Saturday, February 28, 2015

Film Review: Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries (2014)

Murder She Said

Writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine’s Wild Canaries opens with an iris effect, a technique dating back to the silent and early Hollywood eras, often used to announce, punctuate, or bookend scenes. What at first blush appears an anachronistic visual flourish, however, in fact announces a story operating in a state of hyper-cinematic reality. In short order we’ll sample a variety of other sight gags, exaggerated music cues, and situational comedy configurations confirming the director’s allegiance to cinema’s farcical and fantastical capacities. Levine, emblematic of an exciting new generation of low-budget New York filmmakers, appears uncommonly attuned to the tenets and traditions of a bygone age of comedic storytelling, a stylistic philosophy rooted in Frank Capra and Preston Sturges yet inherited from such descendants as Blake Edwards and Woody Allen. In the spirit of its forebears, Wild Canaries is gleefully antiquated, a fully dedicated neo-screwball effort as inventively constructed and effervescently acted as any modern genre exercise.

Film Capsule: Woody Allen's Interiors (1978)

Interiors (1978)
Directed by Woody Allen

Considered an about-face upon release, this Bergman-esque chamber drama from the celebrated comedic filmmaker portended a nascent artistic interest in the psychological framework of the female persona. A methodical account of divorce and the resultant fallout between a father (E.G. Marshall), his three grown daughters (Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith, and Mary Beth Hurt), and their emotionally unstable mother (Geraldine Page), the film sagely depicts the traumas incurred when established roles forcibly change and familial dependence unexpectedly shifts. Later, when the newly remarried father invites the splintered family to convene at a coastal chateau, buried resentments resurface with tragic results. Shot by Gordon Willis in stately, overcast hues, the film—with an aesthetic palette consciously suggestive of the internal storms its characters are ill-equipped to weather—fully anticipates the ongoing influence of the European arthouse on the best of Allen’s subsequent work. (Feb 28, 2pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s “See It Big!: Gordon Willis”) [The L]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Film Capsule: Claude Chabrol's Le Boucher (1970)

Le Boucher (1970)
Directed by Claude Chabrol

This turn-of-the-70s psychodrama from the most genre-inclined of the nouvelle vague filmmakers takes a typically Gallic approach to a troubling romance between a school teacher and a workaday meat cutter whose casually severe demeanor and suspect activities may mask a murderous impulse. Following a coincidental first encounter, the independent headmistress Hélène (Stéphane Audran) is pursued by the blue collar butcher Popaul (Jean Yanne), whose bouquets of beef and gestures of romance appear to have little affect on his object of interest. But these thwarted attempts at intimacy portend something much more sinister as the bodies of dead women begin to turn up around town. Chabrol, more interested in the negotiation between the spoken and unspoken than in cheap thrills, opts to build tension subtly—transitioning from day to night, gradually saturating colors—while fashioning an atmosphere of unsettling empathy which would linger throughout his most popularly regarded decade. (Feb 14, 15, 7:30pm; Feb 24, 10pm at the Spectacle’s “Anti-Valentines”) [The L]

Monday, February 9, 2015

DVD Review: Kinoshita and World War II (1943-1946)

Considering its reach and inherently persuasive properties, cinema in the mid-20th century proved a prime vessel for government utilization in the promotion of numerous war efforts. As a filmmaker in Japan during World War II, there were few, if any, options for creative expression. Thus, while some working directors such as Yasujirō Ozu and Kaneto Shindo were forcibly enlisted via the draft, others went on making films under the strict hand of the Information Ministry. Among the latter, Keisuke Kinoshita was one of the more successful, both artistically and financially, making his first film in 1943 after a decade of assistant work and apprenticeships at Tokyo's storied Shochiku Studios. It would be more than three years and four films before Kinoshita could fully express his artistic voice, but his early work nonetheless betrays a humane ethos and a lightly expressive stylistic impulse which would carry on in the director's work well past the war years.