Review: True Grit

Jeff Bridges in True Grit

[NB: This article first published February, 2011, on Screen Machine. Screen Machine has recently been rebooted with an issue-based magazine format and a charming new website. Check it out.]

True Grit is the Coens’ most genial film. Not their most personal (2009’s A Serious Man), but the least permeated by that restless, cerebral energy which occasionally pitches their work over into empty cynicism. Less an affectionate riff on the conventions of the western than it is a full-blown tribute to the genre, True Grit is also aesthetically faultless, a continuation of a purple patch that now stretches four films from No Country for Old Men. For a film that only began shooting in March of last year, it is an outstanding technical accomplishment.

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Who is this Crumb guy, anyway?

Cover of Zap Magazine No. 0

[NB: This article first published August 23, 2011, on Killings, the Kill Your Darlings blog. Original article can be found here.]

I first remember hearing the name Robert Crumb in late high school. It was 2003, and I’d gone to see the Harvey Pekar biopic American Splendor. At the time, I was unfamiliar with Crumb – a thin, gawky man in a straw boater and Coke-bottle glasses who shared Pekar’s love of old records and offered to illustrate his comic scripts. I thought Pekar (played in the film by Paul Giamatti) must’ve been a much more important comic book artist than Crumb (James Urbaniak). Still, the glimpses of Crumb’s art in the movie seemed eerily familiar to me. There was a manic, congested quality to the line, a queasy vibe that seemed to leap straight from his page to my brain. It reminded me of the weird SBS cartoons I used to watch as a kid after my parents had gone to bed.

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Review: Super 8

Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning in "Super 8"

[NB: This article first published June, 2011, on Screen Machine. Screen Machine has recently been rebooted with an issue-based magazine format and a charming new website. Check it out.]

J. J. Abrams, devotee and renovator of such franchises as Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, continues on his merry panegyric way with his new film, Super 8. Set in small-town Ohio in 1979, Super 8 is an ode to a cluster of movies – early-’80s Spielberg in particular, but also contemporaneous work by George Lucas, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and Ridley Scott – that influenced Abrams as an adolescent and a budding filmmaker. The heroes of Super 8, a group of young teenagers, are shooting an 8mm zombie film when they get caught up in a gee-whiz-for-real movie scenario: a terrifying train crash, an ominous warning from a half-dead scientist with a gun, and a series of bizarre phenomena which strongly suggest the presence of an extraterrestrial being.

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Review: Never Let Me Go

Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield in "Never Let Me Go"

[NB: This article first published May, 2011, on Screen Machine. Screen Machine has recently been rebooted with an issue-based magazine format and a charming new website. Check it out.]

In the alternate reality of Never Let Me Go, society has struck upon a marvellous corrective to the frailties of the human body: the breeding of human clones. Once their bodies have ripened, these clones are available on demand to supply vital organs to non-clone “originals”. While most of the clones are reared in battery farms or dingy factories or some such, a few are raised free-range at a boarding school in rural England; they are kept healthy and tolerably happy, given a smattering of education, and sheltered from the truth of their grim situation. Three of these lucky clones mature into polite, photogenic adolescents played by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley. While the systematic exploitation of the clone population continues apace somewhere in the distant background, the trio become caught-up in their own small-scale drama of love and betrayal.

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Review: Another Year

Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen in "Another Year"

[NB: This article first published February, 2011, on Screen Machine. Screen Machine has recently been rebooted with an issue-based magazine format and a charming new website. Check it out.]

Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are thoroughly content. They enjoy an idyllic late-middle-age intimacy, get on with their successful grown-up son, maintain a cosy home and an allotment garden. They work rewarding jobs, cook wonderful meals, and never drink too much. Mary (Lesley Manville), Gerri’s colleague and a longtime family friend, is chronically discontent. She is lonely and unfulfilled, dislikes her job, detests her flat (it reminds her how unmarried she is), and frequently drinks more than she should. She is shrill, self-absorbed and inconsiderate in company. Tom and Gerri care about her, despite it all, and they tolerate her misbehaviour. She covets their attention—and of course she envies them. This clash of personalities is at the centre of Mike Leigh’s Another Year.

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