Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Grandmaster (2013)

* * 1/2

Director: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang

As a visual work, Wong Kar-wai's action biopic The Grandmaster is nothing short of spectacular. Photographed by Philippe Le Sourd (Oscar nominated for his work here) the film is crisply, gorgeously rendered, capturing the sumptuousness of the more ornate sets and the brutal precision of the action sequences in equal measure. As a visual piece, it works splendidly. As a story it finds less success, following its characters over the course of twenty or so years and during a period of intense social and political flux and change, but never really finding its center. It's saved by strong performances and perfectly executed action pieces, but remains a film with a measurable disparity between its ambition and its execution.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Modern Times (1936)

* * * *

Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

Even if you've never seen Modern Times, the image of Charlie Chaplin being worked through the giant gears of a machine is probably nevertheless familiar to you, and it's an image that effectively distills the essence of the film: the modern world is grinding the lower classes up. It's a perfectly rendered visual gag, pulled off with the grace and joy of performance that Chaplin brings to all his films. Even though Modern Times is an unmistakably political film (in tone, not affiliation) about society modernizing itself away from humanity, it's never heavy handed. Chaplin was a filmmaker who could make his point through comedy, trusting the audience not to stop thinking about the meaning behind what's happening on screen, even when what's happening is supremely silly; and even though the film is now 78 years old, it hasn't lost any of its spark.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: The Way Way Back (2014)

* * 1/2

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Starring: Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Steve Carell

Sam Rockwell is a resource that Hollywood hasn't really used to its advantage. I can't think of any Rockwell movie I've seen which wasn't vastly improved merely by his presence and his ability to make the most out of every part he's given, no matter how small and regardless of genre. This is a blessing and a curse, however, because it means that borderline films seem to cross solidly into "good" when he's on screen, and then backslide when he's not. That's how I felt while watching The Way Way Back, a film with flaws that start to seem inconsequential whenever it drops in on Rockwell's character, but which become glaring whenever it moves on to other matters.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday's Top 5... Cinematographers Turned Directors

#5: Ronald Neame

As a cinematographer, Ronald Neame helped bring to life such films as Blithe Spirit, In Which We Serve and Major Barbara. As a director, he would be responsible for such films as I Could Go On Singing, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Scrooge, The Poseidon Adventure and The Odessa File.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: The Thin Blue Line (1988)

* * * *

Director: Errol Morris

It had probably been about 10 years since I last watched Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line, and though I'd remembered that it was good, I'd forgotten just how good it is. I remembered some of the flashier elements, like the recreation of Robert Wood being shot multiple times and the shot of the milkshake flying through the air, but I'd forgotten just how chilling it is to listen to David Harris, whose relaxed and soft spoken demeanor only make him scarier. But it's not just Harris that makes the film so enduringly powerful, nor the fact the film actually had a measurable impact on the life of its subject by playing a role in Randall Adams' eventual release from prison. Rather, the film remains so powerful because of the craft of its construction and the fact that time and imitators have not in the least chipped away at that sense of craft.