Category: Film

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A stylized shot of the diegetic director, Jake Hannaford (John Huston), surrounded by smoke, in profile, from Orson Welles's "The Other Side of the Wind".

Shoot ’em Dead: Review of Orson Welles’s “The Other Side of the Wind” (2018)

Difference, transience. Force and distance. The title of Orson Welles’s posthumously completed work brings to mind these words, as well as a number of images associated therein: arid landscapes, dust-devils, the ruins of industry. Silhouettes, contrasted, and odd shapes.

These are the images, at least, conjured onscreen via the imagination of old school filmmaker Jake Hannaford (part-Welles, part-Hemingway, part-John Huston, who plays the role) making, perhaps, a last-ditch effort at relevancy with his own pastiche of the type of European arthouse cinema in ascendancy at the time – the prime exemplar being Michelangelo Antonioni, whose Zabriskie Point was shot not far from one of the Arizona mansions where Welles and co. made their film. The title for Hannaford’s film is also The Other Side of the Wind, and both films (Welles’s and Hannaford’s) might just be two sides of the same wind blowing through art and life’s divide, very nearly ungraspable. […]

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A stylized shot of Sinan (Doğu Demirkol) sitting with books in Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "The Wild Pear Tree" (2018).

Longing & Regretting: On Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “The Wild Pear Tree” (2018)

‘Have you seen The Wild Pear Tree’?

These are the words I have been continually asked ever since its 2018 debut, and my answer has always been, ‘I will upon access.’ Well, now the time has come. Firstly, I shall begin by saying that Nuri Bilge Ceylan is likely the greatest living filmmaker. Yes, there are others, like Steve McQueen, but The Wild Pear Tree not only captures the depth and breadth of Tarkovsky and Bergman, but its unique imagery and dialogue illuminates. It has been said that Ceylan claims to enjoy ‘really long, boring films.’ I presume that when he said this, he was referring to what is perceived as such according to the average person’s taste, because upon watching The Wild Pear Tree (which finishes in just over three hours), this film is everything but boring. But…let me begin.

The film stars Doğu Demirkol as Sinan who has returned to his hometown after graduating university. Word has it that he has written a novel, or rather, ‘literary reflections’ that he seeks to publish. His father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), works as a teacher but has a fantasy of living off the land, away from the city. He seeks to retire, but in the interim he is fixated on finding water at the bottom of a well. One afternoon, Sinan assists at the well begrudgingly, as he knows the neighbors think his father is ridiculous. Yet at the same time there is an underlining resentment that Sinan feels when it comes to his father’s gambling habit. (All done for the intention to someday live out this ‘living off the land’ fantasy.) […]

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The priest in Robert Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest", played by Claude Laydu, looking down in his room with a crucifix hanging to his left.

A World of Green Trees: Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” (1951)

Robert Bresson is a director who does not veer from the suffering a character must undertake at the cruelty of others. This is most prominent in The Trial of Joan of Arc, Mouchette, and Au Hasard Balthazar where we witness some being—be it person or animal—that is beaten under the brunt of some hostile society. Within all three films, each ends in dying or death. No one seems to have any empathy for the one suffering. Yet within Diary of a Country Priest, the ‘little priest’ as he is condescendingly referred to, undergoes very much the same. Unlike the pastor in Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the priest’s faith remains unwavering, as he desperately claims to need prayer like ‘oxygen in his blood.’

The priest, played by Claude Laydu, is somber, morose, and moves about quietly and helplessly. His illness leaves him physically weak. He only smiles once in the film, and that is when he is on a motorcycle. Roger Ebert notes that this is the moment that perhaps rekindles his childhood. Memories of his youth, when there must have been an earlier joy. He has chosen this vocation on purpose, but for what purpose is this? Has Christ abandoned him just as well, as he remains in this otherwise small, petty, country town? Meanwhile, the locals leave threatening notes ordering him to leave. […]

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A close-up shot of Neytiri's (played by Zoe Saldaña) face in James Cameron's "Avatar: The Way of Water".

WASTE OF WATER: Reviewing James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2022)

Ten years after people stopped caring, Avatar: The Way of Water has ejaculated into cinemas. Have you seen the original? Of course you have. Everyone has. It was a phenomenon. And then, all of sudden, like a bad dream, it seemed to evaporate with little traceable influence on the industry. This so called revolutionary’ film from ‘visionary’ director James Cameron is mostly remembered today as a kind of high concept spaff. Smurfs in Space by way of Enya.

It’s a deeply conventional narrative plucked straight from nineteenth century literature. In essence, a soldier and double agent ends up going native and becoming the de facto leader of an army of colonial insurgents. But not before winning their respect, having wrangled and tamed the most untameable of alien stallions and falling in love with the alien chieftains daughter. The obvious comparisons have already been made by sundry critics about the propinquities between Avatar and Dances with Wolves. But most neglect to mention the most obvious comparison: John Carter of Mars, the original populist pulp science fantasy. But even just in terms of visual window dressing and ‘effects’, Avatar didn’t deliver much that felt authentically new. Much of the alien biology and futuristic hardware was plucked straight from the pages of Métal hurlant and any given number of prog rock record sleeves. It’s a particularly dated and dare I say passé approach to sci-fi aesthetics. […]

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Sixto Rodridguez walking down a street in Detroit wearing sunglasses, as depicted in Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching For Sugar Man".

For the First Time: Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” (2012)

As an artist who has yet to be recognized for my achievements, and as someone who also knows other artists who have yet to be recognized for theirs, I have long adhered to the belief that quality rises in the end. To what end, you might wonder? Well, within me there is this idea of the ultimate. And with this, there is the notion that my most dedicated readers have yet to be born. Not only has this comforted me, but also it has contributed to my need to keep going. (If, for nothing else, I owe it to them—my future readers.) Furthermore, I have also battled the reductive belief that fame equals quality. Because as we have seen, it is not uncommon for great artists to go overlooked in the immediate, only to be discovered later by the future generations who will appreciate them. Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man, the 2012 documentary on the musician Sixto Rodriguez, demonstrates this. […]

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A stylized shot of the lead actress staring in amazement at a rocket model in Mick Jackson's "Temple Grandin".

From Inside The Visual Mind: On Mick Jackson’s “Temple Grandin” (2010)

‘I don’t want my thoughts to die with me. I want to have done something.’ These are the quality words within Temple Grandin’s biopic that I found most illuminating. While there have certainly been other quality words within other quality biopics, this one in particular stands above in how it depicts the internals of a creative mind. Most biopics portray the person from the outside—be it Van Gogh or Emily Dickinson—and while this approach can offer very good films, Mick Jackson’s Temple Grandin archives something unusual. How, exactly, does this person think? How does she process her thoughts? Visually, the film succeeds in showcasing this.

Mary Temple Grandin (played wonderfully by Claire Danes) was born in Boston to a wealthy family. As an autistic child, Grandin herself has said that she would have been sent to an institution were it not for her mother’s objection. ‘She is different, not less,’ her mother, played by Julia Ormomd, insists. From a young age, Temple is non-verbal. In fact, she did not speak until she was four, wherein since then she’s only been able to see the world via pictures. Language and math are useless to her—too abstract. (She fails algebra and French—‘Why is there so much fish in France?’ she asks, with regard to the ‘il’ pronouns.) But everything she has ever seen she can remember via images. ‘Can you bring everything you’ve seen into your mind?’ her science professor asks. ‘Sure. Can’t you?’ the bemused Temple responds. […]

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A stylized shot of Christian Fiedel's face in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" (German: Das weiße Band).

The Onset of Evil: Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” (2009)

Who can know the perpetrator behind something gone wrong? When something feels amiss, and all around bad things continue to happen to those who live within this German village? That not all good people are those harmed by these malevolent acts is one of the strengths of Michael Haneke’s 2009 film, The White Ribbon. Too often, filmmakers make ‘good’ people the victims and ‘bad’ people the perpetrators. But here, both are affected.

How the story unfolds is this—a rural German village, just on the cusp of World War I, has been terrorized by a series of events that have left them on edge. As example, the village doctor, while on his horse, trips on a wire and both man and horse suffer terrible injury. (The horse dies.) Yet this doctor is also abusive to his mistress, and he sexually molests his daughter. Children are beaten for minor transgressions—they are punished and tied up in bed for ‘impure touching’, and forced to wear a White Ribbon until they can amend their sins. A disabled child is left maimed and nearly blinded. A barn is set on fire, a husband hangs himself after his wife has fallen through a rotting floorboard, another child is murdered, and on and on. […]

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A stylized shot of Lesley Manville as Mary Smith and Ruth Sheen as Gerri Hepple, from Mike Leigh's "Another Year" (2010).

Onward and Upward: Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” (2010)

Mike Leigh has placed himself within his own filmic cannon vis-à-vis how well he portrays the lives of ‘ordinary people.’ No particular character is extraordinary, but mostly each navigates through life, often longing for something. We see first hand the weaknesses and flaws with which we can much identify rather than judge. Several of his films are Vera Drake (2004), Life is Sweet (1990), Naked (1993), Career Girls (1997), Happy Go Lucky (2008), Secrets & Lies (1996), among others. Note that none of the titles are outstanding. One could even argue that they’re rather bland. However, just as with Bruce Ario’s poetry, the seeming ‘plain spoken’ language reveals much more beneath.

Set in North London, Another Year involves a happily married couple, Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), wherein their happiness is a seeming anomaly. Mature, kind, and pleasant, they feel like the sort of couple anyone would like to know. Gerri has worked as an emotional counselor for the past 20 years. Tom is a geologist. ‘I dig holes,’ he jokes, one night over dinner. The couple appears to feel at peace within their lives. This is a contrast to some others they know, like Gerri’s coworker, Mary (Leslie Manville) who works as a secretary at the same facility. The two women are friends albeit underneath lurks the hint that Gerri is acting as a big sister to the otherwise emotionally needy and irresponsible Mary. For one, Mary spends too much, drinks too much, and throws herself at the first person willing to listen. Gerri is willing to listen but only to a point. This makes her a good friend, but it is clear that she must set boundaries in order to not be vortexed into Mary’s emotional dramas. […]