Category Archives: Of General Interest

“I can’t go out there.” – September 25th, 2012

So, okay. Yeah, stuff happened. Shit went down in the pound, and shit. My life is one of constant flux, and order out of chaos. But, here I am, again. Like the gnat in your ear that lays eggs in the canal, reminding you that armchair film-critics with long-winded opinions about movies won’t go away. We can never really die, because we are immortal, and part of the neo-spiritual ephemera created by cyberspace.

So, alright. To start off, here’s a list of films that will be receiving some type of review in the very near future, as I stretch my finger-bones again and get back into the mood of things. These are some of my favorite films, for one reason or another, that I’ve seen in the long span of time that I’ve been gone – the reasons for which are many, but they primarily involve women, money and some variation on those two themes. More on that later, if there’s interest.

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn) – Such a visceral piece of cinema. It really is the only film I can think of in recent memory where the term “hallucinogenic” can actually be applied without not meaning anything. A punch to the gut, a throwback to those economically paced car chase films of the seventies, a minimalist representation of the Man-With-No-Name archetype (or, one who tries his best to be that archetype, despite all appeals to sanity and the contrary that the film makes along the road), a dream on film that slowly, almost imperceptibly shifts into a nightmare. Violence bursting in at the edges, and then crashing through, unannounced and unwanted, but unavoidable – and for the main character, inevitable.  Enough has been said about this already, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m saving all of my creative genius-juice up for it, however. I have an extra testicle that I keep it in, that this film made me drop.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) – It’s a film that’s entirely reliant on its gimmick, but it’s also a joy to watch. Yes, it’s story is as old as cinema, but that’s kind of the point – it’s a framework for experimentation and a tribute to, not just silent cinema, but cinema in general. It’s simplistically plotted, almost to a fault, but the emotions ring true. Also, very few have made note of the implicit element of parody in the film, and I want to write something about that.

Tree of Life (Terrance Malick) – Probably Malick’s most divisive movie, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a three hour tone poem about man’s place in the scheme of the universe, about the relationship between the micro and the macro – hefty things to attempt in any medium, but if there was any filmmaker who could take those bold, and yet vague, ambitions and turn them into something beautiful, it’s Malick.

 The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan) – I’m probably going to come out on the opposite side of history on this one, when all is said and done. After the second film, it is kind of a let-down. There are too many unnecessary elements to what could’ve been one of the most bold proclamations of cinematic spectacle, and Batman, put on screen in the last decade – why the nuclear bomb subplot when the revolutionary narrative angle was more than enough, and was more thematically interesting? Why the last minute reveal about JGL’s character? – but, for all that, there are moments of real brilliance interspersed throughout that make it a worthy successor to its predecessor. It is bold and ambitious, and I applaud and feel more forgiving of a film like this that  genuinely shoots for the stars and misses by this much than one that aims true for the cement.

The Avengers (Joss Whedon) – There’s not really much to write about this other than, “Dude, Captain America! Iron Man! Hulk! Together! On Screen! So awesome! And they’re fighting! So awesome! Sooooo awesome!” Which, to be fair, is essentially the reaction it was trying to garner, and it succeeds with aplomb, although Whedon’s style and personality could do to shine through a little more. Very fun stuff.

 Captain America (Joe Johnson) – A study in how not to structure an origin story, and also how to make superheroes really, really boring.  I’m not even one of those guys who has a problem with Captain America from a political standpoint – in fact, I think he was used perfectly in The Avengers – but, good god. This was maddening.

Thor (Kenneth Branagh) – Grand, Shakespearean opulence was never done so well as when Kenneth Branagh made it his own. Falls into narrative narcolepsy once Thor hits Earth, but every bit on Asgard is inspired, over the top, and sometimes appreciatively goofy. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is inspired casting. More on this later.

 The Master (P.T. Anderson) – I’ve yet to see it – a problem which will be remedied shortly.

 Cabin In The Woods (Drew Goddard) – Probably one of the more interesting films to come out of the “post-modern” school of thought since Scream. It also seemed like, near the end, that the film took a lot of inspiration from the SCP creepypasta series that have made the rounds of the internet since their inception some years back. It also has probably one of the moments I’ve laughed the hardest at in a movie, this year – it involves a motorcycle and a holographic wall. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) – Worst movie I’ve seen this year. That sounds hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. This was just terrible. It’s like a parody of the kind of movie that a nihilistic philosophy major in college would write – or, of a David Cronenberg movie, really. It’s just so monotonous, and with such a long-winded tonal drawl that it feels almost like it was intentional (and maybe it was). The only moment the film really came alive for me was a brief, three second shot near the end when Pattinson’s character swaggers down a dark alley, half-crazed with a gun in his hand. That moment had the kind of by-the-cajones feel that I expected the entire movie to have – not to make a judgment on the film based on prior expectation or anything, but it probably would’ve been for the best.

Killer Joe (William Friedkin) – Just a lot of fun. Especially for a Dallas local, like myself. So much unfortunate familiarity, so much sight-spotting. I don’t want to encapsulate this film too much as I am going to write up something larger on it pretty soon, but I really loved how Friedkin and Letts were able to use the charming, clean-cut “Matthew McConaughey” persona that he’s built up for himself over the years and stretch it just a little bit to the left into something genuinely terrifying. Inspired casting choice.

 Chronicle (Josh Trank) – It’s AKIRA: The Movie. There, I said it. That being said, however, it was also really enjoyable and intriguingly done, although the handheld camera framework is kind of unnecessary at the start of it and only becomes moreso as the film progresses. As AKIRA movies go, this looks like the only one we’re going to get, and it’s a perfectly fine rendition thereof.

 Detention (Joseph Kahn) – I loved this movie. Tons of fun. More to come on this one. Too much for a few sentences worth.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) – My brother and I have always said that one of the reasons that Wes Anderson’s recent films have failed to have any effect on us is that they’re essentially children’s films with adult characters, and while that’s something you can do with some very real and interesting success, it’s not something he can pull off quite so well anymore. Here, he makes a genuine children’s film, a fable about young love and individuality filtered through the pastels of adolescence, with ideas about burgeoning sexual identity and finding one’s place, and with his candy-colored visual aesthetic it just fits so well that it’s really, probably, one of my favorite films of this last year. Very affecting, and moving, and the end is one of the few to have me clapping at the end of it – the other being one that’s two spots down.

Prometheus (Ridley Scott) – I fell asleep during this, initially. After his first two films, Ridley Scott has developed for himself a really droney style that kind of acts as a go-to narcotic for me. There’s a lot of pseudo-philosophical ideas about Creation, and the concept of god, and how our place in the grand scheme might not be what we at all expect, and that’s all fine and potentially interesting, but they’re grafting it onto the framework of a series that has never been that before – and you say, Henry, it’s not an Alien film, it’s just in the same universe! And, you’d be right. But now it’s a piece of the mythology. It’s part of Ridley Scott’s personal canon for his original film, and it’s unecessary. The Alien films are slasher movies, or haunted house movies more like, in space. I mean, that’s it. And, as it stands, there’s not really a lot of room left for innovation. Interesting ideas struggle to breathe in this, suffocated by Lindelof’s need to please the fans. Set-pieces are anti-climactic and dumb. The whole film looks fakey and grey in that boring sepia color-correction scheme that seems to be the industry standard, now.

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow) – And, this is the second one. This is just a beautiful movie, near the top of my list for the year, and not at all the piece of hipsterism promised by both its ad campaign or the presence of Aubrey Plaza. This had both myself and the girl I went with in tears of joy and excitement by the end of it, and that’s saying quite a lot. More to come on this, later on. I don’t want to blow my wad on it too much.

Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev) – Another film I haven’t yet seen, but intend to. It looks brilliantly moody, from the trailer.

John Carter (Andrew Stanton) – It’s very pretty to look at, and occasionally exciting, but there’s a reason this movie failed, and his name is Taylor Kitsch. He is wood. More on that later.

 The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb) – I liked this a lot initially, but the more I thought about it, the worse my opinion of it became. There’s a lack of necessity that’s felt throughout the whole film, and it just reverberates so loudly in the changes they decided to make, just for the sake of it, without any regard to emotional or narrative consistency. I’m not a huge stickler for films sticking so close to their source material that they can’t breathe as works on their own, but guys – there’s a reason the Uncle Ben arc works so well. It kind of needs to be there, and in a much larger way than how it was presented. It has barely any impact at all. That said, I did enjoy the character arc they gave Peter Parker, in this – his gradual move away from vigilantism into genuine heroism, and his understanding of his place within the makeup of the city, and his relationship with Gwen – and  the action sequences, which are far more “Spider-Manny” than anything Raimi ever accomplished. But really, to get Spider-Man better than Raimi did, and thus grant this film any reason to exist at all, this film needed a really dark, kinky streak of Jay-Z or Mos Def, or any of those New York rap luminaries, in its hairline. Alas, Marc Webb, your name held so much hope.

The Intouchables (Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano) – This year’s “inspiring foreign film” is, surprisingly, genuinely inspiring, and a lot less trite than I thought it would be. Directed with no great thought toward mis-en-scene, the real gem of the movie is the relationship at the core of it, which is portrayed beautifully. I don’t understand why they made the caretaker black, though. I mean, if it were a fictional film, I could understand it, but. . .he was a real guy. And, he was white. He is very good in the role, though. Don’t misunderstand. I’m just curious.

Project X (Nima Nourizadeh) – Really quite fun, and harkens back to a time when teenagers still had house parties like this (yes, they did exist, though not to this extent). Not a lot to it once you get past the surface, but it’s shot surprisingly well for something that looks like was conceived over two fortnights. Also genuinely surprised at the scope of the party. It becomes a really visceral action film at the drop of a hat, and in that change, it wins my heart.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (Morgan Spurlock) – It’s a Morgan Spurlock documentary about Comic Con. It’s what you expect. And yet, it’s also very enjoyable, and heartwarming, and oh look, there’s Kevin Smith. I wonder how long it will take until he starts telling everyone about how he worked on the Superman Lives script that one time.

Battleship (Peter Berg) – Two big-budget bombs under his belt only months apart. It’s well deserved. Everything about this film is just so. . .dumb. It has no understanding or even a cursory knowledge of the science its film is concerned with. Every character is a cliche that acts like a wind-up toy set on a predetermined course, and things just start happening for no real reason at all. And seriously Taylor Kitsch, you’re just the worst.

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DIFF 2012 Reviews of “Cinema Six,” “Compliance,” and “Faith, Love and Whiskey” @ The Moving Arts Film Journal

I feel like every time I post here, I should probably remind my readers that I’m still alive. We should hang out more, blog.

I haven’t just been sitting on my laurels in the past two and a half months – a lot of that time has been spent trying once again to make the vast jump from film critic to creator, and I’m reminded of just how true that Douglas Adams quote is about how writing is essentially staring at a blank piece of paper until your forehead starts to bleed. Hopefully, something interesting will come out of it, this time around.  And if not, we aim to fail gloriously, and it’ll be an ungainly mess of random shots of feet, and uninhibited pretension of an amount previously unheard of since Troy Duffy himself, and you’ll all be the first to hear about it, either on here or in the obituaries and back pages of the Dallas Morning News.

But in any case, I’ve also been covering the annual Dallas International Film Festival, which this year landed basically right on my front porch. The first round of my reviews are up over at The Moving Arts Film Journal, including the aggressively middling Cinema Six, the disconcerting Compliance, and the beautifully lyrical Faith, Love and Whiskey, which you can find here.

 

Oh, and because I said I would, I might as well say hi while I’m in the neighborhood to one of the more interesting volunteers that I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with in my spare time this year.  So – hey, Diana! I see you! 🙂

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“Dancing Through Hardship: Why Happy Feet Two Is Better Than You Think” @ The Moving Arts Film Journal

 

You all knew there had to be a reason I was a little bit late writing about this one, I’m sure.  In any case, here it is – my thoughts on George Miller’s unfairly maligned Happy Feet Two, presented in the fullest critical extension, was just published over at The Moving Arts Film Journal. I’m kind of proud of this piece on a personal level, considering I managed to write it when I was sick with an exacerbated case of the flu, from overwork and copious smoking.  Give it a look-see.

Oh, and by the way – I’m back!

😀

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Will Canon’s “Brotherhood” @ The Macguffin Podcast

Okay, guys. I’m not dead, and I’m not in jail (yet – thanks, Dallas Police Department, you bunch of malicious, overfed schmucks) – truthfully, I’ve been working pretty steadily these last few months, with a full  circuit coverage of the Dallas International Film Festival and a few other things over at In Review Online – although, we’ll see if any of that’s ever actually posted. Finger’s crossed, I guess. Otherwise, I’ve also begun my stint in full at The Macguffin Podcast –  with two reviews a week and a column, but I’ll keep that under wraps until it’s out on the front page.  I’m particularly proud of it, and I think those of you who are, like me, from the implicit Campbellian/Jungian school of thought on storytelling and filmmaking in particular will get a kick out of it.

For now, however – my first review’s up, of Will Canon’s recently released and relatively interesting, grungy little restructuralization of Film Noir, Brotherhood. Which is a film I feel not a little sentimental about, as it was filmed entirely around my hometown of Arlington, Texas. And, watching it soon became a game of, “hey, that’s my old convenience store, and I used to live right by there!,” and so on. In any case, you can find it here.

In a little while, and purely for the blog, I was also thinking of doing some kind of retrospective on the Harry Potter films as they came to an end – I’m a lot younger than I might seem, and that usually surprises a lot of people. I’m only just recently twenty, and for about the past ten years, these films have played a large part in my generation’s shared pop-cultural experience, and mine in particular. Harry Potter’s our thing, and – for better or worse, as the films do have many of the same flaws that mar the books, nee’ Rowling’s small and implicit structural flaws and reliences as a writer – they’ve doubtless left the same kind of mark that Lewis’ Narnia series or whatever you’d like left so many years ago, and in a more immediate fashion. So, I want to take a look at that. Also, I like Harry Potter, and Emma Watson is like so effin’ hawt you guys seriously.

So, that’ll be up soon enough. Anyhow, enjoy!

Simon West’s “The Mechanic” @ In Review Online

 

 

Simon West is one of the newer studio-ready action directors – all sepia tones and intensified continuity, compounded with a tendency toward the occasional bit of unintentional schlock. Unfortunately, it’s also him behind this new remake of Winner’s gritty little seventies number “The Mechanic,” and the results – while not entirely barren – don’t really leave much to gander at, and very little of what is good about it can be attributed to West, himself. You can read my review of it here.

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Michael Gondry’s “The Green Hornet!” @ In Review Online

 

For what is hopefully the first of many articles under the In Review letter-head, I take a look at Michael Gondry’s just-plain-perplexing recent attempt at a superhero movie, The Green Hornet – which is a movie marked all through with sudden bursts of grim, out of place violence, racial undertones, and Seth Rogen; it’s pretty much a disaster when you think about it.

In any case, you can read my extended rant about it here.

To be up in a couple of days is a piece I’m actually quite excited about – looking at Will Canon’s Brotherhood, which is a film of particular interest to me, being as its the first film that I know of to feature my neighborhood and hometown – that  harsh, red Aggtown – on the silver screen, to the fullest. Ooh – gives me the shivers.

 

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“Marching Through A Blizzard At The Bottom of The World” – An Expanded Look at George Miller’s Happy Feet @ The Moving Arts Film Journal

George Miller’s wonderfully idiosyncratic piece of animation Happy Feet is experiencing of late one of those weird resurgences in critical popularity that a lot of movies seem to get, four and five years after their initial release. All over, people are starting to realize that this was a film that was doing a lot of new and interesting things, both visually and narratively, and that it deserved a lot more attention than it got – which is saying something, considering the media blitz surrounding its theatrical run. And considering this, I thought I’d take a look at just how it fits into the director’s filmography, in both a visual and thematic sense, by expanding the piece I’d done on it with Glenn Heath at the beginning of last year for our retrospective of the previous decade three-fold, taking a look at the continued use and presence of the barren, biting wasteland in his all of his films, and the implicit societal myths he creates within them, among other things. It was published just recently over at The Moving Arts Film Journal. And, you can read it here.

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A Message From the Management

Wow. A whole month and a half – apologies, folks. Lots of personal business going on over on my end of late that’s kept me from writing here and there and anywhere else – and, then my keyboard broke. And, my central hard-drive. And, my face.

It’s the luck of my peoples. In any case, it’s all quelled – back on the road, etc. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors. Bare with me for a little bit, and let me put the groove back into my well-worn armchair – shouldn’t take more than a week. We’re not dead, folks. Promise.

Also, sent to me earlier by a Samantha Weiss – why does that name sound so familiar? – an intriguing flowchart following the cast of Stallone’s recent meta-but-not-but-kinda-sorta action ensemble The Expendables and all of their kills in each of their previous respective movies. Thanks, Samantha – whoever you might be!

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“Tired Feet Syndrome” – August 21, 2010

Well, the last few things I’d mentioned and a couple of other potentials are currently being tossed around the management behind Slant’s The House Next Door – although, they’ve already got more than their fair share of writ about Nolan’s Inception from every possible angle, so that’ll either go up here or on Blogcritics, along with a look at Michael Winterbottom’s uneven, though nonetheless unnerving for it,  piece of psychodrama The Killer Inside Me.  Those’ll be around in a few days – but, at current I want to talk about something else.

Mike Stoklasa’s name is making the rounds everywhere on the internet recently, it seems – predominantly for his Red Letter Media series of reviews under the guise of 119 year old grandfather-cum-monster Harry S. Plinkett. And, to be sure, they’re all great stuff – any one of them, but especially his reasonably epic hour and a half long examinations of the first two Star Wars prequel films, are prime examples of the New School of internet filmmaking, as concisely edited and tightly put together as any theatrical documentary.  But, let’s not forget he’s done a bunch of other stuff too, this guy. And, one of those things that I’ve been obsessing over a little bit these last couple of days is his micro-sitcom The Grabowskis, which is  something very much like a Married With Children as conceived by David Lynch. And, it’s quite possibly one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a good while.

It’s a strange, potent mix of non-sequiter, dead-baby humor and sudden, whiplash turn on a dime subversion – all so obviously cartoony and over-the-top that there’s no risk of any real disquieting pause at any of the implications held therein; the couple’s baby is an obviously plastic doll that looks like it was pulled from out of some toy-store dumpster somewhere, giving off  occasional coos and cries so shrill and exaggerated that it’s almost nightmare-fuel, coming from its dead, plastic eyes and unmoving mouth. Everyone indulges in a violent, bloody slapstick to be redeemed like Looney Tunes characters episode after episode –

– which is, I think,  one reason that certain episodes, like the Chad Vader and Hardware Store ones from the final season, are so effective. We become used to these zany, weird and obviously comedic characters acting in ways that don’t at all seem self-serious that when, for example, the wife receives news that “her entire family was killed,” the couple responds by breaking down and weeping in a fashion so  remarkably prolonged and  down to earth that it kind of takes us by surprise. It’s a weird splash of cold reality to the face – and, just for a minute, we start to reconsider everything else we’d seen before. The husband, Cliff’s actions and disregard toward the baby and his wife (who’s really only known as Honey – first it seems like a term of endearment, but no really, that’s her name), and so on, which were up to that point something that was treated as purely and blackly comedic starts to look a little sociopathic. And, this continues in the Hardware Store episode – where, what begins as  an initially outright comedic kind of thing with some general sitcom-esque dialogue suddenly becomes on the turn of a phrase a mind-bending, Lynchian nonsequential nightmarish chase sequence, which further casts the husband as some kind of psychopathic monster, now shambling and bow-legged, not unlike what the Plinkett character would become later on – who seemed to be, at that point, mostly an occasional bit character played by Rich Evans without the mushmouth tobacco-chew tang provided by Stoklasa.

There also seems to be some occasionally touched-on themes of real neglect, never fully in the dialogue and never so seriously that it takes you out of the moment – but, a large point is made that, even though the couple at the center of the series depends largely on welfare and state services and live in a pitted-out ghetto neighborhood, they somehow seem to have enough money for Bluetooths and IPhones, which they constantly disregard as if they were reusable plastic toys, as well as all manner of booze and drugs which, speaking from experience, can usually run you a fair bit of money, or horse cock, especially in the ghetto. This is something that kind of comes full circle in the last episode of the series –  all throughout the running time, we’re reminded that the baby’s on the counter just behind them, something they seem to be only vaguely aware of . The final shot sees the husband run back into the apartment, right past his baby in full view, and grabs the toaster off the top of the fridge, after which he promptly runs back out.

And, then the baby promptly catches on fire. See this show. Do it here.

The Hardware Store

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