Category: Main Slate

May 19, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Melvin Cartagena 

The Wild Bunch – 1969 – dir. Sam Peckinpah

It doesn’t matter that the credits state that it’s a screenplay written by Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green, a fiction developed from a story by Walon Green and Roy N. Sickner. It doesn’t matter that Pike Bishop’s (William Holden’s) command to his men in the robbery that opens the film is “If they move, kill ‘em.” And that this is followed by DIRECTED BY SAM PECKINPAH, simultaneously a bold statement and a way to defuse Pike’s order. It doesn’t matter that the fight sequences are entirely subjective in their staging and editing, we want to believe that there were once guys like these running around loose. We want to believe that these weary, battle-scarred men are the cowboys that made the west wild, as their name implies.  They are not above shooting civilians (as they do, when we see the parade marchers mowed down in the crossfire between the Bunch and Harrigan’s bounty hunters), but they’d rather not. They stand by each other against the world, and in their circumscribed universe (which is shrinking with the paving over of the west) that is the loftiest ideal they can hope for. It’s this commitment to each other that drives Pike and company to forsake their retirement score and engage in a suicidal shootout with Mapache’s men after Mapache slits Angel’s throat.

May 4, 2009 / / Main Slate

mayjun-fightBy Peggy Nelson

Fight Club – 1999 – dir. David Fincher

So will you be at the meeting on Tuesday?  The first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  The second rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  The third rule of Fight Club is . . .
I’m going to talk about Fight Club.  Based on the Chuck Palahniuk book by the same name, the film concerns a disaffected white-collar worker who can sum up his life with the three C’s: Catalogs, Condo, Condiments.  Not surprisingly, for his efforts he’s got insomnia, ennui, and anhedonia.  He starts going to support groups for diseases he does not have, to jump-start his atrophied connection to life.  But then he meets a woman doing the same thing; recognizing her as a fellow “tourist,” all his ennui and insomnia come racing back.  Then his house explodes.  Then the movie starts.

April 29, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Jessica O’Byrne

Pan’s Labyrinth – 2006 – dir. Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a rich pastiche of mythological references that is both familiar and completely, breathtakingly unexpected. By combining ages old storytelling techniques with a fearless use of cinematic magic, del Toro manages to once again breathe a completely new spirit into the ancient battle between good and evil. The film is, essentially, two stories in one: first, the story of a post-Civil War Spain in which Franco’s regime is doing its best to root out the last of the opposition forces. Second, the story of Ofelia, a young girl with an incredibly vivid imagination who discovers that she is actually the spirit of the long-lost princess of the underworld. The two stories converge with Ofelia’s mother, who has married Captain Vidal and is very pregnant with his unborn child.

April 13, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Red Shoes -1948 – dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

“Why do you want to dance?” asks Anton Walbrook as the ballet impresario Boris Lermontov in an early scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 classic The Red Shoes. “Why do you want to live?” is the immortal reply from flame-haired Moira Shearer’s Victoria Page, her words pinpointing the themes that The Red Shoes holds closest to its heart. That moment, and the film as whole, has carried incredible resonance for those who make or love art of any kind, those who see little to no difference between the will to create and the will to live.

April 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

Monty Python’s Life of Brian – 1979 –  dir. Terry Jones

In a motion picture “destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world and severely annoy the other third,” you know to expect the Pythons on top of their game.  Life of Brian, being the British comedy team’s farcical view of first-century Judea, parallels the life of Brian Cohen, born in the manger next door to Jesus.  Mistaken for the messiah his entire life, Brian’s trials turn a camera squarely onto the audience, examining our hero worship and dogmatic obsessions, challenging us to laugh at crucifixion.  And do we ever.

March 31, 2009 / / Main Slate

Ballets Russes – 2005 – dir. Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine

You need not be an aficionado of classical dance or even know much about ballet to appreciate the joyous celebration that is Ballets Russes. Documentaries of this sort have a way of making the past “quaint”, almost falsely charming. Not so this one!  A welcome breath of fresh air, it fairly floats along on a cloud of exuberance and real nostalgia for a kind of glamour now gone from our stages and from our world.

March 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Mummy – 1999 – dir. Stephen Sommers

Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for.  Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.

With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz.  But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

By Julie Lavelle

Considered the first Polish film to spurn World War II as either text or subtext, Knife in the Water won the Critics’ Prize at the Venice Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was heralded on the cover of Time Magazine. Roman Polanski was considered a wunderkind, and Knife on the Water proof that the new wave of experimental European cinema was not limited to the films produced by the French.

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

What’s immediately striking about 1946’s Beauty and the Beast, the French film that preceded and profoundly influenced the famous animated Disney version of the 1990s, is that it doesn’t begin as we would expect a fairy tale movie to begin, with a storybook opening up or pixie dust being sprinkled. Instead we have director Jean Cocteau writing the title of the film and the names of the principal members of the cast and crew on a chalkboard. It’s an odd beginning, an ordinary but jarring sight, as if the magician has let you backstage before performing a single trick. And there is a reason why Cocteau chooses it. He is highly aware of the adults in his audience, knows how reluctant they may be to believe in magic, so he knows he can’t begin with magic right away. Instead, as foreshadowed by the appearance of the chalkboard, we get a lesson. There is a quick glimpse of a slapping production slate, and then Cocteau himself requests un minute to set these adults straight. The director’s handwritten text scrolls by to sound of an expectant drum roll: a lesson on how to watch the film. “Children believe what we tell them,” the text reads. “They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause the beast shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s ‘Open Sesame’: Once upon a time…”

April 6, 2007 / / Main Slate

“Maybe it’s something in his glands,” one teacher haplessly suggests when trying to determine just what it is that has gone wrong with Antoine Doinel, the troubled adolescent protagonist in visionary French director François Truffaut’s stunning, semiautobiographical 1959 debut feature The 400 Blows (the English title is a puzzlingly literal translation of a French phrase meaning roughly, “to raise hell”). Of course it isn’t Antoine’s glands that are the problem. Neglected and too-obviously unwanted at home, Antoine finds little of the care and understanding he needs at school either. The first time we meet him in the film, he’s already in trouble, caught with a dirty picture that was passed to him by the other boys. His luck continues in this fashion, and soon the sensitive and intelligent but misunderstood boy has gone from cutting school to running away from home and engaging in petty theft. The film’s final shot – a freeze frame close-up of Antoine on the beach – has become one of the most iconic and most often imitated images in world cinema, a simple but extremely potent portrait of a young man alone and uncertain of his future. The story, apocryphal or not, that Truffaut actually ran out of film on the beach doesn’t lessen the brilliance of that parting shot – a celebrated and hugely influential film critic before he got behind a camera, Truffaut knew a good thing when he saw it.