Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Art of the Real

"For those still reeling from seasickness induced by Leviathan, Art of the Real has the tonic. Dead Slow Ahead, another experimental, largely nocturnal portrayal of industrial seafaring, moves with the lava-flow tempo suggested by its spot-on title, with director Mauro Herce's camera a seemingly high-tonnage contrast to Leviathan's plethora of featherweight recording devices. Panning, tilting, and dolly movements are sparse, usually occurring at paces almost imperceptible to the eye as they scan the musculature and intestinal corridors of a gargantuan cargo ship pushing through the Atlantic toward New Orleans like an undigested chunk of food exiting the body. An organism at once labyrinthine and blocky, it becomes the primary object of study for Herce, who appears only to reveal the human laborers on the vessel incidentally—and even then, as tiny instruments within the alien mechanics of the larger machine on which they toil."

That's an excerpt from one of my pieces this year on Film Society of Lincoln Center's Art of the Real series. I wrote two dispatches on the festival: one on festival highlight Dead Slow Ahead and Jose Luis Guerin's The Academy of Muses, and one on Ben Rivers' What Mean Something and Italian entry Il Solengo.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Green Room (2015) A Film by Jeremy Saulnier

"Bigotry ends up playing little direct role in the reckless murderous corruption that advances the plot of the locked-room thriller Green Room. Still, Jeremy Saulnier bluntly sets the record straight, early and often, that the thugs who run the exclusionary heavy metal club in the backwoods of Oregon where the film is set and who cover up crimes on their own premises are wretched, loathsome pieces of shit undeserving of a space on this planet. When our heroes, a woebegone punk quartet called the Ain't Rights, arrive in the titular backstage lair before a gig they've taken in the express interest of some much-needed cash, the background of every shot is littered with a cornucopia of advertisements for modern history's most oppressive institutions: swastika wall scribbles, Confederate flags, and all kinds of shiver-inducing decals advocating for the supremacy of the straight white male." Review continues at Slant.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) A Film by Richard Linklater

"Just as Magic Mike XXL cast aside threatening social realities to occupy a utopia of its own volition, Everybody Wants Some!! luxuriates in a world that's the platonic ideal of youthful indulgence. It pictures an undergraduate atmosphere bursting at the seams with the usual vices (excessive drug use, dick-first thinking, hazing rituals), yet palpably lacking any sense of menace or predation. Female behinds are ogled, and always by both characters and camera (yet significantly always in that order), but the guys remain goofs longing for affection, while the girls are equally eager to find a companion. Indeed, everybody wants some." Full review of Linklater's latest gem at Slant Magazine.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Trip (1967) A Film by Roger Corman

"Roger Corman's The Trip is exactly what one would anticipate an exploitation film made in 1967 about an LSD experience to be, offering its only pretext for its psychedelic indulgences during a madcap credit sequence where hack commercial director Paul Groves (Peter Fonda) is visited on a beachfront set by his wife, Sally (Susan Strasberg), with whom he's going through a divorce. Despite nearly being swallowed up by a jagged Electric Flag fusion number blaring away on the soundtrack and interfered with by title cards set against what looks like swirling colored molasses, the brief exchange between the couple is lovely in its understatement, with currents of regret and longing coursing implicitly through their shared glances as lines of communication are interrupted by the chaos of the shoot." Review continues at Slant.

Monday, March 21, 2016

I Saw the Light (2016) A Film by Marc Abraham

"Of course, this being a biopic in the most hackneyed mold, meaning one whose every scene is dictated by a slavish subservience to biography at the expense of psychological exploration or aesthetic experimentation, I Saw the Light also features various musical performances of Williams's most famous ditties. Some play out in Bible Belt recording studios, where typically cantankerous producers incite contractual quarrels, and others occur under golden stage lights, with hypnotized audiences singing along (look closely, though, and the extras in the crowd seem shaky on the lyrics). Rarely, however, does the film evince the pleasure Williams took in performing music. Whether he's scanning the auditorium for his next one-night stand, visibly fuming over a sarcastic remark delivered by a bandmate prior to the count off, or wading into cryptic pre-song banter while drifting off in a morphine-induced high, the performances scan as perfunctory stop gaps between the contrived depictions of a troubled man's descent into oblivion." Full review at Slant.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Eldorado XXI (2015) A Film by Salomé Lamas

"A muddy, trash-lined path snakes up a mountainside 18,000 feet about sea level in La Rinconada, Peru—the highest human settlement on Earth. Gold miners in hardhats and baggy canvas trudge wearily along this path as twilight gives way to pitch-dark night. The camera assumes a downward view, cramming the weave of the walkway into the widescreen frame so that it rises to the left in the foreground, tapers off to the right, and slopes toward the middle where there's a murky vanishing point. And with the exception of a handful of pre-credit establishing shots of snow-capped villages, this optically complicated but rather dramatically monotonous shot—over which the non-synchronous sounds of laborer monologues and regional radio programs are heard—constitutes the entire first hour of Salomé Lamas's Eldorado XXI, seemingly aligning the filmmaker's project with the durational landscape films of James Benning and Sharon Lockhart." Review continues at Slant.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Seijun Suzuki Introduction

"Like any shrewd workman, Suzuki was at his best when turning his limitations into strengths. Crowded shooting schedules encouraged impromptu technical experimentation, such as the in-camera superimpositions that became a unique Suzukian flourish when depicting internal states. Meanwhile, with the assistance of longtime production design collaborator Takeo Kimura, tawdry studio-built sets were embraced for their flimsiness, and it became a trend for Suzuki to disassemble them in the climaxes of his films so that his characters were suddenly adrift in two-dimensional color fields. In repeatedly calling attention to the artificiality of the medium and the construction of the narrative world, Suzuki’s form began to mirror his governing conception of society as a set of meaningless codes whose flimsy sense of order could easily be thrown into chaos."

"Time and Place are Nonsense: The Cinema According to Seijun Suzuki," a traveling program focused on the career of Japanese director Seijun Suzuki, is coming to the Harvard Film Archive. I wrote the introduction to the series, as well as program notes for Gate of Flesh, Youth of the Beast, Kanto Wanderer, Carmen from Kawachi, Fighting Elegy, and Story of a Prostitute. Read on here.