A Ghost Story

July 22, 2017

a-ghost-storyGiven the revival of Malick since the late 90’s, it’s no surprise that there is a generation of American independent filmmakers who seek to ape his lyrical, gorgeously shot style to such a degree that it has almost fully supplanted the rough-and-tumble, dialogue-heavy post-Tarantino style of the 90s.  American indies are nothing if not given to trends.  David Gordon Green arguably got the ball rolling with his (still) stunning George Washington, followed by a handful of varyingly successful continuations on theme until he found his current niche in stoner comedy.  Others have come since, and one of the standouts both for good and bad reasons was David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, it’s haughty title belying both its lyrical imagery and ponderous tone.  It wasn’t much more than something to look at – a tale of subdued outlaws in early 20th Century Middle America – and listen to, thanks to Daniel Hart’s memorable score.  I missed Lowery’s well-liked foray into big budget filmmaking, Pete’s Dragon, but here he is with the typically smaller follow-up, A Ghost Story, featuring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck in a white sheet with black eye holes.  A person’s reception that kind of affectation will likely color the viewing experience as a whole – Lowery does little to undercut it, and that would likely be the least of concerns for those who can’t, for lack of a better phrase, get with its vibe. 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 »

Locke

May 15, 2014

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The secret weapon of Steven Knight’s Locke is that the physical journey to London that its protagonist, Ivan Locke, is embarking on is not a metaphor.  It’s easy to imagine a writer gleefully penning an emotional journey that can mirror the literal one, but Knight wisely sidesteps the hacky temptation in favour of something far more interesting: this is a film about dealing with the arrival.  Before the film begins, Locke’s decision has been made, and we avoid a lengthy morality play on “what should be done” in favour of the probably far more interesting “how do we deal with what’s been done” scenario.  Read the rest of this entry »

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It begins with memories. Two different kinds, actually: the cinematic shorthand of stock footage and home movies of Oslo and the verbal recollection of actual people and their first experiences with the city playing over top. People recall the excitement of moving to the big city and the parties and joys of bohemian life that followed. It’s possible to consign these statements as the prologue or the original sin of the main character of the film. He came to the city and was seduced by its exciting iniquity. The key themes, however, are glimpsed in other recollections: “I remember thinking, ‘I’ll remember this.’” “…How he insisted ‘melancholy’ was cooler than ‘nostalgia’.” The film is about an addict grappling with reintroducing himself into society after 10 months clean in rehab, but it’s more about the burden of memory and how it overwhelms the present than it is about addiction. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the Skin

April 16, 2014

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Despite a very, very limited feature film career (three, actually, with the last one being 10 years ago), Jonathan Glazer can comfortably consider himself the most self-consciously Kubrickian auteur working today.  It’s not an easy style to go after, obviously, and it speaks to his talents that on the basis of, really, two films (Under the Skin and Birth, though I haven’t seen it since it came out I feel Sexy Beast is memorable for a performance rather than visuals) that this quality can be considered a positive rather than an affront.  It’s all the more impressive when you consider the tonal consistency of Under the Skin considering it’s essentially three different films cut into halves.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Every year has its share of great films, but 2013 was special for the sheer number of films that can and will be considered “great”.  It was unusually strong, then, with even the late year traditionally “Oscar bait” releases delivering more often than not.  Of course, I’m not a professional critic which means both time and access are factors in what I could and couldn’t watch, especially as this year I’ve spent a majority of my time in the Deep South (which has, if we want to be polite in that Southernly way, a rather limited number of diverse releases) as well as a healthy chunk overseas.  I’ve missed some big ones, then, although I have somehow managed to see about 125 eligible films.  As usual, that “eligibility” is roughly the Academy Award criteria of any film released theatrically for public consumption in the calendar year, so festival-only films and undistributed wonders don’t count.  The major misses that I’ll have to catch up on in the coming months include Touch of SinBlue JasmineShort Term 12At BerkeleyViola, and Night Across the Street.  Obviously this isn’t the final word on the year in film, especially as only one of the films mentioned in the coming posts have I seen more than once (I am not a believer in that rather silly Kael maxim of only watching a film once, as the truly great ones and even some of the mediocre ones leave room for discovery with repeated viewings).   Read the rest of this entry »