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  • Creepshow

    Creepshow

    ★★★½

    Romero’s adaptation of the EC visual style (in collaboration with Savini, Gornik et al) might be the best attempt at “comic book” film aesthetics I’ve seen: the color, the use of panels as a compositional tool, the variety of angles, and even the tenor of the acting cohere much more convincingly than the post-production-heavy attempts at the same thing in the digital era.

    King’s script doesn’t really try make something of the anthology structure, Dead of Night-style; the frame story…

  • Tourist Trap

    Tourist Trap

    ★★★

    Pretty wild when it fully commits to its premise of "lonely telekinetic madman uses co-eds and mannequins as a 1:1-scale dollhouse," but also awfully flat when it’s running through familiar broken-down-car horror beats or, worse, attempting to explain its monster.

    A stronger version would let us understand why someone endowed with these powers and inhabiting an unfamiliar moral universe might choose this solipsistic lifestyle (the answer provided by the movie is just unacceptably boring).

  • An Eastern Westerner

    An Eastern Westerner

    ★★★½

    Two anarchic Lloyd set pieces cleverly dovetailed: a pre-prohibition dance club where "shimmying" is strictly verboten and a more familiar old-West scenario where he falls afoul of local toughs while trying to get a girl out a bind (the eventual horseback chase is impressive, with a memorable image of tiny riders crossing a ridge over a view of town). The chaos of the New York club after Lloyd aims a fire hydrant through the front door finds an echo in the saloon, suggesting recurring patterns of American life.

    [sharp 35mm print at the Music Box, with organ and lively crowd]

  • For Heaven's Sake

    For Heaven's Sake

    ★★★★

    Lloyd manages to make public knowledge of his own personal wealth into a source of earnest comedy, spinning it into a kind of superpower of unflappability (traipsing out of a crashed car and stopping to use its cigarette lighter) so potent that it also makes him unwittingly egalitarian. The plot is basically Guys and Dolls, avant la lettre, but Lloyd makes much more of the mission full of charming lowlifes, seeing it as a goldmine of prop gags. Jokes in…

  • Escape from New York

    Escape from New York

    ★★★

    Carpenter's fantasy of Maximum Security Manhattan is a threadbare synthesis of 70s "crime-ridden New York" movies, with a few "no future" punk accents and disappointingly little relation to the actual geography of the city. It's hard to compute that the same person who made The Fog just one year earlier, with its rich American origin myth and involving coastal world, would make something this thin. Isaac Hayes's entrance, set to JC's approximation of Italo disco, in a motorcade of Cadillacs…

  • Where Is My Friend's House?

    Where Is My Friend's House?

    ★★★★½

    Kiarostami was attuned, to an almost unrivaled extent, to the limits of cinema, and of perception. In childhood, when we have to strain to reach the kitchen countertop, these conditions are accentuated. So Ahmad's trip through an unresponsive world, through closed-off towns, unhelpful conversations, murky voids, and steep hills, becomes a kind of general complaint at the merciless opacity of all things. This parade of bafflements, though mostly agonizing, occasionally yields small wonders: a man carrying branches transforms into an…

  • Nightfall

    Nightfall

    ★★★½

    Tourneur turns a largely nonsensical frame-up plot into a vehicle for unexpected pleasures. Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft build sweet odd-couple chemistry, quickly shedding their noir façades after meeting in an L.A. dive. Their psychopathic pursuers, meanwhile, seem purely engineered to generate macabre riffs on the American landscape: an oil derrick offered as a makeshift guillotine, a camping trip gone wrong, a sunlit fashion show beset by panic, and a snowplow turned into an engine of death.

  • The Cry of the Children

    The Cry of the Children

    Despite being an independent (non-MPPC) studio, Thanhouser hopped onboard the industry-wide effort at improving the public image of the medium by churning out clunky reformer movies. They take a more eccentric tack, framing their child labor melodrama with a strangely literal adaptation of an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem and shooting in a number of actual locations. The effect is proto-neorealist, like a slightly gothic, textile-mill ancestor of La Terra Trema. It seems the Thanhouser crew, whose studio would burn down…

  • The Crime of Carelessness

    The Crime of Carelessness

    As a way of contending with the then-recent horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, this Edison social issue film can feel almost flippant: the stakes of the narrative must be reduced to those of melodrama, to a single couple and a daring rescue, whereas the death toll of the event reached 146. The first half intercuts the formation of the couple with telling details of fire safety “carelessness.” The eventual conflagration leads into an escape in the manner of…

  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco

    The Last Black Man in San Francisco

    ★★★

    The overly assertive Big Directorial Debut style (zooms, dialogue in disjointed medium close-ups, etc) limits the impact of a great ensemble and resonant story as often as it boosts it. Some of these aesthetic choices have the upshot of making SF feel unreal or even fabricated. On paper, this makes perfect thematic sense: Jimmie's vision of the city turns out to be as dreamed-up as anyone's. But these formal assertions feel external to Jimmie and Montgomery, sometimes even bolted-on. The…

  • Children Who Labor

    Children Who Labor

    An artifact of the Motion Picture Patents Company’s long-running PR campaign to demonstrate the uplift potential of the picture shows. Child labor is a topic easily built into one of the standard plots of the era: the bourgeois child who falls into perils below her station while taking a trip. The most striking thing here is the opening/closing shot, a political-cartooning style sledgehammer of an image in which an underage mob supplicates Uncle Sam.

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream

    A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Blackton and Ranous are the kings of one-reel silent Shakespeare, combining richly costumed tableaux with a dash of the signature Vitagraph verve with special effects. Florence “Vitagraph Girl” Turner plays Titania here. I can see why she stuck out to people.