|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 25, 2015 at 9:40 PM||comments (0)|
Josef von Sternberg
IDEA: A disenchanted cabaret performer becomes entangled in the affections of a French playboy and a lusty legionnaire.
BLURB: Quixotic and Hollywood-seductive yet tempered by world-weariness, Morocco is one of Josef von Sternberg’s typical products in which romantic notions of all kinds fight against impulses of disillusionment and lament. As in other cases, story is superfluous and often trite, subordinated to glistening images of scenery and faces and the febrile emotions they hold. Sternberg harnesses his gift first by making the most of his exotic North African locales, then by reverting, as he must, to the divinely enigmatic visage of Marlene Dietrich. Despite other thin characterizations, Sternberg can never be accused of giving Dietrich paltry roles. Even though her Amy Jolly follows a disappointingly gender-prescribed arc, from defiantly independent and no-nonsense chanteuse to grieving and desperately heartsick wife, Sternberg imbues her with varied and often contradictory facets. She is alternately coquettish, subversive, doe-eyed and intractable; reticent and apathetic yet passionate and assertive; blithely resistant to patriarchal rituals and yet, finally, recuperated by heterosexual love, even if only on her own willful terms. The variegated nature of her character offsets some of the movie’s dated mechanics, and the final shot, breathtakingly conjured, reveals that Sternberg knows the price of his romance.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 27, 2015 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
INSIDE OUT ***1/2
Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen
IDEA: A young girl's personified emotions experience turbulence when her family relocates to a new home.
BLURB: One of the cinema’s many transcendent faculties is to reify the intangible, to visually represent a spectrum of abstract thoughts, feelings, and ideas so that the world can become just a little clearer. Pixar’s Inside Out does just this in a text that simultaneously puts into digestible terms the processes by which this is made possible, and even more crucially, why it’s so important. Easily the studio’s most cerebrally ingenious concept yet, the film audaciously probes memory, emotion, and identity by cross-cutting between depictions of material reality and simple yet cunningly thought out visualizations of mental operations. The juxtapositions, fluently and fluidly expressed by both the animators and writers, articulate the multifaceted ways in which we experience and react, deal with current situations and reconcile past ones, become subtly reconstituted as our perceptions evolve with growth and understanding. Docter, Carmen, and the Pixar team somehow manage the task of pulling off a metaphor that seems at once basic and ineffably nuanced, an adventure through legible, maybe even facile psychological representations that nevertheless edifies while preserving poignant ambiguities. Even its bluntest moments serve the point: this is how we can grasp ourselves and be better for it.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 20, 2015 at 1:45 AM||comments (0)|
LOVE & MERCY ***
IDEA: A biopic about Beach Boys maestro Brian Wilson during two periods in his life: the artistically productive but increasingly fraught 1960s of Pet Sounds and the burnt-out 1980s.
BLURB: Right from its dual openings – a long documentary-like confessional and a pitch black screen accompanied by nothing but a sea of distorted, swelling audio – Love & Mercy establishes itself as a film intimately concerned with character and sound. The two are never separated: Pohlad’s film homes in on the psychology of its real-life character, Brian Wilson, by locating the rush of sounds both real and imagined that serve as the source of his drive and the manifestation of his burden. In uniting their artistic virtue with the handicap they reveal, Love & Mercy evokes the mercurial interplay between grief and expression, internal and external spaces, richly layering snatches of dialogue and reincorporated Beach Boys songs to immerse us in the mind of Wilson at two distinct points in his life, as he is alternately propelled and stifled by psychological and social anguish. Paul Dano and John Cusack bring enormous feeling to their disparate yet linked portrayals, and Pohlad, along with DP Robert Yeoman, linger on them as they talk their way through things or silently contemplate the sounds swirling in their heads. Even with some regrettably literal-minded dialogue and the prominence of a thankless stock role (although Elizabeth Banks admirably enriches the cliché), Love & Mercy finds its way on the strength of faces, places, and the sounds that bring them to life.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 26, 2015 at 10:00 PM||comments (0)|
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD ***
IDEA: In a post-apocalyptic future wasteland, a despot sends a fleet of warriors to chase down and stop the renegade Imperator Furiosa and her distaff crew.
BLURB: A hard-driving salute to action movie excess and an emphatic rebuke of the capitalistic, patriarchal systems that traditionally order such spectacle, Mad Max: Fury Road gratifies moviegoers’ adrenaline lusts while offering satisfying subversions. Its influences are wide-ranging and proudly displayed: not just the American western, which informed the original series, but more pronouncedly silent cinema, the go-for-broke stunts of Buster Keaton and the visceral collision of Soviet montage. Also in play are grindhouse and late 60s counterculture, exhibited by Miller’s delirious collection of grotesqueries and his forceful, lovingly crude takedown of establishment. The film is strongest when these influences coalesce in operatic action set pieces that are allowed to unfold across the screen unabated; when the action halts for some rather dodgy, perfunctory dialogue, Miller’s desire to make us care for characters best left as allegorical signifiers clashes with his inclination for pure, grimy visual expression. Even if it can’t entirely sustain its barreling momentum, Fury Road’s brash fusion of action physics and progressive politics provides a potent and welcome charge.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 8, 2015 at 5:45 PM||comments (0)|
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION ***
IDEA: A reckless millionaire playboy decides to help the widow he inadvertantly blinded, and whose husband's death he unwittingly caused.
BLURB: Douglas Sirk melodramas exist in a reality all their own, one where ripe American pop iconography becomes emulsified in the heightened emotions and comforting artifice of the movies. A negotiation in much of his work, between sincere melodramatic intent and distanced ironic commentary, finds perhaps its most ambiguous manifestation in Magnificent Obsession, Sirk’s outsize homage to harebrained Hollywood kitsch. But is it homage? To what degree is the director indulging a deeply genuine affection for melodrama, in all its lachrymose and patently silly mechanisms, and to what degree is he mocking it? Is the sheer fact of the cockamamie plot, not even Sirk’s own, supposed to implicitly tell us not to take it seriously? Other Sirk films conceal obvious social criticisms that counterpoint his delicate worlds in bitterly revealing ways. But in the absence of notable social targets – consumer-packaged pseudo-spirituality is the closest thing here to an object of ridicule – Magnificent Obsession seems kind of hollow, less a trenchant analysis than a cockeyed love letter to its own dumb, shiny surfaces. It’s melodrama wrapped in more melodrama: whether that makes the film a crafty meta-movie or just exaggerated nonsense is unclear, or maybe part of a point we can only understand in the context of Sirk.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 6, 2015 at 5:40 PM||comments (0)|
EX MACHINA ***1/2
IDEA: A computer programmer is invited to his boss's secluded research facility to evaluate an advanced female AI.
BLURB: Ex Machina updates ancient inquiries for the Internet era: it is no small feat that its general ruminations on consciousness and reality, already engrossing, find such chillingly plausible and specific applications within the evolution of 21st century technology. Though its network of conversations on gender, self, and social structures are not new, they are shrewdly tailored to concepts that call for redefinition and reassessment as frequently as software warrants updates. How, for instance, does the digital age affect systems of power? What becomes of subject and object positions when watching and interacting are over-mediated two-way mirrors, and concepts of identity are reduced to what can be digitally mapped and programmed? Then again, some things are constant, and Ex Machina evokes its most simultaneously incisive and frightening implications when recognizing the things that never change reflected in the things that do. Garland gives his ideas luxuriant room to percolate in both dialogue and image, letting the accumulating questions acquire prescient stings. He argues, on terms equally conducive to genre thrills and philosophical meditation, that perhaps it is not the artificial intelligence that comes to resemble us, but we who exhibit the qualities of the AI.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 6, 2015 at 2:45 PM||comments (0)|
THE SMILING LIEUTENANT ***1/2
IDEA: Austrian Lt. Nikolaus von Preyn is in love with band leader Franzi, but an ill-timed wink prepared for her is instead seized by the visiting Princess Anna of Flausenthurm, causing an international incident and forcing the Lt. to take the princess' hand in marriage.
BLURB: The Smiling Lieutenant is a fizzy high point of the early Hollywood romantic comedy and an exemplar of the genre’s tropes at their most wittily distilled. Of course, it’s not just any romantic comedy but a Lubitsch one, which means it’s in a class of its own: piquant, self-effacing in style and charm, drolly absurd and pulsing with a crafty, barely contained bawdiness only this master at his pre-Code best could pull off, it’s not just a pleasure but a preternaturally sophisticated one. Working in but also slyly subverting some of the codified sexual politics and gender roles endemic to the territory, Lubitsch has a way of effortlessly avoiding sourness that may plague other movies of the sort, pitching his relationship drama and comic dalliances at a level always skirting irony. Everything is a euphemism for sex; nothing can be or should be taken too seriously. The targets are desire, romance, marriage, diplomacy, and the upper class, but the lightness of the Lubitsch touch ensures that nothing is sunk by mean spirits. From Claudette Colbert’s independent flapper to the hilariously ritualistic and alphabetically insecure royalty of Flausenthurm, everyone is allowed a smile and a laugh, and, lest you forget it – a wink.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 19, 2015 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 16, 2015 at 2:05 PM||comments (0)|
NEWS FROM HOME ****
IDEA: Images of New York City are set against the narration of a mother's letters to her daughter abroad.
BLURB: Spectatorship, authorship, absence and presence become poignantly reified in News from Home, Chantal Akerman’s homesick city portrait turned structuralist symphony. With cultural displacement and alienation as her most immediate themes, Akerman juxtaposes yearning letters written to her from her mother with long perspectival shots of grungy mid-70s New York City, its streets and subway platforms transformed into eldritch sites of communal ritual of which we are not a part. Some locations are eerily desolate, landscapes of forbidding concrete and iron. Others are teeming with people who move languidly about their urban dwellings, natural civilian habitats taking on a decidedly alien air through the dispassionate and detached camera. But Akerman, who is pointedly filming but never seen in the flesh, and whose voice assumes her mother’s words over the disjunctive soundtrack, is also very present, her camera apparatus often noticed by the pedestrians who pass in front of it, their stares solicited by its gaze. We watch, absent from the image as she is and yet authoring its look, providing it with the necessary perception to give life to its astonishing audiovisual sensations. An ethnographic time capsule of a place long gone and a singular simulation of what it’s like to be dislocated, within yet without, News from Home welds thrilling form to haunting considerations of estrangement, and ends up transcendent.
|Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 5, 2015 at 4:35 PM||comments (0)|
AMERICAN SNIPER **1/2
IDEA: Chris Kyle takes on four tours of duty in Iraq, becoming in the process the most lethal sniper in US military history. At home, however, his domestic life slowly disintegrates.
BLURB: At the heart of American Sniper is a dilemma Clint Eastwood suggestively raises but never sufficiently negotiates: how to tell and honor the legacy of a real person while also depicting the insidious and deeply troubling cultural condition that molded that real person. Because he is too morally ambivalent a storyteller and too nuanced an artist, the portrait is admittedly complex, and often smartly provocative. Eastwood doesn’t repudiate the unmissable horror – Chris Kyle’s dangerous ethical and ideological certitude, inculcated in him by righteous yet dangerous pride in country, is evident, always kept on the disquieting periphery through Bradley Cooper’s impressively unsettled performance. But Eastwood is wanting to show that condition as being somewhat virtuous, too, an integral part of the American character, and this is where things get muddy. If he had kept something of a balance between reverence and anguish during the tense, appropriately brutal battle sequences, he hedges during the home front scenes, minimizing PTSD and gun hazards to weakly soften the edges of a character with whom our identification is never properly complicated. After subtly avoiding so much mythologizing and glorification, his denouement gives in, deifying a man and implicitly shirking uncomfortable realities in favor of red-blooded adulation. What is here is often accomplished; Eastwood’s craft hasn’t been this sharp in years. It’s what’s been left out – details omitted, ideas deferred, facts outright ignored – that perturbs.