Monday, December 15, 2014

Philippe Garrel's Jealousy

Jealousy, a 77-minute brisk waltz through a series of relationships (always ending, never beginning), is my choice for the film of the year. It's a film by Philippe Garrel, a director whose work extends back to the New Wave, but works here like the era never ended. Shot in black and white 35mm, it often feels like a relic of lost time, a slippage of memories carefully stitched together in the hope that one may learn from past mistakes. It opens with a woman crying and closes on a man staring blankly before turning off a light, and in between these shots is a search for truth in others, a fool's ambition.

"Love has its limits," an old mentor relays to Louis, played by Garrel's own son (also Louis). Louis claims his power to love beyond anything, but by this point we know there's a difference between what he says and what he's done. He's gone one wife and one to a second, Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), but it doesn't take him long to begin prospective kisses without any emotional warning. Louis and Claudia profess their undying love in one scene while always searching beyond the frame for something else. They occasionally hint at the deep seeded mistrust underneath their words of desire, which in fact only create the fuel for the titular emotion to begin a search outside their cramped apartment.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three on A Doorway

"The lock isn't very practical, is it?"
"Not it's not so very practical...I guess it will serve its purpose."

"Outside your door was the last guy in the world I wanted to see."

Friday, November 28, 2014

Link Round Up: "Painless and Perfect"

Another near the end of year massive link round-up, covering everything I wrote (sans the book) since September.

I made my debut in Sight & Sound Magazine in November with a piece on Steven Soderbergh's TV series The Knick, which may not be the best series to grace the non-theatrical medium, but damn it—Soderbergh proves all my stray observations about how just because it's television doesn't mean aesthetics should come second. 

In lieu of New York Film Festival, Los Angeles provides us with the bigger, perhaps a bit more eclectic AFI Festival. Since most of the major titles were already at Cannes, I wrote about Joel Potrykus's recession-bro comedy Buzzard, the modestly quirky coming-of-age meanderer Tu Dors Nicole, the latest WTF from Takashi Miike Over Your Dead Body, and JP Snaidecki's The Iron Ministry. Plus I spoke about Lav Diaz's From What Is Before on a recent podcast.

Another recent film festival visit—New Orleans! I graciously served as a juror for the Louisiana Shorts section of the 25th Annual New Orleans Film Festival, and also wrote about the wonderful experience at RogerEbert.Com

Wrote about some movie called Interstellar. You may have heard of it. And also this other thing called Gone Girl.

Also wrote about two other new movies of relative merit: Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip (which is of great proportion) and Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (which deserves at least some consideration).

In the canonical masterpiece territory, on John Ford's My Darling Clementine, and finding a postwar poet of cinema.

And on The Cinephiliacs, New Orleans local Angela Catalano on starring a popup cinema and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Alex Ross Perry on his idiosyncratic approach to independent cinema and Husbands and Wives, and Kim Morgan on Marilyn Monroe and Something Wild

And on Letterboxd...
Hitchcock: Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent, Vertigo
Expressive Esoterica: Dark Passage (Daves), Cure (K. Kurosawa), The Blue Gardenia (Lang), Chicago Calling (Reinhardt), Notes on the Circus (Mekas), Whirlpool (Preminger)
Far Side of Paradise: Papillon (Schafner), The Country Girl (Seaton), Baby Doll (Kazan)
Contemporary Stuff: Abuse of Weakness (Brelliat)
Marxism: Class Relations (Straub/Huillet)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bleeding Fruits

The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, USSR, 1968) /Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France, 2014)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Milkyway Goes America: John Wick

"In Hollywood films, repetitions of situations or lines of dialogue tend to measure an arc of progress or degree of development. Art cinema tends to use repetition to establish mundane routine, to suggest psychological states eddying underneath behavior, and to create symbolic parallels. Wong Kar-wai’s repetitions often fulfill these functions. With To and Wai, repetition is used as an almost mechanical device, rhyming characters, bits of business, and settings in ways that suggest a closed world ruled by rather narrow laws [...] The tendency toward mechanical, somewhat absurd repetition of action, tics, and props goes along with another method for tightening the plot. To and Wai turn from the Hong Kong episodic norm by creating more intricate chains of action than other local filmmakers attempt. But instead of relying on character development, they devise schemes—plans, usually devious, that central characters put into motion. In To’s plots,characters plot."
—David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong 2.0

John Wick, a Keanu Reeves-starring revenge thriller developed by Chris Stahleski and David Leitch (responsible for 2012's The Package), features only two scenes of elongated fabula, where a character explains motivations, backgrounds, or other details that usually create the theme of a film. While I doubt if Wick's screenwriter Derek Kolstad has even heard of Milkyway Image (he cites The Raid in an interview), the film's screenplay can't help by recall Johnnie To's motto to "leave blank spaces" (liú kōng) and have audiences fill in the edges of the minimal exposition. While the simplicity of the plot (a standard revenge tale, which sadly involves the death of a poor puppy) is miles behind the complexity of To and producer Wai Ka Fai, John Wick doesn't follow the rules of the way Hollywood tells it, and instead relies on inference.

I understand why my colleague Vadim Rizov could see the various schemas built by Kolstad's screenplay to be in service of some cinematic building universe scheme in the Marvel, but the construction of the dialogue never emphasizes these points: no character ever explains what a gold coin is nor the "dinner reservations" hot line. Or it is better to say, these narrative events only make sense as plot elements as they are happening in the moment. The relationship between Reeves and Willem Dafoe's hit men follows a similar schema: their background is left ambiguous, and Dafoe's motivations via his two "helping hands" only make sense via an inference pattern based on previous information. Additionally, the latter of these two scenes works as both narrative surprise and payoff as built on the previous scene—there is no set up or even hint of a set up. When Dafoe later returns in a scene with Main Baddie Michael Nyquist, there is never any forced explanation of how Nyquist jumped from Assumption A to Conclusion B. This isn't completely in the realm of Milkeyway Image's even more didactic elliptical storytelling, but it's getting closer to a terse style of dialogue that minimizes any forced exposition.

John Wick, however, is primarily an action film, and thus has been rightfully praised for the film's intensely choreographed and brutally graphic violence. As both Ben Sachs and Stephanie Zacharek have eloquently elucidated, the action sequences rely on a series of steady long takes in carefully choreographed minimalist spaces (not abstract, but clear lines, backgrounds, and diagonals) with enough distance by the camera to capture the movements while never diluting their visceral impact. But there's more to Wick, however, and it isn't that the film build some relationship to ballet as many action films are now compared to. In fact, what makes the film both brutal but also stunning is the specificity to the sequences. Wick treats each bullet like a part of the physical matter. Men aren't just shot—they are hit in the arm, a leg, or a head. Reeves actually holds and aims a gun, so that there is a clear visual eye-line created between the aim of the weapon and the eventual entry point of every bullet, and most random baddies require multiple shots in a variation of bodily locales to actually sedate them. And then there's the reloading, which is constantly happening throughout the film, even made into one of the film's funniest jokes during the Red Circle sequence. John Wick thus slowly plays between its more expressionist functions—lush, saturated colors that reflect into the film's over-accentuated drama—and its realist attitude of relating each body on screen to a physical presence, while also implementing the film's coded language to avoid any forced awareness of the narrative schemas at play.

This is all to say, John Wick treats violence in a way different from To's movies and instead via the same way the titular protagonist does so: violence is violece, which is both an amoral and essential act.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Images of the Day 10/13/2014

Norman Rockwell, Freedom From Want, USA, 1942
Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, USA, 1974

Monday, October 13, 2014

The End Is Here! "Approaching The End" Now In Stores

This week sees the release of Approaching The End: Imagining Apocalypse In American Film, better known as my book. I couldn't be more excited to share this essentially three-year-in-the-works project with you. First things first: you can buy the book right now here from the website! Please put in an order!

Need to be convinced? How about an excerpt. Read part of the section I wrote about John Carpenter's awesome Reagan-era satire They Live, and why living in doom is the best option possible.

How about another excerpt? Over at RogerEbert.Com, I go backwards in time to examine how Days of Heaven turns noir's urban anxiety into a universal one.

How about something more contemporary? I wrote about the Liam Neeson thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones, which turns out to be the best apocalyptic movie of the year

How about a review of the book? Scott Von Doviak writes, "Idiosyncratic choices make for engaging film criticism, and Labuza’s arguments are generally persuasive."

How about a video essay? Here's a new video essay on re-thinking film noir, written and narrated by yours truly and edited together by Jason Elrod!

More to come later this week! Keep watching this space for writing, event announcements, and more!

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Closed For Interpretation: Lars Von Trier's Nymhomaniac

Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Director's Cut is now available on VOD, and will play select theaters. The following essay reveals the ending of the film, along with many other narrative aspects that may be considered spoilers.

Lars Von Trier has made a career out of stunts: explicit material, crass juxtapositions between the high and low, casting of unexpected actors, and outlandish statements. This makes Von Trier at once a nuisance in contemporary cinema—someone who thinks he is telling the Real Truth when it’s just a satirized form of regular ideology—and perhaps a necessity. It'd be great if the American vision of contemporary Euro-Art cinema was, say, more Alain Guiaurdie or Thomas Arslan, but instead we have Von Trier and Herr Haneke, mostly because the way they directly invoke and challenge the expectations of Hollywood cinema. In a way, they urge us to balance our diet of Hollywood cinema with their “cultural vegetables.” Von Trier’s cinema wouldn’t exist without someone to gasp at it.

This is all to say, the easy reading of Nymphomaniac, his five and a half hour opus, would be as a self-critical examination of the director’s own career. One could even place each of the chapter's into the various sections of his filmography: plot points from Breaking The Waves, a direct quotation of a scene and the music from Antichrist; is the scene of Joe and the African men is a play on Manderlay? Even Joe's discussion of Hitler and the way Seligman misinterprets her point of evokes Von Tirer’s indiscretion at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Notes Toward A "Late" Soderbergh

I have an upcoming piece on Steven Soderbergh's The Knick, his fantastic medical drama now showing on Cinemax. While writing it, I revisited a piece I began over a year ago on what I called the "Late Soderbergh" period (a poor name in hindsight), covering an era beginning with The Girlfriend Experience and assumably ending with Behind The Candelabra. It was a wild and ridiculous essay, trying to cover way too much ground with flimsy cohesion. I eventually abandoned it. Revisiting the 10,000 word document, however, I found some insights that helped me contextualize The Knick as well as my own thoughts on how Soderbergh evolved in this era. What follows are some excerpts from that, which I found still managed to make sense, and hopefully have some use.

Young and naive Adam (Alex Pettyfer) sits on a couch, pumped up from adrenaline from the experience he just had. On a complete whim, he has does stripped down to almost his bare ass for a loud of screaming young women. He was awkward and a bit silly, unsure of what to do, which made his so-called “performance” all the more exciting for the crowd. He sits on a couch while the rest of his now-colleagues celebrate and joke around for another successful night. Still dressed in only underwear, dollars are flowing out of his pants, as if his cock was spewing it. His body has a value, and we can see it right there.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Link Round-Up: Sunny Pastures

A brief summary of recent work...and as noted before, I am now located in Los Angeles! If you are here too and would like to meet up, shoot me an email sometime!

The Toronto Film Festival is well underway, and I am sadly not there. Luckily I was at Cannes, so my coverage of that covers many of the major titles. I did write about two Locarno premiers, however: Matias Pineiro's The Princess of France, a beguilingly wonderful chapter in his continuing Shakespeare series (I wrote about Pineiro's other films here). And Songs From The North, an interesting if limited essay film from Soon-Mi Yoo examining life in North Korea.

Approaching The End, my first book, is now available for pre-order. BUY BUY BUY! (You can also buy off Amazon, but it'll ship slower and for what its worth, the giant corporation inhales over half the profits. I note this not for my own royalties, which don't change, but the press is blooming and could use your help!)

For its new Criterion Blu-Ray, I wrote about Bresson's Pickpocket and its more technical aspects, attempting to put it in conversation with Warners Gangster films and less with ideas of "transcendent" cinema.

Three more episodes of The Cinephiliacs, and all fantastic ones: Former Chicago Reader critic and MoMA curator Dave Kehr on Columbia crime films and The Whistler series, critic and Double Play director Gabe Klinger on Raoul Walsh's The Bowery, and Village Voice critic Stephanie Zacherek on The Dave Clark Five in John Boorman's Having A Wild Weekend.

New Letterboxd Updates:, 
The Contemporary Cinema: Boyhood (Linklater), Lucy (Besson), Ida (Pawlikowski), Venus In Fur (Polanski), 22 Jump Street (Lord/Miller), Policeman (Lapid)
The Canonical Cinema: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick), The Abyss (Cameron)
The Silent Cinema: Why Be Good?, The Eternal Grind, Travelin' On, Lilac Time
Orson Welles!: Too Much Johnson
Auteurist Cinema: Our Man In Havana (Reed), Eva (Losey), Nothing Sacred (Wellman), Escape in the Fog (Boetticher), Panelstory (Chytilová), Niagara (Hathaway), Crooklyn (Lee), Tale of Cinema (Hong)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Art of Oneself — Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction

In many ways, the Transformers movies have always been somewhat plagued by a weird quasi-meshing of Spileberg's penchant boy-growing-up-among-the-awe narratives with Michael Bay's own crass maximalism (a meaningless word, but how else to describe what's on screen). Age of Extinction eliminates the main component of the former director's hand - Shia Labeouf's alienating and always too smug every-boy - in favor of Marky Mark Wahlberg, who mutates into whatever he needs to be from scene to scene (techie, overly concerned parent, football star, machine gun expert). It's a good metaphor for the film itself, which struck me as a work completely outside of its own interest as a film made by a studio for entertainment. Instead, it morphs into a parade of advertisement for each of its backers — Hasboro, Victoria's Secret, Chevrolet, and Budweiser (not to mention numerous Chinese sponsors I didn't recognize). The last of those companies comes up in a scene so crassly made that you could snip that 30 seconds from the film and it could have easily been a spot during the Super Bowl. A colleague of mine once posited that movie theaters are slowly morphing into the mall—a space for people to hang out more than experience film, and this film certainly made that experience seem like less a warning of doom than a proposition of truth. Goodbye Cinema, Hello Capitalism 2.0.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Link Round-Up: Summer Blues

If you look to the left, you can see the cover of my book. And soon enough, you can buy it! Neato!

My friend Kevin B. Lee, who came on the podcast in January of last year, has released his most ambitious video essay yet, entitled Transformers: The Premake. I discussed this work at The Film Stage

I also reviewed two more Blu-Rays for The Film Stage and tried to put them in conversation with each other: Antonioni's L'Eclisse and Kiarostami's Like Someone In Love. Both are wonderful and the transfers look fantastic.

A surprisingly decent transfer would also be the new DCP of Eric Rohmer's A Summer's Tale, which is finally receiving a theatrical release in the United States. It's my favorite movie of the year, and I explain why over here. I also review a so-called "new release" movie, Clint Eastwood's beguiling and somewhat wondrous Jersey Boys.

On The Cinephiliacs, Adam Nayman joins the show to talk about his book about Showgirls entitled It Doesn't Suck, and we also discuss Mia Hansen-Love's debut feature, All Is Forgiven. He also tears Jason Reitman to shreds. 

Over on Letterboxd...
New films! Nadiv Lapid's Policeman and Lord and Miller's 22 Jump Street
War documentaries! William Wyler's Memphis Belle and John Huston's San Pietro
From Asia! King Hu's A Touch of Zen and Kenji Mizoguchi's Women of the Night
Big Auteurs! Alain Resnais's Melo and James Cameron's The Abyss

Monday, June 16, 2014

Link Round-Up: Post Cannes, Pre-Apocalypse

I gotta get a better system of making sure I update this...

My first book, Approaching the End: Imagining Apocalypse in American Film, is still due out in October. Here is the list of films I'll be tackling in it: Kiss Me Deadly, The Lady from Shanghai, The Big Heat, The Rapture, God Told Me To, Days of Heaven, Strange Days, The Terminator, They Live, and Southland Tales. There is also extended talk of Out of the Past, In A Lonely Place, In The Mouth of Madness, and The World's End.

I went to the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, and it was a truly spectacular experience. You can see my Top films of the festival here (and a complete ranking on Letterboxd), and a special Cinephiliacs episode recorded at the Palais. There were a few films I never got around to writing about (Techine, Lapid, and Ostlund in particular), but I did manage to write about the following films...
-Winter Sleep (Ceylan, Turkey) - Competition, Palm D'Or Winner
-Foxcatcher (Miller, USA) - Competition, Best Director
-Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK) - Competition, Best Actor Award (Timothy Spall)
-Maps To The Stars (Cronenberg, USA/Canada) - Competition, Best Actress Award (Julianne Moore)
-Goodbye To Language (Godard, Switzerland) - Competition, Jury Prize
-Mommy (Dolan, Canada) - Competition, Jury Prize
-Leviathan (Zvyagintsev, Russia) - Competition, Screenwriting Award
-Grace of Monaco (Dahan, France/USA) - Opening Night
-Timbuktu (Sissako, Mali) - Competition
-The Captive (Egoyan, Canada) - Competition
-The Homesman (Jones, USA) - Competition
-Welcome To New York (Ferrara, USA/France) - Marketplace
-National Gallery (Wiseman, UK) - Director's Fortnight
-Saint Laurent (Bonello, France) - Competition
-Amour Fou (Hausner, Austria) - Un Certain Regard
-Jauja (Alonso, Argentina) - Un Certain Regard
-Two Days, One Night (Dardennes, Belgium/France) - Competition
-Lost River (Gosling, USA) - Un Certain Regard
-The Search (Hazanavicius, USA/France) - Competition
-Hard To Be A God (German, Russia) - Marketplace
-The Tale of Princess Kayuga (Takahata, Japan) - Director's Fortnight
-Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas, France) - Competition

Catching up with Cinephiliacs episodes, I've got two episodes from Philadelphia with Carrie Rickey on Clueless and Sam Adams on The Long Goodbye, and then Philip Loppate talking Charulata and Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky on The Seventh Victim.

And then there's my Criterion reviews! I've got looks at Riot In Cell Block 11, an investigation into the two different cuts of Red River, and a look at an essential bonus feature on the Blu of All That Heaven Allows - Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies.

Two more Masters of Cinema Blus are on the way with booklets edited and compiled by yours truly: Elia Kazan's Boomerang! and John Cassavetes's Too Late Blues. More information on those at a later date.

Some stuff on Letterboxd: 
-New Stuff: Godzilla, The Amazing Spider-Man, Riddick
-Old Stuff: White Threads of the Waterfall, Utamaro and His Five Women, The Little Foxes, Melo, In Harm's Way

Friday, June 13, 2014

Frame of Reference: Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves

Night Moves, a decidedly didactic feature from Kelly Reichardt, is a film that is set deliberately within the closed-off minds of its protagonists, a set of eco-terrorists set on blowing up a dam in Oregon. Because of this lack of an outside, Reichardt does not offer an easy set of morality and politics to offer up to create a point of comparison. The closest the film ever comes to creating an antagonist is a local fertilizer seller who simply wants to follow the government’s rules about needing to send in a social security number in order to purchase the substance. Instead, Reichardt’s critique is crafted through her trademark minimalism, a film that examines the ripples of a pure ideology. The film’s protagonist Josh, played by a phenomenally minimal Jesse Eisenberg, is brimming with paranoia at every second. But he’s also rarely looking past the frame.

Using a genre for something more crafty and subdued was also buried deep within Riechardt’s last feature, Meek’s Cutoff, a Western with a shift of power so subtle it was lost on many audience members. Night Moves seems to be having somewhat of a similar reaction, with the recognizable genre elements overpowering her real motivations (there is also an issue that the director has decided to attack a liberal cause, a facet many critics have labored on). The totality of the director’s intentions are present throughout, especially during an early sequence when Josh and Dena (Dakota Fanning) meet up with their fellow conspirator Harlon (Peter Saarsgard) at a local diner. Each can’t trust the other, raising issues to each other about the loyalty of the other to the mission. These people are looking inward, not outward, and Riechardt always positions one against two within the frame. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Link Round-Up: Va-Va-Boom!

Many, many updates follow. I promise to be better at doing this more than once a month.

My Masters Thesis for Columbia University is being updated, revised, and expanded for a book! Coming in October from The Critical Press, you'll be able to purchase Approaching the End: Imagining Apocalypse in American Film. The book will cover my theories on film noir and its connection to American melodrama and various atomic, religious, and technological apocalyptic narratives. You can read an expanded note on what will be covered here.

Another thing worth picking up: Little White Lies's May issue, which is dedicated to Richard Linklater. There are fantastic pieces by Jordan Cronk, Gabe Klinger, Vadim Rizov, and editor David Jenkins. My own piece covers Linklater's films set outside of his homeland of Austin, Texas, which covers the Before films, School of Rock, and Me And Orson Welles, you can pre-order the issue here.

The Criterion Collection continues to be busy. I reviewed a number of new discs for The Film Stage, including Dreyer's 1925 silent curiosity, Master of the House, Akira Kurosawa's "this is so much more than Star Wars" epic The Hidden Fortress, and three newly restored shorts by Harold Lloyd, which can be found on the new Blu-Ray for The Freshman

My conversation on "dated films" with Abbey Bender wrapped up on To Be (Cont'd). You can read the first, second, third, and fourth posts here respectively. Then check out the April conversation between Glenn Heath Jr. and Tim Grierson on the work of Jonathan Glazer. I gave my own brief on his new film, Under the Skin, over here.

If you aren't following The Cinephiliacs, you've missed conversations with Dana Stevens talking about Portuguese poetry and Max Ophuls, Mark Harris on his fantastic new book Five Came Back and the Hollywood directors who went to war, and Matt Lynch on America's largest independent video store and the morality of John Woo.

Over at Letterboxd, I've written some posts on
New Films! Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, Juame-Collet Serra's Non-Stop, Albert Serra's Story of My Death, Hong Sang-Soo's Our Sunhi, and The LEGO Movie.
Canonical Works! Stranger Than Paradise, An American In Paris.
Really good things off the radar! Powell and Pressburger's Oh...Rosalinda!, Richard Fliecher's Violent Saturday and Barabbas, Claire Denis's No Fear, No Die, Jacques Rivette's Secret Defense, Robert Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight, and Sweetgrass from Harvard SEL.

Finally, I'm proud to announce that in the fall, I'll be switching coasts and beginning my PhD in Critical Studies at the University of Southern California. The move is somewhat terrifying, but I hope to continue to keep trying to provide fantastic writing on film and more.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kings and Pawns: Internet 3.0 and Bujalski's Computer Chess

For those outside the academic world of cinema studies, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies is the super big sprawling academic conference for film studies in the world, featuring dozens of panels and hundreds of papers, and a good deal of drinking. This year's conference in Seattle was my first year attending, and I enjoyed many of the papers I heard, including one examining the special effects of Bringing Up Baby, the relationship between slow cinema and gallery spaces, and how data mining of scripts and trades can be used to improve narrative analysis and industry research.

I also got to present a paper, which was on a panel looking at how new media products were changing social and aesthetic precedents. My paper was somewhat of an outlier - focusing on Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess - so I changed it to look at how the film can be seen as a response to Internet 3.0. You can listen to the paper below.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Link Round-Up: Stuff I've Been Writing

Much more over with the good folks at Variety, including the pretty funny Kevin Hart comedy About Last Night, the not particularly good but whatever horror film Haunt with Jacki Weaver in a small role, the deplorably stupid Down and Dangerous, and the deplorably moralistic and simply pointless Lucky Bastard. These kind of reviews are fun to write!

Over at To Be (Cont'd), the March discussion is between Abbey Bender and myself on the idea of timeless films, dated-ness, and the historical spectator. I wrote the fist post here. It also has gotten some great response over at The Dissolve through Noel Murray's excellent "Feedback" column.

Over at The Film Stage, I tried to find the Soderbergh side to his not-so recognizably Soderbergh film King of the Hill, which is now out on Criterion Blu (and has his 1995 feature The Underneath as a bonus feature).

Over at In Review Online, I dug further into Vulgar Auteurism with Paul WS Anderson's Pompeii, a pointedly disappointing work from the man. Never go without Milla again, good sir.

If you haven't heard Kent Jones on The Cinephiliacs, then something is very wrong with you.

On Letterboxd, by auteur:
George Cukor: The Philadelphia Story, A Woman's Face, Born Yesterday, The Marrying Kind, and A Star is Born.
Delmer Daves: The Hanging Tree
Johnnie To: Sparrow and Running on Karma
Hong Sang-Soo: Oki's Movie and The Day He Arrives
Teinosuke Kinugasa: Crossroads and A Page of Madness
Edgar Ulmer: The Light Ahead, Murder is My Beat, and Beyond the Time Barrier.
Silent Stuff: Chaplin's The Kid and DeMille's The Cheat

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Resnais's Science Fiction

Providence, Alain Resnais, 1977
It's right to talk about the science-fiction element in Resnais. But it's also wrong, because he is the only film-maker to convey the feeling that he has already reached a world which in other people's eyes is still futuristic. In other words he is the only one to know that we are already in the age where science-fiction has become reality. In short, Alain Resnais is the only one of us who truly lives in 1959. With him the word 'science·fiction' loses all its pejorative and childish associations because Resnais is able to see the modern world as it is. Like the science-fiction writers he is able to show us all that is frightening in it, but also all that is human. Unlike the Fritz Lang of Metropolis or the Jules Verne of Cinq cents millions de Ia Begum, unlike the classic notion of science-fiction as expressed by a Bradbury or a Lovecraft or even a Van Vogt - all reactionaries in the end - it is very obvious that Resnais possesses the great originality of not reacting inside science-fiction. Not only does he opt for this modern and futuristic world, not only does he accept it, but he analyses it deeply, with lucidity and with love. Since this is the world in which we live and love, then for Resnais it is this world that is good, just and true.


Resnais is an agnostic. If there is a God he believes in, it's worse than St Thomas Aquinas's. His attitude is this: perhaps God exists, perhaps there is an explanation for everything, but there's nothing that allows us to be sure of it.

—Jacques Rivette, in conversation with the editors of Cahiers du Cinema, issue 97, July 1959. From Jim Heller's Cahiers Du Cinéma, the 1950s: Neo-realism, Hollywood, New Wave.

Alain Resnais was 91

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Henry Fonda, Opposite Grave

“Will you take the driver, go by a floral shop, pick up some flowers and put them on Irving Cobb’s grave, you know and a say a prayer for both of us?”

-John Ford to Andy Devine during the making of How the West Was Won, recorded in Devine's Oral History at Columbia University.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Link Round-Up: New Views

I promise to get better at updating this quicker so anyone who wants to know what I'm doing will not be confused. So here we go.

I am now writing for Variety. Yes, *that* Variety. I am honored to join a team that includes Scott Foundas, Peter Debruge, and Justin Chang leading the charge, among many others. I'll have a few reviews in the month of February, but for now my first piece is on Freezer, a not so good movie about Dylan McDermott trapped in a freezer. Gotta start somewhere.

Were you looking for my Top 10 films of 2013? I talked about my choices with Keith Uhlich on The Cinephiliacs, which you can listen to both Part 1 and Part 2. My choices also come in a list-handy form on Letterboxd.

Thief came out on Blu-Ray via The Cirterion Collection, so I wrote about how Thief is still pretty awesome over at The Film Stage. I also edited this fantastic conversation on the film between Jordan Cronk and Nick Usen at To Be Cont'd.

Jean-Claude Van Damme re-teamed with Peter Hyams for Enemies Closer. Could have been better, but not the worst way to spend January at the movies. I reviewed over at In Review Online.

On The Cinephiliacs: Noah Isenberg, the author of the recent biography on Edgar Ulmer, and former Film Society of Lincoln Center slash New York Film Festival programmer Richard Pena. Both are excellent listens.

On Letterboxd...The Wolf of Wall Street, Dangerous Game, Chaplin's A Day's Pleasure, Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre, Howard Hawks's Red Line 7000 and The Big Sky, Cukor's The Women, Wellman's Lady of Burlesque, The Freshman starring Harold Lloyd, The Color Wheel, Shanghai Express, Hong Sang-Soo's In Another Country, Arthur Penn's The Chase, The Typhoon with Sessue Hayakawa, Aldrich's Emperor of the North, and Minnelli's Gigi.

I finished my graduate degree. More TK on what follows.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Images of the Day (2/4/13)

Meet Me In St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)
Gigi (Minnelli, 1958)
Statues never lie.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Miklós Jancsó (1921-2014)

A scene from Silence and Cry (Jancsó, Hungary, 1968)

The “tracking shot in Kapo,” a little seen film by Gillo Ponecorvo, has become short hand for a type of aestheticization of the Atrocities of War, an easy out for criticism to label depictions of horror on moral levels via aesthetics. Many critics (including myself at times) often feel queasy attacking a film on moral grounds (the usual “what gives us the right to judge” connotations etc etc), but formal discussions become fair game to sneak such articulations in. This is our expertise after all.

Miklós Jancsó’s tracking shots don’t offer easy aesthetic answers in terms of their morality. Formally they are breathtaking: dollies, zooms, whip-pans, the whole works to create a lucid sense of space, one that is not about tracking us through a space, but disorienting us. Jancsó shifts emphasis throughout – information (ie. the characters) enters and exit the frame; they become the dominant center before suddenly retreating to the background. It’s different from what Robert Altman would do, because Altman treated everyone equally. Jancsó’s shifts are more sudden and jerky; scenes are always interrupted by the presence of new information.

If morality of films were only judged by their formal elements, Jancsó would be more damning than Kapo. Except Jancsó’s political explorations justify such aesthetics. He lived in a country that was literally torn: first during the war, and secondly between its Soviet influence and its Western aspirations. A film like The Red and the White, the agreed upon canonical title of his work, presents an seemingly unending war in which victors, villains, and victims are all one in the same. His idea of a tracking shot is not to sweep us up in emotion. It’s to throw us around into the shit.

Jancsó passed away yesterday. David Hudson provides more news here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blu Wings

In my continuing work with Masters of Cinema, my latest booklet is on William Wellman's glorious and Oscar winning epic Wings from 1927. It's a wonderful film, and a unique one for Wellman's career, who would go on to create some of the most bizarre and lovingly made B movies like Night Nurse, Westward the Women, Yellow Sky, and Lady of Burlesque

Wings is perhaps his most famous film, and thus the booklet does what it can to honor the film and Wellman. It includes a fantastic new text and image essay from Gina Telaroli entitled "This is the excellent foppery of the world," a 1978 interview with Wellman by Scott Eyman, and an excerpt from his own autobiography discussing his own relationship with the stuntmen he worked with. 

I did find a few more things through my research, and while some of them fall under certain copyright restrictions that I cannot reproduce here, this excerpt below falls under fair use and is worth your time: "Half Way To Heaven," by Albert Boswell, which is a 1930 profile of stuntmen published in The New Movie Magazine (and only ran for about five years). Thanks to the wonderful folks at Lantern, I was able to track this down. Alas, space kept it out of the booklet, but it's a good read for you before you buy the Blu-Ray