Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spielberg and Horror


A conversation about Poltergeist today reminded me of something I’d been meaning to post about for a while. A couple of months ago I went through a Steven Spielberg binge – partly for this essay on his development as a political filmmaker, partly because, hey, Spielberg. But as I went back over his earlier work, it struck me just how much Spielberg’s filmmaking language owes to horror. Obviously, several of his earliest films – Duel, Something Evil, Jaws – actually are horror films. But I’m intrigued by how many of his other films rely on horror tropes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - A Galaxy Not-So-Far Away



One thing I always found interesting about George Lucas's Prequel Trilogy was the way he expanded the Star Wars universe by going back to his original well of inspiration for the first film: the popular movie genres of his youth. So if the first Star Wars (aka A New Hope) was an homage to old sci-fi serials and Westerns, then The Phantom Menace was a Biblical epic (complete with a chariot race), and Attack of the Clones a combination of noir and syrupy romance and sword & sandal flick, and Revenge of the Sith a gangster movie. Watching Lucas try and bring such oddball genre elements into his otherwise fairly well-defined sci-fi world was fascinating, even endearing -- and it's one of the reasons that I don't hate the Prequels like many others do. Though they're wildly uneven, they're still dazzling feats of imagination, and even their very unevenness feels like a result of a directorial personality at work.

J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, comes from a different generation than Lucas, and he most likely didn't grow up with those genres. The good news is, he evidently grew up watching Star Wars. So, in his own way, he’s made a movie that homages the film genre of his youth. In other words, The Force Awakens feels very much like a Star Wars movie -- maybe even more so than the Prequels. It doesn't expand the universe so much as indulge in it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inside "Out 1": A Revisitation, Of Sorts


"Sadly, madame, today is not the day for private conversations."
Here’s another one from the archives. Back in 2006, I was lucky enough to catch a screening of Jacques Rivette’s 750-minute long, largely-unseen 1972 film Out 1, described by many at the time as a kind of Holy Grail of moviegoing. It’s a challenging film, to be sure, and despite the extreme patience involved in sitting through such a long film I realized it also warranted multiple viewings. Beautiful, haunting, and uniquely engaging, this seminal phantom of world cinema was no less mysterious to me, having seen it, than it had been beforehand. That still didn’t stop me from writing about it for Nerve.com at the time.

The film is now making a two-week stand at BAM. I was hoping to revisit it beforehand to try and write about it again, but, well, 13 hours and all that. (It was hard enough to see back in 2006, when I didn't have a family, or a life, or a job, or two.) So I thought I would re-run, with some modifications, the Nerve piece -- which I also revisited several years ago, when Out 1 made an appearance on German DVD. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Duke of Burgundy: Discipline and Languish



It’s hard not to look at Peter Strickland’s portrait of domination and desire and not feel at times like it’s a corrective to how sexuality is portrayed in the mainstream. The Duke of Burgundy, which came out with a whimper earlier this year (right around the same time as Fifty Shades of Grey) but hits Netflix this week, even begins with a nod to the softcore films of the 70s: A beautiful woman in a cape, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), rides her bike through a woodsy setting as soft pop plays on the soundtrack. The colors are super-saturated, the credits are blocky and old-fashioned; we even get the occasional freeze-frame. But that self-aware opening belies the film’s deeply felt sense of place and passion – not to mention the rigor of the filmmaker’s vision.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Time Out of Mind: Watching Richard Gere Disappear


As a homeless man wandering the streets of New York in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, Richard Gere does the opposite of commanding the screen; he vanishes. Not in the way that an actor might “disappear” into a part: Gere isn’t that kind of transformative performer. He vanishes in a more basic sense. He cedes the frame, and the soundtrack, to the people and the city around him. His character has lost everything, and is quickly losing his sense of self as well. The very form of the film reflects that.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Eden: A Very Sad Movie About Bringing Joy


Save for a couple of brief, telling instances, nobody in Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden ever seems happy. Surprising, perhaps, for a film about DJ culture. Or maybe not. "Between euphoria and melancholia," is how the film's central character, Paul (Felix de Givry) describes the particular subset of electronica he specializes in, “New York Garage with a Parisian twist.” And Eden captures that balance well. It's a very sad movie about bringing joy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

“This Is Our Furiosa.” Mad Max: Fury Road and the Moments In Between



There’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through Mad Max: Fury Road that speaks to one reason why I love the film so much. It comes during one of the film’s rare quiet scenes. Max (Tom Hardy), Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and their small lot of refugees have arrived among the Vuvalini, the all-female warrior tribe from which Furiosa was stolen, along with her mother, many years ago. Most of the women remember Furiosa only dimly: She was taken, as she says, “7000 days” ago, “plus the ones I don’t remember.” They ask what happened to her mother. “She died, on the third day,” Furiosa replies. And then the Vuvalini reflexively perform a quiet, brief mourning gesture – holding a hand up, grabbing at the air, and bringing it to their chest. After seeing them, Furiosa herself slowly does the gesture as well.

This exchange lasts all of twelve seconds, and it’s probably easy to miss, or ignore, for some. But every time I see the film, it strikes me as a deceptively profound moment. Watch Theron’s performance here: As she grabs at the air, her haunted eyes watch her own hand, as if she were seeing it for the first time. Her face is that of someone remembering something that was once probably very much a part of her – not just her mother, but this whole Vuvalini ritual, and the sense of belonging it implies. She’s re-learning, in other words, the person she used to be.