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.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Happy Hour (2015) A Film by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

"Hamaguchi arranges most sequences around a handful of static, roomy medium shots that subtly suggest emotional dynamics through camera and actor positioning; several scenes around a dining table demonstrate how much the director is able to express, how much latent energy he brings to the surface, merely through who's in and out of the frame. In an excruciating trial scene brimming with the defense's implicit sexism, Hamaguchi develops his shot choices around the axis of Jun's head, keeping her central as the dehumanizing processes of the court play out in the distant background. The use of pillow shots and choices of placid interstitial music reveal Hamaguchi's kinship to Yasujirō Ozu and Hirokazu Kore-eda, but the film's formal DNA bears more traces of Eric Rohmer, who was similarly expert at orchestrating extensive dialogues with a minimum of overt directorial statement." An excerpt from my review of the wonderful Happy Hour, showing at this year's New Directors/New Films festival in New York.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Vikings (1958) A Film by Richard Fleischer

"Christians and heathens. Two shorelines and a black, foggy sea. Organized hierarchies behind stone barricades and drunken hysteria in the ocean mist. The Vikings, an underappreciated relic from the heyday of 70mm super-productions and about as rollicking a good time as can be had at the movies, is cut with the bifurcated simplicity of a folk tale: A virginal princess-to-be is kidnapped by barbarians, in turn stoking a rivalry between two bastard brothers as well as clan warfare. It’s a film of thick impasto brushstrokes, unremorseful in its indulgence in broad contrast. Ritualistic ceremonies honoring new unions within British royalty are juxtaposed against Rabelaisian revelries fueled by frothy tubs of ale and testosterone. And the sniveling, saurian King of civilized Northumbria of course receives the most extreme foil: the booze-swilling, ass-grabbing, giddily amoral paterfamilias of the Vikings." Reviewed a new Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release of this film over at Slant.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Hello, My Name is Doris (2015) A Film by Michael Showalter

"Despite some grace notes, such as Kyle Mooney's hilarious turn as a mealy-mouthed photographer, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for jokes built so unapologetically around the spectacle of a character's daffiness. Field's efforts to convince are thwarted continually by scenarios that make Doris a walking gag, and it's not until a late-stage reality check that the script nods to the bruised psychology influencing her artificial awakening. Still, what's most palpably and regrettably missing is the sort of self-consciously absurd riffing that powered David Wain's They Came Together, which Showalter co-wrote." Full review at Slant.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Spies (1928) A Film by Fritz Lang

"Horizon lines and vanishing points can sometimes be about as rare to come by in Fritz Lang's cinema as tracking shots are in Yasujirō Ozu's. In 1928's Spies, because of the geometric enclosures of the sets and the frequently downward-facing scan of Lang's camera, the background of the 4:3 frame is nearly always a wall, the ground, or a cluster of set elements that foreclose the margins of the characters' space. As in the opening shot, which shows a padlock up close before two ominous gloved hands enter the frame to pry at the lock. Lang first conceives of a restricting visual field and then confines human figures within it—all the better to hint at the invisible forces that govern individual lives." Continued at Slant.