By Ray Pride
What if it had been good?
What if it had been a movie?
“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” is the product placement of all time, the runestone, the grail, the altar upon which billions of dollars of cash will be placed in the next few weeks, and its surge of activity in the economy, coursing from fan-hand to Hasbro or Galoob bank, from T-shirt sweatshop to Lucasfilm coffers, may be more instrumental in lubricating the economy than any amount of e-commerce day-trading in Internet stock ever could. The Force is money. The movie is crap. Read the rest of this entry »
Guy Maddin goes more madly Maddinesque than ever in “The Forbidden Room,” an eye-popping, mind-throbbing palimpsest of film-historical apocrypha, co-directed with Evan Johnson and aided and abetted by elder poet John Ashbery. To attempt synopsis would be to tempt word salad at apex, swirling into its ever-concentric concatenation of vivid, vibrant visions of forms of filmmaking that resemble fever dreams past, but exist only within its own cloud of visual perfume across two hours of unceasing melodramatic phantasmagoria. Maddin and Johnson frame their stories with an Ashbery ditty about bathing, then moving on to seventeen or so tales-within-tales including a doomed submarine crew chewing the oxygen out of flapjacks, child soldiers, lumberjacks, vampires, wolf men, volcano sacrifices, a teeming array of intertitles and the expected digital experimentation with the lovingly lousy look of the lowest, boldest rungs of twentieth century moviemaking. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been too long since a movie has come out of the gate as a plainspoken crowd-pleaser. (Especially after the pile-up in the past couple months of commercial and esthetic misfires from the studios.) But twenty-nine-year-0ld Ryan Coogler’s second feature (after the vivid, emotional tragedy of “Fruitvale Station”) brings it all home with “Creed,” the seventh movie featuring Sylvester Stallone as Philly palooka turned sentimental champ, Rocky Balboa. The first film was almost forty years ago, which means sixty-nine-year-old Stallone was just about Coogler’s age when John Avildsen directed “Rocky” in 1976. Playing the son of one of Rocky’s most memorable adversaries—the title tells the lineage from Apollo to Adonis—Michael B. Jordan surpasses the dignity of his down-to-earth role in “Fruitvale Station” with a go-for-broke range of emotions, dealing with ambition, talent, legacy, romance in all its written variations. Stallone? At his minimalist best as a man of the streets, shouldering years of quiet living: where has this fine actor been hiding these recent years? Read the rest of this entry »
A young woman’s out clubbing one night in Berlin, and people she meets propel her into becoming the getaway driver for a bank robbery. Simple, and simpler: The single, unbroken take that is “Victoria,” lasting two hours and eighteen minutes, is taut, assured and oft-dazzling enough to rise above any sundry accusation of gimmickry. (The real time duration is indicated as between 4:30am and 6:48am.) Read the rest of this entry »
While the Music Box isn’t showing Gaspar Noé’s newest provocation in its intended 3D, the sex act and concomitant fluids are still going to be in your face in “Love.” The simpler, more elemental Noé’s films become, the more touching they are, especially in this puppyish idyll of fucking as everyday transcendence, rather than transgression. Noé’s sweet heart melts on screen without the vibrant visual innovation of “Enter The Void” or the brutal punishing-of-the-innocent of “Irreversible.” Read the rest of this entry »
Never lost, but seldom seen, Jacques Rivette’s “Out 1,” the justifiably legendary twelve-hour-fifty-five-minute epic of post-1968 Paris has been digitally restored, supervised by cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn. Previously seen only via a single 16mm print circulating to cinémathèques (including a Memorial Day weekend Siskel showing in 2006), it is now being shown around the country prior to a January 2016 Blu-ray release. Its extended form, divided into eight episodes, anticipates the phenomenon of “binge-watching” by decades, and that 2007 showing in the company of a raft of cinephiles old and young was a fantastic communal experience. Read the rest of this entry »
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s movies teem with tactile glories, eddies of visual strophes, the stillness of faces, the tension of bodies transfixed, the swirl of color upon color, the seething heat of regret settled into the body. “The Assassin,” the sixty-eight-year-old Taiwanese master’s first feature since 2007’s “Flight of the Red Balloon” is warm to the touch but cool with intellect. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »