Monday, June 27, 2022

The Future is Now

Crimes of the Future (2022)

There's a sense of the world moving on in David Cronenberg's new film, Crimes of the Future (2022). A lot of Cronenberg's films seem like they depict a world on the brink of collapse, but this one seems like it takes place afterwards, rather than on the brink. The director has watched the world tumble over the falls in the decade since his last movie, precipitated by many of the very things that make up the unease and horror in his earlier films: a pandemic, right wing conspiracies, unfettered capitalism, a brain-washing media landscape. The various apocalypses postulated in the director's earlier films are a fait accompli at the present historical moment. In Crimes of the Future the director says, "yeah, all that happened and this is the result: a world in which no one can feel anything anymore. "

Friday, May 27, 2022

A Hymn for the Red Planet

I bought a copy of The War of the Worlds (1953, directed by Byron Haskins) during a recent Criterion Collection sale. When my long-suffering partner saw it in my stack of loot, she said: "You'll be watching that one on your own." The ticking of the Martian war machines gives her nightmares. When I popped it into the player at home, that ominous ticking was the soundtrack for the menu screens. She threw up her hands and walked out of the room after ostentatiously slamming the door to drown out that sound. It's a fair reaction, particularly if you first encountered the film at a young age. It still resonates. Once you've heard it, you never forget it.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Free Falling

A Free Soul (1931)

There is an unspoken assumption among some connoisseurs of American pre-Code cinema that the shocking freedom these films enjoyed was somehow linked to a progressive attitude toward social mores. The willingness of filmmakers and studios to take on such "forbidden" subjects as drug addiction, abortion, sexually liberated women, racial issues, and what have you might suggest that the filmmakers and the studios were in the forefront of social and moral progress. This is a mistaken assumption. While it is true that the Hays Code absolutely was a mechanism for conservative social engineering, that doesn't mean that every film that flouted it was on board with an opposing viewpoint. Sometimes, filmmakers used their freedom to demonize that very freedom. No one could have accused a filmmaker like, say Cecil B. DeMille of being socially liberal, and it was one of his films that more or less brought about the end of the pre-Code era. Films like Female, Baby Face, Call Her Savage, or Torch Singer were all retrograde critiques of the sexual liberation of women hiding behind their sexual frankness and racy imagery, with many of their "liberated" heroines repenting and eventually settling for their more "natural" roles as wives or mothers. While this narrative was often played ironically with its fingers crossed behind its back, sometimes it was in deadly earnest. One such deadly earnest version is found in A Free Soul from MGM in 1931, directed by Clarence Brown. It's a film whose only brush with irony is its title. No one in the film is free and that's the way the filmmakers like it.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

True/False 2022: Wayward Daughters and Hot Volcanoes

Sirens (2021)

All of the films I saw on my second day at True/False were directed by women and were by and large about women and relationships. I didn't plan this. Hell, I rarely plan anything when I'm at the festival because nothing ever lines up the way I expect. In recent years, I've picked my films based on what venues have the most comfortable seats. I'm getting old and my back and my ass appreciate this. I would recommend this approach at any film festival, not just True/False. You have to trust the festival programmers for this, and they mostly know what they're doing. Mostly.

In any event, seeing a slate of movies by women was pure coincidence, and not an unhappy one.

Friday, March 11, 2022

True/False 2022: People Watching and Shoot 'Em Ups

The Balcony Movie (2021)

I took last year off from my city's annual True/False film festival. It was the first time I'd missed the festival in the seventeen years it's been in existence, but I have trust issues and co-morbidities that make me disinclined to stick my neck out into a global pandemic. You know how it goes, sometimes. I'm fully vaccinated this year and the festival is being militant about safety protocols, so I'm back this at it. The experience of being in crowds has changed. Crowds are now fraught and anxiety-inducing. Once I was in the auditorium, I was thankful that I could shrink the scope of my world to just me and what was on the screen.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Carrying on the Family Business

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021, directed by Jason Reitman) is two thirds of a good movie. That two thirds of a film are better than any comparable running time in any other Ghostbusters film, including the original item. This should not be a surprise. Jason Reitman is a better director than his father ever was, and is a better director than Paul Feig. He's better at blocking his scenes, better at writing dialogue, and better at working with actors, particularly young actors. Since the lead characters in the film (rather than in the credits) are kids, this gets value from its director that the other films never demanded. Better still, the first two acts of Ghostbusters: Afterlife don't play like any previous film in the series, either. Part of this comes from moving the film out of New York and out into the sticks. Part of it comes from a cast of characters who are drastically different character types than what you find in the other films. It's only when the film decides that a paying audience demands what the original item provided that the film gets itself into trouble. Big trouble.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Grant Mystique: The Last Outpost (1935)

The Last Outpost (1935)

I used to think that Cary Grant could do anything. Comedy? Drama? Action? There's a classic film in almost every category to make an argument. In more recent years, I've been discovering the limits of the Grant persona. Grant was not particularly suited to historical pieces like The Howards of Virginia or The Pride and the Passion (though he's not bad in the latter). Some registers of comedy don't work with the polished perfection of "Cary Grant," either. I've often thought that Grant was wasted in sitcoms in the 1950s. But the thing that Grant really couldn't pull off was facial hair. This is the problem with The Last Outpost (1935, directed by Charles Barton and Louis J. Gasner), which finds Grant sporting a 1930s-style pencil thin mustache and that mustache completely dims Grant's star power. I mean, he's barely recognizable, which is a shock given how small a change it is to his face. It's like Superman putting on a pair of glasses to become Clark Kent. It makes him ordinary.