Arzner, Byrkit, Hitchcock, Pakula, Tartakovsky

Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). Though he would sometimes demure at the question, this was typically the title Hitchcock offered up as his default answer when asked about his personal favorite among his hefty, dazzling oeuvre. I can’t really back him up on that, even though I can completely understand how this one would loom large for the Master. He’d made great films before this (The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, and Suspicion among them), but there’s something about this one that feels like the Hitchcock cinematic voice locked in for good. The film follows Charlie Newton (Joseph Cotten), a … Continue reading Arzner, Byrkit, Hitchcock, Pakula, Tartakovsky

Allen, Assonitis, Korda, Stromberg, Tetzlaff

Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014). This piece of fairy tale revisionism might be more affecting if it didn’t arrive on the heels of the same studio’s Frozen, which pulled off basically the same switcheroo (including the subversion of the “true love’s kiss” trope) with more spirit. Judging from what’s onscreen, not much thought went into this project after the dream casting of Angelina Jolie was secured. The certainty that her presence as one of the most iconic villains in the annals of Disney Animated Classics would be enough to make the film compelling comes tantalizing close to becoming a proven truth. … Continue reading Allen, Assonitis, Korda, Stromberg, Tetzlaff

Bayona, Lang, Moore, Sturges, Webb

The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012). At the very core of The Impossible is the commonplace sin of depicting a real-life tragedy in an Asian land through the experience of well-to-do, white, European travelers. The devastating tsunami that struck countries on the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 killed approximately a quarter of a million people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand, but its obviously rich vacationers played by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor whose story whose story needs to be told. This could be acceptable–albeit begrudgingly so–if the film still carried the sort of emotional weight that should … Continue reading Bayona, Lang, Moore, Sturges, Webb

Faxon and Rash, Kasdan, Lloyd, Lord and Miller, Snyder

Darling Companion (Lawrence Kasdan, 2012). I’ve got loads of residual affection for writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, but he sure doesn’t make it easy to be one of his defenders these days. Darling Companion was his first film in nearly decade, following the appallingly bad Stephen King adaptation Dreamcatcher. It doesn’t make an argument that he used his creative downtime wisely. As wispy of a film concept as anyone’s likely to come across, Kasdan’s story (co-written with his wife, Meg Kasdan) concerns an older couple who adopt a stray dog and then lose that new furry family member in the woods around … Continue reading Faxon and Rash, Kasdan, Lloyd, Lord and Miller, Snyder

Black, Buck and Lee, Emmerich, Frankel, Wells

Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013). The most successful animated feature in the traditional Disney mold (fairy tale structure, a bevy of Broadway-esque songs) since the studio’s nineteen-nineties heyday, Frozen is charming enough if a little flat. Like a lot of modern Disney fables, it’s more interesting for the ways it compulsively upends the legacy tropes–the “true love” with a man, the oversimplified villainy–than for the actual merits of what winds up onscreen freed from meta examinations. The songbook provided by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez may have launched a thousand (or more) YouTube videos on the strength of … Continue reading Black, Buck and Lee, Emmerich, Frankel, Wells

Daldry, Eastwood, Moore, Sirk, Soderbergh

Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012). Much as I can understand how this film turned into a stealth hit–it has the musical liveliness of early Glee combined with the knowing spunk of Bring It On–it’s a fairly clumsy endeavor, with strained jokes and haphazard structure that would almost count as daring anti-narrative if it were done intentionally. It’s also one of those films that has absolutely no idea how college works, not just taking liberties for the sake of the storytelling but completely ignoring any attempt to depict its setting in a way that’s at all plausible. It does have Anna … Continue reading Daldry, Eastwood, Moore, Sirk, Soderbergh

Burton, Keaton, Preminger, Trank, Vidor

Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2012). Chronicle is good enough to almost–almost–redeem the increasingly tired found footage subgenre. This is in part due to the especially clever use of the footage, drawing it from a variety of sources rather than relying on one dedicated amateur documentarian who keeps the camera running no matter what level of craziness is happening (although the film inevitably must rely on that conceit more than is ideal). Security cameras, police car dashboard cams and other fully believable devices provide all the material that’s stitched together into a narrative. If physics-defying mayhem were happening outside of a upper … Continue reading Burton, Keaton, Preminger, Trank, Vidor

Duke, Hitchcock, Lang, Lorenz, Rees

Trouble with the Curve (Robert Lorenz, 2012). A longtime Clint Eastwood collaborator–multiple credits as a producer and assistant director–makes his feature directorial debut, and it predictably looks like one of his pal’s stodgier efforts, right down to the venerable actor doing a variation of his Gran Torino gravel-voiced grump complaining about the kids these days. In Trouble with the Curve, Eastwood plays a old baseball scout who’s disparaged by the moneyball adherents in the deluxe offices, even though there’s some things you just can’t tell about a prospect from looking at a computer screen. The film is painfully simplistic, setting … Continue reading Duke, Hitchcock, Lang, Lorenz, Rees

Cianfrance, Hitchcock, Levine, Sonnenfeld, Zinnemann

Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936). My instinct is to refer to this as an early Alfred Hitchcock film, but he was a decade and almost two dozen films into his career by this point. What’s more, this was released the year after The 39 Steps, so while Hitchcock may not have been The Master yet, he was a seasoned, skilled and respected filmmaker already. This was toward the end of the run of his British-made films, and there’s a certain added restraint–even somewhat pedestrian quality–to the narrative about a terrorist group staging bombings around London. It notably adheres to all of … Continue reading Cianfrance, Hitchcock, Levine, Sonnenfeld, Zinnemann

Farrelly and Farrelly, Kazan, Levy, Stoller, Wain

The Three Stooges (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, 2012). Strangely, this attempt to update the Three Stooges for a modern audience is the most disciplined Farrelly brothers film in years. That doesn’t mean it’s good per se, but the screenplay does have a tightness and care that’s been largely missing from the siblings’ work for at least ten years or so. There’s some genuinely inspired staging to the hyper-violent comic set pieces featuring the trio of orphaned doofuses clumsily beating the hell out of each other which carries over the broader narrative. Not much of it is especially funny or … Continue reading Farrelly and Farrelly, Kazan, Levy, Stoller, Wain