Category: Film

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A shot of Rupert Pupkin's closing monologue speech, as seen on a stack of televisions, in Martin Scorsese's "The King of Comedy"

Delusional Yet Determined: On Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” (1983)

What if success was not measured in quality but in popularity? Where achievement resided not within the honing of one’s craft but within fame itself? Where spending years in obscurity gets tossed aside in favor of shallow recognition and immediacy? Oh wait, if this isn’t the culture we live in, then what is it? Perhaps it is also the mindset of wannabe standup comic Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Granted, Rupert really does believe he is great and ready for the big stage (we witness this via his many fantasies) but fame seems to be the thing he longs for more than anything else. He wants to be known and to ultimately prove his worth to those who believe he’d not amount to anything more than a ‘hill of beans.’ Add to this his brazen, belligerent manner and it’s no wonder he ultimately gets what he gets—and no, I don’t mean jail.

The King of Comedy has remained an overlooked work despite its 40-year run, yet this is not only one of his best films but one that has proved to be prophetic in terms of how this business we call show business operates. Fame, ratings, who you know—this is what matters, and Rupert realizes this. The film opens with late-night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) escaping into a limo from a crowd of aggressive fans. Thinking he has privacy at last, Rupert pushes his way in. Already, they are on a forced first-name basis, as Rupert speaks to Jerry as though he’s always known him. ‘What is your name again?’ Jerry asks. […]

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A shot from Terrence Malick's "Badlands", as Martin Sheen smokes a cigarette in a white t-shirt.

Some Stuff to Say: Reviewing Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” (1973)

A moment that stays with me in Terrence Malick’s Badlands occurs near the end of Kit and Holly’s flight from authorities through South Dakota up into the US-Canada border. There is a lull both in their pursuit and in their relationship, which so far has been one of passive submission by Holly to Kit’s cold-blooded murder spree.

Holly has concluded that she is done with Kit, for their destination in the far north, even if arrived at, would be fruitless. He knows seemingly nothing except to charm and kill. Her future thus vouchsafed by refusal of him, she tells Kit this on their night drive (or so she tells us, in her narration) and he responds as the audience has been primed to expect him to respond: with almost nonchalant indifference. His protests, in another man’s voice, might be strained by discordant rage; another man’s eyes might gleam with thoughts of loss. His, however, betray no such passions. He catalogs his prospects, but Holly isn’t really listening (although a part of her is). Kit’s acknowledgment of her inattention is blithe. […]

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A film poster for Alex Sheremet's and Joel Parrish's first film, "From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet", on the life and work and Bruce Ario. It features the title and subtitle, a sunlike object in the sky, and a male figure walking down a snowy Minneapolis scene.

TRAILER: “From There to There – Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet” (2024)

Bruce Ario (1955 – 2022) was a poet and novelist from Minneapolis. A car accident and traumatic brain injury in his mid-20s forced Bruce to drop out of law school, which was followed by a period of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. His health began to improve with a religious awakening, therapy, volunteer work (which included time in Haiti), and, most importantly to Bruce and his legacy, a lifelong interest in writing.

From There to There: Bruce Ario, the Minneapolis Poet is an upcoming (2024) documentary film on Bruce’s life and work. It will be shot in Minneapolis, where Bruce Ario spent his life, and will include footage of scenes described in Bruce’s writing. It will also feature interviews with artists and those who knew him. This fundraiser will help cover some costs associated with the project: video equipment, travel expenses, advertising, labor and production. Any additional money raised will be used to fund the publication of Bruce Ario’s books. […]

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A stylized shot from Roman Polanski's "Repulsion", which features a dim-eyed Catherine Deneuve walking aimlessly on a bridge.

A World as Violent and Predatory: Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965)

When it comes to praise, anyone who is familiar with Roman Polanski also knows that he’s never going to win any awards for his person. An individual who fled the US to avoid jail, to put it kindly, the man is no Fred Rogers. While a talented director at his best, as with the work of any quality artist, his best still deserves to be addressed irrespective of his shitty nature as a person.

Which brings me to his great 1965 film Repulsion. ‘Pay attention to what she does,’ might be the best advice when experiencing this film for the first time. Few screenplays achieve such a level of depth through minimal use of dialogue. Firstly, let us examine the subject. Carole (Catherine Deneuve) is a beautiful young woman who shares a London flat with her sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Right away, we notice there is something off about her. She works as a manicurist for a high-end salon and is prone to ‘spacing out.’ She appears easily distracted and distant. Meanwhile, Helen is having an affair with a married man whom Carole does not like. ‘So this is the beautiful younger sister,’ he says patronizingly while pinching her cheek. Disgusted, Carole pulls away. She also does not like that he places his toothbrush and razor in her cup, which she comes to throw away, and is ultimately chastised by Helen as a result. […]

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Showing three separate, colored, stylized shots from Larry Blamire's "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra"

More Ambition Than Talent (& Knowing It!): Larry Blamire’s “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” (2001)

There’s nothing like a young artist’s early ambition whose talent has not yet come to fruition. Often, with pretension abound, the results don’t equal their enthusiasm and so what ultimately results is something less than amateurish. But hey, at least they are trying so who can fault them? (Only their embarrassment years later, perhaps? e.g., Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire, anyone?)

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is a film that, much like Frank Whaley’s The Jimmy Show, has gone overlooked in recent years. While garnering initial praise, (unlike The Jimmy Show, which also debuted in 2001) Roger Ebert only gave The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara one and a half stars, noting, ‘The writer and director, Larry Blamire, who also plays the saner of the scientists, has the look so well mastered that if the movie had only been made in total ignorance 50 years ago, it might be recalled today as a classic. A minor, perhaps even minuscule, classic.’ […]

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From the director of "Oppenheimer" (2023) and "Following" (1998), a snapshot of Christopher Nolan's latter film, featuring a black-and-white portrait of a man staring out into a city.

Vanishing Act: Review of Christopher Nolan’s “Following” (1998)

Having watched this year’s 3-hour-long Oppenheimer a few weeks ago, I decided it’d be neat to go back to the very beginning, to Christopher Nolan’s first feature, 1998’s independent Following, the tale of an unemployed, would-be writer who gets caught up in the schemes of a charismatic criminal. At a miniscule 70 minute runtime, one might be tempted to think that the two are wildly different. On the surface, yes, they are, but even in Nolan’s debut his cinematic brand is evident.

Jim Emerson’s point that Nolan arrives here nearly fully formed as an artist isn’t far off the mark. All the tricks (sans the lavish budgets and big-name casts) of his trade are present: the fragmented, dove-tailing plot(s); un-telegraphed cuts (the film was shot by Nolan, and edited well by him alongside Gareth Heal); his affinity for doubles; an icy femme fatale; and the presence of a conniving mastermind who manipulates the events unfolding onscreen unbeknownst to either the characters or the audience. (Sometimes this mastermind is the protagonist, sometimes the antagonist, sometimes Nolan himself.) Nolan is one of those puzzle-box directors, less keen on profound themes and deep character portraits than he is on malleable chronology and upending audience expectations through deft narrative turns. When he does try to tackle big themes, such as with love in Interstellar, he fumbles, although the end result is almost always still entertaining. […]

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A stylized shot from Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", as Kirk Douglas and a general argue.

An Examination of Egos: Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” (1957)

Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre has often been labeled ‘cerebral’, wherein emotion remains not the primary objective. Feelings are there, of course, but to witness them one must remain patient because quite simply, unlike a lesser director, Kubrick is not going to instruct you on how you should feel. Rather, his films have been compared to a game of chess—intricate, meticulous, and deliberate, where the moves unfold the narrative slowly, as one scene leads into the next. Paths of Glory is the fourth film within Kubrick’s corpus, having directed The Killing only one year prior. As noted in my review of The Killing, this earlier film contains no fat and it succeeds because of the sharp narrative intricacy—one scene into the next, like a deliberate game of chess—all this, in addition to Sterling Hayden’s performance. Now, we’ve got Kirk Douglas who, within his first shot, made sure to have his shirt off. (Apparently, shirtlessness was a requirement in his film contract.)

Paths of Glory is set during World War I, in 1916, in a place where the Germans and French have been fighting, with both sides yielding bloodshed. However this is a film about egos, where one’s rank is all that matters, and intelligence, ideas, and inventiveness matter only insomuch as one’s hierarchy. (How often have you, reader, experienced something similar at a toxic workplace?) The area that centers on the battle is the Anthill, for which the men are ordered to attack, only with one problem—to do so is pretty much a suicide mission. Yet in the Generals’ minds, only the dead are brave. To be alive is akin to cowardice. ‘If they were brave, they would be at the bottom of the trenches,’ they claim. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax who is opposed to the mission, but he begrudgingly follows orders, as he keeps his anger in check. And so what is in it for them? Well, a promotion. To summarize: […]

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A stylized shot of Stephen and a parson from Alan Clarke's "Penda's Fen" (1974).

Child Be Strange: On Alan Clarke’s “Penda’s Fen” (1974)

Stephen Franklin, son of a parson (not a priest, mind you) and enjoyer of Elgar, is about as self-serious an eighteen-year-old boy can get. Self-serious to the point of silliness, as his mother is quick to point out when she interrupts his deep listening of the English composer’s The Dream of Gerontius. The moment’s humor is not altogether obvious, since it is surrounded by Stephen’s high-minded musings over God and mortality and the soul in relation to the musical notation unfurled before him. But it’s there, and serves to deflate Stephen’s supercilious self-conception in the form of earthly reality’s interruption of the ideal. It is this tension that is among the film’s primary concerns, and is further buttressed by the boy’s prayers being quickly set aside when the swaggering, bare-armed milkman arrives to their doorstep with his delivery.

That Stephen harbors lust for the milkman is seemingly not yet clear to him, although it is only one of many essential facts concerning his self that will eventually be made clear, whether he likes it or not, amidst the backdrop of the Worcestershire countryside and the imposition of its various institutions: Church and public school and the provincial mind. […]