Author: Brandon Irvine

November 30, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Gates of Heaven – 1979 – dir. Errol Morris

How do you get stuff this good from the raw material of average folks? Certain filmmakers have a knack for finding interview subjects worthy of our rapt attention, and that’s just what director Errol Morris does in “Gates of Heaven,” his 1978 documentary about the pet cemetery business in northern California.

October 25, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Bellflower – 2011 – dir. Evan Glodell

Yes, Bellflower is a tragic romance. And yes, its protagonist is a certain brand of hipster. Some people will be scared away by these facts, but they shouldn’t be. The film is both psychological and sociological, and it’s the rare movie that is both so effectively.


Back to the Future, Part II – 1989 – dir. Robert Zemeckis

It’s somehow pleasing to see variations on a character or motif, and I’ll admit right away that after a few days of thinking about it, I still can’t figure out why. What I do know is that when Marty McFly is enlisted for a trip to the future at the outset of Back to the Future Part II, it’s deeply satisfying to see his hometown of Hill Valley redone in its 2015 incarnation, with so many landmarks and people intact but also all futured up.

Down by Law – 1986 – dir. Jim Jarmusch

It’s a neat trick if the film you’re watching seems sort of so-what for the first hour-plus, then, in a moment, forces you to reexamine everything you’ve seen without actually revealing any new information. I can sincerely say that this is how Down by Law struck me.

The Long Goodbye – 1973 – dir. Robert Altman

Based loosely on the Raymond Chandler novel, The Long Goodbye fits somewhere in the film noir repertoire, even if it’s not clear exactly where. Chandler’s iconic private eye, Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould), suspects foul play in the suicide of his old friend, who is also alleged to have killed his wife. In another film noir trope, the most seductive woman around is also the shadiest: Director Robert Altman hints to the audience that there is a connection between the beautiful Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and Marlowe’s dead friend long before Marlowe himself figures it out.

March 22, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Belle de Jour – 1967 – dir. Luis Buñuel

From the very first scene, Belle de Jour announces the collision of imagination and reality. A carriage ride through the woods is plausible until a young woman, Séverine, is tied up, whipped, and on the verge of being used by the coachmen, egged on by her husband. A cut to her bedroom reveals that this has only been her daydream; her husband is actually an amiable surgeon who respectfully sleeps in a separate bed.

This confusion between Séverine’s real and imaginary lives is one of the film’s strategies: Rather than use cinematographic effects like a color or gauzy effect to separate Séverine’s internal world from the external one, director Luis Buñuel only provides thematic cues — carriages and the mention of cats — to signal that what we are seeing is not real, and the fantasies are that much more potent for being almost indistinguishable from the reality.

February 1, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

Monsters – 2010 – dir. Gareth Edwards

Monsters is the story of Sam (Whitney Able), the daughter of the wealthy man who has pressed Andrew (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, into escorting her back to the United States from Mexico. This Mexico, it needs to be said, is a Mexico whose northern half is “the Infected Zone,” where giant aliens have roamed since they came to Earth six years ago.

January 24, 2011 / / Main Slate Archive

I Am Love – 2009 – dir. Luca Guadagnio

I Am Love is the story of Emma (Tilda Swinton), a middle-aged wife and mother in a family of wealthy Italian industrialists.  As she falls into an affair with a young chef and deals with the consequences of pursuing her passion, the film manages to be affecting and intense, but through strategies that are utterly distinct from anything in a typical Hollywood film.

December 30, 2010 / / Main Slate Archive

Edward Scissorhands – 1990 – dir. Tim Burton

We first meet Edward Scissorhands when Peg, the Avon lady, decides to visit the shadowy mansion overlooking her suburb and only manages to find someone lurking in the attic. Edward (Johnny Depp) is pale white and covered up to his neck in all manner of black vinyl and leather, but Peg (Dianne Wiest) is immediately sympathetic to this creature-man. As soon as she sees him, she begins her attempt to initiate Edward into the suburban life, despite the most obvious obstacle: Edward has blades for fingers.