Friday, September 30, 2011

Swinging for the bleachers

First off, let's get one thing straight: Moneyball is not "The Social Network of baseball movies." Yes, they're both penned by Aaron Sorkin (though he shares a screenplay credit with Steven Zaillian here), and they'd both rather keep the action confined to the development of ideas. But that's about where it ends. The calculated coldness of David Fincher's film is nowhere to be found, and Bennett Miller gives Moneyball such an earnest, gruff quality that it sneakily builds into a roaring film that may very well rank among the best baseball films ever made. It certainly isn't like any of them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"A Real Human Being, and A Real Hero"

The disassociated, loner hero is a trope familiar to a wide array of historical periods, genres, and nationalities across cinema. James Dean in his red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause, Jean-Paul Belmondo's disconnected whirl through Paris in Breathless, Marlon Brando's struggle to establish his conscience in On the Waterfront, the minimalist assassin of Melville's Le Samourai -- these lonely men are just a few who awake our own sense of humanity through their recognition of their own failings.

In an American cinema of heroes gifted supernatural or highly expensive means of expelling the city of its woes and restoring a romanticized status quo to the world, "Drive" isn't just a breath of fresh air -- it's a slap in the face. Not only is it gorgeously filmed and meticulously crafted, it is at once full of despair, romance, and existential longing. It has the power to feel devastating and transcendental, excessive and minimalist.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"The Black Dahlia" LiveCommentary

Monday, September 12, 2011

"No touching!" - "Contagion" review

The horror genre has a deep history of masking and allegorizing its biggest fears. For instance, mass xenophobia and worries of foreign influence get combined into "Dracula," a character driven (at least in Tod Browning's 1931 incarnation) by his foreignness and his need to suck the life out of rich white people. Or, take zombie movies: fears of the apocalypse and the fragility of humanity's existence get converted into the undead -- mankind exacting revenge on itself for its own transgressions.

In fact, Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" has some images that might feel culled from Danny Boyle's newly seminal "28 Days Later" -- deserted airports, trash flowing into the streets, food ripped from the shelves of stores. But this isn't some kind of deranged fantasy; the terror in Mr. Soderbergh's film is all too real, and the paranoia all too enveloping. It's a globe-trotting, fast-paced affair where the end of humanity threatens not from slam-bang sequences of iconographic destruction, but in hushed conversations between medical professionals and infected patients desperately trying to literally save human existence.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Starring Los Angeles, as "Los Angeles"

That night back in April where I decided to go to UCLA already seems like a distant memory (and yes, I still have yet to sit in a classroom. It's been an eventful couple months). But I had decided where to, in the words of a certain nefarious athlete, "take my talents" for graduate school, and so in a celebration I watched Thom Anderson's brilliant film essay "Los Angeles Plays Itself" on YouTube. It rocked my world, and in his deliberate, nearly-three hours of questioning how Los Angeles manifests itself on film and how its true character coolly eludes adequate representation, it actually provided me just one more in a very long list of reasons to go to Los Angeles and study.

Sunday night, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica hosted a screening of Anderson's film, which has yet to receive a DVD release (though he hinted that one may be in the works). The director/scholar was there to talk about his work at the end of the film for what felt like a good 75 minutes, with a crowd who was eager to explore with him his process, what he loves about the city, and the implications of the mythical character of Los Angeles.