Recent posts in category Movies


Movies: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Chantal Akerman's singular masterwork observes three days in the life of a Belgian widow with a precision and unblinking patience that becomes all-encompassing.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-04-23 12:00:00 No comments


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In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try if for four; If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually, one discovers that it is not boring but very interesting. — John Cage

Most movies are desperate to keep your attention. Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles does nothing more than invite us to sit and watch, for three hours and twenty minutes, a few days in the life of another human being. We might ask: Is that all? The very form of the movie is like a response: Isn't that enough? Are the lives of other people only interesting when "something happens"? And while some things do indeed happen in those three days in the life of Jeanne Dielman, Belgian widow and mother of a teenaged son, the way they're staged and delivered is forced to make us question why we would want only those things to matter.

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Tags: Chantal Akerman Delphine Seyrig movies review

Movies: American Psycho

Mary Harron's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's divisive novel amplifies its satirical power without making its protagonist into an antihero.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-04-03 12:00:00 No comments


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It's hard to make a good movie about a horrible person. Most horrible people are just not worth the trouble. Mary Harron's American Psycho, from Bret Easton Ellis's novel, is about a truly horrible person, dissected like one of those anatomical models where you can take the organs out. It also understands that with some subjects you don't have to go far to be satirical. Only the outward acts of the main character are exaggerated. His impulses, and the way they underscore his fundamental hollowness, are taken as-is, because they are legion.

Outwardly, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a smiling Ken doll. He has a sinecure at a mergers and acquisitions firm where he does no discernible work. He sits with three of his other cronies in a restaurant over a hideously overpriced lunch and tut-tuts at them about making antisemitic cracks about a co-worker. He offers solicitous advice to a troubled sort-of girlfriend over the phone. He also tells a drunk comrade, "I like to dissect girls. Did I tell you I'm utterly insane?" and smiles when he realizes his words, which are entirely true, are going in one ear and out the other.

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Tags: Bret Easton Ellis Christian Bale Mary Harron movies review

Science Fiction Repair Shop: Arrival

An actual SF movie, not just a tarted-up shoot-'em-up, both because of the breadth of its ideas and how they are lovingly personalized.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-02-23 12:00:00 No comments


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I've lamented before how most science fiction movies are not science fiction, but an action movie with a flimsy overleaf of SF stapled atop. Arrival is an actual science fiction movie, and one of the finest to come along in recent years, both because of the breadth of its ideas and how they are lovingly personalized.

The premise (as derived from Ted Chiang's short "The Story Of Your Life") involves what by now is a fairly shopworn SF staple: first contact with aliens, by way of a klatsch of giant ships that materialize over different corners of the earth. (See also: V, Independence Day, Childhood's End, Alien Nation, etc. etc.) A linguist with a now-desolate personal life, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is summarily drafted by the hard-nosed Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to decipher the alien language and establish two-way communication. The first and most pressing question they want answered is why they are here, and whether or not that answer deserves a first strike as a response.

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Tags: Denis Villeneuve Science Fiction Repair Shop movies review science fiction

Movies: Wrath Of Man

Closest in spirit to the bleak noirs of the 1970s, where the "good" guys are only slightly less terrible than the competition, and where everyone is staring down from the edge of the same abyss.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-01-29 12:00:00 No comments


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There's a joke that most any Jason Statham movie can be summarized as "Jason Statham Drives A Car And Kills People." Statham's vehicle in Wrath Of Man is a cash truck, and the rest of the formula applies too, multiple times over, but the movie as a whole is miles better than a meme-description like that can encompass. It's closest in spirit to the bleak noirs of the 1970s — Get Carter, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle — where the "good" guys are only slightly less terrible than the competition, and where everyone is staring down from the edge of the same abyss.

Wrath Of Man opens with a cash transportation truck being hit by a professional gang of thieves. They don't just steal the money; they kill a few people too, and we get the ugly impression none of that murder was necessary. Some months later, Statham's character — known chiefly as "H" — applies for a job at the same transport company. His supervisor, Bullet (the name is only not ridiculous because he does look the part) takes a shine to this taciturn British fellow right away, even if his driving and firearms skills are only okay.

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Tags: Guy Ritchie Jason Statham movies review

Movies: Titane

Julia Ducournau's Titane has at its heart a great tenderness, something you don't expect from a story about a sociopath who kills with a hairpin, then apparently has sex with a car and becomes pregnant with its child.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-01-27 12:00:00 No comments


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A story that goes to extremes is not always a story that reaches us at that extreme. Julia Ducournau's Titane is rare: it goes to extremes, all right, but its most affecting moments are — I think quite deliberately — the ones delivered in contrast to those extremes. It has at its heart a great tenderness, something you don't expect from a story about a sociopath who kills with a hairpin, then apparently has sex with a car and becomes pregnant with its child.

As wild as it sounds, I haven't spoiled much by saying that upfront. Titane gives us Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), who from the beginning as a child horsing around in the backseat seems a little off. When she unbuckles her seatbelt and distracts her father, their car smashes into a divider, and she's left with a head injury that requires a titanium plate in her skull. And when she leaves the hospital, it's her father's new car she has more affection for than her own parents.

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Tags: Julia Ducournau movies review

Movies: Dune (1984) [2021 review]

The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-09-03 12:00:00 No comments


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Note: Back in 2004, I wrote a review of David Lynch's Dune that was quite sarcastic (shilling for snide). On re-reading it, I disliked the review, in big part because my own feelings about the movie have grown more nuanced. The original review is still available at its original URL but I've removed the Movies category tag for it, so it's now just another blog post. Consider this one its replacement in the actual Movies listing.

The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period. It seems best thought of as an SF-tinged descendant of conventional Hollywood historical costume epics — The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Spartacus — as it has both the best qualities of those projects (epic scope, ambitious plotting, fun casting) and their worst (ponderousness, pretentiousness, miscalculations of pace and tone).

Frank Herbert's now-classic novel used the struggle for resources in the Middle East as the jumping-off point for a blend of soft SF and James A. Michener-esque historical fiction that still remains unsurpassed. Two feuding noble houses in a far-future universe enter into a tricky agreement to transfer control of a strategically important planet, a wasteland that no one would bother with were it not for the invaluable, druglike substance harvested from its sands. When the Atreides, receivers of the planet, are betrayed by the Harkonnen, its former custodians, the dauphin of the Atreides goes into hiding with his mother, and finds he's being received as a messiah by the indigenous population.

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Tags: David Lynch Dune Frank Herbert Science Fiction Repair Shop movies review science fiction

Movies: Pi

Darren Aronofsky's ingenious micro-budget debut, twenty-plus years later, holds up better than some of his bigger-budgeted efforts

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-06-28 12:00:00 No comments


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"I'm so close," implores Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the paranoid, insular protagonist of Darren Aronofsky's debut feature Pi. He was a math prodigy with a doctorate in number theory before he was old enough to drink. Now he lives in a cavelike Chinatown apartment, surrounded by the looming towers of his homebrew supercomputer Proteus, struggling to apply his theories to the stock market and nursing brutal cluster headaches that incapacitate him for days at a time. But Pi is not about number theory or Wall Street sorcery; it's about the torment of believing you have the keys to creation in your head, and not being able to get them out.

Numbers are the only thing that make sense to Max. Graph the numbers of a system, he tells himself, and patterns emerge — patterns that allow predictions to be made, that allow mastery of the world where before only chaos reigned. Other human beings are alien territory. Even the little girl who lives upstairs from Max and plays math games with him just makes him more uneasy. His friendly neighbor Devi (Samia Shoaib) makes him samosas, but Max has no idea how to return such dotage. The only other person with whom he finds anything like solace is his crusty mentor Sol (Mark Margolis), now retired after a crippling stroke put an end to his career of chasing patterns in numbers.

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Tags: Darren Aronofsky Science Fiction Repair Shop Sean Gullette movies review science fiction