It’s that time of the month….time to get caught up with what our loyal Reverse Shot staff writers are doing in other necks of the woods.
The Art of Cornel Wilde
in the brand new issue of CinemaScope:
“Celebrating the primal and primitive in cinema is a convenient fiction of criticism. To speak of a medium entirely premised on advanced technology as if it were an eruption from a bloodily liberated id—as if camera, crew, and equipment were merely the tactile extensions of the Neanderthal artist’s fingers smearing paint against the cave wall—is, of course, absurd. That the trope can be used at all is precisely because nobody takes its premise seriously; it’s simply another rhetorical club against genteelism, violating the middlebrow “cinema of quality” at its manicured root. While it may be a useful polemical device, its value in actually helping us understand films is limited, and often distorting. This is hardly the first instance where critical rhetoric has taken a sharp detour from filmic reality, but the particular irritation of the “primal” is that, by way of its implicit connection to unmediated authenticity, it brooks no argument and furthers no discussion. The primal is an end unto itself—indeed, the only “real” end to our supposed bestial natures and an excuse for pale, sallow-cheeked scribblers to carouse in print like lusty buccaneers, while neglecting the testimony of the films themselves.”
Elbert Ventura on Sergio Leone,
from Slate’s Summer Movies Issue:
“Essentially a compendium of flourishes, the action hero is rooted less in the movie he or she inhabits than in our collective pop consciousness. But the notion of the action hero as a pop icon isn’t entirely a Hollywood invention. It can be partly credited to an Italian director working in an American genre on Spanish soil. In the 1960s, Sergio Leone made a string of Westerns that introduced to audiences a new sensibility—gloriously baroque, self-consciously iconic, and steeped in movies. The release this month of “The Sergio Leone Anthology,” a box set composed of remastered versions of the Dollars trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and the little-seen Duck, You Sucker, gives us the chance to reacquaint ourselves with a blockbuster director who pioneered that now-familiar archetype: the film buff as artistic savant.”
Nicolas Rapold on Sicko:
“Yet like so much of Mr. Moore’s work, Sicko is most healthily taken as a satirical polemic, not an airtight policy proposal. Mr. Moore’s screed wallows in pitiable anecdotes, cherry-picks history, and applies skepticism selectively as suits its arguments. But as the filmic equivalent of a shameless and sardonic dinner-table raconteur, Sicko at its best rocks more like Twain than Chomsky, stringing together a story that begs to be retold.”
and Michael Joshua Rowin on Sicko:
“The irony is that while Bowling for Columbine reestablished Moore’s reputation and influence, the film also exposed how his talents were best served in the television format. The for-the-camera stunts — the montage sequences, the ubiquitous figure of Moore himself — all work to humorous effect on a small screen unable to contain his overload of ego and mainstream-unfriendly politics. Yet on a large screen the effect is diminished. There’s something embarrassing about Moore’s movies when viewed in a theater, like viewing a puffy, sleep-deprived face under bright lights. Flaws become magnified and horribly exposed: The stunts feel cheap, the montage sequences seem simplistic and Moore becomes an insufferable showboat.”
Jeannette Catsoulis on Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox:
“Directed by Sara Lamm with more attention to texture than focus, the movie probes beneath the bubbles to unearth its subject’s troubled relationship with his Jewish heritage and his insistence on the equality of all human beings. What emerges is a complex portrait of a man who cares more for humanity than for his own children, often left to languish in orphanages while their father scoured bodies and minds.”
Nick Pinkerton on Knocked Up:
The template for big-numbers success in American screen comedy, as established a decade ago in the twin box-office landslides of There’s Something About Mary and American Pie: over-the-latest-top raunch supplementing wide-eyed, naïve emotionality. The new reigning master of the form is Judd Apatow, whose 40-Year-Old Virgin treated its premise-title with absolute earnestness when it wasn’t loading the film with enough boner gags and just-us-guys bullshitting to diffuse accusations of dishonest sentimentality. Knocked Up, Apatow’s sophomore feature, furnishes a much-deserved leading role to Seth Rogen, one of his faithful supporting players, primed for stardom from his early days on Apatow-produced sitcoms Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. It’s a piece of casting that’s a little coup unto itself — the tubby, woolly-headed goof of a buddy is a familiar enough romantic comedy trope (see Rogen himself, doing journeyman work in You, Me, and Dupree), but trusting that guy to command the center stage nearly passes for profound subversion amidst the intellectual aridity of contemporary industrial moviemaking.
Michael Joshua Rowin on A Mighty Heart:
“So the Daniel Pearl story unfolds, with less political or emotional resonance than can be gathered from a Wikipedia entry containing the same details. Winterbottom attempts to inject some life into the proceedings with never-sit-still editing, tourist glimpses of local color in Pakistan, India, and France, and unannounced flashbacks. Nothing works.”
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