The Fly

Written by Michael Clawson

75/100

“Be afraid, be very afraid.” A line my dad quoted all the time when I was growing up, so it was fun to finally it hear in context. 

Absolutely wild practical makeup and effects, far and away the most disgusting image being of Veronica giving birth to a slimy, writhing insect pod, which literally made my jaw drop.

I love the sad comedy in lines like, “The medicine cabinet is now the Brundle Museum of Natural History”, or “It mated us, me and the fly. We hadn’t even been properly introduced.” Goldblum starts to shine once the transformation has commenced, and it’s those self-deprecating quips that he really nails.

Seth’s personality flip, from being harmlessly smug to manically egotistical and insanely athletic, was a brilliant surprise. Instead of Seth, say, slowly noticing his symptoms and panicking, thereby becoming of the sympathetic victim of a scientific mishap, he’s more like a raging addict, desperately trying to lure Veronica into his ecstasy, then cruelly shunning her when she refuses. It’s a potent metaphor, Seth’s arrogance and bodily demise as like that of a substance user, and it gives pathos to one of his final lines: “Help me. Help me be human.”

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 05/23/20

Available for rent from most services.

Tenet

Written by Taylor Baker

86/100

Nolan revisits all the pieces of formulaic ingenuity that have risen him to the pinnacle of non-franchise blockbuster cinema, and it’s fun. The whole time you’re there, it’s a good time. When it’s done, you feel mostly satisfied, but that thing from Inception and Interstellar, the longing for a better understanding of the film. That is absent. The sheer emotional ride of Dunkirk leading you out the doors of the cinema winded, is also absent. But you had a fantastic time keeping up thru the spectacle of it all and seeing glorious movie stars projected on a screen with some of the largest action set pieces you’ll ever witness.

At bottom Tenet feels like a live concert from Nolan. Some of his greatest hits strung together in different ways than they were before. The fun of the premise is assuredly there, but the substance is notably absent. And I think I’m mostly okay with that. But after the runtime I am also filled with a deep longing to see him shoot a walk and talk that doesn’t include exposition in every drop of dialogue.

First trip to a theater in 6 months, it felt good to be back.

PS: While WB is developing shows on HBO based on their blockbuster films in 2020, I’d appreciate them greenlighting a TV-MA show centered around whatever Aaron Taylor-Johnson does outside of what we see in the movie.

Taylor Baker originally posted this review on Letterboxd 08/31/20

Tenet is currently in theaters.

Burning

Written by Michael Clawson

100/100

Achingly beautiful, mesmerizing and mysterious. I loved both Secret Sunshine and Poetry, but Lee Chang Dong’s latest is next level as it combines the emotional complexity and nuance of those earlier works with a newly astonishing and moving visual elegance that fuels the sense of desire, anger, and longing smoldering throughout. Whether he’s focused on the leaves of trees rustling in the wind – like those on which Mija focuses so intently in Poetry as she seeks inspiration – or sunlight coming through a window and bouncing off a wall – like the ray of sunshine we see shimmering on the ground at the end of Secret Sunshine – Dong’s every shot feels not only intensely purposeful but also entirely spontaneous, as if these things were just miraculously occurring before our eyes. This is one I can’t wait to revisit again and again as its wells of ambiguity grant it an inextinguishable appeal.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 12/07/18

View it on Netflix

The Death of Louis XIV

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

As The Death of Louis XIV begins and the opening credits roll, we hear the sound of some unseen, rickety vehicle. I assumed it was a horse-drawn carriage, but no, it’s just an old man in his wheel chair, being pushed across a courtyard. As the first sound of the film, it’s misleading in that implies motion, by which the rest of the film not characterized. The old man is King Louis XIV, played magnificently by French New Wave Icon Jean-Pierre Leaud, who spends nearly the entire film flat on his back in bed. His health is declining, but he tries to maintain what little semblance of his life as a ruler and ordinary man as he can, but not without staying under his bed-sheets, where he can be tended to by a variety of doctors, none of whom seem to be doing him all that much good. 

Plot-wise, here’s what happens: Louis’ health gets worse, and *SPOILER ALERT*… he dies. Sound riveting? With Albert Serra’s direction and inspired casting decision, it is. Stillness defines most of his frames, which feel like they could come to a stop at any moment and would evoke the freeze-frame on little Antoine Doinel at the end of The 400 Blows. The candle-lit glow of Louis’ bedroom, where most of our time is spent, is sumptuous and tactile, and Leaud’s presence and physicality is tremendous. 

The casting of a cinematic legend such as Leaud to play Louis is what gives the film its poignancy and more than justifies its pace. More than just a portrait of a historical figure’s death, The Death of Louis XIV demythologizes, elucidating that despite their outsized place in history and culture, both the character and the actor are as subject to pain and mortality as the rest of us. Some might argue that no matter how pleasurable his compositions are to look at, Serra belabors his point. Personally, I was more than happy to spend so much time at Louis’ bedside.

Michael Clawson originally published this review on Letterboxd 02/06/18

View it on Kanopy