Movie Review – After Yang

After Yang (2022)
Written & Directed by Kogonada

The aesthetics will strike you first when watching writer-director Kogonada’s newest film, After Yang. The world feels influenced by Asian & Scandinavian architecture, fashion, and overall design. It’s done in such a subtle manner, using elements from various sources that have a visually pleasing unity. This is not the neon glow of Blade Runner’s future, but a warm, earthy home with a family going about their life. It’s the sort of portrayal of the future that feels revolutionary in its mundanity. Technology is not an object of spectacle; it’s blended into people’s everyday existence. The characters and the film never directly comment on these things because, in real life, we don’t outwardly talk about an appliance as we use it, declaring wonder. We lose the magic of these things we have created; they become a part of the domestic landscape.

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Patron Pick – Bad Day at Black Rock

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Written by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman
Directed by John Sturges

The frenzy of war often brings the greatest evil out of people. Humans have a penchant for looking for an Other to blame for their ills and the sins of the world. We don’t have to go too far back in our history to find an endless parade of atrocities and hate crimes perpetrated on these Others. The murders and savagery never quell the sense of discontent in the perpetrators, instead planting a ball of guilt in their stomach that festers & boils. How foolishly we target individuals rather than the systems in the place that create war and strife. Easier to kill an innocent person who doesn’t look like you or speaks a different language than work for solidarity to overcome the wrong we all feel. Bad Day at Black Rock is a modern folktale about justice being visited on people guilty of such crimes.

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Movie Review – Mildred Pierce (1945)

Mildred Pierce (1945)
Written by Ranald MacDougall
Directed by Michael Curtiz

I’ve come to realize Joan Crawford is a far more complicated person than pop culture has made her out to be. Most people think of “No wire hangers!” or some other element of Mommie Dearest. I wouldn’t doubt Crawford wasn’t a great mother, but she certainly feels like someone ahead of her time as an actress. The role of Mildred Pierce is not a glamorous one. She’s an older woman whose daughter steals the spotlight, but Pierce is also so complex and layered, making choices that can’t be seen as operating inside your standard binary thinking. It’s the rich nuance and texture you’d expect from a story written by James M. Cain, a predominately noir-leaning author. 

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Movie Review – Casablanca

Casablanca (1942)
Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Few American films have ever been held in such universally high regard as Casablanca. I have to admit that the movie was a blind spot in my education on cinema until this viewing. I have certainly been hearing about Casablanca my whole life as it has been referenced, parodied, and paid homage to across film & television. It’s full of witty, memorable lines (“Here’s looking at you kid,” “Of all the gin joints in all the world…”) and a brilliant cast who are perfect for their parts. Humphrey Bogart was cemented as a film icon with this picture, and he will always be remembered for the role of Rick Blaine. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the picture after watching it, a bit worried it had been overhyped since its release, but I was pleasantly surprised with what a fantastic film is it.

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Movie Review – Angels With Dirty Faces

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)
Written by John Wexley and Warren Duff
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Recently, American conservatives voiced faux outrage over a relatively tame Super Bowl Halftime performance. Their reasoning was that elderly rappers with criminal records were the focus and encouraged moral decline. While race clearly played a part in the current blast of hot air from the right, moral outrage has existed in America since its founding. You can always count on some subgroup of people in the United States to find something to clutch their pearls over and blame it for “juvenile delinquency.” In the 1930s, gangsters were one of these cultural touchstones. For some, the criminals were seen as folk heroes fighting against the banks & powerful, while for others, they were harbingers of chaos bringing destruction to innocent lives in their wake. 

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Movie Review – The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Written by Norman Reilly Raine, Seton I. Miller, and Rowland Leigh
Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley

The Adventures of Robin Hood was unlike anything that had come before and would shape the type of films to come, even today. It was Warner Brothers’ most expensive movie with a $2 million budget. Additionally, it was shot using the first three-strip Technicolor process, a piece of technology that made it stand out against its box office competition. This film used all 11 Technicolor cameras that existed in 1938, which had never been attempted before. At the time, Warner had garnered a reputation for its social issue and low-budget gangster flicks, so something like Robin Hood felt incredibly ambitious for the studio. Once again, the film mimics a Douglas Fairbanks film from the silent era, continuing Errol Flynn’s track of reprising the roles of that actor.

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Movie Review – Captain Blood (1935)

Captain Blood (1935)
Written by Casey Robinson
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz was born Manó Kaminer in 1866 Hungary. His parents were Jews, his father a carpenter, and his mother an opera singer. They were lower-middle class and had times where it was a struggle to put food on the table. Curtiz loved the theater as a child and even constructed a tiny stage in his family’s basement when he was 8 years old. After high school, he joined a traveling theater troupe and performed throughout Europe. At age 26, Curtiz took his first theatrical directing gig and even fenced on the Hungarian Olympic Fencing team that year. Just a couple years later, World War I would pull young men into a brutal conflict, including Curtiz. From there, he was carried to a burgeoning film scene in Germany, where Curtiz truly learned the craft. In 1926, he came to the United States and began directing for Warner Brothers. That filmmaking partnership would span 28 years and 86 films, some of which are the most acclaimed films of the era. With 1935’s Captain Blood, Curtiz would see his star soar and the best work of his career just beginning.

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Movie Review – The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher (2001)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

With the new millennium came changes to Michael Haneke’s focus & themes. In his earlier works (The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, Funny Games), the director was concerned with critiquing the Austrian middle class and exploring a meta-commentary on our relationship to violence as depicted in the media. His first and only theatrical adaptation of a novel would be The Piano Teacher. The book was penned by Elfriede Jelinek, whose work is considered to be very angry and challenging in its stream of conscious-like prose. Nevertheless, Haneke manages to adapt her book by delivering it with his signature cold neutrality, and it certainly works to both tell the story of a very emotionally troubled woman while also showing sensitivity to explicit violence. Haneke does not want to hide violence from us; instead, he’s interested in communicating it in unexpected and powerful ways.

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Movie Review – The Way Back (2010)

The Way Back (2010)
Written by Peter Weir and Keith Clarke
Directed by Peter Weir

Seven years passed from Master and Commander to this, Peter Weir’s final film (for now). One of the most jarring things about the 21st century when looking at Weir’s work is how these two movies do not feel like his. His work through the 1970s to the 1990s always possessed a New Age atmosphere, spiritual but not attached to any particular dogma, humanist and appreciative of the natural world. These things are present in The Way Back but do not result in the same rich work as a film like Witness, Fearless, or The Truman Show does. The Way Back is not a terrible film, but it is definitely not one deserving of a second visit, and it ends with an incredibly clunky third act.

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Movie Review – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Written by Peter Weir and John Collee
Directed by Peter Weir

It had been five years since Peter Weir directed a movie. The Truman Show was a culmination of all his major themes across his work that it seemed like an ending in many ways. Of course, there was always more that could be said about human existence and the power we have over our own lives, but it was addressed so beautifully in that picture. Master and Commander would be Weir’s only film released in the 2000s. The film would be very well received by critics, but at the time, audiences were so focused on more escapist fare, in particular the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. That film would sweep the Oscars, and Master and Commander would be pretty much forgotten by most people. 

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