Recent posts in category Movies


Movies: Sexy Beast

Ben Kingsley as a frothing mad gangster is only the first of many pleasures in this sleeper-gem of a crime drama that's only gotten better with age

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-02-19 12:00:00 No comments


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Someone once said that American movies are about plots while European movies are about characters. That goes double for crime films. When they're about assembling a team for One Last Job, they're about the team, or the job, or the betrayal. Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast uses all that as backdrop for a contrasting character study: Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), the soft-in-the-gut ex-safecracker who does not want to leave his comfy Spanish villa for one last job; and Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), the bulldog soldier in Teddy Bass's (Ian Macshane) crime army who most definitely wants him to do it, and will latch his teeth into Gal's ankle and drag him bodily away from his wife and friends if he must.

Dove has no earthly reason to even consider Logan's offer. He lives with his beloved wife Deedee, an ex-porn star, in a mountainside hacienda with an in-ground pool. Every night it's barbecues and garden parties with his friend Aitch and his wife Jackie, also both emigres. One fine day a boulder detaches itself from the hillside behind where he's sunning himself, crashes into his pool, and almost pancakes Dove. That rattles his eyeteeth, but it does so far less than word that his old not-really-buddy Don Logan has decided to drop in.

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Tags: Ben Kingsley Ian Macshane Jonathan Glazer Ray Winstone Sexy Beast movies review


Movies: Apocalypse Now: Final Cut

The film is worthy of the best kind of jealousy, the kind that makes you want to go out and do something just as visionary and overwhelming.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-02-18 21:00:00 No comments


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First, a confession of cinematic unhipness: Until sometime earlier this week I never did watch Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now all the way through, beginning to end. Only fragments on TV, or maybe a few minutes glimpsed over someone's shoulder when they watched it. Somehow I kept kicking the can of that experience down the road, until finally Coppola brought out a 4K restoration of his preferred cut of the film and I stopped procrastinating and gave it an evening of my time. The film is worthy of the best kind of jealousy, the kind that makes you want to go out and do something just as visionary and overwhelming, even if it you can't quite cinch shut the bag it's packed in.

Most great "war films" are not about war but some other subject we can only approach fully through the context of war. Paths Of Glory was about the kind of cowardice only possible in the power structures that prosecute war. The Grand Illusion was about how men of principle and discipline are set against each other because war demands it. Apocalypse Now is about how war's insanity is normalizing, both on the individual and collective level. War, especially one as ambiguous and protracted as the one in Vietnam, does something worse than make us mad: it makes us wonder if it was ever a good idea to be sane in the first place, when things can become this broken.

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Tags: Apocalypse Now Charlie Sheen Marlon Brando Vietnam movies review war


Movies: Goodfellas

One of the greatest of American films generally, and certainly the most incisive and insightful one about the criminal life.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-12-29 12:00:00 No comments


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As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.

Fitting that in 2020, when I sat down to watch Goodfellas 30 years after its release, we would have a president who amounted to a mobster. Here we have, still have, one of the greatest of American films generally, and certainly the most incisive and insightful one about the criminal life, because of how it tricks us emotionally into thinking the Mafia code actually amounted to something for those who lived inside it.

Most Hollywood mob movies are about kingpins who rise and then fall: Little Caesar, Scarface (both of them), The Godfather. Goodfellas is unabashedly about a low-level guy, someone who has just enough of a taste of the life to enjoy it, but who will never rise very far -- presumably because he's half-Irish and half-Italian, but really because of his urges to shirk the disciplines of the mob world. He never rises very high, but he he still has a long way to fall.

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Tags: Joe Pesci Lorraine Bracco Martin Scorsese Ray Liotta Robert de Niro movies organized crime review


Movies: Blade Runner 2049

A blueprint for how to do the impossible -- namely, follow up a classic: give it to another artist of vision and stand back.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2020-08-19 12:00:00 No comments


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There was, to my mind, no earthly reason to make a sequel to Blade Runner, any more than there was a reason to make a sequel to 2001: a space odyssey. But they did in fact make 2010: The Year We Make Contact with Arthur C. Clarke, if not with Stanley Kubrick, and it was good although short of great.

And they did in fact make Blade Runner 2049, with screenwriter Hampton Fancher, if not original author Philip K. Dick, and with original director Ridley Scott as producer and Denis Villeneuve in the director's chair. What they delivered stands so comfortably next to the original, and yet with so much of its own to offer, that it suggests a blueprint for how to do such an impossible thing: just give it to another artist of vision, assuming you can find one, and stand back.

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Tags: Ana de Armas Blade Runner Dave Bautista David Dastmalchian Denis Villeneuve Harrison Ford Jared Leto Philip K. Dick Ridley Scott Robin Wright Ryan Gosling Science Fiction Repair Shop Sylvia Hoeks cyberpunk dystopia movies reviews science fiction


Movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Fifty years later, one of the greatest films ever made has scarcely aged a day in the ways that matter

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-06-17 12:00:00 No comments


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This essay was originally written for the premiere issue of a journal of science fiction, to have been edited by my friend Matt Buscemi, that never launched. I was elated to provide this piece, but Matt unhappily informed me that not enough stars had come into alignment to make the journal into a going concern. But the rights to the piece were returned to me (they would have reverted in time anyway; they just came back a good deal sooner), and I'm presenting it here as I wrote it, with only minor amendment. Thanks to Matt for giving me the impetus to produce it, as I found out as I was doing so how it was the culmination of over thirty years of thinking about the film.

Few movies, science fiction or otherwise, go almost directly from event-of-the-moment to monument-for-the-ages. By the time I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in the early Eighties, as a wide-eyed kid not yet in his teens, it had a good decade and change to establish its cachet of timelessness. Now it has passed fifty, with me not far behind. What has dated about it, what remains timeless, what has become even more relevant—it’s easy to sit back down with the movie thinking you know what will fill all those categories, only to find you’re wrong in a good way.

For many people 2001 is cinema, not “science fiction.” This is not how it came into the world, but that is where it ended up, and I think both cinema and science fiction are better off for it, even if they both still seem at odds as to what to do about it five decades on. As Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived it, it was meant to be “the proverbial good science-fiction movie,”[1] and I think the way it lives up to that promise is not by way of what story it tells, or what technical details it hinges on, but how it tells a story that of all genres science fiction seems best equipped to support.

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Tags: Arthur C. Clarke Stanley Kubrick movies review


Movies: Liquid Sky

The original new-wave (maybe also no-wave?) film, with its blaze of low-budget images, mixes cheesy science fiction, grimy bohemian drug tragedy, psychedelic experimentalism, and no-budget arthouse drama

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-05-01 12:00:00 No comments


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When people talk about "outsider art," they could mean art that's about, by, for, or with the participation of outsiders. Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky is outsider art across that board: it was directed by a Russian emigre, co-written by and starring downtown New Yorkers who did a fair amount of starving for their art, and depicts (if in a stylized way) the new- to no-wave scene of the early 1980s in that city.

Don't even try to fit a label to the end result. Cheesy science fiction, grimy bohemian drug tragedy, psychedelic experimentalism, and no-budget arthouse drama all stew together freely here. It's eye-filling, irritating, and mesmerizing in about equal measure; it drags you around by the shirt collar for two hours and then kicks you out of the apartment. I'm still not sure if I like it or not, but it's one of my favorite films all the same. Paradox intended.

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Tags: 1980s Anne Carlisle Liquid Sky Slava Tsukerman indies movies new wave punk reviews


Movies: The Lift

A dopey dud: a mix of satire and horror that doesn't manage to be either funny or scary.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-02-15 13:00:00 No comments


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"Take the stairs, take the stairs, for god's sake take the stairs!!" begged the tagline on the posters for the Dutch cult movie The Lift. In theory, this horror-comedy about killer elevators should have been fun. I like it when movies use wit and ingenuity to compensate for small budgets, especially when they're products of a country with tiny domestic film industries. Problem is, the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a) a droll, cheeky satire of horror movies, or b) the real thing. Like the victims in the movie itself, it ends up stuck between floors.

Somewhere in the Netherlands, there's a fourteen-story commercial office building that recently had its elevators renovated. Unfortunately, they're starting to act a little flaky, as in the opening scenes where a quartet of drunken revelers from the restaurant on the top floor almost suffocate when the elevator breaks down between floors. In comes elevator repairman Felix (Huub Stapel), who peers into the wiring and doesn't see anything askew.

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Tags: Huub Stapel Netherlands comedy horror movies review


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