When the late, great website The Dissolve ended operations, its commenting community had The Solute to call home, but the staff and writers of The Dissolve have been scattered to the winds of the Internet. With Dissolve On, we collect some of the essential film writing being done by these essential film writers. Because there’s always a Dissolver writing something notable about the movies somewhere on the Internet.
Sheila O’Malley on Barracuda for RogerEbert.com:
” “Barracuda,” co-directed by Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund (“Now, Forager”) is a sometimes-riveting “take” on the uninvited guest plot-line, grounded to the earth by the phenomenal performances of Allison Tolman and Sophie Reid, playing half-sisters getting to know one another for the first time. “Barracuda” is as much about the ebb and flow of tension, suspicion and uneasiness surging in the space between these two women as it is “about” anything else. Even though other characters appear from time to time, “Barracuda” is a two-hander, with one extraordinary scene after another (the script was written by Cortlund).”
Mike D’Angelo on Brawl on Cell Block 99 for The A.V. Club:
“Who wants their trash delivered at the glacial pace of an art film? [S. Craig] Zahler is such an imaginative writer and skilled director, however, that his movies feel exactly as long as they need to be.
[…]Equally remarkable and counterintuitive is Vaughn’s performance. He pulls a Bruce Willis here, shaving his head and substituting intimidating stillness for his trademark motormouthed hyperactivity. The transformation suits him surprisingly well. Granted, Zahler also writes a bunch of terrific, laconic one-liners—when someone asks Bradley if he’s okay, for example, the reply is, “South of okay, north of cancer”—but the role mostly requires an actor who can convey stoic calculation, and Vaughn delivers.”
David Ehrlich on Walking Out for IndieWire:
“So deeply rooted in metaphor and allegory that it might as well be called “father!,” Alex and Andrew Smith’s “Walking Out” is a strong coming-of-age adventure that buries its vaguely biblical underpinnings beneath the heavy snows of a Jack London epic. Updated from a short story by naturalist David Quammen, it begins as a movie about the circle of life, and then thaws into a movie about survival. But while that might seem like a counterintuitive transition or even a contradiction in terms, this ruggedly elemental journey subsists on the raw knowledge that can be found in the space between the virtues we decide and the values we inherit.”
Noel Murray on The Florida Project for The Week:
“Director Sean Baker (who co-wrote the film with Chris Bergoch) has been hailed for the film’s exuberance and color, which takes the plight of people living on the edge and makes it look almost … fun.
That’s a tricky tone for any filmmaker to finesse, finding the entertainment value in a miserable situation, without exploiting it for cheap laughs or pathos. [Sean] Baker pulls it off by drawing on an unlikely inspiration: The Little Rascals. This movie puts the wild, comic tales of resourceful poor kids into a frame, pulling back just enough to make it clear that the situation Moonee’s in — while exciting — is untenable.”
Noel Murray on Better Watch Out for the Los Angeles Times:
“In the long, sordid history of the “Christmas horror” sub-genre, there’s never been a movie quite like “Better Watch Out,” a consistently surprising and unusually well-acted thriller, which says pertinent things about suburbia, holiday entertainment and toxic masculinity.
[…]What Ashley doesn’t anticipate is that Luke — who’s long had a crush on her — has enlisted his nerdy friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould) to scare her into his arms.
The plan almost immediately takes some unexpected turns, as other guests drop by. Gradually, Ashley figures out what’s happening, and has to use her wiles to protect herself and the household she’s been hired to safeguard.”
Noel Murray on Demons for the Los Angeles Times:
“Writer-director-actor Miles Doleac’s new film, “Demons,” is similar to his last effort, “The Hollow” — an at-times-untenable fusion of literary pretension and pulp clichés. The ambitious auteur is getting better at making his novelistic ideas punchy and cinematic, but “Demons” is still a B-movie that takes itself too seriously.
Doleac plays Colin Hampstead, a former Catholic priest who has a life-changing experience while performing an exorcism on a teenager in trouble. After the rite goes awry, Colin ditches his collar, marries the subject’s sister Kayleigh (Lindsay Anne Williams), and starts writing best-selling books about the occult.”
Kate Erbland on The Rape of Recy Taylor for IndieWire:
“[Nancy] Buirski’s latest documentary, a worthy companion to her lauded “The Loving Story,” tells Taylor’s story in expressive detail, aided by Buirski’s creative approach to pulling together material. Composed of vintage footage from the era, new interviews with Taylor’s loved ones and scholars alike, plus scenes from vintage race films (including a number from the prolific African American director Oscar Micheaux), “The Rape of Recy Taylor” works as both artifact and indictment. Bolstered further by a stirring soundtrack that includes Dinah Washington songs and traditional spirituals, Buirski’s film gives voice to Taylor and others like her, often letting their own art and word tell the story, hard as it may be to hear.”
Jen Chaney on Spielberg for Vulture:
“As New York Times critic Janet Maslin puts it in the new HBO documentary Spielberg, “There is no film career trajectory like his in the history of cinema.” We know how extraordinary his movies are, which makes it seem almost redundant for HBO to devote two-and-a-half hours to celebrating and analyzing his work this Saturday night. Is there anything that can be said about Steven Spielberg that hasn’t already been said?
It turns out the answer is yes. In the hands of documentarian Susan Lacy, creator of PBS’s American Masters series, Spielberg captures the man himself talking personally and candidly about his filmography and the ways in which personal heartbreaks and interests have informed his work.”
Noel Murray on The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson for The A.V. Club:
” She was found dead in the Hudson River in 1993, in what the police initially ruled a suicide. But those who knew her joie de vivre and history of mentoring runaways and street prostitutes suspected that she’d been murdered.
[…]The primary narrative thread follows the efforts of trans activist Victoria Cruz to get the Johnson case reopened as a homicide. Periodically France jumps ahead from Johnson’s death to consider the many, many contemporary examples of trans women whose murderers have never been caught or were given inadequate sentences by a justice system sympathetic to the defendants’ claims of “panic.” The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson spans decades, and is as outraged by the present situation as it is by the culture of the 1990s and before.”
Sheila O’Malley on Dina for RogerEbert.com:
“The film doesn’t feel or look like a documentary. It’s a character-based piece, but the structure is carefully considered with a clear narrative thrust and an unusual style. “Dina” plays almost like a rom-com, where catchy tunes underscore different sequences and similar scenes are placed in juxtaposition to one another, providing a wonderful back-and-forth look at his experience as opposed to hers. The couple is at the center of a group of eccentric sidekicks, friends and family, all helping them towards the big day.”
Scott Tobias on Dina for NPR:
“The dynamic between Dina and Scott is exposed most affectingly in a trip from their Philadelphia home to the boardwalks of Ocean City, New Jersey, which she remembers fondly from her childhood. Just getting there is aggravating enough for Scott, who can’t handle the uncertainty of multiple bus transfers and a schedule that’s out of line with his expectations. But that discomfort is nothing compared to a hilarious scene where Dina gifts him a copy of The Joy of Sex and he can barely bring himself to look at the cover. (“12 million copies sold. That’s a lot.”)”
Nathan Rabin on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016) for Lukewarm Takes:
“Be Bop and Rock Steady’s affection for each other is infectious. It’s a pleasure to spend time with people who like each other and what they do the way Be Bop and Rock Steady do, even if they happen to be a villainous giant warthog monster and rhinoceros monstrosity.
Honestly, if you are making a crazy-ass b-movie and you have a choice of either showing some sloppy-ass secondary bad guys mutating into a giant warthog monster and/or rhino or not showing it, then for the sweet love of the risen Christ, you owe it to audiences to show them that shit.
So I really respected that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went ahead and showed that shit.”
Craig J. Clark/Hooded Justice on An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) for Werewolf News:
“[…]An American Werewolf in Paris can’t even be considered a proper sequel to London since they have no characters in common (this despite the opening title that says it’s “Based on Characters Created by John Landis”). At most, director Anthony Waller and screenwriters Tim Burns and Tom Stern (whose also co-wrote Alex Winter’s bizarro cult item Freaked) borrow some of the werewolf lore Landis invented for his film.
The main thing they play around with is the notion that a werewolf’s victims are doomed to return as the undead, but even then they muck it up (or at the very least muddy the waters) because Landis specified everyone in the werewolf’s bloodline had to die for them to stop walking the Earth.”
Nathan Rabin on Slam Dunk Ernest (1995) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“Slam Dunk Ernest unrelentingly highlights the racial elements of basketball to a perverse and distracting degree. When the all-black janitorial squad rejects Ernest’s attempts to be part of their professional-level team, they explicitly tell him, “You’re whiter than white. You’re a redneck!”
Ernest is undeterred. He tries to win over his dismissive teammates with a philosophical deconstruction of basketball, gushing, “It’s like a romance with the ball. It’s like a dance with the hoop” before bragging, “I’m a player. I’m a jock. I’m in the zone”, which is what I say to myself every time I set down at my laptop.”
Charles Bramesco on Flatliners (1990) for Vulture:
“Schumacher took Peter Filardi’s script in a kookier direction than his overlords at Columbia would have liked, yet in doing so, he charmed the cult fan base still carrying this movie’s torch. One might wonder why the various flatlinings take place in a hospital basement that resembles a high Gothic mausoleum chamber. Schumacher’s film stands as his implicit self-evident response: Why wouldn’t they? He reaches even obscurer corners of weirdness during the many sequences visualizing the fantastical afterlife: At first, it comes as a surprise that being dead looks, to put it in medical terms, pretty lit.”
Tasha Robinson interviews S. Craig Zahler for The Verge:
“The fights in [Brawl in Cell Block 99] are unusually direct and brutal, without editing tricks or doubles. What’s your philosophy on screen combat?
It’s consistent with what’s important to me about the style of the whole movie, which is, simply put, feature the performers. What this requires of me as a director is, “Make it happen on the set. Don’t manufacture this shit in the editing room. Make it happen when you’re there.” So these fight scenes are elaborately choreographed, but in a way I think hides the fact that they’re so choreographed. We show the performers and what they’re doing, and try to minimize edits.”
David Ehrlich interviews Rooney Mara for IndieWire:
” “Generally in life,” she said, “people don’t just easily let go of their emotions and cry. Usually, you’re fighting it. You’re holding it back and don’t want anyone to see what’s going on inside — especially in this day and age, where there’s so much pressure to conform and be perfect. I understand that as an actor. I have to go out and constantly be this sort of politician selling a film and selling myself and also being this really together…” “
Keith Phipps interviews Sean Baker for Uproxx:
“The title comes from the working name for Disney World, how much research did you do into how Orlando became what it is today?
Well, my co-screenwriter Chris Bergoch is very closely linked to the parks in that world. He has an intense love for Disney. His sister has worked there, his mother worked, or lives, in the area, and so he has been doing research simply out of his interest in the subject for years. He was the one who brought this to my attention. I did not know that the economy had been hit so hard in that area. Well, I knew it got hit, but I didn’t know the results. You know, the recession of ’08, and the housing crisis immediately following it have had a major impact on that, especially on Route 192.”
Sheila O’Malley remembers Groucho Marx on his birthday for The Sheila Variations:
“It was my boyfriend in high school who introduced me to The Marx Brothers. (Boyfriend was a couple years out of h.s.) I would walk over to his house during study periods or lunch hours and he’d pop in battered VHS tapes of every Marx Brothers movie, and show them to me. He knew every line, every joke, every bit by heart. He’d have to hold himself back from explaining why something was funny, backstage stories, etc. He wanted me to experience the brilliance afresh. I did.”
Sheila O’Malley remembers Buster Keaton on his birthday for The Sheila Variations:
“Coming out of the family tradition of vaudeville, Keaton performed with his parents as a small boy (already showing a great gift for acrobatics and pratfalls) before launching off on his own. Getting into movies was not a natural leap for him. He wasn’t sure what cinema would be all about and how he could fit into it. Keaton became one of the greatest directors of all time. Keaton understood the possibilities of the new medium, predicting (without even knowing it probably) where it would eventually go.”
Noel Murray on “The 1990s Heyday Of The Erotic Thriller” for Oscilloscope:
“Success spawns imitators, and Basic Instinct was a big enough blockbuster to inspire a hundred copycats. But that film was at the crest of the wave, not the start of the swell. There was something going on in the culture at large—and in cinema in particular—that produced a moment where Armand Assante could hand Sean Young fresh underpants and everyone watching would be expected to get the reference.
There were a lot of pathways to that point in pop history. Let’s start in 1985.”
Kate Erbland on “Digital Screenplay Market Scriptd”‘s new effort toward increased diversity for IndieWire:
“Think of Scriptd like IMDb, but for unproduced screenplays. The digital marketplace boasts an intuitive interface that makes it easy to sort through (totally digital) stacks of scripts, all looking for a home to call their own.
[…]Perhaps it’s too easy. In an effort to maximize the browsing capabilities of Scriptd and help shine a light on the works of traditionally underrepresented groups, Scriptd has now added a curated function in partnership with industry experts. Per Scriptd, their aim is simple: “to both increase inclusion and quality, helping ensure more great stories get the green light. And more diversity means more money at the box office.” “
Matt Singer questions Blade Runner‘s cultural status for ScreenCrush:
“Right off the bat, I want to make this perfectly, 100-percent, don’t-@-me clear: I don’t think Blade Runner is a bad movie. It is a good movie.
But is it a great movie? After at least ten viewings of three different cuts of the film, I’m still not convinced. With its ambition and vision, it’s the kind of film that any self-respecting cinephile is supposed to love. I want to love Blade Runner. Or at least I feel like I should. But I don’t.”
Matt Singer on whether or not Deckard is a replicant for ScreenCrush:
[…][T]he sheer existence of a new Blade Runner 35 years later, with Ford in the film as a much older Deckard, would seem to solve that mystery once and for all, which would retroactively ruin a lot of the fun about the old film. For a long time, that fact alone made me very nervous about Blade Runner 2049.
As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. Villeneuve and his writers, Hampton Fancher and Dennis Green, found a way to turn what could have been their sequel’s biggest weaknesses into one of its greatest strengths.”
Tasha Robinson, Scott Tobias, and Keith Phipps on The Exterminating Angel and Mother! for episodes 96 and 97 of The Next Picture Show podcast:
Tobias: “I mentioned in the intro about them having to axe the walls in order to get at the water in the pipes, and having to lure a sheep into the room so they can roast it over a spit. I mean, these are things that, I guess, not-awful human beings would have to do, but they are certainly a humbling experience for people who are not used to any kind of adversity at all. But I think if the film had been just raw contempt, I don’t know if it would be as strong as it is, even though, as Tasha said, there is something is really satisfying about watching these people struggle a little bit.”
Phipps: “I gotta say, this is a terrific film…asterisk. […]I think it’s a terrific film, I think what it does is very interesting, and the central allegory is really compelling to think about. I think, as with some other of Aronofsky’s film, its cleverness and its ingeniousness is really foregrounded in a way that would be obnoxious if the filmmaking style–if everything wasn’t on point in every way: just the style of the film, the performances, the look, the pace, the rhythm–it is remarkably well done.”
Robinson: “That is pretty much exactly where I am. ‘It’s a great film, asterisk’ is a terrific way to describe it. My experience in the theater watching this film was pretty much the split that’s developed over whether it’s a good or a bad movie. Whether it’s overly obvious or a terrific piece of filmmaking is the split that developed in my mind as I was watching it, because part of me was taking in the visceral experience of watching this film. […]At the same time, I found myself thinking, ‘The metaphor here is so obvious, and so thudding, and so clunky.”
Sam Adams joins the Spoiler Special podcast on Blade Runner 2049 for Slate:
“On the Spoiler Special podcast, Slate critics discuss movies, the occasional TV show, and, once in a blue moon, another podcast, in full, spoiler-filled detail. In this episode, Slate movie critic Dana Stevens, Slate culture editor Forrest Wickman, and Slate senior editor Sam Adams discuss Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic. Does the ending preserve the mysteries of the original? Is it actually cinematographer Roger Deakins who’s responsible for the lion’s share of the movie’s charms? Could the collars be any higher?
Listen to them discuss these and other questions below.”