Night and the City

Richard Widmark is hungry. There’s no better way to describe it. As Night and the City opens, he’s scampering, lean and lithe, through darkened London, avoiding a barely-seen pursuer like a cat trying to make it home with dinner jammed between its jaws. I’m not sure anyone in movie history runs as well as Widmark runs in this film, pulling Donald O’Connor-esque twists and turns that send his limbs flailing about in silhouette, and then ducking around a corner and […]

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Faults

Perpetual character actor Leland Orser (his credits include Se7en,  Alien: Resurrection and the Taken series) gets a much-deserved lead role in this low-budget drama in which he plays Ansel, a cult deprogrammer and past-his-prime pop psychologist hired by a mother and father to rescue their little girl, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), from her willful immersion in a sketchy, pseudo-religious organization known as Faults.  Director Riley Stearns sets a seriocomic tone right from the start, as Ansel tries to con his way into a free meal at a hotel restaurant with a voucher he fished out of the garbage. (When he’s called out by management, he starts shoveling forkfuls of ketchup into his face on the assumption that he won’t get ejected until he’s done eating.) Orser is fantastic in these bits, which establish the general desperateness of his situation. But the film soon gets quieter, and weirder, as he kidnaps Claire and holes up with her in a motel room while her anxious parents wait next door. Fortunately, the film is generally up to the challenge it sets itself; scenes where Ansel and Claire converse, one on one, as he tries to work her out of her delusions even as she evinces an unshakeable faith in her beliefs are plenty compelling for their unpretentious intensity. But the whole thing suffers from too-much-story syndrome, with a subplot about Ansel’s manager (Jon Gries) and his enforcer (the terrific Lance Reddick) looking to extract $20,000 from their near-destitute client feeling dropped in from another movie entirely. “Hey,” you might wonder, “where can this possibly be going that so much extraneous stuff needs to be happening?” It’s distracting and, worse, it’s dull. Still pretty good stuff in all.

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland

The perfunctory Sleepaway Camp II is a white-knuckle thrill ride compared to the lethargic Sleepaway Camp III. Everyone was tired by the time they shot this sequel—Gordon wrote the script during the two weeks the previous film was shooting—and it shows on screen. The picture opens with a bizarrely out-of-place pre-credits vignette in which Angela runs down a victim on the streets of Atlanta by chasing her into an alley with a Mack truck. The encounter is ridiculously off-message for a Sleepaway Camp movie. Sure, it explains how the by-now-notorious serial killer sneaks into yet another summer camp (identity theft!), but the last thing these movies need is more backstory—not to mention what must have been by Sleepaway Camp standards an insanely expensive siphoning of money away from everything else in the production.

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Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

Say what you will about the original Sleepaway Camp—you can’t accuse it of lacking ambition. All writer-director Robert Hiltzik had to do to sell a movie with that title in that era was cast a bunch of teenagers in a wan Friday the 13th knock-off and splash some Karo blood around in the woods. Yet he made something dark and unique, with queer undertones: the first gender-identity horror film. The story goes that Hiltzik’s script for a follow-up was rejected by producer […]

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Tomorrowland

Nostalgia is the engine that hums along beneath Brad Bird’s films — the Fantastic Four pastiche of The Incredibles, the secret-agent capers of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the aroused sentimentality of critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille, and the animation of The Iron Giant, which combined CG with hand-drawn images. Bird is an old-school kind of filmmaker with old-school kinds of values, and thodr values are expressed as narrative subtext. The disaster ofTomorrowland is that the subtext has become text. Tomorrowland is not just a film about nostalgia; it’s a Very Important Statement on the World We Live In that takes nostalgia as a given. Tomorrowland shows us a gleaming, Oz-like city on the horizon populated by uniformly smiling faces and dressed up with decades-old sci-fi tropes like jetpacks and rocketship launching pads, and Bird looks back longingly on the world that imagined it. Continue reading

The Fisher King

The Fisher King was a huge departure for director Terry Gilliam, whose career had been generous with its whimsy, wild in its imagination, and resolute in its pessimism. This was his first Hollywood film, made after the widely-publicized debacle of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen pushed him into the arms of high-powered talent agency CAA. Gilliam has always maintained that the bad press created by all manner of fiscal shenanigans on Munchausen unfairly trashed his reputation, and he was determined […]

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The Gift

The two meatheads sitting next to us at The Gift last night were having a hard time with the movie. They talked. They fidgeted and twitched. One of them checked the time on his Apple Watch a half-dozen times over the course of 30 minutes. Eventually, one of them fell dead asleep. I don’t think he made it to the halfway mark. His buddy roused him and they split with about a half-hour to go in the picture. I sort of envied them. Like I said, these guys were meatheads. But I got where they were coming from. Continue reading

Cries and Whispers

Harriet Andersson first appears on screen a little more than three minutes into Cries and Whispers. Sven Nykvist’s camera looks at her from across the room as her features twist and twitch in an extraordinary series of contortions. It’s a remarkable image because it so compassionately and clearly conveys the human condition–the spirit’s status as long-term resident of a fleshy domicile with its particular shortcomings and irreversible dilapidations. It’s also almost immediately identifiable as an Ingmar Bergman image. That’s not just because Andersson is a Bergman stalwart, or because the European aspect ratio and the vintage texture and film grain help identify the time and place of the picture’s making. No, you can feel in this shot the cameraman’s patience, the actor’s single-mindedness, and the director’s clinical interest in her character’s experience. And at this point in his career, a woman in distress and under the microscope was Bergman’s métier.

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