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.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

American Hustle (2013)

I was going to start my review by saying American Hustle is the best Scorsese movie since Goodfellas, no matter that it wasn’t actually directed by Martin Scorsese. But American Hustle is made by movie maverick David O. Russell, now one of Hollywood’s biggest and most reliable A-list filmmakers, and the film is truly and uniquely his, as much I Heart Huckabees as it is Casino. Like its main characters, this almost rudely, insistently entertaining movie has tremendous confidence and sparkling showmanship, spinning its twisted Horatio Alger yarn with all the skill of a seasoned swindler.

Russell doesn’t just flirt with disaster—as he did in Silver Linings Playbook—but courts it openly. Almost continuously over its 135 minutes, the director seems to embrace complete entropy (if not anarchy) and an exaggerated human circus approach, only to pull a long con of his own, one performed with enough control and elegance to have you hooked. If the result, more flimflammery flair than finesse, seems like a bit of a narrative mess, it’s a rich, marvelous mess in which the narrative is not what mattered to begin with.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Circus (1928) Analysis

Those who think that Charlie Chaplin’s use of simple, mostly passive camerawork and compositions stemmed from poor craftsmanship ought to think a bit more about the hall of mirrors scene in the filmmaker’s The Circus (1928).  Chaplin’s technique was meant to find precisely the right angle to communicate the pictorial, intellectual, and emotional values of the shot, foregrounding character, acting, theme, and story over cinematic elements. His chaste, even static camera was confined largely to patient waiting while he reached through it to make contact with us, but if Chaplin wanted to be flashy, Chaplin could be flashy. Almost a full two decades before the similar celebrated sequence of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1946), Chaplin had mastered the cinematic technique necessary to shoot an infinite series of reflections at once.

In The Circus scene, the Tramp finds himself dodging both a policeman and a pickpocket when he runs into the hall of mirrors. Chaplin choreographs the cross-eyed images in the hall so precisely that the two men, running away from each other, bump headlong. The main character’s own figure is multiplied a hundred times so that it is impossible to distinguish the reflection from the man. The sequence serves, however, a thematic purpose much more important than the visual magic it creates. Chaplin, through the numerous reflections and repetitions of his own character, communicates a fractured sense of self, an incomplete identity. Caught between legitimate society (represented by the cop) and a wayward life of crime (represented by the pickpocket), Charlie must choose his own persona; he must discover, as he will throughout the movie, who and what he is and how that relates to all the other facets of himself (the reflections): who and what he appears to be to others, who he wants to be, and who he will never be.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dark Streets, Dangerous Women and Knights in Dirty Armor: Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and the Conventions of Noir

“The air cools. The sounds change. The suits and brief-cases scurry to their fortresses and bolt their doors and balance their checkbooks and ignore the screams and try not to think about who really owns Sin City.”
                                                                                                                                            —Sin City Volume I: The Hard Goodbye

Sin City, its creator has said, is not a place but a state of mind (Booker 161). Eager to do comic books about crime, “about tough guys in mean cities,” in 1991 artist Frank Miller created the first story of the Sin City series, initially released in thirteen parts in Dark Horse Presents (Harvey 259). The story was retitled The Hard Goodbye, released as a graphic novel and followed by five more “yarns,” sordid tales of urban violence set in a climate of complete moral corruption. Influenced by Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, Jim Thompson and “long nights of living alone in Manhattan and discovering the black-and-white movies,” Miller’s illustrations drew their inspiration from outside the traditional confines of the comic book subculture (MacDonald 42, Gabillet 104). Sin City featured gritty black-and-white stylized graphics, over-the-top, hard-case crime retro dialogue, hardcore ultraviolence; it became an exercise in the celebration of film noir culture, one that is particularly extreme, violent and brutal, even by the genre’s standards. Steeped in darkness both physical and psychological, the style, characters, setting, themes, and tone of the graphic novel series, particularly the first four volumes (The Hard Goodbye, A Dame to Kill For, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard) are undeniably indebted to film noir.  At the same time, Sin City self-consciously draws attention to the conventions of noir either by reducing or amplifying them, effectively critiquing its own narrative forms while remaining entirely within the rules of the genre.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Oldboy (2013)


I feel I must preface this review by admitting, unfortunately, that I have not seen the reportedly brilliant, shockingly successful source material for Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Park Chun-wook’s 2003 Korean cult classic described by one critic as “adapted from a manga comic-book, which was in turn adapted from an overwhelming desire to see what damage hammers do to foreheads.” As I have been deprived of this undoubtedly awesome experience (while most critics have not), I will refrain from making any comparisons between Lee’s movie and its inspiration (which most critics have made). It is my understanding that the new and unimproved Oldboy falls sadly short of its predecessor, but, for those of us who haven’t seen the Korean version, this reimagining can still be a lot of fun.

Although the negative reviews have probably managed to kill Lee’s film by now, Oldboy is a movie worth resuscitating. With its big name actors, celebrity director, and commercial genre qualities, the movie is not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it is a lively entry into Lee’s ongoing campaign to push into the mainstream (25th Hour, Inside Man). The film has an obsessive, hypnotic quality that could only be dampened by comparisons to the original. Even rarer, it’s an adult movie at a time when PG-13 films fill the multiplexes, a Nicolas Winding Refn for the masses.