Gleaming, elementally machined, Ding Sheng’s “Saving Mr. Wu” stars Andy Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) in a crackling true-life thriller based on a 2004 case about a celebrity kidnapped by men disguised as policemen who demand a half-million dollar ransom in less than a day. Beijing’s police marshal a task force and move across the hours toward the inevitable showdown, which is cleanly choreographed. Read the rest of this entry »
“Ant-Man” is giant comedy.
It’s been more than three decades, but I once spoke fluent Marvel. My recollection is that Hank Pym’s super-small alter ego was one of Stan Lee’s minor creations, a character whose narrative never outgrew the challenges of rendering a tiny world in a medium better suited for inscribing oversized imaginings. (In order to draw fine detail, comic book artists typically work at a scale much larger than the cartoon frame, then reduce the work to scale. This tends to favor actual, or, in the case of superheroes, super-sized, images.) Though launched as a solo act in “Tales to Astonish” (one of the referential jokes in the film that generated a surprising quantity of chuckles in the preview screening, since it dates to circa 1962, long before most of the chucklers were sketched), “Ant-Man” never made it on his own, becoming instead a founding member of the Avengers and then joining his super-brethren at the other end of the telescope, usually donning the Giant-Man or Goliath persona.
So it’s not really a tall tale to say the film surpasses the comic book—though it’s also a medium of storytelling by virtue of sequential frames filled with images and dialogue, film thrives in larger-than-life scale. At its very best, it magnifies the smallest of moments into larger truths. The depiction of our almost-microscopic world on the big screen easily blends awe and humor, attributes almost innate to the plot device, even in times of lesser CGI tools (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” for example). “Ant-Man” has plenty of action to mollify the vegetative fanboys who seem to control modern movie culture, but with a twist. It’s life-and-death battle fought, for example, inside a briefcase. Instead of blowing up skyscrapers, our hero smashes into an iPhone. And that’s funny, really funny.
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“At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines”: Bruce Springsteen’s lyric from the “Born To Run” album is but one of so, so many cultural touchstones readily cross-referenced and layered upon the layer-upon-layer construction of “Mad Max Fury Road.” So there’s sound, percussive, restless and singular fury, but does it signify an expressionist masterpiece? Possibly. Pretty much. Okay. Okay. Yes. And the wild trailers and commercials give you almost no idea how sleek yet rude, near-mute yet politically assertive a movie can be. But first, the mayhem: “We don’t defy the laws of physics: There are no flying men or cars in this movie,” seventy-year-old co-writer-co-producer director George Miller says of his brilliant challenge to other makers of contemporary cinema, his first live-action film in over a decade, built from 3,500 storyboards and 2,700 cuts in just shy of two hours. (1981’s “Road Warrior” had a bucolic 1,200.) Since seeing this immaculately detailed, onrushing go-for-baroque manifesto, waves of orgiastic praise have washed over it from all corners. The most terse: J. G. Ballard notoriously dubbed “The Road Warrior” “punk’s Sistine Chapel”; invaluable Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri nodded to the novelist in tweeting out “Fury Road” as “the Sistine Chapel of action filmmaking.” To which I add: headlong, berserk, bonkers, batshit, boisterous, bountiful and big-hearted. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a rumor that a major figure of the French cinema, retired from public view, now cannot even go to the movies in his waning days: four, five minutes would pass and he would shriek in bloody horror as if from waking terrors. He would not only have forgotten what he was watching or where he was but the very function of images advancing in the darkness. I began to forget the breathless, teetering, tottering, careening, catapulting “Avengers: The Age Of Ultron” about twenty minutes into its 141-minute running time, but slouched instead of shrieked. Zoom, quip, wham, smirk, quip, blam! Quip! Oh so much too-muchness on an inhumane scale. Read the rest of this entry »
In multiple countries in greater Europe, right-wing parties have risen to power, perhaps to most dramatic effect in contemporary Hungary. In Kornél Mundruczó’s fantastic and often fantastically beautiful, Budapest-set revenge parable, there may or may not be useful allegory in the casting out of thirteen-year-old Lili’s dog, Hagen, for being “unfit” as a mixed-breed dog. Both Hagen and Lili search for a return to “home,” and for each other, but in the meantime the once-domesticated dog rounds up a canine cohort to face the cruelty that is the human race. It’s a child’s tale, in a way, but with hundreds and hundreds of extra sets of teeth. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.
While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.
Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices. Read the rest of this entry »
An eye sights down the length of a long barrel, finding, framing, locking onto a target. In Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Bradley Cooper bulks into the role of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, avowedly the most accurate and determined of American military snipers. More than a bravura hero, he was a bestselling memoirist of high braggadocio, as well as a murder victim of a veteran he hoped to help, who allegedly killed him on a shooting range after his return from four tours of duty in Iraq. Read the rest of this entry »
(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »
Admirers of “Lord of the Rings” left with lingering dissatisfaction from the most recent “Hobbit” movie, “The Desolation of Smaug,” should be pleased that director Peter Jackson wastes no time in the “Hobbit”’s final installment, transforming a meager amount of J. R. R. Tolkien’s source material into an impressive confrontation of gratifying saga-scale proportions. We’re thrown right back into the chaos where we were left hanging: Smaug awakened from his slumber, then descending from the mountain as Bilbo and his companions can do little more than watch as the dragon lays waste to Lake Town. The opening of “Battle of the Five Armies” is apocalyptic, engulfed in fire then darkness, all before the opening credits. When the smoke clears, split alliances of every race of Middle Earth clamor to stake claim to the now-vacated mountain. Read the rest of this entry »
“What the fuck?” is not only a character’s key reaction within “The Guest,” but mine as well, even on a second viewing. “The Guest” is the most delirious of director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett’s eight collaborations, a wickedly smart thriller filled with sly, cool intelligence that elevates what could be mere homage to trashy, splashy forebears into something more concentrated. (They used to call them “good movies.”) “Downton Abbey”’s Dan Stevens plays a wicked revision of Captain America, a mean fighting machine, a gleaming model-looking blank, with elegantly oiled hair pushed back in a forelock, fierce azure eyes, a laconic killer grin, a more chiseled version of the psychopaths played by Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” David arrives by foot in New Mexico at the home of the Peterson family, where he quickly ingratiates himself with tales of their fallen son, whom he had fought with before his death in combat. “The Guest” is a thriller, but first and foremost, it’s a thrill, like all of Cinemax, ever, died and went to heaven. Read the rest of this entry »