Author: Victoria Large

January 11, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

By Victoria Large

Director James Mangold’s Logan is rightly celebrated for bringing the superhero genre down to earth in the best possible way; the film is grounded in situations and characters – and, yes, acts of violence – that feel achingly real. Throughout, Mangold makes space for intimate moments that resonate, such as when Logan swigs alcohol alone while bandaging a hand that should have already healed, or an aged Charles Xavier tends a makeshift garden, or Logan’s daughter Laura stares wide-eyed out of a car window at a glittering city, the likes of which she’s never seen before. Indeed, one of the film’s most poignant scenes is both intimate and relatively quiet, though it begins with Logan snarling and growling himself awake from a nightmare.

October 20, 2017 / / Scene Analysis

By Victoria Large

There’s this little moment in Stand By Me that doesn’t need to be there, at least not to move the plot forward. In a film defined largely by the rowdy banter and camaraderie of a group of twelve-year-old boys, we find Gordie Lachance, our narrator and protagonist, sitting alone while the other guys sleep, reading a comic as the sun creeps over the horizon. Suddenly, a deer enters the frame and pauses a few feet from Gordie. The two briefly stare at one another before the deer moves on. There’s no music on the soundtrack, just the diegetic sounds of birds and the quiet noises that signal the deer’s movements. The whole encounter takes only a few seconds, but it remains one of my favorite scenes in the film.

August 20, 2017 / / Main Slate

By: Victoria Large

Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 revisionist western Dead Man appropriately begins with a journey west. A fainthearted accountant from Ohio named William Blake travels by train to the distant town of Machine, where he’s been promised a job. En route, he looks bored and mostly avoids interacting with his fellow passengers, instead killing time by reading something called Bee Journal, playing solitaire, and drifting off to sleep. He appears visibly uncomfortable when he spies evidence of the violence of the Old West – destroyed covered wagons and teepees that look like skeletal remains – out his window. When the train’s soot-covered fireman visits Blake at his seat and delivers cryptic warnings about Machine, the accountant clutches his briefcase like a shield. Over the course of their conversation we learn that Blake’s parents have died and his fiancée has left him. He strikes us as a man with few remaining human connections and some hesitance to make new ones, at least with the rough-and-tumble men who fill the train when he gets close to his stop. Comparing him to the rugged characters that surround him, we can’t help but be aware of his vulnerability and seeming innocence.

May 23, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Victoria Large

It’s worth noting that David Lynch’s 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me–a prequel to the legendary TV series that Lynch co-created with Mark Frost–was booed at Cannes. Writing about the film in the New York Times at the time of its release, Vincent Canby opined, “Its 134 minutes induce a state of simulated brain death, an effect as easily attained in half the time by staring at the blinking lights on a Christmas tree.” The film was widely viewed as an incoherent disaster (to Canby, “an undifferentiated mess of story lines and hallucinations”), and it fed into a backlash against Lynch that began with the swift decline of Twin Peaks’ television popularity and continued for much of the ‘90s.

April 7, 2017 / / Main Slate

By Victoria Large

Although actor, writer, and comedian Simon Pegg titled his memoir Nerd Do Well, he has frequently voiced a preference for “geek” over “nerd.” In 2007, he defined the difference for talk show host Jonathan Ross, arguing that “geek” implies “an enthusiast” rather than “the specky idiot” implied by the word “nerd.” And indeed, the unbridled enthusiasm for pop culture that defines modern geekdom runs through much of Pegg’s most notable work. The turn-of-the-millennium British sitcom Spaced, which marked Pegg’s first major onscreen collaboration with his real-life best friend Nick Frost, is rife with references to the geek touchstones of the latter decades of the twentieth century: Star Wars, The Matrix, Evil Dead II, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name just a few. Pegg and Frost’s big screen collaborations have followed suit: Shaun of the Dead pays tribute to George Romero’s zombie splatter fests, Hot Fuzz affectionately tweaks the buddy-action nonsense of cult films like Point Break, and The World’s End is a comic twist on Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style alien takeover movies. But the 2011 road movie Paul – which marked Frost’s debut as Pegg’s co-writer as well as co-star – is perhaps the comic duo’s most affectionate take on geekdom.

November 13, 2016 / / Main Slate

By Victoria Large

When the twentieth anniversary of director Baz Luhrmann’s audacious Shakespeare adaptation Romeo + Juliet recently arrived, people took notice. Articles popped up in publications large and small, and fans reminisced and celebrated on social media. Like Scream and Trainspotting – two other youth-oriented films from 1996 – Romeo + Juliet, which relocates the classic play’s action to a surreal, contemporary urban landscape while retaining an abridged version of the Bard’s original text, is iconic and epochal. There are images from it that are not only instantly recognizable for swaths of filmgoers, but also powerfully evocative of an era. So why, on this auspicious anniversary, am I feeling a bit defensive regarding the film?

April 20, 2016 / / Main Slate

By Victoria Large

In the 1998 film SMOKE SIGNALS, people are constantly telling stories. The film’s protagonists, Victor and Thomas, both young Native American men from the Coeur D’Alene Reservation in Idaho, tell each other stories while attempting to make sense of their families and their identities. Thomas is the more explicit storyteller: he’s known all over the reservation for his tales, which, much to Victor’s chagrin, often involve Victor’s estranged father Arnold, who left the reservation when Victor was twelve. Victor has his own stories about his dad. Sadder than Thomas’s, they mostly arrive in the film in the form of memories: they are the stories Victor silently tells himself. When Victor and Thomas take a road trip to collect Arnold’s ashes, the pair uses storytelling as a currency and defense mechanism, as well as a method of bonding with the people they meet along the way. They control and interrogate narratives throughout the film, an element that is fascinating in itself, but takes on greater significance given how frequently Native American people have been stereotyped and silenced on film.

January 29, 2016 / / Main Slate

By: Victoria Large

The past decade has been crowded with dystopian sci-fi visions, from THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Mainstream moviegoers are used to imagining doomy futures; it’s gotten to the point that when yet another movie trailer quickly sketches a deeply dysfunctional society and introduces yet another hero who plans to stand against it, some viewers might find themselves tuning out. Thus, one might expect that those returning to 1985’s Brazil after all this time might not find it quite as chilling as they may have before humankind’s miserable future became such routine popcorn fare.

June 4, 2015 / / Main Slate

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By Victoria Large

There’s an old interview with Quentin Tarantino (featured on the 10th anniversary RESERVOIR DOGS DVD) where he offers an example of how he likes to twist conventional genre moments by allowing banal reality to intrude on them: “Cops are chasing after a character down the street. The character’s running down the street. They commandeer a car, throw the person out, jump in the car, but it’s a stick shift and they don’t drive a stick. Okay? That’s real life…” Moments like that helped to make Tarantino’s early neo-noir films cultural touchstones, but he certainly wasn’t the first to use the strategy. After rewatching French filmmaker Jacques Deray’s unjustly overlooked 1972 neo-noir THE OUTSIDE MAN recently, I couldn’t help but think of the Tarantino quote. The film is memorable and potent because it ably blends familiar genre characters and standard crime movie tropes with surprising everyday details, undermining its audience’s expectations with understated wit.

January 23, 2015 / / Main Slate

freaks-dinner-scene

By: Victoria Large

Tod Browning’s 1932 film FREAKS is perhaps one of the most notorious and controversial films ever made. Released and then disowned by MGM Studios, it’s known for having been banned in parts of the United States as well as in the UK for many years, and for all-but-destroying the career of its director, Tod Browning. About a third of the film was reportedly censored following initial screenings, and the deleted footage now appears to be lost. Fans and critics still debate the film’s merits, too. Though it was chosen for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1994 and is considered by many to be a classic, Freaks still makes people uncomfortable. Is it art or exploitation? I would argue that it’s a bit of both, but also that art wins out in the end.