Friday, June 28, 2013

Roger Ebert: A legacy of honesty, courage, and revolving thumbs

Living and maturing through the years with a theater screen as a guiding force, I never imagined the day would come when we would have to trek our way through these experiences without Roger Ebert being along for the ride. His presence became obligatory in every feasible way when it came to the movies, much like pop music required Michael Jackson to be around, or television comedy demanded Lucille Ball. They too left us without their audiences ever truly being ready for it, and here I stand, still in shock, at the prospect that I now will continue to see, experience and write about film, and the man who was more passionate than any of us about this industry, is no longer here. The pain is immeasurable, and the grief is persistent. Perhaps more than I expected it to be.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

District 9 / ** (2009)

Sometimes it amazes me just how discouraging an isolated movie experience has the potential to be. “District 9” is driven by a downright heartless outlook that requires its characters, human or otherwise, to either be killing machines or props in an elaborate outdoor slaughterhouse that pounds away at you like visual torture. This is hardly a miscalculation on part of the filmmakers, who are distinct in their purpose of building a story that is funneled by dread and injustice for two constant hours. But ghee whiz, how abusive can you get with a movie camera? Here is an ambitious effort that has several important points to make, but little of it is delivered with human element, and eventually the poignancy of the arguments start to get lost behind a painful imbalance of droll emotions designed to leave audiences with an inclination to get in contact with a qualified psychiatrist.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Anatomy of a scene: "The Shining"

How's this for scrapbooking? In 2002 I participated in a film class at a local community college that focused on prominent movie directors, including Hitchcock, Fellini, the Coens, and notably, Stanley Kubrick. One of the class assignments was to deconstruct a sequence from one of the movies of said directors, and interpret it down to the finest technical details. Ever so dedicated to the intrigue of the Kubrick persona, I chose a sequence out of his masterpiece "The Shining" to dissect, but not a conventional one. The following writing is taken from April of 2002, and is verbatim to the submission that was made in the course. I have no idea how the original document ever survived so many computer crashes and file shuffles, but lo and behold it endures. I am grateful that it does for two reasons: 1) because it reminds me of where I have been and how far I have come, and 2) it recalls just how gifted a filmmaker Kubrick was, even when he was manipulating his audience into the false mindset that his film is mainstream when it is so clearly out of step with that ideology.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Stage Beauty" revisited; an underrated masterpiece

What follows is part of my original review of "Stage Beauty" from 2006, but with a completely different introduction and altered first half. The original article had been reworked into an essay for purpose of publication in a book for the Online Film Critics Society, which never materialized. This "newer" version of the original analysis is from 2008, and closes the gap on unpublished material from those writing sessions. My opinion of the film has not changed in seven years, and because of such, I am justified in continuing to classify this as a "revisited" piece rather than a full-fledged review. Not all of it is new, but enough has changed to make it distinct from the original assessment.

Original completion date: November 15, 2008

Monday, June 24, 2013

Big Business / **1/2 (1988)

Deep from within the doldrums of mediocre 80s comedies, “Big Business” endures as a curiosity on the credits list of several fine actors. You can practically reach out and touch the promise offered by the big names it houses: Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Edward Herman and Fred Ward, all of whom were recognizable entities of their heyday, and combined seem to contradict the very notion that any film starring them could be so deeply flawed. But here they are, slogging their way through material so clearly beneath their craft, barely holding composure against various plot inclinations that will require them to react to situations that are both unrealistic and downright impossible. Never mind the fact that the moment anything seems to be amiss, not one character is observant enough to point out the bizarre behavior problems they encounter.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

World War Z / *** (2013)

The Zombie Apocalypse that wreaks havoc in “World War Z” puts considerable distance between those other undead outbreaks we are used to in the movies. Forget the social commentary of George A. Romero’s endeavors, and abolish any notions you might have that this could be similar to the localized personal stories contained in “28 Days Later” or “Quarantine”; in Marc Forster’s new blockbuster, the scale of the attack is swift and unrelenting, and characters have almost no reaction time before they find themselves running for their lives down crowded city highways as they try to escape bloodthirsty masses. Any desire to catch your breath will be met with immediate dismay; here, little perseveres other than wall-to-wall chaos, and the small glimmer of hope that fuels the hero is of such miniscule proportions that you doubt any possibility for a tangible outcome.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Cabin in the Woods / *** (2012)

It had to come to this eventually. After decades of blood spatters, machetes, screaming teenagers and heavy breathing killers wandering aimlessly through motion picture sets, someone behind the camera was going to inevitably ask, “Why haven’t we turned this formula on its head?” It’s really a wonder it took anyone this long. Horror films have been on a painful, exhausting downward spiral for more years than we care to remember, a slip made more disheartening when coiled by the realization that its origins promise so much more and even occasionally deliver something that is desired. That was certainly true with the “Scream” series – in which all victims watched horror movies and had self-awareness as a weapon – and even the recent “Behind the Mask,” which asked questions few movies of this nature had been willing to ask before, and do so with comical – and yet insightful – clarification. Now comes “Cabin in the Woods,” a horror film that not only has the nerve to upstage the convention, but also contemplates what all of it, past and present, may have meant in the grand bloody scheme of things. What it makes for is some of the most entertaining bloodshed I have seen in a movie of this type in ages. If there is finally a validation to the approach, it’s that these filmmakers dare to suspect their own intentions.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Auto Focus / *** (2002)

"A day without sex is a day wasted.” There’s a mantra that might have been the backbone to a college comedy, but here it becomes the ill-fated destiny shared between two unlikely friends in “Auto Focus,” a movie about the disintegration of actor Bob Crane and his conflicted friendship with a man who, for better or worse, probably was a conduit for many of the actor’s unhealthy off-screen obsessions. They exist not in Paul Schrader’s semi-biopic like life-long comrades but more as if mere acquaintances strung along through the same seedy life experiences for over a decade. They gaze at one another often and participate in what they feel is deep conversation. But they really never know one another, and are slaves to a lifestyle that requires only physical engagement, and only long enough to achieve climax.