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, June 29, 2014

22 Jump Street (2014)

Trying to write a review of 22 Jump Street—which I’ve been putting off for as long as humanly possible—I find myself at a loss. Not because I don’t have anything to say about this sly, self-referencing movie, but because there doesn’t seem to be any need for it. The film is critic-proof, reviewing itself as it goes along. It’s a buddy cop movie about the conventions of buddy cop movies, a sequel about the appeal and downside of sequels, a low expectation summer blockbuster about the low expectations of all summer blockbusters. Basically, it wants to eat its genre parody cake and have it too.

In the first movie, the 2012 hit that borrowed its title and undercover brother shtick from the old television show best known for making every ’80s teenage girl in America and beyond fall in love with Johnny Depp, the Jump Street operation was restarted, Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) explains, because “The guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas.” That may have registered as a jab at the studio powers that be, but in reality it’s a smiling affirmation that the guys in charge know precisely what they’re doing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Two Faces of January (2014)

Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini’s directorial debut takes its title from the English derivation of Janus, the two-faced Roman god who stands at the cusp of the new year, simultaneously musing backward at recent lessons and experiences, and peering forward to the murky and elusive future ahead, a guardian at the crossroads of the past and present. The reference implies the twin forces of duplicity and shifting circumstances that swirl in the fragrant atmosphere of The Two Faces of January, an old-school, sly, seductive Southern Europe-set tale of moral compromise and misdirection. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, Amini’s film has its own two faces; it’s at once an involving character drama and a gripping suspense movie, a pleasurable period piece of precision and class and a tight and tidy thriller as shrewd, sleek, and scintillating as its characters.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

 Between the months of May—or, if we follow the ever-increasing trend of cinematic climate change, much earlier than that—and August, I go through an intensive exercise of willful suspension of expectations whenever I set foot in a theater. Summer Movie Season, or better yet SUMMER MOVIE SEASON in all caps, is easily dismissed as a period of shameless studio profiteering in which the industry churns out dime-a-dozen spectacle films that cost a hell of a lot more than a dime. They’re too big, too loud, too expensive, too reverent to the altar of the lowest common denominator, too dependent on slick special effects and not enough so on narrative and character. I bemoan how otherwise gifted stars spend their estivate months squandering their talents in Hollywood products addicted to and addled by computer-generated monsters, robots, and explosions.

Then, every once in a while, something like Edge of Tomorrow comes along, and my faith in the mainstream, commercial American movie industry is renewed. I saw the film the Friday it came out. On Sunday, I had a 13-hour trans-Atlantic flight to get through. My first priority was not making sure I had a window seat, low-sodium meals on the plane, enough time to switch terminals between connecting flights, or, you know, that my passport was, indeed, in my bag. Between Friday and Sunday I was badgering everyone I know in Europe not only to go see this movie, but to wait until I got home on Monday and come see it with me.

Hands-down director Doug Liman’s best and most purely pleasurable effort in the twelve years since The Bourne Identity (if not longer than that), Edge of Tomorrow is less of a time-travel movie than an experience movie. One review called it “a cheeky little puzzle picture in expensive-looking blockbuster drag.” It’s a stylish, cleverly crafted, and continually involving mind- and clock-bending bit of action adventure that neither transcends nor redeems the genre, but, thanks to a superb creative team and star Tom Cruise, becomes a surprisingly satisfying exercise of that genre.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Immigrant (2013)

A great classicist, James Gray has often been called painterly, operatic, novelistic. It’s as if we have forgotten what good cinema looks like, searching other media for a comparison, assuming the heft and heart of art and literature is somehow outside the movies’ grasp. Gray’s The Immigrant, which premiered last year at Cannes and is just now hitting theaters, is a romantic tale that hides its monumental scale and subject in plain sight, a subtle, soulful masterpiece that cuts to the very heart of the American experience. Wrapping big themes in an intimate embrace, the film feels both epic and personal. It not only reminds us of what film used to be, but also of what it could be once again. A story of survival and redemption for the characters, the movie surely accomplishes the same for a very specific, straightforward kind of filmmaking that I haven’t seen in a very long time.

A mournful, mesmerizing meditation on the immigrant experience, the movie opens on a slow zoom of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in foggy mist, its back turned to the camera. From that first moment, The Immigrant unfolds in the foggy, misty gap between the promise the statue embodies and the harsh realities newcomers encounter when that promise turns its back on them. Later in the film, Lady Liberty will make a second appearance, this time as the main character’s cabaret costume, a sad parody of the ideals represented by the statue. The woman is asked why she came to America. “I want to be happy,” she mouths gently, her voice breaking with infinite sorrow. In another show, a magician levitates before the Ellis Island detainees, who are for the most part awaiting deportation to their home lands, assuring them that anything is possible if they believe—“The American Dream is waiting for you,” he says at the end of the act. How appropriate that the pep talk comes in the middle of a con act.