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Nathaniel

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Everything posted by Nathaniel

  1. Nathaniel

    Grindhouse

    Having spent a good chunk of my teenage years watching Britsploitation flicks, I think I enjoyed this one a little too much. I surely appreciated the homage to The Legend of Hell House (right down to the Roddy McDowall look-alike). I gotta say, though, Thanksgiving, with its washed-out film stock and bassoon-voiced narrator, is an uncanny send-up of Reagan-era slasher flicks (although it probably outdoes them all in terms of crassness).
  2. Nathaniel

    Grindhouse

    Question is, when are we going to see a release of Edgar Wright's Don't? Soon, I hope!
  3. Nathaniel

    Into Great Silence

    Saw it at the Laemmle Fallbrook earlier today. A pretty good turnout (about thirty people at first, then maybe twenty after a few walkouts) considering the subject, length and time of screening (8:00). The joyous image of the monks playing in the freshly fallen snow elicited a well-earned laugh from the audience. Easily the best movie of the young year. If it visits your town, take care not to miss it!
  4. I went to the L.A. junket on behalf of Hollywood Jesus, and there seemed to be a lot of religious media in attendance. I ended up having a nice conversation with a Catholic critic from Singapore about horror movies. Unsurprisingly, the roundtable interviews focused mainly on the spiritual aspects of the film. As far as films about the ten biblical plagues go, I'd place The Reaping well below both The Ten Commandments and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I also found out the screenwriters (Chad and Carey Hayes) are working on a "modernization" of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. As a great admirer of the 1961 film The Innocents, it is my duty to be concerned!
  5. Much as I hate to quibble with someone who uses an English composer as their avatar, I've got to say I thought Deschanel was just right as the kids' music teacher. Ever since All the Real Girls (and probably prior to that, even) she's proven herself that rare actress who seems incapable of giving a false note or an overstated gesture. Beautiful, yes, but over-the-top? Nay, she was just right! Can you really blame Josh Hutcherson for staying after class? Robb, on the other hand, who appears to have aged at twice the normal rate since her last picture, struck me as mildly irritating. That, and her voice sounds to have been tampered with in post-production (the over-crisp line readings were a dead giveaway). But she's a promising young actress, for sure. Gosh, this movie was a pleasant surprise, wasn't it?
  6. Nathaniel

    Zodiac

    Oh, I liked it! Pakula's film is one of my all-time favorites, and Fincher was able to replicate that eerie '70s vibe beautifully. All the President's Men is remarkable not just for its consolidation of information, but for its ability to make that information seem exciting to the viewer. Similarly, Zodiac, with its endless phone calls and interviews, might have easily lapsed into monotony, but Fincher pumps it so full of atmosphere and paranoia that boredom is kept at bay. He also allows us to share Graysmith's excitement as he conducts his investigation, so that in essence we're solving the mystery alongside him. That's hard to do! Partial credit must go to Shire's spooky score and Harry Savides's Gordon Willis-y lighting. Fincher must have had them study All the President's Men (and maybe The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor) before working on this film. (Shire's homework, of course, was already done.)
  7. Nathaniel

    Zodiac

    For me, the best part of the movie was listening to David Shire reprise his score to All the President's Men. (Wouldn't it have been great if Hal Holbrook suddenly showed up as an anonymous tipster?)
  8. Nathaniel

    Becket

    So, given this criteria, how does Becket measure up? I would guess it lands somewhere between art and entertainment. BTW, thanks for sharing your method with us, Greg. It makes sense for a professional film critic to work out a personal modus operandi.
  9. Nathaniel

    Becket

    So, Greg, Steven, do you guys occasionally experience that niggling tension between really liking a film and realizing its limitations as cinema? I ask this because when I watched Becket the other night, I watched it as a human being first and a critic second. And since it appealed as much to the heart as to the head, because it pleased the soul as much as the eye, the usual criticisms I was prepared to make seemed inadequate. Call Becket and A Man for All Seasons great and few will disagree with you. But then there's that small but vital sector of film criticism that insists a Fred Zinnemann or a Peter Glenville will never be the equal of a Howard Hawks or a Nicholas Ray, and, yes, certain films do feel a lot like plays and are therefore "uncinematic" or undesirable. Frankly, I often feel like taking off my film critic cap and declaring that if loving Becket is wrong, then I don
  10. Nathaniel

    Becket

    Saw this at the Nuart in Santa Monica last night. My general feeling is that it's superb, but part of me (the fun-spoiling, film studenty part) rebels against the idea that it's great filmmaking. Another, more insistent part argues that finicky critiques of its aesthetic value are immaterial because other facets of the picture (especially the acting and writing, two things one can always count on from an English production of this sort) overwhelm them. Most importantly, the film works on an emotional level, communicating certain eternal ideas that are of lasting value. I feel similarly in regard to A Man for All Seasons, which is profoundly moving despite its somewhat pedestrian handling. The common complaints about that film (that it's too stagy; that Scofield's performance is too theatrical; that the films central debate is too "settled" to be thought-provoking, etc.) are meaningless to those who have already fallen under its spell. The emotions whipped up by Robert Bolt in his screenplay and by Scofield in his triumphant characterization are simply too strong to be bothered by such a petty concern as mise en sc
  11. Nathaniel

    Pompeii

    Is Roman Polanski in danger of becoming underrated again? The Pianist delivered him from what many perceived to be a career slump, but the cold reception of Oliver Twist bumped him down a few notches. Perhaps his new film, a "dramatic thriller" about the last days of Pompeii, will set things right again.
  12. I, too, find myself agreeing with some of Barb's points, although I think her particular brand of scorched-earth criticism is divisive rather than unifying. I agree with her, for example, that the film's politics come across as heavy-handed (in the same way some of Eisenstein's films do; not bad company, that). I agree that the film is obscenely beautiful in the same way a painting of a demon could be considered beautiful (she uses the phrase "well-drawn ugliness"). I agree that the film is dull and desensitizing (although this has as much to do with the copious amounts of bloodletting than with the stultifying editing rhythms and ambient score). And yet, and yet, and yet
  13. Nathaniel

    Pan's Labyrinth

    Barbara Nicolosi is the Armond White of Catholics. She's certainly right about one thing: narrative has a power non-narrative cannot imagine. Think of how much better Pan's Labyrinth might have been if del Toro had spent as much energy developing the characters as he did portraying the excruciating scenes of gruesome violence!
  14. Nathaniel

    Pan's Labyrinth

    For me, Pan's Labyrinth was a rather frustrating experience. It's not simply a matter of finding del Toro's idiosyncratic personal mythologies (which include a wearying, worrying fixation with sadistic violence) bogus, or his parallel narratives banal and unilluminating. It's that the film smacks vaguely of the same hubris that sunk this year's other auteurist fantasy, Lady in the Water. His remarks on directing the third Narnia film imply that he thinks the material is unworthy of him, when the truth is probably vice versa. Now, I admire del Toro's previous work (especially the elaborate Devil's Backbone, with its thoroughly creepy uterine imagery). The fact that he has turned out several upscale Hollywood products (Mimic, Hellboy) without sacrificing his artistic integrity is admirable. But he's clearly out of his depth here, and the resurgent interest in fantasy has led many critics to ladle on the praise unduly. And yet
  15. Saw it last night at the AVCO in Westwood. (Darrel, were you there?) From my perspective, the violence in Apocalypto, while gruesome, is nevertheless tolerable because it's context is spectacle. Instead of limbs being lopped off by a chainsaw (intolerable), we get severed heads tumbling down great stone ziggurats (tolerable). As a boy who grew up with Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling, I can see some merit in this kind of unembarrassed showmanship. There is also a ubiquitous sense of moral rectitude
  16. This is probably yesterday's news for some of you, but I couldn't resist a new post. It seems Disney's "True-Life Adventures" series, a chain of documentary shorts and features that won Disney a total of 7 Academy Awards, is finally coming to DVD in a box set entitled The Walt Disney Legacy Collection. Say what you will about corporate greed (I hope there are no Henry Giroux's in the audience), but I am very, very grateful for this collection. Taken together, these 13 films invented the nature documentary as popular entertainment, and some of them (such as Prowlers of the Everglades) haven't been seen in over 50 years. (As a film student at Biola, I once tried to insinuate myself into the Disney vault in order to get a glimpse of Seal Island, winner of the 1949 Oscar for Best Short Subject.) Update: For those of you near Hollywood, Grauman's Egyptian will be hosting a program consisting of highlights from some of the most popular entries on December 7. Roy Disney and a panel of filmmakers will appear afterwards.
  17. My second assignment as a professional film critic was to write a review of I Am David, which I saw at the Sony lot in Culver City. We were led into a tiny screening room with scarcely more than a dozen seats, and who do you suppose sat in the chair next to mine? Why, none other than Leonard Maltin! Now, the man has clearly fallen in stature over the years (his writing staff does most of the heavy lifting for him), but growing up, there was no greater influence than he. Maltin was the first critic I ever took seriously, and his annual movie guide is still a compulsive buy. I finally worked up the nerve to meet him after the screening, but he was surrounding by lackeys, so I couldn't get a word in edgewise. However, I did accurately predict his rating for I Am David, a generous three stars. We'll meet again, Mr. Maltin. Just you wait. Equally thrilling, of course, was having breakfast with Jeffrey following Biola University's media conference. I saved some of his unfinished waffle as a keepsake, which I keep in a jar on my desk.
  18. I've never really cared for slasher movies, with the exception of a few Dario Argento films (probably The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red), but if memory serves, the recent Session 9 is a solid little sleeper that generates a fair amount of psychological terror from its creepy premise. It's rare to find so intelligent a craftsman as Brad Anderson working within such a hackneyed genre. Why not skip the slasher pool altogether and go straight for the good stuff? Have you seen Eyes without a Face, The Innocents or The Devil Rides Out?
  19. Oh yes, his disciples have become far more aggravating than the man himself. But isn't it a temptation to blame Tarantino for instigating them to action? The attitude he introduced to '90s cinema, one of postmodern irony and cheerful sadism, has persisted to this day. Perhaps there are other filmmakers more deserving of scorn, but he remains the granddaddy, the head honcho, the big cheese. (Though movies like Jackie Brown remind me he's capable of real feeling, even if that feeling is informed and sustained by pop culture.)
  20. From my perspective, it would seem that Tarantino only loves the themes of honor, redemption and grace insofar as they are part and parcel of the cinema he is obsessively committed to. He wears them around like a pair of samurai swords, busting them out whenever the mood dictates. Much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I feel they are no more important to his aesthetic than the other fetishes (the gratuitous torture, the trivial doubletalk, the eclectic soundtrack) that dominate his oeuvre. Tarantino's love of movies (especially gritty, grungy, violent ones) was never in question. His taste and intelligence (not to mention his integrity as an independent thinker) are still a matter of dispute. On the other hand, if people are genuinely moved by Tarantino's films, who am I to call them easily deceived? Or the director false?
  21. Greg, you are clearly a passionate and engaged writer. I just marvel at critics who won't allow a film's undertones to subvert their enjoyment. I find little pleasure in the cleverness of a movie like Pulp Fiction. So little, in fact, that any discussion about the film's aesthetics seems immaterial. But I certainly wouldn't be doing my job as a critic if I completely ignored the question of Quentin Tarantino's style, superficial though it may be. As a film student, I took awhile to warm to the "style is substance" approach (a concept both sophisticated and unequivocal), but now it's quite clear that films can and do speak loudly through their own singular language; it's up to the viewer to interpret and evaluate what is being said. I would love to one day have a conversation with you about A Man For All Seasons, a film which I find transcendent despite being rather pedestrian in filmmaking terms. But that will have to wait for another day! Update: I watched Pulp Fiction again last night and found it to be just as soulless, absurd, evil and wrong as the first time. Jules's speech about Ezekiel 25:17 was too late in the day; by then, the film had already convinced me of its nihilistic aesthetic. Jackie Brown, which actually has grown-up things to say about middle age, remains Tarantino's best and most underrated film. Let's hope his next one, the irresistibly titled Inglorious Bastards, will surpass even that!
  22. Jeffrey, I appreciate the fact that certain movies will appeal to some more strongly than others. That's just something we'll have to accept no matter how badly we want art to be universal. The New World is a bona fide cult film; its fans are few but fervent. I may be an agnostic when it comes to Malick (although I really like Days of Heaven), but even I lose heart when people refuse to meet him at least halfway. He's a serious artist, and worthy of serious consideration. Greg, I envy your cool detachment when it comes to discussing a film or filmmaker's worldview. I was, and still am, the kind of viewer who feels compelled to tie a movie to a chair and torture a confession out of it. But that's because I feel it's imperative to identify films that are morally or ethically corrupt. For me, ideas are equally important as aesthetics. But that's just where I am right now. I reserve the right to modify my philosophy as I grow older!
  23. Jeffrey, you've been fighting this battle bravely and passionately for many years, and I'm deeply grateful for your commitment. As far as understanding what cinema is and how it differs from its sister arts, I personally feel as though I've only touched the tip of the iceberg. I do like a solid literary adaptation, though. You know, the kind of carefully rendered period piece that often gets lambasted for being "too faithful" or "not cinematic enough." It's true, films of this breed can be stodgy and dull, but they belong to cinema, too. One of the truly wonderful things about movies is that they borrow from other art forms (painting, literature, theatre) and thus have a tendency to inherit the strengths of those art forms (like writing, performance and theme). One of my favorite films from last year is Oliver Twist. It derives a great deal of its power from the potency of Roman Polanski's image-making, but it also owes a great debt to Dickens (perhaps the most cinematic of novelists), who originally laid the groundwork for such a magnificently moving story. I admit I even found Oliver Twist more moving than The New World, a film that strikes me as being easier to admire than to love. I have a whole heap of respect for Malick and his artistry, but a tree will never be as interesting as a human being. And Malick loves trees. But Jeffrey, your observation that art is alive is irresistible. I look forward to returning to The New World with an open mind and an open heart. As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out!
  24. I apologize if that sounded ambiguous. By "elliptical" I only mean images that are mysterious, abstract, and open to interpretation. I understand the term is commonly used in reference to style: Terrence Malick's elliptical editing style. Thanks for the welcome, guys! It's good to be here with you all.
  25. I believe that the art of film is primarily a story-telling art, but its uniqueness comes from its ability to evoke the unseen (emotions, thoughts, ideas, etc.) through the use of elliptical, mysterious images. The best reason to see a film, in other words, is literally to see it. I tend to appreciate movies that somehow manage to project the internal life of its characters visually. Basically, film can go places no other art form can go simply because it is abundantly equipped to transmit invisible things. Neat!
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