Monday, November 30, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 / *** (2015)

13 poverty-stricken districts stand united against the fascist endeavors of their totalitarian government, but only one face among them rouses the populace to the pinnacle of rebellious enthusiasm. Her name is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and over the course of two years of dangerous encounters with manipulative politicians and blood-hungry tributes, she has stood firm and defiant against a system that sought to dispose of her, and after besting her superiors in an elaborate game of slaughter they helped to create, her survival is a testament to the buried courage of a circumscribed class system. Did she open their eyes to the possibilities of hope, or were her actions merely a reminder that they had become submissive to the trials of their oppressors? Both thoughts consider the sources without identifying the certainty, but no bother: they have now come to a moment of strategy that insists they must march against the Capital in violent protest, otherwise they are doomed to a slow and painful fate that upper class sensationalists would only be too eager to exploit in front of the cameras.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brooklyn / **** (2015)

The gulfs between the comforts of home and strange new adventures in the outside world are often the most paralyzing on our emotional well-being, but underneath those uncertainties are the chances to discover who we are meant to be. John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” a movie as moving as it is well-made, regards those gestures in the embrace of something rare: an impulse of simplicity. If the trend of the times is projected by the entertainment it yields, then it is no wonder such an idea seems so foreign to us right now; it is no longer just enough to tell a basic story about the inner challenges of mere characters, because audiences would rather rest in the embrace of more complicated – and action-driven -- endeavors. Perhaps that suggestion lends credence to the necessity of an arrival like this, though. At the core of all the worldly nonsense that fills our vision, we embody an existence where we must love, experience and find happiness amongst the noise. Here is a precious little movie that removes all those outer distractions, and recalls the resonance of basic faces that have no greater goals other than to, you know, find their place in a world where it is hard to hold onto grand aspirations.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dial M for Murder / *** (1954)

Dubious agendas populate the fabric of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder,” but not all of them are stirred from reactionary impulses. One would believe otherwise in the film’s earliest scenes, which offer a certain scandalous insight; in them, dialogue between a ravishing beauty (Grace Kelly) and a dapper gentleman (Robert Cummings) implicates them in a mutual affair of intellect and romance, a reality that may or may not be directly obvious to her husband, the distinguished but smarmy Tony (Ray Milland). Ambivalent of any potential awareness, they play it cagey through the entire masquerade, and even exchange banter with Tony as if to imply there is little more than just social commonalities that exist between them. But all the same there are cracks in the fa├žade, because some unknown person is writing mysterious letters to poor Margo, threatening to reveal her infidelity to her husband. The identity of that enigmatic figure is little more than a blip in the thought process of the audience, because they know better; their director, the grand master of manipulators, will inevitably double back on this observation in a subsequent scene, in which Tony meets with an old friend to discuss the elaborate murder of his wife, to occur the following night of their interaction. Is he just reacting to the illicit deception occurring right in front of him? Of course he isn’t, because that would undercut the broadened sensibility of Alfred’s characterizations. Later movies may have made the act of murder much more incidental, but in this time and perspective, men were always in full possession of their homicidal tendencies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ruthless People / ***1/2 (1986)

The gift of perverse curiosity was the tool from which a broad supply of ‘80s entertainments acquired their creative wings, and “Ruthless People,” about a kidnapping gone completely bonkers, is one of the unspoken benchmarks of that notion. So little of the movie is actively recognized in today’s conversations about the good old days of film slapstick, but in recognizing its core values in modern contexts, we discover many of the critical origins of what can now be looked at as dark comedy. That’s because unlike the movies of the time, it was a picture that reached far beyond the thrust of mere misunderstandings or embarrassing situations, and actively involved us in the lives of unpleasant sorts who created havoc and had to, rightfully, endure their disruptive (and often hilarious) consequences. But what nerve did we have finding any of it funny, much less watchable? It’s because the screenplay implored the use of individuals who could handle their plight with savage responses, and maintained a certain sense of shrewd likeability even as the world around them was collapsing in an ambitious display of illegal trickery. No person who saw it all those years ago could deny it contained some audacious and gargantuan laughs, and few today would be able to make it through without at least volunteering a few lighthearted chuckles, even in the face of immense modern desensitization.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lessons from Criterion:
"The Magician" by Ingmar Bergman

A fair selection of identities in the Ingmar Bergman canon serve as metaphorical projections of the director’s own inner workings, but none confront his thinking as directly as Dr. Vogler does in his mysterious “The Magician.” The great French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, a champion of those cathartic sensibilities, once referred to it as his “first self-portrait,” and perhaps in that statement it is apropos to consider the central implication in greater context. While the emerging artists of international cinema were still discovering their identity in the 1950s, their endeavors reflected a negation of the melodramatic tendencies of Hollywood, and instead sought to challenge the sweeping deceptions by telling stories that existed close to their eager (and often weathered) hearts. The examples left behind by Ozu, Clouzot, Kurosawa, Goddard, Fellini and even Truffaut were the embodiment of that sentiment, an anchoring dose of evidence in perpetuating the concept of auteur theory. But by the time Bergman got involved in the movement, it was no longer just a matter of recognizing those sentiments in a mere yarn; to him, they had to be visualized in the sincere faces of his actors, all of whom didn’t so much occupy space in a narrative as they exemplified a personal thesis within the framework of his meditative thought process.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Peanuts Movie / *** (2015)

Despite the reality of our times to sensationalize family entertainment in massive amounts of color and whimsy, some tiny part of us longs for the days of simpler values. They allowed us to get to the center of narrative philosophies, in which storytellers had something compelling to say, and pitched them home in the hearts of characters we found great commonality with. Those possibilities are at their most precious, I feel, in cartoons; made within the milieu of childhood considerations, they gave young adventurous eyes the chance to comprehend the imaginative depth of the world around them, how to deal with tragedy or danger, and what they could do to instill joy in themselves and others. It is, by all measures, the medium where experienced voices come alive and new ones can be made, usually without the unrelenting nihilism that is prevalent among the modern masses. Only recently did those ideas begin losing their shape in the rush of new technology; as computers improved the dexterity of the images, such yarns lost the nerve to get beneath the surface. The long term consequences are, unfortunately, running silent; as such endeavors continue to drive home box office business, movie studios are exacerbating a growing problem among young minds, which have been taught to be won over by pomp and circumstance instead of plots that might speak to their emotional development.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre / **1/2 (1974)

Though it was invented for distinctly opposing purposes, the chainsaw has been the central breakpoint in the eras of horror filmmaking. Before it came to pass as an instrument of chaos in Tobe Hooper’s violent and disturbing “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” movies about frightening situations were usually filled with supernatural jolts or ominous forces in the shadows, usually as a means for inspiring nervous fun; on rare instances, some of them rose above the confines of lurid fantasy in order to regard their situations with certain realism. But the introduction of this single tool into the mix, a weapon of brutal force and ridiculous overkill, indirectly gave birth to the modern customs of the genre’s more masochistic voices, and within a decade it created what we now refer to as the “slasher” picture, in which all of the outlying terror is marginalized to situations in which ambivalent victims – usually teenagers – are lined up and knocked off in very bloody ways. Over time the popularity of those values gave added rise to an underlying beast in more creative overachievers, and today it’s virtually impossible to see any movie about murderous rampages without squirming somewhere in the process. So much has been visualized in the sadistic torture of the human body that the imagination has no room for interpretation, and our nerves have been deadened from the impact of repetitively harsh sensations.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The New Revolution

We are both blessed and befuddled to be part of the growing accessibility of knowledge. What once must have been sought out in the corners of obscurity is now constantly at our fingertips, and our incessant thirst for information has been quenched by a rush of new devices plugged into the outer-reaches of cyberspace. The advancement of modern technology is, by all measures, the new frontier of the human existence. Fifteen years ago it was seen as remarkable that anyone with a home computer could plug into a worldwide network to exchange ideas and communication; now, even those realities seem primitive, and with the advent of tablets and smart phones people can now swap data while constantly on the move, never losing sight of their busy lives even while the Internet stretches their conscious focus.