The American western is no stranger to cruel men who wield their masculinity to maintain their position. Positioned as heroic embodiments of the demands of the time rather than men capable of (and often willing to enact) intense spiritual violence, the ranchers and cowboys of the genre have been exalted as pure representations of manhood. With lush iconography and archetypal characterizations at its core, the western allowed us, even invited us, to overlook the truth of our violent past and the brutality expected of legacies of men. Such is the setting for The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s momentous return to the cinema that aims to upbend those conventions and does so with the swiftness of a hot blade. The film is not really a western, but interested in the genre all the same—both in the masculine ideals it upholds and their reflections in American culture.Continue reading “In Review: The Power of the Dog”
The other other Benedict Cumberbatch movie of the fall season, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, is perhaps the kind of film we might have expected from the star a decade ago. Here he stars as the titular famed artist in the kind of flowery biopic crafted with an aesthetic just left of center, the kind that has influences from Tim Burton to Julie Taymor to Richard Attenborough. It is the sophomore feature directing effort of Will Sharpe (also sharing screenwriting duties with Simon Stephenson), who brings a great deal of stylish panache to the proceedings. But in capturing a turbulent life, Sharpe delivers an uneven biopic.Continue reading “In Review: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain”
Conceived without the benefit of imagination, The Courier is a microwaved and nutrient-free copy of similar Cold War spy dramas, tinny with the shine of its shrinkwrap packaging. Planting itself somewhere between le Carré, Mike Leigh domestic drama, and a burlap sack, the film is confused in its inspirations, chasing other films of more precise ambitions. The resulting hodgepodge of derivative influences flattens the tension, which isn’t aided by an even flatter central performance. But what the film fails to understand about the genre its chasing is that they all came from a unique point of view; it struggles so hard to follow in the Cold War genre’s footsteps that it stumbles to find a path of its own, even as it navigates an untold corner of history. The Courier unfortunately makes the blanched achievement of telling the story of a man you have never heard of before while being a movie that you have.Continue reading “In Review: The Courier”
Doctor Strange is about the kookiest, gleefully… well, strange film that Marvel has yet delivered to the masses. But while its dizzying visuals and doofy world-making delight in their abandon, its stylistic risks are somewhat dampened by not stepping a single toe outside the Marvel origin formula. Here The Ancient One isn’t just Tilda Swinton’s whitewashed character, it’s also the age-old narrative blueprint.
Yes, Strange is exactly the superhero origin story you have long since tired of being retold. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an ego-maniacal surgeon whose prowess is defeated by his own hubris and pride. His path to redemption goes builds across an inter-dimensional mystic battle as he gains time-bending and globe-trotting gifts with the help of Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s sidekick Mordo. Cut and paste a few minor details and you know exactly what this thing is going to throw at you.