Everybody Wants Some!!

July 21, 2016

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Lightness is an undervalued quality in the modern film environment.  That shouldn’t be confused with “insubstantial”, because that, as ever, abounds.  But lightness is rare virtue, probably because of long-held beliefs in storytelling and “conflict” being, fairly, more dramatically interesting than not.  A few years ago, Jon Favreau cashed in some Iron Man cache and made Chef, a wispy nothing of a film that, meta-textually, hilariously staked a claim for giving up on the corporate demands and getting back to something “true”.  Not only was that notion ridiculous, but the film itself had no conflict whilst also having no characters worth investing in (despite a solidly charming turn by John Leguizamo).  I thought of Chef a few times during Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!, a film that tries a little too hard in its early stages to establish it’s quirky bro ball players before hitting a kind of casual stride that, despite having no real conflict and not much of what can be considered a climax, still leaves you wanting more.  

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The Neon Demon

July 15, 2016

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Nicolas Winding Refn begins his latest, The Neon Demon, by stamping his initials on the background of the opening credits.  Not just for a moment, but through virtually the whole thing.  His supreme sense of authorship could evoke a great sense of pride in his work or a high level of pretension to his own abilities.  I’m not against the notion, per se, though it does strike me as a little gauche to do underscore every other credit by making sure nobody forgets this is your baby, but to do so puts the audience in an almost combative sense of expectation.  “This better be some high art, dude, because your lack of humility is jarring.”  There’s no doubt Refn has a sense of style, even if he’s a little reliant on Kubrickian camera moves to evoke his states of dreamlike dread.  His larger problem is his lack of self control, something he wears as proudly as Lars Von Trier (another filmmaker I run very hot and cold on), though lacking the latter’s occasional sense of cutting introspection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hail, Caesar!

March 15, 2016

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“This is real.”,  the Lockheed representative tells Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the Capital Pictures studio “fixer” while holding a picture of the detonation of the hydrogen bomb in the Bikini Atholl.  It is part of a somewhat ill-conceived headhunting ploy, where the rep tries to hide his contempt for the pointless frivolity of Hollywood and the job Mannix does.  He wants him to leave the studio and work for them, ironically explaining that it’s actually a much easier job with better benefits and more reasonable hours.  Mannix is up at all hours putting out fires for the contracted studio players so as to protect the studio’s image and assets.  Hail, Caesar! follows roughly 24 hours in Mannix’s life in a job that is, quite frankly, glorified babysitting.  An unmarried pregnant star, the bizarre decision by the owner of the studio to promote a B-list Western singer/stuntman into the leading role of an elegant drama, and most pressing of all, the kidnapping of the studio’s biggest star in the midst of filming the titular epic.  Read the rest of this entry »

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  1. Blackhat

Okay I know, but please, bear with me.  So it’s essentially a globetrotting cyber-thriller about a hacker determined to sabotage water pumps, but the plot (which I do actually find interesting) is incidental to the style, as is Michael Mann’s want these days.  The opening, featuring a CGI run through a computer terminal and down and down and down, sets the predominant theme of where the digital meets the physical.  As convincing as the scenes where various characters go through lines and lines of code to determine authorship, it’s really about someone leaving prison and walking onto a sunny tarmac, or the way a completely expected romance happens unexpectedly quickly, with the emphasis on physical touch while the ‘getting to know each other’ exposition is treated with ellipses.  Read the rest of this entry »

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20. Queen of Earth

If the pretentious, writerly aspects of Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip weren’t to your taste (as they were to mine, somewhat predictably), then Queen of Earth might be a welcome shift into a different kind of pretension.  Taking on the relatively low key psychological horror of a woman going mad genre, Elisabeth Moss (the highlight of Philip) walks the tight wire of over-and-under playing someone coming undone.  Katherine Waterston also proves herself more than capable with deliciously ambiguous deliveries that further question the mental state of Moss’ Catherine while laying out the unspoken depths and, more importantly, longevity of their friendship.  The most surprising aspect is Perry’s visual style, which makes great use of the spaces in the lake house with eerie, sometimes subtle (and sometimes not) framings that blur the line between head space and physical space.  A late turn into overt Polanski-aping can be forgiven, then, considering just how well constructed and deeply understood Queen of Earth and its genre are, especially when it initially seemed like an afterthought of a film given the relative bigness of Philip. Read the rest of this entry »

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I did not do an end of year list last year.  There were several attempts, and probably three initial drafts and even a finalized rundown of the top 20, but due to work and social commitments I never found the time to sit down and write it out.  The same could be said for everything to do with this blog this year, which was sparsely updated at the beginning of the year and not even touched for a majority of the rest.  Part of the problem was my increasing knowledge of other lists, which came out earlier and earlier and, crucially, before I had a chance to see a lot of the big contenders given release schedules and the early access privilege of critics on the studio mailing lists.  Whereas there was a time I felt I should wait until February to really have a go at it, I had been doing it earlier and earlier through sheer list fatigue.  It was also the case that so many lists were so similar that the only difference was the placement of the top five.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but there’s enough broad consensus on the top thirty or so films of the year that it would almost be more interesting to go through the main contenders and explain why I wouldn’t have chosen some of them.  So my list felt eerily similar to everyone else’s and there was just nothing I felt I could say that was unique without boldly pandering to some minor films that nobody saw that I thought might have been “pretty good” and thought I’d outlandishly rep for hard, like putting Beyond the Lights in the top 3 or something.  Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 31, 2015

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“Prepackaged Star Wars characters still in their display box? Are those limited edition figures?”

“What’s a diorama?”

“Why, it’s Luke and Obi-Wan.  And my favourite, Chewie!  They’re all here!  What do you think?”

“It’s lunchtime.”

“We have a winner!”

-Principle Skinner, with interjections from Ralph Wiggum and Groundskeeper Willie, from The Simpsons episode “Lisa’s Rival”

As Star Wars: The Force Awakens careens into the pantheon of all-time box office champs, rubbing elbows with the likes of…well…the previous Star Wars films plus Avatar and..um…Jurassic World, it seems that Disney can feel pretty pleased with the biggest sure-thing $4 billion investment in the history of motion pictures.  This is not terribly surprising, and yet it still begs questions:  How can, two weeks after its release, this movie still pull in over $30 on a Tuesday?  It’s one of those eternal questions, like how could there have been enough people in the country who decided, 14 weeks after it hit number one, that they liked Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do it For You)”, that they liked it enough to buy it and propel it number one for a fifteenth week running.  Still, it’s not quite there yet, but the fact that it’s racing to beat Jurassic World gives you an idea of the playing field in 2015.  Read the rest of this entry »