Aug 052017
 

This film was surprisingly boring. The problem? Almost every major plot point turns around arbitrary events that have no basis in what came before or will occur after.

For example, the alien’s caught outside and they’re going to keep it from getting back in by burning the engines. What? No fuel? Oh no!

Or they’re creating a trap and the doctor, for some unknown reason, sees the alien nearby but doesn’t say anything. He just pretends everything’s fine. Oops! Now it’s eating his leg.

Or the tech guy decides to open an airlock. Or there’s high-speed debris. Or there’s a malfunction in the __________. And don’t get me started about the tracker that works for precisely one scene.

In short, the story is confused about what its problem is: a dangerous monster loose on a ship or a fragile and failing shelter adrift in a deadly environment? The film thinks it’s about the first, but it’s organized around the second. That mash-up could work but doesn’t here.

And so by the end rather than being horrified (or even interested), I felt certain that these people were inept enough and their equipment shoddy enough that even if it were just the rat they kept in the lab that got out of its cage (not the alien), they would’ve still wrecked the station trying to catch it.

 August 5, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Aug 012017
 

I first heard about Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name early last winter and have been waiting on pins and needles ever since. And by waiting I mean, hanging on any bit of news or interview that pops up and that I happen to find. The first poster dropped a week or so ago, and it looks great:

And now there’s an official trailer:

Watched alongside the clip, that was released a couple months ago (below), it’s clear that Guadagnino is both respecting the source and making a great movie. Which means I’m more excited than ever.

 August 1, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Jul 252017
 

This film has a great premise, good effects, strong performances and exciting set pieces. Its story presents, on the one hand, a credible account of two people’s experiences (and emerging relationship) in an ethically provocative variation on desert-island scenarios. On the other hand, it creates a large scale (but neither mythical nor apocalyptic) problem that must be solved by two ordinary human beings. The final shots, which leap forward ninety years and offer a backward glance at the traces of their two lives—lives lived in solitude and out of sight but lives lived also, by all appearances, happily—are powerful, moving, and they’ve stuck with me.

Yet the reviews leading up to the film’s release were terrible—so much so that I waited to see it as a rental—and it seems to have done badly at the box office. And yet, this was not a bad movie at all. (Lesson relearned: don’t trust reviews!)

Popular judgments this bad aren’t a canary in the coal mine. They’re you watching with stinging eyes and burning nose as the miner a hundred feet down the shaft keels over.

Because if science fiction storytelling like this isn’t exciting enough to be worth seeing, then Marvel’s colonization of our mind-screens is near complete.

 July 25, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Jul 252017
 

Equals is a Gattica rehash insofar as it uses mid-century (read: old fashioned) modernism to represent a medicalized and bureaucratic dystopian future. Here though, the architecture is more central (and beautiful) and the love story is between seemingly younger characters. (The apparent youthfulness of the protagonists is important in the final act which cleverly cribs the last act of Romeo and Juliette.)

Although there are specifics to the story—it’s a postbellum world in which emotion (and so war) has been eliminated—these details don’t really matter because this is a love story about the allegorical possibilities blankness. Blank walls. Blank faces. Blank narratives. As a result, the movie is self-consciously “about” anything you read into it. Sexuality. AIDS. Depression. ADHD. The psycho-sociology of illness. I’m not sure any of this is very interesting and suspect that to the extent any of it is, it’s because the topic (rather than the movie) is interesting and that the movie therefore serves as a useful example or object for discussion.

As I watched I was caught up primarily in the acting. Blankness is hard to perform in film because, at it’s base, convincing cinematic performance involves creating a mildly blank expression that can be read by the spectator through projection. Yes, there are big scenes and “Moments” where the screen actor plays large and loud and broadcasts a feeling. But most of the time, actors underplay and merely suggest. Making the blankness that they normally use to create an effect visible as the effect itself is clearly difficult, and in the first act, I didn’t find Hoult and Stewart very engaging or convincing. However, once they are allowed to become people, they bloom (beneath the still blank surface of their faces) and things pick up .

As a side-note, Kristen Stewart playing blank and emotionally dull looked like Kristen Stewart playing Bella from the Twilight movies. When suddenly she began to play a person in love and happy, it was like watching a completely different actor. Seeing this film has convinced me she’s a real talent. I’m actually looking forward to seeing her in other movies now.

Jul 092017
 

This movie refuses to pretend to be anything other than precisely what it is: a camera that stares. In practice that means it risks being mistaken for a beautifully photographed but stuffy exhibit of period costumes and decors.

It’s not. It’s a camera staring with limitless curiosity at the face of Jean-Pierre Léaud.

A good example of this is an extremely long-take from early in the film. The movie sets its gaze upon a moment of Léaud’s performance, shooting him in profile in extreme close-up as he holds a smile for the members of his court attempting to entertain him in his bedroom. At first the smile is natural and pleasant. But then subtly the joy drops out of it, and it becomes a mask for fatigue. Nothing—and yet everything—has changed. And then a tiny muscle lying under the loose skin of Léaud’s cheek begins to twitch, intermittently at first but then insistantly. The smile never drops, the eyes continue to shine, but by the time the courtiers leave, the cost of the performance—the king’s and the actor’s—has registered.

More generally though, the film stares at a face made famous when it was young. The face has aged, but the movie and those of us watching it remember that it once looked like this:

The movie stares at this face, studying how it has changed with age, and searches for what of the youth remains.

The beauty of the film is that as it stares at the aged face, it discovers (and shows) that all of that remembered beauty is still there. Changed but there. And still compelling.

 July 9, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Apr 242017
 

Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks was one of the first films I fell in love with when, in my first semester of film school, I started watching American Underground film from the mid-century. After saw it, I spent a good five, six months obsessing over his small body of films.

Over the years, I’ve seen and liked a lot more underground films of the period, some of them better, but none of them have managed to dislodge this film from it’s pride of place. It’s too knowing and too young at the same time to be anything but wonderful.

At home and in a mood I found myself watching it tonight alongside Genet’s objectively better Chant d’amour.

 April 24, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Apr 222017
 

I stumbled across this short dance film years ago. I hadn’t seen it since, but for some reason, tonight I sat down and watched it, and I was as moved by it now as I remember being then.

The film, a montage of long shots, close-ups and tableaux organized by a shared dance and the rhythms of the soundtrack, has a cast of six dancers in three couples: a man in a suit and woman in a dress, a gay couple in sweats and marcels, and a young straight couple wearing underwear.

The film aims to be beautiful, romantic and sexy simultaneously. It rains continuously, so how could it possibly miss its mark?

 April 22, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Apr 062017
 

I was never tempted to watch Rogue One in the theatre and wasn’t sure I’d even watch it once it was available for rent. But then Tuesday night on a lark I did. Then last night, I watched it again.

This is the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy. I actually don’t think there’s any competition for the spot. In fact, this may be the first good “movie as movie” in the series since The Empire Strikes Back.

What I admired most here was the way it breaks the stranglehold of the original story by imagining in a creative and compelling way a world that is larger than Luke, Lea, and Han. The familiar story is there, popping up again and again in visual references and narrative links. (My favourite was the initial shot of Felicity Jones that echoes a similar shot of Carrie Fisher in A New Hope.) But unlike in J. J. Abrams’s weak stab at the franchise, these references operate primarily as sign-posts indicating 1) that the familiar story is nearby; but 2) that the present story is decidedly not that familiar story.

I have no idea if the movie will stand up over time, but I think it is wonderfully effective variation on an established generic formation. And killing everyone off was brilliant and unexpected. Doing so declares bluntly that not all stories in this world have to be serial narratives.

 April 6, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 222017
 

According to cliché, there’s no “I” in team. There is however an “i” in “poise” and that “I”—let’s risk pretension and call it an eye—makes a “pose” something admirable and beautiful.

Tom Ford’s second film is magnificent and moving. It offers a cool and expansive but also a carefully self-conscious regard upon popular and art spectatorships.

I loved this movie and truly don’t understand what (other than bile) could have kept it from being a darling of the award season alongside the equally ambitious but very different (because sincere) Moonlight.

…maybe that was the problem: this is a personal movie about “the personal” but without ostentatious sincerity.

Exhibit A: this is how Tom Ford dressed for work:

 March 22, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Mar 182017
 

The Beav: “C’est n’importe quoi…”

Me: “Yep”

I’m not at all sure what the appeal of this story is supposed to be. What pleasure does it think it offers? To my eye, it’s just carefully shot wretchedness from start to finish.

And speaking of shots, that last one? Leonardo is no Jean Seberg.

(Yes, I’ve clearly found this movie extremely annoying.)