Directed by Steven SoderberghUnited States | 2011
In a film where the putrid, lifeless shades of green, brown, and blue expose the clammy textures of hands and faces, it’s only natural that criticisms of misanthropy are raised, and that attempts to sketch a complete portrait of humanity fall short. Then again, Contagion is a horror film that’s more about process than people, and it becomes more effective the less it characterizes and individualizes. Not only does Soderbergh’s overflowing cast undercut the hegemony of the Hollywood star system, it situates people beneath the alien processes of nature. That no character takes center stage here – when Damon begins to, the film lurches awkwardly – is a testament to the collective paranoia at work, the fact that no individual is above the heedless trajectory of the virus.
Directed by Stephen SoderberghUnited States | 2011
The central problem, I think, is that Soderbergh invests so much into being a “cool” director that he forgets how important warm and likable characters are (or at least ones that are interesting beyond their descriptions). People give him crap for making the fluffy and obnoxious Ocean’s movies, but in terms of characterization, I see little qualitative difference between his indie and studio pictures. He could take a page from David Fincher, who manages to create slick worlds inhabited by intelligent and memorable people, instead of unrelatable vessels who act as if they were born when “Action” was called.
Directed by Rupert WyattUnited States | 2011
True, Caesar and his furry kin don’t always look 100% convincing, but I blame that on neither the performance nor the technology. It’s a side effect of the Uncanny Valley Rule, which, in terms of discussing cinema, has come to mean that any attempt to render a realistic human or animal inevitably causes a dissociative reaction in the audience. With Caesar, we’re presented with an ape that looks wholly convincing, but because the role calls for him to do things that are decidedly un-ape-like, we’re constantly snapping in and out of the movie’s fiction. The effect takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve seen less-than-stellar TV clips. But in the context of the movie, Caesar achieves a greater level of realism and relatability than any CG life form that’s come before.
Directed by Andrei TarkovskySweden, United Kingdom, France | 1986
The Sacrifice is not afraid to risk absurdity itself in the radical nature of its structure – long slabs of real time combined with elusive, dreamlike montage – or in the extremity of its content, making it, and its creator, analogous to the central figure, a man doggedly tied to religious piety and opposed to modernistic tendencies. Somehow, the film’s most wayward ideas, spawned from lofty concepts about the limits of faith and reason, like the virtual reprise of a scene of levitation in The Mirror or the ten-minute-long house-burning sequence, a combination of cinematic grandiosity and improvisational vérité, work in the context of Tarkovsky’s consuming seriousness.
Directed by George A. RomeroUnited States, Canada | 2009
The film hardly goes a few minutes before a gun battle erupts and a random troupe of zombies have their brains splattered all over the place. The problem is that due to the exceedingly poor special effects and the overexposure to such occurrences, the violence becomes tedious almost as soon as it begins. It doesn’t help matters that, lacking any convincing or useful characters, it’s impossible to be bothered when one of the living succumb to the dead either. As an exercise in violence Survival of the Dead succeeds in the basest conceivable manner and is, at all times, utterly bereft of even the vaguest sense of suspense or intrigue.
Directed by Walon Green, Ed SpiegelUnited States | 1971
The pattern is that Hellstrom will describe behaviors that separate man and insect while a cascade of images demonstrate these predilections—one gets a distinct sense that Hellstrom is on their side as he regards their lack of intellect and unification of purpose ideal… We witness the catastrophic raids of the locust, and the Pyrrhic victory of farmers whose fly-bys with crop-dusting planes, battered by legions of locust bodies as they hopelessly spray DDT, are equally catastrophic.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Ishirô HondaJapan, United States | 1990
Kurosawa is very meditative here. I rather like it, but many will disagree. Dreams surely ranks among his most tedious efforts, but if you can manage to focus your attention for the full two hours I think you’ll find it rewarding. Not every moment of each of the eight stories is of visual interest, but collectively this film stands as a dense tableaux of images with salient staging and perhaps the most striking scenery ever photographed by the sensei of cinema.