Against The Hype

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Archive for the ‘Movies’

Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz

March 05, 2013 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

I did not grow up with The Wizard of Oz. Sit on that for a second: like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz feels like one of those movies that stands in for an entire mythology entrenched within the American childhood imaginary, rather than a movie that produced that mythology in the first place. How could one escape it? Yet not growing up in middle-class America meant that I wasn’t exposed to that rite of passage where Oz screenings roll around at the same time each year, permeating the holiday atmosphere. It meant that I had to make the deliberate choice to seek the movie out.

When I came around to watching The Wizard of Oz, what surprised me most was how deliriously stagebound it looks. This wasn’t a painstakingly populated Lord of the Rings or even one of those studio-set concoctions of the 80s that have become the fixture of Universal’s theme parks. Oz prides itself on painted backdrops, plastic flowers, candy-colored costumes and sets barely thirty feet wide. There aren’t even that many locations, if you consider that much of the screentime gets spent on wayside encounters with the three “friends of Dorothy” that our protagonist bumps into. But the movie barrels forth with such gusto and fairytale conviction that it’s hard to turn down.


Anticipated Movies, Fall 2012

October 12, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Announcements, Capsuled Thoughts

I couldn’t help myself. Below is my list of anticipated movies (or not) released through the end of this calendar year, filtered from Nick Davis’ far more comprehensive equivalent. I’ve dropped all the movies I haven’t even heard of, which goes to prove my brand of noncommittal cinephilia. I’m also disregarding strict release dates, since I just moved from a city which might not see half these movies till the new year to another which has already seen some past it by. Jetlag at the movies!


Give it to me:
Les Misérables: Sucker for this score, musical epics. Hooper, actors, anti-99% plot… eh

Some stirring takes, but also under-motivated fast-forwarding, furious close-ups, actors straining against their limits

Zero Dark Thirty: Chastain, Bigelow, gorgeous cinematography, an absurd early critics’ sweep

Textured (if generic) procedural pays off in magnificent title sequence. Chastain not the “killer” required by script

Amour: An arthouse version of Hope Springs by a filmmaker who pulls no punches? Sign. me. up.

Wallows in the thankless ordinary of watching a lover die. Yields toughest surprises when anyone is crabby, clear-eyed, resolute

Holy Motors: Sounds so thoroughly bizarre, I can’t help but be intrigued

Synecdoche, Paris. Picaresque tour of sublime images and absurd scenes. Balmy scifi love-letter to a cinema of the future

Skyfall: Trailer looks handsome, as do actors. Promises better Bond-M payoff than Quantum

Denied! A premium light show at its most abstract/high-contrast. Flabby script has its innuendos, but a bad case of Prequel Shoutout

Keep the Lights On: The latest acclaimed out-couple indie. Need my post-Weekend fix

Clipped vignettes from a tender but wearying relationship. Nails how periphery falls away as the (drug, love) relapses persist

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Malick aesthetic, stellar young lead? Gimme.

A kid’s earthy, elemental mythmaking. Herzog’s absurd realism, Campion’s tactility fuse. Wallis astounds

Have it come my way:
The Paperboy: Efron and Kidman under gonzo actor’s director. That rain scene. Yes
Like Someone in Love: Kiarostami always welcome. Likely elliptical, but that’s the joy

Cheeky, bracing ways of bumping bare acquaintances against each other, with payoffs tough and tender

The Master: Phoenix acts up a storm. Greenwood scores. That pristine cinematography
The Turin Horse: Sátántangó was a blast: tireless takes, apocalyptic visions
The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Actors yet to prove themselves, but I’ve heard it’s sweet

Heart-clenchingly assured filmmaking. Evokes adolescent isolation, longing better than most teen indies

On the Road: Star-making for Hedlund? Actors I wouldn’t mind hanging out with

Mildly interested:
Bernie: Soderbergh’s other 2012 triumph?
Footnote: Cannes Best Screenplay; director Joseph Cedar visiting
Rust and Bone: Still an Audiard virgin. Notices for Cotillard intrigue

Convince me, critics:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Fear Jackson’s bloat, but looks grander than hoped
Anna Karenina: Still a Knightley fan. Need to know Wright isn’t self-indulging again
Django Unchained: Sick of QT’s vengeance lust, Waltz’s consonants. Sloppier than Basterds?

Firmly B-side. No one’s unlike what they seem, save when Django steels his heart. Slopped with blood and lazy riffs

Life of Pi: Can it avoid hurdles of green-screen fakery, New Age nonsense, too-diplomatic Lee?

Best CG Actor: That Tiger. Novel’s twist doesn’t translate well, but still a poignant take on the beliefs that get us by

Lincoln: Kushner, Day-Lewis need firm directorial pushback. Can Spielberg deliver unstodgy?
Silver Linings Playbook: Not a fan of mental-illness comedy; still unsold on Lawrence

Manic Pixie Dream Girl crap, with a charming but sphinx-like Lawrence. Cooper nails the manic restlessness

Cloud Atlas: I don’t trust Wachowskis, esp. since fans seem to expect emotional material (ha!)

Get it away!
Hitchcock: Makeup-artist vehicle + acting tics + domestic sentiment (c.f. Iron Lady). Why?
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II: Oh, end it already
To Rome with Love: Allen never had his comeback. Not holding my breath

Stuff I missed
Moonrise Kingdom: That cast! Anderson’s first leads whose age matches their immaturity?
Rock of Ages: Cruise doing meta. I’ll take messy, if it’s a hot gaudy glitter-choked mess

Fascinatingly dramatized scifi, meticulous worldbuilding, deft camerawork/editing, moral standoffs up the wazoo. A doozy.

Pitch Perfect:

Compressed Glee season with similarly broad characters and moments. Really an excuse for drama-lite musical numbers

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

Canned epiphanies for everyone! British thesps lend a smidge of dignity. A Juno-colored cartoon India

Best Shot: Sherlock Jr.

August 09, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

It’s almost a given that Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924), springing from the head of one of early cinema’s foremost slapstick geniuses, is a choreographic delight. What’s more surprising, given our continual fallacy about human advancement, is how many self-reflexive and frame-breaking gestures abound in Sherlock Jr. that haven’t been far surpassed since. The classic example from this film, of course, is the delicious sequence when a dream-state Keaton walks up into a movie screen and gets ambushed by the cuts from one scene to another. (It’d be my pick for best shot, if only that sequence weren’t the painstaking product of numerous match cuts.)

Instead, my pick is the movie’s very ending shot you see above, for various reasons:

Buster Keaton’s stony face is part of his eternal charm, and here he even scratches his head to accentuate his adorable bafflement;

Learning romance from the movies isn’t a new thing, but it’s so rarely deliberately choreographed as part of the joke (as it is in this scene);

Frames proliferate in Sherlock Jr., not just in the movie-screen crossing sequence but also here, and multiple times elsewhere: inexplicably bolted front doors, theatrical curtains obscuring a desired lover and a competing suitor, etc.; and

As a projectionist, I love that it doesn’t seem like the projector has a space to project the movie through. The stars are more important!

The Dark Knight Rises: Why Christopher Nolan is a Fascist Filmmaker

August 04, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Full Essays

Try as he might, Christopher Nolan can’t quite master multitudes. In the third and last instalment of his Batman trilogy, Gotham City is overthrown, and the wealthy are hauled off to a people’s court. But where are all the people? They’re faceless masses, huddled neatly to either side as an asylum-loosed judge delivers the sentence. Mansions are pillaged, crowds riot at hotel entrances—but only for the brief length of a voiced-over montage. Just as abruptly, the streets become conspicuously empty. Before this, entire held-up stock exchanges and stadiums turn meek as lambs at the sight of a few guns.

Throughout The Dark Knight Rises crowds are always docile, organized or absent, and mob agency looks a lot like the will of a few. Perhaps this is Nolan’s point. For him, history is a clash of fascists benevolent and malicious; send enough megalomaniacs running around, and the masses can be trusted to hand over their fates. Even the hostaged ships in The Dark Knight, who stood inspiringly against the Joker’s plans to set them on each other, did so at the hands of a mere three people amid two boatloads of cowering passengers.


Best Shot: How to Marry a Millionaire

August 02, 2012 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If How to Marry a Millionaire didn’t premise itself on having Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall share the same plane of cinematic existence, the whole enterprise would seem even more dreary than it is. It’s an implausible high concept, to be sure: three feminine “types” rent out a New York loft to try to ensnare a rich husband. If you have any familiarity with Hollywood’s hypocrisy about moneyed escapism and true love, you know how it goes. As they are, the unfolding clichés seem too lowbrow even for Monroe’s breathy ditzy blonde, let alone the angular Bacall. The movie, only the second shot in CinemaScope, only seems remotely adept at the technology when it fits all three stars onscreen. Hence my favorite shot above, where each star is dressed and takes on a mode of repose that’s so different from the others, even as they’re all dreamily contemplating their potential future catches. The pleasure’s ours.