Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Duke of Burgundy: Discipline and Languish

It’s hard not to look at Peter Strickland’s portrait of domination and desire and not feel at times like it’s a corrective to how sexuality is portrayed in the mainstream. The Duke of Burgundy, which came out with a whimper earlier this year (right around the same time as Fifty Shades of Grey) but hits Netflix this week, even begins with a nod to the softcore films of the 70s: A beautiful woman in a cape, Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna), rides her bike through a woodsy setting as soft pop plays on the soundtrack. The colors are super-saturated, the credits are blocky and old-fashioned; we even get the occasional freeze-frame. But that self-aware opening belies the film’s deeply felt sense of place and passion – not to mention the rigor of the filmmaker’s vision.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Time Out of Mind: Watching Richard Gere Disappear

As a homeless man wandering the streets of New York in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, Richard Gere does the opposite of commanding the screen; he vanishes. Not in the way that an actor might “disappear” into a part: Gere isn’t that kind of transformative performer. He vanishes in a more basic sense. He cedes the frame, and the soundtrack, to the people and the city around him. His character has lost everything, and is quickly losing his sense of self as well. The very form of the film reflects that.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Eden: A Very Sad Movie About Bringing Joy

Save for a couple of brief, telling instances, nobody in Mia Hansen-Løve's Eden ever seems happy. Surprising, perhaps, for a film about DJ culture. Or maybe not. "Between euphoria and melancholia," is how the film's central character, Paul (Felix de Givry) describes the particular subset of electronica he specializes in, “New York Garage with a Parisian twist.” And Eden captures that balance well. It's a very sad movie about bringing joy.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

“This Is Our Furiosa.” Mad Max: Fury Road and the Moments In Between

There’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through Mad Max: Fury Road that speaks to one reason why I love the film so much. It comes during one of the film’s rare quiet scenes. Max (Tom Hardy), Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and their small lot of refugees have arrived among the Vuvalini, the all-female warrior tribe from which Furiosa was stolen, along with her mother, many years ago. Most of the women remember Furiosa only dimly: She was taken, as she says, “7000 days” ago, “plus the ones I don’t remember.” They ask what happened to her mother. “She died, on the third day,” Furiosa replies. And then the Vuvalini reflexively perform a quiet, brief mourning gesture – holding a hand up, grabbing at the air, and bringing it to their chest. After seeing them, Furiosa herself slowly does the gesture as well.

This exchange lasts all of twelve seconds, and it’s probably easy to miss, or ignore, for some. But every time I see the film, it strikes me as a deceptively profound moment. Watch Theron’s performance here: As she grabs at the air, her haunted eyes watch her own hand, as if she were seeing it for the first time. Her face is that of someone remembering something that was once probably very much a part of her – not just her mother, but this whole Vuvalini ritual, and the sense of belonging it implies. She’s re-learning, in other words, the person she used to be.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Forgotten Films: Rachel, Rachel (Paul Newman, 1968)

The death of screenwriter Stewart Stern a couple of weeks ago brought some fine remembrances from numerous writers, many of whose lives he touched as a mentor as well as a filmmaker. Obviously, most folks who knew Stern's name -- if they knew it at all -- was as the screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause. But his passing reminded me that, years ago, I’d written a “Forgotten Films” feature for Nerve.com about another work -- Rachel, Rachel, Paul Newman's directorial debut. Lesser known but almost equally as great as Rebel, it's since been released on DVD by Warner, so now there's actually a chance that people might rediscover it. What follows is a slightly edited version of my original piece.  (For more on the Forgotten Films project, go here.)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Top 20 (Actually, 21) Films of 2014

I’m late with this. I’m always late with this. In part it’s because, not having to worry about deadlines, I can be late with it. (None of my outlets ever seem to want a Top 10 list from me, for some reason.) In part it’s because I don’t usually think of my movie year as being finalized until I’ve submitted my poll in Mike D’Angelo’s Skandies poll, which usually closes in February and whose results are being rolled out as we speak, over here. Anyway, I won’t clear my throat so much, other than to ask: When the hell did I become such a big sci-fi nerd?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Selma: Of Moral Arcs and Men

One of the most fascinating things about Ava DuVernay’s Selma is the way history itself seems to become an actual character in it. But not in a portentous, solemn way. Depicting the explosive events in the Alabama city in 1965, which culminated with the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, the film seeks not to contain the entire Civil Rights struggle, or even to offer a biopic-style portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by the great David Oyelowo). Rather, it focuses on the machinations, negotiations, in-fighting, and backroom dealings that went into the organization of the march and Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Watching the film, I was occasionally reminded of Francesco Rosi’s political dramas of the 1960s and 70s. In films like The Mattei Affair, Rosi gave us the spectacle of men talking and arguing about process, activism, methods, and organizations – history told through the mundane poetry of acronyms and theory, the kind of thing most filmmakers would ruthlessly avoid. It takes a unique kind of patience, sobriety, and skill to make that compelling on a movie screen. DuVernay’s clearly got all of that.