Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

September 12, 2018 / / Elements of CInema

Editor’s note: On July 30, 2018 Ezra Haber Glenn, lecturer in Community Development and the Undergraduate Chair in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning, introduced The Crowd, part of the Brattle’s Elements of Cinema program. These are his introductory remarks. –Jessie Schanzle, Film Notes editor

Thanks, Ned, for that introduction. It’s so great to see so many people here, willing to show up for 90 minutes of free air conditioning on a Monday night.

My name is Ezra Glenn, and as Ned said, I teach in the urban planning program at MIT. My background is on the applied side of the field – I worked for over a decade in municipal government, including stints as the director of planning for the city of Somerville and director of community development for the city of Lawrence. So I came to MIT having worked a lot in the actual making of cities.

Over the past ten years, though, I’ve drifted a bit: I’ve become aware that there is a lot we don’t even really understand about cities – how they work, how they shape humans and human interactions, and what they mean to us. This has led me to move from “urban planning” to something more related to “urban studies,” and the culmination of that shift is a course I developed called “The City in Film.”

September 6, 2018 / / Main Slate

Some iconic L.A. films – Rebel Without a Cause, Zabriskie Point, Chinatown, Annie Hall – relish the city. A sprawling urban metropolis built up of drastically different neighborhoods, a skyline defined downtown and dozens of notable landmarks; Los Angeles is inherently cinematic. Perhaps best unpacked in Thom Anderson’s equally sprawling documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, the city didn’t just give us movies, it became them. Which makes William Friedkin’s depiction of the city in the 1985 neo-noir To Live and Die in L.A. that much more enigmatic.

September 4, 2018 / / Main Slate

Bloody, senseless fights between main character Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) and Eddie, a macho bartender, (Frank Stallone) frame the film Barfly, Charles Bukowski’s powerful and unrelenting journey into the Los Angeles bar scene. However, the setting for the film, the Golden Horn, is no ordinary bar and its drunken adversaries are engaged in no ordinary brawl.

August 30, 2018 / / Scene Analysis
August 29, 2018 / / Main Slate
August 29, 2018 / / Main Slate

In 1999, as the country was gearing up for the potential catastrophe of Y2K, Hollywood was spending its spring season in cyberspace with three months of high profile genre films set within some concept of virtual reality. This started with The Matrix in March, which gave way to eXistenZ in April, and ended with The Thirteenth Floor in May. All three films traffic in the paranoia that comes with technology, particularly that related to computers and how reliant we were becoming on them.

August 24, 2018 / / Main Slate

Often, in films, we see a character stand up for an underdog or the losing side in battle. Other times we get to see a character advocate for herself against a powerful foe. That can be tough when the enemy turns out to be Mom.

There’s no shortage of villainous mothers in films. The ones who send shivers down your spine, like Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, and Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, rule by intimidation and cruelty. In the world of classic films, Gladys Cooper has the mean mom thing down pat. Two films showcase Cooper’s ability to play horrible mothers, Now Voyager (1942) and Separate Tables (1958).

August 22, 2018 / / Main Slate

Pop culture is currently enjoying a thriving fascination with the potential humanity of artificial intelligence and androids. Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and Alex Garland’s Ex-Machina (2014) both explored the capacity for romance between humans and human-made creations. Even TV shows like Black Mirror and HBO’s Westworld meditate on potential humanity of AI. Although technological advancement has certainly fueled this current interest, we should also recognize the lasting influence of a film that was truly ahead of its time: Blade Runner (1982).

August 20, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

Questions of humanity and authenticity have always been at the heart of the Blade Runner universe. In Ridley Scott’s original film, Rick Deckard a “blade runner,” administers an “empathy test” meant to distinguish humans from realistic androids known as replicants, and fans have spent well over three decades debating whether Deckard himself is a replicant. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017), deftly maintains a sense of ambiguity regarding Deckard’s origins, and also finds new ways to wrestle with the question of what it means to be “real.”

August 20, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday (1940) teems with witty quips, perfect responses, and enough cigarette smoke to blot out the sun. Consider the film’s second scene where we are introduced to retired reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and her former boss and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant). This meeting not only sets up the characters and their prior conflict, but through a momentary breakdown in the motor-mouth dialogue, we also get a glimpse at how the film will resolve itself.