For Reel

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
January 3, 2017, 3:33 pm
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Director: Godfrey Reggio
3.5 Stars
koyaanisqatsiThe apocalyptic conceit of Koyaanisqatsi is naïve at best. To despair that mankind has lost touch with nature and is now the servant of technology ignores a surplus of social constructs that are just as imprisoning—imagine telling a homeless person that everything would’ve been okay if society paid a little more mind to the beauty of the clouds. Director Godfrey Reggio has stated that the film pays heed to the “beauty of the beast”—that is, if Reggio decries a world in which technology is man’s master, he doesn’t seek to repudiate the amazing progress that scientists, engineers, and architects have contributed to the planet’s new landscape. There is a certain beauty in the images of highways and over-crowded city streets (of the geometric, Busby Berkeley variety), yet Reggio stops too often to indulge in the expressions of what appear to be unhappy, displaced persons. Has human progress led to nothing but despair? For its ideological confusion, however, Koyaanisqatsi is undeniably a project of rich complexity, a deceptively-structured marvel that is benefited by Philip Glass’ incomparable score. If cinematographer Ron Fricke’s more even-handed, comprehensible ventures in this genre (including Baraka and Samsara) come with fewer of the imposed ideological frustrations, Reggio’s mastery of pace (which doesn’t only consider the sequence, but more successfully considers how each sequence fits in the whole) does make this a worthwhile venture.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
October 10, 2016, 10:50 pm
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Director: Woody Allen
2.5 Stars
a-midsummer-nights-sex-comedyWhile Interiors can be regarded simply as a pale imitation of Ingmar Bergman, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is less specific in its homage but feels similarly inert, with Woody Allen’s insistence on imitation overpowering his own narrative voice. The homages to Jean Renoir and Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night are there, but the film mostly plays as Allen’s take on an Eric Rohmer film in that it tests relationships in the idyllic countryside, the frame often composed of lush greens with sunlight pouring through the foliage. It ranks among Allen’s most visually beautiful films, ironically serving as a counterpoint to Allen’s general disinterest in the country. Among the film’s biggest misgivings is that it is consumed by its males—all egotists who become hopelessly jealous of one another despite their own good fortunes. The woman are the objects to pine over, defined only by the complications they cause. An exception is a late scene in which Mary Steenburgen develops a sudden insatiable sexual appetite (the only moment in which the erotic is of any dramatic interest), but otherwise both Allen’s perversions and comic voice are castrated by the material.

The Dark Crystal (1982)
August 16, 2015, 11:50 pm
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Director(s): Jim Henson & Frank Oz
3.5 Stars
The Dark CrystalMany contemporary family entertainments have again transitioned towards showing the dark side of popular fables and fairy tales. Despite the refreshing sentiment that children’s films can incite emotions like fear, however, many of these films have been critically derided–Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Maleficent all met some resistance due to their dreary tellings and their over-indulgence of CGI. In light of this trend in Hollywood, it comes as some surprise that a strange cult item like The Dark Crystal stills holds the ability to mystify, even if its reputation similarly has more to do with its technical sophistication than as a narrative. This sub-Tolkien journey introduces a handful of memorable-looking but ultimately hollow characters, and Jim Henson’s compositions often render their peril in a busy mess of unintelligible activity. And yet creatures like the mystics and the vulture-like Skeksis still produce the same uncanny effect, as if this were a film gifted from another dimension. Henson’s Labyrinth is clearly the more advanced work–that film’s Hoggle, a puppet, surpasses anything in this earlier effort by facially demonstrating a remarkable range of emotions–but The Dark Crystal is nonetheless an irreplaceable relic of family cinema.

Tootsie (1982)
August 7, 2015, 1:42 pm
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Director: Sydney Pollack
2.5 Stars
TootsieThe 1980s have been viewed as a particularly problematic time in American feminism, with authors such as Susan Faludi arguing that it was a decade in which regressive tendencies in the media began to resurface, even as it was assumed that the women’s movements of the previous decades had “corrected” wrongs. Tootsie, though a charming, even well-intentioned comedy, is a particularly troubling case study of what the contemporary idea of  feminism was. There’s a nice sentiment in the film that stereotypical gender identities have a great deal of crossover–that is, “Dorothy” (Dustin Hoffman) can exhibit a man’s bluntness, and Michael Dorsey (also Hoffman) could casually have a great knowledge of women’s fashion–but it becomes hard to overlook the fact that this is a narrative about a man spearheading a feminist movement under the assumption that he’s learned so much about what it means to be a woman. Meanwhile, he’s emotionally manipulated a woman he claims to love (Jessica Lange’s Julie) and had to deal with the inappropriate histrionics of a new, liberated women who openly talks about shifting gender politics (Teri Garr’s Sandy). This problematic central conceit would trouble any film, but they’re especially hard to swallow in a film that very much brands itself as progressive.