known face by 1947, but not even close to a star, and seeing his ambiguity flourish in Out of the Past is a tormented, deceptive beauty so perfectly matched to the material it almost approaches non-performance. Mitchum went on to fame as the cinema’s ultimate heel, concocting deliberately vague piles of blunt force that slithered and skulked across the land and directly into the dark hearts of humankind. TheNight of the Hunter and Cape Fear find him too close and comfortable with pure evil for words. Nothing about him felt like acting, like trying; he conveyed an evil that simply existed, an unexplainable devil that could only be approached by running away. The problem with running away from Mitchum… he constructed figures so impenetrable and unknowable they couldn’t but chill the blood into stagnancy. Continue reading →
If we are being honest, Ridley Scott is not a director worthy of his reputation. His 1970s were certainly pretty sterling; he entered the world with a very good, if inessential, period-piece parable in the under-seen The Duellists, and then down-tuned sci-fi to elemental levels of fear with the masterful Alien, one of the greatest genre films ever made. Not wanting to be type-cast at the turn of the ’80s, he upped himself through transposing his native science fiction into another genre, not quite as openly horrific, but with no less to say about humanity’s fears: the noir. The resulting film, Blade Runner, is his masterpiece. The ensuing three decades and more have seen him shoot sloppily back and forth between chasing former glories unsuccessfully and entering the bold, exciting new territory of … stripping the cinematic magic whole cloth from the period piece and turning the genre into a drab excuse for materialist rationalism. Again. And again. And again.
There are precious few films about childhood. Many aim for an audience of children, but most look down upon them in their assumption that they will eat up any and all immature entertainment simply because it is handed to them. It is the rare film that tries to peel back the layers behind childhood and to give us a look at what growing up entails. Because it is difficult to focus on children in film without rendering them types, either immature simpletons who do not understand the world or wise-beyond-their-years precocious types who “know” better than the adults around them, it is rarer that a film succeeds at presenting childhood with a quiet sigh, knowing a certain maturity without ever losing itself in the adult desire to judge and moralize to children. There have been a number of great films about childhood, but none stand taller than Francois Truffaut’s debut film, the work that kicked off perhaps the most important movement in film history, the French New Wave: The 400 Blows. Continue reading →