The Black Stallion is very much a film of two halves. You could enter the film at the midpoint and still enjoy the back 50% as a self-contained story. Similarly, you could just watch the first chunk and then turn it off feeling surprisingly satisfied. Viewed as a whole, though, Stallion serves as a personality quiz centered around whichever half you ultimately prefer. Think Full Metal Jacket or King Kong, which not only bring characters through two vastly different settings but seemingly bring them through different genres of film as well. It’s possible to enjoy the whole film in each of these instances, but by design one segment probably connects with you more powerfully than the other.
The first half of Stallion introduces young Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) and the eponymous Black Stallion aboard an unnamed vessel floating in the Mediterranean. Alec, poking around as his father gambles with the foreign seamen, sees the wild horse tied and locked into one of the holds of the ship by its owners. He’s enraptured by it. When the ship crashes and Alec’s father is killed, the stallion saves Alec from death and the pair wash up on a picturesque island. This half of the film is highly meditative and yet highly tactile, focused both on sweeping vistas and on visual symbolism. Aside from a near-monologue delivered by Alec’s father, there’s virtually no dialogue in this entire stretch of The Black Stallion. We’re given no information regarding who Alec and his father actually are, why they’re on this ship, where they’re going. Even the sinking of the ship simply happens, reasons unexplained.
Continue reading The Black Stallion (1979)
The Walk is being compared to Gravity in a recent spate of fairly misleading TV spots, intense Inception-esque music set to critic quotes that swoop in to say things like DOES WHAT GRAVITY DID FOR SPACE! It’s clear what they’re trying to say: this is more an experience than a movie. It’s partially true, and certainly the most affecting parts of the film are those which purport to be more than film. Lots of movies try to push for that as a selling point, and the floating and swooping superlatives in the Walk trailers recall all of those other movies that are GUARANTEED TO BLOW. YOUR. MIND.
Robert Zemeckis handles the majority of the story of Phillippe Petit, the eccentric and restless French high-wire artist, with much the same eccentricity and restlessness as characterizes his subject. There’s voiceover narration hosted by a Statue of Liberty-bound Petit (get it? France!), there’s a black-and-white sequence, a few flashbacks, a few time lapses, a few time jumps. The Walk, like Petit’s mind, is all over the place. At times the quick pace is paradoxically dragging, but I suppose such is the case for Petit as well. He’s bored by ropes strung between lampposts and trees. He wants a true high wire. He wants to see New York, to see the towers. He wants to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains.
Continue reading The Walk (2015)
Now that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a.k.a. the “Defining Moment” of the Lord of the Rings saga, is nearly upon us, it’s time to acknowledge that this series has been the longest con in cinema history. Peter Jackson has pulled the wool over our eyes, and it’s about time someone blew the whistle. He’s not the David Lean of fantasy he’s made us all believe him to be. No, Peter Jackson, ladies and gentlemen, is the sick freak behind slapstick zombie horror Braindead.
Dead Alive, as it’s known (or not known) in the States, isn’t even his most deranged work–just wait till you see Meet the Feebles. But it does have the infamous reputation of being the most violent movie ever made. Obviously, Jackson had greedily set out to make a name for himself right from the beginning, though it wasn’t “Lord CG-Crowds” or “Sir Most-Number-of-Endings-Crammed-Into-One-Film” just yet. The fact is, before cannibalizing Lean, Jackson had latched onto the coattails of the Masters of Horror.
Continue reading Braindead (1992)
It might just be because of the scenes in the pool, but John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer” was never far removed from my viewing of The One I Love. The obsession with suburban America that Cheever shared with the likes of John Updike also seems applicable here, but it’s probably more the hazy blur of realism and surrealism that brings the late writer’s most famous story to mind throughout the film. Granted The One I Love is more lighthearted than anything Cheever ever wrote, but there’s still a sustained feeling of dread and discomfort here. That’s coincidentally what sets the movie apart from most others, pulling it safely out of rom-com zaniness territory while managing to maintain a humorous mood.
Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are Ethan and Sophie, troubled young couple who find their marriage in jeopardy. Their counselor (who, for some reason, is played by Ted Danson) suggests a getaway at a picturesque hillside home designed specifically, it seems, for troubled young couples. They go. They have a great first night. After that, though, things go a little haywire. There’s something off about the little guest house in back. What was all the confusion about that first night? Could this be a dangerous place? Should they leave? Stay? Was this Ted Danson’s intention?
Continue reading The One I Love (2014)
If there’s one film in the late career of Sam Peckinpah that stands out among the rest, it’s Cross of Iron. By 1977, Peckinpah was still regarded relatively highly within the American film industry despite the fact that his last few films – Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and The Killer Elite – performed atrociously at the box office. While most Peckinpah purists regard Alfredo Garcia as a violent and uncompromising classic, there’s little doubt that The Killer Elite is one of the weak points in the director’s career. Cross of Iron would be followed by Convoy and Peckinpah’s final film, The Osterman Weekend, but the former of the three is the only one that truly taps into the brutal verve that made the director so sought-after in the first place.
Interestingly – though perhaps not so surprisingly – Peckinpah supposedly turned down offers to direct the King Kong remake (with Jeff Bridges) and the first Superman film, opting for Cross of Iron instead. Hindsight is 20/20, sure, and odds are you’ve heard of King Kong and Superman while the “heroes” of Cross of Iron are difficult to name even after you’ve just watched the film – but one gets the sense that Peckinpah wouldn’t care about that, and would’ve picked Cross of Iron all over again if he were given the choice today. It was the quality of the story that mattered most to Peckinpah, and while King Kong and Superman endure to this day for a variety of reasons it can probably be argued that the strength of their scripts is pretty far down on that list.
Continue reading Cross of Iron (1977)