Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special / Jeff Nichols / 2016 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Humanistic tone; Michael Shannon; Emotional undercurrents
Side Effects: Those same emotional moments sacrificed to momentum

Much has been made of Midnight Special‘s comparisons to a specific breed of old-fashioned, family-centered sci-fi films such as E.T., Close Encounters, and John Carpenter’s Starman. It’s true, director Jeff Nichols had these films in mind while crafting his own humane work about the wonderment of experiences beyond our understanding. But these comparisons fail to account for a significant difference in tone. Here, the wonder is fraught with worry, the adventure overshadowed by danger and desperation. Midnight Special isn’t exactly somber, but its tone exposes its concern with we imperfect beings here on Earth, and not simply a romantic Beyond. Read more…

Where to Start With… Apichatpong Weerasethakul

[Diving into a new cinematic topic can be daunting. This series provides some suggestions on where to begin exploring a director’s body of work, a genre, style or theme. The three suggested films serve as a brief introduction; they’re not complete or authoritative, but will in some way be representative of the topic and hopeful inspire you to watch more, outlined in recommended further viewing.]

Apichatpong Weerasethakul—affectionately called simply Joe by writers in the West—is a modern Thai filmmaker, video artist and installation artist. He gained acclaim and exposure in contemporary international art house circles for his 2007 film Syndromes and a Century, and became an even bigger critical success after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for 2010’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Apichatpong’s films can be oblique, and yes, difficult for the uninitiated, but there’s real warmth and boundless life to discover in his unique worlds. Read more…

Speaking Malick: A Guide to the Director’s Unique Language

With the recent release of the remarkable Knight of Cups, critics and adventurous movie-goers alike have a new Terrence Malick film to grapple with. Unfortunately, the film has largely been met with dismissal rather than careful consideration. Many feel alienated by Malick’s elliptic style, mystified by his lack of traditional narrative. It’s true that Malick employs a radical and expressive cinematic language, but an understanding of his innovative and improvisational production methodology will help to approach his films on their own, unconventional terms. Read more…

Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

Once Upon a Time in China / Tsui Hark / 1991 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Creative and exciting action; Themes of tradition and modernity
Side Effects: Tangential narratives and shifting focus

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Masterfully choreographed and directed action sequences surround an equally masterful historical epic.

The thematic ambitions of Tsui Hark’s seminal Once Upon a Time in China are evident from the beginning. It’s overture and subsequent introductory sequences are rife with references to the foreign influences manipulating 19th century China, and to the inexorably changing times. Modernity is fast approaching, and in this respect Tsui’s film is similar to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, in which the construction of the railroad represents the last gasp of the Wild West. And while these showdowns emphasize fists over six-shooters, much of the sentiment and style of the Western can be felt here. Read more…

The Witch (2016)

The Witch / Robert Eggers / 2016 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Beautifully crafted mood; Exploration of evil; Cast
Side Effects: Unique form leads to odd pacing and rhythms

Robert Eggers’ The Witch isn’t just an “assured” cinematic debut—an easy term too often reached for—but a damn near masterful one. An assured film is merely studied and technically proficient; a masterful one is singular and inspired.

Not content to emulate the styles, rhythms or contours of any recognizable formula, The Witch discovers its own shape, its own textures. It doesn’t manufacture chills in trite and familiar ways, but through unnoticed and unexpected tactics that slowly and methodically creep under your skin and stay there. It’s a sustained and uncomfortably close encounter with pure evil. Read more…

The Best Performances of 2015

I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, but while 2015 is still young and its great films are months away, there’s still time to look back at 2015. In this post I’ll name my favorite lead and supporting performances, along with my favorite scenes of the year “The Year in Miscellaneous Superlatives.”

Happily, this year featured tons of fantastic performances from women! I had a tough time coming up with even five lead actors, but there were a wealth of great lead actresses to choose from. So this year, I couldn’t help it: I’ve named ten.

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Read more…