All the Roads Lead Elsewhere

Road movies are, in a way, like interconnected short story collections, no? You learn of a reason to take to the road – first story. You get to another place because it’s the way to get to your destination – second story. And another place, and another, a seemingly random sequence of loci, until you reach your destination, which makes for your last short story. Yeah, I know, my analogy holds up only roughly, but my point is: there should be an arc from the first to the last story, otherwise you get accused of fillers. And no-one, no filmmaker, no author, wants to get accused of producing fillers. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

There is that insect collector on holiday who misses his last bus home and so is stuck on that sandy beach, and then he climbs down into that pit where the young widow’s house stands and asks her if he can stay the night while the other locals pull up the ladder so the collector has to stay down there. He thinks he is going home the next day. The widow knows different. She has to shovel sand every night or her house will be filled with it. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Please don’t think less of me, but my introduction to Westerns was Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Not only was the peak of the western genre, if not over by 1966, then at least in decline, but this one here also got not made anywhere near the New World, but mainly in Spain, and by an Italian. In a way, it’s a western twice removed, but it uses some set pieces and arrays them into a three-hour spectacle that seems to know exactly how much it can stretch any kind of suspense without actually reaching breaking point. Continue reading

El Royale, Come Down in the World

I recently read an interview with a game designer. Among other things, she talked about how, in many computer games, your avatar is often in mortal peril, and how such a situation is not only an option, but the very point of many computer games. You might die, so your main goal is to survive. She called that the stress of dying. I am very much a non-gamer, but I know what she means. Although the drama of life vs. death, whether it be your avatar’s or any other character’s in a game, is higher in a potentially fatal scenario, it might take your attention away from the intriguing story, the elaborate graphics or the well-written characters themselves. Sometimes it’s about exploring and going places, about living in a new universe, not just surviving it. Or about admiring the craft. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

So you’ve got zombie fatigue, too? I don’t blame you. Even my teenage daughter has given up quite a while ago on Rick Grimes and his merry gang (and resorted to vampires, but that’s a story for another night). Even the most ardent zombie fan has to admit that the survivors of a zombie apocalypse are much more dangerous than those slouching, moaning, shuffling undead. In a way, George A. Romero had it easy: when he made his Night of the Living Dead in 1968, zombies were not yet a (excuse the pun) recurring staple of horror movies. And indeed, Romero’s debut doesn’t even use the term. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Godfather (1972)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

You could easily forget how reluctant Michael Corleone initially is to take over the family business. There are many reluctant heroes in the movies or in literature; reluctant villains are much rarer and often don’t see themselves as villains. They are set to do what seems necessary, blaming the times or the circumstances, acting for the greater good – and it’s their definition of ‘necessary’ that movies like Coppola’s The Godfather are really about. Continue reading

Slow Night, Slow Fright

There is a point beyond which suspense does not increase. It’s a point that every filmmaker and editor should know, and avoid. In the words of a theatre director I once knew: “If you think your timing is just right, you are too slow.” He said this about most scenes, although maybe some scenes in horror movies are allowed to go on a little longer until the tension almost reaches tipping point, but even for horror flicks, there must be a limit to how long an audience is scared by ominous rumbling and blurry shadows moving in dark corners. It’s likely that horror movies depend more on suspenseful arcs than other genres. Obviously, writer and director Oz Perkins thought he would shoot his second feature I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House a tad too slow, because slightly slower means slightly scarier, right? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Philippe Petit (1974)

He is up there in the air, 417 meters above ground, a mere speck to his random audience, so you could easily mistake him for a plane or a bird. He might appear semi-abstract to you. Legend has it that, as a Parisian teenager, he had to go his dentist, but found a picture of the not-yet-built World Trade Center in New York in a magazine and drew a line between the two roofs. He left, his toothache all but forgotten, and he perfected his considerable talent as a tightrope walker and waited for the towers to be built. Until then, Philippe Petit worked his way up, from juggling and unicycling in Parisian streets to walking the tightrope between the two towers of Notre Dame, to doing the same thing between two towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And then the Twin Towers got built, and in 1974, Petit was ready for them. Or they were ready for him. Continue reading

Mostly human

Michael Pierce’s feature debut Beast is less than the sum of its parts. It has very, very strong scenes, but just because the pearls are all beautiful doesn’t mean they belong on the same necklace. Here’s a list from memory: the moment when Moll (Jessie Buckley) runs away from her own birthday party to go dancing. The moment when she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn) for the first time and is smitten with him, because he looks as wild as she wants to be, and he might be her ticket out of the stuffy surroundings of a small town on a small island called Jersey. The moment when Moll lies into the grave of a dead girl, pretending to be her. The well-meaning cruelty of her mother (Geraldine James). Moll’s apology to the girl she hurt back in school. The whole funeral sequence. Continue reading