Author: Jake Mulligan

April 16, 2015 / / Main Slate

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Early in Jim Henson’s LABYRINTH (1986)before Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) witnesses her baby brother kidnapped by goblins—and well before she matches wits with David Bowie’s Goblin King to win him back—we follow a tracking shot through her bedroom, as it takes stock of books and belongings. It’s a veritable “Who’s Who” of the fantasy form: Hardback copies of Grimm’s fairy tales, the saga of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are … there’s even a print of Escher’s Relativity hanging on the wall. Henson is paying tribute to his forefathers. And in this, the last film he ever directed personally, he translates the language of those influences into his own Muppet tongue.

January 5, 2015 / / Main Slate

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We open on a shot of the clouds passing by, and then cut to a young person gazing up at them, their own unknowable future staring back. It’s not the latest Richard Linklater movie – it’s Hayao Miyazaki’s tale of witchhood. Young Kiki has to set out on her own (with her cat, Jiji, and via broom, of course) to find a new town, where she’s to hone her magical craft. Before she sets off, Miyazaki’s eye for observational nuance and idiosyncratic detail takes its own flight. Her room is littered with knickknacks and ornaments, and Kiki’s last look at it all – at the life she’s built, and is leaving – quietly devastates. It’s a telling precursor: The film may revolve around flying, but it’s emotional core is earthbound.

September 19, 2014 / / Main Slate

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Most Robin Williams movies are exactly that – they’re movies about Robin Williams, built around an explication of his outsized public persona. POPEYE, by the great Robert Altman, is a bit of an outlier in this regard. Williams plays the titular sailor with eccentric aplomb, but he rarely serves as the sole focus of his own movie’s frames. That’s thanks to the aforementioned auteur. For Altman, each actor was but a color he could smear onto his images; and though he seldom obtained a splash of paint as vibrant as Robin Williams, he never allows the performer to overwhelm the film itself. There’s only one author of this film, and his vision is overwhelmingly clear.

August 25, 2014 / / Main Slate

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In Abbas Kiarostami’s THE WIND WILL CARRY US, a few men go off to a secluded Iranian village hidden behind the scale of a mountainscape. They’re hoping to record and document a ritualistic mourning process that will occur after an elderly local woman dies, but the woman doesn’t pass away, and so they’re stuck. They spend the course of the movie milling about town, hiding their identities, and killing time until the ceremony happens. You want to talk about the “elements of cinema,” well, here’s a film that uses them in singular ways: During the course of the entire film, we only see one member of said crew (“the Engineer,”) and we never even see the elderly woman in question. In fact, many of the main characters in the film are offscreen for the whole running time. Heard often, but never seen.

July 8, 2014 / / Main Slate

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Let me tell you about a scene from SNOWPIERCER.

Here’s what you need to know about this, the 5th film by South Korean master director Bong Joon-ho. Earth is frozen. The remaining people live on a train that circles the globe once per year. The poor people are herded into the back cars, while those in “economy” and “first class” continue to enjoy the pleasures of bourgeois life up front. Those in the back—like Chris Evans’ Curtis—are essentially living through holocaust-like conditions as the film begins, 18 years after the train first began rattling over the frozen planet. Bong’s picture opens on them, living in squalor, covered with dirt, and planning out a revolution.

June 3, 2014 / / Main Slate

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One thing is certain about the movies of Lars von Trier, they can’t be ignored. And so when NYMPHOMANIAC released earlier this year, many topics were broached. Some wrote about whether the film was sexy or not. For others, the most interesting topic was the way the film played with gender politics and feminist theory. Others yet wrote about its aesthetic form, and how that related to previous von Trier works. Some delved into influences, many of which–One Thousand and One Nights, The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron–are name-checked in the movie itself. One topic that wasn’t discussed much, though, was the film’s genre. Considering the fact that von Trier is oft-labeled a miserablist, it’s one that’s worth emphasizing. NYMPHOMANIAC is a comedy.

May 28, 2014 / / Main Slate

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In the 25 years since the Michael Keaton-starring BATMAN came out, comic book movies have taken over. They’re no longer the rare breed they were in the 80s. Now they’re housecats—a standard sometimes-cute sometimes-annoying presence, stationed constantly and arrogantly within our multiplexes. BATMAN didn’t start that though. Even multiple reboots later, this ‘89 entry stands apart from all the other films in the comic book genre. That’s because, first and foremost, this isn’t even a Batman movie. More than anything else, it’s a film by Tim Burton. Yes, it’s about a guy who wears a cape and beats up muggers and fights another guy who dresses like a clown, but it’s still more Burton than Batman. This is the work of a wacko auteur who, in the pages of comic books and in the mythos of cartoons, found a dance partner for his own intensely strange sensibilities.

December 17, 2013 / / Main Slate

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The conventions of screwball comedy – the rapid-fire banter, the careful repetition of lines of dialogue, the willingness to cross freely and constantly between highbrow and lowbrow gags – play a major role in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. The influence, primarily, is Preston Sturges. His writing, which blended crowd-pleasing slapstick-style hijinks and legitimately high-minded social observations, found its modern heir in the brothers. They skewer like he skewered. They put their characters through the wringer like he put his characters through the wringer. And while their pictures tend to lack the sex appeal that seeped from the syllables of Sturges’ dialogue, they make up for it by matching his oft-unsung propensity for philosophical musings.