The elegant visual insanity of Mad Max: Fury Road

Fury Road posterAfter a thirty year hiatus director George Miller returns to cinemas with the long-awaited fourth installment in his Mad Max franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road. This movie had a famously troubled production, going over budget and falling behind schedule, but sometimes nightmarish film shoots end up producing true cinematic gems (see also: Apocalypse Now, Jaws, The Hurt Locker), and this is undoubtedly the case with Fury Road. It’s a gonzo blockbuster of epic scale that pushes reset on the CGI-dominated spectacle of mainstream movies. It’s simultaneously a dumb movie about people in a wasteland chasing each other in souped-up cars, and a smart movie about feminine assertiveness and agency. Fury Road is gorgeous and exhilarating, but it’s also an elegantly told story that requires no exposition to understand.Continue reading “The elegant visual insanity of Mad Max: Fury Road”

Fifty Shades of Grey is minimally-acceptable entertainment

Fifty_Shades_posterThere are so many conversations we could potentially have about Fifty Shades of Grey, the film adaptation of EL James’s wildly popular romance novel. We could talk about its roots as Twilight fanfiction and whether or not publishing a derivative work that originates as a free piece of fan service is right or not (it isn’t, but so far I’ve only seen it happen in genres where demand outweighs supply, like romance and young adult, so I understand why it happens—publishers are desperate for material for enormous markets). Or we could talk about the extremely fucked up sexual politics at the center of the story, except other people are already on that. Or we could talk about the hopelessness of adapting garbage source material, except I don’t believe in that. Every movie, regardless of its source, has the potential to be good. What’s more, we should want them all to be good. Rooting against a movie being good is insane—why bother liking movies at all? So let’s just talk about Fifty Shades of Grey for what it is—a mediocre movie.Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Grey is minimally-acceptable entertainment”

The Duke of Burgundy is a retro erotic treat

Duke-Of-Burgundy-PosterWith Fifty Shades of Grey due later this month, there’s a lot of focus on erotica at the cinema, or rather, the near complete lack thereof. Once upon a time, there was a niche market for grown-up films about sex, and it ranged from highbrow arthouse fare like Last Tango in Paris to the sexploitation flicks of grindhouse movies. Erotica used to be a whole healthy ecosystem within cinema, but it disappeared in the 1980s, and now there is only the occasional outlier in grown-up sex-themed movies. This month, though, there are two movies dealing with adult relationships and intimacy and sex: the ubiquitous Fifty Shades, but also the indie gem The Duke of Burgundy, which is now available on demand.

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Blackhat and the alienation of Michael Mann: When Hawkeye turned into Hathaway

Michael Mann is a difficult filmmaker. His style is ugly on purpose, especially since he started playing with digital cameras while making Ali in 2000, and he isn’t particularly interested in engaging the audience. On the surface, he makes action movies, but his movies, even the less-good ones—I don’t think Michael Mann ever really makes a bad movie, just one that’s less good than the others—are never just an action movie. Blackhat, Mann’s first movie since 2009’s Public Enemies, looks like any run of the mill action-thriller, and by rights ought to have been terrible (certainly most people thought it was anyway).


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Interstellar is…okay


interstellar-posterHistorically, I like Christopher Nolan. I consider him one of the few true auteurs in modern cinema—auteurship being defined as more than just a distinctive visual style, but as having a unifying philosophy or narrative principle uniting a filmmaker’s work; in Nolan’s case, it’s identity and the various ways in which we shape and reveal them. But The Dark Knight Rises was a mixed bag and Inception is a case of diminishing returns—once you know how the plot works, sitting through all the exposition in that movie is an exercise in tedium. And it seems like, the bigger his movies and budgets have gotten, Nolan is maybe losing something of himself in the process, that in telling BIG stories, he’s forgetting to tell GOOD stories.Continue reading “Interstellar is…okay”

Nightcrawler: A gold medal in the Weirdo Olympics

nightcrawler-posterWhen actors lose a bunch of weight for a role it feels gimmicky, more often than not. It’s such an easy ploy and too often used as a launching pad for an Oscar campaign that it’s become kind of a joke. If Tropic Thunder were made today, the “full retard” speech would undoubtedly include a line about weight loss. So when Jake Gyllenhaal started showing up places looking gaunt, I felt a thread of dismay. Oh no, I thought, not him. He’s not THAT kind of actor. He lost the weight for Nightcrawler, the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy), a movie about a creepy guy, Lou Bloom, who works as a freelance videographer, recording gruesome crash footage and crime stories for the local news. And Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation is an essential part of what is a career-best performance.Continue reading “Nightcrawler: A gold medal in the Weirdo Olympics”

Kill The Messenger falls short of Jeremy Renner’s stellar performance

Kill the Messenger posterAfter breaking out with The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner took on a series of action roles that saw him join some big-ass franchises, including Mission: Impossible and The Avengers. Over the last couple years, though, he’s been going back to his character-actor roots in projects like The Immigrant, American Hustle, and a not-nearly-lauded-enough guest starring stint on Louie. Now, in Kill The Messenger, he is once again the leading man. I just wish the final effort was more worthy of his talent.Continue reading “Kill The Messenger falls short of Jeremy Renner’s stellar performance”