Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Foxcatcher


As time passes, my memory of certain films begins to cloud.  There are the impressions left by the work's visual qualities , that is, the mood a given film seems to want to evoke  -- and then there's this kinda separate thing: what it actually succeeds in doing.  Sometimes, with enough distance and repeat exposure to the right snippets or images, I start to wonder if my initial reaction was justified.  Foxcatcher is one such film: a beautiful work in some ways, a dreadfully dull thing in others.  Since watching it, I haven't been able to quite suss out whether my sense of it is one on the brink of change or if my opinion has simply been dulled from exposure to repeat praise.  To be up front, I'll tell you that my initial reaction was one of near total frustration. This was what I'd waited so long for? What I'd heard so much about?  I'd left the theater exhausted and so thoroughly bored that I'd immediately texted a handful of friends who might give a shit and told them I'd found the film to be among the biggest disappointments in recent memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Nightcrawler


When we meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the opening scene of Nightcrawler, we come face to face with something less man than creature.  His eyes are wide, unblinking; the type of distinctive feature you'd expect to find in a nocturnal animal, and Louis is just that.  The first scene presents him as a scavenger in the process of stealing from a construction site in the dead of night so that he can resell the goods. He takes everything, we learn.  Fencing, manhole covers, scraps of this and that.  It's the type of crime that reads as perhaps petty, but which could also be defensibly seen as an act of desperation.  This is what Louis specializes in, it turns out.  Not the theft so much as working the system from its slimy underbelly.  He thrives in the darkness, looks for loopholes that allow him to avoid real human contact, and turns them to his advantage.  That same evening he stumbles upon a car crash and watches as a freelance camera crew pushes their way through the emergency vehicles to get footage of the suffering victim.  He asks them questions. Not many, but just enough to understand that there's money to be made from this type of savagery.  If it bleeds, it leads, he's told, and we need only look at Louis' eyes to understand that this is the work he was meant for.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1



This semester, I found myself partially engaged in questions of what makes a film subversive.  There
are moments in time where something may be described as such because of the rules it breaks in terms of form or acceptable content, others where the politics of a movie seem to move in opposition to popular opinion. In discussing the conditions that could make for subversive, or, at the least, rebellious cinema within the American studio system, the conclusions seemed to fall into a few camps.  All felt that the most subversive acts had to have some kind of financial backing that would push them in front of the largest audience, though many were wary of essays and claims that The Lego Movie or Transformers or Captain America: The Winter Soldier successfully managed the transgressive acts ascribed to them. My class seemed more compelled by the notion that two current films had that possibility, the first was The Interview - picked largely because of the seemingly very real political response it has been met with - and Mockingjay Part 1.  They chose Mockingjay with the understanding that the second half of the film will likely (ok, undoubtedly) reverse the logic by which they felt this first half manages a type of subversion.  I've been weighing this since. The longer I've held off writing about the film, the more I'm inclined to agree with them: this is a blockbuster that manages something most cannot, and the varied responses to those impulses are the best indicators of its trespasses.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Big Hero 6

 

Lately, Disney has achieved a level of brand synergy that feels almost supernatural.  Its star houses are fully aligned: the Pixar world's emotional resonance has rubbed off on the Disney in-house animation studios, Marvel has built a type of cross-generational magic, and that Star Wars trailer? It is on point, my friend.  Disney can do no wrong (Planes: Fire and Rescue excepted), and as they tear through this winning streak they're doing so with an emphasis on heart and raw entertainment that's damn near unprecedented.  No string of companies can make you cry as much as you laugh quite like them, and if one proves it can it's certainly not likely to repeat the formula successfully a second, third, and fourth time in as many releases.  All that is to say: Big Hero 6 is good. So good. Squee-inducing good.  It's everything one could wish for from a family film; a feel-right movie that pulls off its hat trick without sacrificing the action and humor that has made so many of the recent Marvel franchises critical darlings.
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