Monday, June 27, 2016

Dark Night (2016) A Film by Tim Sutton

"The first four images of Dark Night, Tim Sutton's contemplation of civilian gun violence in America, have a fragmentary precision that's gutting. First, a girl's eye is studied in close-up as red and blue light—seemingly the incandescence of either a movie screen or fireworks—flashes over it. Then, streaks of refracted red light blink rhythmically across the top of a dark frame, forcing us to reconsider the source of the initial glow as potentially that of a police siren, followed by a shot of a larger red smear, underneath which a distant American flag slowly waves. This sequence is capped off by a wider angle of the girl, who's sullenly slumped on some grass at the side of a road as the unfocused legs of onlookers bob in the background and ambulance sirens creep into the otherwise hushed soundscape."

Full review here.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Fantastic Planet (1973) A Film by René Laloux and Roland Topor

"Fantastic Planet's blend of straightforward, almost elementary storytelling (any missing context is filled in via a voiceover by Jean Valmont as the adult Terr) with heady themes and eroticized imagery marks the film as a relic of an era with much looser standards around the dichotomy of the children's film and the adult drama. Also pinning it to the early 1970s are the unmistakable assimilations of psychedelia into the Ygam ecosystem: The Draags nourish themselves by sidling up against sproutings of plant life and inhaling for extended periods of time, after which their souls, encased in tiny orbs, rise upward to attach to headless naked bodies, which then proceed to tenderly embrace. Casually liberated sexuality runs rampant on Ygam, from the female Oms whose breasts hang freely to the various phallic and vaginal estuaries in the landscape. Even the Oms' rocket ships, which propel them to one of Ygam's moons in a tactical effort to evade the Draag's gassing assaults, leave no question as to what their shapes are meant to evoke."
Full review here of the Criterion Collection blu-ray.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Shallows (2016) A Film by Jaume Collet-Serra

"For four films in a row now, Jaume Collet-Serra has placed modern image-capturing devices—a security feed in Unknown, smartphone cameras in Non-Stop and Run All Night, and now a GoPro in The Shallows—into his plots as carriers of empirical evidence that in some way click the narratives into place. It's an auteurist quirk that's getting increasingly difficult to write off as merely a techie fetish or an act of pandering to his touch-screen-savvy audience, especially since the wildly popular matchbox-sized HD machine at the heart of The Shallows permits Blake Lively's embattled surfer to record a soulful message to geographically distant loved ones that might otherwise have gone unexpressed. The camera also literally acts as the savior of the story, floating into her vicinity just when it seems all hope is lost." Review continues here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Robert Aldrich Retrospective

The Harvard Film Archive is hosting "...All the Marbles (The Complete Robert Aldrich)" this summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I'm proud to say I contributed the introduction, as well as program notes on Kiss Me Deadly, World for Ransom, Ten Seconds to Hell, The Legend of Lylah Clare, Attack!, The Longest Yard, Big Leaguer, Apache, The Last Sunset, The Choirboys, The Dirty Dozen, Kiss Me Deadly, The Prowler, Sodom and Gomorrah, Too Late the Hero, The Grissom Gang, 4 for Texas, Hustle, The Southerner, The Angry Hills, The Frisco Kid, Emperor of the North, and The Big Knife.

Here's an excerpt of the intro:

"In many ways, Aldrich came out of the gate with a will to impress and a sensibility largely formed. In the first three years of his career alone, he directed Apache, one of the first Hollywood Westerns to center on a Native American protagonist (despite a bronzed Burt Lancaster playing him) and treat the subject of the white man’s colonization of the West bluntly; Vera Cruz, a financially triumphant vehicle for Lancaster and Gary Cooper; Kiss Me Deadly, a cause célèbre for the tough-to-please Cahiers du Cinéma clique and a sly retooling of the film noir genre; and The Big Knife, a scalpel sunk deep into the charade of a movie industry founded on duplicity and authoritarianism. These were films that aimed to make a mark, upturning expectations for the genres in which they worked and casting a view of society as inherently broken, a wall against which principled men must relentlessly push. They laid down the archetype that would course through Aldrich’s entire body of work. In his words, 'It’s the same character in a number of pictures that keeps reappearing…a heroic figure, who understands that the probabilities are that he’ll lose.'"

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Alchemist Cookbook (2016) A Film by Joel Potrykus

"Joel Potrykus's last film, Buzzard, placed its loafer protagonist in a crushingly dull middle-American milieu until he went berserk, with the donning of Freddy Krueger fingers and Halloween-store masks crudely symbolizing the rejection of a status-quo existence while also staying well within the bounds of realism. His new film, the beguiling The Alchemist Cookbook, begins where Buzzard left off, with the numbing social context a thing of the past and the hero, like some metamorphosing movie monster of yesteryear, transforming hastily into something beyond (or sub) human." Full review of The Alchemist Cookbook, which plays as part of BAMCinemaFest, continues here.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy

"Musical leitmotifs play a central role in Wim Wenders's 'Road Trilogy,' acting as both mood-setters and structural backbones. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alice in the Cities, which contains in one track, an arpeggiated acoustic guitar and synthesizer loop banged out in an afternoon by German krautrock group Can, the entire methodology and temperament of what would become a philosophically linked series of films. In musical-theory terms, the piece drones on an Aeolian modal chord and never settles on the root, creating a suspended sense of irresolution and uncertainty that aptly sets the stage for the 1974 film's meandering dramatic trajectory, as well as its ultimate view of life as a series of chance encounters without a clear end point." Full review of the new Criterion blu-ray here.