I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Crude, crass, callous and filled with carnage, Kick-Ass 2 commands our attention. Half smart-allecky satire, half semi-plausible vigilante fantasy, the movie is a worthy, if inferior, successor to Matthew Vaughn’s original. The series’ first director and co-writer remains on board as producer, but the creative reins have been handed down to the little-known Jeff Wadlow.

2010’s Kick-Ass, a brilliant, brazen, charcoal black action-comedy about a shy, nerdy teen trying to make it as a crime fighter was a breath of fresh air, the anti-Spiderman young superhero adventure I’d been waiting for. This screwy, savvy, self-conscious and self-satisfied sequel fills the screen with even more arterial spray and lays the irony on even thicker. By the second outing, however, it’s getting harder to distinguish Kick-Ass from the polished, name-brand superhero flicks it seemed to offer us respite from.

While still bone-crushingly brutal, Kick-Ass 2 drops its punchy predecessor’s attempt to pass the visceral, vicious violence off as something shocking or subversive. Gory, gimmicky, and grisly, the first film was deliciously and insolently provocative; it introduced crime-fighting children who toted guns, shot to kill, and cursed like Samuel L. Jackson. A joke is rarely as funny the second time you hear it, but Kick-Ass 2 offers a fresh infusion of comic energy in the loose, flippant approach to its source material, the ongoing Marvel series by Mark Millar and John S. Romita Jr.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Elysium (2013)

Elysium, the much-anticipated second feature from writer/director Neill Blomkamp, is an absorbing and intelligent bit of sociologically pointed caste conflict futurism that builds on real, present catastrophes to craft the carefully constructed horrors to come. The year is 2154, and the world’s elite has long decamped for the titular gated community in the sky, while the less fortunate toil away on a decrepit and dangerous planet that has undergone economic and environmental collapse. The paradisiacal space station colony hovers just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, a short shuttle ride away, taunting the downtrodden proletarian masses with its unattainable proximity.

Sound vaguely familiar? That’s because the South Africa-born filmmaker once again goes for bold (if blunt) political parable, substituting a polluted, overpopulated, and largely Latino Los Angeles for the racially-charged Johannesburg of his previous film. Blomkamp came out of nowhere with 2009’s District 9, an action movie with an acute social consciousness that only thinly disguised its apartheid allegory in crustacean alien guise. An unexpected critical and commercial triumph  and a  low-budget aesthetic achievement, the visionary film did a lot with a little, the striking production design, cinematography, costuming, and effects seemingly, against all odds, willed into being by its young creator—Blomkamp was not yet thirty when shooting District 9, and working with a budget of fewer millions than he had years.

Four years have passed, and the director makes a poised entrance into mainstream popcorn cinema. Although the sets are grander and the stars more famous, Blomkamp maintains much of the grit and grime, intensity and ingenuity of District 9.Working with a larger canvas and a more conventional framework, his Elysium plays like a cross between its smaller, scrappier, and often more searing predecessor and a big-budgeted, little-minded blockbuster. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

This Is the End (2013)

For most people, the apocalypse and eternal damnation are topics of sober reflection and deep despair. Seth Rogen is not most people. A graduate of the popular, profitable Judd Appatow comic fraternity, Rogen and co-writer/director Evan Goldberg create a perfect mix of hilarity and horror, goofiness and gore in the funny-as-hell This Is the End.

Based on the 2007 never-released short Seth and Jay vs. the Apocalypse, the movie is surprising, suspenseful, outrageous, absurd, and ultimately jubilant; it lets off an infectious sense of fun and the spiky comic energy of a foul-mouthed but generally good-natured hard R-rated comedy of near-cataclysmic levels of vulgarity and excess.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On the Waterfront (1954) Analysis

Elia Kazan’s highly acclaimed multi-award winning On the Waterfront eludes easy classification. An early example of social realism, it is also deeply felt. The director presents the gritty reality of the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, but at the same time he is battling his own demons. When Marlon Brando’s character says “I was rattin’ on myself all these years and didn’t even know it,” he speaks as much for Kazan as he does Terry Malloy. The film comes as a poetic justification, a poignant apologia for the director, after he had agreed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, naming names and becoming a pariah among his former colleagues and friends. Just as the world of Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) temporarily seduced the character, so did communism seem appealing to Kazan for a while, but in the end he was convinced it was an evil that needed to be opposed. The screenplay fuses realism with the more stylized gangster film, and ultimately transcends both genres and stands on its own as one of the best film of its decade, and one of the best American films ever made. Its message is just as powerful, and the acting just as stirring and convincing today, as it was more than half a century ago.

Friday, August 9, 2013

All About Bette

“Woman, sir, is a chalice,” a male character says in Jezebel (1938), “a frail, delicate chalice to be cherished and protected.” He’s clearly never met Bette Davis. The scathing gaze radiating from flashing eyes that betray an obvious intelligence and brilliant flamboyance, the deep, scalding voice, the arrogance, toughness, and brittle aggressiveness, no, Bette Davis was no frail and delicate chalice. One of the greatest and most daring female stars of classical Hollywood cinema, an icon and a powerful woman on and off the screen, Bette Davis transcended the limitations of her sexual identity in films as diverse as William Wyler’s Jezebel and The Little Foxes (1940), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), and Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Never a traditional beauty, she thrived because of  her attitude, her mastery of movement and emotional detail, her personal style, forcefulness and willingness to be disliked and to tap into her vast neurotic potential. Hers is a world of sumptuous glamor and tempestuous emotionalism: the savage lavishness of the Old South, the intellectual New York theater milieu of high class premieres and awards parties, and, finally, Hollywood wealth and decadence decayed into a perverse and outrageous travesty.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Wolverine (2013)

Trying to resist the cinematic lobotomy Hollywood pulls on viewers every summer, I have come up with a movie-going strategy that involves lowering expectations. If, stepping into a theater, I expect nothing, then the films that offer nothing or close to it (After Earth, The Hangover Part III, Man of Steel, R.I.P.D.) will not disappoint as much. And every once in a while, I will be surprised by a movie that offers everything: story, character, excitement, action, intrigue, romance, and the magic of escaping into a different world. James Mangold’s The Wolverine was that kind of surprise.

Repairing the damage done by Gavin Hood’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Mangold tells an unexpectedly personal and intimate tale with style and snap. This time around the most iconic X-Man of all is somewhat world-weary, wounded, and worn. At the forceful center of the film is Hugh Jackman, the biggest marvel of Marvel's The Wolverine, who returns for his sixth screen appearance as the lupine superhero. Letting a less visible, more vulnerable side show, Logan, a.k.a. the titular hero, tests his extremes and overcomes his limits, physically as well as emotionally. The movie  is as packed with feeling as its title character, a mutant with more humanity than all of the human heroes of this summer’s blockbusters combined. The filmmaker’s foray into the X-Men franchise is endlessly entertaining, if somewhat existential, dipping into dark and ponderous psychological territory; Mangold puts his character through all sorts of physical pain, but the director is also interested in the deeper aches of the soul.