Screening Room: ‘Kiss Me Deadly’

Image for post

My article on Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955) was published at Eyes Wide Open:

For sheer brazen strange, it’s hard to top Robert Aldrich’s 1955 noir adaptation of the skull-busting Mickey Spillane novel. It’s a mystery that never gets solved and a thriller that creeps more than excites. The closest that it gets to an explanation is a cynical, tired reference by the hero’s gal Friday to “nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit.” All this confusion very likely derives from Aldrich clearly holding Spillane’s book in some contempt (as he did most things). But then it’s hard to say that a greater fidelity to the source material would have cleared matters up much…

Here’s the trailer for the Criterion release:

Screening Room: ‘Empire of the Sun’

My article on Steven Spielberg’s 1987 epic adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun was published at Eyes Wide Open:

Spielberg chose a story with few chases, a rouge’s gallery of foul characters, no uplift, and a healthy dash of surrealism. British speculative fiction novelist J.G. Ballard’s grim autobiographical novel detailed in stark terms the childhood years he spent in a Japanese prison camp in China during World War II. As adapted by cerebral playwright Tom Stoppard, the story is a chilly one, particularly for a filmmaker who had so shamelessly (and skillfully) plucked heartstrings in the likes of E.T...

Screening Room: 20 Years of IFC Films

Given the extra time that so many of us have on our hands right now to catch up on movies, the issue tends to be narrowing down our choices.

IFC Films just had their 20th anniversary and wouldn’t you know, there’s a 30-day free trial of their streaming service. My survey article at Slant runs through a quick history of the distributor’s varied output (Linklater to Soderbergh to Herzog to…) and then rounds up 20 of their movies worth seeking out:

IFC Films has spent the last two decades championing some of the world’s most innovative cinema in a no-fuss, under-the-radar manner. Less attention-grabbing than distribution houses like A24, IFC also cast a wider net of aesthetic styles than distributors such as Grasshopper and Oscilloscope. Across its 20 years, the company has continued to release a fairly eclectic grab-bag of movies—from mumblecore to earnest kitchen-sink drama to more unclassifiable what-the-fuckery—that other labels would likely have passed on…

In Memorium: Terry Jones

To honor the passing of the great Terry Jones, a comedic troubadour of some renown, let us take a moment to consider the glory that he brought to the character of one Sir Belvedere:

For something completely different, look for Jones’ highly underrated documentary Boom Bust Boom, a fantastic study of the history of economic catastrophe and irrational exuberance. Paul Krugman plus puppets. My review is here, and you should be able to find it streaming.

 

Scene of the Day: ‘Woodshock’ (1985)

Richard Linklater’s first movie, Woodshock, was a 7-minute documentary short from 1985 about the Texas indie music festival. A couple minutes in, you can see a very shy Daniel Johnston getting ready to perform (“I work at McDonalds. This is my new album.”). Later diagnosed with schizophrenia, Johnston recorded some of the greatest, oddest, most heartbreakingly sweet music of the last few decades. He died this week at the age of 58.

Here’s Woodshock:

(h/t: Morning News)

Screening Room: ‘Is Gone with the Wind a Classic?’

My article ‘Is Gone with the Wind a Classic? Or How Things Change’ went up yesterday over at Eyes Wide Open:

A couple years back, a Memphis theater decided that, because of complaints, they were not going to show Gone with the Wind again. One would imagine conservatives would appreciate a small business not wanting to anger its customers. But by definition, conservatives tend not to like change. It’s in the name…

Screening Room: ‘Babylon’

Asward’s Brinsley Forde in ‘Babylon’ (Kino Lorber)

Back in 1980, a movie about West Indian youths in London scrapping for a piece of something to call their own premiered in Cannes and promptly disappeared from sight over concerns about its controversial treatment of racism and violence.

Babylon is just now getting its American release. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s in many ways clumsy and ham-fisted. And yet, somewhere in between the densely layered dub and reggae soundtrack, Chris Menges’ evocative cinematography, and the sharp spark of political agitation, there’s something to the movie that cannot be so easily dismissed…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Jackie Chan’s ‘Police Story’

Jackie Chan cemented his hold on the Asian box office with the launch of his high-kicking cop movie series in 1985. Starting today, Police Story and Police Story 2 are getting a limited theatrical re-release in advance of the launch of their remastered editions in the Criterion Collection.

My review is at PopMatters:

Sporting the same shaggy mop of hair and the slightly bemused look of a sleepy John Cusack, Jackie Chan rolls into 1985’s Police Story like some kid fresh out of the Peking Opera School and not a pro who had already been working in the Hong Kong film industry for over 20 years. It’s part of the reason why attempts in the previous decade to turn him into the new Bruce Lee never quite worked…

Screening Room: ‘Monsters’

My essay “Monsters Built the Mexico Wall Trump Never Will” was published at Eyes Wide Open:

What kind of movie will best describe the Trump presidency for future generations? Will it be high-minded drama replete with sarcastic asides, soaring speeches, and a grand view of the arc of history ala Aaron Sorkin? Maybe trashy overkill gutter-punk in the vein of John Waters or Bobcat Goldthwait would be more appropriate. How about a monster movie? Better yet, one with an extremely obvious yet potent visual metaphor that predated the current catastrophe? If the latter, then 2010’s Monsters might be a good place to start…

Screening Room: ‘A Star is Born’

My essay on masculinity, the movies, Westerns, and Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born ran today in Eyes Wide Open:

…instead of lashing out, sometimes the men just drop out. That’s the case in A Star is Born. On the face of it, this star vehicle doesn’t have anything to do with these stories of men marooned by modernity. The fourth iteration of William Wellman’s original 1937 tearjerker of a doomed celebrity romance double helix of fates, it has nary a firearm on offer and only the odd half-drunk bar fight in terms of violence. But in between all the melodrama about addiction, talent, and poisoned family trees, it’s hard to miss the lurking subtext about the place of men (well, straight men) in its world. In short: They just don’t seem to be hacking it…

Screening Room: ‘The Virgin Spring’

My review of the Criterion Blu-ray edition of The Virgin Spring is at PopMatters:

You can easily imagine the characters in Ingmar Bergman’s devastating The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1961) calling where they live “God’s country”. Their farm is situated in a kind of pristine wonderland of thick pine forests and gurgling streams. Religion plays a central role in most of their lives as well, with the mother, Mareta (Birgitta Valberg), seeming to spend her every waking moment in contemplation of God, and her husband, Tore (Max von Sydow), only slightly less fervent in his faith. They are certain of their place in the world, and God’s gifts to them…

Here’s a clip:

Screening Room: ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

There’s a new Criterion Blu-ray edition out with a gorgeous presentation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1946 wartime afterlife romance A Matter of Life and Death. And yes, it’s pretty much required viewing.

My review is at PopMatters:

After making a run of cheery but subversive movies during World War II, always under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill — who refused to shut down the film industry as it was during the Great War — the Ministry of War came to [Powell and Pressburger] with a request: Could they make a movie that would make the British and Americans love each other? A seemingly odd request, given that the nations were at the time fighting tooth and nail to dislodge the Nazis from Western Europe…

Here’s a trailer:

Nota Bene: The New Canon

eternalsunshine1

The Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday has just addressed an obvious lacuna in movie criticism by declaring first that not only has the Great Movie Canon remained stubbornly fixed for too long (Vertigo, Citizen Kane) but that there are many movies post-2000 that stand up alongside all the greats of yesteryear.

Hornaday’s article “The New Canon” is an absolute must-read. She also selected a fairly unassailable list, excepting maybe Spike Lee’s adventurous but uneven 25th Hour and Kenneth Lonergan’s solid but somewhat unremarkable You Can Count on Me. Her list is here but it’s best reading her arguments are each of them as well:

  • Children of Men
  • 25th Hour
  • The Hurt Locker
  • Michael Clayton
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Boyhood
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
  • Old Joy
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Hunger
  • You Can Count on Me
  • No Country for Old Men
  • I’m Not There
  • Minority Report
  • Dunkirk
  • Mudbound
  • Spotlight
  • Son of Saul
  • Stories We Tell
  • The Fog of War
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Spirited Away

Nota Bene: Film Forum Reopens

August is here and, just in time, Film Forum has reopened after a long-overdue renovation. The place is almost a half-century old. “Not bad” (as their website notes) “for a scrappy non-profit that started with 50 folding chairs and a 16mm projector the size of a breadbox.”

More than just another arthouse, Film Forum is one of the last standing temples of American cinephilia, the sort of place that can mix obscure spaghetti westerns and avant-garde documentaries with an Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective and the latest in Iranian or South Korean cinema without missing a beat. Plus, the popcorn is amazing, even sans butter.

The Times published some recollections about Film Forum, from filmmakers like John Turturro to Christopher Nolan. Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes) speaks for many cinephiles’ aching backsides:

Their renovations sound wonderful, because, yes, we all know, their seats were a little uncomfortable and the sightlines were not ideal — but their programming was so impeccable that we went anyway.

Screening Room: ‘One Sings, the Other Doesn’t’

A new restoration of Agnes Varda’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t from 1977 is in limited release now. Check it out while you have the chance. There’s absolutely nothing else like it playing at any theater anywhere near you.

My review is at The Playlist:

When Agnès Varda’s delightfully gonzo song-studded paean to sisterhood “One Sings, the Other Doesn’t” opened the 1977 New York Film Festival, it landed in the middle of a differently fraught world for women’s rights issues. Abortion, which is a recurring theme in this newly restored and re-released classic, had only been legal in the United States for five years and in Varda’s native France, for just two. The campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment was grinding to a halt in the face of conservative opposition. Female directors were still essentially unheard of in the movie industry. Expectations were high…