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.