Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hell or High Water

2016, US, directed by David Mackenzie

Paired as a double-bill with Charley Varrick, this doesn't have quite the same grasp on character as the earlier film, but it's still a fine picture, with a grizzled Jeff Bridges performance that's a pretty clear re-working of Rooster Cogburn, terrific management of pace, a distinctive and well-used West Texas setting (the film was made in roughly the right geographical area), and some very fine camerawork by Giles Nuttgens.

Charley Varrick

1973, US, directed by Don Siegel

If Charley Varrick appeared today, I'd expect it on the small screen: Varrick is the kind of anti-hero/flawed hero that surely figures in the ancestries of characters like Walter White. As much as I enjoy the pleasures of the expansive series format, Don Siegel's film is a salutary reminder that one can pack a great deal into two hours without compromising on character detail or nuance. Indeed, the film does an especially fine job of shading in Varrick's many sides, part of its careful navigation of the fundamental problem of sympathy with/for the character given that he is, after all, an armed robber. Obviously, the choice of Walter Matthau helps greatly -- there's a kind of hang-dog affability trailing him at almost all times, providing an excuse for his actions almost as they occur, and the actor also finds beats of humour that leaven what could otherwise be a rather dour exercise in criminals turning on one another. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Der Verlorene

1951, West Germany, directed by Peter Lorre

An excoriating film about the German experience during the Second World War, all the more notable for coming just a few years after the end of the conflict, well in advance of a more systematic historical reckoning. Lorre's only film as director makes adept use of flashback structure to bring us back to the moral compromises of the Nazi era, with the shifts in time also effectively emphasizing the ways in which the past overshadows the present. The film is especially strong on the ways in which the Nazi regime made use of the trappings of the law to bend individuals toward its ends, though Lorre doesn't make excuses for the behaviour of his compelling yet amoral central character (who evokes one of Lorre's most famous roles from the German phase of his career, in Fritz Lang's 1931 M).

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Brighter Summer Day

1991, Taiwan, directed by Edward Yang

An extraordinarily ambitious film that aims to paint a picture of an entire generation of (urban) Taiwanese still adjusting to live after migration from the Chinese mainland, drawing liberally from Edward Yang's own youth in Taiwan -- the Chinese title for the film makes reference to a tragedy that is woven into the latter stages of the film, and which transfixed Yang and his peers at the time. A degree of historical knowledge, such as that provided by the booklet accompanying the Criterion edition of the film, greatly helps with understanding of Yang's goals, in particular the unusual, loose-limbed first hour or so during which the film gradually coalesces around one protagonist while nonetheless retaining a sense of the broader fresco.* Indeed, the film is novelistic in the best sense, weaving a variety of destinies together to exceptional effect.

The English language title emphasizes the fascination that overseas, and particularly American, culture held for young Taiwanese of the 1950s and 1960s, just as postwar Germans delved into the depths of American popular culture, as in the films of Wim Wenders (like Wenders, Yang suggests a deep degree of alienation in the postward populace, an absence of emotional engagement that underpins the film's bursts of violence). Yang is looking back at his own youth, but there's little trace of nostalgia -- even when the film is lit with a wonderful warmth, there's often a sharp contrast with the events or words onscreen, while Yang makes exceptional use of naturalistic lighting effects during one of the film's most bewildering and brutal sequences.

* I also found John Anderson's 2005 book Edward Yang, published by the University of Illinois Press, very informative. Yang's untimely death in 2007 means that Anderson's book stands as a comprehensive career survey.


1950, US, directed by Robert Siodmak

Not classic Siodmak by any stretch of the imagination, and indeed the skill on display in his Hollywood films of the late 1940s seems temporarily to have abandoned him: though relatively brief, the picture overstays its welcome, and both photography and editing are disappointingly below par. The only real interest comes from the location shooting; though Siodmak apparently preferred to stay in the studio, he always had a fine eye for a good real-life backdrop.

Monday, July 18, 2016

You're Ugly Too

2015, Ireland, directed by Mark Noonan

Not a bad film -- the central pairing of Aidan Gillen and Lauren Kinsella is often effective, even affecting -- but one that's distractingly derivative, in a way that smacks of funding-body conservatism.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

2005, US, directed by Shane Black

Perhaps it was my mood, but this didn't work for me although I'd long wanted to catch up with it. There's nothing wrong with a good neo-noir, even one that thumbs its nose at genre conventions (see, for instance, Goodbye Paradise), but this comes across as entirely too self-satisfied, and I didn't warm to Robert Downey Jr's lead character.

Friday, July 01, 2016


2016, US, directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore

From this adult's perspective, Zootopia performs the key function of delivering good entertainment for kids while also providing more than a few components for the accompanying adult to enjoy -- perhaps never more so than in the scenes wherein the DMV employees are revealed to be... sloths. On my second viewing, I was much more aware of the various movie/TV homages/references -- it's hard to miss the extended, multi-part nod to The Godfather, but the nods to Breaking Bad, the slo-mo boxing of Raging Bull, and the numerous winks to other Disney properties all keep things lively for the older viewer.

Hail, Caesar!

2015, US, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Not vintage Coen Brothers -- it certainly doesn't reach the heights of their prior behind-the-Hollywood-scenes opus, Barton Fink -- but still highly entertaining, with vignettes to treasure (Jonah Hill's performance, and the glimpses into the technique of the movies, among others).


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States