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Plot & Theme

Long-Form Reviews and Essays on Film

“Alien: Covenant” – a Muted Echo of a Once-Great Franchise

The Alien franchise has been limping along since the early ‘90s, and a covenant with God herself can’t save it from the paucity of original thought on display in Ridley Scott’s latest shade of a film.  Alien: Covenant builds a great starting point, but squanders everything near the end of the first act, and it simply isn’t cohesive or confident enough to recover.  Faint echoes suggest that the terrifying magic of the xenomorph may still be alive, but they never stand out above the background noise.

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Yay for Giant Hippo-Pig Trailers: Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja”

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho is not subtle when it comes to the themes of his films, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Snowpiercer isn’t so much an allegory for class warfare – it is class warfare, just set on the science fiction environment of an ever-moving train.  The Host is the venerable monster-movie warning that our careless destruction of the planet will come back to bite us – literally in this case.  And so, Okja continues in that same vein.  This Netflix exclusive will compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and then will be available for streaming on June 28th.

Check out the trailer below:

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The Time Has Come to Make a Choice, Mr. Anderson: “The Matrix” and Romantic Realism

The Matrix is replete with allusions to classic philosophical ideas.  The plot references Plato’s Cave and the world of forms, Descartes’ First Meditation and the evil demon, and Hilary Putnam’s “brain in a vat” scenario – all ruminations on the nature of reality and the possibility that we only perceive an illusion.  The film also considers the tension between free will and determinism, mostly conveying its stance on this fundamental philosophical issue not through long-winded discussion, but through an essential tenet of Romanticism:  the plot hinges on the genuine choices made by its characters.

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Clarice Starling, Meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter – a Scene Analysis

One of the most enthralling sequences in The Silence of the Lambs is the first meeting between Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and it is a masterclass in visual storytelling.  This piece will analyze this entire sequence shot-by-shot,  explaining the cinematic techniques that director Jonathan Demme and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto use to tell this crucial portion of their story.  We’ll be looking at different aspects of each shot including:  composition, point of view, camera movement, pacing, and more.  We’ll see how in a mere six minutes and three seconds, these 60 shots convey characterization, plot, and even crucial thematic ideas that would develop through the course of the film.

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Was 1997 the Greatest Year for Science Fiction in Film?

Most years have a few high-quality genre pieces to offer, some years see the release of a genre-defining film and a solid collection of supporting movies, and every now and then there are collisions where two absolute classics are released side-by-side (see:  1968, 1977, and 1982).  But, there’s nothing quite like what happened 20 years ago.  Eleven science fiction films of note were released in 1997, spanning all subgenres.  This piece will discuss each of these films, heralding 1997 as a seminal year for cinematic science fiction.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – Definitely a Chapter from the Same Book

Guardians of the Galaxy was always the most overtly comedic franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and Vol. 2 follows in those footsteps.  Most films in the MCU employ humor, but none are governed by the success of references, call-backs, meta-humor, and jokes quite like Guardians.  As a result, one’s appreciation for this sequel is going to be heavily dependent on whether or not these attempts at humor land.  If you feel like some of the jokes are a little forced, are over-reliant on pop culture reference, or attempt to recreate similar gags from the original, then you’re going to find Vol. 2 a little derivative and strained.  Otherwise, you’ll have a good time.

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Strong Talent Can’t Elevate the Shoddy “Miss Sloane”

John Madden’s political thriller Miss Sloane is a contrived sledgehammer of a film.  It navigates a complex subject matter from the top of a soapbox, spouting ersatz-Sorkin dialogue at the top of its lungs.  Its near-infallible central character is always the smartest person in the room, except when she’s saved by the latest in a long line of plot conveniences.  And though the film is stocked with talented actors, they often struggle to elevate the mediocre writing above the superficiality of a PolySci 101 term paper on the second amendment.  Miss Sloane delights in its own cleverness and “message”, but seems to have considered making a film a secondary concern.

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“The Lost City of Z”: an Ode to Obsession

There’s a wayward flavor to obsession, a feeling of being swept off one’s feet by some new passion.  In James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, the expedition that began as Percy Fawcett’s chance to restore glory to his family name morphs into a lifelong zeal for exploration an discovery.  Based on the book of the same name by David Grann, Gray’s film follows the life of British soldier Fawcett and his exploits throughout the Amazon rainforest.  The film boasts expert performances, cinematography that conveys the paradoxical claustrophobia of the untamed jungle, and a plot that leaves the spectator insatiable, always hoping for additional revelations and understanding.  Though the themes waver a bit and employ the noble savage stereotype to its full effect, The Lost City of Z beautifully surveys the spirit of adventure and obsession that consumes each and every one of us – in one way or another.

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“Free Fire” Attempts Farce, Ends Up Boring and Haphazard

In a strange paradox, executing a proper farce demands preternatural planning.  Stray but a little from the knife’s edge, and the tone can spiral out of control as the conflicting elements of the film separate like a broken sauce.  Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire suffers such a fate, though it isn’t for lack of effort or a gripping central idea.  The film tries to position some idiosyncratic characters in a bottle, shake everything up, and let them shoot guns at each other for 75 minutes, but too many of these elements are just a bit off the mark.  The characters and the performances mostly hit, and the inciting event feels reasonable, but the organization and the length of the fight strains comprehension and ends up being to repetitive to hold the spectator’s interest.  Free Fire does a better job than most genre-bending farces, but ultimately it just feels too boring for a movie centered around a free-for-all firefight.

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