27 December 2011

The Best Films of 2011


I wrote up a Top 10 list for The L Magazine, which I slightly amended for its contributors' poll. Here's my ballot:

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2. Drive
3. Cold Weather
4. Poetry
5. A Separation
6. Meek's Cutoff
7. Tuesday, After Christmas
8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
9. In the Family
10. Silver Bullets
11. Putty Hill
12. Weekend
13. Pina
14. Carnage
15. The Trip
16. The Artist
17. Melancholia
18. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
19. Tree of Life
20. Hugo

Honorable mentions: Bellflower, Into Eternity

The Artist

Written & Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Full credits at IMDb

Talk about your escapist prestige seasons. Over the past few weeks, I haven't yet seen a 2012 Oscar contender set in the present day; I've hardly even seen one set in America. Scorsese chose to make a movie not only set far in the past, but also in Europe. The Europeans have also been focused on the past and on Europe, as in My Week with Marilyn, or the upcoming Iron Lady. France's The Artist is the apotheosis of this escapist trend: it's set in the 20s-30s, in Hollywood (escapist for French people), and it's not only black-and-white but silent—that's right, an honest-to-goodness silent movie, a sort of ode to the charm, physicality and romanticism of Chaplin. How much more distanced from unpleasant realities could you be? Though, the film more often references talkies of the 30s and 40s. It seemed more enamored of a different kind of Hollywood than the one it ostensibly celebrates; I saw a lot more direct "quotes" from Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Broadway Melody of 1940 and, especially, The Thin Man than I did anything by Melies or Harold Lloyd.

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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A Separation

Written & Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Full credits at IMDb

Have Iranian censors gotten sloppy? I suppose they might consider A Separation a straightforward domestic drama; it could certainly pass as one. But to these Western eyes, this shaky cam melodrama, this soap opera for sophisticates, is implicitly critical of its country, an indictment of systemic oppression. Yet it wasn't smuggled out of the country on a USB drive—it's Iran's official submission for the best foreign film Oscar...Farhadi avoids contriving heroes and villains: every character is sympathetic, stuck in some pitiable position, doing the wrong thing by trying to do what seems right for their families and selves. There are no bad guys; if the movie has a malevolent force, it's Iran itself.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Hugo

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan

I'm surprised that Hugo has literary origins. It's such a tactile and mechanical film—it's so cinematic! Such an ode to the analog, the industrial, the mechanical—clocks, cranks, gears, trains, robots—so possessed of a nostalgia for all things pre-digital. So, though it tells the story of post-heyday Georges Melies, and restores appropriate awe and majesty to the works of the Lumieres, Edwin Porter, the silent comedians, the silent beauties, and of course Melies, I'd say it's less a love letter to cinema's origins than to its foundations: to light, legerdemain, and whirligigs. So isn't it funny then that some of the movie's most magical moments—the dance of the wind-up mouse, the epic train-crash nightmare, the jaw-dropping opening shot—are obviously achieved with the help of computers?

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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My Week with Marilyn

Directed by: Simon Curtis
Written by: Adrian Hodges
Full credits at IMDb

This sort of reminded me of The King's Speech. There's a scene in which production-assistant protagonist Colin takes Miss Monroe on a sight-seeing tour of England's grandest grounds and institutions while narrating their histories—and then gets Derek Fucking Jacobi himself to meet them as a kind of ambassador! Since when did American movies get so sentimental for the English crown? If the Academy defines these kinds of monarchy-boosting as prestigious, and then we raise our daughters to idolize Disney princesses... this is how democracy dies. Anyway, do we really have to talk about this movie? I guess just for Miss Michelle Williams' embodiment of Miss Monroe, eh? She does a thorough job of impersonation, but that's easy because, like any icon, Marilyn was all signifiers: mole, white dress, platinum curls, a whispery coo and lipstick as red as a Coca Cola can. But Williams also captures her emotional life—the insecurity and private anguish. The gratitude pouring out of her eyes every time she's paid a compliment made me want to cry, until maybe the sixth or so time she does it. It's a good performance—Williams is always terrific—but I'll take Meek's Cutoff, thanks. (Even Dawson's Creek DVDs, honestly. Those crazy kids!) The role is straight-up Oscarbait: the tortured soul of the bombshell superstar, the private life of the public figure.

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Extraterrestrial

Written & Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Full credits at IMDb

Julio and Julia have done a bad thing: they've indulged in a drunken one-night stand even though Julia has a boyfriend. They'll spend the rest of Extraterrestrial, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's sci-fi comedy of cuckolding—a cynical and screwball study of love and suspicion—trying to cover it up, trying to do it again, and finally trying to undo the damage and walk away. Following their tipsy tryst, the accidental lovers awaken to an abandoned Madrid and four mile-wide UFOs hovering above. (Yes, they slept through the evacuation.) The movie, though, stays confined to Earth, rarely leaving Julia's modernist apartment and its tangle of romantic jealousies, exacerbated by the aliens' presence and the isolation of the four main characters—including said boyfriend and Julia's lovelorn neighbor—who're among the few who've stayed behind.

Vigalondo uses genre as a way into romantic relationships. His debut, 2008's Timecrimes, was on its face a wacky time-travel puzzle that kept folding in on itself. But at heart, it was a story about a middle-aged man grappling with his marriage. Here, the presence of aliens is used to cover up infidelity, becoming the basis of lies used to foment mistrust and exacerbate romantic rivalries...

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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J. Edgar

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Dustin Lance Black

J. Edgar turned out to be a lot more interesting than I initially expected. For an hour or so I was thinking, "this is the Oscarbaitiest piece of shit I ever sat through," but then I realized Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black were up to something kinda interesting. Structurally, their film is as tricky and sophisticated as The Social Network, blending a present-day narrative with two flashback storylines from different points of view; Black ups the ante by having the same character enunciate both of them: Hoover (Leonard DiCaprio) reliving private memories regarding his mother (Judi Dench) and his chastely homosexual relationship with associate Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer); and Hoover the unreliable narrator revising his own professional history. (We observe the sad, sad process of a bitter, broken man trying to invent for himself a heroic arc.) I thought it was interesting how Black and Eastwood try to subvert, or at least complicate, the old-fashioned, law-and-order, silver screen-style archetype Hoover embodies—and Eastwood used to embody—by suggesting he was a mincing mary behind closed doors; at the same time, Eastwood's grasp of gayness sometimes struck me as unduly flamboyant. (Like, that cross dressing scene is a doozy of high camp.)

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Caitlin Plays Herself

Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Written by: Joe Swanberg and Caitlin Stainken
Full credits at IMDb


Director Joe Swanberg is working at a pace unseen since the B-movie mavens of the 1930s. Caitlin Plays Herself is his fifth feature released in 2011 (with at least two more in the can), and it feels loosely shot and quickly assembled—but that's not to say clumsily or without forethought. Co-written by Swanberg and Caitlin Stainken, the movie is a sad, simple, and effective glance at a relationship that, more substantially, explores the blurred distinctions between life and art. A lot of the movie's 70 minutes are filled what the title implies: Jeanne Dielman-lite snippets of eating a banana, reading a magazine, rotating compost, writing, rehearsing conceptual theater pieces. "I perform," Caitlin explains of her stage projects, "but I play myself." While rooftop gardening, she remarks of a worm, "he'll have a nice little life and then he'll just die and become part of the dirt." Caitlin Plays Herself feels like glimpses of the nice little life of such a worm.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

28 November 2011

Fright Night

Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Marti Noxon
Full credits at IMDb

Vampire stories are usually centered on women, serving as allegories for the alluring threat of sexual desire. But in the brisk, tense and cheeky Fright Night remake, women occupy the margins. Instead, this is a story about boys and men, about growing up and struggling with different models of masculinity. As such, its central vampire, played with bemused arrogance by Colin Farrel, is less dreamy than those to which we've recently grown accustomed. "He's not brooding, lovesick, or noble," explains Christopher Mintz-Plasse in the genre's "Randy" role. "He's the fucking shark from Jaws." Take that, Buffy, Twilight, and True Blood!

Mintz-Plasse says this early on; Fright Night, written by former Buffy scribe and producer Marti Noxon, wastes little time on exposition. Instead, we're introduced to Anton Yelchin—a neurotic, pubescent geek navigating the vicissitudes of adolescence—and his seductive, charismatic neighbor, Farrel, who's the epitome of cocksure chauvinism. Oh, and he's pretty quickly outed as a vampire. (Subversively, the movie portrays an America of bad neighbors.) Yelchin has recently abandoned his childhood friends for a cooler crowd; that is, he has gravitated toward a bullying kind of masculinity that Farrel represents—he's the grown-up apotheosis of Yelchin's new, mean, good-looking, popular friends. Representing a different kind of man—the Dr. Livesey to Farrel's Long John Silver—is David Tenant, playing a hammy Vegas showman who goes from coward to would-be hero while sending up the genre's Gothiest cliches. (Speaking of Vegas, the movie exploits its Sin City setting expertly: the city's transient and nocturnal nature making it the perfect place for a vampire to settle down and make people go missing; its foreclosure crisis provides copious For Sale signs atop big fat stakes.)

Despite its male focus, as a coming of age tale Fright Night does grapple with sexuality. The vampire attacks, largely carried out against women (though not exclusively, suggesting an omnisexual immorality), intimate rape—they're penetrative, violative, and draw blood. Farrel emasculates Yelchin repeatedly, including by "turning over" a "motorcycle" that Yelchin can't "start." Also, the kid can't relax enough when his girlfriend throws herself at him; does that suggest that sex is a potentially deadly threat, or at least corrupting? I don't think so. It's just that Yelchin first has to grow up—to learn how to use his stake responsibly. Grade: B+


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Shame

Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by: Abi Morgan & Steve McQueen
Full credits at IMDb

Steve McQueen's follow-up to the celebrated Hunger is an unintentionally campy Catholic cautionary tale about the pitifulness of a life dedicated solely to earthly pleasures. Make that fleshly pleasures. Wisely, McQueen has again teamed with Michael Fassbender, who plays a Flatiron district-dwelling orgasm addict—a serial masturbator and prowler for pussy. Most reviewers have noted that for all its sex, Shame isn't sexy. Really? Sure, there's a tragic orgy soaked in wailing, mournful string music, and the movie climaxes with history's saddest climax. But even heterosexual men melt for Fassbender. I recently saw him in person and he looked ruddy, diminutive. But the camera adores him—his anguished gazes, his prominent brow—as it has no other actor since Marilyn Monroe. The movie works best as a vicarious thrill: watching Fassbender ply his charm on the movie's women is a treat, regardless of your sexual orientation.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Into the Abyss

Written and Directed by: Werner Herzog
Full credits at IMDb

Werner Herzog's last few documentaries have taken him to exotic locales: the south of France, Antarctica, the Alaskan wilderness. But his latest travels to perhaps the most unusual yet—rural Texas, where he explores a murder case and crafts a sober, persuasive, and serendipitously timed argument against the death penalty. (We are all Troy Davis, even Herzog.) In 2010, Michael Perry was executed for a triple murder he committed a decade earlier in the city of Conroe for the sake of stealing a Camaro. (His accomplice, Jason Burkett, received a life sentence.) Herzog investigates this messy, petty, senseless true-crime story and fills it in with lurid and poignant details, wielding his talent as a probing and insightful interviewer in conversations with the families and friends of both the victims and the killers; he tours the town, genuinely interested in its inhabitants and their colloquialisms, like "balls to the wall."

But Herzog's never condescending: he highlights our shared humanity, even Perry's—who, when the director interviews him just days before he would be executed, smiles boyishly and avers his innocence...

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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04 November 2011

Paranormal Activity 3

Directed by: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Written by: Christopher B. Landon
Full credits at IMDb

Minimalism was the key to Paranormal Activity's success, so the sequels' bigger effects, greater number of cameras, and more convoluted narratives have only been detrimental. Paranormal Activity 3 continues to drag the series down; chronologically, it moves it farther back: this threequel, directed by the vain kids behind Catfish, is yet another prequel, this one set in 1988 and focused on the characters' childhood relationships with the demon who would continue to haunt and torment them into adulthood. This is one of the franchise's largest missteps: its increasing focus on backstory.

The other is its aesthetic choices. In this film, for starters, moving the setting so far back becomes problematic. It's neat, I guess, that the movie is shot on, or at least made to look like, videotape. (It'll make an interesting companion piece to Trash Humpers.) But it also poses unaddressed practical problems: like, why would someone keep the camera running as he walks slowly up a staircase if he has to pay for VHS cassettes?

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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In Time

Written & Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Full credits at IMDb

The latent cultural rage that recently erupted in Occupy Wall Street protests has apparently been percolating within writer-director Andrew Niccol too. His latest sci-fi allegory is essentially one furious attack on the ruling elite and their calculated system of economic inequality—but with much higher stakes and more transparent morality than the grievances aired at Zuccotti. Here, time is currency: thanks to genetic engineering, eternal life as your 25-year-old self is possible, as long as you can afford to buy the time (and don't get in an accident or murdered). Of course, most people in In Time can't—they live literally day to day, working no-collar factory jobs in exchange for a few measly hours (moved like modern money in rapid electronic transactions), stepping over the expired bodies that litter the streets. This is an action movie, with skinny dipping, strip poker, car chases, and car crashes. But it's also as thoughtful as you'd expect from the man behind Gattaca, full of debates about income disparity, the morality of capitalism, and whether human nature would make a different system unsustainable. (The biggest problem is that the plot's gimmicky artifice, its blatant metaphor, makes its many tragedies clearly manufactured; this is a world in which insufficient bus fare literally becomes a matter of life and death!)

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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The Innkeepers

Written & Directed by: Ti West
Full credits at IMDb

The first scare in The Innkeepers is a cheap jolt, done by one character to another as a practical joke. It's not because director Ti West doesn't know how to scare an audience. I mean, the few scares that he delivers during the bulk of this movie are smart, good-natured, and funny, though The Innkeepers isn't a goofy horror movie. It's just that West knows that the scariest thing you can see on screen isn't something bad happening to someone–it's something bad happening to someone you've grown to love over the last 100 minutes. He scares his characters so you'll like them more; then he scares you.

Sara Paxton stars as just about the dorkiest, most lovable heroine a horror movie has ever had. Asthmatic, ambitionless, and adorable, she's working the last weekend at a small-town hotel, a kind of modest Overlook that's possibly haunted. She and her co-worker, a Simon Peggish Pat Healy, are amateur paranormal enthusiasts, hoping for one last ghostly encounter. West broke through in 2009 with The House of the Devil, a Satanic slasher that evoked, without wink or kitsch, the horror films of the late 1970s. Here, he explores a different subgenre: the haunted house (or haunted hotel) movie, often drawing on an 80s, Spielbergian charm.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Silver Bullets

Written & Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Full credits at IMDb

Just about every young person who has made an indie movie in the last five years shows up in Joe Swanberg's Silver Bullets, adding a fascinating extra layer of self-referentiality to this embittered exploration of artistic collaboration. As you'd expect from one of mumblecore's biggest names, this is a movie about young people suffering through romantic problems. But they're young people whose relationships double as commentaries on the filmmaking process, by which Swanberg has apparently become disgusted. Director Ti West, best known for The House of the Devil, plays himself, kind of—the director of a werewolf movie starring Kate Lyn Sheil; she also plays the girlfriend (who's unraveling like a Polanski heroine) to Swanberg, who's also playing a version of his real self, a movie director who makes Joe Swanberg-like movies: arty, improvised, and filled with nudity and sex. (Silver Bullets itself, though, feels sorta un-Swanberg: loose but deliberate, smartly structured and shot with forethought to composition, less perfunctory than much of his fine but forgettable post-Greta Gerwig output.) As these two filmmakers work on their very different movies in parallel, tensions emerge: between commerce and art—between werewolf movies and "new forms"—but more so between art and reality; the movie's interested in the ways they influence each other.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

20 October 2011

Midnight in Paris

Written & Directed by: Woody Allen
Full credits at IMDb

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen's hard to defend but easy to adore parable about nostalgia, opens with a coffee-table book's worth of postcard Paris views: the landmarks, the iconic tableaux, in sunshine and then in rain. But don't mistake the storm for a sly subversion of the city's allure. It just intensifies it. Owen Wilson takes the Woody Allen role—bringing a freshly wry and mellow charm to the neurotic archetype—a Hollywood hack with dreams of literary renown; he has a fixation with Paris, particularly during the 1920s (when it was lousy with American expats), particularly when it's raining. His cartoonishly unsupportive and materialistic fiancee (a misused Rachel MacAdams) would rather live in Malibu, live in the present, and take a taxi. It's unclear why they would've gone on a second date, let alone gotten engaged.

Allen's frantically paced output, maintained even as he ages, has resulted lately in scripts with lazy plot holes like that. But whatever mistakes he makes on the page—like indulging in the name-dropping that his script mocks through the pretentious character played by Michael Sheen—he makes up for with affecting themes and a host of talented actors impersonating dead celebrities. Traveling through time—without mumbo jumbo explanations, thankfully—Wilson lives his dream but also learns a lesson about nostalgia: it really is the denial of the painful present, as the pompous Sheen pontificates. In the 1920s, Wilson finds great modernists pining for Le Belle Epoque; in Le Belle Epoque, he find Epoqueans longing for the Renaissance. Truth is, all times are interesting times; great art is everywhere.

And still, Allen finds poignancy in the cold austerity of museums, which cage the past rather than live it, contrasted with the urbane, debonair, stylish party life in Paris after the first war. (A bar where Hemingway drank with Fitzgerald appears, in the present day, as a laundromat, illuminated by sickly green fluorescent light.) Staying close to the superficial glory of the City of Lights, Allen captures Paris' capacity to transport you through time, to contain the whole of its history in its streets and stones. ("The past is not dead," Wilson says, quoting Faulkner. "It's not even past.") For all its flaws, Midnight in Paris is steeped in romance that, though simple, is easy to get swept up in. Grade: B+


Watch the trailer:

The Woman

Directed by: Lucky McKee
Written by: Lucky McKee & Jack Ketchum

Lucky McKee's gory latest lambasts conservatives; it's also a girl-power allegory, a cheeky genre-twister, and exploitation cinema par excellence. Sean Bridgers stars as the patriarch of an ostensibly ordinary American family who abducts from the forest a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh)—who seems to be possessed by the Exorcist demon when she utters her guttural, Germanic-sounding growls—and enlists his family in civilizing her: washing off decades of grime, disinfecting and bandaging her wounds. The rape he handles by himself.

It's the kind of story Tarantino would adore: men mistreating women, then getting their comeuppance through spectacularly graphic violence. Initially, the movie playfully reverses horror's typical captor and captive dynamic: the nice-seeming people are the wardens; the "monster," the detainee. There's a joke here too about how basic care might seem, to the unfamiliar or uncomprehending, assaultive, like when you take a dog to get shots: hot water and hydrogen peroxide could be implements of torture even when used correctly.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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This is Not a Film

Directed by: Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi
Written by: Jafar Panahi
Full credits at IMDb

This is Not a Film is a documentary about not making a movie. Jafar Panahi, after all, was barred by the Iranian government from directing movies following a recent arrest for "colluding with the intention to commit crimes against the country’s national security and propaganda against the Islamic Republic." He's appealing his case but could face six years in prison; for now, he's under house arrest. So, in his latest movie, shot over the course of a day, he invites over his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to video record him while he reads, acts, and goes about his daily life—including fielding phone calls about his case and dog-sitting for 20 seconds—thus circumventing the 20-year ban on directing. (At one point Panahi tells Mirtahmasb to cut but he playfully refuses, noting that Panahi cannot direct the movie.)

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Martha Marcy May Marlene

Written & Directed by: Sean Durkin
Full credits at IMDb

Sean Durkin's exceptionally well-made but emotionally distant debut offers a subjective view of contemporary culthood—the initial seduction, the blind-eyed devotion, the gradual disillusionment, the post-membership paranoia, the lingering appeal. Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister to Mary-Kate and Ashley, stars as the title character—that's her Christian name, her cult name, and her cult alias—and hers is a breakthrough as striking as Durkin's: as the title suggests, she's a multifaceted character, and Olsen not only embodies those divergent personalities—amiable idealist, nerve-wracked coper—but does so simultaneously, hopping organically between them within single scenes.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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The Ides of March

Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon
Full credits at IMDb

Smart and steady, The Ides of March is story of political disillusionment that ends where it began—except in a far, far darker mood. Working out of a corner campaign-office right out of Taxi Driver, Stephen (Ryan Gosling) is a young and brilliant assistant campaign director trying to lock the Democratic presidential nomination for Gov. Mike Morris (George Clooney), an impossible candidate—impossible not to love, maybe!—who's pro-gay marriage, admits to having no religion with the line "I am not a Christian," and thinks we should try to understand why our enemies hate us. Plus, he's played by George Clooney.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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The Loneliest Planet

Written & Directed by: Julia Loktev
Full credits at IMDb


One thing happens in The Loneliest Planet, a single incident that divides the film in half and unbalances the relationships of its central characters. Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg play an engaged couple pre-honeymooning through the wilderness of Georgia (the former Soviet satellite); non-professional Bidzina Gujabidze is their guide across the grassy valleys and hillsides. (Director Loktev shoots the landscape with a weirdly abstracting telephoto lens, flattening the space to reflect the intimacy of the storytelling.) A vague menace hovers around our characters as they tromp down trails (their status as hikers unfavorably reminding me of those Americans who walked into Iran). Music on the soundtrack quickly cuts out, snapping the audience out of its lull like violence does to the characters: trouble finally comes in the form of a few local hunters, who provoke Bernal to commit either an act of instinctual self-preservation or of revealing cowardice. Either way, it's shaming—and unsettling thereafter to all who were present.

Keep reading at The L Magazine

Melancholia

Written & Directed by: Lars von Trier
Full credits at IMDb

Lars von Trier is depressed. He said as much while promoting his last film, Antichrist, and he has said as much in his latest, Melancholia, in which a big ball of doldrums takes the literalized form of a big blue planet from which the movie takes its title, which was hidden behind the sun but is now on a crash course for Earth. Get it? It's a metaphor—for depression's volatile nature, its unpredictable effects, its inescapability, its enormity, and the way it tears apart families because depressed people are so fucking difficult to deal with.

But the film is in two parts, with this epic allegory saved for last. First, von Trier looks at depression straight: Kirsten Dunst, in a role that won her an award at Cannes, plays Justine, who spends the first act celebrating—or not—her wedding to True Blood's Eric. It's Dogme-founder von Trier's turn at a Celebration, and he handles it with comic aplomb (Udo Keir nearly steals the movie as the wedding planner), crafting a haphazardly filmed farce that's jovial and funny until it isn't—like life for everyone else, Justine ruins her wedding.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Carnage

Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Yasmina Reza and Roman Polanski
Full credits at IMDb

Roman Polanski's terrific screwball adaptation of a Yasmina Reza play begins with four adults trying peaceably to settle a problem between their sons; it ends with four creatures drunk, exhausted and reverted to a primal state of hostility. Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play dippy liberals, the parents of a boy who got two teeth knocked out in a fight at Brooklyn Bridge Park (they're also residents of an apartment, with a working fireplace, too large and lovely for their income level); Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz are well-dressed professionals, parents of the skirmish's stick-swinging aggressor. They spend most of the movie with their coats on, motioning to go but never making it farther than the hallway, the souring summit a kind of no-exit nightmare as all four slowly shed the put-on signifiers of maturity and indulge instead puerile impulses, effectively adopting their kids' conflict and de-evolving into children.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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The Burning

Directed by: Tony Maylam
Written by: Peter Lawrence & Bob Weinstein
Full credits at IMDb

Released almost to the day a year after Friday the 13th—and the weekend after Friday the 13th Part 2The Burning is a conspicuous cash-in on the new box-office formula that franchise spawned: in it, the victim of a summer-camp accident—this time a burning, not a drowning!—impossibly survives to wreak vengeance on the kinds of campers who did him in. (The killer's name, by the way, is Cropsy.) But aesthetically, this cult favorite exhibits more of the flair of Halloween or its underrated sequel, showcasing a refined style—trailing POV shots, stalking tracking shots—that's more pleasurable than the routine comeuppance the movie metes out to its randy teens. The Burning expertly balances its artful accruals of tension with its copious T&A and adolescent bonhomie.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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14 September 2011

Drive

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Full credits at IMDb

Brooding, sophisticated and drop-dead gorgeous, Drive is lowbrow trash rewrit as highbrow treasure. Its clumsy coincidences, unnaturalistic expository dialogue and pulpy themes—vengeance, sacrifice, redemption—are brought to life with elegance and gravitas: it's the action movie treated like art, the cinematic equivalent of literary genre fiction. Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed mechanic with sidelines as both stuntman and getaway driver. He's a stoic loner steeped in Jean-Pierre Melvillean melancholy, possessed of preternatural driving abilities, capable of both honorable service and shocking barbarity.

At the same time, director Nicolas Winding Refn has said, "I've always wanted to remake [Sixteen Candles] in one way or another and, in a very unlikely way, I've done that in Drive." The movie switches between two tones: the world-weary and the romantic.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Restless

Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Jason Lew
Full credits at IMDb

When I describe the plot of Restless, Gus Van Sant's sweet new movie about the paucity of time, the finality of death, and the small measures of love that give our short lives meaning, try not to roll your eyes. Ok, yes, it's about two teenagers who meet cute at a memorial service—she as a guest, he as a crasher, like Harold and Maude without the age discrepancy—and, yes, she has a terminal illness and he has a best friend who's the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot. But, despite this dangerous level of whimsy—compounded by a Danny Elfman score—Restless succeeds thanks to its winsome leads, black comedy and irreverent spirit. Plus, it'll make you cry.

Though tearjerker would be the wrong word because of its pejorative implication. Restless earns your tears, eschewing in favor of charisma the emotional manipulation that typically mars movies about death-disrupted puppy love, from Love Story to A Walk to Remember.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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09 September 2011

Contagion

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Full credits at IMDb

The alarmist Contagion is the apotheosis of our germophobic age of hand sanitizer. From its repulsed series of shots of people making contact with each other or manhandling water glasses, I learned that no one should never touch anyone or anything, especially their own faces. That's how disease spreads, and diseases are like nature's weapons of mass destruction. (You saw The Happening, right?) This pathological aphephobia fits in well with a global culture in which relationships and socialization are increasingly moving on-line; the one relationship in the movie that blossoms does so through text messages. Physical contact can be fatal—our fingers may as well be made of knives—but nobody ever caught chiropteran swine flu from Facebook. (You'll excuse all the scientific terminology as half of this movie's all-star cast plays doctors and speaks in jargon-heavy dialogue.) "Our best defense," Laurence Fishburn's character says, "is social distancing." And yet Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns don't put much faith in virtual realities, as the film's "blogger"—the modern iteration of your archetypal shoe-leather newshound—comes off almost as bad as the contagious disease itself...

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Shark Night 3D

Directed by: David R. Ellis
Written by: Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg
Full credits at IMDb

If I think of horror movies set on lakes, I think of Friday the 13th and I Spit on Your Grave. Shark Night 3D takes place on a lake, a shark-infested saltwater lake, and it feels like a blend of those two precedents: like the former, the villain is a preternatural predator—nature's boogeyman, the shark; like the latter, the real bad guys are actually a few violent, perverted and crudely racist good ol' boys. The sharks are their minions, physical manifestations of their bigotry, sexual violence, and class insecurities. They're true monsters.

And a band of college-aged archetypes are their quarry, spending their mid-semester recess at a friend's Louisiana lakeside/sharkside house—there's The Nerd, The Jock, The Gamer and The Black Guy; The Slut, The Latina and The Virgin, each a total hottie. (This is PG-13, so the topless ladies are always seen up to their necks in water or with their backs to the camera; The Nerd has a muscled physique and chiseled features, but he wears glasses.)

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Apollo 18

Directed by: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Written by: Brian Miller & Cory Goodman
Full credits at IMDb

It's not NASA that launches Apollo 18's secret title-mission—it's the department of defense, signaling that this is no mere movie about the space shuttle program (however serendipitously timed to its demise). It's instead about the noble sacrifice honorable volunteers make for their country—on the orders of craven, corrupt civilians in control of our national (and intergalactic) safety. The movie's three astronauts are, unbeknownst to themselves, American soldiers in space. Their enemy? Killer spiders from the moon.

There was a time when a movie with space poison-spreading arachnids would have taken its name from them, but Apollo 18 borrows instead from its conspiratorial revisionism.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Buttons

Directed by: Alex Kalman, Josh Safdie and Ben Safdie

In the Safdies' previous features, The Pleasure of Being Robbed and Daddy Longlegs, the brothers depicted Manhattan with detail as rich as an early Law & Order episode—not just its gritty streetscapes and local "characters" but also its marginal ephemera, on which they let their cameras linger: classic New York moments with hobos, hoods and hot dog vendors. The Safdies' mastery of these authentic-seeming asides comes from years of real-life wanderings through the city's fringes, with eyes and ears open—and camera at the ready.

Buttons is a two-part compilation of seconds-long "found films"by the brothers and their longtime friend Alex Kalman, shot on pocket cameras over nine years of Bloomberg mayoralty. They're the kind of arbitrarily captured moments of people-just-being-people you might stumble across on YouTube, here stitched together with brightly colored title cards (Private Idaho style).

Keep reading at The L Magazine

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Directed by: Troy Nixey
Written by: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Full credits at IMDb

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a Gothic haunted-house movie (or a haunted Gothic-house movie?) that very, very closely follows the tropes established by all of its forebears (if we're listing some, don't forget The Orphanage, also produced by Guillermo del Toro)—except its monsters are super campy but its tone is super serious, like Gremlins without a single wink or smile. What a huge mistake. Anyway, what relevance do haunted-house movies have now? If there's a modicum of intelligence in their design, they can't help but comment on our housing situation, right? If this movie does any business—and that's a big "if"—it'll probably be because it tapped into Americans' new fears of their homes, brought on by the foreclosure crisis. In this remake, the house—or, rather, its hell-deep foundation (the mortgage?)—tears its family apart, but also brings it closer together, much like a defaulted loan can, depending on the circumstances.

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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25 August 2011

The Tree of Life

Written & Directed by: Terrence Malick
Full credits at IMDb

The Tree of Life is not a political film—it transcends such material limitations and reaches for something more numinous: to discover humanity's relationship to the divine; to find the whole of cosmological history in just one man. And then, it stops. The movie begins with The Fall, the descent from grace into the entropy of nature, and loops back to trace the events building up to it. And I mean way back: Malick visits the dawn of time, the creation of the stars and the planets, the first signs of life on earth and the cosmically brief reign of the dinosaurs. This epic drama of celestial and saurian bodies culminates in the birth of a boy into Eisenhower's America, a Cain born unto an Eden called post-war Waco, where he progresses through a childhood that's an ideal of beauty and peace after eons of chaos: it's made of frogs and rabbits, Halloweens and Fourths of July, horseplay and baseball, Mahler and Brahms, and a father who looms like the Old Testament God. (Phew. You get the sense Malick shot 1,440 frames for every 24 he used.) Here is the innocence—the paradise to be lost.

Malick depicts the past in organic shapes: it's all trees, grass and open water, all spirals and tendrils, the texture of the light as central to the film as the faces of his protagonists. In contrast, the present appears as the angular, geometric and boxy impositions of man, cold order placed on sublime freedom, all metal and glass, where water flows in a controlled stream from a faucet rather than splashing freely in a lake. We can trace the origins of this degeneration; serpents arise to defile the childhood idyll: polio, layoffs, death, sexual awakening, masturbation, Oedipal conflict with a stern patriarch. Drawing on his own personal experience, the director finds in his memories a way to make sense of the metaphysical, wrestling with broader philosophical problems. (When a child dies, the film's mother asks God, "what are we to you?" Against images of stars being born in a spatially and temporally infinite universe, Malick suggests the answer is "not much.") But then the film loses its spiritual edge, becoming instead a loose, lyrical portrait of fathers and sons lost in its own bathos, insufficiently ambitious and too narrow in scope. The Tree of Life is not ultimately about God, the fall from grace, or Reaganism—it's just the personal tragedy of one man nostalgic for a youth he can't reclaim. Grade: B+


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Magic Trip

Written & Directed by: Ken Kesey & Alison Ellwood
Full credits at IMDb

Early on in Magic Trip, an assembled-footage documentary about the Merry Pranksters' famous ride, ringmaster Ken Kesey acknowledges that his now-legendary trip—whose historical significance has perhaps been overstated—couldn't be a book. It's an experience, he says, not literature. (Perhaps a knock to Tom Wolfe, who goes conspicuously unmentioned?) But Gibney and Ellwood's film isn't an experience—it crams a psychedelic, transcendental happening into the confines of narrative-documentary cliche, translating the lyrical into the prosaic. It's literature. (The musical cues, for example, are painfully literal, including gospel over a digression on the civil rights movement and "Got My Mojo Workin'" over a segment about romantic entanglements.)

An animated sequence, set to a recording of Kesey narrating one of his earliest acid trips as it's happening, captures the dynamism of hallucinogenic drugs. Otherwise, the movie is mostly flat 16mm footage, shot by Kesey and friends and seen publicly here for the first time, supplemented by 35mm stills; together, these two media still add up to a incomplete, limiting, and monotonous visual record. In Gibney and Ellwood's moviola, the footage feels like little more than the home movies they are, despite the hippie freaks who star in them or the interviewed participants who make sense of them—valuable to the historian perhaps, but not the general audience. Grade: C


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Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Written & Directed by: Werner Herzog
Full credits at IMDb

Notice it's not called "The Cave of Pretty Pictures." Herzog's documentary, about the earth's oldest known paintings in France's Chauvet Cave, is a philosophical, poetic examination—in three dimensions!—of these primitive-yet-sophisticated illustrations; it grapples with the mysteries that linger after science has established bare fact. OK, they're 32,000 years old—but did their creators weep at night? Herzog's focus is scattered, even drifting toward what the cave might have smelled like (anticipating post-3D smell-o-vision?), but that's understandable: he and his filmmaking team were given unprecedented access to the cave—which is hard to reach even with permission, and where even human breath can contaminate the specimens—that won't likely be granted to anyone else any time soon, so you can't really fault his impulse to cover every conceivable angle.

His camera glides over the uneven bumps of the stone walls, the significance of the artworks that decorate them presented in the director's unmistakably Teutonic-inflected English. (The crew prowls along, illuminating its path by flashlight like criminals—almost like they're the explorers who invaded the pharaohs' tombs.) Herzog expounds on how the early examples of figuration unite Paleolithic man with his modern counterpart, establishing a throughline from cave painting to camera; in fact, he sees in the cave paintings suggestions of the illusion of motion, making them a kind of Muybridgean proto-cinema. Herzog connects the paleolithic to the present: shadow dancers to Fred Astaire, the fusion of women and animals to Picasso, depictions of the female body to Baywatch, the attribution of melodramatic beauty to nature to the German Romantics. A crude bone-flute from a nearby region can be used to play the melody of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Herzog is so fascinated by the past because he looks at it and sees himself. Some things change over the course of millenia. But others, like the torch-ash swiped 28,000 years ago that looks freshly fallen, don't. "We are locked in history," Herzog says. "They"—the cave painters—"were not." Grade: B


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19 August 2011

A Horrible Way to Die

Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Simon Barrett
Full credits at IMDb

You know who's worse than serial killers? Fanboys! That's the punch line to this one-gag thriller, in which Amy Seimetz meets-cute nice-guy Joe Swanberg at an AA meeting. She'll eventually take her clothes off for him (though not as quickly as Greta Gerwig would have), and then involve him in a deadly situation when her serial-killer ex escapes from custody. The miserablist A Horrible Way to Die crosscuts the awkwardly blossoming romance between these two troubled types with the tastefully edited road-trip rampage of an unleashed sociopath with a large Internet following. (AJ Bowen plays this mustachioed schlub, who, in a different context, could pass for a character in a Joe Swanberg movie.) It's mumblecore with homicidal tendencies.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Conan the Barbarbian

Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Written by: Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer, and Sean Hood
Full credits at IMDb

Of course Lionsgate would tap Marcus Nispel to direct this, right? The Platinum Dunes hack-for-hire has become the modern master of the schlockhouse reboot. Proving he could capably revive the Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw franchises, why not move him on to some other cheesy 80s property like Conan? This new movie has been in the works for almost a decade, as part of a carefully rolled out rebranding of the Conan character, who dates back to Robert E. Howard's Depression-era fantasy stories but "had grown plain weird," as Brooks Barnes recently reported. The company that owned the rights withdrew all Conan merchandise from the market in 2002, and has been slowly reintroducing new stuff ever since: new comics, a strong-selling computer game, and now the film. This carefully controlled strategy has culminated in a movie tailor-made for boys, who'll be thrilled into buying new things by the copious gore and bare breasts without being bored by things like character development or smart pacing. (Here's the structure: violence-violence-violence-exposition-violence-violence-violence. Repeat for 110 minutes.) But what's inoffensive for one demographic is exhausting, exasperating for another.

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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12 August 2011

30 Minutes or Less

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Michael Diliberti
Full credits at IMDb

[In one scene, a] lady, the stripper, reveals and then fondles her breasts when Danny McBride brings up his potential $1 million inheritance—because the very mention of money makes ladies' nipples hard? This movie is so full of unfunny misogyny and racist cliches! But maybe its characters [are] just trying on action-movie cliches. If you think about it, this is like a terrible, tone-deaf Hot Fuzz, with its characters' reverence for action movies (for movie night, Jesse Eisenberg rents Lethal Weapons I & II). They construct their lives around them; the whole ludicrous plot is based around that genre's tropes (hired assassins, car chases, bank robberies, etc.) But 30 Minutes doesn't send them up—it embraces them, then just crowds them with labored one-liners.

Keep reading my discussion with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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05 August 2011

Bellflower

Written & Directed by: Evan Glodell
Full credits at IMDb

"Propane is for pussies." So declares a character in the combustible Bellflower, which is fueled by blood, fire, whiskey and diesel. In his feature debut, writer-director Evan Glodell roughens his dippy romantic banalities with a post-apocalyptic aesthetic. (Because break-ups and doomsdays share that "end of the world" feeling.) Bellflower Southbys its Sundanceness, Texifies its Utah-grown clichés— it Mad Maxes them. Woodrow (Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) meet cute in a SoCal bar by competing in a grasshopper-eating contest. "I'm building a flamethrower," he tells her, subverting the sweetness with badassery-aside from the homemade flamethrower, there's also a muscle car that shoots fire from its exhaust pipes-and foreshadowing what's to come: fuller versions of the gruesome flashes glimpsed in pre-credits jump shots, the goofy charm lost in sad violence.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Full credits at IMDb

I came into this pretty intrigued by what I assumed had to be a necessarily unhappy ending, just like Revenge of the Sith couldn't end well. As a franchise-rebooting prequel to 1968's Planet of the Apes (and not 2005's Franco-directed The Ape), which famously ends with the revelation that the earth's human population has been decimated and its civilization destroyed, this movie had to climax with a great war, or a great plague, or both, or something equally depressing—a human-and-humanity-ending apocalypse. But, rather terrifically, director Rupert Wyatt makes this devastation a bittersweetly happy ending; he aligns our sympathies with the apes, and so as they battle the humans in the awesome climactic action sequence, we're rooting for them—even as they're beating up police officers and civilian bystanders. In other words, we're rooting against ourselves!

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Cowboys & Aliens

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus and Hank Ostby
Full credits at IMDb

Cowboys & Aliens...lampoons the Western's archetypes, including in this case a man with no name, his unlikely pairing with a headstrong woman, a preacher with a taste for drink, a spoiled scion, local corruption, a coming railroad, and the exoticized Injun, with his painted face and strange magiks. As for symbolism, well, it feels like there's not much here. For me, potentially, the most interesting aspect of the movie was how it would play with genre, mashing up science fiction with the Western. I mean, sure, why do we so rarely see alien invasion narratives outside of the 20th century? (Besides, I suppose, 2001's apes-visitng monolith, or episodes of Doctor Who.) So, I appreciate the conceit, but it's not exactly smart, is it? I mean, is there any reason for overwriting the anxieties of one genre (race/science) onto another (race/settling down)?

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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21 July 2011

The Devil's Double

Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Written by: Michael Thomas
Full credits at IMDb

Uday Hussein and his body double Latif make a strange couple: in The Devil's Double, a smart and ontologically complex gangster movie, they represent the duality of man, the clash of id and ego, even the realization of Narcissus's longing. Indeed, Latif's tragedy is like that of the clone, who tries to assume another's identity but cannot extinguish his own...

Uday, the modern-day Arabian prince, lives like an American drug dealer, surrounded by weapons, women, drugs, cars and designer clothes; he's steeped in Western decadence down to the discotheques, where he snorts cocaine and grinds against women. “My cock is well known in Baghdad,” he tells Latif. “I love cunt more than I love God.” The Husseins are not exactly Taliban. It's like Tony Montana elevated to emir, suggesting that to idealize crime lords is to celebrate tyrants. We may love our gangsters, our tales of lavish underworld debauchery—director Lee Tamahori quotes The Godfather with a shoot-out at a vehicle checkpoint—but can the Scarface glorifiers really bring themselves to glamorize Uday Fucking Hussein? Cowardly, the movie offers them an out...

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Steve Kloves
Full credits at IMDb

Just two weeks ago I was saying that all American disaster movies exploit 9/11 imagery because it's our most visceral shared-iconography? Well, it's telling how very British the Harry Potter series is, that when it comes time for its own war to define a generation—equivalent to Autobots vs. Decepticons—it doesn't play off of pictures from the coalition wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or 7/7, but those of W.W. II! I guess that over there, the war on terror has a moral ambiguity it doesn't share on our shores, and so to find an example of unimpeachably righteous violence, the English have to go back to the fight against the Nazis. And so you have here students at wizardry school marching in Riefenstahlian lockstep, wearing the colorless uniforms villains have worn since the American Civil War, and Snape hissing like the emperor in Star Wars. (Which played on a Nazi aesthetic, too, right?) When Hogwarts is attacked by Voldemort's army, it looked like The Blitz, the skies all lit up with the swirling lights of exploded munitions, like van Gogh's "Starry Night" gone martial...

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Horrible Bosses

Directed by: Seth Gordon
Written by: Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein
Full credits at IMDb

Hey, wouldn't this have been a million times better if it had been about kids trying to kill their teachers? Imagine, it's called Bad Teachers (oh, wait), and instead of a sexy dentist you have an assaultive nun, etc. etc. I mean, these characters were just little kids in big-kid bodies, playing at murder helplessly and ignorantly, armed only with knowledge from Law and Order reruns, the same way they play at everything in their lives: sex (it's pretty good!!), work (it's hard!!). I wouldn't be surprised if the script had been rewritten to turn the characters from boys to men. Written as adults, they become an archetype, The Suburban Schmuck, multiplied by three. What a resilient cliche; I remember it from the television commercials of my youth, when some poor schlub couldn't program the time on his VCR! But if I had to pick one offensive element above all others? Geez, I'd probably go with the laziness of the writing. Jamie Foxx has those three scenes as a contracted "murder consultant," and the gag seems to be that he's like a script doctor—overpaid for his pat insights. But he's also a deus ex machina; at every act break, the characters run to him and he tells them how to proceed: why not break into all your targets' homes? Or try to blackmail your boss (even though it's obvious that the time has come to call the police)?

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Full credits at IMDb

The Transformers franchise traditionally fetishizes automobiles, because it's literally "based on" a line of toy cars. But watching this third installment, I got the feeling that Michael Bay's feelings about cars have changed. The resurgent Decepticons far outnumber Autobots in Dark of the Moon; it's hard to make a movie that appreciates the automobile when most of your car-characters are bad guys, right? When one Autobot traitor declares, "Let the humans serve us or perish!" I couldn't help but think of the Decepticons as the Lemons from last week's Cars 2 who wanted to restore oil hegemony. Geez, is a Michael Bay movie really saying that cars are bad?

I mean, the Decepticons wanted to make the humans their slaves—just like cars make Americans slaves to oil? The Decepticons drooled oil, like they were literally thirsty for it. In the battle scenes, a mechanic's shop was destroyed, as well as more than one parking lot. There are battles on highways, causing accidents and widespread carnage. Are the Autobots, then, supposed to be hybrids? Or electric cars, or something? Since they're so righteous yet so underrepresented in the movie's general automobile population? Or, shit, I think I got it: since they fight with the Americans, they represent the American auto industry, don't they? And the Decepticons, the flood of foreign ("alien") competitors?

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine


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Fading of the Cries

Written & Directed by: Brian A. Metcalf
Full credits at IMDb

Brian A. Metcalf is like one of those little dogs convinced it has a big dog's body. The writer-director's Fading of the Cries, a fun horror fantasy, feels like a blockbuster despite its indie budget, demonstrating the first-time feature-director's professional experience as a photographer, storyboarder, and visual effects supervisor on myriad shorts and advertising projects. The movie tells an archetypal story of an ordinary girl plucked from obscurity and placed in extraordinary circumstances: Sarah (Hallee Hirsh) is strolling somnolent streets, sipping stolen spirits with her bestie, when a zombie mob attacks; she's rescued by a sword-wielding protector (Jordan Matthews), who whisks her around town while they're attacked by more zombies and also demons, all commanded by Mathias (Brad Dourif), a sorcerer who wants back a powerful necklace—like many fantasy narratives, the movie hinges on a magic piece of jewelry (which is totally not a ring)—from Sarah, stolen from him by her uncle (Thomas Ian Nichols), whose destructive descent into magic unfolds in parallel flashbacks.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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John Carpenter's The Ward

Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael & Shawn Rasmussen
Full credits at IMDb

Thirty years later, it looks like John Carpenter really wishes he'd helmed Halloween II; because time travel doesn't exist but Rob Zombie does, he has made John Carpenter's The Ward instead. Like Rick Rosenthal's underappreciated 1981 sequel to his slasher milestone, Carpenter's first feature in a decade is set in a hospital, emphasis on the long corridors, and it feels like a sequel, though to a movie that wasn't made: a young girl is kidnapped, hung from a ceiling, and sexually abused—she's tortured and porned—but that suffering unfolds in scattered flashbacks. John Carpenter's The Ward focuses on what happens next, the rocky recovery process.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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30 June 2011

General Orders No. 9

Written & Directed by: Robert Persons
Full credits at IMDb

General Orders No. 9 is a rapturous ode to Georgia and a plaint for paradise lost—for what has been paved over and polluted, poisoned by the dissonance of urban asymmetry. In the first half, first time writer-director Robert Persons traces the state's (and country's?) evolution: "deer trail becomes Indian trail becomes county road"; the opening monologue describes the geometric patterns found in county planning and the construction of roads, using the kind of language poets usually reserve for celestial bodies. Narrator William Davidson gives soft voice to Persons's historical, philosophical and spiritual ruminations: "here there is a sense of order... not one brick out of true, not one heifer out of pasture." Against this narration, reminiscent of 19th century free verse, Persons parades images of carefully composed and naturally lighted landscapes; it looks like a Malick movie stripped of its narrative pretenses: sun, mists, clouds, trees, fields, roads, fish, farm animals, churches, water towers and small-town storefronts; the flames of a fire, flickering in slow motion. Persons' portrait of a place disregards its people for its topography; the meditative General Orders No. 9 seems to function within cosmological time (for which human life is too ephemeral), where man-made structures resemble ruins and stand amid flowers, lakesides, and ceramic figurines. At least, anyway, until the interstate arrives.

Keep reading at The L Magazine


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