• On the Edge

    On the Edge

    Sur la Planche. For a while I thought it too confrontative, too much of an anger festival. But Kilani is really accomplished, and eventually the anger felt more contextualized. The film has a lot of striking aspects: an unusual environment, the underclass world of young women trying to survive in Tangiers; poetic dialogue that is a character trait of the (amazing) lead, a rapid-fire street jargon that eventually stands outside the fiction and becomes the film’s voice (and may not…

  • The Searchers

    The Searchers

    The Searchers. The critical spirit falters before the task of doing justice to John Ford’s 1956 magnum opus, one of those mysterious films that surpasses even what a great director should have been able to achieve. At first remove, The Searchers, the story of a quest to rescue a kidnapped girl from the Comanches, is about the emotional life of the adventurer, the hardened outsider, even the sociopath -- and no one who responds to John Wayne’s chilling performance as…

  • The Disciple

    The Disciple

    The Disciple. It has a rhythm all its own, with wide-angle long shots of events that often follow one upon the other, giving us an almost Kubrickian vantage point on the protagonist’s world, though without expressionist distortion of space or character. The idealistic protag is somewhat unpleasant from the beginning, and his guru is also a semi-unsympathetic taskmaster. The lack of development in the protag’s life slowly becomes clear, and yet he never abandons the purity of the vision that…

  • Court

    Court

    Court. Very good, extremely controlled, never losing its edge. The decoupage is conceived with intelligence: lots of long takes that evolve purposefully while avoiding didacticism. The pleasure of the project is that its continual absurdist humor is not based on exaggeration: all outrages are kept in a naturalistic register, the art-film equivalent of a slow burn. The film shows its anger about the way the system functions, but doesn’t streamline the material to make protest easier: the defendant is cranky…

  • The Big Heat

    The Big Heat

    The Big Heat. I dunno, suddenly I don't think it's that good, on the whole, despite strong scenes. Lots of emotionally charged conversations of the sort I used to love, where the hero has little objective power but still dominates. The script flirts with the idea of the revenge hero gone too far, but not so much that it withholds the pleasure of revenge drama; the Gloria Grahame character is interestingly blithe and teenage-y, but that doesn't affect her story function.

  • To Catch a Thief

    To Catch a Thief

    To Catch a Thief. To my great surprise, I don't know if I even liked the film this time: it was so imperturbable in its poise that it expressed almost no emotion. The Grant-Kelly relationship is absorbing, at least. (6 Jun 2004)

    The film doesn't bother me exactly, but it's hard to get under its surface. The suspense plot is uninteresting, purely a signifier of excitement and glamour; the Grant-Kelly banter (it's too compulsory to call anything other than "banter")…

  • Five Scouts

    Five Scouts

    Five Scouts. Extremely visually dramatic: wild tracking shots, ominous closeups and pans, low angles on vast expanses of space, some use of telephoto compression. And the action scenes are grimly imaginative, like the one where enemy soldiers hidden in bushes drop into the water as corpses, in the foreground of the shot. But the propaganda purpose of the film made it feel false: every soldier is gentle, compassionate, and quivering with feelings; the whole platoon mourns when one guy doesn’t…

  • Please Don't Eat the Daisies

    Please Don't Eat the Daisies

    Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. Slowly it built interest, and by the time it was over I wondered whether Walters might be a great director passing as a lightweight entertainer. Everything is so distinctive: he really stages well in long shot, often daringly; his musical numbers are unusual (the one-take milling-about choreography of the title song is rather beautiful); the annoying children are a mass to be deployed and arranged in long shot; the acting is great in a low-key…

  • Chaos

    Chaos

    Kaos. Maybe the Tavianis’ best: big gestures, big situations, a strong sense of place to hold it together, and compelling emotional lines. The first episode has the most characteristic Taviani elements: the half-insane, half-dislocated mom; the beautiful emptiness of the main location; the daring of using the three-hour wait in the fields to define the plot; the near-metaphor of the pining, neglected son, whose wish will not be granted. The flashback to the horrific bocce game with the human head…

  • Back Street

    Back Street

    Back Street. From the beginning, total formal control, with icy tracking shots and closeups, scene transitions suspended in the emptiness of the last completed gesture, crowds, weather, everything one associates with mature Stahl. The story is classic Fannie Hurst, with a huge painful contrived coincidence ruining Dunne's life, and love as an immutable sentence condemning the heroine. Stahl and the writers push all of it to extremes: Boles in the middle section is hatefully selfish, and Stahl gazes at his…

  • El Dorado

    El Dorado

    El Dorado. It’s not too invested in the mostly pre-existing plot, and subsequently more invested in reflexivity and humor. There are exciting action scenes and serious dramatic scenes, but they are mostly adornments to the essentially comic plan for the film, which comprehends not only the wild (and violent) humor from action/adventure excesses, but also scenes structured around comic concepts, like Harrah tricked into taking the sobriety medication, or Mississippi's Chinaman routine. The dark-to-light shift in the film doesn’t trouble…

  • All Around Us

    All Around Us

    All Around Us. The tone is immediately distinctive, with some of the feeling of classical American cinema, mostly in the deployment of entertaining character traits. But it also starts boldly in the middle of a discussion filmed in alternating closeups (the wife getting a foot massage) - so not a slavish classicism. At first I felt that the entertainment tropes threw the tone off at times, but I quickly got on board with the project. Its ambition is considerable, with…