Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, released in 1925, revolutionized cinema, making its director and Russian filmmaking famous around the world. A master metteur en scene, Eisenstein focused more on the possibilities of film itself than on character development or plot. The director is interested in mass movements, and uses individuals only as representations of the many, fusing sound and images together to create a vast and startling ever-moving painting of often fearsome beauty. The overriding principle in Potemkin, as well as many of the Eisenstein’s other works, is that of kineticism—from the intense movement and dynamism within the frame, to the visual clash of his juxtapositions— which set up the rhythm of his movies and introduced a more sophisticated style of editing than had ever been used before.
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.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Sunday, January 19, 2014
The movie’s official poster calls Her “A Spike Jonze Love Story.” The decidedly unofficial “honest” movie poster created by Uproxx calls it “a two-hour closeup of Joaquin Phoenix’s face.” More on that in a bit; for now I’d like to focus on the official tagline. Jonze (of the genre-bending—and genre-shaping—Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) is a filmmaker with an astute sense of the absurd. His films are genuinely provocative, brazenly original and bravely inquisitive, and Her, Jonze’s screenwriting debut, is no exception. But the film also offers one of the loveliest romances ever to have graced the silver screen. The fact that it transpires between a man and his software only increases my admiration for the delicacy and depth of feeling packed into the relationship, a brilliant conceptual gag that proves nonetheless sincere and completely plausible. Wildly inventive, challenging and engaging, this subtly profound film follows its own quirky, amusing course. It’s a melancholy, eerie love story unlike anything else you’ve seen this year—or ever.
In Her’s opening shots, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix in a quietly heroic, beautifully hushed performance), is making an unabashed declaration of love to an unseen beloved. The actor, as well as his character, is unaffected, sincere, disarming. We quickly discover, however, that his lovely words are not addressed to his beloved at all, that this is what Theodore does for a living; the character is a latter-day Cyrano writing heartfelt notes-for-hire at BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com (the handwriting all computer-generated, of course). The cuteness is instantly turned to cynicism, in a movie that is both visionary and traditional, tender and cool, passionate and wispy. Like the lingering analog affection for handwriting in a digital age, Her argues for both the past and the future, with a soulfully poetic spirit that’s become extremely rare in American cinema.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Well, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters—i.e. the people who hand out those tiny little golden men everyone seems to be talking about today—have had their say. Here is my response.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Richly rendered, intoxicating and ingenious, Saving Mr. Banks is at times no less fantastical than stories about governesses who can fly. Director John Lee Hancock of The Blind Side fame, writers Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, and the superb ensemble of seasoned actors create a riveting backstage account of artistic collaboration, a clash of Hollywood titans marbled with moments of high comedy. The Walt-worthy giddiness, depth of feeling, and the stunning performances elevate the story above its premise as an unapologetically retro valentine to the studio that is the most literal Hollywood dream factory.
Thick with affection and old-fashioned showmanship, the movie is a Disney fairytale based on fact, namely the making of Mary Poppins, the much beloved 1964 musical fantasy that put Walt and his boys on the map as serious creators of live action family entertainment. There are knowing winks to Disney’s flying nanny, but Saving Mr. Banks is accessible and enjoyable to even those entirely innocent to the original film—if such people exist.
Monday, January 6, 2014
Subtle and surreptitiously soulful, Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest has a light, tender touch and a surfeit of sincere, deep feeling, two things the Coen brothers generally lack. A lot of the emotion comes from the music itself, supervised by T. Bone Burnett, a man who really knows his way around a ballad. The film is as melancholy as the somber, smoky, sweet songs filled with steely, blue notes, providing a startlingly straight-faced departure for the directing/writing/producing/editing duo behind Fargo, No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading, and Raising Arizona. Marvelous and mordantly funny, Inside Llewyn Davis is deeply personal, boldly original, and highly emotional.
The sounds of the early sixties folk music revival float in the air like a strange, intoxicating perfume, reflecting the lonesomeness and romance of the traveling life, particularly the meandering, fraught journey of a guitar-strumming balladeer trying to reconcile his life and his art. Oscar Isaac, who portrays the title character with sincere conviction and a haunting humanism, can definitely sing, in a fine, clear tenor voice that palpitates with the poignant pain of loss, longing, and loneliness. All of the songs speak to this pain and to the rootlessness and regret of his existence: “Fare Thee Well,” “Five Hundred Miles (Away From Home),” and especially “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” which opens the film: “wouldn’t mind the hangin’ except for layin’ in the grave so long, poor boy... I been all around this world.” The words and chords don’t just enrich the movie, they complete it, tapping into reservoirs of otherwise inaccessible feelings.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
The Wolf of Wall Street starts with an ad for Stratton Oakmont; the commercial makes us believe the brokerage firm is a golden American institution, a rock of financial stability, as traditional, trustworthy, and established as if the Mayflower passengers had etched the very name into Plymouth Rock. Cut to the nightmarish circus of a rollicking party on the trading floor of the company—not unlike what we’ve imagined went on in Rome before the fall (all but the roller-skating chimp and snorting coke off hookers, of course)—and then freeze-frame on the billionaire brokers tossing a dwarf at a huge velcro target, literally and figuratively abusing the Little Guy. Stratton Oakmont is America, its founder proudly proclaims in the ad. How horrifying is it to realize that he just might be right?
After going unexpectedly family-friendly with 2011’s Hugo, Martin Scorsese pulls a dramatic 180 with The Wolf of Wall Street, a nonstop barrage of drug-fueled decadence adapted by Terence Winter from real-life stockbroking swindler Jordan Belfort’s memoir. The book is a distant relative of the truth, it’s been said, and the film is a distant relative of the book. A big, unruly bacchanal with a sizeable, sinister smile on its lips, the movie is a bit of a contradiction, both abashed and unashamed, spectacle and cautionary tale, ode to and indictment of dollars, depravity, and conspicuous consumption.
Disturbing and exciting, exhilarating and exhausting, the endlessly entertaining film holds together by sheer virtue of its exuberant, furious filmmaking energy. Scorsese might be the best cinematic connoisseur of charismatic sociopaths, and Henry Hill or Nicky Santoro ain’t got nothing on Belfort. The Wolf of Wall Street’s brokers are avatars of an age of heedless self-indulgence and greed, gangsters with fountain pens instead of guns, slicing and dicing your bank account and putting your savings in a vise rather than your head. And, just like in the much less cynical and coked-up American Hustle, you’ll cheer the con artists on and thank them for swindling you when they’re done.