Warning: Contains mild spoilers, though nothing more than you get in the trailers and commercials.
Gary Ross's The Hunger Games—the first in a tetralogy of films adapting Suzanne Collins' trilogy of young-adult novels—was one of my favorite movies of 2012. Anchored by a strong, fully-realized performance from Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games treated the frequent absurdities and illogics of its world seriously, investing what might have been a silly sci-fi franchise with a sense of realism and genuine emotional stakes. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic # 22
Continuing with our 3rd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “The Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a viewing of the 1974
Merchant and Ivory Tobe Hooper film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven't already seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first.
Yes, yes, I'm well aware of the fact that All Saint's Day has come and gone, and that somehow I only managed to post a couple of entries in our 2013 Halloween Movie Marathon. Real life interfered, and I apologize for that. Continue reading
12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen's extraordinary, essential new film, begins in the middle. The choice is something of an aberration, for McQueen proves throughout the rest of the movie that he knows better than to add any narrative or directorial flourishes to a powerful true story that requires neither. This prologue lasts only a few minutes, after which we flash back to where the story properly begins, with Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living happily with his wife and children in New York, and enjoying a successful career as a respected violinist. From there, McQueen will follow Solomon, in linear fashion and with harrowing realism, through his kidnapping, his being sold into slavery, and all 12 years of his decent into Hell.
So why begin with this strange flash-forward, which shows us Solomon already enslaved? The clue, I think, lies in this prologue's final scenes, in which we see Solomon huddling in secrecy, attempting to fashion the necessary implements to write a plea for help. We see him carve a crude pen from a piece of wood. We see him trying to fashion ink from the juice of blackberries. We see him, finally, attempt to put words on the one piece of paper he has, only to watch the letters bleed and pool and disperse into nothingness. The makeshift ink won't hold; the words won't stay; the story he needs to tell cannot be told. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic # 21
Continuing with our 3rd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “The Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a viewing of the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man. As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven't already seen The Wicker Man, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic # 20
Yes, it's that time of year again, the season of tricks and treats, of candied apples and toilet-papered trees, of costumes both scary and skanky. Here at The Unaffiliated Critic we celebrate All Saint's Day in accordance with tradition, with the same time-honored rites and sacred rituals our people have been practicing since the year of our founding, way back in 2011.
We make my girlfriend, N., watch scary movies. Welcome to The Unenthusiastic Critic's 3rd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
Watching a big-budget, CGI-heavy adventure movie becomes a completely different experience when there is an actual artist at the helm. The visionary director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men) proved that when he showed us that a Harry Potter movie could actually be good (with 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), and he proves it again now with Gravity, a narratively simple but visually stunning tale of two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded in the vast emptiness of space. Continue reading
As I explained in the first part of this three-part series, I am currently cataloging all the films I've seen so far in 2013 that I never got around to properly reviewing. Part One covered my least favorite movies of the year so far, the films I can't possible recommend to anyone. The forthcoming Part Three—by far the shortest list—will cover my favorite films, the ones I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone.
And here, in Part Two, we find ourselves in the middle ground. It's no surprise that this is the most crowded of my arbitrary categories, for the most common reasons for me to not write about a movie are that: 1) I haven't made up my mind about it yet; or 2) I don't have strong feelings about it one way or the other. ("Eh, it was alright" is not the kind of opinion likely to inspire me as a writer, and "I don't know what to make of this movie" is not the sort of argument likely to satisfy you as a reader.)
So, without further ado or disclaimer, here are 12 films released in 2013 that I found to be worthy failures, near-misses, mixed bags, or utterly mystifying. Continue reading
As I would be the first to admit—if several of my helpful friends and followers hadn't already pointed it out repeatedly—I have fallen woefully behind on my movie reviews in 2013. My tentative plan is always to watch and review at least one movie a week, but here—in the 39th week of the year—I find I have reviewed a grand total of nine motion pictures since January 1 (not counting classic films reviewed alone or with my partner, The Unenthusiastic Critic.)
Looking back over the year, however, I was surprised to discover that my movie watching was more or less on-pace: I've seen around 35 new movies in those 39 weeks—I just haven't reviewed them. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. Today, we present the conclusion to our look at David O. Selznick's Oscar-winning production of Gone with the Wind (1939). You can read Part One, covering the first half of this extremely long movie, here.
The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. (For a fuller explanation of this particular form of relationship suicide, read the introduction to the series here.)
In this edition, we sit down for N.'s first viewing of ten-time Oscar-winner Gone with the Wind. This is (to my girlfriend's horror) the longest movie we've ever done, and (to my own horror) the longest article in the series so far. For your sake as much as mine, I'm splitting this post into two parts. Look for Part Two to follow soon.
A confession: I have a hard time reviewing Woody Allen movies.
As much as any filmmaker working today—and perhaps as much as any filmmaker who has ever worked—Allen feels like family. I've never met him, of course, and don't expect I ever will, but what director could be more familiar? Beginning with 1966's What's Up, Tiger Lily?, Allen has written and directed 43 feature-length films, at a pace just shy of one a year. I haven't seen every one of Allen's movies, and I haven't liked every one that I have seen, but at this point there is no director whose signature is so easily distinguishable, and no cinema experience more instantly recognizable than sitting in a dark theater as those credits appear, in white-on-black, over some old jazz standard. By this point, even the members of Allen's production team, listed in that trusty Windsor font, feel somehow like old friends. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
Some movies positively reek of studio interference, but with others the cloud of artistic compromise wafts more gently. The Wolverine, the new film from director James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line), feels at first like a breath of fresh air in this disappointing summer season: with a slower pace, a smaller scale, and a more intimate focus than most comparable superhero franchise films, The Wolverine succeeds for a surprising portion of its running time in making us hope that someone has actually been allowed to make a serious movie from these pulpy comic book ingredients. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
Expectations are tricky things. Based on the premise and trailers, I went into Pacific Rim expecting it to be little more than a live-action cartoon and toy-commercial in which giant robots and giant monsters punched each other in their respective faces for two hours. The x-factor here, however, was director Guillermo del Toro, the genuinely visionary filmmaker who brought real warmth and wit to the Hellboy franchise, and who created one of the first truly great movies of the 21st century in 2006's haunting Pan's Labyrinth. So the marketing for Pacific Rim told me that I should expect to be disappointed, while the evidence of del Toro's past work led me to hope that there would be more going on here than met the eye. It was with these mixed preconceptions—half-dread, half-excitement—that I ventured down to my local IMAX to don my 3D glasses and experience Pacific Rim.
And what I experienced was a live-action cartoon and toy commercial in which giant robots and giant monsters punched each other in their respective faces for two hours. Continue reading
Most of the pre-release discussion and buzz around Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing has focused not on what it is, but on the hows and whys of the thing. There has been a strangely amused fascination with Whedon's decision to follow The Avengers—a mega-franchise movie with a nine-figure budget and a ten-figure take—with a no-budget, black-and-white adaptation of one of Shakespeare's lightest plays. After all, coming off one of the most successful blockbusters in history, this man could do anything, and work with anyone, for all the money: instead, he chooses to act like a film student, and spend 12 slapdash days shooting an indie-spirited little movie at his own home with his TV actor friends. He's pretending he's still little people! How charming! How quirky! How eccentric!
How absurd. Yes, Much Ado about Nothing was filmed quickly and cheaply—and among friends—in what was supposed to be Whedon's vacation during post-production on The Avengers. But to treat Much Ado as a palate-cleansing vanity project is to do the film a great disservice, for it is much, much better than that. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low: I've not spoiled any surprises, but this post can't completely avoid hinting at the general nature of certain surprises. If you want to go in completely free of expectations, best to see the film first.
J. J. Abram's Star Trek Into Darkness presents me with a critical dilemma, because I both thoroughly enjoyed it and found it a terrible misfire. In contemplating the root of this conundrum, a famous line of criticism kept running through my mind. Widely (though perhaps apocryphally) attributed to Samuel Johnson, and loosely adapted for my own purposes, it goes something like this: This movie is both good and original. Unfortunately, the parts that are good are not original, and the parts that are original are not good. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: I'm going to assume you've read The Great Gatsby. If you haven't, I suppose there's an outside chance you might enjoy this movie, so you should go watch it without bothering with my review.
I'm on record stating that, when it comes to adapting great novels to the screen, faithfulness to the text is an overrated quality. Greatness in any medium is, almost by definition, impossible to translate to any other medium, and so a slavish film adaptation of a classic novel is likely to be a dull and dire thing. One of my favorite movies of 2012 was Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, which took considerable creative liberties with Leo Tolstoy's epic and delivered a lush, sensual feast with visual delight, whimsy, and real emotional power. No doubt there were people who said that Wright not only failed to tell the story of Anna Karenina, but also completely missed the point of it—and perhaps he did. (I don't think so, but the argument could be made.) The thing is, I didn't care: if I wanted to read Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, I was free to do that at my leisure. This was Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, and I loved it.
So why do I hate Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby so very, very much? Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
The challenge of superhero movies—and of superheroes in general, actually—is to balance the human elements with the super-human. This is especially important for retaining the interest of fans who may be past the age of puberty, but we underestimate children if we think they don't prefer to have believable, relatable characters behind the masks, beneath the capes, inside the armor. Continue reading
The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. (For a fuller explanation of this particular form of relationship suicide, read the introduction to the series here.) In this edition, N. and I sit down for her first viewing of Ridley Scott's 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner.
As always, these posts are completely spoiler-filled, so if you’re the other person on the planet who has never seen Blade Runner, proceed with caution. Continue reading
This is the fifth entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. This week, I take a look at one of the greatest performances of all-time, in a film that revolutionized the art of acting on-screen: Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Continue reading
Last year I explained (at some length) why I still love the Oscars, even though they are pretentious, predictable, overlong, and frequently delusional in ways that make me want to kill myself. This year, I'm going to skip the preamble and get right to the wrong-minded opinions and prognostications: my choices for what films will win, what films should win, and what films must not, in the name of all that is holy, be allowed to win at the 85th Academy Awards. (The actual order of the presentations is a big secret—why, I have no idea—so I've taken an educated guess.)
Oscar Night is this Sunday, February 24th. My invitation seems to have been lost in the mail, so I'll be live-tweeting the Red Carpet and ceremony from home, alongside my partner N., The Unenthusiastic Critic (whose interest will flag noticeably after the focus turns from pretty dresses to awards). Follow me on Twitter to get all the despair, snark, curses, and detailed explanations about why host Seth Macfarlane is bad for humanity.
And now, the envelopes please… Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
Steven Soderbergh has announced his intention to retire, claiming Side Effects will be his last film. I don't buy it for a moment—in Hollywood, after all, that sort of announcement usually turns out to herald a break of six to 18 months—but, for the sake of argument, let's pretend we believe him. If this slick, competent, painfully derivative thriller does indeed turn out to be Soderbergh's swan song, it will be the sadly appropriate capstone to a career that promised so much brilliance, and delivered so little originality. Continue reading
This is the fourth entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. This week, I take a look at one of the most visually influential films of all time, Fritz Lang's seminal 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis.
This post will be a little shorter and considerably less thorough than previous entries in this series, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is practical: I'm running a little behind this week, and need to make up some ground if I want this to remain a weekly series, and not a bi-weekly, or monthly, or whenever-the-hell-I-get-around-to-it series.
The second reason is less practical, and more a matter of preference: I kind of think Metropolis is a terrible movie. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
As far as Hollywood is concerned, we're in the dog days of winter—which is to say that, during the first couple of months of the year, Hollywood studios dump their dogs unceremoniously off at the multiplexes and hope they never find their way home. If someone catches them doing it—“Hey, is this your dog of a movie?”—the studios are likely to slink away shamefully and deny ownership. If someone within their own organizations asks whatever happened to a certain movie, executives probably tell them that that particular movie went off to live on a farm where it can run around free and play with other doggies: it's probably much happier there, so don't worry about it, and don't ask any questions. Continue reading
Independent Study in World Cinema
This is the third entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. This week, I take a look at a film about revolution that sparked a revolution in film: Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 epic Battleship Potemkin.
And it is here, in only the third week of my self-directed coursework, that I fully grasp the hubris of my plan, and resign myself to what should have been a self-evident truth: that there is no way in hell I can—in the stolen hours of a single week—possibly hope to do justice to any one of these films. Continue reading
This is the second entry in the series “Independent Study in World Cinema,” in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. (For a fuller explanation of this project, read the first entry in the series.)
This week, I take a long look at the movie that—for better or worse—started cinema's love affair with vampires: F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922). Continue reading
This is the first entry in a new series I'm calling "Independent Study in World Cinema," in which this self-educated film nerd attempts to fill in some fairly serious gaps in his self-education. For a full explanation of this self-imposed syllabus, read on.
If you'd asked me six weeks ago, I'd have told you 2012 was a mediocre year for movies. This is, of course, partially the fault of the studios—which save all of their best movies for the last few weeks of the year, so they can be fresh in the minds of award-voters (and idiots like me who write "Best of the Year" lists)—but it's mostly my own fault. In my secret identity I have the kind of job that gets really busy when things like presidential elections happen, and so for much of the year I had to let a lot of really good stuff pass me by, unviewed and unreviewed. (If you're wondering why there are so many films on this list that I didn't even bother to review when they came out: that's why.) In the past six weeks I've gone on a binge of make-up movie-watching, catching up with as many goodies as I could. I haven't seen everything, but I've now seen over 80 films from 2012, and at this point I'm prepared to say it was a very good year indeed. Continue reading
Last year I didn't attempt to do a year-end round-up of performances. Ranking any artistic achievement is always an arbitrary exercise of questionable worth, and I find comparing the apples and oranges of various films difficult enough; comparing individual performances is like comparing apples and accordions, or aardvarks and oranges, or something equally nonsensical. Continue reading
I don't do a "Worst Movies of the Year" list, mostly because I do everything in my power, throughout the year, to avoid seeing the worst movies. I tend to give a wide berth to any film, for example, in which Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, or Tyler Perry play single or multiple roles, in drag or out of drag; I avoid any film in which Nicholas Cage plays a super-hero, John Cusack plays Edgar Allen Poe, or 3D piranhas consume DD breasts. (If you're curious, I'd say the worst movies I saw all year were—in no particular order—John Carter, Hyde Park on Hudson, Hitchcock, To Rome with Love, and The Hobbit, though sheer disappointment and contempt for pretension make me want to throw Prometheus in there as well.)
So my annual delivery of year-end bile is reserved for films that—in my humble opinion—other critics and award-bestowers are valuing far beyond their worth. They are not, necessarily, bad films; some of them may even be good films. (There is nothing here as bad as, say, The Descendants or The Help, both of which made my list in 2011—and then, of course, went on to win Oscars.) These are films, however, that deserve to be brought down a peg or two, and I'm just the unlicensed internet hack to do it. Continue reading
In my review of Django Unchained, I mostly take the position that the movie doesn't really work as a movie, and that therefore the cultural debate taking place around it lends it a significance it doesn't really deserve. I still think this, but the review felt incomplete somehow. So I'm bringing in The Unenthusiastic Critic.
Spoiler Level: Low
Since so much controversy has sprung up around the new Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, I want to be absolutely clear about where I'm coming from on this. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: I'm reviewing an adaptation of a 30-year-old musical based on a 150-year-old book. Nonetheless, I'll do what I can.
Les Misérables, the new film version of the highly successful stage musical, is nearly three hours long.
It feels longer.
Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, on which the musical was based, is about 1,400 pages long.
The film feels longer.
The story covered by Les Misérables takes place over a period of roughly 17 years.
The experience of watching it all play out feels—you guessed it—even longer still.
Mere weeks ago, I dreamed a dream in which The Hobbit would be the most unendurable Hell I would face in a movie theater this year, but director Tom Hooper's overly literal, excessively bombastic, painfully tone-deaf film has killed that dream—along with three hours of my life, my love of musicals, and a good portion of my will to live.
There are dreams that cannot be, there are storms we cannot weather, and there are films—like Les Misérables—we simply cannot endure. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Nothing you don't get from the trailer.
It's estimated that a quarter of a million people lost their lives when, on December 26, 2004, an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered a massive tsunami that impacted 14 countries. Indonesia was the hardest hit—with upwards of 160,000 deaths—but thousands also died in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and other nations. Millions of people across South Asia—many already living in abject poverty—lost their homes, lost their livelihoods, lost access to food and clean drinking water; hundreds of thousands more would face death from resulting infectious diseases. Measured in lives lost, it was one of the 10 most devastating earthquakes ever recorded, and the deadliest tsunami in history.
And so—forgive me for being blunt—why do I give a fuck about one family of wealthy European tourists who survived? Continue reading
In one of his stand-up routines, comedian Louis CK explains his pessimistic view of falling in love: no matter how nicely it begins, he explains, "it's going to lead to shit." You may have a couple of good dates, and then she'll stop calling you back. Or you'll date for a long time, and then someone will cheat. Or you'll get married, and it won't work out, and you'll get divorced. "Or," he says, "you'll meet the perfect person, who you love infinitely, and you even argue well, and you grow together, and you have children, and you grow old together—and then she's going to die. That's the best-case scenario: that you're going to lose your best friend…"
Like all the best comedy, it's funny because it's true: follow every love story to its logical conclusion, and no one gets a happy ending. This is why nearly every movie is careful to stop well before its characters reach that point, but Amour, the new film from Michael Haneke, begins there, chronicling an example of Louis CK's last, best-case scenario with unremitting precision and unflinching honesty. It should come as no surprise that the provocative director of Funny Games has delivered a film that is, at times, as harrowing as any horror film. What is remarkable is that Amour earns every emotional beat, and—without a single false step or the faintest patina of sentimentality—reminds us that each difficult moment in this end-of-life tale is the culmination, and celebration, of a long and passionate affair. Simple, succinct, and devastating, Amour is a masterpiece of filmmaking and—as its title suggests—a beautiful and haunting treatise on the nature of love. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: High, I suppose, but there's really very little worth spoiling.
My least favorite type of movie is the one I walk out of saying, "What the hell was the point of that?" Movies that succeed in realizing their goals are preferable, of course, but there's something perfectly honorable about failure: I don't really mind any movie that tries to say something, even if it crashes and burns spectacularly in the attempt. But even the simplest full-length feature costs exorbitant amounts of money, demands months or years of effort from hundreds of talented people, and—worst of all—requires several hours of my life to watch. There should, at the very least, be some sign of why anyone thought the end result—win or lose—might turn out to be worth all that trouble.
As you've probably guessed my now, no such vision or purpose is evident in Hyde Park on Hudson, which is as pure an example of cinematic pointlessness as I've experienced all year. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
I should probably begin by specifying which version of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey I'm reviewing, since there are currently six options for viewing the film in theaters. Depending where you live, you can choose to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 2D (35mm); The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D (35 mm); The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – An IMAX Experience; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – An IMAX 3D Experience; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – High Frame Rate 3D; or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – High Frame Rate IMAX 3D. (These combinations will have to last us until we get the inevitable complications of director's cuts and expanded versions.)
If you're wondering which one I saw, it was the high-frame-rate, 3D, 35mm version.
If you're wondering which one you should see, my recommendation (which I know you'll ignore) is that you don't.
Just don't. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
Sometimes a film ends up feeling smaller than the sum of its parts, and that is the case with Killing Them Softly, the new film from Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). Finely acted, frequently funny, and stylishly directed, Killing Them Softly nonetheless ultimately fails to satisfy: its story is too slight, its characters are too familiar, and its stakes are too small. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
It's not easy to make a film that is both raggedly messy and predictably formulaic, but David O. Russell has accomplished it with Silver Linings Playbook, his new film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. With a dark, indy-drama setup that somehow resolves into a phony, crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook feels like a movie at war with itself. If I didn't know better, I'd say Russell had been handed this by-the-book Hollywood screenplay and decided on a lark to try to do something interesting with it: as it is, Russell wrote the screenplay too, so what we may be seeing is a director at war with himself. Whatever is going on here, however—despite some strong elements and performances—it doesn't completely work. Continue reading
I'm going to keep this review short, in direct proportion to the importance of the work being considered. There is probably an interesting movie to be made about the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and there is no doubt a far more interesting story to be told about the great director's relationship with his wife, collaborator, and muse Alma Reville. How I dearly wish Sacha Gervasi's new film Hitchcock, which tries to be both of these things, was either. Shallow, slight, and far less insightful than your average DVD extra, Hitchcock makes a dull sit-com out of potentially great material, and reduces fascinating characters to farcical caricatures.
Spoiler Level: Low
"A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling," Thomas Hardy once wrote. "We story-tellers are all Ancient Mariners, and none of us is justified in stopping Wedding Guests (in other words, the hurrying public) unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman."
We can take issue, of course, with Hardy's aphorism: many storytellers before and since have spun magic from the ordinary experiences of average men and women. Still, at this point in what has been, to date, a fairly unremarkable year for movies, it is a joy to encounter a truly exceptional tale, one that can make us believe extraordinary things and demonstrate to us that we still have the capacity for wonder.
The only (highly questionable) credential I have as a film critic—apart from having spent an inordinate amount of my life consuming and thinking about movies—is a degree in literature. One might expect, therefore, that what I'd value most in literary adaptations is faithfulness to the text—but one would be wrong. As even the most casual student of either art form knows, slavish film adaptations of great novels are almost always dull and dire things. Attempting to carefully convert greatness from one form to another never works, because the true artists in any medium are those who have figured out how to do what can only be done in that medium. You can't faithfully film a novel any more than you could faithfully paint a poem: everything that matters would be lost in the translation. Continue reading
What happens when America’s most successful filmmaker, one of our greatest living playwrights, and the man whom many (though not I) consider our greatest living actor, come together to pay homage to America’s greatest president? Strangely, you get the kind of competent, perfectly honorable bit of film hagiography that is almost guaranteed to win awards, but which neither deepens our understanding of history nor advances the art of cinema. Respectful without being insightful, well-crafted but without creativity, and visually impressive without any real vision, Lincoln represents an impressive panoply of talent coming together to create the cinematic equivalent of a B+ term paper in AP History. Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Low
Early in Skyfall, the 23rd of the "official" James Bond films from Eon Productions, Bond (Daniel Craig) is undergoing a series of tests at MI6 to determine whether he is fit for duty. In one sequence, he is made to take part in a word-association game, which he treats with his trademark irony and disdain. To the word "day," Bond responds with "wasted." With the word "murder," Bond associates "occupation." To the name of his superior, M. (Judi Dench), Bond—who knows damn well she's watching—shoots back "bitch."
In all of this, only one word seems to draw a genuine, irony-free response from Bond. Offered the provocation "country," Bond quickly, and firmly, responds with "England." It's a fleeting moment, but a nice one: after all, to what else has James Bond ever exhibited any loyalty? Bond has always been rather amoral, not terribly concerned with justice and only rarely (and briefly) exhibiting any belief in friendship or love: what Bond believes in, what he has given over his life to, is Great Britain. He is a Hand of the Empire, or, as creator Ian Fleming once described him, "an anonymous blunt instrument wielded by a Government Department." Continue reading
Spoiler Level: Safe
These days, I find my enthusiasm for American animated films has two levels: there's the great excitement I reserve for all Pixar movies—or at least the ones that don't feature Larry the Cable Guy as an anthropomorphic tow-truck—and then there are the comparatively low-expectations I have for most everything else. Continue reading
Continuing with our 2nd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “The Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a dose of J-Horror as we sit down to watch Takashi Shimizu's 2003 ghost story Ju-On (The Grudge). As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven’t already seen Ju-On, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first.
Continuing with our 2nd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “The Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a viewing of the 1985 cult classic Re-Animator. As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven’t already seen Re-Animator, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first.
Note: The post contains profanity, nudity, and really disgusting pictures, and is decidedly NSFW. (Because otherwise, what's the point?)
Continuing with our 2nd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “the Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend “N.”—joins me for a viewing of Robert Wise's 1963 haunted house classic. As always, spoilers follow, so if (like my girlfriend) you haven't already seen The Haunting, and if (unlike her) you would like to, you should really do that first. Continue reading
Continuing with our 2nd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, “the Unenthusiastic Critic”—my wise-assed, horror-hating girlfriend "N."—joins me for a viewing of Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic. As always, spoilers abound, so proceed with caution if you're spoiler-phobic—or, for that matter, if you have a weak stomach.
“The Unenthusiastic Critic” is an occasional series in which my highly reluctant girlfriend “N.” joins me to watch classic movies that she has somehow managed to avoid seeing.
Throughout October, N. and I will be presenting our 2nd Annual Halloween Movie Marathon, watching as many horror classics as we can fit in between now and All Saint's Day. As always, spoilers abound, so if you're the other person who has never seen Night of the Living Dead, proceed with caution.
When I proudly announced to my girlfriend that I had just about settled on the line-up for this year's October horrorfest, N. met the news with her usual combination of curiosity, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm.
She: I don't remember agreeing that this would be an annual thing. Continue reading
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
There is a difference between visually arresting and narratively shallow. There is a difference between intriguingly ambiguous and thematically under-developed. There is a difference—and it is all the difference—between films that succeed, despite their weaknesses, and films that do not, no matter their strengths. And it is in those maddening, frustrating, nearly imperceptible gaps that Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master resides. It is a movie in which nearly everything works, and yet, at the end of its 150 minutes, one feels that all of this excellence—the careful direction, the lovely cinematography, the fine performances—has been in the service of something vague and forgettable. It is a film that aims for importance, but fails to find meaning. It is a film that demonstrates mastery, but falls far short of beauty. Continue reading