Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Walk Cheerfully, That Night's Wife, and Dragnet Girl (1930-33) Films by Yasujiro Ozu


"In 1930's That Night's Wife, Walk Cheerfully and 1933's Dragnet Girl, Hollywood genre films in general stick out like product placement, albeit with an appreciative rather than mercenary function. It's a significant running detail, as Ozu's filmmaking in these early capers is unmistakably, spiritually indebted to American genre cinema without necessarily incorporating any specific references. Beyond their pulpy plots, which all more or less take the form of crime-doesn't-pay parables, there are visual flourishes that Ozu would largely dispose of as his career progressed." Reviewed a new Criterion Eclipse package of three silent Ozu films for Slant Magazine.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Vincent and Theo (1990) A Film by Robert Altman


"Known for scene-scanning telephoto shots that seek to dissolve the traditional limitations of the frame, Robert Altman might have seemed a counterintuitive filmmaker to take on a film about painting, which must always work within a static canvas. But Van Gogh, of course, is no ordinary painter. As portrayed by Tim Roth in the placid historical snapshot Vincent & Theo, Van Gogh's fatal frustration was his inability, despite a career-long knack for pictorially implying movement and spatial vibration, to get beyond the tyranny of the frame. If there's a generous streak within Altman's mournful, fatalistic period piece, it's in granting Van Gogh the pictorial totality that he never discovered as an artist." Continued over at Slant Magazine is a full review of a new Olive Films' Blu-Ray of Altman's 1990 film.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Marfa Girl (2012) A Film by Larry Clark


"Ethnic conflict, generational clashes, and sexual carnality are nothing new in Clark's universe of tanned flesh, dirty 'staches, and distant adults. What's happened with Marfa Girl is that these thematic threads have been hitched to a plot that makes their inclusion feel first and foremost like points to stress on a diagram rather than natural extensions of the milieu. Clark's inclination toward explicit depictions of teen sexuality has always flirted with the pornographic, but the addition of an outsider character like the Marfa Girl whose chief role is to be promiscuous and to share her thoughts on her promiscuity with everyone she meets serves mostly to underline these directorial instincts as a perverse intrusion on the fictional environment." Full review at Slant.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Creation of Meaning (2014) A Film by Simone Rapisarda Casanova


"At first glance, The Creation of Meaning's title seems unapologetically, unambiguously direct with regard to the film's spectatorial challenge. The film starts by offering a series of disparate stimuli: talk of Italian-German conflict during World War II, a group of young students, a mountainous Tuscan landscape clouded in fog, a solitary farmer trudging through thick brush, a shot of a beetle toppling itself over. These discrete components of image and sound exist somewhat autonomously in the context of a languorous visual style where takes can run as long as 15 minutes, which frustrates an impulse to make dialectical associations within the montage." Continued over at Slant as part of coverage for the New Directors/New Films Festival.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Run All Night (2015) A Film by Jaume Collet-Serra


"Sadly, this time around, in spotlighting his star's fatigued charisma, Collet-Serra's formidable filmmaking chops have plateaued. Run All Night deals in slick professionalism (DP Martin Ruhe brought similarly peerless craft to Anton Corbjin's first two features), but it's short on the formalist surprises that have animated Collet-Serra's B-movie career thus far. Alongside the shifty subjective camerawork and mirror-play of Unknown or the three-dimensional text message windows of Non-Stop, Run All Night's visual gimmick—hyper-detailed Fincherian aerial glides that connect the film's disparate Big Apple locations—is comparatively banal and inconsistently deployed." Full review at Slant.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) A Film by Melvin Van Peebles

Of Melvin Van Peebles’ furious but short-circuited cinematic sojourn I’d only seen The Watermelon Man until now, which looks practically clinical and anonymous compared to the impassioned energy of the much more down-and-dirty Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. That so many have objected to the film on the grounds of its prioritization of technique over all else is a frustrating confirmation of the exact same dominant white man's aesthetic bias that Peebles is aggressively rejecting with this movie (walking out of the screening, friend and fellow critic Jake Mulligan astutely pointed to the discussion in Something in the Air about the extent to which revolutionary ideas must be expressed with revolutionary aesthetics, rightly implying that Peebles’ film lands on the side of the mad young radicals). Progressive intentions aside, though, it's clear that Song is expressing its ideas through discursive stylization rather than classical notions of narrative, character and theme, and it’s absurd to hoist upon it conditions which it doesn’t even set for itself.

Peebles’ gamble is more about destroying any sense of pleasantness, coherence (temporal or spatial), or fluidity from his film’s surface in an attempt to harass the cultural hegemony that habitually subjugates black expression. The movie’s violent layering of beats—a mash-up of various 20th century African-American musical heritages such as funk, jazz, spirituals, street folk—is the gutsiest move and achieves the most tremendous effects, as a cacophony of clashing sound escalates into a sonic mess that wages war with the buffoonish hollering of the white pursuers. Peebles complements this aural disarray with a splatter of visual excess: snap zooms covering the entire spectrum of some of the longest zoom lenses available to 16mm guerrilla filmmakers, in-camera superimpositions, prismatic filters, disorderly handheld work and an onslaught of staccato cuts to traveling shots, all filtered through a quintessentially 70s palette in which the sky’s more burnt orange than blue. This overabundance works best when Peebles’ own character (a fugitive escaping from the largely white police for typically dubious reasons) is on the go, less so when making pit stops at his whorehouse for inert vignettes of awkward missionary sex. Fortunately, Song’s final movement into the desert is relentlessly peripatetic, and it’s where the style crescendos to a primal scream of outrage. Who, during a sequence of such phenomenally grating sensory bombardment, would be foolish enough to go looking for “dramatic content”? Vincent Canby, that’s who.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (2015) A Film by Daniel Alfredson


"Before long, Heineken and an anonymous piece of human bait have been holed away in windowless, soundproof rooms, at which point the movie stops dead in its tracks—though, to put it more accurately, the undisciplined chop job that is the central kidnapping sequence does little to build momentum in the first place. Without committing to any particular narrative focus, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken devolves into something like an interminable newscast of the actual events, intercutting perfunctorily between the clumsily scheming captors, their confused loved ones back home, and the increasingly delirious prisoners." Reviewed here.