Author: Andrea O

January 9, 2012 / / Main Slate Archive


Badlands – 1973 – dir, Terrence Malick

In 1972 Terrence Malick ran out of money while editing Badlands, his first feature film, and with no studio backing or distribution deal, he turned back to freelance scriptwriting to drum up the last $35,000 he needed for 10 extra months of postproduction editing and sound rerecording. This was the second cash infusion that Malick personally invested into the feature, having earned about half of the initial funding for principle photography from his stint as a scriptwriter after graduating from the AFI Conservatory in 1969.

November 8, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

They Live – 1988 – dir. John Carpenter

They Live may be the most realistic horror movie you’ll ever see. A train pulls away, revealing a tiny figure in the middle distance, perhaps some kind of modern day hobo with a flannel shirt and a pack, dwarfed by the rail yard, the overpasses, and other impersonal architecture of transport and edges of cities. That figure, of course, is Nada, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, drifting into town in search of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Set in a nearby present, Nada’s American Dream has devolved into massive unemployment, industrial flight, tent cities, and radical income discrepancy. “I just want to work,” says Nada, with the incongruously sweet expression that belies his history as a “heel” in wrestling. “I still believe in America.”

October 19, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Another Earth – 2011 – dir. Mike Cahill

Another evening. One much like any other, cars on the road, moon in the sky. Suddenly — something else in the sky. Timelines cross, lives crash. In Another Earth, co-writers Brit Marling (who also stars) and Mike Cahill (who also directs) reflect on the reasons one might have for leaving the comforts of home and venturing into the unknown. One reason might be that home has become that unknown country, and comforts have become correspondingly few.

October 18, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Project Nim – 2011 – dir. James Marsh

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Or, do we? In the documentary Project Nim, director James Marsh reexamines the well-publicized attempt by Professor Herbert Terrace, a behavioral psychologist at Columbia University, to test whether we can talk to the animals. Nim Chimpsky, his name a play on the linguist Noam Chomsky, would be taken into a human home and raised as one of the family, exposed to all human forms of communication, verbal and nonverbal, while being taught sign language. The LaFarge family was a hippie-bookish blend of kids, dogs and the usual controlled chaos of domesticity. The mother was an ex-student of the professor, as well as an ex-student-affair. No one in the family knew sign language. Mature chimps are aggressive and not shy of biting; an adult male chimp can weigh 150 pounds and be over 5 feet in length. But baby chimps are cute! And it was the seventies. What could possibly go wrong?

October 18, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – 2011 – dir. Rupert Wyatt

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, head researcher Will Rodman (James Franco) takes his work home with him. And not just in the shape of a test tube.

Imagine if you will, a point in the not-too-distant future where high-stakes research has produced a genetic therapy to repair neuronal pathways lost during Alzheimer’s. The delivery mechanism is a denatured virus that can penetrate otherwise resistant cell walls. Imagine further that this therapy has been so effective that it is ready to undergo human trials. Or perhaps not quite ready, but it has performed spectacularly well on chimps, our closest biological relatives, with whom we share approximately 96% of our DNA. Imagine further, that you are the head researcher, and that it is your own father that has Alzheimer’s. Might you be inclined to do a little fieldwork at home…?

October 18, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

The Tree of Life – 2011 – dir. Terrence Malick

Did you love it? Did you hate it? Certainly few films have inspired such division among the film criticism community (but one could say that of films like Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, or Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady, too).  It did win the Palme d’Or, considered by many to be cinema’s top prize, but some of the past winners have also been controversial (like Steve Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape, or Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark).

June 1, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Jaws – 1975 – dir. Steven Spielberg

No critique by an amateur film critic could ever refute the monumental experience that is Jaws.  It’s possible to examine the socio-political themes in Amity Island, the class struggles between characters, and the great battle of man versus nature; but to unveil a hidden flaw, an imperfect note in this film, is impossible.  The film is good.  So good in fact, most fans can probably recall their first time witnessing it, that experience of hiding behind their hands from an unseen monster.  It’s cinema’s Moby Dick and once again, in the chaotic world outside the theater, we can again bear witness to life imitating art.

March 11, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Repulsion – 1965 – dir. Roman Polanski

Looking over Roman Polanski’s career, I feel his strength as a director lies in creating psychological suspense and dread out of confined spaces, and the casual way in which he shows you the horror that was always right next to you. His best work happens to be in the early to middle period of his career, and is roughly bracketed by two events: Polanski’s recent past as a Holocaust survivor, and the murder of Sharon Tate. (There really is no late period, save in the academic and chronological sense. After Chinatown Polanski never made a truly outstanding film, with the exception of Death and the Maiden. Never mind the noise made over the Oscar-winning The Pianist. Only with the recently released The Ghostwriter has Polanski come back to something like top form.) His films of special mention reveal the second life pulsing below the apparent one, the dark desires or fears hiding under a veneer of “normality” and respectability. (As seen in Knife In The Water, Cul-de-Sac, The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and the aforementioned Ghostwriter.)

January 14, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

“Hustlers of the world, there is a mark you cannot beat: the mark inside.”

-William S. Burroughs

And with that opening epitaph, we willingly immerse ourselves in the private nightmare of exterminator/secret agent William Lee in Naked Lunch, a watermark achievement in David Cronenberg’s body of work, and an event that in retrospect seems inevitable. William Burroughs penchant for the grotesque and absurd melds with Cronenberg’s compulsion to “Show the unshowable, speak the unspeakable,” and results in a repulsive and brilliant thriller that explores identity, addiction at large, and what it really means to be a writer.

September 30, 2010 / / Main Slate Archive

The Horse’s Mouth – 1958 – dir. Ronald Neame

In the comic film The Horse’s Mouth, (dir. Ronald Neame, 1958), Alec Guinness plays an irrepressibly antic and irresponsible artist, in what has been called the most realistic onscreen portrayal of what makes an artist tick. When we first meet him, Gulley Jimson is jut getting out of jail, where he has been locked up for harassing his patron, the wealthy [name], for more commissions and more money. The very first thing he does is make straight for the phone booth to call him again. Jimson lives the pure artist’s life, a bohemian existence on a houseboat, concerned only for his painting and the freedom that inspired it. No poseur, he simply lives for art. And despite his not being overly concerned to make friends and influence people, he has friends who look after him, patrons that are mad for his work, and fellow artists who both beleaguer and entertain him, as they reflect all his contradictions right back at him.