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Morocco

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on July 25, 2015 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)



MOROCCO   ***

Josef von Sternberg

1930

 

 

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.

Inside Out

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 27, 2015 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)



INSIDE OUT   ***1/2

Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen

2015


 

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.

Love & Mercy

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 20, 2015 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (0)



LOVE & MERCY   ***

Bill Pohlad

2015

 


 

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.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 26, 2015 at 10:00 PM Comments comments (0)



MAD MAX: FURY ROAD   ***

George Miller

2015

 

 

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.

Magnificent Obsession

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 8, 2015 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)



MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION   ***

Douglas Sirk

1954

 

 

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.

Ex Machina

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on May 6, 2015 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)



EX MACHINA   ***1/2

Alex Garland

2015

 

 

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.

The Smiling Lieutenant

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 6, 2015 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)



THE SMILING LIEUTENANT   ***1/2

Ernst Lubitsch

1931

 

 

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.

87th Academy Awards Predictions

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 19, 2015 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)






The 87th Academy Awards are just days away, and what we’ve got on our hands is, for once, an atypically unsettled and exciting race. That’s largely because the once-expected Best Picture and Director triumphs for Boyhood have become increasingly tenuous over the past few weeks as Birdman has racked up guild win after guild win, starting with its surprising PGA victory and followed up with auspicious wins from SAG and DGA. Only one film has ever won all three and lost Best Picture. And yet, Boyhood’s support is considerable – could its sentimental hold on voters’ hearts and historic filmmaking feat be enough to mitigate Birdman’s prodigious industry endorsement?

Outside of the top category, which hasn’t seemed this uncertain this late in the race in almost a decade, there is the difficult Best Actor category, which has followed an unusual reverse trajectory for Birdman as Michael Keaton’s seemingly surefire path to the podium has been steadily complicated by young Brit Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything. After taking down SAG and BAFTA honors, many are predicting a full coronation for Redmayne at the Oscars. Still, could Bradley Cooper be lurking for the wildly popular American Sniper?

And that’s just in the major races. Further down are hotly contested categories like Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, and both Sounds. What will happen on Sunday? Below I make my educated guesses – and go out on a limb or two.


NOTE: I have not seen any of the Short Film contenders, so my predictions there are (perhaps) most susceptible to being wrong.


BEST PICTURE: Again, a doozy. Boyhood seemed like the early victor after winning nearly every critics group prize and dominating the 2014 film discourse. And then came Birdman’s guilds windfall and everything seemed to change in an instant. Major echoes of the 2010 race, when a similar baton pass from critic-approved The Social Network to guild-honored The King’s Speech took place, leading the Brit-pic to a Best Picture win. Boyhood is perhaps stronger now than Fincher’s film was then, however, making this more of a toss-up. But with the holy trifecta of PGA-SAG-DGA, I’d predict against Birdman at my own peril.

WILL WIN: Birdman

BEST DIRECTOR: Obviously the directors of the two Best Picture frontrunners are the ones duking it out here, and it’s neck-and-neck between Richard Linklater and Alejandro González Iñárritu, the former the recipient of the Golden Globe and innumerable critics’ group laurels and the latter the all-important DGA victor. Will the winner here have directed the Best Picture, or will we see yet another split, making for three years in a row of mismatched Director/Picture winners, which hasn’t happened since the early thirties? Anything can happen, but it seems most likely the DGA winner and director of the film leading the pack will triumph.

WILL WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman

BEST ACTOR: Unfortunately, the seemingly infallible narrative built around Michael Keaton has slowly unraveled even as his film has risen, leaving the impressive but very traditional Oscar-baiting performance of Eddie Redmayne room to wiggle in and usurp his lead. Keaton has the BFCA, the Globe, and the lion’s share of critics prizes; Redmayne, perhaps more significantly, the SAG and BAFTA in addition to his Globe. And then there’s a dark horse in Bradley Cooper, who doesn’t have nominations from any of those groups but whose film came around at exactly the right moment and who, on his third consecutive Oscar nod, has proven to be the real deal. Perhaps this is an obvious get for Redmayne, but I’m obstinately sticking to the only guy here one could reasonably call a veteran, hoping the heat that carried him all season is still fervent enough to push him across the finish line.

WILL WIN: Michael Keaton, Birdman

BEST ACTRESS: On her fifth nomination, already honored by the Globes, SAG and BAFTA, this one is a done deal for Julianne Moore.

WILL WIN: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: J.K. Simmons took this category by the horns early and hasn’t let go. Too bad; there are better, richer, more nuanced performances here that got all too easily gobbled up by Simmons’ vituperative psychopath.

WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Another sure thing, with Patricia Arquette so far out in the lead the other nominees seem immaterial.

WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: A tight race in one of the weakest lineups of 2014, in which the best nominee by a country mile, Inherent Vice, is the only one without a shot. Sigh. This one could literally go in any of the other four films’ favors, with the WGA-winning Imitation Game most likely out front. But watch out for The Theory of Everything, which won the BAFTA in a bit of a surprise, or Whiplash, which is here by truly mendacious political maneuvering, or even American Sniper if it rides a wave of populous support.

WILL WIN: The Imitation Game

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Many wish to call this for Wes Anderson, whose Grand Budapest Hotel is a multi-tiered marvel of fanciful, literary structure and prose, and whose win would be a way to honor his singular whimsy barring wins in Picture or Director. He’s got the BAFTA already, and the WGA, but Birdman was ineligible at the latter and beat out Budapest when they competed together at the Globes. Close call, but if Birdman is our Best Picture winner, I expect it to take down this category as well for a script just as memorable and distinctive.

WILL WIN: Birdman

BEST EDITING: No film without a Best Editing nomination has won Best Picture since 1980, but Birdman isn’t nominated here so that stat doesn’t seem to have much purchase when it comes to this race. Expect this one to be a three-way battle between the taut American Sniper, second Best Picture frontrunner Boyhood, and the frenetic, BAFTA-winning Whiplash. Toss a coin.

WILL WIN: Whiplash

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, whose epic, serpentine single-take Birdman illusion was the talk of the 2014 cinematographic landscape, will win his second consecutive Oscar.

WILL WIN: Birdman

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: As clear a win as any for the delectable, dioramic confections of the Grand Budapest.

WILL WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Milena Canonero for Oscar number four.

WILL WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexandre Desplat is nominated twice, his seventh and eighth nominations in just nine years. The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the more likely of the two to triumph, but I’d wager the Academy goes with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s very pretty Philip Glass-esque Globe-winning score.

WILL WIN: The Theory of Everything

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: The only place to award Selma outside of the top prize, which it isn’t winning. Plus, it’s a rousing and important song.

WILL WIN: “Glory” from Selma

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Interstellar is easily the most nominated film here and thus the most respected, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is perhaps the one to best display the groundbreaking advancements in CG and motion capture technology. The first Apes reboot failed to win back in 2011, losing to the far more popular and Academy-endorsed picture. A repeat?

WILL WIN: Interstellar

BEST SOUND MIXING: Whiplash has the BAFTA, and the rich, percussive musical tapestry that is impossible not to appreciate. American Sniper has the immersive war elements. Birdman has the Best Picture heat. Drum roll…

WILL WIN: Whiplash

BEST SOUND EDITING: War movies tend to excel here, and American Sniper is just the sort of precise, distinguished sound showcase that the category loves (see: gunfire-heavy Letters from Iwo Jima, Zero Dark Thirty). Interstellar brings the sci-fi effects, which boded well for Gravity last year, but warfare and broad Academy respect probably win out.

WILL WIN: American Sniper

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: The only Best Picture nominee here is The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it boasts a surfeit of prominent yet subtle aging work in addition to handsome period hairdressing. Foxcatcher is even more subtle yet distinctive for a particular prosthetic, while Guardians of the Galaxy could be a spoiler for its vivid fantasy elements.

WILL WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Annie-sweeping and Globe-winning How to Train Your Dragon 2 seems like the safest best, but I suppose Disney could get in the way somehow.

WILL WIN: How to Train Your Dragon 2

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: A toughie. Ida is beloved and twice nominated, but Leviathan is the Globe winner and has the added cachet of being a Cannes darling. Then there’s Wild Tales, which is apparently exuberant and crowd-pleasing. Sounds fit for the Oscars.

WILL WIN: Wild Tales

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Citizenfour is far and away the critical favorite and the most widely seen and honored picture here. But the Academy has shown in the past it doesn’t always side with the obvious, so I’d keep an eye out for any of the other four.

WILL WIN: Citizenfour

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

WILL WIN: Joanna

BEST SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION

WILL WIN: The Phone Call

BEST SHORT FILM, ANIMATED

WILL WIN: The Bigger Picture


That's it! Tune in to the Oscars on February 22 to see how all of this pans out. Happy predicting!

News from Home

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 16, 2015 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)



NEWS FROM HOME   ****

Chantal Akerman

1977

 

 

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.

American Sniper

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on February 5, 2015 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (0)



AMERICAN SNIPER   **1/2

Clint Eastwood

2014


 

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.


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About the Author


Jonathan Leithold-Patt is a 23-year-old student of film. In addition to watching lots and lots of films and writing about them, he is an avid painter.

Contact at cinematiclife@yahoo.com.

Devoted to the Movies