Thursday, April 30, 2015

Four Flies on Grey Velvet & Dario Argento's Themes

Malleus Rock Art Lab
Four Flies on Grey Velvet is Dario Argento's third feature film, and it's hard to imagine how he went from this mediocre giallo to making the incredible masterpiece Deep Red just a few years later. For the man who put the "murder" back in murder mystery, the only thing surprising about this is how few thrills it has. Argento is famous for blurring the line separating the horror genre from your average detective stories, but you'd never know based on this evidence alone. And what's worse: when it's not being dull, it's trying to do broad comedy (like the "I don't want a bath!" scene), which somehow manages to be worse than boring.

But as disappointing as the movie may be as a movie, it is interesting to look at as a piece of Argento's filmography in the way it continues to develop a variety of his common themes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Quick Notes on Jackie Chan: Project A

Project A is an action comedy from cinematic martial arts super genius Jackie Chan, and he directed it right at the height of his prowess with stunts. There's a section in the middle of it that is more impressive than just about anything outside of Chan's own Police Story (which he would make just two years later). But what's so great about Jackie Chan isn't just the scale of his stunts or the skill that goes into them, but the fact that he does them all in character. This is a lesson he takes from the silent masters Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, and Project A offers a huge nod to their influence (Chan finds himself caught in gear-like machinery and then hanging from a clock face).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Silent Comedy and Editing Action in Police Story

Sam Gilbey via Kung Fu Cinema
Police Story, as its title may suggest, is a police procedural which keeps its story basic in order to better serve as a vehicle for Jackie Chan's truly superlative fight scene choreography. It is literally a lean, mean fighting machine.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Divine Violence & National Trauma in Akira

Akira is one of the most important Japanese animated films of all time, and not simply because of the technical landmark it achieved in hand-drawn animation. It is an attempt to speak about one of the most unspeakable tragedies in human history, and to deal with the nature of atomic power and with historical change as such. The narrative begins with an image of a massive explosion devastating the city of Tokyo, but while the location is different and a title card claims that this is the beginning of World War III, there's no mistaking the imagery as a symbol of the post-traumatic anxieties following the end of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Inland Empire: The Dream of a Nightmare Come True

"I'm trying to tell you so's you'll understand how it went. The thing is, I don't know what was before or after. I don't know what happened first, and it's kinda laid a mindfuck on me."

Inland Empire is the most experimental and nonlinear of David Lynch's already experimental and nonlinear body of work. The fact that the most popular review of it on Letterboxd at the moment is just a question mark says a lot about how accessible it is (not at all). The easiest way to describe it is as a movie about an actress who takes a role that makes her begin to question and then eventually lose her sense of the difference between performance and reality. The tricky part is that Lynch then does the same thing to the audience: he presents events without telling us whether they're Laura Dern's character being herself or her character playing another character, and he puts them out of order in such a way that it's virtually impossible to follow what's going on. The result is that we as an audience also lose our sense of the difference between performance and reality.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Learning to Love Sadness in Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea is an Irish animated film and one of last year's five Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature. It's a modern day fairy tale about a shy young girl Saoirse who can't talk, her slightly selfish older brother Ben, and their melancholic father Conor. The film opens with Saoirse's mother telling a story to the infant Ben before giving birth to his sister. We're not shown this birth, however, and a flash forward to the present shows her mysterious gone from the family. The children's Granny comes to take them into the city, and what follows is their search for their mother and the reason for her disappearance. It is a story which asks the audience some difficult questions about how kids deal with sadness and loss and how we need to let them confront these difficult emotions.

Monday, April 13, 2015

All Strangers Are Gray in the Dark City

"When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?"

The only something I remember doing during the day for the past week and a half is listening to Dark City commentaries while I work from home, and I think I might slowly be turning into Wolenski. The chase music has been haunting me day and night. Were large portions of this soundtrack reused for The Matrix? It seems like they might have been released too close together, but I swear the musical motif at 2:26-2:39 and the sound effect at 3:33 in "Into the City" (and elsewhere) are lifted wholesale by the Wachowskis (or whoever did their sound design). Maybe I'm just being paranoid?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Wild at Heart: The Nightmare of a Dream Come True

One of David Lynch's central thematic concerns is the way our dreams and fantasies influence our perception of the reality around us. He has explored this most explicitly in Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, each of which presents us with two entirely different versions of reality. Like in The Wizard of Oz, Lynch shows us (objective) reality and the character's (subjective) vision of it, and the thematic development comes from the contrast between the two. Wild at Heart continues to develop this theme in a slightly different way: by showing what happens when characters get stuck in their fantasy world. It is Oz without Kansas.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The 25 Movies Hollywood Studio Execs Want You to See This Year—And the 20 Movies You Should See Instead

Audiences don't want original content anymore. Just look at the top ten moneymakers from last year: only one original screenplay among them (and it comes in last place). Studios don't trust audiences to buy into original content, so everything is based on something that came before it. Rather than making new things, all we do now is leech off the success of old things. All we do is make prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots. So, with the release of Furious 7 this weekend, I proudly present the most cynical list I'll make all year: