Currently screening at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center are Louis Garrel’s A Faithful Man (Recommended) and Rick Alverson’s The Mountain (Recommended). The Kino Lorber double-feature barely share anything in common, but I thought it useful to consider both films in the same space. If anything, it’s their cultural and thematic contrasts that serve to illuminate my reading and thoughts on both. And more importantly, it’s their unexpected moments of similarity, Garrel and Alverson’s calculated use of elision, which makes a duel reading of the films more rewarding.Read More
Guy Nattiv’s Skin, a feature-length adaptation of the filmmaker’s Oscar-winning short film of the same name, is a series of blasé dramatic repartees that amount to little more than crocodile tears. The dramatic conceit involves a man’s redemption arc as he reverts from a violent white power advocate to… not that. It’s a strange feeling watching a film about white men and women who carve a swastika into the face of a black teen only for its filmmaker to humanize the carvers rather than the carved. That, my friends, requires a special kind of privilege.Read More
So, I openly acknowledge that Max Minghella’s Teen Spirit isn’t a terribly great film. It’s sloppy, embarrassingly indulgent, and operates more like a music video than a feature film. And for those reasons I, irrationally, really enjoyed it. A movie like this, one that ostentatiously flaunts its sentimentality, rarely work for me in part because they tend to ascribe numerous formulaic devices to see their narrative arc through. Teen Spirit possesses all the banal narrative traits you’d expect from a film like this yet is realized through a funnel of montage sequences set to pop songs by Katy Perry, Robyn, Ellie Goulding, and early No Doubt. Your mileage will clearly vary depending on your appreciation for those artists, but for me they made Minghella’s numerous platitudinous plunges significantly easier to accept.Read More
Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, is the worst film I’ve seen by the filmmaker. Yet given my admiration for Leigh’s filmography, this isn’t entirely a dismissal, per se. But rather it’s tough to watch and consider Peterloo without experiencing a tinge of disappointment. Films like Another Year and Happy-Go-Lucky were formative as part of my early cinephilia, and I gladly plundered Leigh’s 80s and 90s output as a result. But Peterloo, with its high-octave candor and unceasing, frenzied displays of histrionics, finds Leigh in a singular mode for the totality of its runtime: Big. One of the most exciting qualities about Leigh’s filmmaking is in how it changes shape on you depending on the will of his performers. That kind of freedom, undoubtedly a result of the vastness of its budget and sheer scope, isn’t an option. As a result, in one of those paradoxical quandaries, we find Leigh’s mammoth ambitions limit the creative will of his filmmaking.Read More
“Love yields to circumstance”, wrote Thomas Hardy in Far From the Maddening Crowd. Such a quote is tested to its litmus in Asghar Farhadi’s Everybody Knows. I’ve described Farhadi’s films as moral puzzles for years now and this is the first one since I was introduced to his work where I feel like it would be inadequate, if not a little misleading, to describe it as such. Because while the film is rooted in numerous sociological anxieties that I’ve come to associate with Farhadi’s work, Everybody Knows is the one that registers less as a series of intellectual rejoinders and more a collection of guttural emotions. Ironically, this proves to be Farhadi’s most formally rigorous work since at least A Separation, filled with densely layered compositions and handheld work that bares comparison to John Cassavetes. It’s certainly not what I expected from the filmmaker, particularly one that I thought I had pegged as formally competent if not especially exciting; Everybody Knows stands out as Farhadi’s most interesting film to date.Read More
The routine disappointment that comes with every year’s Academy Awards’ nominees slate was especially magnified this year, when the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book would seem to have taken spots from quote unquote better films like First Reformed and If Beale Street Could Talk. I know the conversation surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody in particular has called to question its technical merits. The Twitter video of its incoherent editing stirred up a lively debate on the matter – the film, bewilderingly, won an American Cinema Editing Eddie award over the past weekend. Though one has to remember that the Academy Awards has never and will never be a barometer of taste or quality. The very concept of quality itself fluctuates and the nominees, like with any other year, reflect an impossible number of intangibles; intangibles rooted in $$$ above all.
Yet parse through the nominees list and there’s usually plenty worth vouching for, and 2019 is no different. As with most years, the most eclectic set of nominees tend to be centralized in the shorts categories, with this year’s Animated Shorts nominees making up for the best the category has been in a decade.Read More
Emma Forrest’s debut feature, Untogether, starring the likes of Jemima and Lola Kirke, Billy Crystal, and Ben Mendelsohn, is an aggressively banal film. Not all of it is necessarily bad per se, but Forrest, who owns both directing and writing credit for the film, has a better handle on the latter than the former. The filmmaking here is glossy, unfussy, and fundamentally undemanding. She relies on her coterie of established actors to propel much of the action, with Forrest providing ample space for them to maneuver within their posh L.A. settings. But as a writer, her propensity for grandiose, cliché gestures and frequent, truculent narrative twists make the whole endeavor a painfully disenchanting chore to sit through.Read More
There’s not a filmmaker alive that produces more self-doubt in my critical capacities than Jean-Luc Godard. My fondness for the filmmaker stems from his early work, yet it’s his post-millennium output that weighs most heavily in my consciousness. Particularly with his prior film, Goodbye to Language, the overwhelming sensory qualities of his collages are so imposing, so colossal in their implication that it threatens to obfuscate any attempt at understanding, refusing to be stripped down to a logline or synopsis. Godard’s work over the past twenty years sometimes seems to require a scholarly touch, which can reduce this faux-scholar to his knees as I vainly attempt to piece together fragments that sometimes never seem to build together to resemble a whole picture. And yet in piecing together the barrage of references, the geyser of history that composes Film Socialisme, Goodbye to Language, and now The Image Book, there’s something inherently calming about approaching the unknowable. There’s clearly a grand unifying theory, a string of anxieties and preoccupations that unite Godard’s later period work. But needing to have that explained isn’t necessarily the point; with The Image Book, Godard isn’t asking you to interpret the world, but rather suggests how imperative it is to actually change it.Read More
There’s this axiom: “The worst your past was, the worse your present will be.” I’ll try not to get too dramatic as I don’t want this to degenerate into whining. I felt myself thin away and teetering toward oblivion throughout passages of 2018. Or: it wasn’t the best year. I started it off unemployed, laid off a week prior to Thanksgiving 2017 and forced to hustle a menial, demeaning job to make it through the holiday season. It was humbling (which more often than not reads as: terrible) and a casual reminder that the distinction between nightmare and reality can be blurred beyond recognition.
Good news was that I started a new position with one of the most renowned academic institutions on the planet in late January. The tide was turning, the molecules of the universe finally colliding in a way that actually benefited me. I never before felt like I was on the fringe, but I certainly felt less passive and more active in becoming a fully functional human being. 30 howled and with it a set of anxieties and preoccupations that, somehow, I seemed capable of handling. It hasn’t always been a picnic, but the alternative – unemployment, anomie – and its resulting anxieties have thankfully been kept at bay.Read More
It’s difficult to imagine much credibility in recommending Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse given that I’ve found nearly every film to come out of Marvel Studios (and its adjacent co-producing studios) to be an absolute, cortex-withering slog. Even those I “like” I tend to recommend out of fatigue, predicating my sentence with, “If you have to watch one those films, I’d go with option A, choice B, or bitter pill C.” But with the unfortunately titled, robustly directed Spider-Verse, I can enthusiastically deploy any number of superlatives: it’s the best film produced under the Marvel moniker, the best animated superhero film since Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and one of the best animated films, superhero or not, of 2018. It is, above all, a refreshing change of pace from the factory-produced mentality, world-building nonsense that comes from our contemporary crop of superhero films. From its textured animation, emotionally terse voice-acting, and complex but fundamentally human narrative, Spider-Verse achieves the paradoxical feat of making you feel like a superhero by evoking everything that makes you a human; from coursing through your day to day, abating anxieties over an uncertain future, or simply contending with your own self-imposed deficiencies and doubts, Spider-Verse suggests that true acts of heroism come from our capacity not to just live for ourselves, but for others.Read More