Category: film


Prisoners (2013) is an abduction thriller which, despite some implausibilities, is a reasonably good film. It is well-crafted throughout and not without surprises, though it’s not particularly original in either its themes or content. To begin with, Jake Gyllenhaal plays what is becoming a bit of a type for him—namely the troubled, ineffectual cop obsessed with a grisly investigation—in films like Zodiac (2007) and End of Watch (2012). Spiritually, and in a few of its particulars, Prisoners is a cousin to films like Frailty (2001), Kill List (2011), and especially The Vanishing (1988). I won’t spoil these films for you if you haven’t seen them, but if you have, don’t fret: serious, suspenseful and unpleasant as Prisoners can be, it’s more mainstream and lighter than these films. It’s also somewhat better constructed than the first two.1 Finally, the film is familiar in that it centres on that most archetypal incarnation of evil in film since Fritz Lang’s M (1931): the child kidnapper and murderer. In this respect, it’s part of an interesting trend in the depiction of crimes against children. On the one hand, the film depends on the revulsion that this type of villain generates in a rather straightforward way. On the other hand, like M and several other recent films, it at least raises questions about the damage done to society by making exceptions for certain crimes by presenting retributive violence as acceptable. Continue reading

  1. The Vanishing being a brutally effective masterpiece that would be hard for any film to surpass. []

Grizzly Man

Last night I saw Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005). Knowing little beyond the basics (a man lives with bears and they eat him) I found it quite surprising. I was expecting Timothy Treadwell to be an extreme or even insane environmentalist, but what really struck me is how completely normal he is: he’s a stereotypical modern westerner. However outlandish his foray into Alaska, he ended up there for mundane reasons: he was living a directionless life, working menial jobs, depressed and a worsening alcoholic, and needed meaning in his life. The headline for most people, of course, is his odd life and dramatic death, and Herzog chose to focus on the footage he left behind—for its great unintended beauty, out of finding in Treadwell a kindred directorial urge, and for the inner turmoil (at times Kinski-esque) that sometimes boils to the surface in Treadwell’s monologues. But what struck me the most was how utterly unexceptional Treadwell was in most regards. It’s not that this desire to go rogue or native might afflict anyone bothers me (I’d welcome it if people were a bit, or even drastically, more unconventional), but rather that such an extraordinary outcome had such common causes. Continue reading

La grande bellezza

This week I saw La grande bellezza (2013) at the Barbican, and thoroughly enjoyed it. As seemingly every review has remarked, it is deeply reminiscent of Fellini. Although it would be difficult to ignore Fellini as the film’s spiritual forebear and a major influence, Sorrentino’s film feels novel, never derivative. It falls somewhere between La dolce vita (1960) and Holy Motors (2012), but it’s more uplifting than either. Continue reading

Meek’s Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) is a beautifully-shot film in which characters follow the Oregon Trail. On the surface it sounds like a standard wagon western, like Stagecoach (1939) or Red River (1948), but it couldn’t be more different. Continue reading

Orphans of the Storm

I’ll admit that I’m not as into silent films as I should be. Since I started tracking films, only around 2% of the films I’ve seen have been silent. However much it damages my cinephile credentials, I will admit that I find the majority of silent films boring and a bit of a struggle, so for years I put off watching D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921). This was a mistake. With the possible exception of King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928), this is the best silent film I’ve seen, one of the most relevant to the present day, and yet also one that seems to be relatively unknown (having around a fifth of the votes on IMDb that Birth of a Nation has at the time of this writing). Continue reading

Boudu Saved from Drowning

According to Wikipedia, Pauline Kael called Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932) “not only a lovely fable about a bourgeois attempt to reform an early hippy…but a photographic record of an earlier France.” Although it is an enjoyable film with strong performances, I found it to be more problematic than Kael did. Continue reading

The Gospel According to St. Matthew

Because the only Pasolini film I had previously seen was the harrowing Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), I began The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1963) with some trepidation. I expected it to be dark, visceral, and transgressive. It turns out to be a refreshingly straightforward adaptation of the book of Matthew, with none of the horrors of Salo, his final film. Continue reading

The Place Beyond the Pines

I had heard The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) compared favourably to Derek Cianfrance’s earlier film Blue Valentine (2010). I thought the latter was quite good when I saw it last year, so I wondered whether his new effort would measure up. I was especially dubious as the trailer looked like a (stunt) vehicle for capitalizing on Gosling’s success in Drive (2011). But the positive reviews were from sources I trusted, and they were right: The Place Beyond the Pines is better.

Continue reading

High Noon

I found High Noon (1952) a bit tedious. Despite its famous title I actually knew very little about it before watching it, so it’s not a case of overly high expectations. I got a bit more excited during the credits as it has a great cast (Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Lee Van Cleef) but unfortunately the acting is lackluster and it’s not a great film. Continue reading