Category Archives: Criticism

Holy Motors (2012)

A man wakes up with a dog in a strange room where silvery trees line the wallpaper. He finds a keyhole, fortunately he is uniquely gifted to open the door with the key which is grafted into his hand like a middle finger. Exiting, the walls flicker and walking down the corridor a movie is playing, an audience below watches with blank expressions. As the key-fingered man (who seems to have woken up in the projection booth) watches, a girl stares back at him from the silver screen, fading away on a space-age boat. Suddenly, the porthole becomes a window and a whole new narrative begins. It is unclear, deliberately, which movie we are in and indeed which audience we are. Are we the ones watching Holy Motors or have we become the mindless audience watching the silver screen within the film? Certainly it matters little except to show we cannot be sure of our perspective anymore, nor will it be the last time we feel this way. Continue reading

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Selma (2014)

Selma (2014) is one masterful movie. Stirring, patient, and relevant, Selma manages to resurrect a small, yet vital, sliver of the Civil Rights Movement and make it feel like it happened only yesterday. Then again, in many ways, it did—yet somehow amidst all the recent doubt, outrage, and controversy this film shines, capitalizing on its moment in the sun and leaving me deeply impacted. Selma is a hard film to criticize, but an easy one to be inspired by. So, given what today is, I think I’ll depart from precise analysis and go right where my mind has been since viewing the piece (often a dangerous thing).

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Timbuktu (2014)

Here is a film I can’t shake. On the surface, Timbuktu plays like a textbook foreign film: the style is largely invisible, there are failed moments where Western techniques are copied and forced (like the musical climax as the cow G.P.S. heads for the fisherman’s nets), and the film communicates clearly until its final notes which make (of course) an open ending. Much like A Separation (2011) or The Lives of Others (2006), it’s the perfect entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. At the same time it, like many of the best films from other shores, powerfully tells a story that comes from worlds away. Continue reading

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St. Vincent (2014)

Imagine Gran Torino (2008) with Bill Murry in for Clint Eastwood and NYC in for Detroit.

Need I say more? Continue reading

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Bronson (2008)

But violence does not consist so much in injuring and annihilating persons as in interrupting their continuity, making them play roles in which they no longer recognize themselves…

Emmanual Levinas, Preface to Totality and Infinity (trans. Alphonso Lingis, Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1969).

For the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, the foundation of violence is the reduction of the Other to the Self. In other words, violence turns another person into what you make of them; it is the exercise of power to subjugate another’s freedom to your wishes. And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen violence so eloquently portrayed as the final scene of Bronson.

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

These desires come out in the sort of private moments that movies hesitate to show but that are the essential province of art.

-Richard Brody, “The Accurate Erotics of Fifty Shades of Grey” 

Fifty Shades of Grey is, for everything else it represents, a film. As a film, I was surprised to find it compelling and coherent; certainly the plot isn’t too intricate but the characters are—indeed they are far from the one-dimensional physiques one would expect of erotic fare. Further, while attractive, our leads are no porn-stars. Against it’s critics, Fifty Shades of Grey is not a pornography, a visualization of fantasy. It is, instead, a film about two people exploring their fantasies. This makes a world of difference. Continue reading

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Samson & Delilah (2009)

There’s something about the Australian landscape that just feels right. A warm-hued blend of mystery, danger, and possibility, the “bush” is at the heart of myriad Australian films. As Samson & Delilah begins, the desert serves as an eerily picturesque backdrop for a broken-down town. It is natural, yet the natural is boring, the familiar repetitious, and the everyday suffocating—even debilitating. Our first protagonist, Samson, is an aimless teen who meanders the streets in a wheelchair, alone. To cope, he inhales fumes, keeping a can of gasoline or paint by his bed roll. Delilah, conversely, is a caregiver to her aging Nana, who needs medication and, unlike Samson, can’t move without a wheelchair. Nana, however, is a remarkable painter of traditional geometric forms, her income just enough for food and fire but little else. Continue reading

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Force Majeure (2014)

Hear: electric toothbrushes drone—cleaning teeth—barely enough to drown out underpinning fears.

See: loose clothing, bare skin—despite the frigid clime basic needs are met.

Taste: the fluoride paste, eager to be spit.

 

Brushing teeth is a motif in Force Majeure and it is easy to see why. First, the industrial hum evokes a subjective torment cemented in the cinema psyche by the horror genre. Second, the familiarity and comfort of the scene bring to light insulating technologies: heat, light, warm clothes, water. Needing nothing, the family nevertheless appears hollowed in a sense, isolated from one another as well as their surroundings. Third, each character sees his or herself reflected as both one and as a group. Identity is the main concern of this film, particularly the challenge of self-identification in the face of chaos (“force majeure”) and a pastiche of family scripts (patriarchy, feminism, etc.).

More on each of these considerations.

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The Plague (Camus, 1947)

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I can say I know the world inside out, as you may see–that each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth, is free from it…What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest–health, integrity, purity (if you like)–is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter…it’s a wearying business, being plague-stricken. But it’s still more wearying to refuse to be it. ~Tarrou, Part IV.VI

Albert Camus’ The Plague is an indictment, a curse against the natural world and its overwhelming, incomprehensible malice. The setting is a “happy town,” an Algerian port city, that unexpectedly befalls the ancient plague, bringing hundreds daily into its black embrace. Their ferryman, and the protagonist, is Dr. Rieux, the guardian of futile remedies and uncertain prognoses. Indeed, no one is able to come to grips with what is going on, certainly there is “plague” but no one can find cure or treatment or explanation of how it began or when it will end. The people are, quite naturally, helpless. Continue reading

Dýrafjörður (2014)

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While I obviously love movies (look to the right just a bit…), I don’t post all that many reviews. Well, really, I think the only review I’ve ever done is Stoker, all my others thoughts on films are just that: reflections. Dýrafjörður offers a lot to reflect on, especially for this blog, and so I’m happy to be able to share a few words and then give a plug for my friend Philip Carrel’s wonderful piece. Continue reading