Thursday, September 29, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)

High strung

Travis Knight's debut feature (and Laika Studios' fourth) Kubo and the Two Strings functions (as does most of the moviemaking outfit's projects) as welcome alternative to the Pixar/Disney school of animation--darker and not without horrors.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Amok Time (Joseph Pevney)

For the 50th anniversary of Star Trek

Mad men

Fifty years! Fifty years watching and re-watching and poring over the minutiae of this '60s show by TV veteran Gene Roddenberry that lasted at most three seasons (that third almost universally reviled) featuring low-budget effects, cardboard sets, green-dyed women. Broke some ground with a racially diverse cast, was mostly forgiven for the somewhat misogynistic treatment of women (Short-skirted uniforms anyone?), was generally considered the most intelligent science-fiction TV series of its time (if we forget Dr. Who and The Prisoner). 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

8 Mile ( Curtis Hanson)

Bad rap

The title of Curtis Hanson's latest film 8 Mile refers to the avenue separating Detroit proper and Oakland County, and is one of its roughest neighborhoods. Hanson gets the look of the area right--the liquor stores, the gun shops, the closed-down factories and abandoned red-brick houses, even the spindly, leafless trees with branches groping for the gray sky (autumn doesn't seem to exist in Detroit). I spent a few years in that city, and found it fascinating to watch people walk the streets. They never seemed in a hurry to get anywhere, nor have a particular destination in mind; it's as if they simply needed to keep moving, otherwise they'd grind to a permanent stop--

Thursday, September 15, 2016

High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, 2015)

The high life

Ben Wheatley's version of J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel is I suppose as good an effort as any to bring to the big screen an in my opinion unadaptable untranslatable writer.

The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang)

Excerpt from my piece on the 1999 Hong Kong International Film Festival 

The Happiness of idiots, the dreamlife of angels 

Tsai Ming-Liang’s The Hole is superb, worlds away from Ang Lee’s light, melancholic comedies; he’s closer to the heavygoing style of Edward Yang or Hou Hsiao-Hsien--slow pacing, deadpan acting, heavily philosophized filmmaking--yet somehow his film glows with the excitement of a bold and truly speculative imagination. 

Crash (David Cronenberg)

Sex in the new millennium

(an excerpt from an old article) 

In David Cronenberg’s Crash sex takes on a radically different character altogether. The film--about a man named Jim Ballard (James Spader) who is involved in a car crash--is an encyclopedia of perversions involving car crashes and car-crash wounds and everything in between. Ballard makes love to the woman whose car he crashed into (having killed her husband in the process); he makes love inside the car he crashed in; he even makes love to the healed wound of a car-crash victim. Later, he meets others with the same obsessions and watches as they stage clandestine re-enactments of famous accidents (James Deans’ for example). 

Friday, September 09, 2016

Pete's Dragon (David Lowery)

Pete's dragging

Walt Disney Studios in case you haven't noticed has been remaking its movies with mostly dire results. There was the live-action The Jungle Book (which digitally rendered India a uniform gruel gray); the live-action Malificent (which totally bypassed the splendor of the original--possibly the only Disney animated feature I really liked--in favor of a puny little girl-power parable) and I hear that Kenneth Brannagh did a live-action Cinderella (which I missed, thankfully; there's only so much punishment a critic can take).

The 1977 Pete's Dragon wasn't exactly a Disney classic come to life--it's not as funny as Jungle Book, does not feature cute rats like Cinderella, does not frighten you with a ten story high walking nightmare clad in clashing nightblack armor, bristling sable steel pikes a la Sleeping Beauty. There's room for improvement in the original, an entire apartment building's worthtantalizingly promised by the opening sequence--man woman and child driving through forest road, reading a children's book (Elliot Gets Lost) and discussing adventure. "That's the other thing about adventures," declares Pete's dad; "you got to be brave." At which point of course the deer hits the fan. 

Friday, September 02, 2016

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)


Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is his unique brand of bizarre deadpan humor translated into feature-length English. The premise is imaginative: in a faintly futuristic society single adults or freshly single adults are checked into a resort and given forty-five days to find a suitable mate; if they fail, they're turned into animals, literally, the only upside being they have a choice of which.

"--have you thought of what animal you'd like to be if you end up alone?" the protagonist David (Colin Farrell) is asked.

"Yes. A lobster."

"Why a lobster?"

"Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives."