Film

Heads without Bodies

Heads without Bodies

Trump has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face.

Earlier in his career, in 1989, when he was merely a rich gasbag and an annoyance, Trump bought a big ad in the New York Times so he could publicly call for the executions of the Central Park Five, young black men accused and convicted of assault and rape. The men were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 and released from prison. They sued the City of New York and won. Trump went out of his way last year to let voters know he still believed they were guilty. This is how he thrives. Now he has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face. Trump’s head is struggling to control our actions and responses the same way Milland’s head struggled to control Grier’s body in this cheap movie. The devil finds work where he can. The Thing with Two Heads was too dumb to be noticed by James Baldwin in his book-length essay on race and the movies, and I had to go to Canada to run into it. Now it’s the kind of stupid we live with every day.

Rise of the Machines

Rise of the Machines

On the Fast and the Furious movies

Every film franchise is a testament to growth and conquest. In the case of the Marvel movies, that growth is exponential and expanding: movies beget more movies, more spinoffs, more series that emerge from spinoffs. What sets the Fast and the Furious series apart from franchises like this—at least for now—is its habit of folding all that hot-media-property energy back into itself, making the movies all the more strange and intense.

One Word: Authenticity!

One Word: Authenticity!

Oscars 2017

The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.

A Liquid State

A Liquid State

In Memory of Alexis Arquette

The always deferential Huffington Post noted at the end of its article on Alexis Arquette’s death that it had “reached out to a representative for Alexis for further clarification on how the actor identified at the time of death.”

Kiarostami and <em>The Purge</em>

Kiarostami and The Purge

All the things Kiarostami could not show in his films became the only things Hollywood filmmakers chose to show in theirs.

All of a sudden The Purge: Election Year became a stand-in for America’s violent, cynical, stupid cinema—the exact opposite of everything Kiarostami stood for and everything he achieved over four and a half decades of filmmaking in Iran and elsewhere.

This Quiet Place Today

This Quiet Place Today

Formerly assigned parts as villainous Romans and Nazis, British actors now populate American films as the worst America has to offer, and sometimes as exemplars of the white working class.

Dirty Pretty Things, Never Let Me Go, Under the Skin, and now The Lobster—British art-house cinema is obsessed with organ harvesting. Forcing people into strange rooms to rob them of their organs or, in the case of The Lobster, to recalibrate their organs and thereby change them into animals . . . I don’t think this is something preying on the minds of Americans. Our worries are more immediate. We’re more likely to be mowed down by an assault rifle in public than we are to have our organs harvested for use by the upper class or space aliens.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”

Episode 24: At the Movies

Episode 24: At the Movies

Most film critics that write today regularly are essentially publicists for Hollywood films. Their criticism is intermingled with this form of entertainment journalism that really has nothing to do with criticism. So a lot of times when you read a film review now, in addition to getting a lot of plot description—which I don’t think is really necessary in film criticism anymore, because everybody knows everything about films before they come out now because of the internet—you get a lot of histories of the people who are in the films or made the films.

We Other Puritans

We Other Puritans

No doubt many Puritans, like many film critics, were self-righteous.

The Witch is effective as a chiller, and the acting is tremendous—everyone’s wound so tight you expect springs to pop out of their heads. But we are aware from the first shot that this is a Serious Film, more Arthur Miller than Eduardo Sanchez, because the cinematography is trendily washed out, the better to show off the blood that spatters every other scene. There are visual echoes of Goya; the end title informs us loftily that much of the dialogue comes from period sources. The filmmakers are so desperate to be taken seriously that they’ve forgotten to have much fun.

We're Not Ugly People

We're Not Ugly People

Oscar Movies, 2016

The movies can put a positive spin on anything. Seeing the world anew, or for the first time, becomes an allegory of motherhood and childhood in Room, which puts its protagonist (Brie Larson) in a situation not unlike Matt Damon’s in The Martian, but Earthbound, and worse.

Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort

There have been surprisingly few recent English-language films about infidelity, at least once you exclude movies that treat the subject as little more than a secret for characters to hide and reveal, a temptation for them to resist, or a sin for which they’re obliged to atone. It’s striking to see two films that consider their characters’ romantic betrayals so quietly and reflectively, with so little moralizing. That they arrive at very different conclusions—about what it means to be unfaithful, about how much strain a relationship can take, and about the extent to which committed relationships between people are, in the end, possible—suggests how many dramatic possibilities infidelity can give a filmmaker when it’s treated with seriousness and care. It also suggests a good deal about Haigh and Kaufman’s relative degrees of comfort with the kinds of grown-up, advanced-age relationships they’ve chosen to depict.

Trials and Error

Trials and Error

Court and the Indian state

The first scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film, Court, opens with a distant view of a makeshift stage in a Bombay slum. Workers have gathered to watch a charismatic Dalit singer, who, backed by vocalists and drummers, belts out jeremiads against the false gods of the age: the greed found in glitzy new shopping malls and the “dense” thickets of racism, nationalism, and caste-ism into which people have fallen.

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

On the sequel to The Act of Killing

Eyes gouged; eyes augmented; eyes blinded with old age; eyes guarded, darting, glassed-over; eyes squinting to check if the horizon has sharpened. A boy shuts his hard as he struggles to absorb his history lessons at school. His sister puts on their father’s glasses, giggling at how they warp her world. Eyes multiply, kaleidoscopic, as the structuring metaphor of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a new documentary on the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia that, between 1965 and 1966, killed up to a million people.

For Chantal Akerman

For Chantal Akerman

The “suspended, unproductive time” (in Crary’s phrase) of ordinary people was Chantal’s subject. She has ended up a Simone Weil of the cinema, as her film je, tu, il, elle seems in retrospect to predict she would, an artist hyperaware and sensitive to the world around her, one she apparently couldn’t take anymore.

Heads without Bodies

Heads without Bodies

Trump has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face.

Earlier in his career, in 1989, when he was merely a rich gasbag and an annoyance, Trump bought a big ad in the New York Times so he could publicly call for the executions of the Central Park Five, young black men accused and convicted of assault and rape. The men were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002 and released from prison. They sued the City of New York and won. Trump went out of his way last year to let voters know he still believed they were guilty. This is how he thrives. Now he has grafted his head onto our collective body, with his horror-movie hairdo always in our face. Trump’s head is struggling to control our actions and responses the same way Milland’s head struggled to control Grier’s body in this cheap movie. The devil finds work where he can. The Thing with Two Heads was too dumb to be noticed by James Baldwin in his book-length essay on race and the movies, and I had to go to Canada to run into it. Now it’s the kind of stupid we live with every day.

Rise of the Machines

Rise of the Machines

On the Fast and the Furious movies

Every film franchise is a testament to growth and conquest. In the case of the Marvel movies, that growth is exponential and expanding: movies beget more movies, more spinoffs, more series that emerge from spinoffs. What sets the Fast and the Furious series apart from franchises like this—at least for now—is its habit of folding all that hot-media-property energy back into itself, making the movies all the more strange and intense.

One Word: Authenticity!

One Word: Authenticity!

Oscars 2017

The post-classic French musicals that do away with singers and dancers (A Woman Is a Woman) or emphasize melancholy and failed romance against a backdrop of societal drabness (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) serve as models for La La Land. Their use seems academic, befitting a director running for Student Council President of the Movies.

A Liquid State

A Liquid State

In Memory of Alexis Arquette

The always deferential Huffington Post noted at the end of its article on Alexis Arquette’s death that it had “reached out to a representative for Alexis for further clarification on how the actor identified at the time of death.”

Kiarostami and <em>The Purge</em>

Kiarostami and The Purge

All the things Kiarostami could not show in his films became the only things Hollywood filmmakers chose to show in theirs.

All of a sudden The Purge: Election Year became a stand-in for America’s violent, cynical, stupid cinema—the exact opposite of everything Kiarostami stood for and everything he achieved over four and a half decades of filmmaking in Iran and elsewhere.