Monday, November 23, 2015

Don't Look Back (1967) A Film by D.A. Pennebaker

"In an age when Bob Dylan occasionally comes down to earth to lend gravelly gravitas to a Chrysler commercial or to half-heartedly spoof his own tactful reserve in an IBM spot, it's possible to forget that he was once the most enigmatic iconoclast in the musical world, his slippery identity impervious to both the prying inquiries of the press as well as the more innocuous curiosities of his fan base. But even 48 years after its release, and well into Dylan's current phase of relative transparency, D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back retains something of a forbidden quality, a feeling that we shouldn't be privy to the things it shows us. Granted, it's precisely this intimate access that the behind-the-scenes documentary theoretically sells, but long before this particular kind of film congealed into a recognized genre, not to mention before label operations micromanaged artists to such an extent that anything approaching an “unfiltered” exchange between documentarian and celebrity was a logistical impossibility, Pennebaker was stealing private moments that the entire world was salivating for, but had no reasonable right to witnessing." Continued on at Slant Magazine, where I review the new Criterion Blu-Ray.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Out 1 (1971) A Film by Jacques Rivette

"In a hushed sequence in the penultimate installment where one character begins to explain the 'dangerous things' Colin has gotten himself into, Rivette discreetly reverses the dialogue track when it seems crucial revelations are on the horizon. The result is an unintelligible, uncanny garble (one imagines David Lynch had this effect on his mind when he conceived of the Red Room dialect in Twin Peaks) that singlehandedly puts to rest any and all expectations that this mounting mystery will be 'solved.' In doing so, Out 1 subtly pivots into a more reflective mode for its final hours, one that officially dissolves the concrete details into ciphers and red herrings and redirects attention to the sources of the anxieties driving them." Full review of this 13-hour behemoth, about which I was decidedly ambivalent, over at Slant Magazine.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kwaidan (1964) A Film by Masaki Kobayashi

"Kobayashi's directorial control of these milieus is total, which is apropos given the fact that Hearn's stories feature characters in thrall to the whims of outside forces. For what ultimately amounts to slim (in incident, if not necessarily in length) and predictable tales of ghostly infringement on quotidian life whereby the arcs and the outcomes are more or less the same, it's the complete harmoniousness of the mise-en-scène that keeps them engrossing on a moment-to-moment level, unfolding less like crescendos to narrative surprises than wades through persistent and inexorable hauntedness." Full review of the heart-stoppingly stunning new Criterion Blu-Ray here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Blind Chance (1987) A Film by Krzysztof Kieślowski

"In the beguiling but dense opening minutes of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blind Chance, a series of succinct vignettes, arranged chronologically, but not in way that's immediately apparent as such, introduce us to Witek (Boguslaw Linda), a young Polish man. Strung together by the kind of ethereal theme music that would become a Kieślowski signature throughout the 1990s, various episodes from Witek's life play out as though the disconnected fragments of a pre-death hallucination. Among other vivid snapshots, he takes math lessons from his father, bids farewell to a childhood companion, peeps through a window as a child at an administrative meeting of some kind, kisses a girlfriend while being heckled by the occupants of a departing cargo train, and participates in an autopsy in a crowded medical room." Full review of the new Criterion disc here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Man with the Gun (1955) A Film by Richard Wilson

"A lonely town that's lost its way, a nasty land baron out to gouge it of its remaining assets, a solitary gunmen with a reputation for vigilante justice, and the saloon girl he left long ago—Richard Wilson's Man with the Gun is practically Western 101. On the other hand, it's hardly a course in filmmaking. Where certain directors from the era of the classical western were able to elevate familiar genre elements through the sensitivity of their touch, Wilson works the material with all the gracefulness of a lumberjack chopping away at firewood. His appropriately matched star is Robert Mitchum, who in his stiffer performances (this certainly being one of them) waddles through scenery like a hunk of meat willed partially to life." Continued here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Forbidden Room (2015) A Film by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson

"The film's unruly scene recreations play out largely as fictional dramas, with one purely comical exception: a how-to demonstration about taking baths. Significantly, the scenario, which features Louis Negin as a cleansing expert who looks like Hugh Hefner's long-lost cousin, suggests ephemera from the 1960s or '70s. Branching off from this crude instructional-video pastiche are mini-movies evoking a far earlier vintage. In fact, as Maddin, key creative collaborator Evan Johnson, and editor John Gurdebeke tunnel deeper into their film's expanding and contracting shape, they also appear to work backward through the history of filmmaking technology, with mid-century Technicolor riffs flowing into early sound simulations flowing into silent passages." My first 4-star review at Slant Magazine continues here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

99 Homes (2014) A Film by Ramin Bahrani

"Naturally, the politically minded Bahrani has his sights on moralizing, not on probing the seediest depths of the central parasitic relationship, so while 99 Homes could have shaded waywardly into fairy tale (Shannon the Big Bad Wolf to Garfield's Little Pig), instead it stays firmly planted in social realism. In realizing this veiled gangster yarn, Bahrani places emphasis not on the ghastly mastermind, but on the naïve underling gradually comprehending the full extent of his boss's Darwinian extremity, the righteous intention being to awaken the audience, simultaneously with Dennis, to the cruel machinations underlying the taken-for-granted neutrality of residential space. But, and notwithstanding Garfield's impressive work selling his character's profound gullibility, this arc isn't particularly illuminating..." Continued at Slant.