Author: David Shreve

The Sessions

Overview:  A polio survivor with an iron lung decides to lose his virginity through a sex surrogate. Fox Searchlight; 2012; Rated R; 95 Minutes. Astonishment: Mark O’Brien’s story shouldn’t work; in even moderately capable hands, it would skip Blu-ray release and move straight to Sunday afternoons on the Lifetime Movie Network.  Yet, something saves it from its own loaded plot, from what should be an inevitable exercise in disingenuous emotional obviousness, and from Helen Hunt’s dreadful Boston accent mispronouncing her genitalia as “vaginer.” It’s hard to recall the last time a movie established such an unwavering balance between sentimentality...

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Badlands

Overview:  The chilling account of a twenty-something man and his teen lover who go on a road trip killing spree.  Based on the Starkweather/Fugate murders of 1958. Warner Brothers; 1973; Rated R; 95 Minutes Our Tour Guide:  Holly is as she describes herself: A little girl who had “never been popular in school and didn’t have a lot of personality… Born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter, who only had just so many years to live.”  That is what’s so unsettling about her.  Normalcy.  Just a standard, baton twirling, light skinned teen.  Her voiceover narration supplements the...

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Adaptation

Overview: Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman writes himself into his movie script adaptation of a Susan Orlean novel about a colorful orchid thief.  2002; Rated R; 114 Minutes.   Miracle Number One:With Nicolas Cage taking on dual roles as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufmann and casual collector of Oscar nominations Meryl Streep in top form as Susan Orlean, it’s almost inconceivable that any actor could steal the screen.  Chris Cooper does just that.  His portrayal of John Laroche, the eccentric collector for whom all of this exists, lends the character elements of hilarity, humanity, and heartache, and provides the viewer...

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The Raid: Redemption

Overview: Members of a small SWAT team battle their way up a high-rise apartment complex which houses the operation of a ruthless drug lord. 2011; Rated R; 93 Minutes Strengths: The Raid: Redemption displays some of the most innovative and awe-inspiring fight choreography in the history of film. I wanted to rewind and rewatch individual scenes in the midst of my initial watch. Matt Flannery’s cinematography and the production design establish visuals of apocalyptic disarray where the orgy of violence is comfortably framed. With this single feature, the action-movie genre just jumps out of its deathbed and lays waste to its hospice staff. Weaknesses: The narrative structure is the stuff of basic video games (fight, move up a floor, fight harder) and, for those who care, the actual story and the personalities of its inhabitants are of little concern to this movie’s ambition. The actors don’t so much perform as dance. Also, if you watch this movie in company, you are going to embarrass yourself emulating the fight scenes after. Best Scene: When the door closes behind the two brothers and the short but deadly assassin. A ballet for bros. Watch This Movie if You Like: Shoot’em Up, Game of Death, Way of the Dragon, Ong Bak, Blood Sport, Spin-kicking pillows in your bedroom when you’re home alone. Suggested Alternative Move Title: “Game of Death, 2: Bruce Lee Ain’t...

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Amélie

Overview:  A doe-eyed, naive young woman finds love amidst her clever schemes at arranging happiness and justice for those around her. 2001;  Rated R; 122 Minutes. A Star:  Recalling the wonderment in expression from Giulietta Masina’s Gelsomino (La Strada) (and by currency, channeling the charm of Chaplin’s tramp who makes a sly appearance), Audrey Tautou haunts every scene with disarming presence.  Tautou is a seraph, a pixie.  With the hinge of her jaw slightly askew, her natural expression is a lightly crooked, scheming grin.  She is slight of frame but strong in posture when she walks, gliding, the way we might imagine fairies move.  Her eyes naturally wide, the whites reveal themselves as crescent moons when her gaze shifts to any direction.  But this is more than just appearances. As the narrative solicits belief in more and more unlikely occurrence, Tautou lends to Amélie the focus and balance of a hypnotist and we slowly fall under her spell. Perspective (Take One):  Amélie is a movie about perspective. Jean-Pierre Jeunet injects a strong voyeurism motif, wherein the act of watching is pivotal to every scene and character.  Within the film’s first ten minutes, we learn that Amélie loves watching movie-goers behind her in theaters (a not-so-subtle suggestion the movie knows about us, the audience) and her imagination takes us into 17 bedrooms, where multiple couples’ reach orgasms that are synchronized...

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Man on Fire

Overview:  A former assassin turned bodyguard seeks revenge for the kidnapping of the young girl who helped him find meaning in his life. 2004; Rated R; 146 minutes. The Opening Act: Casual movie-goers seem to love revenge flicks.  The subgenre is entrenched in the DNA of second rate movies.  The film industry is always ready to offer an appeasement for the vengeance fantasies that exist in our culture’s collective consciousness.  Man on Fire breaks this standard in its opening act. We know John Creasy (Denzel Washington) to be a violent man by our introduction to his backstory, but we...

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City Lights

Overview: Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp gives us his most moving and sincere adventure as he looks to win the affection of a blind flower vendor by hiding from her his low social status. 1931; 121 Minutes Vintage Chaplin:  The Tramp’s grace and dexterity punctuate his trademark slapstick physical comedy.  In scenes like the that of the boxing match, Chaplin displays the poise of a ballerina.  His waddle is poetic.  His falls are mainstage events.  In Chaplin’s ability to express through exaggerated expression, we see the infant stages of film comedy. The camera outlines for us its favorite subjects of human description—the stage ready eyes, the uncontrollably sincere mouth.  Filmed and released a few years after introduction of the talkie, Chaplin refused to include voices in his picture, insisting that the advent of sound tainted the purity of movies.  While time ultimately proved him wrong on this front, his movie suffers nothing to the viewpoint, as the orchestral score expresses as much as any dialogue or monologue could have hoped to accomplish.   The Fairest of His Ladies:  No one ever occupied the spotlight with Chaplin as successfully as Virginia Cherril.  No onscreen partner ever shared as poignant a chemistry.  As earnest as Chaplin is in his romantic comedic pursuits, Cherril proves to be an honest match in her adoration, optimism, and hope.  Chaplin was always ready to make a statement...

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Casablanca

Overview: During World War II, a cynical American expatriate struggles against his own desire to help a former lover and her new husband find safety; Warner Brothers; 1942; Rated PG;  102 minutes. The Value of Sentiment: Often, when we as a film culture make our innumerous greatest-ever films list, Casablanca is a passing thought, a reluctant inclusion that we stuff ranked somewhere in the low teens out of a sense of obligation. I believe this has something to do with the film’s blatant fixation toward and application of sentimentality. The film is not only aware of its obsession with sentimentality, it openly discusses it in more than one scene. Certainly, there exists an element of plasticity in this movie, a glossy artificial surface that begs us not to dig. For evidence, look no further than Sam’s obvious piano-playing pantomime, his open palms bouncing over and over in the same place, with no regard for the complexity of the room’s music (it’s quite funny, on first notice). This shininess is a tool of focus though, guiding the reader to concentrate on the dialogue-driven and rich character drama. Think of these characters: Ilsa Lund is disarmingly beautiful but a uniquely complex heroine for the time. And her lover Victor Laszlo, our hero’s obstacle, is a good guy in the most universal sense. If that’s not a departure from early film formula…...

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Gladiator (2000)

Overview:  A Roman General has his family murdered, is left for dead, and returns to Rome as an enslaved gladiator to seek revenge and save the Empire.  DreamWorks/Universal; 2000 Rated R; 155 minutes. Ummmm…: This ain’t History class, folks.  If you grade your movies sharply against historical accuracy, I can assure you that this is not the film for you.  General historical consensus suggests that the Maximus who exists in this movie did not exist in ancient Rome.  However, that does not stop Russell Crowe from giving the character considerable screen-life.  For the purpose of cinematic celebration, it is...

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Days of Heaven

Overview:  An ill-tempered worker accidentally kills his boss, flees to the Texas Panhandle with his lover, and convinces her to partake in a scheme that results in a lethal love triangle.  Paramount Pictures; 1978; Rated PG; 94 Minutes. Form:  Many great film directors make you squint to find the story.  Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Jim Jarmusch, Christopher Nolan– all directors who make you hunt the details microscopically.  True auteurs of film, without argument.  But Terrence Malick  has no interest in that ambition.  Malick holds sole occupation on the other end of the spectrum.  He seeks to make the audience’s...

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